CFS posts

Looking Forward: 2014

Aim for the sky! One rung at a time. (Picture by Mykl Roventine)

Aim for the sky! One rung at a time.
(Picture by Mykl Roventine)

We’re already a couple of weeks into 2014, but it’s not too late to set goals! Let’s see what I’ve got on my list for this year.

I should perhaps add a caveat that I’m going to be a bit more conservative than I was last year. Struggles with my health and energy levels are forcing me to be a bit more realistic, as goals I know I can’t reach just depress and discourage me. If I go above and beyond, then fantastic. But this is what I’ll be happy with achieving. Maybe a little more. I like to aim high, even if I’m pulling my focus in slightly.

Home / Work

Might as well get this stuff out of the way! My goals here involve:

  • Keeping up with the day job as I am currently. It’s going well, I’m always learning new stuff, and it enables me to do all of those other things that make me happy. I’m lucky enough to have a good group of people around me, too, and I’m thankful for that.
  • Finishing up the big change-around at home. The first phase of this is done, and it’s going great. There’s still some tidy-up work to do and the next phase to knock over before I’ll be content with how things are. This will make things easier for me at home, releasing more time and energy for other things.
  • Beating my health with a stick until it behaves. Worth a try, right?

Writing

Starwalker

Ah, the beloved web serial. Book 4 is well underway and I’m aiming to finish this particular story arc (and book) this year. Will there be a Book 5? At this stage, I’m honestly not sure – there are a couple of places the story could go after the end of the current trials, but I don’t have any set plans for that yet.

It’s also possible that it’s time to put a pin in that particular project and move on to one of the others on my list. Do I have much more story left to tell there? Would it benefit from a break? All good questions, and no doubt I’ll be asking them right up until it’s time to make a decision. Which will probably be around the end of Book 4, whenever that happens.

Could that be the end of Starwalker? Unlikely. It just might change from its current pattern.

Here’s what I have in mind for this year’s tasks:

  • Finish Book 4. Unless it extends beyond the end of this year, but right now that’s not looking likely.
  • Edit Book 1. A light edit is partially done; I’m looking to finish the edit off and tidy it up for potential submission to publishers.
  • Do more shorts. Elliott’s one is fighting me, but I’m determined to defeat his story and release it into the wild. I have a list of others to do, too, and aim to get to some more of them as well.
  • Look at publication options. By the end of the year, I’d like to have sorted out my options and decided what I want to do. The Kickstarter is still a possibility.

Vampire Electric

I’m loving how the second draft of this story is coming out. This year, I’d like to continue with the second draft and see if I can get closer to finishing it. It’s falling into 3 parts and the first part is almost done. One more NaNo should give me the second part, at least. Hopefully I’ll be able to work on it a bit more than that, but that will depend on other commitments (and potentially whether Starwalker is still running as a serial).

I’m also considering putting this up as a serialised novel, once the second draft is done. Effectively, I’d be serialising the third draft, as all I’d be doing is editing and posting. However, considering how much more there is to write in the second draft, I have no idea if I’ll even start this in 2014.

It’s entirely possible that I have already bought the domain for such a serialisation, however. Ahem.

Tales from the Screw Loose

Recently, I had a little squee moment when my brain stumbled over the missing piece for this story. I finally have everything I need to start writing this one! Except for time and opportunity, of course.

I’m not sure yet whether I’ll write this one as a serial, or as a background project to be serialised later (like I’m considering with Vampire Electric). I’m pretty sure that I will serialise it somehow. A lot will depend on Starwalker and whether I keep that going as a serial, as that will dictate my capability for writing another fresh, off-the-cuff serial. (Trying to write two serials at the same time would be a recipe for disaster for me. Let’s keep things realistic!)

I’d like to get all of the groundwork laid for this story this year. Maybe even start the first draft (or set of posts). A lot will depend on how the two projects above are going!

Apocalypse Blog

Ahh, the good old Apocalypse Blog. I’ve got new covers and fresh edits to apply. I mean to sort these out! Get the books all redone and shiny, and publish them on all the outlets I can get my e-fingers on. I’ll also be changing up the pricing structure to reflect the latest trends. I’d like to rejuvenate the sales for my beloved trilogy and see my graphs go back up again. That would be lovely.

I’m still getting requests for a fourth book on this series. Which I love! I’m so happy that people are enjoying it. I don’t have any fixed plans for a fourth book, but I have notes lying around for some shorts. No promises at this point, but if an idea from this world bites strongly enough, I’ll write it.

Anthologies

Last year, I wrote a couple of shorts for anthologies. This year, I hope to see them published, but that depends on the projects in question. Watch this space!

I’m also looking at putting together my own anthology this year. I’ve got a few themes in mind to choose from, and the kernels of ideas for stories. Still working out details, but I’m aiming to have one released (to the public! to buy and read!) this year. This will be a collaboration effort, rather than an anthology of my work – I’ll be writing one story for it, maybe, and editing, collating, and typesetting the whole thing for release. I have a couple of friends I’ll be working with on this, so it’s not just me.

This is a first for me. I’m not sure how it’ll all go, but I’m sure it’ll be interesting to find out! Need to polish up my ability to write short stories. Also need to figure out more of the back end side of doing a project like this.

I love learning new things.

Writing Community

I adore my local writing community, and that I get to help shape it. I have no intention of stopping, because of all the wonderful help, support, and encouragement I get from the awesome people around me.

Creative Writing Group

Into its sixth year now and still going strong. This year, we have a new time-slot to experiment with, later in the evening, and it’ll be interesting to see how that goes. I took a poll of the subjects that the group wanted to talk about at the end of last year, and I’m curious to see how that list works out. I have a few topics to research so we can talk about them, and that’s all good.

