Category: Writing (page 1 of 80)

500 Words From Heinlein

Courtesy floating robes
Courtesy Floating Robes

I lie. Not all 500 of these words come to you from the pen of Robert A. Heinlein. But most of them will. Mostly because, after several years, I once again picked up (or, in this case, began listening to) The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, a seminal book of my early teen years and the one that pushed me towards this writing business in which I engage.

… I have this one nasty habit. Makes me hard to live with. I write …

At the moment, writing is not my primary profession. But it’s always there. In the back of my mind, a prodding need persists. I’m a storyteller. I have to tell stories. It’s a basic imperative, like my need to eat and breathe and gallivant as urbanely, responsibly, and respectfully as possible. Those things cost, and writing, at least in the stage I linger at, does not pay.

… writing is a legal way of avoiding work without actually stealing and one that doesn’t take any talent or training.

I’m in a perpetual state of “I’m working on it,” with a few projects. I am, hopefully, in a place where I can carve out more time to do it. And none too soon, because it’s really started to bug me.

… writing is antisocial. It’s as solitary as masturbation. Disturb a writer when he is in the throes of creation and he is likely to turn and bite right to the bone … and not even know that he’s doing it. As writers’ wives and husbands often learn to their horror …

I of course am not so ignorant as to blame my writing for the skeletons hanging in my closet. My mental illness and prior emotional instability were the impetus for several bad decisions, but as any storyteller would tell you, a good character becomes aware of their shortcomings, and seeks to overcome them. So it is with me. And yet, if writing is a shortcoming, I do not seek to overcome it.

In a household with more than one person, of which one is a writer, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private, and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears …

If nothing else, writing is a way for me to express my emotions in a safe environment. The lines of journals become a padded room. And as plotlines and characters take shape and grow over the course of my writing, parts of myself and my experiences and emotions flow into them. I have professional therapists — and a battery of medications and vitamins — but my pen, perhaps, is the best tool for how I continue to get better.

Besides…

There is no way to stop. Writers go on writing long after it becomes financially unnecessary … because it hurts less to write than it does not to write.

Indeed.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

500 Words On Failure Rate

not a clever man

It might seem to the outside observer, who only keeps track of me through this blog — and I do believe there are a few — that the last couple weeks have seen me sitting around doing nothing but play Star Trek Online (which I do every night, no YOU’RE the one with the problem) and eat vegan bonbons. The thing is, though, I’ve been very busy. I have a new dayjob that includes a hellish daily commute, which is a problem that will solve itself once I can telecommute, and my drastically increased income has brought along with it a greater proportion of my home life’s responsibilities, the combination of which occupies the bulk of my time. While I do carve out time for writing, thinking about writing, and doing research for writing, there’s an unseen factor that some may not take into consideration: many of my projects fail before they even see the end of a first draft.

It’s not just because I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and also a bit of a magpie in terms of attention span. There’s also the fact that I can start a project, get well into it, then realize that it’s a bad idea. I set out towards a goal and get lost along the way. I end up in a bad place. I look back upon my work and say to myself “I am not a clever man.”

This is an over-simplification, of course. Having the wherewithal to exercise self-awareness to the point of realizing the flaws in one’s own work indicates a base level of cleverness. But I digress.

This failure rate is due in part to ill-defined scope — I have an idea and can visualize key moments but there’s no connective tissue or narrative flow — and an over-abundance of self-interest — characters and situations that resonate too much with people and events from the real world. While we write what we know, to write based on experiences to the point that direct parallels can be drawn feels, to me, a bit self-indulgent. It’s cathartic, sure, but not everybody is interested in seeing me work out my problems in publicly available prose.

So, into the bin it goes. Either I turn to a new page in my writing notebook, or I leave the draft to sit incomplete and ignored somewhere on the cloud before I eventually mine it for ideas in a better story, or just delete it entirely. This can also happen mid-project: there’s a reason I haven’t recorded a vlog in a while. The format wasn’t great and my delivery needed tons of work. I also wasn’t terribly confident and, as mentioned above, a little self-indulgent. Not my cleverest work.

Still, you can’t get a gem without hacking it out of rock. Alchemy happens with fire, patience, and destruction of imperfections. You have to dice your veggies before you add them to the scramble. So on and so forth.

I’m still here, still working, still being awesome.

Despite my failures.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

500 Words on Time Management

Gears

There was an invasion in our apartment earlier this week. It happened without warning, and before any of us knew it, we were all in varying states of incapacitation. We felt powerless to move much, let alone be productive or get much accomplished.

I’m not sure what the bug was, but it killed my brain by way of my sinuses on around Tuesday evening.

Caught in a miasma of enzymes, pain, face drainage, and general blargitude, I struggled to hold onto what I felt was a renewed sense of productivity. Unfortunately, my body did not agree with this intention. My immune system was throwing haymakers at whatever had invaded my body, and that required copious amounts of spoons. I rode it out until around this morning, mostly gaming through it.

