My brain definitely knows it’s spring this week, as I was just pouring out words and hours on Monday, at least relative to where I have been. The last few weeks I’ve been doing a really productive job on Mondays and Tuesdays, and then having a hard time getting back to it in the second half of the week, so while I’m definitely getting some good moments in I’m not making progress quite as fast as I had hoped. I’m still feeling pretty reasonable on getting Hera Chapter 3 ready for publication next week, and I already have the public domain illustration I want for it, but I’m less confident in being able to go weekly right away in April.

The Hera stories being longer than expected turned out to not be just a one-time thing with Chapter 2, which is making the schedule more difficult as I ramp back up. Chapter 3 is already as long as Chapter 2, and there’s quite a ways to go still. I had the idea that if I could get to 7500 words/week I could publish weekly, but CPTE stories are getting a little bit longer, more in the 5k range than where they started at 3k, and Hera just keeps going. Even my backup alternate schedule with three CPTE stories for every Hera, rather than alternating, means I’m going to need to get to 10k/week if they’re ballooning out beyond 15,000 words. 

And the last few weeks have really brought home to me that writing can be extremely tiring. I don’t think 10k/week is at all unreasonable, but 10k next week is definitely out of line. Later in the summer, when I’ve had time to train up more, and learn more about taking intentional rest, I’m pretty confident that I can get there. I like this chapter a lot, I’m pretty pleased with where CPTE is going, and the next story there in specific. I just think the schedule I had in mind was a little too ambitious, and you’ll probably be seeing two or three stories in April instead of four. 

I’m so happy to report that it’s March, and that I have a draft of the next CPTE story. After the second week of February went so well I had real hopes that things were getting going, just had one scene left to finish, surely that couldn’t take too long. But February came back with a vengeance in the last two weeks, and I’ve mostly been trying to hold the pieces of everything together. 

Usually I have to get the rest of my life into some sort of balance before writing works, but this week has been the opposite, as writing is just about the only thing that’s working. But I’ll take it, and try to use that as a base to pull the rest of myself together. 

The next one is “Ian and the Lost Princes,” and it needs some close rewriting of some of the dialogue (writing for Richard III is tough) and to be sent to the illustrator, but I’m pretty confident in being able to get that out in the next couple of weeks. 

Meanwhile I’m glad to be reading something that isn’t Discworld, finally. The first new book off the pile was C. L. Polk’s Soulstar, the third book in its trilogy. This series hadn’t really reminded me of Daniel Abraham’s Long Price books before, but Soulstar really heads in that direction, working really hard on the idea that every bit of success against dystopia reveals deeper and more complicated levels of dystopia. It goes back toward more typical fantasy structure at the very end, with a simplifying and presumably happy ending, although like the Long Price books the amount of work the characters have gotten themselves into is daunting. 

Beyond that, it’s getting noticeably warmer, and I’m hoping that will eventually help my body which will help everything else. Thinking about keeping the Wednesday blog even after I can start publishing stories again, as this has been usefully keeping me on track, even when I can’t move very quickly down it.

I’m very nearly to the end of the complete, publication-order reread of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books that I started in September. I’m only about halfway through the final book, The Shepherd’s Crown, today, but I feel comfortable talking about the series as a whole, and the main thing I want to talk about is reading order.

Discworld is a huge series, with 41 books in the main sequence, published over 33 years, and it varies highly in quality. This has led to some ridiculous flowcharts for where to start reading it, which can be funny, but I don’t really think that’s the right approach. Instead I want to look at how to get the most out of reading it for the least investment.

Often when we talk about series fiction we talk about spearpoints, which is to say that you have significant events late in the series whose power is dependent on having read the previous works in the series, metaphorically the shaft of the spear. This is a really powerful tool for authors, who can give more emotional weight to a climax when the history of several books with the same characters and world is pushing behind it.

Discworld doesn’t really do this, outside of Raising Steam. One of the reasons there are lots of entry points to the series is that every book until the very last few is written to hold up on its own. That makes the series more accessible and possibly made it more successful, but one thing it means is that you don’t have to read them in publication order, or series chronological order, to get the most out of any particular book. 