Writers’ Asylum

This was an experiment last year and went so well that I’m doing another one. Preparation for this is going well (I got the prompts written recently), and I’ll be lining this up for April soon. Watch this space!

NaNoWriMo

Can’t go without mentioning this. I fully intend to resume my Municipal Liaison mantle for the 8th year, and we’ll be having fun with the usual events. Plus, there are plans for a new-style Kick-off Party and another Writer’s Retreat. The ball for the Retreat will probably start rolling soon (organising an event this big has to be done well in advance). I’m looking forward to the awesomeness already.

Is that everything? I think that’s everything.

Oh, except that a friend and I have been sorting out setting up an editing service. It’s a way for us to do what we love and raise some money in the process. I’m both eager to get going on this and reeling at the thought. Right now, it’s on a pause until I can get stuff at home more settled. Then I’ll be able to give it the attention and devotion it deserves.

More on this in (hopefully) the near future. For now, I have a set of goals before me. So enough talking about it: let’s get going. Onwards, my friends!

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2013: A Retrospective

2013. It was a bit of a rollercoaster. I can’t believe I’m a week into 2014 and I’m only just getting to this.

I just pulled up my goals post from the beginning of 2013, and wow. The year went so differently to what I had planned. But I guess life would be boring if it was all that easy to plot out, right?

Let’s break it down a bit and see what I managed to achieve and what fell by the wayside.

Work

This one went pretty much as I had hoped. It has been a busy year with occasional bouts of stress, but for the most part it has been secure and steady. Thanks, workplace.

Home Stuff

This is a big part of what changed for me this year. The financial stuff has settled down and that’s a layer of stress that has lifted off me. Score one for me!

However, my folks were both called away several months ago, and they’re currently on the other side of the world. Nothing to worry about: they’re staying with my brother for a while and playing with the grandkids. All good! We share a house, so I’m currently housesitting and catsitting and generally taking care of everything at this end for them. Which, to be clear, I don’t mind in the least, but it is an extra overhead that I didn’t have before.

What I didn’t expect was just how much those little things would impact everything else. I’ve lived on my own before, looked after a house (and its associated furry inhabitants) by myself before, but this time around it’s different. I’m struggling way more than I ever have before. I think my health is just so much worse now and that’s making it difficult for me to keep up. In truth, I haven’t been coping well, and I’ve had to call in friends to help out when my energy reserves just failed me.

In struggling to keep up with things at home, everything else has been impacted. This is because my priorities have to be:

  1. Work, so I can pay to eat and live
  2. Home stuff, so I eat and live
  3. Writing, so I can breathe and be me.

For the latter months of 2013, I spent some time trying to figure out how to make things work at home. It has involved shuffling some things around (not moving house, but moving a lot of stuff around inside the house; this is a work in progress, but it’s getting there); paying someone to pick up the things I don’t have energy for, like the cleaning; and toying with the idea of getting in a lodger. The lodger idea has slipped into the background for now, and I have a few ideas for improvements to help things go more easily for me at home, but it’s getting better. Slowly and surely!

It has been a big change for me. I hadn’t realised just how much I had become used to sharing a house (and all its associated work) with my folks, and how much I relied on their help and input on a day-to-day basis. I’m so grateful for my friends and all the help they’ve given me as I’ve been working to adjust and cope; I would be in such a mess now if it wasn’t for them.

Health

Yeah, it’s crappy. The CFS has been getting worse for a while and I’m struggling along on empty all the time now. I’m budgeting my time and activities more frugally than I’ve ever had to before. For those familiar with the spoons theory, I have fewer spoons to play with these days.

I’ve had a little bit of progress. The tests I had towards the beginning of the year highlighted about three separate issues that I needed to deal with. Things are improving there, slowly. Sadly, these are all digestion-related, and while my tummy is happier these days (most of the time), it hasn’t led to an improvement in energy levels.

The CFS is an ongoing battle. It forces me to prioritise things very strictly, and getting on top of things at home has been more important than chasing the unicorn of a successful CFS treatment. It might sound counter-intuitive, but I needed to get the immediate concerns sorted out so that I have the leeway to tackle the longer-running problems like CFS. I don’t have the mental or emotional energy to handle both at once.

As the home stuff gets sorted, I hope to get time to devote attention to my shitty health. In the meantime, I plough on.

Writing

Here’s the really interesting stuff. The short version of this post is that it hasn’t gone anywhere near as far as I had hoped. But let’s break it down a bit.

StarwalkerStarry

The web serial is still going strong! It’s into its fourth book now and heading swiftly towards its fourth birthday. Hard to believe I’ve been writing it for that long! My readers continue to be a delight and a wonderfully supportive blanket. They have been so understanding about the posts I’ve had to miss because I was simply too sick to make it (and I’ve done it far more than I’m comfortable with). I’m so grateful for them. I still love the story and even though it’s getting harder to keep up, I have every intention of pushing on and trying hard.

I talked about making the first trilogy into ebooks. Maybe running a Kickstarter campaign and having a whole plan – I actually got as far as writing out the plan. This has largely been skittled by the issues above; my priority is keeping the web serial posts going, and work on editing the first book is very much a background task now.

As for the shorts, I have a pile of ideas brimming but little to no time to get them down. The fourth one of the series is almost written, but it’s fighting me and I’ve been letting it rest so I can come back at it fresh. Not much progress here.

Vampire Electric

(Picture from scienceblogs.com)

(Picture from scienceblogs.com)

I had hoped to finish the first draft. What I wound up doing this year was quite different: I have abandoned the first draft about 70% complete, and started over. It was my NaNoWriMo 2013 project, and I used November to start fresh on the second draft of this story. I knew a lot of the things I wanted to fix or do better or differently, and I think it worked. It’s coming out much stronger now, though I’m only about a third of the way in. On the plus side, I have a good idea of how it’s going to end now, and I still can’t wait to write it.

