Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Right Word

Status Update:  My coffee is once again strong and dark. In fact, this morning I brewed a little more heavily than usual, to the point that a less inured human might have considered adding a splash of water. It's that kind of morning. Torrential rain, nights are long, days are short and my downstairs neighbors have had a marathon screaming match now in their third day. Good kids, both of them, but not when they're together.

As I cruise into the last bits of the resolution year, I think I'm going to concentrate more on writer-muscle strengthening exercises. I'll still write stories, yes, but there's more of an ulterior motive here. It's less about shaking loose ideas, of which I have a nigh-endless supply, but rather more about practicing new things, getting myself ready for whatever heinous resolution I set for myself next year. This week, I think I'm going to concentrate on voice and characterization. I'm going to randomly select one book off my shelves and write in that style, make a character study of some sort. I really hope I don't randomly select a Dragonlance novel or one of my drier bits of nonfiction.

Onwards and downwards.

I think everyone has a favorite word, one that sums up their approach to life. Mine is Swedish, "lagom." It's one of those wonderful words which has no direct equivalent in English, like the Spanish "desahogarse" ("to disemburden oneself frankly with someone").

It means "sufficient" or "just the right amount." I prefer to use "sufficient" as the English equivalent, because it highlights a few things about American culture which I think are revealing.

In America, describing something as "sufficient" has a strong implication of being half-assed. If you put a sufficient amount of effort into doing your job, for example, it means you showed up and didn't fall asleep halfway through the day. A solid C-grade effort. Something a slacker might do or be happy with.

Lagom doesn't really mean that. It's sufficient in the sense of "just right". You buy lagom wood to build your house and your house is built correctly, in high quality, in a reasonable amount of time. You finish your house and there's a bit of wood left over, but not a lot. Lagom implies a job well done within reasonable limits. You finish your effort and you go to bed satisfied.

It implies a cultural mindset where you have your priorities in balance, where more is simply more and not the moral imperative it is over here in the States, where bigger houses, fancier gadgets are the norm, where people feel "ripped off" if their plates aren't covered in heaping piles of food as a default proportion in a restaurant.

Lagom is realizing precisely what your needs are, pursuing them with a healthy amount of effort, getting them just right and then moving on. There's a beautiful kind of zen to the word. It's about prioritizing and realizing you can free your efforts for other parts of your life or simply call it good and relax.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Post Pier

This was an odd duck of a story. Not one of those things where you finish writing and you high-five your imaginary friend while shouting something rambunctious, like "booyah!"

But it does have a lot going for it, I think. There's a beginning, a middle and a palpable ending. Events go somewhere and a revelation is to be had. That's a step up from most of my shorter pieces.

I like the setting and there's a ton of elements in it that seem to work well. Especially the albino girls, the backstory and the story's themes. I like the parallel I tried to make between the station and a squalid swamp. I could probably play that up a bit more.

I think it could benefit from a longer treatment so I can get more of a building tension going, perhaps have the story echo some more traditional southern gothic fiction. The main problem is that I'd probably have to write dialogue in dialect and I'm not terribly confident in my ability to successfully ape cajun without pissing people off.

Speaking of pissing people off, I nearly had one of those moments here where letter soup can go horribly, terribly wrong. I needed a name for the alien race. I decided to take the time-honored route of taking a word that means something ("nagere", in this case, which means "to swim") and add apostrophes and weird punctuation until it looks alien. Everybody does it. Otherwise you wind up with alien names that all sound the same after a while.

Did I read it out loud right away? Nope. Did I get nearly to the end and have an "oh no!" moment when I did read it out loud? Yep. "N'gre" is a cool-sounding name. If you pronounce the second syllable as "gray". If you read it straight out...um. Yeah. Happens to us all, I guess. It sounded particularly heinous in light of the story's subtext. I mean, maliciously so.