So I wanted to create a series reading order that abandons overall chronology while still maintaining it locally in a few key places, in favor of trying to get the most punch out of the fewest books. The goal of the Reverse Spearpoint Order is that you can read as far into it as you feel is worthwhile, and then stop, without missing out on anything. No reading mediocre books to get to good ones. At whatever point in the RSO you’ve had enough of Discworld, you can have confidence that you will have read as much of it as you really want to, that there are no hidden gems waiting for you later in the sequence, and you can move on to whatever interests you next. 

Maybe this will be thirty-some books, maybe it will be one or five or eight. There are a few I really don’t recommend getting to unless you’re a huge completist, but maybe it will even be all 41.

The nature of the list also means that they will get somewhat more racist and sexist as you go along. For the most part these map well with other qualities of the books, so that the best ones in other terms are also the least racist and sexist. (The exception is the late set I’m calling The Summoning Dark, which could have been dramatically improved by dumping those things, and if you really don’t care about them you could move that set up to #5.) Pratchett in particular really likes gender essentialism and cheap jokes at East Asians, which may bother you quite early on. If they do, stop, it’s not going to get better.

Enough said, I think, on to the reading order. I break these up a little differently than the traditional subseries labels.

Anta Baku’s Reverse Spearpoint Discworld Reading Order

(1) The Tiffany Aching Books:

The Wee Free Men
A Hat Full of Sky
Wintersmith
I Shall Wear Midnight
The Shepherd’s Crown

(2) Modernity in Ankh-Morpork:

The Truth
Going Postal
Making Money

(3) Lu-Tse

Small Gods
Thief of Time

(4) Mid-period Vimes
The Fifth Elephant
Night Watch

(5) Singles 1998-2003

Carpe Jugulum (This is a Witches book but it’s by far the best non-Tiffany Witches book)
Monstrous Regiment
The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents
The Last Hero

(6) Early Watch

Guards, Guards!
Men at Arms
Feet of Clay

(7) Death

Mort
Reaper Man
Soul Music
Hogfather

(8) The Summoning Dark
Thud!
Snuff
Raising Steam

(9) Witches
Wyrd Sisters
Lords and Ladies

(10) Deep Cuts
Moving Pictures
Unseen Academicals
Equal Rites
The Color of Magic
The Light Fantastic
Sourcery
Eric

(11) For the Completist Only
Pyramids
Jingo
Witches Abroad
Maskerade
Interesting Times
The Last Continent

 

My own opinion would suggest that stopping somewhere in Group #5 is probably ideal for a recreational reader. I’m glad I read/reread them all, but a lot of that glad is tied to being a comic fantasy writer and having things to learn even from the books that don’t do it very well. 

Going into last week I had a lot of worries about how working things back up out of this winter becalming was going to go. Was it going to take months, was I going to have to start over from grinding out a few hundred words a week, would I lose interest in these particular series and really want to work on something else? And then conveniently last week came along and wiped out all of them, as I wrote the first 3500 words of the next CPTE story. This week hasn’t gone quite so well so far, and I haven’t managed to finish it yet, but I’m not really worried. This has been more like a normal tougher week, as it has been really, really cold, but that looks ready to turn around over the next few days and bring a February thaw next week. 

One of the things I did before writing those words was look at my goals for the two ongoing series, for the things I have lined up behind them, and and how I want everything to progress through 2021. I came up with something that’s maybe a roadmap, or an aspiration, but started looking like more of a plan once it became clear that the wordcount goals are likely to be reasonable. 

My goal and intention at this point is to publish one story in each series in March, and then get back to weekly releases in April. Both March stories are already partially completed, Ian’s last week and Hera’s way back in November. So I think the March part of things is a reasonable plan. Getting to weekly release by the beginning of April involves ratcheting up the hours and the weekly word count a little bit, but not incredibly, and that has been on the goal sheet anyway. Ideally then as we move on through the summer, I’ll be able to continue to grow my productivity and work on getting a little bit ahead. 

If that pace works, each of these series will complete its current season in the early fall, and I’m already looking forward to the things I have ready to step into their places. I have a lot of long-term plans for CPTE, but I think by then I’m going to want a break, and the current plotline is designed to come to a conclusion around the time it would make sense to collect the stories into a book. Hera has always been planned in discrete 13-episode seasons. So they both would have natural break points to let in the new things, and then they could come back around later. 

That’s where I am on February 17, anyway. Things can change quickly, and I’m hoping to have more weeks like last week, where they change for the better. If not, I’ll manage. I’m honestly a little bit surprised to still be as motivated on these particular projects as I was in the fall. But that’s where I am, if not more so, and I intend to take advantage of it.