Tales from the Screw Loose

I aimed to get all the prep done for this. I wound up doing a load of planning during my NaNo prep, so I’ve actually achieved this! There are still a couple of key things that I’m still figuring out to tie it all together, so it’s not quite ready to start writing, but it’s ticking over in the back of my brain. Soon, my pretties, soon.

Apocalypse Blog

Not as much progress here as I’d like. My sales dived into the toilet and I’ve been working to kick them back up again, to no avail. This is mostly because I haven’t got to the point where I could put my work into the public domain and actually do said kicking. On the plus side, I have fresh edit feedback on the ebooks and a set of shiny new covers all ready to go. I just need to put them all together into ebooks again and re-release them.

Anthologies

I haven’t been entirely idle this year! I joined in on a couple of anthologies that were being put together through a group on Goodreads. I have written my stories and sent them through, but both projects have foundered since then (not due to my involvement, I promise!). One of them is back up and running now, and I have hope that it will see the light of day in the next year. Fingers crossed for the other one.

Community and Events

2013-ML-Facebook-ProfileI’m still heavily involved in my local writing community. NaNoWriMo is still a big event for me, full of events to organise and run, and explains why this blog went so chillingly silent after 1st November rolled around. We did a bigger and better than ever Retreat, lots of write-ins, and lots of fun was had. Plus I got nearly 50,000 words of that second Vampire Electric draft done, which makes me happy.

The Creative Writing Group is still going strong. Five years old and still rolling. This makes me insanely happy. Lots of interest and enthusiasm from old and new faces alike, so definitely nothing to complain about here.

I also did an experiment this year by holding the first Writers’ Asylum. Why do I call it the first? Because it got such good feedback that I think it was a great success and I’ll be doing another one. However, they take so much work to set up that I’m not rushing it: right now, it looks like it’ll be one per year. Otherwise I’d never get my own writing done!

Overall…

It has been a hell of a year. I haven’t achieved anything like as much as I had hoped. But I’m still here, I’m still moving forward, and I’m grateful for all those things that have gone well. It’s harder than it used to be, but I’m still writing. I still have ideas clogging up my brain and popping out of the woodwork when I least expect it.

I know it’s a bit late for new year’s resolutions (and I never really do them anyway), but I’ll do a 2014 goal-setting post soon. It helps to see it all laid out; I like plans. Here’s hoping that 2014 is the year that I manage to stick to more of what I aim to do!

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Catching/ramping up

It looms, but we love it

It looms, but we love it

I can’t believe that it has been so long since I posted here. Things are busy, my health is crap, and most of the time I’m scraping through the bare minimum to keep my head above water. Plus there’s Starwalker to write and post, and all of this year’s NaNoWriMo stuff to prepare, including another ambitious Writer’s Retreat. Oh, and there was GenreCon, which was awesome and I should post about that.

So much to do, so much to report on, and so little time. With NaNoWriMo starting next week, that’s where a lot of my focus is, so let’s start with that. The ML stuff is coming along nicely (much thanks to my co-MLs and other friends who have leant a hand; I’m so grateful to have them). The Retreat is ticking along and about to start sucking up more of my time, as we approach deadlines and confirmations and the need to pay for things.

And I’m still not sure what I’m going to write this year. I’m determined to write something new/different and not focus on Starwalker for once (my brain needs a break, and I’ve been writing Starwalker for the past three NaNos, so it’s time for a change). But in my looooong list of potential projects, which one to choose? I have two that are in a good state to start writing and I’m currently struggling to decide between them.

Here’s the blurb I put up on the Brisbane NaNo forums recently:

Vampire Electric

500 years ago, electrical creatures rose up and drove humanity out of their city. In the wilderness, a strange bargain was struck and the first vampire was made. Humans went on to build their new civilisation on steam and clockwork, while this new breed fed on the energy of humans in secret.

Now, Diza just wants to prove to the university board that a scholarship girl can earn a linguistics degree. To do that, she takes on the translation of an ancient text that tells the tale of the first vampire, the deal he struck, and a device that might create a newer, stronger combination of man and electrical entity. But she knows that this is no fable; this might be her chance to take revenge on the vampire that killed her family. As she gets drawn deeper into the politics of the vampire world, she begins to wonder if the protection of the man who hired her will be enough to keep her alive long enough to see that revenge through.

I have been writing this one on and off for a couple of years now. It’s one of those things that I poke at in the background when I have time or need to do something a little different. I’m about 70,000 words through it and haven’t reached the end (it’ll probably hit 100k before I’m done). I’ve got to the stage where I know all the things that I want to fix, do differently, and do better.

So while this one wouldn’t be a ‘fresh start’ exactly, I think I’m in a good position with it to start a new rewrite.

Tales from the Screw Loose

It’s not a good time to be an android on the colonies. After Earth was evacuated, floods of refugees needed homes and jobs. Automated solutions are being pushed out, and with it, the need for droid mechanics is on the decline. Grace is forced to leave her home outpost and seek work in the big city.

She ends up as the maintenance engineer at the Screw Loose, a robot brothel. With competition from the real-flesh whorehouse across the street, rising anti-robot sentiments, and an inconvenient corpse that could close the Screw Loose permanently, Grace’s new job quickly proves to be more fraught and dangerous than fixing farm gear.

I have talked about this one on and off for some time. It has taken a couple of years for the pieces to come together, all the elements that will take it beyond an amusing situation (robot brothel, lol) and turn it into an actual story with something to say. Not that I’m aiming for Fiction With A Message; I prefer stories to have a plot and an arc to them, and an idea that they’re ‘going somewhere’. As much as I love serial writing, soap operas and situation comedies are not my style.