In any case, this is one of those stories that I like more and more the more I think about it, but doesn't immediately fire me up. I think if I did it longer, I'd give Njena more to do, give her more action and a bit more of a background and personality. Basically, more of everything.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think the story might make a workable setting for longer fiction. There's something about ye old hoary tales of space-smugglers that screams for subtext about class struggle...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Story The Forty-third: Landry's Pier

Originally intended for this week's Wendig flash thingy, but wound up being dang near 2000 words which is way too long. The story was too involved for me to feel like stripping it down to within spitting distance of the 1k word limit, so I decided to finish it and call it good, without cross-posting.

1.7k words. The challenge was to roll twice on a twenty-entry list of subgenres. This is a mash-up of space opera and southern gothic horror. We've got racism, landed gentry, cyberware, space stations and smugglers. With a story as short as this one, not many buckles were swashed, but I could probably see it happening at some point were it to grow up into something longer.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Unfuck Your Life

Status Update:  I think I just ruined a pot of coffee in the name of convenience and efficiency. I've been reading the Unfuck Your Habitat tumblr and one of the ideas it had was doing basic preparation the night before to make your morning more efficient. Oh ho, said I. Efficiency? I CAN DO EFFICIENCY. So, I pre-ground my coffee beans, loaded up the filter, did everything but water up my coffee machine because my coffee machine leaks like a god-damned sieve. Then I went to bed.

Beans once ground, dry out. I knew that, which is why I tend to grind my beans fresh every morning. If you don't, even the good stuff tastes like Maxwell House eventually. The question to be answered this morning was, "do they dry out overnight?" The answer, unequivocally, is "yes, Virginia, they fucking do."

Now I just have to ask myself if the bad coffee is worth the extra two or three minutes I saved by doing this the night before? I'm guessing not, considering what I just typed. It wasn't awful, just much weaker than I'm used to.

Unfuck Your Habitat is a pretty cool site, though. It's one of those Lifehacker-circle blogs with the premise that spending just a few minutes every day on something that improves your life is way better than going full-hog-crazy on it for an afternoon (or evening or morning) once every few months when you just can't take it anymore.

You spend ten minutes dusting or putting some stuff away or cleaning up clutter or making sure something that isn't squared away is squared away every day, instead of going crazy on everything at once once or twice a month. Ten or twenty minutes isn't much time. Most people spend more time puttering around on their computers before bed than that.

This philosophy appeals to me because it's a central philosophy my life, not just cleaning. I'm a big fan of boring and consistent approaches. Fitness, money, cleaning, it's all largely the same. Progress is progress, after all. Life goals tend to be processes instead of destinations. You don't just wake up "in shape" or "not in the poorhouse". Anything worth doing is going to be a series of tiny steps and it's better if those tiny steps are broken up over the course of days instead of in big irregular clumps that you wind up dreading.

Society discourages the small-amount-of-work-every-day method of achieving goals. I think people are trained to see problem-solving as a series of training montages, like you see in movies. Pat Morita kicks your ass into shape after the bullies pick on you, the Peter Cetera kicks in while you're running on the beach, waxing-on and waxing-off and suddenly you know fucking karate, man.

Doing a small amount of work regularly doesn't fit that mentality at all. It's not particularly glamorous, doing a very small amount of work every day, but it builds up over time. For example: I'm in fairly decent shape. I'm not going to run marathons, but I can pick myself up and run three miles if I have to. I'm not a powerlifter, but I'm fairly strong. I can do chin-ups until I and everybody else watching me gets bored. Did I have a training montage? Nope. I go to the gym three times per week, max (sometimes only one or two if my training schedule determines I need a flipping break). Sessions are typically anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes, depending on what my goals for the day are. On any given day, I usually feel like I'm slacking off, but it works.

Kicking your ass for a goal is not something you should be doing regularly. It's something you should do every once in a while as a change when your motivation begins to flag. Boring but consistent is not glamorous, but it works. Case in point, this year's resolution. Holy hell, have I gotten a lot of writing practice in this year.

I should probably write some horror this week. It's probably going to be relatively brief. Not quite flash, not quite long. I'm tempted to make more coffee, too. I feel a little cheated this morning.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hard-boiled

As I mentioned in the last post, this was a fun story. It's set in the same universe as the two Down And Out Stories ("Down And Out In The Jungle Of Death" and "The Multiplicity Of Xen"), but things, uh, happen in it. It's not all people hanging out in bars and telling lies to each other.

