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(Picture: not mine. Thanks, interwebs.)

(Picture: not mine. Thanks, interwebs.)

AKA: Trigger warnings

I started noticing trigger warnings on the internet a while ago (probably two or three years now). They’re usually pretty obvious, screaming from the top of posts or articles about depictions or discussions of rape or paedophilia or specific types of violence.

Since then, they have taken root in the subconscious of the interwebs and spawned in random, haphazard ways. They’re more numerous now, popping up at the top of vague posts that touch any potentially ‘touchy’ subject. Gay relationships. Transsexual issues. Harm to animals. Radical new diets. Swearing. If someone might be offended or made uncomfortable by a subject, people are slapping a trigger warning on it.

This usage annoys me. That’s not what they were intended for. It’s the nanny-state intruding on the interweb, treating us like we’re all delicate snowflakes who can’t behave like conscious, thinking, breathing adults. I find it insulting, unnecessary, and counter-productive.

In my opinion, the meaning of a trigger warning is being watered down and made meaningless. They’re actually becoming less useful and less protective for those who might need them. I think in most cases that the over-use is well-intentioned, but please, let’s think about why we’re warning people about upcoming content.


What trigger warnings are for

This is, I suspect, the root of the problem: a lot of people (yes, I’m generalising here) don’t know why or how to use these warnings. The warnings are being used because they’re trendy, they look informed and supportive and like the thing we should be doing, but little understanding is being given towards the actual reason for them. I’m all about encouraging and enabling understanding, so this is a good place to start.

So what is a trigger warning for? How is it different to a content statement or rating? Why should we use it?

The original intent behind trigger warnings was to go above and beyond the standard content statement or rating: it was to warn survivors of trauma that the content might trigger an anxiety or panic attack.

This is (was?) primarily aimed at those who suffer PTSD, who may suffer flashbacks or anxiety/panic attacks when triggered by sensory stimuli, including visual or worded imagery. When discussing trigger warnings, I most often see survivors of rape or assault mentioned, but I think the list is broader than that: it includes war veterans and those who have witnessed or been part of something mentally scarring (including abusive relationships and situations; the list of possibilities is too long to mention here but hopefully you get the idea: trauma).

The incidents or attacks that these warnings are intended to prevent can be physical as well as psychological. They are debilitating and upsetting, and can cause real harm. Helping survivors to avoid these attacks is key to their healing process, as warnings give them a way to manage their own feelings of safety.

This is not to say that trigger warnings are flags for ‘stuff PTSD sufferers shouldn’t expose themselves to’. This is a flag that says ‘some might find this content triggers their trauma’, and gives the person the opportunity to prepare themselves for it. It’s about preparation, not avoidance. (In fact, avoidance can worsen PTSD.)

I read an article recently (I can’t find the link, sadly 🙁 ) in which a PTSD sufferer said that the warning was enough for her to prepare herself for the content ahead. It meant that she wasn’t surprised by the content, and instead was able to marshall her internal defenses to deal with the reference without being triggered.

In this way, trigger warnings can help us to open up our content to those who might otherwise be triggered by it. It isn’t an exclusion or an excuse to avoid something; it’s the opposite: an opportunity for inclusion.


What trigger warnings are not for

Trigger warnings are not intended to warn users about something that might upset or offend them. A triggered reaction is so much worse than merely ‘upset’ or ‘miffed’ or ‘that offends my sensibilities’ or ‘ew, I’d rather not look at that, thanks’.

(I have seen all of these reactions in response to content posted on the internet, paired with ‘why didn’t you put a trigger warning on it’. The short answer is that trigger warnings aren’t intended to protect delicate sensibilities: if you’re on the internet regularly, you learn fairly quickly how to filter the information you do and don’t want to see. Accept that it’s a plethora of information, that some of it is not going to be to your liking, and move the hell on.)

Becoming angry or upset over the mention or advocacy of gay marriage (just one example I have seen) is not the same as suffering traumatic flashbacks because of a vivid depiction of a rape. Pretending that these things are the same makes me angry. It cheapens the struggle that PTSD and trauma sufferers have to go through, and it blurs understanding of an issue that deserves our empathy and consideration.

I don’t expect those who disagree with me to put trigger warnings on their opinions. Ultimately, I expect people to be mature when they encounter content of different kinds, even if it’s not for them.

However, I do believe that people should be able to make an informed decision about what they’re reading. I’m a big believer in setting appropriate reader/audience expectations (there’s likely to be a separate post about setting expectations; this subject is only one part of that).

Content statements, ratings, or warnings are intended to help the audience decide if the content is something that they want to expose themselves to. If something might upset or offend (like swearing, sexual content, violence, religious content, etc), then it deserves mention in a content statement.

(Content statements have existed for far longer than trigger warnings: they’re just less obtrusive and less trendy than the latter. We already had a system that was working, people!)

This is why I put content statements on all my fictional work, usually stating that I write about adult subjects (violence, sex, swearing, etc) and that readers should proceed under their own recognisance. I expect readers to decide for themselves if they are likely to enjoy that kind of content.

(TL:DR: stop whining and put your adults panties on.)


Why trigger warnings are tricky

Knowing the line between ‘discomfort’, ‘offense’, and ‘triggering an attack’ is not an easy thing for creators, particularly those of us who haven’t gone through a trauma on the scale of those we seek to help and support. (I suspect this is one of the main factors behind the blurring of trigger warnings and their use: people err on the side of caution.)

The thing with triggers is that they’re not always obvious. Yes, a vivid depiction of a rape scene might be an easy one to pick as needing a trigger warning, but there are other, subtler triggers as well.

It could be a single detail in the scene that does it: a particular scent, or the shade of orange that a streetlight makes through rain, or a specific turn of phrase. Any little detail that the brain might latch onto could throw someone back to that moment of trauma, because brains are weird like that and a traumatic event stamps itself on us in unexpected ways.

The really tricky part is that these details may not be part of an easy-to-spot triggering scene at all. They might crop up anywhere in a piece and catch a reader unawares.