Now, I finally feel like the Screw Loose‘s elements are all there, and it’s about ready to start.

The truth is, neither piece is speaking to me very loudly at the moment. It’s possible that there’s just too much going on in my head right now for them to be heard. I kind of suspect that, come 1st November when the starting pistol goes off for this year’s novel-writing challenge, I’m going to be staring at a blank yWriter project, wiggling my fingers above the keys to try to encourage a decision to come out. And then I’ll start writing.

Wish me luck!

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Hiatus over

This is what a hiatus should look like. (Picture by xn3ctz)

This is what a hiatus should look like.
(Picture by xn3ctz)

So, I took July off writing Starwalker. After the end of Book 3, I needed a bit of a break to catch my breath and prepare for the start of the next storyline.

I didn’t intend for the hiatus to be a break from writing altogether, but this is what ended up happening. I did some planning (for Tales from the Screw Loose and upcoming Starwalker), fiddled with some logistical stuff, read a few things, but otherwise… nope, no writing. No editing, no short stories, not a single thing. I didn’t even post here very much.

In truth, I needed the break. I needed to catch my breath in so many ways.

Clearly, my body thought so, too. When I decided to take a couple of days off work to have a bit of a holiday from that too, I got sick with a nasty cold/flu bug that has been doing the rounds. Isn’t that always the way? You take a little break and your body decides it’s time to indulge in that thing it has been putting off for a while: collapsing in a disgusting, dribbling heap. That was three weeks ago, and I’m still trying to shake off the last of the virus.

I had some personal-life stuff explode during the hiatus, too. Nothing bad or disastrous, but family is moving around and there has been a lot to do to help them out with that. I’m currently house-sitting (effectively) and looking after all the family pets. Juggling everything at home with work and being sick has been a challenge. It’s another level of complication that I have to deal with.

With everything that was going on, July ended with surprising alacrity; before I knew it, I was knee-deep in August. Starwalker was suddenly due and I was ill-prepared for it. I had fallen out of my usual writing routine and habits, and I was still struggling to recover enough energy to think straight after being sick.

I was stuck. I really didn’t want to extend the hiatus, because that’s a bad habit to get into and I needed to force myself back into my writing routine. At the same time, I didn’t want to put up a sub-standard Starwalker post; that wouldn’t have been fair to my readers.

In the end, I chose a compromise: a teaser post that featured a regular AI, both shorter and simpler than the usual story entry. It was easy to put together, it went up on time, and it led neatly into the next storyline.

I was so relieved when my readers reacted positively to it (they’re lovely but I still hate to risk disappointing them). And since then, I’ve managed to get a full, Starry-narrated post up that started the fourth book off properly, thanks to a handily-placed public holiday.

I’m still struggling to get back into the rhythm of writing on my daily commute. It has been hard for a while now and it’s only getting harder. But I’m determined not to miss any more deadlines. This week, I got the first draft of the next Starwalker post written at my monthly write-in. I’m going to push myself to keep working away at it, gather some momentum, and push back into the routine I once had.

I’m also going to tackle my health issues and see if I can manage them better, too. Something has to give and I’m sick of the fatigue getting in the way of what I love.

I have so much I want to do. So many projects. I just need to figure out how to make it all work.

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Fighting the spiral

Watching life zoom by (picture by Norma Desmond)

Watching life zoom by
(picture by Norma Desmond)

For the second time in a month, I’ve had to delay Starwalker posts. Not by one week, but by two.

I hate it. I hate missing deadlines, I hate letting my readers down, and I hate the way I’m sliding into being one of those unreliable writers who can’t keep to her own schedule. I don’t want to be That Writer.

It’s not because I’m worried about losing audience or what people might think of me. My readers are wonderful, and their messages of patience and understanding lighten the load from me. I am more grateful for them than I can say. The hardest person on me is me, and I know that.

It’s because I’m better than that. Being reliable is a part of who I am. Being a writer who puts her work out there is a big part of my life. I can do better than that.

Except lately, I haven’t. I have stared at the Starwalker post that’s two weeks overdue now, over and over, and it’s still not done. There are several reasons:

  1. It’s an action scene, which is hard, and I’m still working out the logistics of what exactly needs to happen.
  2. Things at home went sideways last week when my brother got some bad news (nothing dire, but not ‘good’ either), and now my mother is flying over to the UK to help him and his little ones out.
  3. My health has been getting worse over the past few weeks.

I could probably deal with any one of those on its own. Number 1 is something that I can usually handle without too much problem; I work my way through it, rewrite it two or three times (sometimes from scratch), and generally beat it with a stick until it looks like something I like. However, it requires some focus and attention to achieve, and that has been lacking lately.

Number 2 came out of left field for us, and has meant a lot of stuff to organise and think about around my home life. My mum flies out tomorrow, and it’s going to take the weekend (and possibly some of next week) to iron out the pattern of my life while she’s away. She’s probably going to be with my brother and his family for the next year (a few months at minimum), so my dad and I need to work out a sustainable schedule.

This was complicated recently by the cam belt in my dad’s car going ‘spang’ and taking the entire engine out, which means we’re currently sharing a (my) car. It’s not a problem we can’t work around, but it means that I’m less flexible and mobile than I used to be. It’s another mental overhead to add to the pile.

Problem number 3 is the thing that makes all this worse. I’ve had some tests done into the digestive issues I have, and I have a list of conditions (which I won’t go into) and medications to take. So far, I’m seeing varying success, but it’s going to be a few weeks before I see any real improvements. So plugging on there.

