Friday, September 28, 2007

Slow Week

Things have come to a screeching stop after Wednesday night. Since the end of last week, I have had a swollen lymph node or two in my neck, but I charged along forward, thinking it was something that could just go away.

Unfortunately not. Yesterday, I was a lot more tired, sore, etc. etc. than usual. Figured I should take it easy, so I rode the bus to and from work instead of bike riding or walking, caught on a couple episodes of MI-5/Spooks last night and really just have tried to do the bare minimum/little bits of chore/work and getting to bed at a good time. I'll be sleeping in until I wake up tomorrow.

I did a little research on my situation, though, and started eating some food with a particular amino acid and take a supplement for it. So far, it has helped. The lymph nodes have become less swollen an sensitive and not feeling so under the weather. Still plan on pretty much taking it easy for the weekend, though.

The hardest part is accepting that it's OK not to do work. Rather, that it's important that I don't get so hung up on doing work and just rest. I'm not as incapacitated as I have been in the past from getting sick, so I feel well enough to push myself if I wanted. Knowing that I could push myself to incapacitation, though, I'm staring down my hang up, not pushing myself and trying not to feel guilty about it.

I'll just start pushing myself hard again when I get better. Maybe with the amino acid supplement taken on a regular basis, I won't get as run down in the future.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Nitty Gritty of Method

So, after some major geek tomfoolery like reading Sandworms of Dune in less than a day and doing some Wikipedia research on the mechanics of time in Doctor Who
, I finished writing the first draft of Part II (after the Prologue and Part I) of my novel yesterday. Woohoo!

Now, for those of you unfamiliar with my writing method/habits/madness, I handwrite chapters of my novel and papers for my project then transcribe them into a Word document. I transferred about five pages tonight in the midst of all types of domestic affairs.

Transcribing stuff I've written about a year or so ago really provides me with some perspective. Crap! My writing really has improved since then. A lot of it has probably come from reading something like 40 or 50 pages in this textbook about writing fiction that the wife had to buy for a writing class at school.

I really don't have much more to say about it, just damn!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ambiguity in Drafting

Went to the Chicago-SF September writing workshop. On the downside, only someone completely new and me showed up for the workshop. The newbie and I got along pretty well, though, and provided some good insight for each other's stories.

For my novel, it's probably a good thing that only the newbie and I showed up. I've submitted four excerpts from my novel so far to the group, one per month for the last four months, I believe. I submitted them all to the newbie about two or three weeks ago.

Getting a reaction from someone who has sat down to read it in a more compact time then people who've been reading 10 page excerpts every month ago certainly provides for a different perspective. Probably the biggest help is that they haven't had a month to fill up their minds with other things that distract them from the details or lack of detail from excerpt to excerpt.

The newbie provided some great enlightenment into their interpretation of the facts as presented. I don't mean an interpretation as a literary analysis of the facts, what they represent or symbolize or what motifs or themes they create. Rather, the newbie has shown me which facts have been established and which ones remain unclear.

I've never taken part in a fiction/writing workshop that has had the critiquers simply summarize what they have read, as they see the facts established and maybe all that other analytical literary critique stuff, too. In the past, I thought it would come across as a waste of time. "Ok, so this is what you wrote. . .." Being shown that this summarizing process isn't a waste of time really comes as refreshing.

Now that I think about it, though, I think this summarizing practice taps into a general problem that exists with human communication. I remember a long time taking part in this discussion at a young adult group discussion at my local UUA church about communication or some such.

One of the people provided an insight about a good practice to follow when having a sensitive conversation is to relate back your interpretation of what another person just said. Don't repeat back to them verbatim what they said. That could actually be considered rude, especially if said in a certain tone of voice. Since we all have our own individual listening styles, assumptions and belief systems, however, how interpret the words another person speaks can often turn out very differently than the intent behind their words.

Words have a funny way of working like that, not working concisely and clearly with our intended meanings. Linguists have theorized about this topic since linguistics started and philosophers before them. The late ethnobotanist/philosopher/social critic, Terence McKenna, even hypothesized that speech communication requires a limited form of telepathy for communication to work. An interesting theory, but I don't know. . ..

Writing totally fits into the realm of communication, analogous to verbal communication, since they both depend on words. And as spoken communication between two or more people can collide with ambiguity and confusion, so can written communication. I won't get into the stress that we all feel every once when we want to present ourselves in a perfect fashion and impress other people, which can cause us to stumble over our words, thus creating a bad impression, fulfilling a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One big advantage of writing comes from the fact that we can review it and review it before showing it to other people instead of having our mouth run off faster than our brain can work. Like with thinking and working on our spoken communication until the end of time, though, ambiguity can still find its way into a text that you've been working on for hundreds and hundreds of hours.