My original thought was to write a straight-up fantasy story, except with a hard-boiled slant to it. It was going to be a world-weary shop-owner who lives in a frontier town which is experiencing a boom of adventurers inflating the local economy. Some of that stuck around. Then my vast and deep antipathy for mainstream fantasy overtook me and it got sci-fi'ed, even though I was trying to deconstruct the fantasy a little and see if I could make it more interesting (to me, primarily, not just any putative readers who might stumble across it).

Problem is, I guess, that just about everybody who writes fantasy already does that, including a bunch of writers who are much better than yours truly.

Anyhow.

This is, more or less, a mystery story. Given that it's only six thousand words long, there ain't much mystery to be had, so I just tried to hit the high notes and called it good. It's also a first draft, so there's probably some howlers in there that I'm going to face-palm myself over when I get around to revisiting it (whenever).

Mysteries are odd to write. You have to come at them backwards. It's not like an action story or anything like that, where you can just tell yourself (and by extension, your readers) "and this happened, then this happened, then this happened..."

You have to start out with the end in mind and then work backwards.

I started out with the corpse. Imagined a gruesome and weird death. Then I asked myself what happened, worked my way backwards. With only six thousand words to play with, I could only have one other reasonable suspect, so made the other suspect the red herring. With only two suspects, I decided to make sure their motives were more-or-less similar, but contrasting. I think it worked out okay.

It's been a while since I had a dialogue heavy story, so I tried to build interaction into the characters more. I think Llerg and Neah have a good dynamic. The chameleon with Tourette's was a bit of surprise. Some of his curse-words aren't necessarily in English, because he's a cosmopolitan type of lizard.

I generally like writing mystery more than I like reading it (which I do like). The thing I like about writing mysteries is that the plot drives itself forward very easily. Lot of hooks in the genre and you usually never have any problems figuring out where to go next with the story.

Not sure yet what I'm going to write this week. Weekend doesn't look particularly busy (yet), so I'll probably have slightly more free time than usual. Maybe I'll write something longer. My word count is ca 220k just from the stories alone for this year; 285k including blog updates. Think I'll push for at least 250k for stories and 300k+ for stories + blog updates. Nice round number, I think. I also need to come up with a doable but challenging novel-related resolution for next year, still.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Story The Forty-second: Spirals And Triangles

6,000 words. Every bit as fun to write as I was hoping it would be.

We've got sexy robots, murder, a rather grumpy sentient coral reef, telepaths and baseball cards.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Monkey Brain

Status Update: FINALLY got through the last bag of coffee, the one with the vanilla notes. It wasn't bad coffee, mind you, just not dark enough for my mood. The new bag has pictures of angry bees on the cover, which fits my mood more perfectly. If they were stinging someone, it would be even better. As for this week's story, I've got it outlined and I'm currently in the fermentation stage. Hopefully I will have time to write it, because I'm shooting for five to seven thousand words this time around. Which means it will either be flash or one of those fifteen thousand word monstrosities where I finish and am so brain-fried all I can do is stare at the wall.

I say "fermentation stage" because sometimes you can't just jump into something right away. When I'm banging away at a program at work, for example, I recognize the fact that there are usually five ways to do something right, but inefficiently. There are fifty ways to do it wrong in such a way it will half-ass work. And there are an infinity ways to fuck things up so badly that they don't work at all, just collapse into a sad puddle of broken parts on the floor until you sweep them into the bin and pretend it all didn't happen. And there's only one or two ways to do something right and efficiently.

A lot of times I find myself defining the problem, sketching it out on actual paper and then...I go and surf the internet for a few hours. I might go home at the end of the day only having done very little specific work on a project and it's not because I'm lazy (well, I am, actually, but that's besides the...SHUT UP). I'm actually letting ideas bounce around in my skull. When somebody wanders by and sees me staring at the ceiling with my fingers linked behind my head, I'm usually doing the hardest work: letting experience and instinct narrow down improper approaches, or coming up with lateral solutions. Or I'm taking a nap. Hard to tell sometimes.

