Work Habits

Before I went to college at age eighteen, my father gave me some advice on studying. “Always read the book ahead of time,” he told me. “Then after you’ve heard the lecture and done the assignments, go back and read the text again. That way you’ll learn the material thoroughly.”

I just repeated this advice to my daughter, even though she still more than a few years away from college. But I added one caveat…

Don’t do it.

If the primary goal is to thoroughly grok the information, then multiple readings and diligence in doing the assignments is  a great way to learn. However the goal of learning is not always to cram every bit of information into your head. As a student, one juggles many responsibilities and deadlines. Putting too much energy into one thing means taking energy away from something else. If one is a perfectionist or OCD or has a similar internal impetus to overdo, then trying and failing to do this thorough kind of work can sabotage one’s overall success.

I love my Rise of Modern Europe class. One of the main parts of lecture is to show a slide of a primary source such as a diary excerpt or bill of sale, and ask “What is this telling us?” Last class we looked at a chart that listed all the groups that participated in the Thirty-Years War, and when they entered and left the conflict. The point was not to know each of the armies; the point was to understand that this was a huge conflict involving many different factions in ever-changing alliances over several decades.

Another exercise we did in class was to attempt to read a lengthy piece in a very short time. The professor urged us to know the difference between a text we need to study closely, and a text we only need to skim. Both methods have great value.

I still haven’t found a good way to mesh my writing career with academia, but most of that is time management. It’s not that I’m doing it wrong, it’s that I need to prioritize some things, and other things must be put off. One thing that is both a blessing and a curse is that ideas for stories and essays pop up regularly. It’s nice to have ideas, but frustrating not to have time to work on them. Someday I’ll write The Diet of Worms Was Not a Buffet and The Closeted Calvinist (If you’ve studied Calvinism, you’ll get the problem with that title.)

But for now, I’ll read. Once. I’ll skim. I’ll take in everything I can even if there isn’t time to grok everything I want to grok.

And I’ll pass BOTH quizzes tomorrow.

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I’m a Meh Diabetic

A year ago I began a new writing project. I started documenting my life as a diabetic after receiving the diagnosis in February of last year. It was going to be heartfelt and true, following the ups and downs of learning to manage my blood sugar, eating right, and getting more exercise.

It wasn’t that interesting.

I abandoned the project after a couple of months. Yes, I had new medicine. I take five pills every night, which is intrusive but not nearly as bad as many, many diabetics have. I poke myself twice a day to measure my blood sugar, but I don’t have to poke myself to take insulin or other medications. My numbers are almost always well within the range the doctor wants them to be.

It’s always a challenge to decide what projects to abandon, which ones just need to rest on the shelf, and which are worth making time for. I’m a full-time college student this semester, so time-management is of great importance. My first priority (after taking care of my family) is to make sure I’m prepared for class. It’s not perfect. Sometimes I skim a reading instead of scrutinizing it. I’ve turned in papers knowing that the citations weren’t quite right. I might end up with B’s or even a C instead of a perfect A, but I’m okay with that.

My fiction writing, unfortunately, has again taken a back seat. Hopefully, after certain things (like better housing) are in place, and I have a semester under my belt to figure out how things work, I’ll be able to balance it all.

Meanwhile, I’m fine with chucking the “My First Year as a Diabetic” project in the trash.

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Publishing: Fiction vs Academic

If my name followed the verb-preposition-noun pattern it would be Takes-Selfies-With-Statues

I seem to be very adept at choosing careers that do not directly provide monetary compensation for the work I put in. If I were independently wealthy, or my husband was making enough money for me to live a life of leisure, I’d be perfectly okay with this. I’d love to create stories and do research and sometimes combine the two (Steampunk in particular) simply for the enjoyment and personal fulfillment.

Alas, that’s not very realistic.

In my very first week back to school I heard about a workshop geared for graduate students and teachers interested in publishing their work in professional journals. Although I am still an undergrad, I hope and plan to work on my masters degree at UCCS after I earn my bachelors. I was the only undergrad in the workshop, and it was both interesting and informative.

One of the main reasons for choosing History as my major is that it blends well with my fiction writing career. It also gives me many different options in the professional world after I have my degree. I could even work for the FBI!

The kind of work I enjoy most is project-based. Writing a novel, revising, querying, then hopefully being accepted then editing and publishing. I would enjoy chasing whatever ideas come to me (which reminds me…I have a specific Shakespeare-related question to ask of a specific Shakespeare professor on campus) then research them, write up my findings and publish the results. I’d love to work with other people on similar journals.

