How Do You Make Time for Not-Writing?

By K. Trian

This post is the straw prison breakers breathe through when they dive into the pond to hide from the cops and bloodhounds. Not that I’m exactly hiding, but I do have two major responsibilities that have been hunting me down through this spring. To stick with the analogy, I could say my job is the cops and my Master’s Thesis is the bloodhounds. There are other things too; I have a second job and recently accepted a position as a forum moderator at Writingforums.org (as did T. Trian).

I’m getting a heavy feeling that something’s going to crack soon. The balance is delicate. Just a tiny disturbance can upset it; a gust of wind, a sneeze, a fart.

I’m constantly bulldozing time for writing, but whether I like it or not, it’s the nights when T and I are at our most creative so it’s at nights when we write and revise Solus (the first part had to be split in two and we’re considering a name-change, but more about that later). This means I’ll be writing the Thesis at 7 o’clock in the morning before work/school, nodding off in my second job, juggling things and barely holding on in my number one job. I would compare this to dancing on a tightrope, but in truth, I feel like I am the tightrope, an unreliable one at that, suspended too tightly in the air, a horde of tightrope dancers jumping all over me, and when I snap, I’m gonna bring down several precious things.

So this is my question for you: how do you take care of your other responsibilities when the over-whelming need to write hits you and you realize you’ve just spent the time you should have been working to pay your rent or some such on your creative endeavors? Do you have an understanding spouse who picks up the slack for you? Have you accepted you might perform sloppily at your day job because you’ve directed your energy and efforts into your writing? Have you sold everything and moved to Goya?

And as for the straw metaphor… I guess for a second there the blogosphere supplied some oxygen into my lungs.

-K-

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Farewell 2013!

It’s been an eventful year for T. K. Trian. Sure, we still haven’t finished Solus even though we thought we would, but it turned out that despite us working on it almost daily, there’s so much more to do than we ever expected. We have come up with new ideas, found flaws in our plot and writing technique, and wrestled with industry standards vs. creative freedom. It’s a learning curve, writing, but damn is it fun, too!

Nevertheless, there are a few things we can be happy about as we look back Twenty-Thirteen.

1) Joining writingforums.org aka Creative Writing Forums
– T. K. Trian have a lousy history when it comes to writing forums. We tried three places before settling at CW. Got kicked out of one (good riddance), got sick of the amazingly non-creative atmosphere of another, and the third one seemed a little dry. Then came CW, a scintillating community of all kinds of folk but mostly open-minded literary rebels. We’ve made new friends and had the privilege to read amazing, inspiring stories. Who knows what kind of future stars some of them will turn out to be?

2) Adventures
– Despite numerous health problems, we did get to adventure this year, St. Petersburg, Russia being perhaps the highlight. A beautiful city, delicious food, affordable shopping, and fascinating museums. The pitch-black night on the deck of a cruise ship, surrounded by the raging Gulf of Finland was also something to remember.

3) Academic Achievements
– While not anything to brag about, we’ve enjoyed the brainy atmosphere of the University of Helsinki this year as well. It will be a bittersweet day when we both finally graduate…

4) Creative Achievements
– Solus has been our number one focus this year, but on the side, T.Trian has worked hard with his band, Niavka. Some line-up changes have occurred, but the recording of new material has been underway ever since October, and the vocals should be recorded in January-February 2014. Very exciting! We also wrote separate entries to the Annual Science Fiction Contest of CW. Looking forward to finding out how we did!

What were your highlights, personal or professional, of 2013?

Happiness Through Action

By T.Trian

I haven’t spent hours, weeks, days, or months on our couch. I have spent years lying there, wasting away into nothing until I was but a shadow of my former self. Sure, one could argue that I have a reason because of my (at times) debilitating back pain, but I feel that would be lying to myself, like settling when I know I could get so much more, be so much more, at least what I used to be, hopefully more. It goes without saying that a physical ailment such as this, an ailment that limits one’s life to this degree has its effect not only on the physique, but the psyche as well.