Incidentally, I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to finishing the Witcher games, and I haven’t even touched the Wild Hunt yet. Which is odd, considering I made it into the Gwent beta — a pretty solid game, so far.

Still, in spite of the best efforts of the bugs (remember, kids, the only good bug is a dead bugdo your part!), I was able to crank out the words. Only a few hundred a day, but considering I was huddled in my bathrobe reaching shakily for coffee treated with special chocolate syrup and frothy hemp milk, I still consider that a triumph. I made good use of my time.

Time management can be extremely problematic for creative types. A lot of my time over the past year has been taken up by the Work, especially since Starbucks and I parted ways. Getting to a place where I’ve felt comfortable carving out the space to invest myself in the words that need to be written seemed less important than unearthing and celebrating my truest Self, investing in the best alchemist I can be, on a daily basis. It was my niece’s input on the novel in progress that rekindled the fire in me to get it done, to entertain as well as inspire, to give people like my niece a protagonist who neither falls into old tropes nor bores the reader. It’s important, now more than ever.

Time management is undoubtedly an ‘adult’ skill, and by their nature, creative folks may not have the best grasp of ‘adult’ skills. There’s a reason for that: we haven’t lost our whimsy. We still want to play. We still prefer the worlds in our heads. The key is to utilize that energy, focus it into what we’ll manifest, and help others see what we see, wonder at what we wonder.

It can be difficult to feel empowerment. To let others in like that. To believe we’re worthy of the accolades and success.

It’s risky to manage your time to make that happen, rather than playing.

But the things we play with were created by people who faced the same struggle.

And we should repay them in kind.

On Fridays I write 500 words.

The Kerrigan Question

The Queen Bitch of the Universe, Courtesy Blizzard Entertainment

“Girls don’t belong in games/movies!” This is the cry of “men’s rights activists” who point to things like Rogue One and female gamers & game journalists (Susan Arendt, IRL Jasmine, etc).

“What about Sarah Kerrigan?”

I suspect I’d mostly get blank stares. Maybe a bit of drool.

Here’s the background: Sarah Kerrigan is a major character in StarCraft and its sequel. StarCraft is a massively popular real-time strategy game that is played professionally as a multi-player contest & sport. Its single-player campaigns, while maybe not having the best writing, is still full of affecting moments — the rise of Arcturus Mengsk, the sacrifice of Tassadar, etc — but I would argue that the growth and arc of Kerrigan’s story is the beating heart of the narrative, though I admittedly haven’t played the last chapter, Legacy of the Void, yet. It’s a bit beyond my means at present.

I’m going to run down Kerrigan’s story for those of you who don’t know, and proceed to my point after.

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StarCraft depicts a large-scale conflict between three races: the Terrans (that’s us), the psionic and aloof Protoss, and the swarming, ever-evolving Zerg. Sarah Kerrigan is a Terran operative, a “Ghost” (read: psychic sniper assassin) who joins you early in the Terran campaign alongside rough’n’tumble backwater space cowboy Jim Raynor. They don’t get along at first — Jimmy’s initial thoughts are about how hot Kerrigan is, and she immediately reacts with revulsion and rightly scolds Raynor for a lack of professionalism. But, through the course of fighting for survival as the Protoss and Zerg clash with the Terrans in the middle, they grow to admire, respect, and appreciate one another.

Their partnership, both professional and romantic, was short-lived. In a callous act of sacrificing his resources for convenience and advancement, master manipulator and all-around bastard Arcturus Mengsk left Kerrigan to die as her position was overrun by the Zerg forces Mengsk himself had attracted to a Terran world to better secure his political position. Disgusted, Raynor left Mengsk’s service, and looked for Kerrigan, only for her to emerge some time later as a new weapon in the Zerg’s arsenal, the fearsome and deadly ‘Queen of Blades’.

Empowered by Zerg evolutionary strains and determined to unlock her own full potential, Kerrigan proceeded to align both her former Terran comrades and several Protoss factions against the Zerg Overmind who’d had a hand (or, rather, tentacle) in creating her. Her plan succeeded, and she thanked her erstwhile allies by betraying them. Some of these allies were Protoss warriors Jim had come to trust as friends; when they were killed, he swore he’d avenge their deaths, and be the one to kill Sarah. Laughing off the threat, Kerrigan wiped the floor with what was left of the Terran forces and retreated to her own corner of the sector.

After the so-called Brood War that’d seen Kerrigan triumphant, she began to hear whispers of impending doom. To arm herself and her Swarm to face it, she invaded Terran space to find more powerful weapons. Raynor set off to oppose the Zerg invasion, seemingly still driven by his vendetta and supported by an old friend from his previous life. Things got complicated when a Protoss warrior, one of the few Raynor knew from the Brood War who hadn’t been killed, told him that Kerrigan needed to live to fight what was coming. The Terrans used the very weapon Kerrigan had sought to claim to rob her of her Zerg enhancements and leave her vulnerable. Conflicted, Raynor decided to save Kerrigan’s life at this moment, choosing to give her a chance for redemption rather than letting his friend shoot her.