That's when the people in a fiction writing workshop can help a lot with their summarizing your piece. And the writing workshop this past Wednesday helped a lot for the newbie and me to find the deficiencies of ambiguity in our pieces. Not the parts of intentional ambiguity put in there for purposes of irony or for dramatic suspense, but the mistaken bits of ambiguity that are put in there because the writer has an image of things in their head, which they think that they've sufficiently described and explained on paper. . .but they haven't. We found plenty in each other's pieces.

I wish I could back to fix mine. Doing so would, unfortunately, break the flow of writing the novel. I tried doing so with past versions in the novel in past fiction workshops, and I ended starting over and starting over and starting over. It's not anything to regret, since I have an exponentially better product.

Not necessarily good for quality or perfection, but more product generally means more recognition, accomplishment, money (dare I say it?) and advancement on the career path. There's a balance in there somewhere, I'm sure of it.

As I told someone yesterday, though, it's like I'm in a major research stage doing this first stage writing, developing the product and creating raw material. Once the first draft gets done, then I can sculpt the statue and hone in on addressing the details and ambiguity. Frustrating as this process is, it certainly makes for an interesting path.

Hopefully in the future, though, I learn some good tricks to cut down on the research side of things, hopefully. Until then, I will have to forge ahead and learn what I can.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Keep the Story Linear and Interesting, Stupid, and Other Writers Facing the Problem

Looks like I'm not alone. Other writers have faced the problem that I brought up yesterday. You know, the problem of telling the story of one or many events from more than one point of view and trying to communicate the power of each consciousness as it adds to the meaning of the story. . .all without boring the reader with redundancies.

The very recently late Robert Jordan had a similar self-criticism with his book Crossroads of Twilight. As written in his blog:

The only thing that I wish I hadn’t done was use the structure that I did for CoT, with major sections beginning on the same day. Mind, I still think the book works as it is, but I believe it would have been better had I taken a more linear approach. When you try something different, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Apparently, Samuel Richardson had a similar problem in his book, Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady. Ian Watt, in his book The Rise of the Novel: Studies in Defoe, Richardson and Field, writes:
The use of two parallel series of letters, then, has great advantage, but it presents considerable difficulties; not only because many of the actions have to be recounted separately and therefore repetitively, but because there is a danger of dispersing the reader's attention between two different sets of letters and replies.

As I write in the novel, especially from the perspective of the one character who has surveillance capabilities, I find myself just re-writing a lot of previous scenes, just a lot more straight, succinctly and with this character's reactions to them. . .which really aren't much of any reaction. It doesn't feel like I'm writing anything particularly original for this character, and he can't just be cut. He's pretty important for many reasons. . ..

I had mostly just been thinking about the audience's attention and how they might find it annoying to dredge through descriptions of things that they've already read about.

Not much had entered my mind about having their attentions dispersed amongst the different characters. I really only have a set of four, kind of five, main characters, and they all interconnect and become part of a large, overall plot. Honestly, I think the ways in which they're connected might become pretty obvious half way through the second chapter. OK, OK. . .maybe there's up to six main characters, since the city-society really is a character, in itself.

I guess there is a fair amount of stuff going on, though. There's probably enough between all the characters that having repetitive parts of the story and having the time element out of whack might cause the reader to spend too much time trying to figure out where the other characters are while this one character is doing this or that.

Writing the novel with the idea of having the story coming across as linear will probably help to keep things straight for the reader. There will be a lot of jumping around and probably some confusion during those hops, but I think that temporary confusion will be a lot easier to handle than the cognitive load of having to think, "OK, character A is here while character B is there and C is all the way over there and character D is planning to slap character A upside the head and yell at character B, but character A doesn't know what the problem is. C is on the other side of the world, though, providing the original cause that makes these other characters react this way."

In the long run, it's a pretty straight forward story. The main problem just comes from the fact that the power of the story mainly comes from the characters having realistic personalities that the readers get to know, love and/or hate and how they all interact with each other. I guess something similar could come across if the story just gets told by one character, but I don't think it would be as powerful. . .so I'm writing it the way I am now.

Oh. . .how very modern.

Why have I gone and written these complicated stories when I'm just starting out as an aspiring writer? What am I thinking?

BTW, today was one of those annoying days where I just wanted to get home and write, but when I got home, I procrastinated because I had all this pent up resentment built up about the things holding me back from writing. So annoying. . ..

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Finding My Beat and Chugging Along

Yesterday really was a big, good day.

