Writing

Losing that Nano momentum…

So, I purposefully took the week after NaNoWriMo ended off of writing – partly to give myself a break, and partly to let the story percolate in my brain a bit more before getting to the rewrites (there’s going to be hell of a lot of rewrites!).

The plan was then to start re-outlining and nailing down my plot points this week, so that I can jump into writing again next week. But, then, of course, I came down with a nasty cold and have spent the past two weeks languishing of consumption on the couch. Not writing, or plotting, or really anything productive.

Okay, I knitted my first hat. But that was lazy productivity – I haven’t even yoga’d in two weeks!

I’m still coughing a lot, but there’s really no reason why I can’t get back to that super-productive schedule I had in November, where even when I was tired, the momentum carried me forward and I kept making new words every day.

I need that momentum back….

Life, the universe, and everything · Writing

Happy Nano-eve!

Until this morning, I had every intention of staying up til midnight to get my first 2000 words in; now it’s 10pm, and….I’m tired. I have no excuse for being tired, except that it’s cold outside. But I can’t deviate from my plan on day 1, hour 0; what kind of tone would that set for the month? Midnight it is, I guess.

The one good thing about this awful cold front is that the camping trip I had planned for this weekend (totally forgetting that it was the first weekend in November) is officially canceled. I was going to go with three friends who want to escape the motorcycle rally on the island, and head up to Caddo Lake State Park. There’s not much to do up there except kayak and look for alligators. Until last week, the weather was perfect for kayaking and gatoring. Now, not so much. Too windy for a kayak, too cold for alligators. Honestly all I want to do is curl up on the couch with blanket and a cat or two and write.

I don’t get my entire weekend back; the rally is still happening, so my friends are coming up to my place for an indoors camp-out, complete with tent and s’mores. As we were deciding this, I realized…I haven’t had people over, more than one at a time anyway, since I was in college, and had roommates who forced me to play hostess with them. Weird.

Anyway, I no longer have to shop for camping supplies, pack, or drive four hours to a state park, and they’re all leaving Saturday afternoon. That means I’ll have a bigger chunk of time on Friday, plus all of Sunday, for writing! This is more than I had planned on in my schedule, and it’s good because I volunteered to go help move the ship to another pier next Friday, thus losing yet another precious November day.

…I’m going to be spending three days in a row on the ship, between transit on Friday, training on Saturday, and instructoring at the make-up on Sunday.

Why do I do this to myself.

Day in the life · Health and Fitness · Writing

October 17, 2019

I finally conquered the blue route at the climbing gym!

Okay, so it’s a V0 (i.e. easiest level there is), and I’ve been working on it for two months, and there’s no reason why it should have taken me this long. But I don’t care, I did it!

It turned out to be mostly a mental block. I could get to the second-to-last hold, and then I’d be stuck; because the last hold required a long reach with my right arm, then gripping it and letting my right hand bear most if not all of my weight while I moved my left hand over to match. And…I just don’t trust my right hand. Trusting my whole weight to it is kind of scary.

Most of the routes there are for right-handers, and most of them (the ones that I’ve tried, anyway – anything above a V1 is too hard for me right now) don’t require quite so much trust there; not like this one.

I never even realized how much they favor righties until a few weeks ago: a new route went up and everyone was complaining that that last hold was super hard for a V0 – and then I did it in one try. Which never happens. As they were complaining, we realized that the tricky part was a left-handed hold. Which is why it was easy for me. And now I don’t feel quite so bad and being not quite so good as everyone else there. I have a disadvantage.

Goddamn right-handed world.

Today is going to be nice and slow…everyone is late getting things to me, which means next week will probably be hectic trying to catch up. But all I have on my plate for today is to send out passive-aggressive email reminders, finish some slides for a presentation, and then hopefully get some work done on outlining for Nano. I’ve been spending my outlining time watching YouTube videos about outlining instead of actually, you know, outlining.

Day in the life · Writing

October 3, part 2

That feeling when your client (who hasn’t paid yet) sends out a press release announcing the award of their new NIH grant (that they wrote with the help of a different company) and gets told off by the program officer for 1) not running the release by the NIH press office first; 2) spelling the name of the NIH awarding component wrong; and 3) using the new name for their company which is not the name the award is made to. And then wants you to fix All the Things.