I’m guessing I’ll be done with my Discworld reread next week, and will write a blog post about it all then. Currently halfway through Raising Steam. 

So, January is over, and I’m beginning to be able to tell from inside my brain. After three weeks of doing absolutely nothing except coping, I’m beginning to reach the stage where motion is possible again. This shows up first as being really, really sick of my coping devices, and turning that into productivity is a multi-dimensional trick that is pretty hard to get right the first time. But I’m beginning to push toward that, slowly, with the idea that I have to start with pretty low expectations and build up. 

So when setting goals for February, they’re all about getting to my writing space, and spending time there writing something, even if it’s just journaling. Eventually I’ll work up to development and then actual writing, but for the moment the goals are about being there and getting back used to putting some hours in, rather than any amount of productivity. In some ways I’m back to the premise that got all this started, which is that if I sit there writing about not writing for long enough, eventually I’ll get bored of it and write something instead. 

Meanwhile I’ve been working a little bit, very slowly, on development of the next Ian story, and the fantasy series that I expect to be the next thing when it’s time to take a break from CPTE. There’s a lot of CPTE to come, but once I’ve made it through the first section of arc plot and have enough to collect it into a book, I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to do something else. I’ve had a couple of science fiction things that could come along, but no fantasy, and I do kind of want to keep one of each going. 

Of course that’s many months in the future, but it’s nice to have something to develop for that space.

I’m down to four books remaining on the Discworld reread, as I started I Shall Wear Midnight this morning. Not a whole lot to say about Making Money and Unseen Academicals at this point, and the whole project has gotten a bit fatiguing. Pratchett repeats jokes, and variants on the same joke, often enough that these really aren’t meant to be read in sequence. But at this point I’m so close to the end I’m just going to plug away to the finish.

Not a lot to say today, really, just that I’m still here. Winter continues to try to ruin everything. My brain has been kicking at it, trying to get working on some of these things again, but it will probably still be quite a while before I’m able to break through into actually getting something done. Historically February is not better, only later, but it does mean that I’ve gotten through the first stage of this and don’t have as far to go.

Still reading Discworld, but I’m finding myself without much to say about Wintersmith and Making Money, which were the books of this week. Looking forward to the end of that project at this point, and thinking about what to read next. Video-wise I binge-watched the first season of Avenue 5, which is my favorite of the new crop of funny science fiction. Suzy Nakamura is really great, Hugh Laurie is of course a comedic treasure, and I really enjoy the way they’re using Ethan Phillips. It’s funny in a totally different way from how I want to be, but that’s ok, I still think there are things to learn from it as it slowly soaks into my January brain.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m pretty tired of saying the same things about how things are going here. It’s still January, it’s still very hard for me to manage much of anything. I’ve been a little brighter the last couple of days, but I doubt that’s real progress. It might be a sign that I’m not headed steadily downhill, which would be a relief at this point. This has begun to remind me of the winter of 2018-19, when I didn’t really recover until August. If there’s any willpower that can stop that happening again, I will be deploying it.

But for the moment, I want to talk about Thud!, which I finished yesterday. This is the first place I’ve really felt like reading all the Discworld books in order gave me a significantly different estimation of a single book. So far the exercise has been really useful in terms of thinking about series things, and authorial improvement things, but the individual books haven’t really been especially thought-provoking to reread.

Thud!, though, is very weird in its context. The sentence-level writing and the focus on Ankh-Morpork multiculturalism both fit in very well with the later run of Discworld books. But the character development and the plotting are in some ways throwbacks to the early days. Up until this point, Vimes’ character development has been building further in each Watch book, but in Thud! it more or less vanishes. We have Vimes becoming a father, and his attitude toward Young Sam, which kind of stand in for character development without offering any real depth. The story is eventually shown to be about Vimes being a pawn, but Vimes is very much a pawn within the story as well, one being casually moved around by Pratchett just as he’s moved about by Vetinari. 

The other Watch characters have a similar fate. The plot with Nobby’s girlfriend is bizarre and goes nowhere except for giving Pratchett a chance to take cheap shots at pretty girls. The new lance constable, the vampire Sally, is plot-relevant but as far as character development goes doesn’t stand up to the introductions of Cheery, or Angua, or even someone more minor like Reg Shoe. The only Watch character bits that really hang together compared to the previous books are the co-option of Vetinari’s auditor and Detritus’ adoption of the drugged-out troll Brick, which doesn’t get as much time as it deserves. 