These, sadly, are the ones that are difficult – impossible? – to predict and warn against. They are entirely circumstantial and unique to each person, and the person themselves may find it difficult to predict or understand their own triggers.

I do believe that trigger warnings have value, though, and we should try to make them useful. Sadly, we have to put aside the stray detail triggers as too unpredictable to try to account for, but the big, obvious stuff can be warned about appropriately. I think there is another danger here of making the trigger warnings too common or too vague to be useful.

I haven’t yet put trigger warnings on my work because I don’t believe that any of it is particularly triggering. Any rape that occurred in The Apocalypse Blog happened off-screen, and I can only think of one particular torture scene in Starwalker that came close to getting a trigger warning.

(If anyone has found any of my work triggering, please let me know!)

I imagine that, one day, I’ll write something visceral enough to warrant a trigger warning, and I’ll do my best to spot and tag it appropriately. Until then – or until I get notification of someone being triggered by my work – the content statements that expect readers to be mature enough to deal with my content or turn away, will have to be enough.


Recent controversy

In recent months, there has been some discussion about ‘coddling students’ with trigger warnings, because some universities started to put trigger warnings all over their syllabus material. The anti-trigger-warning campaigners think that it is scrubbing the colleges of uncomfortable subjects and giving students permission to avoid ideas that make them uncomfortable. Mental health supporters counter that it’s important to support the students’ mental health by warning them about potentially upsetting content.

This is an interesting area, particularly because this is a time in a students’ life where they are exposed to adult/mature ideas and subjects, but are still learning how to handle them. Hiding them away is not helpful and not teaching the students how to deal with them at all, but at the same time, students need to be brought to these subjects and ideas in a way that’s accessible and not damaging to them.

I can see both sides of this coin, but from the reports I’ve seen, this is another case of trigger warnings being applied to content that might upset people (’cause a strong emotional response’), rather than something that might trigger a traumatic flashback or anxiety attack. Again, the scale of the negative response to the content is quite different.

Also, I think the base misunderstanding about the purpose of a trigger warning is at work here. Complainants are assuming that students will use these warnings as an excuse to avoid content, when, as stated above, they’re intended to allow those who might be triggered to take part safely.

Worse, some parties seem to equate trigger warnings to censorship. This is ridiculous, but only if one understands (and accepts) that they’re intended to do the opposite.

Some colleges have made clear statements about the type of content in their courses to allow students to prepare themselves accordingly, and these seem to work well. These are content statements; they don’t feel the need to staple ‘TRIGGER WARNING’ on the front. I appreciate this approach, though even these content statements seem to be clumped under ‘trigger warnings’ in some reports, despite them not being actually labelled that way and having a different purpose.

Here’s hoping that more people and institutions embrace the simpler and less evocative content statement, rather than overusing the trendier trigger warning.


Are trigger warnings still useful?

After some recent conversations with friends, I found myself asking the question. Sadly, I suspect they’re not – at least, not to those who were originally supposed to benefit from them (for those paying attention, by that I mean trauma survivors / PTSD sufferers).

Unfortunately, the compassionate intent of trigger warnings has been latched onto by the whinier SJW types, applied everywhere, and pretty much ruined. By expanding their use to elements that might cause any kind of offence to anyone, their purpose and usefulness has been watered down so much that I can’t see how they would be much use to anyone who actually needs them.

I’ve seen trigger warnings put on posts that discuss gay marriage. I’ve seen trigger warnings on posts that contain some swearing. I wish I was kidding. A simple tactic here is to start your post with ‘hey, I have a question/thing about gay marriage I want to share with you all’ or ‘excuse the language, but fuck me sideways’.

(On the flip side, I’ve seen requests for trigger warnings on things that discuss suicide when suicide is mentioned in the first sentence and can safely be assumed to be the topic of the post. Have people lost the ability to comprehend anything but their own twitchy ‘I have been offended!’ sense?)

I’ve seen so many trigger warnings on so many inconsequential things that they make me roll my eyes now. Seeing them misused so ubiquitously is essentially devaluing them. I’m offended by how many types of content that they’re inappropriately put onto, because it associates those topics with trauma and that is bad for many, many reasons. (See some of the examples above.)

How do we make trigger warnings useful again? Is it possible to pull them back to where they’re supposed to be? Are trauma survivors supposed to come up with a new way to identify the type of content they need to prepare themselves for?

I don’t know the answers to those; I ask these questions in the hopes of prompting thought and consideration, because I think those are valuable things. I’d love to hear from anyone who uses or needs trigger warnings, and their thoughts on the subject. I’d also love to know if there’s anything that I, as a creator, can do to improve the situation, on my own work if nowhere else!

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NaNoWriMo 2016: Decascriptum

NaNoWriMo: writers unite!

NaNoWriMo: writers unite!

(Decascriptum is a totally made-up word, meaning roughly ‘ten writing’.)

I meant to post here long before today. For months, posts and parts of posts have been on the tip of my brain, or even my fingers, but they’ve never made it all the way through to the ‘publish’ button.

But here I am, trying again.

This year hasn’t gone the way I’d hoped. Writing continues to be a struggle, though I’ve managed some fits and starts along the way. I’ve chipped away at some small things, flexed some weary writer’s muscles, limbered up for something bigger, longer, more ambitious. But I haven’t quit managed to click back into that stride and really write.

It’s nearly November, which means that it’s almost National Novel Writing Month again, which means that my life is being increasingly eaten up by the novelling phenomenon. This, right here, is a kick I need. Is it the kick I need? A good question that I can’t answer yet.

I’ve got two lovely, new co-MLs (Municipal Liaisons) to help me with the organisation side of things, as well as wonderfully supportive friends who offer their hands in a less official capacity. I am utterly blessed by all of them!

We’ve tried a couple of new things already this year: a Pre-NaNo Planning Day, and a Digital Goodie Bag. Both of them went so amazingly well that I can’t wait to build on them next year. (More on them soon! Also, I created a bunch of writing prompts for the Planning Day, and I’ll be sharing them here soon, too.)