If she wasn’t such a sweet (if distracted) client I’d refuse, but…I like her. And the project I’m doing for her is going to be awesome.

But still, this wasn’t how I want to spend my day…

Life, the universe, and everything · Writing

October 1, 2019

It’s 330pm, and my focus took an absolute nosedive…about 90 minutes ago. I’m going to blame it on the fact that I’ve gotten up before 6am two days in a row now, which I think might be the second time ever?

I did some quick yoga followed by a 5.5 mile run in a fancypants neighborhood that I haven’t tried out yet. There were lots of little side streets to explore; the only problem was that the main street to get there was suuuuper dark at 615am, and on the way back, once the sun was coming up, it was suuuuuper busy trafficwise. So I’m conflicted about adding it as a regular route. Maybe it’ll work best for weekend runs.

Today is also the first day of Preptober! I legitimately did not know that this was a thing until a couple weeks ago. But it makes a lot of sense, and I’m going to actually do it this year. In previous years that I’ve done NaNoWriMo, it’s been more of a, oh yeah, I signed up for this thing, I guess I should start…wait, what was I going to write about again? sort of thing. Which, needless to say…does not work so well. I’ve only finished Nano once, and that was a fanfiction story that ended up being more of a collection of scenes than anything coherent.

So, this year: I’m going to spend real time planning an original fiction novel, with a super ambitious self-publication target date of March 10, 2020, and use Nano to push out that first draft. I have a story idea, I have characters, and I have lists and lists of things to prepare!

I do love a good list.

Life, the universe, and everything · Writing

On motivation

I was listening to an older episode of The Bestseller Experiment while on a run the other day, in which one of the hosts was sharing the story of his wife’s battle with cancer. He said something that really caught me off guard, and really hit me. I’m paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of We only have a finite amount of words in us, so we have to write them while we still have the time.

I don’t know why that stood out to me so much; I usually don’t get inspired by sentimental stories from other people’s lives, and cancer stories are especially annoying (I don’t even like working on cancer projects; so few of them actually turn out meaningful, translatable data. No offense, cancer biologists…it’s just not my interest. At all).

Maybe it was the timing of it. I just had a(nother) mole biopsy come back a little funky, and have an excisional biopsy scheduled for this week that I’m not too thrilled about. It’s not melanoma, just a clump of cells that are high risk for developing into melanoma. I’m not worried at all about the biopsy or even the surgery. It’s just, two weeks of having to severely limit my activity; two weeks of constantly worrying that I’ll tear my stitches; two weeks of bruised skin and just-enough-to-be-annoying pain.

But the show host is right. There is a limit to how much we can get done in our lives. I’ve been promising myself for a couple of years now that I’ll publish my first book and start a career as an author. I promised myself that 2019 will be the year that I actually, for real, self-publish.

And here it is, the beginning of July, and I haven’t made (or attempted to make) any progress.

Because excuses come up. Other things that take up my time. Are those things important? Some of them, yeah – but a good number of them are just time wasters. Procrastinating. Watching endless YouTube videos because the thought of writing down words that I’ll ask someone to pay for is terrifying.

Well, July is my month. I’m going to finish a first, word-vomity draft of my first original fiction novel. I know I can do it; I need to do it. Who knows when I’ll run out of chances to try?

In any case, I can’t run, swim, climb, or even yoga for the next two weeks – now really is the perfect time!

Writing · Yeah, science!

