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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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.

October Horses

By K. Trian

October isn’t quite over yet, but I thought I’d share some horse memories from this month.

Even though our main writing project is sci-fi, T and I have always loved a good ole medieval fantasy, and the fans of the genre probably know how important horses are as a mean of transportation or as loyal friends to many a sword-wielding hero and heroine.

And we just love writing horses into our stories, crafting personalities for them, developing relationships between the horse and rider (not the creepy kind. Also, we don’t do centaurs). Suffice to say, they sometimes even steal the floor from the human heroes.

I’ve been nuts about horses ever since I was 6 or so, and my husband was a goner too after he met the golden-hearted gelding I used to groom, but who, unfortunately, passed away a few years ago. T’s accompanied me to the stables for years now, even though I’m currently grooming a less friendly animal than the gelding, a rather capricious filly (just yesterday she was running circles around me, literally).

Taking T riding was always something I really wanted to do, and this year we’ve fulfilled the dream a couple of times. Sure, he’s a bit of an oddball at the stables that are usually crowded by girls and women, but horses often seem to prefer a softly-spoken, calm, and firm-handed man as their master over a fussy, chirpy teenage girl. I think he did really well, trotting about on his white “steed,” or when we went riding icelandic horses and he got to tölt (a special gait for the breed). Some people are afraid of being up there, so I must say, I was pretty darn proud of him 😀

What are your favorite memories of horses?

As stated in the title, this post is supposed to be about October horses, so here’re a few of them! 🙂

Veera and his tired but happy rider, T. Trian.

Veera and his tired but happy rider, T. Trian.

Some feats from the Helsinki International Horse Show (sorry about the quality. The camera phone isn’t ideal for this).

Incredible riding and jumping.

Incredible riding and jumping.

The kür was something amazing to look at. Some horses and riders were so attuned to the music and it was like looking at a dance performance. Some other riders were less successful, though...

The kür was something amazing to look at. Some horses and riders were incredibly attuned to the music, and it was like looking at a dance performance. Some other riders were less successful, though…

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

Gear Worship

By T. Trian

”Hey, man, I just got a new custom axe! 24 frets, maple fingerboard, hand-wound pick-ups, locking tuners, even a rare-wood body!”

“Dude, check out my new custom 1911, it’s the best pistol ever: bull barrel, lowered ejection port, full-length guide rod, beveled mag well, custom trigger job, adjustable night sights, golf-balled front and back straps, and ivory grips!”

“Seen my knew custom knife yet? It’s made of Damascus steel, it’s got a drop point blade, Micarta scales, convex grind, and it’s full tang… of course; no rat tails for me!” 

If you have any hobby or interest which requires tools, be it playing an instrument, sports, or working with computers, you have probably experienced GAS. Several times. No, I don’t mean flatulence, but a syndrome all too familiar to most people even if they don’t know the term Gear Acquisition Syndrome aka GAS. Many, such as yours truly, suffer of MGAS or Multiple GAS. Presently I’m GASsing for a new guitar head & cab (Blackstar Series One 200 & 2×12 closed cab with V30s), a rifle (VZ-58 since I’m on a budget, a well-tuned AR-10 once I got extra cash), and two fixed blades (a decent kukri and a KA-BAR Eskabar BK14). 

Dishing out hundreds for a blade is cool if you can afford it, but can Damascus really do so much more than 1095 + good heat treatment?

Dishing out hundreds for a blade is cool if you can afford it, but can Damascus really do so much more than 1095 + good heat treatment?

I’m lucky though: I have a gig-worthy amp, albeit a mediocre one, I have a gun, just not a rifle, and I got plenty of knives although not a kukri. That means I can practice all my skills without having to wait until I’ve saved enough money to quench my GAS. Too many people spend too much time mooning over gear porn, fantasizing about their next perfect tool while utterly failing to realize they are just that: tools, not works of art. Yeah, I know, there are guitars and guns out there that could be works of art, but I believe what Miyamoto Musashi said in his Book of Five Rings. Paraphrasing, his message was that you shouldn’t get attached to your sword because it’s just a tool: you should be able to pick up any blade after losing / breaking your last one and perform just as well or almost as well as with your old one.

All too often I’ve witnessed guys who are just utterly lost if they can’t perform on their baby. Okay, that came out wrong, but you get the picture: your favorite, highly customized 1911 craps out on you just before your first stage at an IPSC tournament, and you have to shoot on a borrowed stock Glock. End result: disaster. Or you can’t get your own drum kit to your band’s gig and end up making a mess of the music just because you can’t adapt to another guy’s kit, you’re out of your comfort zone.

Samus Aran relies on this piece, but do you really need one too?

Samus Aran relies on this piece, but do you really need one too?