Our Kick-off Party is tomorrow, back in its usual home of being a BBQ in the park. It’s going to be nuts and totally exhausting, and I can’t wait. So many people to meet and so many awesome things to give away.

And next week, the writing begins. I’ve decided to return to my steampunk novel, Vampire Electric, in what will be my third NaNoWriMo focussed on it. My goal this year will be to drive on towards the end of the story (it’s 100,000 words already and only about halfway through, so no promises!). I’ve got a clear idea of where it needs to go and the rough path it should take, and I’ve read the existing material to get back up to speed and in the mood.

My fingers are itching to get started. But no, I’ve created the ‘NaNo 2016’ folder in my Scrivener project, and it will remain virginal until the 1st November.

In the meantime, I’m getting my other writing muscles loosened up. Posting here, and starting a new, writing-centric blog over on Inkspired that I’m calling (at least for now) The Right Write. It’s not going to replace this blog; rather, it’s going to wind up being something of an echo, and for the more writing advice-centric posts, I’ll be cross-posting between them. Blogging on Inkspired is a new thing and I’m looking forward to helping test it out! So far, all I’ve done is introduce myself. Lots more to come.

Don’t worry, I won’t let all that distract me from Actual Fiction Writing(tm). It’s NaNoWriMo, after all: wordcount is all.

Way back in 2008, my second attempt at NaNo inspired me to start a web serial, because I fell in love with the enthusiasm and momentum of it. Now, in 2016, I’m hoping that my tenth (!!) NaNo can help return me to that momentum and creative excitement.

Wish me luck and, most of all, words!

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The state of ME

(Picture by JD Hancock, via Flickr)

(Picture by JD Hancock, via Flickr)

I’ve been quiet for a little while now. Here, on the Starwalker website, pretty much all over my writing spaces online.

Last year, I took a hiatus from Starwalker. I wanted to have a break, a little holiday from the writing, and to catch up on some of the other stuff on my plate. I wanted to come back refreshed and rejuvenated, and dive back into my textual adventures.

That was the plan. It hasn’t quite worked out the way I thought it would.

As much as I hate to admit it (and as much as I dislike going on about it), my health is mostly to blame. The exhaustion is worse than usual, and worse than ever before. I’m lining things up to investigate medical treatments/investigations (and the money to pay for it, hopefully). Getting back on my feet – literally and figuratively – is a work in progress.

That aside, I think I was also burnt out on writing. I was mentally and creatively exhausted. I very much needed a break to address that, to clear out the clutter and stress, and clear the mental decks a bit.

I didn’t realise just how much I needed the hiatus until I was trying to get back into writing. Then I was looking at the blank page and it all seemed so hard. I was lacking my usual creative spark, the inspiration that makes words itch on my fingertips until I let them out. It wasn’t just Starwalker: writing anything (creative) was hard work.

I know better than to try to force it. That leads to bad writing and frustration, and I know myself well enough to know that what I needed was a longer, more thorough break. Not just a short recharge with writing on the horizon: a chance to breathe without a deadline coming at me.

I’m not complaining about the deadlines of serial writing in any way. Usually, that kind of pressure works for me: it’s one of the reasons I like writing web serials, because it pushes me in ways that are good for my writing. Usually. There are times that it doesn’t work, though. Like now.

It took me a while to come around to the realisation that I was burnt out. I don’t like to give up easily, but I realised that that’s what I needed to do. Give myself a break. Be okay with taking more time than I’d said.

At the same time, I’m apologetic towards my readers. I hate to break promises and shift expectations, and I’m sorry for doing that. I’m immensely grateful for my readers’ understanding: their messages have been nothing but supportive, and I can’t thank them enough for that.

Please know that I haven’t forgotten you. I haven’t been distracted by something shiny, or grown bored with the story. I guess five years was longer than I realised to be doing something as involved as writing the same story, week to week (with some breaks between books). It was more intensive than I truly recognised, until I lifted my head to catch my breath.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been burnt out with my writing. The other time was after my uni degree: three years doing nothing but reading and writing left me drained of almost all creativity and desire to write. (My degree was English Literature with Creative Writing.) I learned a lot of useful stuff – much of which I still use to this day, both in my day job and in my creative writing pursuits – but I needed a break from the intensity and pressure of it afterwards. I wound up not writing anything original or independent for several years.

It was during this period that I did a lot of freeform, text-based roleplaying, which scratched the creative itch without the weight of being truly my own writing. I had a ball with the RP and don’t regret it in the least. I learned a great deal about characterisation, development, and storytelling in those years, and picked up many tools that have helped me write my own work in the years that came after. I met many wonderful people, was exposed to many different writing styles, and I cherish the things I learned and gained in those circles.

At that point in my life, it was what I needed. Not just a break from original writing, but also a chance to explore and develop myself (on reflection, I came out of uni without a good idea of what my voice really was, in terms of writing; I didn’t find it until some time later).

Now, my needs are different, though a break is ultimately what I need. It has stretched out far longer than I had intended, and I am determined not to let it drag on any longer than necessary. It certainly won’t be the roughly 7 years’ break that I took before – nothing like that.

Some of you may be aware that I’ve been turning my creative energies to another outlet lately: namely, crocheting blankets and hats and little stuffed toys. I want to state clearly here: this is not a distraction from my writing. It’s scratching the creative itch for me right now (and I’m developing a good range of items in my Etsy store, just for the hell of it), but it isn’t taking up time when I could be writing. The truth is, if I tried to write right now, it wouldn’t work.

The crocheting fills in other gaps for me. I do it largely during times I wouldn’t normally write anyway: for example, when I’m resting on the couch in front of the TV. It’s mostly a reaction to feeling unproductive and useless: with as sick as I’ve been lately, I’ve been forced to spend more time resting, and I’ve been less able to do useful things like cleaning and cooking. I despise feeling useless. And while resting might seem like a good time to sit and type, writing is beyond what my brain is capable of at that point. I simply don’t have the mental energy for it (this has, sadly, been a large part of the problem when trying to get back to writing), and trying can be really counterproductive when I’m trying to get some energy back.