Sci-fi ideas from NASA

Last week, NASA released the topics for their 2019 Small Business Innovation Research program: https://sbir.nasa.gov/solicit/61545/detail?data=ch9.
If you’re not familiar, the SBIR program is designed to encourage small businesses to participate in Federal research and development funding mechanisms, to help bring their innovative ideas to commercialization. Most Federal agencies participate, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and, of course, NASA.
Why should you care (unless you happen to have a small business developing new technology…)? Well, the topic list is a great resource for science fiction writers, or really just any author who wants to include some advanced technology in your writing; especially if you don’t have a background in physics or engineering!
NASA is looking for cutting-edge technology that they’ll be able to use in the near and not-so-near future. Topics range from in-space propulsion technologies, to robotic systems, to life support and habitation systems. And because this is a contract-based mechanism, the descriptions of what they’re looking for is pretty detailed.
Are you writing about the crew of bounty hunters in the far reaches of the galaxy, and wondering exactly what sort of shitty ship’s systems your surly engineer character has to deal with? NASA’s got you covered!
Water Recovery and Stabilization of Human Metabolic Waste (Feces)
Human solid waste (feces) contains ~75% water by mass that is currently not recovered on ISS. Feces are collected and stored in relatively impermeable containers for short term storage (1-3 months) and disposed of in departing logistics vehicles. Quantified, this represents approximately 170 g per crew member per day of recoverable water, which translates to 0.68 kg per day for a crew of 4 and can total as much as 680 kg for a 1,000-day long duration human exploration mission.  In addition to water recovery, stabilization of feces is a critical gap for long duration human planetary exploration missions to Moon and Mars.  Water removal is a first step in stabilization and has the potential to decrease odor control technology mass. Technologies are requested to recover water and stabilize feces for use on long duration human exploration missions to Moon and Mars.
Simplified, low temperature, and robust methods for recovery of water from human solid metabolic waste are sought. Low temperature (<110 C) is desired to reduce the release of volatile organic compounds, avoid organic compound oxidation to CO and CO2 and their subsequent treatment prior to return to the cabin air. The range of technologies can include air drying, vacuum drying, freeze drying and alternative low energy methods. The cost for recovering fecal water, in terms of mass, power, volume and crew time equivalents must not outweigh mass savings obtained by its recovery. Drying and stabilization of feces can reduce odor generation and prevent microbial proliferation if the water activity level is less than 0.6. Technologies must be able to recover >80% of the water content. Captured water should have minimal free gas and be suitable for eventual delivery to a waste water tank. Purification of the water is not requested because it will be processed by downstream treatment systems. However, the chemical constituents of the recovered water must be characterized.  Technologies must be able to accommodate a wide range of condensable and non-condensable mass flow rates as the feces are processed and dried. Water recovery should be accommodated directly or with an assumed regenerative heat exchanger to recover energy prior to phase separation (as necessary). Systems must be capable of microgravity and/or planetary surface operation (moon or Mars) for 1 to 18 months at a time, with 11 to 18-month periods of dormancy, and with minimal crew maintenance. Compatibility with existing waste collection hardware is of interest. Planned fecal waste collection (Universal Waste Management System – UWMS) consists of individual defecations and hygiene wipes collected in gas permeable bags.  15-25 individual bags are contained in rigid containers that are changed out every 2-3 days.
That is probably more than you ever wanted to know about waste removal in space; but work some of these details into your writing and it’ll lend a solid (ha) dose of realism to your world.
Dig through the topics – there might be something in there that will give you the language you’ve been looking for to describe your tech. At the very least, it’ll give you a crash course in government-speak – this thing is nearly 300 pages, and most of that is totally useless and overly specific.
If anything sparks an idea, be sure to let me know – and have fun!
Health and Fitness · Writing

How writing is like bouldering (no, really)

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Bouldering is the essence of climbing.

There is no special equipment required; no harnesses, no hardware, no ropes. It’s just you and the rock in front of you.

Sort of like staring at the blank page of a new document file.

I started bouldering about four months ago, not long after I’d finally mastered the seemingly impossible feat of being able to do two pull-ups in a row. I wanted to put that newfound strength to work, so I signed up for a bouldering pass at a local climbing gym.

As it turns out, bouldering involves a lot more than just strength.

If you’ve never tried it before, here’s how it works:

A typical climbing gym will have an area sectioned off for bouldering, usually a collection of walls not more than 15 feet high and often at a negative slope (meaning, you have to lean slightly back from vertical). The walls will be covered in multi-colored hand and foot holds in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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(One hold at my gym looks like an elephant’s trunk from one side. From the other side, it looks…not like an elephant’s trunk. I always feel the need to apologize after grabbing it…)

The colors  of the holds mark out your routes; just like a ski slope, they differ in their level of difficulty, from V0 to V16, where V0 is the easiest. At my gym, V0 routes are marked in green. After four months, I still haven’t graduated to yellow (V1).

Here’s how you start.

First, get on your climbing shoes (*sings* there’s one thing on your mind…no? Okay). Give your hands a good dusting of chalk.