One thing that writing fiction and writing for academic purposes have in common is that, in both cases, it is very possible that you could put a great deal of work into a project and never see a single dime from it.

One of the main differences between writing fiction and writing for academia is that, in fiction, the money almost always flows to the author. If someone asks you for a fee, it is a huge flashing warning sign. In publishing your research in an academic journal, fees are normal and expected. With fiction, being asked to do something “for the exposure” is an insult, and only worthwhile to newbies who are trying to establish a name for themselves. (My first two stories were for charity. For everything else, I was paid. Not paid well, but I was paid.) In academia, one of the main goals is to have someone else cite your work. It is worthwhile to produce research that others trust and are interested in referencing for their own work.

I’ve just begun to explore the possibilities ahead of me in academia. I do believe many of the interesting paths will blend well with writing fiction. And raising a family. And finding personal fulfillment. And…well…I’m enjoying the path I’m on.

I’m just not exactly sure where it goes.

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Scholastic vs Fiction Writing

Simon is helping me take notes for this paper.

I need to write. Yes… this is the day for my weekly blog post, which is something I can whip out in ten minutes as an 0ff-the-cuff piece that doesn’t need citations or beta readers or anything more than a once-over proofread.

Specifically, I need to write a 750+ word paper that argues whether a specific historical person (who isn’t famous, but we have a large excerpt from his 13th century diary) is a peasant, merchant, or nobleman. It’s my first academic paper in many years, and the assignment is basically intended for us to get our toes wet as scholars of history.

Writing 750 words is a piece of cake for me. Making sure that I have a thesis that is appropriately stated and well-supported is a bit more of a challenge, but something I’m up for. Doing the citations properly is a challenge, but I can follow the online guide.

Writing fiction may not seem like a direct preparation for writing an academic paper, but it definitely helps. I know the difference between following an important thread (such as defining the difference between a peasant and a merchant) and chasing something fluffy down a rabbit hole (the crowds in Florence chanting “BALLS!” because that’s what was on the Medici crest.) I have the discipline not to fall down the rabbit hole, and limit my other sidetracks to what is immediately necessary for this paper.

I am enjoying my classes immensely! I am not surprised by the amount of work or time, though at times I can feel it is getting overwhelming. (Overcoming that is another skill to discuss some other time.) Today is my day between classes, which are all on Tuesdays and Thursdays for now. I have a specific set of tasks I need to accomplish, and fit in normal family stuff such as picking up my kid from school, and writer commitments such as an important meeting tonight.

Later in the semester I hope to be in a better “swing” so I can find time to finish the fiction as well as fulfill my academic commitments.

And enjoy doing it!

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Anthropology and Science Fiction

I was perfectly happy when my advisor suggested I take Cultural Anthropology, as it checked off four different requirements for my degree and was a freshman level class. (I’m a senior, majoring in history.)

Today we had our first class. One major point of today’s introduction was that anthropology covers all times and areas where humans have existed and do exist. Studying some aspect of today’s humanity is just as valid a branch as studying a long-dead civilization.

The idea that humanity consists of many very different cultures fascinates me. Some of the best SciFi out there begins with a civilization that is vastly different from any society known on Earth, such as Ursula K. LeGuinn’s  The Left Hand of Darkness or Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye. Many stories (and they’re good stories) simply extrapolate the author’s own society, adding in some advanced tech.

Worldbuilding should involve the development of the characters’ culture, society, and political structure. The more different the society is from the familiar, the bigger the challenge for the author.

One of the first series I began working on as a completely built world are the Kingdom Come novels. They are primarily romance novels, set in a far-future human-colonized world. I wanted to write about relationships in a framework that was very different from the hetero-normative, primarily monogamous society I live in. Kingdom Come is polyamorous, with a traditional marriage consisting of several men and several women. I didn’t want to write kink. I didn’t want my characters to be breaking out of the traditional mold and trying something new, I wanted them to have different expectations imposed on them by their own society. On Kingdom Come, if your romantic group is small, consisting of just a few members, your friends and family will try to fix you up with other singles and small groups.

Having multiple characters in a relationship means I have more than one or two POVs. This can get complicated. I’ve experimented with a few different ways to tell the stories, from focusing on one or two characters to giving equal time to eight. I’m not sure what works best yet.