 That’s just being pampered. When drums were my main instrument, I got to play a gig on my own set… twice. And I played over a hundred gigs in over two dozen bands, which means most of the time I played on someone else’s kit. Usually I brought my own cymbals and snare, but that wasn’t always an option either. I can’t remember the last time I played a gig with my own guitar amp: I just bring my guitar and pedal board and use someone else’s amp which is sometimes an adventure (ever tried setting up quickly on a Mesa Road King when you got no soundcheck and just 5 minutes until it’s time to start the set? Not that they aren’t great amps, but it’s a good idea to know the owner in situations like that and make sure he/she’s not yet too drunk to help). Band competitions always have schedules tighter than a homophobe’s asshole at a gay club, so a couple of times I’ve had to play my wife’s SG when I’ve broken a string mid-song on my Telecaster. It’s a bit nerve-wrecking, but perfectly doable as long as I don’t pay attention to what can’t be done, and focus on what can be done with the backup instrument.

Good enough for Keif, but not good enough for you?

Good enough for Keif, but not good enough for you?

          
Writers are lucky in this respect: we rarely rely on gear to such an extent as musicians or athletes. Some still enjoy working with pen and paper and those living in the current century are usually content with whatever POS comp that has some word editor and internet access. For a long time K and I wrote on one laptop. It was a bit annoying, switching back and forth, especially since most scenes involve both of our characters, but it was all we could afford at the time, so we made do. A friend of ours built a computer for us as a wedding present in 2010 and soon we realized what a good idea it would be to get two mice and two keyboards. Now if only someone figured out how to install a second cursor and pointer on Windows and we’d be set for life! All seriousness aside, two mice and two keyboards are already a dream come true for a team of two writers.

So do writers suffer of gear worship? Well, yes and no. The problem is just less hardware-related and more… “software”-related. And by software, I mean our minds. I have encountered many self-proclaimed “writers” even though they actually never write anything. They just talk a lot about writing, crit other people’s works (usually excessively harshly), and discuss the theoretical aspects of writing, the process of getting published etc. ad nauseam. Yet they too, like our more musical or athletic brothers and sisters, fall into the trap of focusing on anything and everything besides the most important, definitive thing, i.e. writing.

I don’t know what it is about writing that seems to draw such people. Maybe it’s the artsy-fartsy tag “writer” they’re after even though they lack the fire and passion of actual writers. Kind of like MMA aficionados who have seen every UFC bout and then some, yet have never gone to a single MMA (or any martial arts) class. Why? Because MMA, like any other sport, art, or craft, is fucking hard work. Becoming good takes a shitload of effort, time, and dedication, often great sacrifices as well, but, then again, if you truly are a crafts(wo)man, that doesn’t matter. Hell, many of us enjoy the hard work on some masochistic level; getting our asses kicked at the gym, practicing guitar licks we can’t play until our fingers ache and sting, writing and rewriting our WIPs until we dream about the characters only to have our betas / forum critics bash it and tear us a new one. Well, our wonderful betas have been gracious enough to at least wear silk gloves while doing the tearing, but you get the picture: it’s not always fun and games. Nothing is if you do it enough to become good at it.

I believe it’s just that, the amount of discomfort and hardship, which drives many of us to dream of better gear, thinking (usually mistakenly) it would somehow help us suck less. Well, unless your guitar is an utter piece of excrement that barely deserves the name, doesn’t stay in tune longer than a few seconds (like my first electric guitar: didn’t stay in tune through even one song, but it taught me to tune by ear since I couldn’t be arsed to always use a tuner), can’t be set up for correct intonation etc. a more expensive guitar won’t make you sound any better. You’ll just look stupid sucking onstage, being outplayed by the virtuoso with a stock $500 axe he bought used from his neighbor. Just like you’ll look ridiculous missing your target with your custom race gun when competing against some guy with a Glock who spent a fraction of the money on his gun and the rest on ammo and actually practiced, got good.

The same goes for us writers: we should focus less on extra-curricular activities, like debating word choices, finding the best character data sheet template, asking ‘is this plot twist good?’ and pay more attention to the craft itself. It’s pointless to wonder whether you should e-publish, self-publish, or go traditional if you haven’t even finished the first draft of your MS. Or, rather, if you haven’t finished the 100th draft, because every single first draft ever produced is crap. Don’t kid yourself and pretend your shit doesn’t stink; it does, just like mine, his, and hers. And their dog’s.

I got a proposal for you: take one day a week, every week for one year when you do nothing else writing-related but write your story. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first or 100th draft. It doesn’t matter if you’re editing a specific part or rewriting the whole shebang. What matters is putting words on paper (or screen). Get that word count up, four digits or more. If you are a writer, you should write. That’s what we do. If you don’t write even this much… well, let’s put it this way: nobody likes the guy who never trains martial arts but wears TapOut and constantly talks about the latest UFC event. Don’t be that guy. Instead, be the Musashi of writing: focus on your skills, focus on improving them, and not through hardwire updates either. Write on your computer, write on your cell phone while on the bus to work / school, write on a napkin at lunch, doesn’t matter : just write.
 
Peace out,

T. Trian
 
PS. Also, what rock have you been living under if you think gun / knife / guitar porn means porn involving any of said items (yes, such people actually do exist)? To all the cave dwellers out there: it means pictures of those items, usually expensive, well-made ones you drool at in magazines or at trade shows. Now go and clean your dirty fucking mind already, scrub, rinse, repeat, and then learn to use fucking Google when you encounter an unfamiliar expression.