This experience of some five years has taught me a few things, but I feel the most important is this: inactivity is like a psychological cancer that eventually starts to erode your body as well. It grabs hold of you and if you don’t shake it off immediately, it latches on and starts growing, breeding inside you at an unprecedented pace, and it’s fucking scary.

If you’re a neat freak, this metaphor will probably fly over your head (or, rather, crawl between your legs), but it’s the best one I have in mind: the messier of us often make decisions to keep our homes clean. We’ve spent hours tidying up and decide ”never again, from now on I will be a neat freak, I will put everything where it belongs after I’ve used it.” But then one day you realize that your apartment is a mess. Again. How did this happen? Messiness creeps up on you like a ghost.

Inactivity works in much the same way: once it has a solid hold on you, before you know it, you’ve been diagnosed with depression or adjustment disorder or whatever, and you’re stuck in your bed, couch, or wherever it is that you glue your ass when you’ve had it for the day. The problem with inactivity is that the longer you’ve let it hold sway in your mind and body, the harder it is to shake it off, get off your cute, little ass and do something, anything.

Well, here’s a little secret tip: that feeling of an insurmountable challenge you experience after a long spell on inactivity is an illusion. Imagine spearheading an army against your enemy’s fortress. You’re rumbling down the field and towards the castle walls, screaming at the top of your lungs, about to smash the battering ram at the sturdy gates. And then you burst through to the other side. The gates were made of paper. That’s how solid the mighty wall of inactivity is.

I know it’s fucking hard sometimes, trust me, especially at first, but it is doable. All it takes is that first step. That’s it. After that first action, it’s as if the shackles pinning you down shatter, and you’re free again. All you need is that one battering ram to punch through the debilitating mirage.

What’s my battering ram, my secret? Push-ups. I’ve tried the guitar, studying, even dry-fire drills with my pistol (though sitting down, more comfy that way for a lazy bastard like myself), but they don’t work as well as something purely physical, something that forces your body to crash through those paper battlements. If I had a pull-up bar, I’d do those too.

Try it out. I dare you. I double-hare dare you (had to use hares, they’re just so damn awesome in all their fluffy cuteness). Get up and squeeze out as many push-ups as you can. Find out how many you managed and let me know in the comment section below.

The first time I did this after years of inactivity, I managed only 20 (I used to be able to do 4-5 sets of 45). My body was in shock, my heart was bursting through my rib cage, and I was breathless… but I felt good! It was as if my muse had emerged from her own dimension into my reality and blown a breath of energy and inspiration, a breath of life into not only my body, but my mind as well. It was almost like a dense fog was lifted; I saw the world clearly again.

Nowadays I do push-ups, bicep curls, the ab wheel, the horse stance, and the plank several times a day, every day. Sometimes I forget a set here and there, but I try to do one set every time I get up, be it to go to the fridge or to take a leak or whatever. Nothing fancy, just a set of push-ups. The next time you get up, a set on the ab wheel and so on and so forth. Now I can do 4-5 sets of 20 push-ups a day, 1-2 sets of 15-20 reps on the ab wheel, 1-2 sets of 75 seconds in the plank (single position, longer if I do my sides too), 3-4 sets of 6-9 curls per hand with 12,5-15 kg per hand,  and a set of one minute in the horse stance. I know, it’s not much, a far cry from what I could do before, but it’s a start. Since I don’t do the sets one after another, I don’t even get sweaty: I do a set, then return to what I was doing before, so I don’t need to take ten showers a day.

I know this comes off as a fairly brutish routine since it has nothing to do with spirituality or positive thinking or anything fancy like that, but who cares as long as it works? Since I started doing this, I’ve been more inspired to write, practice the guitar, study for exams, in essence, get my shit together.