I wrote two pages in the novel, read a bit in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance, wrote a couple pages in the novel and found a bunch of interesting books for the project on Amazon.

FINDING GOOD SOURCES AT
AMAZON.COM AND WRESTLING WITH RESEARCH


Amazon surprised me with the selection of sources for Brook Farm. I had feared that I would have had to go back to Boston or compensate a friend to get sources from the Boston Public Library since a lot of stuff in bibliographies are from out of print journals and magazines (including the the Boston Public Library Quarterly and New England Quartlerly), letters and legal documents.

Lucky for me, though, on Amazon has at least one book of compiled letters from community members. That could be just about all I need to write this paper. Right now, I've got something of an idea of what I want to write about, as I've read enough about the "big picture" and philosophical underpinnings for Brook Farm. Now I just need to get concrete experiences, reactions and reflections to figure out how well they accomplished their goal and/or embodied the main characteristic of utopia, existential integration (if that's really the right term).

I'm not so sure how much patience I'll have doing the more concrete research with primary sources. For awhile during the last couple months, I had retreated to reading more abstract stuff, like philosophy, psychology and the history of ideas. Yeah, I've read here and there into history, but more interpretations of history or larger sweeping overviews of it, nothing focusing on day-to-day matters or actual writing by people going through it.

I just feel like there will be a lot of details to weed through and organize. It's rather intimidating, especially since I've had a fair amount of trouble dealing with the last two historical papers I wrote, where I had one source (which was both primary and secondary) for one and two primary sources for another. I had to refer to other sources for theory and such, but I had a fair amount of trouble going through just a few things, compared to this paper which will require me to go through a whole bunch.

Those other paper's sources, however, already had a fair amount interpretation in them already. Maybe it'll be different when I deal with just primary sources with a much less "qualified" and objective interpretation. I'll be the one who gets to be objective and theoretical about it.

Now I just worry about reading secondary sources and finding out that someone else has written what I'm intending to write. The question here is: should I read those other sources that look like they're saying the same thing and try to adjust my theory or writing style, or should I ignore those until afterward. I remember reading somewhere that bachelors literature professors often don't want the student to read secondary sources so that they won't be stymied writing and can flex their lit crit muscles.

Guess I'll just have to develop my approach as I encounter things. Such is life.

NOVEL WRITING

So I feel great about actually getting myself to sit down and churn two pages out. Those two pages feel a little weird, though. They were mostly retelling of parts in the story that the reader would have already read, just with a different characters reaction to it.

I can't really get that much deeper into it without possibly giving things away, but it involves changing points of view and video surveillance, with this one character mostly experiencing the story through the surveillance. Throughout most of the story, he will see what all the characters are doing as they do it.

This approach with this character really creates some difficulty. I don't want to bore the audience, but he's a very important character who has important reactions to the things that happen.

After I'm done with the rough draft, I will have to do some major rewriting and re-mapping. And as I've said in the past, having this knowledge and the ideas floating to the top while I'm writing makes writing in the current style somewhat difficult. I need to draft it this way, though, so I can have a good idea of who will be where when and how and why. I feel somewhat like a journalist, except that the drafting is my research for the story and the real story can't come out in a simple outline or something.

Right now, the story has been coming out somewhat linear in a traditional fashion, at least from four characters' point of view. I'm starting to think instead of having a linear storytelling from each of the point of views, the story, itself, will get the linear treatment (as much as possible).

In other words, instead of dedicating one chapter to a respective point of view, I'll probably float between the points of view more freely, to cut down on storytelling redundancy but possibly increase some reader confusion. Not to worry, though, I think the confusion will probably be kept to a minimum.

This won't reach the level of Faulkner. If anything, it'll be like if the island in LOST with the occasional forays into other character's consciousness or even just Heroes with tighter storytelling and no mutant superpowers.

THE PERSONAL STUFF

The cable tech came about 15 minutes after 1, with my service blocking being between 1 and 5. I was right, the wire going from the outdoors into the bedroom was broken.

I had to sharply tell the tech that he didn't have to go downstairs to check the building's central box, he just need to look at the particular wire. He did, and the wire came apart with a stern tug. Apparently, some animal had been chewing on it and/or wear and tear just wore through it.

Now that saga's done. It's kind of sad that our relationship was ruptured because of the whole thing, but at least it's over.

Today, pretty much taking it easy with the wife and doing some chores. If I do anything writing-wise, it's this blog and doing a second read on someone else's submission to the writing workshop.