So, something I can quietly work away at while I’m sitting down, something that doesn’t require a huge amount of brain involvement (though deciphering some of the patterns can be a trick, and occasionally maths is hard), is roughly perfect.

The fact that I’m making geeky things, and making geeky gifts for friends, is a bonus. Selling them is even better! (It isn’t a free hobby, sadly.)

Also, shh, don’t tell anyone, but I might be working my way towards creating a certain toy soon. I’ll have to make up the pattern myself, and I’ve got a few materials to work out, but I’m slowly making my way towards a starting point.

What does it all mean? When will I be writing again? Those are hard questions. It’s a work in progress and I’m pushing it forward. I think I’ve turned a corner, because I’m feeling more able to consider getting back to writing now; it feels less like an energy drain that I can’t handle. I’m not ready to jump into writing just yet but I am feeling like I can get on the road to get there.

Right now, I’m clawing back to a point where I can get back into the rhythm of writing (anything) again. The stories still itch, quieter than usual, but they’re there. There are characters I want to put through the wringer so I can see them come out the other side; there are tales I want to share.

And there are posts that I want to get up on this blog. This one is the first thing I’ve written on the train for a while. My daily commute is my usual writing time, and it’s nice to have the mental energy and focus after a day at work to write something up, even if it’s a blog post.

So, I’m going to spend a bit of time getting back into the rhythm of writing every day. Start small, and with non-fiction (for example, with these posts), as that’s usually less taxing than something creative. I need to get my discipline back in order. I need to get back into the habit of expressing myself, here on this blog and out in the world.

Watch this space. I’m still here. I’m on my way back.

I miss you, too.

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A kick up my own…

Hiiiiii-YAH! Here's hoping I can carry it off more gracefully than this pair. (Picture via flickr, credit ColKorn1982)

Here’s hoping I can carry it off more gracefully than this pair.
(Picture via flickr, credit ColKorn1982)

After being stalled and burned out recently, I’m working hard to get some momentum back with my writing. This is both writing for this blog (this is a big motivator for me) and the creative side of things, as well as other side projects.

I’m currently trying to build up a bit of a backlog for this blog. That will help take the pressure off and smooth over any dry spots while I’m focussing on something else. Right now, I’m aiming for one post a week as a minimum, with more only if I just can’t help myself. (I currently have the next couple of weeks lined up already.)

I’m also going to be varying the types of posts that go up. There’ll still be a writing focus, and I’m sure publishing will still feature fairly highly because it’s something I’m involved in pretty regularly. Joining the usual advice/info posts will be some interviews with authors (starting with some indie authors that I know personally and possibly extending from there), and reviews. I’ve done a few reviews before, mostly for movies, and my aim is to extend the reviews to books and possibly some web serials.

First review coming up soon. I’d love to know what you think of it!

Now that the first round of editing for the Everyday Heroes anthology is done and back with the writers, I have a bit of time to revive my own creative efforts. My priorities right now are: progress the next part of an experiment I have been working on (more on this soon!); finish up any one-shots I have on my list; and get my Inkspired serials back up and posting.

My serials on Inkspired (VVSG and Boomflowers) stalled a few weeks ago when I started to get burned out. Now that there are some new features to play with on the portal (more on this soon!), my plan is to build up a backlog and get them all scheduled  up, so that they can post away happily while I work on something else.

Skipping focus didn’t seem to work, so maybe this will be better! Boomflowers was only intended to be fairly short anyway (~10,000 words or thereabouts), so I’m hoping to finish that off completely before it starts posting again.

That lot will probably take me up to the start of this year’s NaNoWriMo, at which point my goal is to switch to writing Starwalker Book 5. It won’t start posting until after NaNo finishes (and I’ve had some editing/tidying time), so don’t start looking for it too soon. My aim here is to build up a backlog and some momentum, and carry that through into the new year.

Now that I’ve laid it all out in text, it sounds somewhat ambitious. I think it’s doable, though. First step: get back into the habit of writing every day. It’s time to get tough with myself again.

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Changes afoot

I think we all have times like this.

I think we all have times like this.

Changes abound in my end of the world, changes that I have been planning for some time.

To tell the truth, it’s a relief to get started. Last year was something of a marsh for me: every step sucked and progress was slow, heavy work. I had a to-do list that only grew, and pretty much fought just to break even.

This year, it’s a different story. I didn’t set out to find a way out of the marsh, though I definitely wanted it. I threw myself into the yoke the same way I always do at the start of a new year, laying out the paths I want to tread and pushing to see how many of them I make it to. On I plod, one foot in front of the other.

It’s the things that come out of left field that are making the difference right now. It’s the publishing platform that asked for my input and help, which I’m using to get a new project out through, and which in turn has made me give that project a focus it hasn’t ever had before.* It’s the bad idea that turned into a pile of silly fun, and which is now turning into an experiment and an exploration.* It’s frustration and determination that is finally tipping me over the end of a problem and into the long slog of solving that problem.

Maybe it’s the looming end of Starwalker, too, the toil of five years of my life now. After struggling through the climax of Book 4, it is hurrying towards the end at a startling pace. Sometime soon, it’ll be done, and I will have to find something else to push me to write every week.

Change is coming whether I like it or not. But I do like it.

After all, I do have a to-do list as long as my arm. I have projects clamouring for attention, things I am itching to write, that I am excited to write. I won’t be short of things to do for some time to come.

But that change is for the future. I have a few more Starwalker posts yet to write.

A change I can make now is to move my web hosting, from its current home to a new, better one. I have been with the same web host for several years, but the cost and reliability aren’t suitable any more. It’s not cheap hosting and it has too much downtime for my liking.

I have been pondering a change for a while, done some research and found a good alternative. But it’s a big job. I have several websites that I maintain, including this writing blog, the Apocalypse Blog site, and Starwalker. There’s all that data to transfer, plus email addresses and DNS updates, new websites to set up, imports to do, making sure everything is running properly on the new server.