The thing is, you can't hurry creativity. Well, you can. Sometimes a project comes on like a bad case of indigestion and things happen fast. Sometimes it all comes together at once and you feel like you're channeling the universe, some cosmic background radiation guiding your fingers and producing something that snaps together like it was from God's own blueprints.

Usually, though, I have to sit on it for a while. I'll go take a shower. Halfway through the shower, I get an idea that sounds good, so I run across my apartment, dripping water and scaring the cats (note: I don't actually have a cat), and jot it down. Then I come back to it and think it through more carefully, take what works and what doesn't and that's how babies are made.

Because your first instincts are usually wrong, that's why. Your gut instinct is the one you've been trained to give, the most obvious solution. Sometimes the counterpoint is too obvious, too. It's the third and the fourth thoughts, those are the ones you should listen to, the ones that unpack your assumptions. I have this crazy voice inside me sometimes that occasionally demands I burn shit and blow things up,  makes stupid suggestions like eating the ENTIRE bag of chips. That's the one I listen to the most because it defies common sense. Common sense murders creativity like nothing else.

I think it's a good idea to listen to this voice when you're writing, because your first ideas are the ones everybody has. The second ideas are the ones everybody has, too. Let's write a story about zombies! It's going to be about a guy who wakes up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. It'll be great. Wait. That's a first idea. What if...he wakes up a zombie and everybody else is human? Better. Wait. What if everybody's a zombie, he used to be a zombie and he's human now and he can infect zombies with the human virus by biting them? Gross! He has to...that's actually workable. Why is everybody a zombie? Are they smart zombies? Does he still have zombie abilities? Where would he get food? Would he know how to human-eat?

And that's how sausage is made. You have to let things bang around in your subconscious for a while so you can come at them sideways. Your first reaction to any problem is always just that--a reaction. It's nothing but your monkey-brain, evolved to respond to lions on the African savanna, responding to emergencies. You want to avoid that, because it's usually an averaged response to whatever media you've been consuming for the last ten years. Anything you produce from that first reaction will be derivative by nature, unless you just had one of those lightning bolt from the sky moments.

Man, I need more coffee. Anyhow. I've been reading a lot of hard-boiled fiction again. This story I've got planned looks like it'll be a lot of fun. Hopefully I'll have enough time this weekend to write it.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Flown

The search engine bots don't seem to have liked this one as much as my previous entries. I assume it's because I used this random generator to create the title and the resulting output resembled their own spam a little too much. They looked at the page title and thought "one of us, one of us" and then moved on to traffic-up some other, more human-touched web page, perhaps.

This week was probably about as close to missing a week as I've gotten so far. The weekend, while mostly empty of obligations, just didn't lend itself much to writing. I did replant a snake plant, though, so the weekend wasn't a complete loss. And, at the very last minute, before my Sunday social obligations kicked in, I pulled this story out of thin air.

I decided to do another flash story because they don't take up much time overhead and are, in general, pretty fun to do. Of all the Wendig-inspired flash stories, I think I enjoyed that random generator the most, and mostly, I think, because of the sheer WTF-factor of the titles it produces. And most of all, it gives you five of these weird-ass titles at a time, giving you just enough choice to get you started.

Because I was fairly well-limited on time, I definitely approached this as a feel-your-way-forward type of thing. You can probably tell that I was kinda winging it as I went. I knew, from the title, where I was going with it, in the sense of a couple sitting on their porch at the edge of a weird chaos discontinuity, and they were going to be watching birds flying out of it, but I wasn't quite sure how it was going to end until I was a couple pages in.