I just participated in a sci-fi short story competition with my wife at www.writingforums.org (we both submitted our own shorts, which was a fun experiment, but that was it for us as far as solo writing goes: to us, it’s just double the fun to write together), I signed up to take part in an IPSC competition, I’ve recorded with my band and guitar trio, and I’m studying for the year’s last exams. And it feels amazing. My life is finally moving forward, I am moving forward, out of that perpetual limbo, no longer trapped in that couch-shaped cage that was my prison for so long.

And all of this started with one set of push-ups. That simple exercise we all know, love, and hate. It’s so simple one might even think it couldn’t possibly work, but it does. Try it out. Then again, what works for me, might not work for you, but try different things: go for a walk or a run, go swimming, do yoga, dance. Hell, fuck or masturbate, do whatever it takes to drag your body and mind out of that fog that envelops us when we succumb to inactivity.

So, get your heart pumping and your testicles or tits quaking, tear down the castle of inactivity, and find that spark again, bring yourself back to life. Like Geoff Thompson says; find happiness through action. I did.

Endings and Why I Don’t Like Them

by K. Trian

Yesterday I “finished” my entry to a science fiction short story contest both T and I are going to partake. Basically the story is done, the plot taoers to the end, the main conflicts are resolved, yet I still have no idea how to end the story. I want it to be satisfactory, I wanted it to offer a sense of a circle being closed, maybe leave the reader with something to think about so that they don’t feel like reading my story was a complete waste of time.

But damn it’s hard.

I like beginnings. Beginnings are easy. I never worry about the first words, nowadays I just start the story as late as I can and move on from there.

Endings – not so much fun. I’ve always struggled with them. I even hate reaching the end of a novel (which might explain why I tend to leave books anywhere between, say, 1-10 % unread) because a part of me just doesn’t want it to end. It feels like death and I’m the murderer, it feels like preparing for a funeral whenever I’m approaching it, THE END. FIN. I realize I have only 10 pages left and the author still hasn’t answered some of the questions that keep burning in my brain. I’m terrified; what if s/he won’t? Most likely s/he won’t! So sometimes I just don’t go to the last page. I leave the book alive, return to my killing floor when I’m ready.

With my own writing, I know I want to finish what I’ve started. T and I have finished the first drafts for most of our works. I don’t mind killing my own book, but finding the way to do it often feels like an insurmountable task – as is the case with my latest short story.

How do you guys approach endings? How important are they to you? Do you try to close the circle, say something profound before you leave the reader? Do you know your ending when you start writing?

A Tornado in Your Writing File – or Is It Neater than Neato McNeat’s Sock Drawer?

How the hell do you keep yourself organized?

Since we write together, there is probably even a vaster abundance of ideas to sort through than when one is writing and brainstorming alone. Consequently, one of the biggest challenges we have is keeping things organized, be it character sheets, story planning files, different drafts etc. We use a cloud service to keep our writing from disappearing if the computer commits suicide, and we have folders upon folders containing new and old plans, new and old drafts, and all kinds of weird notes and ideas scattered about, but it would be nice to find some fairly effortless yet neat system to keep the pieces of the story and its world organized.

So, should we switch to Scrivener? Would it really be worth it? (At this point it seems like a waste of money, especially because we aren’t published authors). Does it actually help at organizing stuff? Or is it something hipsters use when they write poems on their laptops in some trendy café?

To us it’s easier to type on-the-go-ideas (that pop up just when you’ve squeezed yourself into a full commuter train) into our phones instead of writing on a notebook. The voice recorder application is a handy little thing when you want to remember your ideas after you’ve come home from your evening jog (that’s when typing on a touchpad feels like an insurmountable task). Ideas saved in the phone’s memory (card) are easier to keep organized. The phone is less likely to get lost, so it’s definitely a great substitute for a notebook – especially because we have no sensible way to organize the ideas scribbled on those coffee-stained notebook pages. They don’t automatically copy themselves to any cloud service —  how very passé! They just get lost, like socks and bobby pins.