I’m taking it one step at a time. One site at a time. Over the last couple of days, I made a start and it was with this blog. The site has been copied and set up. All the data is there, from posts to pictures to comments. Right now, you’re reading it in its new home.

Of course, this blog has previously been a sub-domain of the main Apocalypse Blog site ( To move it on its own, and to get the new server set up, I had to use a different domain. So I finally activated a domain I registered ages ago but never used: my own name,

So update your bookmarks! I have forwarded the old address to the new one, so existing links and bookmarks will work. Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll gradually move all my other stuff over too. If a site goes own for a little while, it’s probably in flux.

Things are changing. Slowly, patiently. It feels good. I hope you all come along for the ride.

* There’ll be more about those in the near future. Wheels are turning!

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New topics coming soon

It's time to step out into new light! (Picture from Dark Beauty Magazine: “The Journey” — Producer: Miss Aniela Photographer: Mercia Moseley Photography Stylist/Designer/Headpiece/Jewelry: Minna Attala Hair/Makeup: Grace Gray - Model Model: Carmen O. Model)

It’s time to step out into new light!
(Picture from Dark Beauty Magazine: “The Journey” —
Producer: Miss Aniela
Photographer: Mercia Moseley Photography
Stylist/Designer/Headpiece/Jewelry: Minna Attala
Hair/Makeup: Grace Gray – Model
Model: Carmen O. Model)

I have been thinking about this blog lately, and about the things I should write about here. I’ve got a patchy track record with updating it and I’d like to do better. I’d also like to expand its scope somewhat.

Part of it is that I’d like to expand the scope of my thinking and writing. I enjoy the critical thinking that goes into exploring a subject, and I enjoy writing these things up. But I want to mix it up, try new stuff, think different kinds of thoughts.

Part of it is that I’d like to develop this blog as a fun resource for readers and writers. Probably more for writers, due to the general slant of the material, but readers are more than welcome.

So what does that mean? I have a few things I’d like to do here. In no particular order:

  • Keep writing about publishing, because there are more changes coming through and they affect everyone who enjoys books and stories, whatever medium you consume. Amazon might be a big mover in what’s happening at the moment, but they’re not the only player worth watching (yet).
  • Write more reviews. I have one or two that I have been working on, and I hope to get those finished up and posted soon. I don’t get a huge amount of time to read these days, but part of this is that I am trying to read more. I’ll also be reviewing other forms of fiction, like TV shows, games, and movies.
  • Write about things that the CWG has talked about. We have some great discussions, and some of them have been caught on this blog. A lot of it hasn’t. I’d like to change that.
  • Do more random writing tips. They’re fun and short. I try to keep them short. Need to think up some more tips for this!
  • Try something different, like interviewing an author.
  • Make better use of my writing time. My schedule has fallen down in a few places, and I need to get back into the regular habit of writing (these days, I do enough to get the next Starwalker post up, and that’s about it). For those times when I’m not writing Starwalker, I should be writing for this blog. Or something else. A short story. Flash fiction. Something opinionated.

That’s what I’m thinking about right now. What do you all think? What else could I tackle here? Is there something you’d like to see here? Speak up, I’m listening!

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Time pressure

It feels a lot like this. (Picture by Lisa Brewster)

It feels a lot like this.
(Picture by Lisa Brewster)

So many projects, so little time. I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how much I struggle with my health and fatigue (or at least, it seems that way to me). I work full time to support myself, too, so my available time to write is pretty restricted.

My project list is so long these days. I put the Works in Progress page up recently, and I’m still thinking of things that I should put on there. It’s a page that will be updated pretty frequently, I think.

It’s natural that I get frustrated by the restrictions in my life. I am brimful of stories and struggling to be able to get them down and share them. I have pieces of my heart I’m ready to give away but no hands to hold them in. Not enough spoons to carve them out with.

Okay, that metaphor might have got away from me there. But you get what I mean.

There’s something that happens to me when I feel this way for a length of time. The things I really want to do pile up and up, and I’m constantly tipping them back against the wall: not yet, not yet, wait your turn. I’ll get to you. Just hold on there.

At some point, that pile gets too high. The sheer volume of things I want to do but can’t becomes too much, and it topples. I’m right in there, standing underneath, and I give up and join in, tearing chunks out of the middle and strewing them around. Fine. Fine.

In my head, something shifts. In my chest, something gives way. I say ‘yes, I feel crappy all the time, and I have all these restrictions on me, and it sucks. And you know what? It’s not good enough. I’m sick of missing out on my own life. I want to do *this* and *this* and this other thing over here. And I’m damned well going to do them anyway.’ My brain is suddenly active, alive with urgency and ideas that are usually so far out of my reach.

Outwardly, I have a productive spurt. I write on this blog again, blurt out a stream of things that have been backing up for some time, and wind up scheduling them over days or weeks to spread them out. I clean my house. I sort papers that have been sitting in a messy pile for months. I throw stuff out that I’ve been meaning to get to. I plan out a chunk of a new project. I write shorts. I do some of those things that have been towering over me, blotting out sight of what progress I might be making with everything I’m missing out on.

Chronic fatigue is a tricky thing. Sometimes this is enough to pull me up for some time – weeks, months maybe. Sometimes it only lasts a short time before my energy dwindles again, maybe a weekend if I’m lucky.

That’s sort of where I am right now, on the up-kick of a productive spurt. I’m not sure how long it will last. It feels more forced than usual, driven by more determination than it has been in the past. I’ve been lower for longer lately, and I’m trying to pull myself up out of it.

Part of it is most likely prompted by some help I’m getting at home, and right now, I’ll eke the most out of every opportunity that I can get. If a door is open an inch, I’ll do my damnedest to kick it wide, or even a foot wider. Every little helps.

Right now, I’m feeling really positive. My day job is going well. Starwalker is a bit of a challenge (which I might talk about in another blog post), but I got last week’s post out on time and that’s a victory in my book. My writing group is going well. I spent last weekend hanging out with writer friends, writing. The Writer’s Retreat is coming along nicely. Now the pressure is off at home, I can spare the mental energy for looking into health options.