On top of that (and possibly related), the chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is getting worse. I can usually push past it and do what I need to do, but not in the last few weeks. It is a weight that is pressing on me more and more, chipping away at the edges of what I can do in any one day. I am struggling more and more to write during my daily commute to work; in the mornings, I tend to doze and try to charge up before I get to the office. It has been getting steadily harder to summon up the mental energy to be creative. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been too drained to even write on the way home (and I am usually my most alert towards the end of the day).

I haven’t really talked a lot about what the fatigue is like. I’ve talked about the impact that it has, but that’s not quite the same. Maybe I’m more aware of it now, because the physical symptoms are cropping up again (I was mostly free of them for the past couple of years or so). It makes my whole body heavy and hard work to move, as if the world is treacle that I have to push myself through. It gives me exhaustion headaches that work their way down my neck to my shoulders and back, and knot up all the muscles. They can last for a day or more, through the night, even waking me up in the middle of it (there’s nothing more annoying than being woken out of a deep sleep by an exhaustion headache). I ache randomly, or tingle all over. Sometimes I feel dizzy and weak, or tremble. Sometimes, my heart will beat weirdly, or I’ll get random chest pains (it hasn’t got that bad lately, thank goodness).

The worst part for me are the mental impacts (I tend to be able to push through the physical stuff, at least as far as being productive and writing goes). My short-term memory is the first to suffer (I wind up writing a lot of notes to myself). My mood can be affected: when I’m around people, I can get silly and irreverent (I’m hilarious when I’m exhausted), and I’m generally more emotionally reactive to things when I’m tired. My attention span suffers, thoughts bouncing from subject to subject. It’s probably related to the memory issue, as I attempt to check that I haven’t forgotten anything important. Usually, I am most productive when I multi-task and bouncing between things works well for me, but when I’m exhausted, my work becomes fragmented and I struggle to focus well on anything. It’s an effort to finish things (I’ll probably save the draft of this post and wander off several times before getting close to finishing it).

It also becomes hard to be creative. I’ll want to, but getting into that zone is much harder. Right now, summoning up the energy to create the right mood and produce good words is just beyond me. I could force it if I had to, but that never goes well. Some days, it’s borderline and if I push myself, I can do it and it’s fine. Lately, most days, it’s just not going to happen. It’s hard to explain it. Sometimes it’s just the wrong mood for me (trying to do a high-energy scene like the current space battles is particularly challenging), and other times I just don’t have the mental space. It gets hard to step away from the distractions of my life; my brain bounces too often back to real-world stuff and I lose the train of what I was writing.

I’ve heard writing fiction as renting space in your readers’ brains. Well, first you need to create that space in your own brain, build it up and live it in, before you can push it out to the world. With CFS playing up, it’s lucky if I have a shoebox in there to spare, and having a cluttered life brings it down to a coffee tin.

Life with CFS is a game of weathering the ups and downs of your energy. It’s about balancing what I want to do today with how much it will cost me over the next several days. For those who’ve heard of it, the spoons metaphor is an apt one. Lately, there have been more downs than ups, and my general energy level has been low. I’ve had less spoons to play with.

I’ve had chronic conditions my whole life, and I hate when they restrict what I can do so much that they rule my life. We all have things that we have to deal with and work around every day, to do what we want and need to do. That’s fine. But I despise when the condition tries to take over and takes away my ability to live my life.

Let me be clear about one thing: I’m not depressed about it. I have never been depressed about it, even when I can barely get off the couch or stand up without going dizzy. Even when I’m so tired that I can barely think straight and it’s all I can do to put one foot in front of the other to get to the nearest bed/couch/chair. Even when I hurt so much I want to cry but don’t because my headache is bad enough, thanks very much.

I’m annoyed and frustrated. I work hard to support my family and make myself a comfortable place to lay my bones down at the end of the day. I’ve got dreams that I fight to work towards. I don’t need this shit making it all harder, and yet here it is. I take a break to try to catch my breath, but it’s not enough any more. I never truly get back up on my feet before I slide down again.

This is where the spiral comes in, and this is the part that frustrates me the most. I do less to try to rest up, but can never reach that previous level of energy, so try doing less again, and then less some more, until I wind up scraping by, sacrificing everything but the bare minimum of what I need to do to earn a living and eat. I’m not there yet, but I have been down that slope before and I don’t want to be there again.

It’s true that I’m doing more these days. I’m pushing myself harder and reaching for more things. I have a lot of balls in the air, juggling like crazy. Maybe I have finally reached that level of ‘too much’ and I need to cut back – okay, I’ll do that. Maybe it is time for something to give. But lately, I have cut back on everything, even wound up taking sick days off work to rest up because I simply couldn’t function well enough to be at work, and it’s still not enough.

Truth is, maybe I’m a little scared, too. I don’t want to lose everything I’ve worked so hard for over the past five years, building the life I have here in Australia. The friends I spend time with, the writing I do, the communities I’m involved with, the events I organise… I love it all, but all of it together is too much right now.

I think it’s time for a change. Nothing major – certainly not as drastic as shifting country – but it’s time to look hard at the factors in my life and see what I can change to make it work. It’s probably time to go back to the CFS specialist I was seeing for a while (though I’m not sure I can afford that at the moment). I need to re-evaluate the priorities of the things around me, and figure out how to do what I want to do in my heart. It’s hard, because I want to do everything, but sometimes reality just gets in the way.

I’m still slipping down this spiral and I don’t know the answer yet. But I’m damned if I’m going to let it swallow up all the good things in my life. Time to change the tempo and see if I can’t hammer my life into the shape I want it to be, one way or another.

Wish me luck. It’s probably going to get harder before it gets better.