Maybe I'll purchase a couple books for bachelor's project source material, too, on Amazon. If I do, I'll go through the "Amazon portal" at WBUR.org the website for the Boston University-based NPR station. Amazon will give a portion of my sale to WBUR.org.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Must. . .Focus. . .On. . .Writing!

Maybe Claire, a girl that went to Marlboro College for a semester or two during my freshman and has just recently moved assumedly down the street (but I haven't seen for 11 years) here in Chicago, has it right. Maybe the best way to actually write and get a novel or project done is to quit the job and write everyday.

Unfortunately, that wouldn't work for me. Too much research to do, which costs money, and the whole sustaining a quality of life makes it hard to give up a steady stream of income. I have already decided that side of things, so. . .unless I save up $1 million dollars or a couple years of saved up cash or get some kind of freelance writing career going, I'll keep selling insurance, assisting someone sell insurance and help around an office. Ah well.

In the meantime, I need to cut out distractions and get to the writing. Every once in awhile, I should probably network and socialize, though. Thankfully, the whole Comcast controversy should come to a close soon.

The AT&T DSL has been set up nicely in the apartment. This Saturday, a Comcast tech will be coming by to fix the wire, and I will make sure he replaces it or does some major surgery on it. If that doesn't fix the problem, I may just have to switch the cable over to AT&T, too. Hopefully, the tech also takes away the cable modem. The most recent Comcast bill came in with the Internet charges. . .I do not want to pay for it, and I intend on fighting against it. Hopefully that doesn't create too much distraction.

So, yeah, I need to get focused. While waiting around for the cable tech on Saturday, I intend on writing and researching. If anything good comes out of that day, hopefully that will. Last time, I was able to finish writing up a list of sources to spreadsheet, organize and check out. Having that block of time scheduled should help to get a good start on focusing on the writing. . ..

Now let's just hope that unlike tonight, when the computer took up a good amount of time processing information, I actually get my ass into gear and do the writing.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My Scheme to get the Rights Back to the Consumer vs. Comcast & Other Service Companies

So, get this. I call Comcast last night to schedule for a tech to come out and repair the faulty wire. The tech support person asks me if I want to purchase a maintenance program for something like $1.32 a month. Now, really, check this out: this $1.32 a month goes to waiving a service fee if they send out a tech, and the problem had arisen because of the configuration that affects the signal between the cable box and the TV (aka, ignorance of the owner who doesn't know how to configure their consumer electronics or doesn't know to contact their electronic equipment specialist before calling Comcast).

And this is after I basically had to yell at the tech that I know it's not my configuration, it's a stupid wire put there by them, Comcast. My configuration is OK, it has worked for the last year. Things started going wrong because the recent storms and high winds buffeted the wire in question. When I fool around with the wire, the reception changes and the modem could work every once in awhile then cuts out because the signal to it goes haywire.

Here's another clue: Comcast Sherlock, before I canceled the high-speed internet, the modem they installed was going haywire. Can you guess why? Right! Because of the broken wire! And that broken wire is in the realm of Comcast's responsibility.

As I basically keep telling them, they're responsible for fixing it, and they should fix it ASAP if they want to keep a customer and keep them happy. Also, by the way, as soon as possible is Friday of last week. No, wait. . .As Soon As Possible is three weeks ago when they sent the first technician to check on the whole issue, even if it would have inconvenienced us, the customer. Making sure their product works, and it works reliability, should be their #1 goal before they think about the comfort level of their customers.

So after spending hours on the phone, hours waiting around for their techs and hours watching their techs do stuff and not getting stuff fixed reliably, I think I should start charging them for my time they waste. I wonder what would be the going rate. . .maybe the future income I expect to make when I get my writing career going (since they waste my time getting there) or maybe my current wage. Who knows? Whatever it is, it needs to make clear that they're disrupting my life, my leisure, my future career and my current domestic/love life.

I don't think this should stand, if not just for me, but also for all their other customers. Imagine how the world of cable internet could change if we made our voices heard to Comcast, our overlord! So. . .anyone with me?

Maybe I could even charge them for the four days of pain and suffering in my wrists from screwing and unscrewing the connections between the wires, with pliers! Those things are damn tight. . .with a good reason, but something they should really do, not me if it causes me that much pain. . .and their service doesn't work reliably.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Dissatisfied with Comcast

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about my travails with the reliability of my Comcast service in the entry titled More Competent than the Comcast Trained.

I ended my relationship with them when it comes to my high speed internet on Friday because the problem hadn't been completely fixed by my tinkering. The strong winds buffeted the wire again and no amount of connecting and reconnecting the wire wouldn't fix it. In conclusion, the wire going from outside, through the wall of my building to the inside was close to dead.

