Musings

[Blog] On the Magic of Deadlines

HEADER

There’s a certain thrill in a deadline, in having a specific point in time by which you must finish something or fail. And, for better or worse, I’ve always gotten along with said deadlines fairly well. Give me a deadline, and I will get more done than I ever thought possible.

Unfortunately for my stress levels, these bouts of productivity tend to happen either the night before or the morning of. I cannot count the number of essays I completed just before they were due, writing them in a rush of panic and sudden clarity. The sad thing is, the few I did write sensibly, over the course of several days, almost invariably turned out to be of poorer quality than the ones that poured out in one great flood. (Much of that, I suspect, may come down to lack of practice, but the point still stands.)

On a broader, less chaotic level, just having specific deadlines means I’m far more likely to finish things. Before I started this blog, I had set myself the goal (a deadline, perhaps?) of writing every day*. My target wordcount varied a little depending on outside circumstances, but generally landed between 100 and 350 words. It was fantastic! As I began to write regularly, whether or not I really felt like it, the words began to come more and more easily. I made progress in my stories, and it took less coaxing to get the words down on the page.

The problem was, I just had to write a certain number of words. Any words. I made sure they were fiction, but beyond that, it really didn’t matter. I could play around with a new story or fiddle with an old one. I could painstakingly carve out the next tiny segment of my current novel, or I could poke at a completely new idea that had just wandered into my head.

And then I started this blog.

Suddenly, I didn’t just have to write, I had to write complete stories and blog posts, and I had to write them in time to post them on schedule. It’s a self-set schedule, I grant you, but somehow, that almost made it worse. And so, I wrote: mini-essays, short stories, random musings. The one thing they have in common is the fact that they all need to be self-contained, complete thoughts. No more writing the first 250 words that I can coax from the ends of my fingers for me! (At least, not until I’ve done my work.)

I’m not going to lie– I’m only a couple of months in and it’s already hard. It takes a level of discipline that I don’t quite have yet, which would explain why I’ve ended up staying up until 5am, begging my darn story to just finish itself already. Hopefully, it’s going to get easier. I expect it to. In some ways, I need it to, since the human body can only survive on coffee and adrenaline for so long.

In the meantime, though, I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I’ve completed more short stories in the last few weeks than I had for months before.

 

 

* Or rather, almost every day, as I quickly found that taking Sundays off meant that I was far less likely to burn myself out.

Musings

[Blog] Packing

HEADER

Last night, over the course of several hours, I started the process of packing up in preparation of moving out of my apartment. More specifically, I started packing my books (the most important things come first, of course). As I did so, two thoughts struck me. The first was that my bookshelves (and tables and various other flat surfaces) held a lot more books than I thought they did, and I’m slightly concerned about fitting them all into the boxes I have on hand. The second was the deep, half ecstatic, half frantic realization that I really, truly am about to spend the next four months in another country.

Pictured: five boxes full of books. Not pictured: three additional boxes, just as full.

There’s something about packing that is remarkably final. It is, if you’ll allow me to wax melodramatic for a moment, a physical embodiment of imminent change. I’ve lived in my current apartment for more than five years, but in less than three weeks I’ll leave it for the last time, and it will no longer be “home” to me– a strange thought.

Upon further consideration, I also realized that it’s the packing of my books specifically that has me feeling this way. I can pack clothes and computer without anything seeming quite so empty. But take away my books and leave my shelves all bare? That’s when you know that something is really going down.

Lest I sound like I’m slipping into melancholy, though, let me say that I’m almost giddily excited. It feels a little like it did when I was getting ready to leave for college, or like it did a few years later when I spent a semester abroad. Everything is new. Anything is possible. I have only the faintest idea of what to expect, and, despite what the over-cautious voice in the back of my head is trying to tell me, it’s going to be a wonderful, fantastic adventure.

I think I feel a little bit like Bilbo Baggins.

Musings

[Blog] Battering Rams

HEADER

I am a huge proponent of brute forcing your way through writer’s block.

Some days, you just want to write. The words are coming and you like them and the story is unrolling before you in all its glory. Some days, you think it’s going to work out like that, only to have it all melt away as soon as you put your hands to the keyboard. You know the ideas are still there. They’re just out of reach. And then there’s the days when you feel like this whole writing business is absolutely nuts, you’re a hack, and why did you ever think you could do it?

And then, sometimes, that last kind of day stretches out into that kind of week. Or even that kind of month– or longer. Writing anything feels like pulling teeth, or pushing on a locked door, or trying to convince your cat that she should come cuddle with you. It’s awful, and it makes you wonder whether it’s worth all the trouble.

Which brings us back to the battering ram method of pushing through writer’s block. As a little background, I do my best to write two hundred fifty words six days a week. I can tell you right now that there are days that sitting down and doing it is the last thing I want to do. Maybe my mind is just wandering. Maybe everything I do manage to get onto the page feels trite and shallow. Maybe the last ten ways I’ve tried to start a scene have fallen flat, and I’ve already got a sinking feeling that Attempt No. 11 is going to do the exact same thing.