And I’m getting lots of ideas for stories. Some existing projects, as well as a whole new one.

I have figured out why Vampire Electric wasn’t gelling as smoothly as it should be for me: the villain is too off-screen and away from the action for too much of the story. I need to go back and rethink how he weaves in with the rest of the story and drives it forward. I’m planning to continue work on the second draft of the novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo project, and now I’m in a good position to fix it up when I do that.

I’m getting more clarity on some of the shorts I have on my list for Starwalker. I know roughly what I want to do for each character, but some are clearer than others.

I have an idea for a second VVSG vignette. It niggles at me.

The assassin-centric novel I wrote a few years ago is starting to itch again, too. I have a fairly good idea about how I want the rewrite to go, and how I might start to shift it into the Starwalker universe. With some more background work, I might even be able to work in the Fall of Earth, but that would be a sequel (or even two or three books down the track in that particular series).
More and more often, I’m finding that my stories come out as a series. Not serials, necessarily, but standalone novels seem to get bored in my brain and start breeding. Like dustbunnies (or plotbunnies). If I keep turning the idea over in my hands, I seem to realise there are three or four plots in there, not just one. So many books to write!

For example, Tales from the Screw Loose is now probably a trilogy, and much bigger than just a robot brothel (once I get down into the depths of the second, and definitely in the third, book). Again, the events in Starwalker are pushing this into a larger story (and I think it’s a lot better for it, mostly because straight erotica really isn’t my thing). Sexual politics, the automation of industry, the impact of refugees, entitlement, rebellion…

And then there’s the new story. It’s shiny and novel, and the more my brain picks at it, the more interesting stuff falls out. It’s called Splinter Soul, and the basic premise is that, some time ago, someone broke the world in a fundamental way. Souls are infinite and managed to survive being split when the planet fractured, and now people walk around with only splinters of the souls they should have. There’s magic involved, based around how much of their soul a person has managed to rejoin and what form they are most powerful in, so it’s in a person’s interest to try to find all the splinters of who they really are. The splinters are other creatures, some of them mundane, some of them fantastical. They might also be other people, and there might be dragons. There’s a role for reincarnation to play here, but I’m still figuring out the mechanics of that.

It’s still mostly a world right now, a setting with lots of fun pieces to play with. I’m having fun working it all out, and the mists of a story are forming in the background. I think, for once, I’ll have the antagonist before I have the protagonist nailed down. Maybe I’ll wind up making the villain the protagonist… now, there’s an idea. Ooo.

Just writing out those two paragraphs has given me two or three new ideas I can work in. It is unfolding.

This is how the mind of a writer goes. Right now, mine is firing on… maybe not all cylinders, but let’s call it five out of six (instead of the usual two or three).

I have to be careful not to push too hard. Not to throw too many balls into the air, lest they all fall down. I have to pace myself, at least a little, try to keep things reasonable. I don’t want to push myself into some kind of collapse.
But I do want to push. I want to enjoy this. I have so many toys and I mean to play with them. I want to make the most of this up-swing in productivity while it lasts.

There’ll be a price at some point. I’m borrowing spoons. But hell, I’m going to make it worth it.

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Narrowing focus

Sometimes all you want is more spoons... (Picture by Harlwim Keese)

Sometimes all you want is more spoons…
(Picture by Harlwim Keese)

So, I’m not dead. I know it might have seemed that way from this blog, and for that I apologise.

The truth is, this year has been kinda hard on me. My health continues to struggle along and my ability to juggle multiple distractions has shrunk drastically.

For those familiar with the spoon theory, I’ve had fewer spoons to spend lately and I’ve had to manage them ruthlessly. (For those unfamiliar with the spoons theory, go take a look! It explains so much.)

When I get challenged for time or energy (or as things have been lately, for both), my focus narrows down. I cold-bloodedly prioritise the moving parts in my life. It’s the only way I can cope.

The truth is, this blog isn’t at the top of my list. Not even close. It’s pretty well up there, but I have several more important things. Work, paying my bills. Writing and posting Starwalker. Keeping my house in a liveable state. Making food. Taking care of the family cats while my folks are away. Running the local writing events I’m responsible for. Getting organisation started for this year’s NaNoWriMo.

Over the past year, I have stumbled with all of those things. I have taken days off work to rest and try to recuperate. I have used holidays from the day job to catch up on cleaning my house and other various things that have fallen by the wayside. I’ve missed Starwalker posts. I haven’t missed any events yet, but they are a lot more last-minute than they usually are. Organisation is a long, slow process, where it used to be quick and relatively easy.

I have been trying to get myself into a more stable position. That, in itself, takes time and energy away from something else. It’s all about prioritising those spoons and off-setting current stress and effort with future benefits.

Some of those things have been worth it, from something as simple as replacing a failing laptop to avoid having to work around unreliable technology to reorganising whole sections of my house to condense the mess (and required cleaning) into smaller areas. Having a dishwasher installed has helped immensely (and I’m aware of how ‘first world problem’ that sounds, but it’s a godsend to me!).

Some of the things I’ve tried haven’t worked out. A recent disaster has been hiring a cleaning agency to take care of the heavy lifting involved in keeping the house clean. Four visits, three different cleaners, varying levels of competency, culminating in a lovely incident where the cleaner managed to lock me out of my own house entirely. That endeavour probably wound up costing me more stress and sickness than doing the damned work myself would have been.

I live and learn. I push on, because forward is the only way to go. I try to keep picking my feet up, day after day, week after week, fighting for each and every damned spoon in my arsenal. I fall, I fail. I get angry with myself and try to do better. I wrack my brain for better options. And I just keep pushing onwards.

It’s an ongoing struggle. Are things better yet? Maybe a little. I’ve got some more help at home again (and I can’t say how grateful I am to have my dad back), and that’s helping to take the weight off. With his help, I might have a chance to catch up. Overall, I’m not really feeling any better, not yet. I might not be slipping behind a little more every day, but I’m still barely treading water.