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Frazzled

Brain kerblooey. Picture by karindalziel

Brain kerblooey.
Picture by karindalziel

I was going to write this post at the end of last week, but wound up too frazzled to. Plus, I had a fun announcement that I wanted to make, and let’s face it, we’d all much rather read something like that, right?

But I want this blog to be about my writing journey, and a part of that is talking about the stuff that makes writing hard.

Right now, my health is rearing its ugly head again and playing havoc with my ability to write. My energy is fraying and I’m struggling to get writing done on my usual commute to and from work. Sometimes I just need to nap; other times my brain just can’t cope with trying to be creative or even reading text. I often write posts for this blog on the train (once my weekly Starwalker is done), and that’s a struggle sometimes, too.

Part of it is most likely caused by the amount of things I have going on right now. There’s the Writer’s Asylum to organise (taking more steps in this all the time!), and the Writer’s Retreat is ticking along in the background too (which I have to chase up soon). I’m currently scoping out costs so I can put together a crowdfunding campaign to get Starwalker published over the next year or so.

Then there’s the non-CFS health stuff that is getting in the way. I’m in (albeit mild) pain and discomfort at random times most days, and that is wearing me down, too. I’ve got some exploratory tests coming up to track down the cause (and investigate a dodgy diagnosis I had about 8 years ago). They’re going to put me out for the tests, which I’m not looking forward to (I have an unhappy relationship with anaesthetics and have no idea how I’ll react to being knocked out completely), and that plays on my mind from time to time.

I’ll be very glad once the next couple of weeks are over, because the tests will be done and I’ll hopefully have some information to move forward with.

In all of that, I’m entering the final chapter of Starwalker’s initial story. I have the pieces I want to play with in mind, but I’m still juggling the logistics of the chapter and I’m not entirely sure how it’s all going to pan out. I want to do the story justice. I want to upset the apple-cart. I want my readers to hold on for the ride and be grinning (and maybe crying?) at the end. I kind of want to write the entire end before I start posting it – to make sure I get it right – but that’s not how my web serial works. Nope, I’m going to just dive in and swim along, and see where it takes me. No retcons; I hate retcons.

I’ve had chronic conditions for a long time. I’m used to pushing through and refusing to let it stop me living my life. It’s getting harder to keep doing that, but I’m not going to stop yet. If I put my life on hold for this, when would I get it back, y’know? Damned if I’ll let it stop me being me.

There’s a lot going on in my head right now. I’m trying to keep up but it’s taking its toll. Wish me luck, and hopefully I’ll catch the upswing again soon.

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The year that was… 2012

The beginning of a new year is not so different from any other day. It’s an arbitrary demarcation of a calendar that we give meaning to, rather like a lot of people did to the Mayan calendar (particularly, its end). It think it’s good to remind ourselves that calendars only hold the meaning we give them.

The turning of the year is a way to mark time and, hopefully, progress. It’s a chance to step back and take a look at where we were and where we are now. It’s a chance to try to gain some perspective. It’s when we look forward and think about where we want to be. It’s when we take the time to make plans, rather than the usual day-to-day we live.

So let’s start with the road travelled so far. 2012: a year of struggle for me.

Work

Necessary toil: my day job as a technical writer pays the bills and lets me do my creative writing. Plus, I get to put my writing skills to good, professional use.

Over the past year, I coordinated the delivery of:

  • A major release, 2 and a half years in the making. I coordinated the entire documentation side of the project from start to end. Getting it released was a huge effort and I was glad to see if over and done with!
  • 2 minor releases, both roughly 4-month projects. There might have been another one in there. I lost track; they kept turning up on my plate without any warning.

With all that to juggle, there were a lot of changes. Over the year, I changed:

  • Positions twice. Once from team leader to team writer, and then back to team leader again (it’s a different role now and I’m managing developers and testers as well as writers, which is all new to me).
  • Teams thrice. Lots of reasons for this, most of them positive about me.
  • Desks more times than I can remember, but at least three times!

Other challenges included continuing to strive to overcome problem team members (despite no longer actually being in the same team as them) and adapting the documentation processes after a restructure as our department moved into Agile practices.

It has been stressful to say the least, and a lot of mental effort to stay on top of it all. But I did. I pulled off everything they handed to me. I made it to the end of the year without snapping and breaking down or getting myself fired. I’m still here, working away and keeping my head above water.

Financial Issues

At home, things have been tough, too. Like so many others here and around the world, our financial situation is not good. We’ve been fighting to make ends meet, and wound up moving house to reduce our costs. (It’s a good move and a lovely house, so I’m not disappointed by that, but wow it was a lot of work.)

A lot has been resting on me at home. I’m the primary breadwinner, which means those times when I’ve wanted to walk away from my job, even downgrade to something less stressful, I can’t afford to. So I’ve pushed through and done what I can to support my family while they get their own stuff sorted out.

It’s all coming along, as slowly as it always has. We’re in a more sustainable position now, which is good, and that should lift some of the pressure.

Health

Between the chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other issues that are exacerbated by stress, I haven’t had the best of years. I’m running ragged most of the time. I’ve been sick more than usual.

I’d like to think that it hasn’t impacted my writing but I know it has. I’ve missed posting deadlines; more than once, I’ve put posts off for a week because I can’t make it. I despise that. I hate knowing that I’ve failed to keep my promises; my readers are wonderfully forgiving, but I’m not. I know that if I don’t push myself, it won’t get done at all. I don’t like letting myself or my readers down.

I don’t know if the quality of my writing has been impacted. I don’t have any real perspective right now, but I suspect that it has.

It’s just another one of those things that I’m pushing through. I’m carrying on despite it, because I refuse to let things like this stop me from doing what really matters to me. Which is:

Writing

Here’s the part that we’re all interested in: that wonderful activity that I fill up all my off-time with, the thing that gives me a break from everything else when I need it and keeps me going. The things that spurs my hopes and dreams, and spills my soul out onto pages.