The plot more or less works, and makes Pratchett’s point, but it feels a lot less sophisticated than the run of recent books, and a lot more like characters are being moved about like game pieces. Which I suppose is appropriate for a book with a game as a core metaphor and occasional plot point. Thud the game, itself, is interestingly vague from a game player’s perspective, but at the same time not developed enough to really hold its own as a metaphor within the book. Nor is there as much parallelism as is usual in such things. No one’s standing in for the dwarves, or the trolls, and Vimes’ personal importance to the plot is completely opposite the mechanics of the game, which doesn’t differentiate even between roles except for “dwarf team” and “troll team.”

I was left more curious about how Thud worked, and less interested in what was actually happening, which isn’t really the goal, and something Pratchett got a lot better at avoiding as his career went along. This was very much the sort of feeling in, say, Pyramids, where I can tell you very little about the characters despite having reread it just a few months ago, but the spatio-temporal mechanics were interesting. That could have easily been a weakness of the Lu-Tze books or the clacks-focused books, but it wasn’t, and it felt like it was a flaw that Pratchett had gotten beyond at this point. 

And I guess I can see that the dwarf-troll conflict needed some level of resolution, and this book is maybe more about getting to that than it is about any of the characters. I’m not sure if this is the point where Pratchett’s grappling with mortality became real. That could easily be what’s going on, that this book is more about providing a certain amount of resolution, rather than having as much internal motivation as the previous stories. It will be interesting to see where that thread goes as I move through the last seven books. I don’t remember much at all about Snuff, the last Watch book, so I’ll be hitting that one almost cold in a couple of weeks.

Things have not been improving here. I’m getting more into the stage where I’m resigning myself to the idea that they may not improve until things warm up again. With the original vaccine estimates, I thought there was some chance I might be able to travel to somewhere tolerable in February or March, but that’s looking virtually impossible now. So either I will find some way to improve things in the cold, or I will be waiting for a while until things thaw again. 

Pretty much all of my time now is spent working through my coping devices. This isn’t unfamiliar, though it’s especially frustrating to have finally found a solution to this problem last year, and this year have it unavailable to me because of Covid. I’ve been periodically trying to convince myself that there’s some method of travel that makes sense, but it never really comes through. I really don’t want to get seriously ill away from home, and that seems like a major risk no matter how I would do things. 

So instead I’m just trying to make it through, when I’d really rather be trying to make things. I’m still pretty confident that this is finite, that I will be able and interested to continue the work here when my brain is once again capable of it. But it’s very frustrating for me to be unable to keep putting out work, and I’m sure it’s no fun for my still-small readership either. But at this point it’s pretty clear that what I can manage is being kind to myself about it, and pick things up when I’m able to do so again. 

Reading-wise, my Discworld tour continues, as this week I finished Monstrous Regiment, read A Hat Full of Sky, and have read most of Going Postal. If I can’t be writing funny fiction at least I can be reading it and thinking about it. After 32 early Discworld books it’s very nice to finally get back to Moist, who is clearly a step above the other protagonists in the world. Vimes has matured nicely in his last couple of books, and Tiffany is of course lovely for YA, and in some ways has dragged Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg along with her. It’s unfortunate that Pratchett didn’t write a later witches book, because Granny has definitely matured as a character in A Hat Full of Sky, and my memory is that she and Nanny both continue to do that in the later Tiffany books. Similarly, I’m a little sad that Susan of Sto Helit’s last book came just before Pratchett’s last major point of improvement, because it would have been nice to see her move forward in a similar way to how Vimes has. 

But I am glad he decided to work with new characters in this century, rather than just riding the old ones, because Moist is a great deal of fun and Tiffany is excellent. Having five of the eight book remaining centered on those two characters makes me feel like this read is on something of an easy downhill, which is very much what I need right now. I’m not sure I’m getting as much out of them as a comedy writer as I did from thinking about the older, weaker books at a time when my brain was working more fluently, but hopefully stuffing them into my subconscious will lead to insight into the future. 

I’ll check back in again next week, probably a few Discworld books closer to the end, if nothing else. I hope you’re having a better January than I am. 

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.