So why am I writing in this blog again? Because I’m not done. I have more options to try and I’m sick of missing things. I’m trying to do better, even if I don’t feel it.

Every now and then, I stop and think about how lucky I am. It’s easy to feel worn thin by everything I’m trying to deal with right now, but perspective is important. On a scale of CFS, I can still function from day to day. I can get up and leave the house when I need to (and occasionally when I just want to). I am holding down a (pretty demanding) full-time job. I’m still a mainstay and a driver of my local writing community. I’m bringing in enough money to support myself and pay all my bills, and to treat myself to the stuff that matters to me. I have awesome readers who are understanding of my occasional flakiness.

There are some people who aren’t sick and aren’t that lucky. Who struggle to find a job; any job, let alone one they kinda enjoy or feel valuable in. Who can’t imagine driving community stuff the way I do. Who can’t see themselves committing to writing a web serial post every single week of the year. There are some people who are so sick that they can’t dream of doing any of those things, who struggle to make it out of bed at all, who have hurdles far over and above anything I have to deal with.

A friend of mine wrote a touching piece about her situation with her health recently. I’m in a similar place emotionally, though my condition isn’t as serious or life-altering as hers. Perspective matters.

I’m doing okay. I’m coping. Sometimes all I’m doing is coping, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes. As hard as it all feels, I am pretty lucky. I’m trying to remember that.

I can’t promise this will be the first of a stream of new posts. I can’t promise anything at this point except that I’m still here. I’m still pushing. I frustrate myself, I try different things, and I keep trying to be better. Maybe one day I’ll get there.

In the meantime, the world moves around me and I hate feeling like I’m being left behind. Starwalker rolls on towards the end of its fourth book. The publishing industry is flexing and shifting. This world of writing that I love and life for is changing and I have things to say. I mean to say them, when I can.

Please forgive my silences. Understand that sometimes it’s all I can do to get each week’s serial post up, and sometimes that’s too much. Know that I mean to speak more.

I dream of taking a sabbatical from work: taking a year off to write. I dream of everything I’d be able to do. I know I’d sleep for the first three months, and after that… watch out. There’d be no stopping me, and you don’t want to know how long my to-do list is. But oh, the stories I’d tell…

Sadly, reality intervenes, but dreams are nice. They keep us going. For now, reality.

One thing at a time. One spoon after another. Such is the life with chronic illness. Such is a busy, modern life.

I am here. I am, I breathe, I write.

I write.

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The Asylum’s New Home

This is the new Asylum! Isn't it awesome? And not at all creepy?  Okay, I'm kidding.  (Photo: New York Asylum by Jeremy Seto)

This is the new Asylum! Isn’t it awesome? And not at all creepy?
Okay, I’m kidding. We’re not really going here.
(Photo: New York Asylum by Jeremy Seto)

I got a message about a month ago telling me that the location we’ve been using for our write-ins for six years has closed down. Abruptly and without warning. It was three days before our monthly write-in. I was in the middle of the craziest period at work. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

As I madly juggled about seven critical issues at work and attempted to find a place to take our write-in people to, I couldn’t help but think: what about next month? It’s the Writers’ Asylum and I have to find someplace to hold it. It’s bigger than our write-ins, I’ve got to read stuff out to people, and it’s all a bit special.

I couldn’t worry about it just then; there were far more pressing issues. I already had Starwalker on hiatus due to all the shenanigans at work. I threw together some emergency plans with my fellow MLs, and one of my awesome co-MLs took the write-in off my hands. She sorted it out and ran it, and I’m immensely grateful.

By last weekend, the write-in was done and the worst of the work stuff was sorted. So I took my other co-ML and a good friend off on a scouting mission to check out potential replacement venues for our write-ins and the Asylum. We visited a couple of restaurants I had heard would welcome a group like ours (we’re a bit special needs, what with needing to camp out for the whole day, take up a load of space, and plug in laptops). Both of the places we visited welcomed the idea of our group visiting and were very accommodating. No doubt knowing that we’ll all be ordering drinks and meals helped!

Last weekend, I came home with three bits of good news. First, the Asylum has a new home: La Dolche Vita (almost next door to where we were supposed to be!). We’re booked in and good to go. Second, we have a new Coffee Club to try out, which we’ll be doing at our May write-in. And third, our favourite Coffee Club hasn’t closed forever: we saw signs on it that said it was undergoing refurbishment and would reopen ‘soon’. I have no idea when ‘soon’ is but it’s still a huge relief.

So, the first quarter of 2014 has been crazy for me. A lot of ups and downs. A lot of changes. None of it has been easy. But things are falling into place. Despite the stress of the past month, I’ve managed not to get really sick, which feels like something of a miracle. I’m coping – barely, sometimes, but still clinging on by my fingernails. Still here and kicking.

Yesterday morning, I woke up from a dream in which I had gone to the Asylum and realised I had completely forgotten to bring the challenges with me. Nothing was ready, nothing was set up; there were a lot of people sitting and looking at me expectantly, and my brain was empty and… then I woke up. Last night, I went through the challenges (I wrote them up a couple of months ago) and they’re fine. They’re actually less sucky than I remember. Just a few tweaks and they’re good to go. It’s going to be fine.

Like I said: it’s a lot of ups and downs, but I’m doing okay. Things are falling into place. The Asylum has a new home. It has couches. The challenges are written. Today, I’m going to schedule all the Asylum posts on this blog, so they’ll pop up on the day in tandem with me reading stuff out to my people in real life. My plans will work out.

And it will all be awesome.

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Uphill battle

(Picture by Sandymanase)

On the inside, trying to look out through obscurity.
(Picture by Sandymanase)

Followers of this blog and of my current web serial may have noticed a somewhat erratic pattern to my updates lately. This particular blog has always been a bit up and down; I have a tendency to post here in spurts, depending on when I have time and impetus. My web serial, though, I have tried to keep far steadier and more reliable.