New Autumn’s Resolutions

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By K. Trian

I’ve always found making resolutions at New Year somewhat difficult and forced while I’m way better at resolutions in the autumn. That’s when a new academic year starts, I usually end up doing or looking for a new job or several, start new hobbies or continue old ones, and all in all become more productive than during summer.

My resolutions for this autumn:

1.
The resolution: I will start my Master’s Thesis, and even though my future profession will most likely be an English/French teacher, I was planning to write the thesis about a literature subject instead of an educational one (well, it can be educational too, but you get the point). So my first resolution is to be sharp right from the start, get and keep my shit together, and really try to make a good thesis out of it.
The outcome: I get my “priorities” straight and start to slack off mid-term and my thesis turns out mediocre because everyone says it doesn’t really matter as long as I get my diploma and my ass out of university.

2.
The resolution: I will substitute in local schools as much as I can to gain invaluable work-experience.
The outcome: I will work hard and with a crazy schedule up until Christmas, then I’ll suffer a burn-out and spend the spring slacking off.

3.
The resolution: I will save money for a trip to the US for summer 2014.
The outcome: Our car will break down approximately 3-5 times over the course of winter and eats all the savings.

4.
The resolution: I will continue a previously neglected hobby and practice at least twice a week.
The outcome: I get swamped once again with work and school that I barely have the energy to practice my old hobbies.

5.
The resolution: T and I will finish editing Solus.
The outcome: Possibly the only one of the resolutions that will actually stick.

How about you, guys? Any autumn resolutions you’d like to share? 🙂

P.S. Here’s a picture taken this morning. I was heading to my summer job and saw the rainbow(s) hinting that’s where I can find my pot of gold. Well, my salary begs to differ…

Well, this is ironic!

Well, this is ironic!

Reader’s Block

By K. Trian

This blog post was originally published on writingforums.org, but I thought I’d share it here as well. Team T. K. Trian has been quite busy lately: still revising Solus and some of our hobbies have taken time (horses, Toni’s band), but hopefully we’ll be more productive the closer we get to autumn.

In any case, I thought I’d share this with you, interwebz.

I’m suffering of something I’ve come to call “a reader’s block” (wowsers, how clevah, K!). Anymoo, it’s like a writer’s block in the sense that I have difficulties with starting or getting back to a novel I was reading, even though I’ve enjoyed the story.

So I started to dissect this little brain defect o’ mine.

I realized that there are at least three issues that keep me from fully immersing myself into a story other than the one T.Trian and I are working on (yes, I write with a partner):

1) Plagcident

I’m afraid of finding something familiar in another writer’s novel. A plot twist, a character, something that’s similar to one or few aspects in our WIP. As if me not finding it would make these possible similarities go away! I guess it’s a matter of accidental plagiarism. But why should I even care? Everything’s been done already (“you just have to put your own spin to it, hun”). I think I’m just afraid of that crushing feeling when you realize something you thought brilliant-er than a strobo-chandelier has already been done and “recycling” it would just make you look dumber than Paris Hilton in a power suit.

2) Anal-lyzing

I seem to be going through a phase during which I’m over-analyzing everything, including this. I’ve become very anal about grammar, writing techniques, pacing, etc. so when I’m reading a novel, I catch myself (nit)picking the prose instead of enjoying the story. It’s pretty tiresome, and I guess, knowing how tiresome it is, I’ve avoided picking up novels. Especially in English.

3) Color Me Choosy

It’s been very difficult to find novels that I actually enjoy. I don’t often follow through with the recommendations from others, to be honest, unless they are really good salesmen. I use Amazon to browse reviews, but it’s fairly time-consuming because you can’t trust everything that’s said there, thanks to the relative prevalence of sockpuppets, plus some people bash books for no other reason but personal grudge or perpetual hemorrhoids. So I find myself returning to the novels I’ve read a gazillion times (and that are also safe accidental plagiarism -wise).
***

Curiously enough, I have no problem beta-reading. It’s fun. Maybe it’s more appealing because I feel like I contribute to something even though many stories I beta-read tend to have more hiccoughs than a published novel — which is understandable (our WIP doesn’t have just hiccoughs, it has effing TB).

Still, it feels like not reading as much as I used to deprives me of so many things. Partly it feels like being the only absolutist at a kegger, partly like I was that asshole player who shows up to the band practice but never practices on her own at home.

Should I worry? Should I just wait for this to pass? (it’s a phase, right, RIGHT?) Maybe I should just force myself to read more. Promise myself I have to read something new (and preferably in English) at least a little bit every evening before going to sleep, and that it has to be a novel, not a comic or a children’s book or a fitness magazine.

Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.

Truth be told, I hope I’m the only one with this reader’s block ‘cause it SUCKS, but on the other hand it would be nice to learn I’m not the only loser on the block and how others have dealt with it.