So, another week, another lack of writing. I managed to get good sleep in there once, on Sunday, and today was all right. That’s a certain amount of progress, I guess. In the first half of this week I was able to sit down and figure out what the next Cell Phone Towers of Elfland story is going to be, tentatively titled “Ian and the Lost Princes” unless I come up with anything else. It has a setting and a theme and a plot, but actually writing it seems like it’s probably a ways away still. Just doing that much used up my available mental energy for those days very quickly. But it’s a certain amount of progress, albeit slow progress, and more importantly it means I’m continuing to try to move forward at this rather than just slipping into survival mode until spring. That could still happen but I’m holding it off so far.

In other news, since September I’ve been rereading the Discworld books in order, and catching a few that I missed in the kind of haphazard way that seems unique to that series. There are so many of them and they’re so diverse that reading them in order, or even looking for completion, doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’re doing what I’m doing now: trying to learn what you can about writing comic fantasy from them.

They’re very reassuring, in some ways. I find it really inspiring how Pratchett was able to consistently improve over the lifetime of the series. The first ones really are not all that great, but I found three distinct places where he clearly leveled up along the way, as well as making smaller bits of progress more regularly. There are big steps up at book 13 (Small Gods), book 23 (Carpe Jugulum), and book 29 (Night Watch). Small Gods is better than several of the books after it, but even so they’re a step up from the ones before. 

One of my issues with the whole writing process is being motivated to put the work in over the long term. That’s part of why I set up into this particular format of working with series and arc plot, because it puts me into a better position for working on the next thing, when I know there are good plot points and character development and just funny moments to work toward. A series has momentum in a way that writing a bunch of individual stories doesn’t for me. If I were doing that I’d have to work up motivation from scratch every time, and eventually it would fail and I would go long periods without writing anything at all. With these series in place, now I have a ready default, with large chunks of the motivation already invested, and it makes it easier to keep going even in times like the present when everything is very difficult.

Where Pratchett comes into that is that it’s very easy to see where he benefited from putting the work in in the long term. I’ve gotten, now, to the Tiffany books, and shortly will get to the Moist books, and reading them all in order makes it very clear how he got to the point of being able to do those by writing a couple of million words in that world beforehand. It makes me more inclined to write a couple of million words in mine, in hopes that afterward my work will be that much better than what I’m doing now. It’s an excellent example of the learning and improving process really working, and that makes me more motivated to invest heavily in my own.

So, last week was going really well on getting things back together, at least until the end of Monday. On Monday I wrote 1700 words to finish off Ian and the Briar Patch, and at the end of it I didn’t feel highly fatigued, I felt like I could just move on to the next thing on Tuesday. Then Tuesday came, and the results were very different; the end-of-November crash was difficult, but I was still working, slowly, grindingly, but still working. The end-of-December crash that started last week has been almost a perfect stop.

Where I had a certain amount of bounce-back from the previous one, this one has really been a struggle. I’ve been falling out of my good habits. I’m no longer able to get on the rowing machine every day, partly because there have been many days my body just had no moment it would have been capable of doing it. I’ve been in the habit of at least journaling on every supposedly-writing day for the last six months, but over the last week I’ve been missing them. I feel really trapped in exhaustion, and I have no idea how to get out of it from here. There’s no methodology that makes any sense. I can’t hold enough of a story in my head at once to put down new words that relate to the old ones, and until that ability comes back I don’t really know what to do.

Sleep is a thing where the less useful it is the more of it you want, and I’m very much in the well of that right now. I don’t know when I’m going to feel rested and aware again. I don’t know when I’ll be able to write again. Or rather, I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to write again in late April, given how seasonality has worked for me before. I just really hope to find a way to get there without waiting that long, without spending the next three months just trying to survive into the warm again. 

As far as the end of the year goes, I’m not disappointed in the results from 2020. I wrote 62421 words after restarting my writing in the middle of the year, and finished eleven stories, of which ten are published here. I’ve also done some work on a few other things that are farther from seeing the light of day, but feel like good work nevertheless. I’m trying to maintain a certain amount of optimism at being able to continue growing my productivity going forward in the long term, even if it requires a long winter break this year. 

