Fixing my Gaze

I feel compelled to start this blog post with a special note about my driving record.  It is entirely clean.  No speeding tickets; I’ve never even been pulled over.  My worst “accident” was when I took a corner too hard in my parents’ car at 16 and dented the side on a pole.  I know of at least four times someone has backed into me and one time a friend drove over a tree stump with my car, but I have yet to personally hit anything as an adult.

And that’s what I usually tell people before I say “I just finished a year of vision therapy.”

Alternatively, I wait until I’m driving and we’re about to cross a narrow bridge before I mention the vision therapy.  But I save that for special friends.

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This brings me to my recommendation for the week: Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist’s Journey into Seeing in Three Dimensions by Susan Barry.  I’ve included her TEDx talk at the bottom of the post as well.  This is a book I read on my road to trying vision therapy.

I was well into my thirties when an optometrist commented on how well I’d adapted to my lack of proper depth perception.  What?  I didn’t know I didn’t experience depth perception like everyone else.  My eyes don’t always line up on a target and I lack the binocular vision possessed by most people.

This isn’t as big of a deal as you might expect and you probably know people who have the same problem.  There are other ways to identify depth and the human person is an amazing creature capable of finding them without any instruction.  As evidenced by my driving record, it doesn’t make me a danger to society.

But as I got older, the problem got worse.  We decided to try vision therapy, and it has been a huge success.

How so?  The first thing I noticed was cars at stop signs on the side of a main road.  My peripheral vision improved, and suddenly I was noticing these things off to the side.  Next up was clouds.  CLOUDS ARE AWESOME.  So are trees.  Hills.  Oh sure, I saw these things before, but they’re better now.

I had no idea some of the issues this problem even caused.  For instance, I once went into a very, very crowded free for all at a library sale.  Piles of books everywhere.  Disorganized.  There were two areas with different rules.  I almost had a panic attack.

Parking was also an issue.  If I was going anywhere new, I’d be nervous about where I was going to park.  I’d get on Google Maps and do the satellite view so I knew exactly where I was going to go.  I told a counselor about this once and she assured me it was just a lack of confidence.  If there’s one thing in life I don’t usually lack, it is confidence.  Especially with something as simple as driving a car.  But now I realize that was difficult because parking lots are usually off to the side, identified by signs off to the side.  I wasn’t doing off to the side!

It isn’t all bad though.  The doctor said I wouldn’t be as detail oriented if I didn’t have this problem.  It is safe to say part of my employment is being good with details, so I’d say that worked out well.

I did have to learn to relax to succeed.  People may not know this, but I’m rarely relaxed.  I may look relaxed.  Sometimes it is important to look entirely calm.  But I rarely feel entirely calm.  The therapy worked so much better when I was relaxed, to the point I told the vision therapist I fared better after a glass of wine.  This seems entirely unAmerican, where we all know you have to work hard to be successful.  Yet here I am, relaxing my eyes as I look at things.

What does this have to do with this book I’m recommending?  Well the author has quite a bit to say about eyesight!  Check out her TEDx talk below, and consider taking a look at the book!

The Plan

Someone asked me last week how many drafts I plan for this novel.  It is an excellent question, but I have no idea as I’ve never done this before.

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I’m currently on my second-ish draft.  I wrote a draft-like collection of words over the summer but rewrote the whole thing as my “first” draft during NaNoWriMo.  Next, I updated my outline to fill in all the holes in the first draft.  That’s what I’m fixing now in the second draft.

After attending a writing class in March, I will attempt a third draft.  That draft will make the words prettier, or at least more readable.  We’re heading right into the “don’t have a clue” territory at this point.

Assuming the third draft goes well, I’ll seek out some beta readers.  These folks will read the whole thing and provide feedback on what is or is not working, and if they like it in general.  My “don’t have a clue” plan puts this step in May or June.

If they like it, I’ll take their feedback and work on draft four.  Hopefully, this will be tidying things up and making things sound even better, but if they find major plot holes there will be more work.  If all goes according to my well-crafted plan (based on no personal experience at all), this draft will be done in August.

I suppose what happens next depends on the state of the fourth draft, but I envision the final edits will happen in or around September.  This will include all the line level editing that will be super boring but ensure I don’t misspell any words or forget silly things like commas.

If I have done all I can do, and I like it, I will call it done.  I’ll start the process of sending query letters to agents with the ultimate goal of selling it to a publisher.