How about you, dear writers out there? Feel free to share your tips – or straight-out admit that there’s a daily tornado in your writing file as well, shuffling all those nuggets of information and teeny-weeny story ideas that you haphazardly typed down on Notepad, saved just seconds before you had to make that desperate dash for the bus, and then forgot for two months before you found that file (titled “some crap.txt”) again from between a “battle-plan.bmp” and “random outtakes 5.doc.”

Peace out,

T&K

When Do You Dare Let Go?

Lately, Team Trian has been working madly on Solus , (hence the blog silence, sorry about that, in case someone reads this stuff, hah), and for a few sweet hours, we thought that thing was ready for submission.

But no.

It’s not. It’s really not. And this must be the 11th draft! We are starting to wonder whether it’s us, whether we just suck so badly that we can’t get it done or whether it is actually normal for a novel to take years and a gazillion drafts to be finished.

Our main problem is the length. We have to cut it down to, say, at least 180k. Space operas can be quite long, even those by new writers, and it seems we won’t be able to cut it any shorter than that.

Second problem is the amount of telling. Truth is, the prose is stronger and more effective when we show instead of right-out tell (we aren’t slaves to this “rule,” but it’s got a point!), and it’s a slow process to find the best way to convey Thing X in the most effective possible way.

Third problem is, how to put it delicately, some major new-writer rule-breakage. Italics for thoughts? Check (though way, way, way less than there used to be). Names for chapters? Check. Oh and the length, that’s a problem too, probably the biggest one, but it seems we’re going to have to live with all these “faults,” and hope that someone somewhere some day saw something potential in this manuscript… or else it’s self-pubbing for us.

Then there’s the technical side: formatting and grammar. Are the commas in the right place? Have we remembered every hashtag? Do we capitalize foreign words that would be capitalized in English but not in the other language?

How have you, dear published writers, jumped over these hurdles? Or perhaps you ram right through? When do you let go of your baby? How many drafts does it take? How high have you set up the bar and how much do you forgive yourselves?

We’ll be pondering this tonight while kicking some ass (read: have our asses kicked) in Medieval fencing and wrestling class and modern boxing class (yay for shitty time management and over-ambitious scheduling!).

Peace out and shoulder-punches all ’round!

T&K

Gay Rights, Ice Hockey, and Writing

by K. Trian
 
 If there are any sports fans out there, you’ve probably heard and read of the hubbub concerning the Moscow track-and-field World Championships and the criticism Russia has received concerning their human right trampling laws against homosexuals. This has prompted articles and opinion pieces to pop up all around media, and one of the most interesting ones that I read today was on gay rights, sports and NHL by Jouni Nieminen, a sports reporter. Unfortunately the article is in Finnish, but it made me think of a few things in relation to writing, gay rights and ice hockey.
 
Gay Rights and Ice Hockey
 
1) A male ice hockey player is expected to be heterosexual vs. A female ice hockey player can freely be both, gay or straight.
 
No, it’s not that black-and-white in real life, but you get the picture. This seems hardly fair, and makes me wonder if there really are people out there who honestly believe a gay man can’t be as “masculine” as a straight man, can’t play hockey as well, can’t build big, burly muscles, can’t lose his teeth in a scuffle, can’t drink his mates under the table, etc. How does the sexual orientation in any way affect any of that, the trademark behavior of “a real man”? And what are you afraid of in the locker room? Surprise butt-sex? You, big burly hockey players? That someone checks out your junk? Does that bother you and why? I just can’t wrap my mind around this mindset that a player’s worth is not solely weighed by their skill. Or around the ridiculous homophobia that keeps one from showering at the same time with a gay person.
 