It would be interesting, not to mention make my life so much easier, if I could visit Kingdom Come and observe the relationships first-hand.

From an anthropological point of view.

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The Return

I didn’t write in December. Just a few words on the first two days of the month, then I let it go. It wasn’t a deliberate release, but I realized what was happening and I went with it.

Today, the holidays are over and both kids are back in school. I opened my NaNo novel and added words. Not as many as I’d like, but I know when I haven’t written for a while it takes a while to get flowing again. The next scene is one I used to be stuck on, then figured out during December when I wasn’t doing any actual writing.

A week from today classes start at UCCS and I will finally be working on finishing my bachelor’s degree! I’m very excited to get going, but I am a little nervous because there’s a delay in my financial aid and I don’t know whether it’s going to be disbursed or dispersed.

My schedule has me on campus only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and some Saturdays. I like this a lot! Hopefully it will work out with my kids’ needs and everything else I have to do. This is important, for me, and for my family. A bachelors in history will enhance my writing career, and allow me to explore other jobs (such as teaching) that require something more than an associates degree.

My writing goals for the year are to finish the stories I started in 2017. I have not yet specified a timeline for completion…I thought I’d finish last year. I’m also not sure about writing anything on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because I spend most of the day in class.

For now, I’m doing the tasks I can, when I can do them. Hopefully by the end of January we’ll all be in a happy routine.

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What’s Worth It

As a teenager in the 80’s I was jealous of the girls who spent an hour or more every morning making their hair perfectly floofy and feathered from all angles. Not jealous enough to spend that much time on my own hair, but I did admire the result. I put foam curlers in my hair every night, then brushed  up and back every morning. It was simple, and produced the desired result.

It’s fun to dress up and be fancy now and again, but my daily norm is no makeup and a simple hairstyle. It’s not worth the time and trouble to do anything complicated. The only exception is that I often put a french braid in my 10yo’s hair, and we don’t do that every day.

I’ll be 47 later this month. Solidly into middle age! Now, unfortunately, I have to take the time to do many necessary things that have nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with aging. I’ll spare you the details, but I swear that whatever the neti pot dislodged the other day could have gained sentience.

It’s not always easy to decide what’s worth my time and effort. Most of the time, my daughter likes having her hair done up. She just hates how much time it takes. I think it’s worth it not just because it’s cute and keeps her hair neat all day, but I also enjoy the mother-daughter time.

I’m enrolled in college this spring. I have two girls, the older of whom has special needs and is transitioning to adulthood. There are a lot of demands on my time. I started several stories in 2017, and I want to finish them. I also have a number of stories on the shelf I’d like to delve back into.

I need to decide what’s worth my time. My NaNo novel Coward of the County is just over 50k, but unfinished. It’s part of a series that I’m not likely to query soon. Twenty-first Century Airship Princess has great potential, but requires some re-arranging along with a rewrite of the unfinished rough draft. Techspectations and Mother of Dragons could be novellas, shorter and easier to finish.

They’re all worth my time.

That’s the problem.

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Finishing

I finished the year sick. Halfway through November I came down with Bronchitis. Mid December, still recovering from Bronchitis, I went to orientation at UCCS and picked up a stomach bug that did very nasty things to my innards for 24 hours. When I went to see the doctor for that, she told me I also had a UTI.

I’m taking waaaay too many prescriptions at the moment, but I trust my doc. And if being sick now means I can be healthy for the beginning of school in January (I’m finally finishing my Bachelors degree in History) then it’s worth it.

I technically won NaNoWriMo by passing the 50k wordcount by the end of November, but I still need to finish the story. I also set aside two other WIPs to do NaNo; I need to finish them as well.

That’s the goal for next year.

Finish.

The big change coming up is going back to school full time. I’m excited and happy and really looking forward to it! UCCS is an incredible school with a lot to offer. With two Associates degrees under my belt, I’m going in as a Senior. I have a lot of transfer credits, but I also have a lot of specific credits to complete. I’m not overloading. I’m taking twelve credits, which is the minimum to be full time. I was also able to schedule myself primarily on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which is nice.