Even with everything that has been going on (and still is!), even with all that clutter in my head, I have stories to tell. I have characters who want to speak. I have things to say. It has been harder than usual – writing with energy when you don’t have any is far from easy – but I’ve done my best to keep up.

Starwalker

My web serial is still going strong. I’m averaging a book a year and this year doesn’t seem to be any different (though this third book is looking like it’s going to stretch well into next year!).

I’m still loving it. Starry and her crew are so much fun to play with, even when I’m torturing them. I have a wonderful, supportive readership; checking the comments on the posts is a highlight of my week.

The visit rate has been holding fairly steady through the year, slowly creeping upwards. Currently, I’m getting over 3,000 unique visitors a month, and anywhere between 250 and 400 visitors every day. It’s easily beating the Apocalypse Blog‘s stats, which hit 200 visits on a good day if I was lucky (I think it averaged around 180 v/d).

Starwalker has made it to the top 10 of Top Web Fiction‘s lists, and has been hovering around the number 1 spot for science fiction for some months now. This makes me insanely happy and proud.

The actual writing part has been rocky. As mentioned above, I’ve had to delay posts a few times this year. Keeping it going has been a struggle at times; one that I hope hasn’t been visible to the reader, at least not in the writing itself.

I feel like Starwalker’s plot has slid sideways and meandered more than I’d like, but it’s still heading in the right direction. I still know where it’s going to end up and how it’s all going to end. I’m excited to get there, though it’ll be a little while yet. So many miles to go!

Overall, I’m really happy with where I am. The serial is over 300,000 words now and still going. All my plans are still working and I’m laying the foundations for what’s to come. It still makes me smile when I sit down to write it.

Shorts

This is usually something I keep promising that I’ll do and then never get to. But this year, not so! I made a start on some Starwalker shorts, and three of them are complete.

Not as many as I had hoped for, but it’s a start. They prompted positive reactions and I can’t ask for more than that. I have lots of plans in this area, but that’s for another post.

Vampire Electric

Ah, the elusive steampunk novel. I started off this year writing it in tandem with Starwalker, but had to take a break around March to get my breath back. It took until November for me to pick it up again. I made good progress with it, though there’s another big chunk that needs to be written before the first draft is done.

I’m really pleased that I’ve been able to keep working on it, even if my attention in this area has been sporadic. Often, it takes me a while to get back into a project – it’s one of the reasons I try not to take ‘breaks’ – but not so with this one. It still speaks to me loudly enough that I can take a few months off and still go back to writing it without any problems.

It’s not finished yet but it’s getting closer.

NaNoWriMo

The annual novel-writing craziness was a wild ride this year. I’ve written four blog posts about it, so I won’t go into details here. In brief: it was hard, I learned things, my people are awesome, and I’m completely nuts (but the Retreat was amazing).

Apocalypse Blog

This one is last because I haven’t done any actual writing in this area this year. However, there has been activity!

Early this year, books 2 and 3 of AB were released. Around the same time, Amazon realised that Book 0 was free elsewhere and price-matched it, which led to a huge up-kick in sales.

I am now getting monthly cheques from Amazon. They’re not huge, they’re not enough to pay the bills with, but they do mean that I’m a published, paid author. I still grin like a kid when I think about that. I feel like I’ve Made It, at least in the indie sphere.

The books are doing well! After some experimentation with pricing, I’m selling roughly 150 books per month. Book 0 (the free one) usually hovers in the middle of Amazon’s top 100 (in science fiction).

I’m also getting some pretty awesome reviews. People keep asking when the next (4th) book is coming out. There’s no more, not yet!

Readers like my work enough to want more. Couldn’t ask for more than that, really.

Writing Community

I wrote about this in reference to NaNo, but it’s worth saying how awesome the people around me have been this year. The group has been building for several years now, and over the past year or so, it has taken on a momentum of its own. I feel that the writers in this city have really gelled and become a wonderful, supportive community that I’m a big part of.

In fact, I’m often leading it, which is intimidating when I stop to think about it. As a NaNoWriMo ML, I naturally do a lot of the coordination, but it extends well outside November. Its monthly write-ins and weekly drinks run all year now, along with my regular writing group.

My Creative Writing Group is still going strong. It has been running for over four years now and I still have a good turnout every month. There are new faces joining and long-standing ones drifting away, but that’s the way of things. We have yet to run out of things to talk about and explore, and if I know my group (which I do pretty well now!), we won’t stop any time soon.

I’ve made many good friends through the various groups and events that I’m a part of. They’ve become dear parts of my life and I’m grateful for all of them. As years go, this one has been a winner in this respect.

Not to mention that I have an actual social life now. Who knew that would happen to me? Who could have predicted that it would come out of what is, essentially, a solitary activity?

Life is strange. And there’s so much more to come.

That has pretty much been my year. Productive, hard work, and progressive. I’m in a better place now than I was at the beginning of the year. I’m getting there, one slow step at a time.

I’m glad 2012 is almost over; I’m done with it. I’m looking forward to closing the book on this year and starting a new one. Next year will be better and brighter.

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Drained

A few weeks ago, I was riding on a creative high. Writing short stories for anthologies, posting Starwalker, returning to the steampunk novel I put down in March, and generally working on a whole host of stuff in my spare time.

It looks like that spurt of energy has faded. For the past week or so, I’ve been struggling to write much of anything. Last week’s Starwalker post was done pretty late (though it posted on time!), and I’m okay with how it came out in the end, but it was a struggle. More than I like.