2) As a kid, I thought Russia was cool with gays because of t.A.T.u
 
Do lesbians pull the longer straw once again, or why does it seem that in sports, gay women have it easier than gay men? Let’s face it, sports, especially those that make you sweat, were considered a man’s business for a long time, so perhaps it is still a manly world. Now, the lesbian stereotype seems to be a manly, cross-dressing butch, so perhaps, indeed, being a gay woman doesn’t infringe on or besmirch some holy ground of athletics.
 
As for the t.A.T.u –reference. These girls, while apparently not gay in real life, were huge in the early ‘00s. While many of their gimmicks seemed to be mere eye candy for the male audience, the girls also had real talent and some really good pop songs (and actually, I’m glad I stood my ground and listened to them even though my big brother asked in all seriousness whether I was a lesbian too). So it’s rather surprising they came from Russia who’s received a lot of shit for their nonsensical human right violations.

You know, ’cause in reality a bunch of guys can go and beat up a lesbian, but if the same guys beat up a straight woman, they’ll get their balls sawed off and fed to them.
 
3) Traits irrelevant to skill kill your career – or save it?
 
Jason Collins and Glenn Burke were unfamiliar names to me up until now, but apparently in both cases being openly homosexual can and/or has affected their careers. Jason Collins came out this year. He plays basketball in NBA, but his career is at its dusk, he’s 34. If he gets to renew his contract, will it be renewed so as to shut up gay activists, or because he’s still got something to give to his team? If it’s not renewed, will there be accusations of homophobia? Either way, what saddens me is that there’s potential for dragging his sexual orientation where only his skill should be relevant.
 
Major League Baseball player and possible high-five inventor Glen Burke’s story is sad. He was openly gay through his career in the ‘70s, but his reputation was eventually besmirched, and he was smoked out of the sport he loved.
 
I can understand why people would choose not to be open about their sexual orientation or love life when there’s the danger of jeopardizing their career, and it saddens me that the world has to be this way. I mean, is The Summer Hit 2013 maker, Robin Thicke getting his career shot down for the lyrical atrocity that is Blurred Lines? Yup, advocating non-consensual sex is ok. Sleeping with the same sex is not.
 
Writing
 
The message
 
How is this relevant to a writer, then? I know many writers tend to get a little wary whenever they’re asked if there’s a message in their story for fear of appearing preachy because that’s just not cool if you want to live in the same box with other libertarians. But I think we shouldn’t be afraid of sprinkling messages in our stories. In Solus, the main male hero is gay – and a warrior, serving an organization that doesn’t welcome openly gay men or women. But since that’s what he loves, what fills his life, he does it anyway, and this situation opens several interesting avenues for discussion to us, the writers. The story is not about his struggle as a gay man in a homophobic environment, but it is part of the character, and we can’t dismiss that part. We have also created a multinational society where Western liberalism clashes with non-liberal values, and that also provides us plenty of interesting viewpoints. Yes, our attitudes bleed in, that’s unavoidable, but I’m still excited to have such a story to work with that allows me to discuss matters that are important to me – like the right to love and live. Whether our execution will ultimately work, well, I guess if anyone ever ends up reading the novel, they’ll be the judge of that. 

Breaking Stereotypes
 
But another reason why I think this is relevant when it comes to writing is that whatever characters a writer creates; gay, straight, black, white, men, women, young, old; there can be so much more to that character than the gender/color/orientation/age-tag we glue on them, and I find it important to respect the many layers the creation can and should have. Even if it’s just the tip of the iceberg that makes it to the final manuscript. I also think that, to a degree, a writer who’s serious about their work, should take responsibility and portray the many walks of life with respect – even if they seemed to be the villains. Even though it’s 2013, a gay male hockey player has a different story to tell than a gay interior designer – and note, it might not necessarily mean the former struggles with his sexuality vs. his surroundings more than the latter.
 
Sources:
http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1368&dat=19941102&id=tplQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=FRMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5210,373655
http://blogit.hs.fi/nieminen/2013/08/25/sateenkaari-sotshin-jaahallin-ylla/