I’m eager to see how school meshes with writing. I’ll have lots of work, including reading and writing, to do of course. The nice thing is the campus. UCCS is related to CU  Boulder and CU Denver. It’s a beautiful campus, tucked around a big hill in the middle of Colorado Springs. It has all the usual academic buildings, dorms, student center, arts building, and a brand new health complex. No football stadium, but that’s not something I’ll miss. (Maybe sometime during the year I’ll drive up to Boulder for a game. Maybe CU vs CSU but that’s a story for another time.)

The library has gorgeous views of Pikes Peak, and a plethora of places to sit and study (or write!) They also have a couple of tradmill desks, also with views of Pikes Peak. Tables in the student center, snack bar, and places all over campus are designed for students to sit and hang out. Or study. Or write.

This could be perfect.

Finishing the Bachelors degree is the beginning. I’m strongly considering continuing for my Masters, and who knows what lies beyond?

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Recognizing Racism

Photo by George Pimentel – Image courtesy gettyimages.com

I wrote last week about writing an ensemble cast in a SciFi setting. It’s going well so far. I have eight major characters (it’s arranged-marriage-polyamory) and I began by letting half of them have a POV. I eventually let each of the others have a POV chapter, and there is one who is very deliberate remaining somewhat mysterious who does not yet have a POV.

In October I selected images of actors to use as character inspiration. I began with Matthew Lewis, best known for playing Neville Longbottom in the Harry Potter Movies. At age twenty-eight he has transitioned from the quiet nerdy adolescent character to playing gritter roles such as Sgt. Drum Drummond on Ripper Street.

And he’s absolutely gorgeous. (Check out this article in the Huffington Post.)

When I chose the eight actors, I made an effort to have a racially-diverse cast. Priyanka Chopra. Jordan Fisher. Kate Micucci. Grant O’Rourke. Zendaya. Godfrey Gao. Emilia Clarke. Ideally, for a human-colonized planet a couple thousand years in the future, every single one of the images should be of someone whose ethnicity is so mixed that one could not look at them and slap a label of “Asian” or “Hispanic” or such on any of them. If I’d worked a little harder at my selection, I could have found eight actors with bi- (or tri or quad or beyond) -racial characteristics, but the eight I used each have something I liked. I also didn’t want to put too much time into the project. I might fantasize about selling the film rights to my story someday, but if that ever happened it is highly unlikely that any of my original choices would be able to play the part for which their image was inspiration.

I’d love to get Matthew Lewis, though…

After I’d selected the eight, I was somewhat disgusted with myself. It felt like I had the token Asian, the token Hispanic, and one guy who could pass as black or biracial and I didn’t want to think too hard about it because that pondering in itself felt racist. But having the “token” ethnicities was better than whitewashing the whole thing.

Godfrey Gao for Harper’s Bazaar Men Thailand

Some characters were clearer in my mind than others. As I began to write, some of them began to speak to me, developing into fully fledged participants in the plot. The one character I mentioned who was still somewhat mysterious happened to be Godfrey Gao, AKA the token Asian.

This story is set on a future world. There is nothing that a twenty-first-century reader would notice about the character as being inherently Asian. Yet, as my brain started to explore what kind of guy this character was, I found myself coming up with racially stereotypical characteristics such as being a martial arts master or secret ninja.

Actually… I’ve already established that Zendaya’s character thinks of herself as ninja-like, but she’s not that good at it. (It’s okay. It’s not an important job skill.)

These thoughts bounced around in my head a while before I suddenly realized “Hey! That’s racist.” It’s not necessarily a negative stereotype to make the Asian guy a martial artist, but it is still racist.

The outstanding characteristics of Godfrey Gao’s character in my NaNoWriMo story are that he writes about law, and he is hard to get to know. He is the kind of person who will talk to anyone in a friendly manner, coming across as open and considerate, but after the conversation closes you realize he revealed absolutely nothing about himself while learning a great deal about you.

I’m seventeen thousand words in (behind, but not hopeless) and the other seven characters are well aware he exists, and that they will soon be married to him, but no one has as yet met him. Grant’s and Kate’s characters passed him in a hallway of the duchy offices, but didn’t realize who he was until he’d walked right past them. I’m setting up his introduction to be guarded and private. He will eventually get a POV, and I’m hoping when that happens the reader will have an “aha” moment.

I’m not going to worry too much about these images for now. I am generally sparse with regards to describing my characters’ physical characteristics anyway. That might not be a bad thing. I’ll keep the pictures in front of me, but the characters will show up in the story as a fully-fleshed people whose personalities and quirks have nothing to do with their far-away Earth ethnicity.