This week, it’s more of the same. I feel like I need a break, a chance to rejuvenate. I’m not feeling Starry’s story the way I usually do. I have an idea about what I want to do this week, but when I look at the page, the opening words escape me. If I started it now, it would be forced and that seldom comes out well.

It doesn’t help that I’ve just got through a major plot turning-point and the ship (and story) is heading off in a new direction. The characters are all reeling and I feel like I am, too!

Add to that the fact that the CFS is not being kind to me right now, sucking the energy out of pretty much everything I do, and you’ll get an idea of where I am right now. The last thing I want to do is turn out crap; my readers deserve better. But I hate missing posts and breaking my promise to my readers, too. These are weeks when I wish I had a buffer.

But it’s not all dire! I have another choice that I can take advantage of. For the past few weeks, I’ve been poking at some Starwalker shorts (sometimes with a stick from a distance, but there has been actual writing done, too). I’ve got a couple just about finished, and this seems like a good opportunity to release one of them into the wild. A short can take the place of my regularly scheduled update.

The moment I considered that option this morning, it felt like a weight lifted off me. That was when I knew it was the right answer. So I think I’ll take a little break. See if I can get my mental breath back. And in the meantime, I get to share a little piece of a character’s backstory with my lovely readers.

Here’s hoping they won’t mind the break. With luck, I’ll come back next week brighter and fresher than ever. I’ve got a couple of days off work coming up, too, so hopefully that will help. Wish me luck and sleep!

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Rejuvenation

A few weeks ago, I took a little time off work. When you book vacation time, people always ask ‘where are you going?’. My answer was the same as usual: ‘nowhere in particular’. I haven’t been away on holiday in a very long time; the last time I did anything like that, it was a one-way trip to Australia.

No, I just wanted a break. I’ve posted several times about how stressful the past year or so has been for me. My day job has been a big factor in that. I have a tendency to care about my work and, honestly, that’s not a healthy attitude. Stepping back and letting go is hard for me.

So I took a break. A week away from the office and the job and everything that makes up that part of my life. I spent time at home. I played games. I opened my mind to other projects and ideas, because I had time and space to let them in. I sorted out the terrifying Writer’s Retreat. I caught up with friends and let my hair down.

It was fantastic. It was what I needed. It wasn’t the rest I got (I wound up doing so much that I got little physical rest at all, and the first night’s bad sleep undid all that anyway); it was the mental side that made the difference. I was able to catch my breath and truly relax.

Now, weeks later, I’m still feeling it. I started posting on this blog again, and thinking about other projects. (I’m trying to keep up the momentum on this blog, but as always, results may vary.) I’ve got ideas crawling out of the woodwork and waving at me. I signed up to write for a couple of anthologies. I’ve started writing Starwalker shorts. I’m getting stuff done.

I feel like my focus has shifted, but in a good way. I even got the urge to write while I was at work the other day, because I was itching to get an idea down, and that’s something I haven’t done in a very long time. It’s a good sign. My attention is shifting towards where my heart has always been: my creative writing.

They say a change is as good as a rest. I completely agree. Now excuse me, I have something to go write.

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Pushing on

As I recently splurged all over this blog about, writing has been a bit of a struggle lately. I haven’t been able to plan and smooth things out as much as I like to, and the write-and-post fervour of getting Starwalker up each week has been a challenge to push through sometimes.

Part of what I love about web serial writing is the discipline of it: it would be easy to let myself slip and slip and wind up not writing at all. Also, I’m stubborn, and not going to let the fact that it’s hard stop me from doing it. If that was the case, I never would have started in the first place.

I’ve got a long history of pushing through the things that try to hold me back. I’ve had many reasons to give up in the past, all health-related. I’ve had arthritis and other joint issues my whole life, and I could have let it stop me from doing all kinds of things. Sports, trips, playing in the snow. I was a district high jump champion when I was 13. I’ve been skiing (I sucked at it, but I went!). I learned karate at uni. The issues were always there, but I dealt with them.

Nowadays, my biggest challenge is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I could have let it stop me doing all kinds of things: things around the house; going out; working. I could have let it stop me writing. I’ve had to make many compromises to live with this condition – and I still do, every day – but I’m stubborn too. I manage it. I work around it. Sometimes, I accept my failings and flagging energy, and I have to deal with that, too.

But I refuse to let it be an excuse. If I had, I never would have succeeded with the Apocalypse Blog and written a post every day for a year. I wound up writing three novels that year while working full time and doing everything else that fills up my time. (Sometimes, I still wonder how I pulled it off!)

If I had let CFS be an excuse, I wouldn’t be writing my current web serial either. It is a struggle, every week, to get the posts out at the moment. It’s harder work than I like. But I push on.

I still love it. It still works, even when I don’t think it will. I’m mentally drained this week, and I only had a vague idea of what I wanted the post to be about the day before I was due to start writing it, so I was facing this week’s writing with a note of despair. Then, just before I went to bed, an idea popped into my head. It was one of those lightbulb moments and I knew exactly what the scene needed to be.

It fought me. The two characters talking in the scene don’t rebound off each other well and they took some convincing to play nice. It was a hard conversation, for me and for my main character, but that’s part of the point of it (it’s no fun if it’s easy, after all). And at the end of the scene, Starry turned an unexpected corner. It blossomed out into an unexpected realisation for her, one that fits perfectly with the kind of emotional journey she has been moving through lately. It was more than worth the fight.

Sometimes, things just work. The post ended on the kind of note I wanted, and the ship is swooping in towards the next post, which I can’t wait to get to. (It’s one I’ve had in mind for a while.) I love it when a vague, half-formed plan works itself out right in front of you.

So here I am, pushing forward. I aim high, knowing that I’ll at least achieve some of what I want, maybe even most of it. Aiming for the stars is a good way to fly, even if you only clear mountains.

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