The only reliable way I’ve found to get myself past all that is to just sit and write. I can’t guarantee the quality. I can’t guarantee that the scene will suddenly sublimate into something wonderful. I certainly can’t guarantee that it will get easier to write on any given day. But I can guarantee that I keep writing. Despite the horrid, stuck feeling and everything that comes with it, I still have raw words that can be used, formed, and edited. Or I’ve crossed another narrative path off the list, which means I’m one try closer to finding the one that will actually work.

I can hardly take credit for this idea, of course. Many writers far better than myself have said something similar many times before; in particular, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and Agatha Christie come to mind. It’s also, more or less, the concept behind NaNoWriMo. And I suppose, in some ways, it takes some of the mystery out of writing, making it seem more like mining than anything else.

But that’s okay. Because writing is like mining, and there’s a lot of dirt and much less ore. It takes work– hard work– to create. And I’m not the first person to have that thought either.

Musings

[Blog] Hobbits and Droids

HEADER

There are two stories that may go a long way in explaining who I am and why I write what I write. Or at least, they provide as much of a reason as I’ve been able to find, and it seems fair to blame them for my preoccupation with daring deeds and grand adventures. In any case, I find them enjoyable enough to be worth retelling. Perhaps you will too.

Both happened long enough ago that I’m no longer certain how old I was. That particular detail is lost in the fog, so I’ll just have to make do and say that I was old enough to enjoy a good story, but young enough that I had not yet discovered most of the ones that have since influenced me the most. So, something less than ten.

The first one started with a joke, and a silly one at that. My dad, as he often did, was teasing me. And I, as I often did, was teasing him right back. On this particular day, the final volleys of our exchange went something like this:

Me: “Dad, you’re silly!”

Dad: “Who, me? No I’m not!”

Me: “Are too!”

Dad: “D2.”

Me: “…what?”

At this point, my mom figured it was high time I was introduced to a certain short, feisty, blue-and-white droid. Our family spent the rest of the afternoon watching A New Hope, and I’ve spent the rest of my life wishing I had a light saber. Thus was my introduction to Star Wars and science fiction in general.

My other memory is of a road trip and a book read aloud in the car. We were on our way to visit some relatives, and though a quick search suggests that it probably took us less than two hours to get there*, as a kid it felt a great deal longer than that. Or rather, it would have had my dad not been reading The Hobbit to us. It’s difficult to be bored when Gollum is in the front seat playing riddles in the dark.

That was the day I fell in love with Middle Earth. You can imagine my joy, then, when I found out that there was a whole trilogy besides set in the same world. My heart was still broken at Khazad Dum, of course, and my first reading of The Fellowship of the Ring took far longer than it should have, but that’s a different story. I can still say that that car trip is what kindled a deep and abiding appreciation for Tolkien and his work.

Since those days, my love of all kinds of fantasy and science fiction has only grown. I’ve seen The Princess Bride and Star Trek and Firefly. I’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia through at least twice. The Last Unicorn enchanted me- both the book and the movie. Hugh Howey’s Silo Saga and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy both kept me up way too late on multiple occasions. All these and a hundred others are all stuck in my head and spilling over into my own imaginings, making them richer and far better than they would be otherwise. I owe a debt to all of these and more, but it all started when my parents introduced me to Star Wars and The Hobbit, which is why those two worlds will always be particularly special to me.

 

 

 

* That is, assuming I remember our destination correctly. If it was farther away, then I’ve underestimated how good my Dad is at reading out loud for extended periods of time, and I already knew he was good.

Musings

[Blog] Going Home

HEADER

“Homeland” is a powerful word.

It’s a word that speaks of ancestry and history; an old word. It’s a word that hints at a bigger story. It’s a word that must be shared, because it belongs to more than you or me. It’s a word that has prompted good and excused evil. It’s a word that demands you pay attention. It’s a word that says it knows a piece of who you are.

It’s why sites like ancestry.com are so wonderful. It’s why, when you visit Edinburgh, you can find a hundred little shops with pamphlets and pins for all the Scottish clans and septs. It’s why you’ll run across ads that claim to tell you where you’ve come from, based solely on your surname.

It’s what the Shire is to a hobbit, and why the scouring of it is so important. It’s what Rannoch is to the Quarians. It’s what Aeneas had just lost, and what he spends an entire epic poem replacing.

And in the fall, I get to visit mine for the first time.

In case my last name isn’t a dead giveaway, I am Armenian–one quarter, on my dad’s side, though the percentage isn’t important. I don’t know who said it first, but my grandfather once told me that as long as I had one drop of Armenian blood, I would be Armenian.

My heritage is something that I have always been aware of on one level or another. My dad taught me the Armenian alphabet when I was a kid, and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know about that part of myself. But awareness and full ownership are two different things entirely, and the latter has been a little slower in coming.

It still feels strange to say that I am Armenian-American. I’m learning the language, but I definitely don’t know it yet. I’ve studied some of the history on my own, and there are a couple of novels on my to-read list that will (I hope!) help add to my understanding of my people.