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The Prima Donna in Me

I logged in to the public library’s computer today to get some words in. I’ve never tried that before… I’ve brought my laptop with me, or written by hand, but never used their computer. For the most part, it went smoothly.

Just not ideal.

Colorado Springs has a wonderful library system. I can check out a book from any branch, and return it to any branch. This is particularly useful because our favorite Library, 21C, is on the other side of town, but it’s often easier to drop off books at Ruth Holley, which is in the same mall as the laundromat I like. 21C also has a variety of work spaces for the community, from cubicles with tables or desks to computer labs to cubicles with individual computers (those are most in demand.)

Today Bunny had a two-hour delay, and I decided to stay up north and run a few errands then go to the library to work before picking her up, instead of making the drive north twice.

Instead of 21C, I went to the small library closest to Bunny’s school. Instead of work spaces or a lab, they had one row of computers off in a corner for the teenagers, and another row smack in the middle of the main traffic area for everyone else.

I take Thufir Hawat’s advice to heart. I do not like to work with my back to a door or other open area. At 21C I like the cubicles with little tables because I can put the back of my chair against the cubicle wall and face out of the cubicle. I was disappointed when they installed desks against the walls of some cubicles… I had to leave my back exposed.

Today, work had to be done. I pushed aside my discomfort and logged in, even though there were people walking behind me and anyone could easily see everything I was working on. It wasn’t NSFW (although there will eventually be a few sex scenes) but that’s not the point. It was mine. It wasn’t there for public consumption.

I survived writing for about an hour and a half and at least a thousand words added to my NaNoNovel before I had to go pick up Bunny. I survived the woman diagonal from me rummaging through the pencil jar between us, and the elderly gentlemen who loudly teased her about “Playing with them computers” while I worked.

I understand that a writer should be able to work through all kinds of distractions and under all kinds of imperfect conditions. But yes… there is a prima donna in me who wants the perfect set-up to write. When we were living in my parents’ old house back in Vermont (the exile years) I had a pretty nice place. We used the master bedroom as a workroom, with laundry-sorting, sewing, spare bunks for the girls, and my writing desk. I had a nook with my back to the wall, facing the television. I had a tall shelf to my right and a smaller shelf behind me to my left, with plenty of room for tsotchkes and other odd bits. I had printouts and a tall wall poster with the chronology of Kingdom Come. It wasn’t perfect, but it was comfortable and I was very productive there.

When we moved into this tiny apartment I put my writing desk near the entrance to the kitchen. That worked for almost a year before I gave up on it, and resigned myself to keeping my laptop on a shelf next to the couch (it’s actually love seat…it only fits two people) where I had less room but I was more comfortable.

There really is a correlation between productivity and having a workspace conducive to the task at hand. Yes, I’d love to have the perfect office someday…actually, a selection of spaces within my home where I can log on and work on my WIP depending on my needs and those of my family. Maybe I want to work in my formal office, away from all distractions. Maybe I need to use an alcove off the family room where I can be close to the kids, laundry, and the kitchen while I carve out some writing time.

That would be perfect. And maybe a treehouse or she-shed for when I feel extra creative…

Not yet. I can’t be a prima donna right now. We don’t have the resources. But I will still write, even if I only get a few hundred words in each hour-sprint instead of my usual of over a thousand.

My ROW80 goals this round are simply to win NaNoWriMo. I’m behind in my word count, but I’m okay.

And a question to my fellow ROWers and other visitors…

Have you ever used your Dropbox from a public computer, like one at the library? I thought there was a way to simply log in, work, save to the Dropbox as usual then go on with life, being able to continue working later from my home computer. I have found that I can use a tablet (awkward) or even my phone (almost impossible, but it technically works) to access my Dropbox files, and I can move between those and my laptop as needed. But I almost always use my laptop.

I was able to log in to my Dropbox at the library, and retrieve my WIP. But I couldn’t save my work, which fortunately I found out the first time I tried to save, after just a few hundred words. In the end, I had to save a copy to the desktop then email that file to myself. The computer automatically deleted the desktop file when I logged off, which is fine.

It would have been easier to have my WIP on a thumbdrive. But what’s the purpose of having my Dropbox then? Yeah, I like the cloud storage…especially when I need to change laptops at a less-than-ideal time. But it should be simpler…or maybe I’m doing something wrong. I’d like to hear from other users!

 

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