A lot of times when I write one of these things, I outline ahead. There are broad sections where I summarize them in my notes like this:

Cameron goes to the park, meets a demon.
Patter
Demon eats his car
Chase scene

For example. "Patter" is shorthand in my notes for points where it's fine to go on a tangent, pad in details, whether in internal monologue or in the sort of random details that Birds of the Variable Poisoned South packed in. In most of my first person stories, it's where the narrator talks directly to the audience about what's going on, or something similar that's happened to them. The story basically turns into an essay for a while before they get to the point and then go back to what's happening now. I like essays and essay writing so I deliberately give myself space to write them in my stories.

In stories like Birds, it's where I blue-sky setting detail by just banging out paragraphs of random description. I write them with little preconceived notion of what they're going to be about. I just let details erupt from my brain and see what happens. Basically, it's a little space where I can blue-sky ideas for the rest of the story or indulge in informal poetry.

It's fun to do, but a little dangerous. There's a fine line between "colorful" and "pointless blathering" in my experience. If you don't have an exit strategy it edges narrowly towards "wasting your reader's time" territory, which is the biggest sin a piece of writing can have. You always have to keep in mind that someone who is reading what you're writing could always be doing something else with their time--they are reading your story in favor of, say, eating a really good donut, or watching television. You have to treat them well, as a common courtesy.

So, you have to keep a balance point in writing patter. On one hand, it's a sort of safe place where you can go off the rails a bit and indulge in weirdness, filling out the background detail as you go, making the world your characters live in a bigger and more interesting place. It's a place where I can have Cameron talk about what he did on his last summer vacation and why he's not a real big fan of going to proms. It's also a place where I can talk a bit about the random messed-up things the characters in Birds have seen off their porch, how the townsfolk really got in the collective neck.

But there's always a thought at the back of my head when I'm writing this stuff about patience-levels and where I'm going with it. Every sentence takes the needle a little closer to "E" and I ask myself whether it's time to bang enter and tab and get on with it already.

On a different note, they always say never go with your first idea on something. In this case, I went with my first idea. I'm pretty happy with it. I think it might merit revisiting at some point, blowing up into a longer piece of some sort, perhaps a classic type of science fiction story. My initial idea was that it would be half-Moorcock/half-post-nuclear-apocalypse.

In any case, I need to get back in habit of not...doing everything all in one sitting. I need to make an effort to write more, a little at a time, rather than just banging everything out all in one block. That's one of the dangers of these flash fiction pieces. It's too easy to avoid spreading the work out over several days and that's a bad habit to get into if you're interested in writing novels. Also, it's causing me to outline less before hand and my organizational skills are beginning to suffer for it. Boo.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Story The Forty-First: The Birds of the Variable Poisoned South

A short one this time. A bit longer than the usual flash, standing at around 1700 or so.

This is a revisit of the random title generator (here!) which inspired "Angelo For Corrupt Time". Of all the random idea generators, that was my favorite one, so I decided to have another go, because it seemed pretty good at creating really weird shit. And it didn't disappoint this time either.

Redacted. :-)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Comfort Zones And The Power Of Yes

Status Update:  drinking a new (to me) variety of coffee which tastes a little too sweet and vanilla for my blood, even though I'm drinking it black and without sweeteners. My tastes in brew tend towards the pitch-black and crazy strong: coffee which could charitably be described as "Satan's Blood". This is a bit light. Not bad, though. Otherwise, no story yet. More free time than usual over the next few days, so odds of a longer story looking good.

Looking back on my life, from the lofty position of thirty-mumble-mumble-SHUT UP I'M NOT FORTY YET, one of the things I notice is that I have a tendency to stay within my comfort zones far too much. I don't really stand out in this respect from the average joe/jane. Most people do this. And it's a shame.

I think one of the best things you can do for yourself is to knock yourself out of whatever rut you're in. Even if it's a good rut, it's occasionally nice to escape. Hang out with different people, see different walls around you, if only to see what's good in your own life. Sometimes you wander off the path and find things to improve your own lot. Sometimes you don't.

I'm being a little hypocritical here. Hell, my comfort zones have a fifty mile high fortified wall with armed and pissed-off giant robots guarding the top. I think they have lasers. If I were to be damned to a layer of Hell, just one, it would probably be the fifth circle, where the slothful bubble fitfully at the bottom of some fetid swamp. Satan's henchmen (band name!) probably already have a section taped off for me with buoys, right beneath a particularly depressing tree. Really, I'm awful. I'll mentally bookmark something to do, then life happens and two weeks later I'll wonder what the hell happened.