Second, stand back and stare at the wall.

No, really.

Like any journey towards a particular goal, you have to know where you’re going – and how to get there. Find your starting holds – they’ll be right at the bottom of the wall. Even your feet start off the mat. Locate the next green hold, then the next, all the way to the last one at the very top. If you get both hands on that last hold, then you’ve topped out. Yes!

But first you have to start. Being so low to the ground, it can be hard to use your feet for leverage. Sometimes you find yourself twisted in an odd position and needing to switch hands in mid-climb. Sometimes what you were sure would work as a foothold just…doesn’t.

Sometimes the very first move is such a stretch that you can’t make even that regardless of how many pull-ups you can do; because it’s more about skill than strength.

And always – always – you fall.

And that’s okay.

Because below you is a nice comfy crash pad to catch you. And around you is a gym full of people with a whole range of experience, who are more than willing to give you whatever advice they have to offer.

(It takes more leg muscle than upper body strength, says the guy with 50lbs more upper body muscle than me, dangling easily from a fingerhold with one arm. Yeah. Legs. Right.)

So you keep trying. You keep trying, you keep practicing, and you figure it out. You get stronger.

And finally, you top out.

Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can flash it – scramble straight from hold to hold and topping out without a pause or mishold.

(Or you come in the next week prepared to finally conquer a route only to find that they’ve completely changed everything around, and you’re basically starting from scratch. Hooray.)

So, how exactly is this like writing?

First, you need to have a solid base. The ability to do two pull-ups won’t help much with crafting a story, but you do need to have a basic understanding of grammar, story structure, and character building. If you don’t, you’ll never get off the ground.

Next, when plotting your story, you have a myriad of possible routes available to you. These are the different-colored holds.

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It’s a bit daunting to consider them all at first. If you’re not a great storyteller yet, you can choose an easy one, reliant on old familiar tropes. Go for the green. If you have a bit more skill, move up from there.

I’ve done quite a bit of writing, but I’ve yet to complete and publish an actual novel. I’m starting at V2 (red) for now. That idea I have for a two-book, dual-POV full of unreliable narrators and plot twists? Yeah, that’s purple. Fingerholds only. It’s going to have to wait until I can flash the red problems.

Oh, did I mention that bouldering routes are actually called problems? Fitting, I think!

Then comes the process of writing itself. You’ve stared at that wall of problems, you’ve picked out your path and gotten past the first two holds (i.e. plot points – am I beating this metaphor to death yet?) – only to find that where you thought you just needed a push with your right hand is not going to work. At all.

You lose your grip, and you fall.

And that’s okay.

Don’t keep tackling a problem the same way, over and over again. Because it’s not about brute strength; it’s about skill. Find that hold that was hidden behind a different problem; try using your other hand. Maybe you need to take your foot off that hold altogether and smear the wall instead, trusting in the support beneath you to hold you up.

Set up that plot twist earlier. Introduce a new character where you need another POV to prop up the narrative. Reach out to other writers and ask, hey, have you ever had a problem like this? How did you get past it? Start at the second plot point if you’re having trouble getting past the first. You can always go back and start at the beginning later.

Maybe you were wrong about where the beginning really is.

Or, drop back to the ground and try a completely different approach.

They’re your words. You can use them however you need to.

You look at the move in front of you and you think It’s too far to reach oh god I’ll be upside down I’ll never make it I’m going to fall. You freeze, lose your strength, and fall.

It’s too many words my character doesn’t have a motivation I’ll never finish this.

Sometimes, all it takes is getting past that fear and instead telling yourself I can do this. And it’s okay if I fall.

So you go for it.

You might fall.

But you might not. You might just finally make it all the way to the end.

It’s not uncommon to walk into a climbing gym and see no one climbing, while half a dozen people just sit on the mats, staring upwards. Sometimes they’ll be chatting, but mostly they’ll be focused entirely on the problem that just kicked their ass, contemplating how overcome it.

Writing is like that too. Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and stare at the overall structure of the story that’s currently kicking your ass, and contemplate how to overcome it.

Build your base. Write as much as you can, whenever you can. Look for inspiration in unexpected places.

Then come back to the page, and tackle it again. You’ll only get better; you’ll never top out if you don’t try.

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