Of course, actually visiting, living, and working there for a while is going to give me an understanding that I couldn’t get any other way. Which would explain why I’m so excited. Terrified too, for sure. But mostly excited. You don’t often get to visit your homeland for the very first time.

Musings

[Blog] A Tip of the Hat

HEADER

When I was a kid, my family lived about twenty minutes out of town. We drove in for school and church, of course, but the distance limited most other trips to few and far between. Among other things, this meant that when I was introduced to text-based role-playing in the mid 2000’s, I took to it with a wild abandon.

I learned how to role-play on a Redwall fansite called Terrouge. It was part ezine and part forums, and in addition to being the place where I met a number of my dearest friends, it’s at least partially to thank (or perhaps blame) for my love of writing. It certainly did nothing to dissuade it.

For those who aren’t familiar, text-based role-playing (or RPing for short) is when you and a bunch of other people make up your own characters and proceed to write about all the trouble they get into together. At least, that was how we did it on Terrouge and the Vulpine Imperium, our sister site.

Being a pair of literary minded communities, we did it pretty well, too.  Our posts were often long and descriptive. Our characters were usually fun and complicated. We were hardly perfect, of course, and a lot of us were young and still learning to write well, but you can only spend so much time playing with words before you figure out a thing or two.

I haven’t RPed seriously for a few years now, and most of the sites I used to haunt have gone quiet or faded altogether. Visiting the ones that are still up feels a little like going back to your hometown and finding that the house you grew up in has been abandoned. Your family is still around and doing well, and so are the friends you grew up with. It’s just the house that time left behind to turn grey and gather dust. The quiet is a little eerie and a little sad, but only because the memories are so rich and vibrant.

Musings

[Blog] Mist in the Trees

HEADER

It takes more than twenty hours of straight driving to get from my hometown in Idaho down to Santa Barbara, California. When my dad took me down for my freshman year of college, we packed all my things into his car, said goodbye to the rest of the family, and started off in the evening with the intention of making the trip as quickly and with as few stops as possible. And yes, that meant skipping hotels.

We made it a good, long way as we drove through the night. We headed west and south, down through Washington, down through Oregon. California couldn’t have been much farther south when we finally pulled to the side of the road to steal a couple hours of sleep.

It was light when I woke up. We were somewhere in the mountains, on a stretch of highway that ran through a pine forest. The trees were spaced wide apart, and fog hung beneath them, hiding all but the dark trunks from view. And everything glowed gold in the light of the rising sun.

To this day, it’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.

I suspect, though, that the image would not have been etched so deeply in my mind were it not for everything else that lead me there. The adventure of leaving for college. The weariness from long travel and little sleep. The cold feet and cricked back from napping in the car. None of these things change the aesthetic appeal of the scene, but all of them add some detail, some meaning that fits it to a narrative.

There’s also the fact that it was there for a only a few moments, and then I was gone and it was gone, and I’ll never see it again. Other forests on other mornings might look much the same, and I might even be there to see them. But I’ll never see them while on my way to college for the very first time. That singularity has a value.

The trees and the mist gave something back, as well. Waking up to an empty quarry or a stretch of nondescript plains would have left a weaker impression. Instead, the image was one that has stuck with me, and its momentary beauty left me with a feeling of wonder that could harden into memory.

A part of me almost wishes I could have taken a picture. Another part of me is glad I didn’t. Writing might not recreate it perfectly, but it does well enough– and I’ve got a better chance of explaining why it might have affected me the way it did when I get to use my words.

Musings

[Blog] Hello!

HEADER

Hey everyone!

Before I say anything else, thanks for visiting my little corner of the internet! I have so many stories to tell, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with you all– but more on that later. For now, let me just tell you a little about this blog-site-thing and what you’re likely to find here.

Basically, this is where you can find my writing, updates on my writing, and thoughts about writing (and stories) in general. Also, nerdy segues, because I can tell you right now that I won’t be able to help myself, and I wouldn’t want to anyway. Life’s too short to not be nerdy.

So, writing! The stuff I post here will be mostly short stories. Some will be completely self-contained, others might fit into a bigger universe, but all of them will be complete stories in their own right. From time to time, I’ll also put up excerpts and teasers from whatever novel I happen to be working on.

Speaking of novels… this is also where you’ll find information on my various projects. At any given time, I probably have at least three longer pieces in various stages of development. If you want to know what those are and how they’re going, you can find out here!

As for the bloggier bits, that could be anything from talking about the things that get me feeling creative to the most recent books I’ve read. And everything in between. It’s also where I’ll post various life updates and thoughts on any adventures I manage to fall into, which seems to be happening more and more as of late.

Anyway! That’s the shape of the beast. Thanks again for stopping by; it really does mean the world to me. If you’re interested in keeping tabs on my shenanigans, both fictional and otherwise, be sure to follow me here or to like me on Facebook. And that’s all for now! Time for me to go convince the jumble of words in the next document over that life will be better as a coherent story.

Until next time!