I’ll continue to try to publish something here every Wednesday, even if it’s just blog posts for a while, to let you know that I haven’t disappeared, that I haven’t forgotten this project. I still really want to go forward on these things, I’m just not sure of the road back to ability on that right now. I will do what I can to get some rest and hope that it begins to regrow. 

It’s now three weeks and a little bit since I basically crashed out of my weekly writing goals program in late November. I’ve been running this growth program since I restarted writing in June, with the goal of continuing to get stories out here and eventually generating enough output and getting enough hours to make this satisfactory as a full-time pursuit. It’s a fairly slow and steady plan, based on learning and growth progress curves I’ve used elsewhere in my life, mainly with a growth curve based on the golden ratio. I started in June with a goal of 800 words per week, and that was a grind, as a lot of my time was spent journaling about why I wasn’t writing, as well as struggling to deliberately spend time not distracted by other things.

As we moved into August, I rediscovered fluency in writing, which is why I wanted to do this in the first place. Though it’s not always easy to get to, the ability to just sit down and go, from time to time, is one of the best feelings I’ve ever known. It’s what I’m primarily seeking here, and I found it easily enough in August and early September to believe that continuing to devote most of my attention to this project is a good idea. In late September and early October I had a minor setback, with a chronic illness flare, but was really pleased that even through that I was able to continue writing a little over two thousand words a week. I felt like I had established something of a new production floor, and got even more confident when late October and early November led me back to growing production and frequent fluency.

But then in late November my body and brain reminded me what a real setback can look like. It didn’t quite send me back to zero, but the week of November 23 was my least-productive week since the start of the project, even including those first grindy weeks that were more about fighting myself over not writing than actual writing. My brain just basically wiped out, which for me generally manifests itself in wanting to do nothing but play phone games. And there wasn’t really anything to do, that first week, but let it have its head and be kind to myself about not coming close to any of my goals.

Still, setbacks are inevitable, and a big part of not letting them win is how we handle the aftermath. And I thought it would be worthwhile to document how that went this time, so that I can look back on what worked whenever the next one comes. 

That first week, I just let it go, did the things I had to do to maintain life outside of the writing realm, and spent all the rest of my time playing on my phone. It was clear for the second week that just trying to jump back onto my previous goals was a bad idea, so I set one single goal: write more than I had the week before. I managed to get into writing position for about three hours that week, during which only one half-hour session was actual writing, but I did some useful development on The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland and also some overarching strategy journaling to keep me pointed forward.

In that second week I also took some actions to improve my life experience for the winter, letting the crash serve as impetus to make some speculative changes looking for marginal improvement in my physical situation. I bought an inexpensive rowing machine, despite never having even used one before. I bought an extremely large weighted blanket for myself. Both of those have ended up being worthwhile ventures, so far. I’ve been on the rower every day since it arrived, and am slowly working through a cycle of which muscles are most startled to be used in that way. The blanket seems to be helping me sleep better.

In week 3, then, I came in with more or less the same goal: write more than I had in week 2. Again my hours were only about three and a half, but I did manage to put together another week of improvement, and I also spent a long session reviewing my long list of active projects, and considering what needs to be done with them going forward, and with what priority. While doing that I came up with the idea of Development Camp: I have a few projects that are ready-to-write, but I also have a bunch of potential projects, including three other series meant to appear here eventually, which could use some really extensive development work to be brought up to that point.  Generally development work is much easier and more reliable for me than writing actual words, so that gave me a bit of an out for scaling back up how much work I was doing if the words continued to be difficult.

So far, I haven’t needed it. The plan was to have Development Camp in my back pocket for something to do this week if the words weren’t coming, but at this moment they have been. I made my goals early enough last week to knock off early on Friday morning and have nearly a three-day weekend, and by Monday morning my brain was ready to work on “Ian and the Briar Patch.” On Monday I was able to put in about 1500 words on it before hitting a giant wall of fatigue. Yesterday I added another 400 or so before my brain was clearly too tired to go on. I still have a lot of fatigue going on, I’m still clearly limited, but it looks like I’m going to manage three or four thousand words this week despite probably not scaling the hours much, and I’m very much OK with that. 