Not so much lately. Even my precious Starwalker has been impacted by my recent life issues, and I’m here to say: I hate it. It breaks my heart every time I have to go on there and tell my readers that I am letting them down again. They are wonderful and supportive and understanding, and I am grateful for every one of them. I disappoint myself more than them, it seems.

I honestly wouldn’t blame them if they got sick of all the inconsistency there has been lately and stopped reading. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t be that writer, who missed deadlines and was labelled as unreliable because she couldn’t stick to her own schedule. I have always been so determined to stick to my promises and keep the story rolling on the cadence that I’ve set. But I fear I’m failing in all of my promises lately.

My health is the core of the issue. The chronic fatigue syndrome is impacted by a lot of life stuff – stress, change, work, other health problems – and it’s all making me pretty miserable at the moment. For those familiar with the spoons theory, I think I’ve lost a few spoons over the last year or so, and I’m struggling to juggle them effectively. It’s all I can do to get to work most days, and getting home and sorting out dinner sometimes makes me want to cry or scream quietly in frustration. It can all be so hard.

I’ve dealt with CFS for several years now. I don’t think I’ve had it drag me this far down for this long before. I’m fighting with it, and I don’t think I’m winning.

But I didn’t come here just to whine (okay, maybe I wanted to whine a little bit). I despise what this is doing to me. I hate that it’s making it so difficult to write. My usual writing time is on my commute to and from work, and most of the time I just want to rest when I’m on the train. I’m not awake enough to put words together, or I’m too drained after a day of working and need to wind down before I hit the evening chores at home.

No, I am fighting it. I’m also trying to figure out how to manage it so that I can do what I want. That means some changes to my lifestyle, and I’m still working a lot of that stuff out. I’m simplifying things at home a bit, and getting help with the chores and tasks that I just can’t get to (for one reason or another).

I think that was a big step, actually: recognising that it was time to ask for help and actually doing it. Admitting to myself that I can’t do everything. I’m a very independent person. I like to be able to sort myself out, in my own time, be self-sufficient. I am always making compromises, but I like to feel that I’m capable, that I’m able to get myself by. It was a wrench to realise that that’s simply not true any more. Everything costs and I’m too energy-poor to be able to pay for it all.

I had to tell myself that it was okay to ask for help. It’s tempting to feel guilty or shameful about admitting it, but honestly, I don’t have the energy for that either. I’m sick, sicker than I have been in a long time. I’m doing what I can to manage it, mitigate it. And I guess my need to be realistic and practical – and not drive myself into a collapse – won out over my pride and my need to feel like I was whole enough to be truly independent.

I think I’m a little proud of myself for that, because I feel like I’m doing the sensible thing and not hiding behind my fear and pride. Which sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense to me.

I don’t know if it’s enough. After all, I’m not feeling – or doing – any better yet. I’m still looking long and hard at the pieces of my life, sizing them up for extraction or adjustment. I went over my priorities recently here on the blog, and they’re still true. I still need to work and I’m holding onto that well enough. I’m about to order the last bit of help for things at home, and that will help. I’m trying to keep the number of running projects to a minimum, even though I get restless and I want to get things moving. I’m also working on some healthy living stuff, to try to bolster this stupid body of mine that doesn’t seem to want to do anything these days.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Starwalker a lot. Like I said, I hate that I’ve been so inconsistent there. I don’t like missing posts, or delaying things, or being That Author who can’t work to schedule.  I’ve been throwing around my options, because clearly what I’m doing right now isn’t working.

I considered taking a hiatus, but I did that recently and it was no help whatsoever. What do I think will have changed when I return? It’s a stop-gap at best; it’s not a solution.

I also considered changing the posting frequency. Maybe shifting it down to once a fortnight rather than once a week would give me enough breathing space. I don’t want to do that, though. I think that’ll just shift the problem from every week into once a fortnight, and I’ll wind up in the same position again: trying to write and edit and post, and finding that I’m too exhausted to do any of it.

I have to change something, so the next thing on my list is when I write. The train was my thing, my office, my writing time. That’s not working any more (now it’s dozing or reading or just zoning out to music), and maybe that’s what I need to change. I need to find a new space in my life to write in. And with my energy levels where they are, maybe every day is just too much. Summoning up the creative energy is a lot harder than it used to be.

Maybe what I need to do now is dedicate some time on the weekends to writing. Right now, my weekends are pretty much like this:

  • Saturday: the day I Do Stuff. Run errands, do the chores around the house that I don’t have help with. Once a month, I spend the day at my favourite Coffee Club with my writing peeps and write (the post following this one never misses, because this is where it gets done!).
  • Sunday: the day I Rest. I try to do as little as possible on Sundays, because I have to recharge before the new work week. If I try to go out or be all active, I’m usually paying for it over the next week. That’s no fun. Instead, it’s my gaming day. I usually spend a lot of my Sunday time on Guild Wars 2, as that’s when I am able to meet up with friends and run around and kill stuff, and they can’t tell if I’m still in my pajamas and haven’t brushed my hair.

So what would I change? Hard to say. I have to be able to get stuff done on the weekends, and I have to protect my Sundays as much-needed rest time. But could I work writing time in there somewhere? It’s entirely possible. Maybe if I keep Saturday afternoons free, get all my running around done and then settle down with the netbook, that will work. Or figure out how to say no to that last dungeon run and log off a bit earlier on a Sunday. Maybe I should do both.

It’s worth a try. It’s going to take some organisation and conscious effort, but all this stuff does. If it was easy, I wouldn’t be posting this at all, I suppose.

It’s a good place to start. I’d rather try this and see if I can make it work before I go changing things like posting frequency or reader expectations. I guess I’m still too stubborn to give up, and I’m glad of that. This damned sickness will only strip me of my life one thing at a time, and I’ll make it work for each and every one. Somehow, I’ll stay strong and keep pushing, in the hope that one day I’ll get on top of this beast and kick its ass.

You know what frustrates me more than anything? The ideas that pop up into my head, stories that are almost full-fledged, and me with no time to write them in. One day, I’ll make time for them all and toss them out into the world. Because that’s what I live for.

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