I try to be proactive when I can. One of the better habits I've gotten into is saying "yes" by default on things or jotting down crazy ideas as they hit me. A few years back, I had a small windfall of money and turned that into a scuba certification. Do I still scuba dive? Hell, no, it's expensive and eats up a disturbingly large amount of time on your weekends. But I'm glad I did it, because it was an interesting experience I'll never forget.

Likewise, if friends are going off to do something bizarre (as the right kinds of friends are wont to do), I'll tag along if it's within my budget and it doesn't crash into my work too much. You never know whether an adventure is worth it until you try. And even a lame adventure is better than sitting on the couch, wondering if something fun happened while you were engaged in a state of intense vegetation.

Sometime's it's worth it to make a habit of saying "yes" a lot or doing crazy shit just so you can later say you did crazy shit, like that time we took out my friend's grandfather's Styrofoam Kool cigarette boat for a sail. You can't buy that in any travel agency and if any travel agency offered that experience they'd probably go broke.


None of these people are me. I was manning the chase-photographer position in a canoe, just in case the crazy idjits sank we'd have some documentation to give to the survivors' families. It actually worked really well for a thirty year old boat bought with traded-in Kool cigarette points.

Breaking out of your comfort zones is a good habit to get into, in more areas of your life than one. I occasionally get into these moods where I like to blow things up, figuratively speaking. Break habits, whether or not I'm entirely sure they're habits I want to break. Throw stuff out, see if I can get by without it. Take a different way in to whatever the hell I'm doing. Heck, sometimes I don't even brush my teeth the same way from day to day.

This carries over into writing as well. I have a tendency, if I let myself, to write and to read the same stuff, over and over. I suspect it gets even worse once people start giving you money for your brain-junk. There's a very real natural tendency to only write what you perceive as your strengths, in much the same way that people who exercise avoid things they suck at. Runners don't lift weights, dudes who work on arms a lot don't work on their legs. It makes sense, after all, even more so if it's your living. Nobody likes to be bad at anything.

You really have to avoid that. The only way to really grow is to transgress against yourself, give those walls around your rut the occasional righteous shit-kicking. So, this is why I occasionally write weird stuff, experiment with things that anybody with a lick of common sense knows will only turn out poorly. But who knows, even if something is an abject failure, there's usually a takeaway there ("don't do that again" or "flee the scene before the cops get called").

Monday, October 7, 2013

Hell's Post-Game Wrap-up

Another week, another bit of flash fiction. Only twelve more of these bad boys to go, folks, and then it's on to the next writing resolution.

For a bit of a shaggy dog story, I tried to put a little more thought into the character arc than usual. As hell's librarian speaks, I tried to reflect his/her* growing control over their situation. They started out relatively passive and as time goes on they rise to the top. Limited as I was by word count, I also tried to embed a lot of implied details into the setting, like the elevators which occasionally eat people or an oblique reference to one of the worst jobs in Hell, which would be Hell's IT department.

* I never did settle on a gender, I think.

The inspiration, as I mentioned briefly before, is one of Chuck Wendig's contests. Roll a ten-sided die twice. Pick two words from two separate tables--that's your title. "Labyrinthine Library." Huh. "Labyrinth" made me think of netherworld mythology. It's a place you go into to rebuild yourself, a liminal experience involving the underworld, like Persephone or Theseus or some such. Then I got to thinking about the afterlife and what it must be like to work in the worst library imaginable.

The minotaur stayed from the Greek mythology train of thought. The ragebadgers are a call out to Chuck's blog, where they tend to live these days. I think they're on loan from Hell whenever he needs to call them out.

