Hi folks,

As I’m sure you’ve guessed from the lack of updates, this fall hasn’t gone especially well for me. I’ve had a significant health setback, and that’s kind of driven writing out of the picture for a while. I made it to California for this winter, which I’m hoping will help a bit, but I’m expecting a long road back, and I thought it would be a good idea to communicate a little bit about what I’m hoping for in the near-ish future here.

When things started going badly I was a chapter and a half from the end of Hera of Lexington, and that’s been very frustrating, as I feel like I’m just a tiny bit away from going over the top into the downhill at the end of that book. That’s still the #1 priority right now, and I continue to hope that at some point before too long I’ll  be able to share the last two chapters with you. 

After that, though, I think there’s going to be a little bit of a break. I have a few things to work on outside of this website, and I’d like to build up a significant buffer of completed chapters before I set forth publishing the next things, one of which is season 2 of The Cell Phone Towers of Elfland. So I’ve decided that I’m going to take the whole of my winter in California as a staging time for the next steps of this project, and aim to restart publication when I get back to Minnesota in May. I basically need to figure out a way to get back to the organized, productive work schedule I was on this summer, and I expect that’s going to take a while. It seems like relieving myself of deadline pressure is the best way of going about that.

So: the last two chapters of Hera when available, but CPTE season 2 and new projects delayed until May. Then in 2024 I try to make the next step toward improving this process to avoid these large and unwanted gaps. I certainly feel best about this when I’m able to publish every Wednesday, and I imagine you do too. I’ll get there. 

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.

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, 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.