Kerrigan was held for experimentation, with Raynor keeping an eye on her, and her memories as both Mengsk’s assassin and the Queen of Blades haunted her and made her question her morals and sanity. While previously Kerrigan’s ambitions had been aimed towards conquest and victory for her Swarm, her restored humanity narrowed her focus to revenge on Mengsk. The facility were she was being held was attacked by Mengsk’s forces, and in their escape, Kerrigan and Raynor were separated. While Kerrigan was able to escape, Raynor was reported to be killed, much to Mengsk’s delight. Consumed by her need for revenge, Kerrigan turns to the Zerg, returning to the Swarm to regain her former power.

Kerrigan returns to the homeworld of the Zerg and seeks her own path to evolve along instead of having it imposed upon her. In doing so, she comes to understand the Zerg on a far more fundamental level, and in doing so, not only guides it to great success, but forges it into a far more powerful force than it was before. With a renewed Swarm and her powers and memory finally under her control, Kerrigan tears across the sector towards Mengsk. Along the way, she finds Raynor alive, but her rebirth as the new Queen of Blades puts an incredible chasm between them; Jim can’t let go of everything she did as the Queen of Blades, and as much as she wants to repair that breach, since she was not the creature she was before, Jim can’t bring himself to meet her halfway. He can’t kill her, either, but joins her to kill Mengsk.

Having joined forces, Mengsk’s defenses folded under the assault of Raynor and Kerrigan. They work together to bring down the tyrant, Kerrigan saying Mengsk had “made [them] all into monsters” before blowing him up Scanners-style. With their nemesis dead, Kerrigan leaves to turn her attention back to the doom that had brought her back in the first place, leaving a conflicted and emotional Raynor in her wake, looking up at where the woman he loved (and perhaps still does) disappears.

This isn’t the end of the story, but it’s all I know, since I’m avoiding spoilers for Legacy of the Void.

The essence of Kerrigan’s story, to me, is that after getting betrayed and turned into something awful, she took control of her own destiny. She seized control of a massive, powerful alien force, just because she could. When she caught wind of something bigger coming to destroy everything, she set out to stand up to it, no matter what it cost. And after everything that happened to her, she decided to recreate her power on her own terms in order to either rescue a dude important to her or avenge herself on the bastard who’d betrayed her in the first place. To me, that speaks of self-actualization, independence, and empowerment.

I can see some counterpoints to this perspective, but the fact remains that she is a major character who becomes a protagonist in a major sci-fi gaming franchise, and yet, insecure man-kids haven’t brought her up as an example of something that doesn’t belong in their games. So is it because she’s not as prominent as the leads in Rogue One or The Force Awakens, or is it because they felt some sort of satisfaction in what happened to her when she was disempowered? I’m not sure; it’s a headspace I have a lot of trouble getting into.

I’m just going to toss this out for potential discussion. What do you think of Sarah Kerrigan, the Queen of Blades, as a character? Is she a positive or negative influence on female empowerment in science fiction? And does Legacy of the Void go on sale regularly, so I can finish the story and also get some awesome, shiny Protoss action? Let me know!

Mondays are for making & talking about art.

Quick Update for Year Thirty-Eight

Yesterday I began my thirty-eighth trip around this planet. I want to get it started right with some changes. I mean, a lot of changes have been happening in my life, and I could go into detail about them, but for various reasons, I’m keeping those details personal. Hell’s bells, even writing that feels like some kind of ersatz sales pitch: “Explore the deepest recesses of guilt complexes and emotional disorders, Ask Me How!” Kind of like the prompts seen during Verhoeven’s brilliant take on Starship Troopers: “Would you like to know more?”

Anyway, one of the things I’m aiming to do is get this blog back on a regular weekday posting schedule. Writing is slowly getting easier, much like healing a broken limb or recovering from a nervous breakdown. As my future-facing ambition and search for a truly personally-fulfilling career slowly bear more fruit, I want to make sure I don’t lose focus as I have in the past. Blogging is a part of that, believe it or don’t. As long as I stay genuine, show up as the best Self I can muster, and make myself spend time away from screens to study and exercise neuroplasticity or mindfulness, or journal, or meditate, or just jog up and down some stairs, there’s nothing frivolous or time-wasting about maintaining this blog. Or getting better at competitive video games. Or building a personal fantasy narrative in Skyrim. Or enjoying esoteric and/or engaging exercises in storytelling like Undertale or The Crown or The Magician’s Land. Or watching Doctor Strange again.

My thirty-eighth year’s primary goal is to embrace and celebrate my ability to be a true polymath, an actual bard, an honest-to-goodness jack-of-quite-a-few-trades.

I hope you’ll come along.

I, for one, can’t wait to see who’ll show up as this particular part of my story unfolds.

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