Onwards and downwards. I might do another Down & Out story this week.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Story The Fortieth: The Labyrinthine Library, Or...(File Under Ragebadgers And Damnation)

When you're a little burned out on writing, there's only one thing to do: another Wendig flash fiction challenge. This one's one of those things where you roll a couple of dice, consult a table or two and, Bob's-Your-Uncle, you've got a title you'd probably never choose on your own. Figure out what to do with your story from there, bub.

I came up with "Labyrinth" and "Library", added a bunch of words, shook it up a little and baked at 400 for an hour or so. Voila.

Right around 1100 words. A sad tale of libraries, damnation, poorly-indexed databases and ragebadgers.

Download EpubThe Labyrinthine Library, Or...(File Under Ragebadgers And Damnation) (full text)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Resolutions

Status Update: Coffee supplies holding steady, but only just. I need a panic button for coffee emergencies, something big and red that sounds with a large "ahoogah" noise. It would scramble the more easily-bored branches of the military like the Merchant Marines and the National Guard. I would then buy more coffee myself, because to do otherwise would be silly. The only difference would be that I would have a tank escort to the store. Haven't started writing or even brainstorming a story for this week yet. I suspect, given what I know of my schedule, that flash fiction may be in my future.

I just realized (and by "just", it was a few weeks ago) that there's less than a hundred days left in the year. This means that my story-a-week resolution is going to be over soon. I've been putting some thought into what to replace it with. I like having a stick to drive me forward. Left to my own devices, I will do the writerly equivalent of sitting on the couch with a bag of Doritos watching Big Bang Theory reruns until the small hours of the night. My fiction-muscles will atrophy and I will turn into the writing equivalent of a 98-pound weakling. This is a thing to be avoided.

I've done just about all the short fiction I want to do for a while. I really want to get back into novel writing, except this time prepared, practiced, a mean, green, word-grinding machine. I want to set some kind of weekly milestones, something with a big damn stick built right into it, like this year's resolution.

It's always tricky setting reasonable resolutions of any variety. They have to be challenging, but not punishing. There's a truism in the fitness industry that anybody can do anything for two weeks. That grindingly difficult P90X-ish routine? Diet consisting of nothing but vegetables and fish? Crank out 100 pushups a day? It's all fun for about a week, if even that. Most people can push themselves for another week beyond that, after the novelty and fun wear off. After that, though, you've got to have more. Willpower will only carry you for so long, because willpower's a finite quantity.

Resolutions are lifestyle changes. When you set a new resolution, something that you want to use to make yourself a better person, you have to think not in the two week time frame, but in the two year time frame. You have to build in pressure-release valves. If you're giving up something, especially something you enjoy--eating unhealthy foods, or beer, or spending too much time on the couch, you have to build in the option to go back to that bad habit every once in a while in a controlled way, or you'll just revert when your willpower runs out. You have to expect to cheat every once in a while and plan for that...otherwise you will do it anyway and it'll turn into a wipeout which might kill your resolve.*

* Hence, all the flash fiction. I don't know if I'd be able to keep cranking out 5-15k words per week, week after week.

You also have to build in milestones, set points during the journey when you can stop and pat yourself on the back. Little scenic spots where you can pause your progress, look at how far you've gone and feel good about the sacrifices. In my story-a-week, it's all about word count and numbers. I'd also like to think I've cranked out a few good stories in and amongst all the crap. That's a good feeling.

Most of all, a resolution has to be something you really want. I think a lot of people fail at their New Year's resolutions because it's not something they really want, deep down inside. You want to be able to fit into the clothes you wore back in college, or at least you say you do, but deep down inside, you're actually pretty comfortable at your slightly doughy middle-aged weight. You can't really make a longstanding change until you've come to a mental place where you realize, on the surface and deep down inside, that the destination and journey are worth it.

Because the best resolutions, the ones most worth doing and the ones you're most likely to stick with are ones that you wanted to do anyway. The resolution is only a polite fiction. Saying that you have a resolution is a bit of a shield, a social excuse for doing ridiculous things. If you just ran out and bought a hell of a lot of random mountaineering equipment, your friends might wonder what the hell is up. If you just blurt out "something something New Year's resolution", they will nod sagely and then just accept it's going to be an interesting story in a few months.