Simple solution: have a Comcast tech come and replace that wire. Maybe they could even just fix it in the long term by eliminating that connection and having the more "main" wire enter my apartment through the wall.

Unfortunately, getting a tech out from Comcast to do it in a timely fashion (as in, Friday, the next day when I called during the night) is not feasible. On top of that, the wife and I would be out of town for the weekend, and we wanted the TiVo to record some shows.

So, by the end of the day, I cancelled the high speed internet with them and signed up with AT&T Yahoo DSL. At least our internet will be reliable in the future, since our telephones have never gone out because of strong winds.

If things get bad with preparing that wire in a less timely fashion, however, we may just have to switch our cable TV over to AT&T, though.

Unfortunately, that means that the wife and I will only have internet access at work and public gateways, like at cafes, libraries and community centers. Entries here will probably not likely be posted until the end of the week and outside of business hours, e-mail and other internet activity will probably occur intermittingly.

Thank you for understanding.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Fear of Obselescence

Last night, I think I got a bit too tangential. Yeah, I dislike not having time to do personal things that create meaning and value those things, but the thing that I really wanted to focus on that made me afraid is:

THE FEAR OF BECOMING OBSOLETE.

Just take a look at this article:

Girl Power: No rich relatives? No professional mentors? No problem. Ashley Qualls, 17, has built a million-dollar web site. She's LOL all the way to the bank.

When I first read the article, I thought that this girl was missing out on an education and the benefits of one. I still think there's a benefit to a higher education and an "innocent" childhood, but really, were those reactions just guarding me from thinking that I'm becoming obsolete?

This girl isn't really doing anything BEYOND me. Sure, I probably wouldn't design MySpace pages like her (crap, I haven't even touched the design of my MySpace page. Not making the time is one thing for not working on my design or doing something like this girl. Until reading this article, though, I hadn't even thought of doing that type of thing.

The article got me to thinking who's coming to my blog. I've been kind of annoyed with my content lately, much less the lack of entries. Most of the entries lately have felt more like complaining that I don't have the time to write or analyzing reasons why I'm not writing here rather than providing any useful content. And now I'm sounding like the typical blog. . .which I didn't feel like awhile ago when I had been writing reviews and on actual topics rather than complaining about life. . .which is something that I probably need to do, but I want to make content that interests people.

Damn. . .I feel so obsolete and like I can't make the time to get over it. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Can't Buy Back Time

My two biggest fears can be summed up in the fear of not getting the full value of my time.

Frankly, I'm in somewhat of an inefficient time in my life. I work one official full time job and when possible, I squeeze in the unofficial job of working on my bachelor's project or some other forms of writing. The official full time job of working at an insurance agency combined with doing dishes, emptying the litter box, doing laundry and other chores around the house feel like massive amounts of maintenance work that keeps my quality of life going but doesn't advance me toward the career goal that I want. In a major sense, that upkeep stuff simply doesn't feel productive.

I sometimes, sadly, think of a social life, family life, pet life and vacation life in the same manner as the maintenance aspects in my life. This characteristic of mine really pisses me off because these are the things, I feel, that I should be feeling joy analogous to working on my bachelor's project.

Much of the time, though, I'm thinking to myself, "If I could just work on the project and get it done, I can make more time for these other aspects of life." They both feel like they should be activities that provide me with meaning, which should help me feel integrated with the world while engaged in them.

Things work differently in my mind, though. It probably has to do with having to dedicate the majority of my waking life to working at the official job and other maintenance activities. If I had the writing career I wanted, I believe things would be different. I could set aside time for the career life then ideally make time in the evening for family, pets, friends, etc. etc. I could probably also just let loose on vacation and enjoy the experience of something new. It doesn't happen often, though.

And the socializing, networking and marketing could totally be a career, productive and growth activity. . .along with researching and keeping up to date on technology, science and current events. Not engaging in these activities has really become something of a fear to me.

Focusing so much on the abstract bachelor's project and the novel really has started to feel like something of a detriment. I've been working on this thing for something like 7 to 9 years now. I get a sense of pride when I explain something about it to people and they understand it. I feel like I'm accomplishing something.

Nonetheless, I've been spending so much time on it at the expense of other immensely useful activities. I fear that once I finish this project and try to start a writing career, whether it be creative or freelance creative writing, I'll have a lot of practical and knowledge bases to catch up on before I have a real productive career, one in which I can enjoy those other meaning making activities that I aim to do along with my writing some day.

Even finding the time to write in this blog has become difficult. . .and I really like doing it.

Ugh.