Unfortunately this is the longest of Ian’s stories so far, and I’m not sure if that means I’ll be able to finish it in time to get it to Victoria, the illustrator, in order to publish in on Wednesday. However it does look likely I’ll be able to get it out by the end of December, which is a relief. 

By the pre-crash growth program I’d be trying for eight thousand words in ten to twelve hours this week, and while I’m a long way from that, if I can manage four thousand in four hours that’s not something to be sad about. And if I can get back soon to the ten hours I was at before the crash, with anything like a similar velocity, we’re starting to get to the point of really good high-level production, being able to get a story out here every week and still work on standalones and novels, which is the end state I’m looking for. 

Through this whole process I’ve kind of been judging how much writing and journaling time it’s reasonable to aim for in the long term, and as it’s gone along I’ve become convinced that twenty hours a week is a really strong but achievable goal. That’s not going to come soon, as I’ve had a lot more luck with increasing word count than with increasing hours, but I’m OK with that. I had ambitious growth goals to start with, and I’m confident that I can get back to them soon with a reset after the crash.

And every crash dealt with coherently, with momentum coming back afterward, leads to more confidence and more security in the long run. 

A few weeks ago I discovered that while writing new stories has been going well for the last several months, as that was happening I was falling farther and farther behind on the various administrative tasks involved in this project: updating the website, submitting the one standalone story I wrote in the middle of it, commissioning illustrations, running ads to drive traffic, and so on and so forth. In order to deal with that I shifted my schedule around to have Wednesdays exclusively for non-writing tasks, and I’m slowly catching up on my backlog of those, one of which was to start an occasional blog on the website, knowing that there were going to be times when I didn’t have a new story to publish for several weeks in a row, and not wanting to let it sit looking like I had abandoned the project.

And without too much of a surprise, with the end of November and the beginning of December have come some obstacles to the writing as well. This is not a good season for me, especially with the pandemic limiting my ability to deal with the winter by extensive travel. In a normal year I’d be somewhere warm by now, or at least getting ready to head there. Instead it looks like I’m going to be stuck at 45 degrees north for at least the first chunk of the winter, and I’m not really sure how it’s going to go.

The last couple of weeks, however, have not gone especially well. My writing groove has gone away, and I’m working to get it back, with some success. I have hopes that this crash won’t be long-lasting. But I had planned to get at least one story in each of the current series out in December, and right now that doesn’t look exceptionally likely. Each of them is well-started and completely outlined, but the onset of winter has left my brain unable to keep track of enough things at once to feel comfortable putting new words on them. 

For me the creative act of actually writing the words of a story still involves a lot of narrative decision-making, even if I have a full scene-by-scene outline to work from. This is even more true when writing a series that’s supposed to have continuity. I have to consider the implications of everything I have a character do, every bit of backstory I introduce, even casual descriptions of setting. I had no idea that air pressure didn’t increase at altitude in Fairyland until I wrote that sentence in Ian and the Goats Gruff, and being able to put it in there meant considering how it worked with the world as I know it and the world as I intend it to be in the future.

When I’m working well, this sort of cognitive load is one of the most enjoyable things about it. It’s the complexity that builds off of each little detail in an ongoing series that made me want to do this in the first place, and figure out a way to publish them in an environment where very few venues exist for that sort of thing. Unfortunately it also means that I requires the ability to operate at a high level when I’m doing it, something that just hasn’t existed in the last couple of weeks. 

I have some strategies to try to get back from the crash of the early winter here, and I reassure myself that even in this particularly difficult state I’ve still been able to write about as much as I was when I started the project in June. I’m pretty sure that at some point I’ll be able to recover and start making real progress again, and continue bringing out stories to advance these two series. I just don’t know if that will be tomorrow, or next week, or in January, or in April. I really hope not in April. 

Until then, you may get blog posts on Wednesdays instead of stories for a while. One thing I can always do is write about not writing. If I need one again next week I’ll probably talk about my mitigation strategies for this crash and whether they’re working at all; by then I ought to have a pretty good idea. I’ve also been thinking about maybe publishing that one standalone story here, since the logistical overhead has been keeping me from actually sending it anywhere anyway. I might give that another week and see where I am on the next stories in the series.