If I have done all I can do, and I don’t like it, I’ll put it on hold.  I’ve enjoyed the process and it has been good practice but after a year it will be time for me to move onto something new.  I can always return to it later.

If I submit it to agents and publishers (a process that will take many months) and find no takers, I will put it on hold.  It is my first novel after all, and perhaps my writing isn’t quite ripe yet.  I can always return to it later.

Once the novel is done and regardless of what I do with it, I will move onto my next novel idea.  I could say I will repeat this process, but this first novel process has taken almost two decades to fully materialize.  The next one should be faster!

Revisions and Evil Forces

Things are cruising along for this writer!  Last week, I participated in the first-ever CHIPS writing group meeting.  In addition to being educational, it was motivating and I’ve been working ahead on my second draft.  I have nine or ten chapters left on this run through.

As an added bonus, that post generated more comments than I’ve ever received!  Record-setting while leveling up = winning.

I’ll need a new story idea for that class, and I’ve already started working on the New Idea.  So far I have [Character], who is in his mid-thirties and a miner.  There are also the [Evil Forces], and as you might imagine, they are evil.  There’s also a mountain, though that’s not where [Character] mines.  Finally, there is magic.  I don’t know what kind yet, but it will be awesome.

This is all just preliminary work and I probably won’t even write my first draft until late this year, but it is fun to think about and plan.  It gives me plenty of time to work on that awesome magic system!

As for reading, I’ve recently finished Words of Radiance and Don’t Live for Your Obituary.  That gives me a total of six books for 2018, versus my goal of sixty.  I’m slightly behind at this point but am not worried.  Two of the six books were over 1000 pages long!

Writers, how is your writing going?  Readers, what are you reading?  What books should I add to my list to hit 60 this year?

 

 

Shiny Timeline

At the end of our writing group on Sunday, I showed off Aeon Timeline 2 to my friends and realized I’d not yet reviewed it here on the blog.   Lucky for you I shall do so today!

Aeon Timeline makes my geek heart sing.  There’s the timeline, of course.  You can’t have timeline software with no timeline.  I didn’t realize how much a timeline would help me until I had one while planning.  What was my heroine doing while the villain did his evil deed?  Does he have time to get to the Temple before she arrives?

This timeline includes way more than a simple listing of events.  It will track characters and their ages.  How old is her friend when the story starts?  Did I accidentally include someone who was already dead by a particular scene?  Not yet born?  257 years old as I’d failed to kill them?

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Where does the event take place?  Who is involved?  Are they watching or participating?  As you can see, the software lets me answer all these questions.  I can color code it too!  Who doesn’t love color coding?

Another feature I didn’t expect but rely on heavily is connecting events so they all stay in order.  If I move one event in the sequence, the whole sequence moves so I can see the impact of my change on the history of my world.

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There are many ways to search and sort the data as well, including switching from the timeline view to the relationship view.  It is possible to filter either view to only show specific characters, places, arcs, etc.

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I bought this software in 2015 and have not been disappointed.  It comes with a 20-day free trial, or you can buy it now for $50.  It is well worth it for all the features.

Level Up!

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I waited two days to post my normal Sunday update so I could tell you my most grand news.  I am in an epic writing group!  We met last night and it was fantastic.  And there was food.  Our group name is CHIPS, but I can’t tell you why.

Learning to write has involved all sorts of things I didn’t expect, like the suggestion to join a writing group for feedback.  This was a particularly difficult action item since I didn’t know if I knew any writers.

Determined not to let such a little problem stop me, I formed a writing group with a webcomic artist and her husband who writes D&D modules.  A webcomic artist is a writer who decided to do the hardcore mode and draws them too if you didn’t know.   Then we found out a priest we are friends with writes fantasy and we had four in our group!

Yes, I’m certain having a priest in the group grants us a holy bonus or something.  We get advantage on all rolls!

That’s a good thing since we don’t know what we are doing.  Our careful and thorough research included reading the transcripts from all the applicable Writing Excuses episodes.  We figure they’re successful enough so it isn’t a bad place to start!

The whole experience was wonderful, educational, and motivating.  I am as excited about my friends’ projects as I am for my own, and can’t wait until the next meeting to find out what happens in their stories.  I’ll be sure to link to them here when they are ready for your eager consumption.

Their feedback was more useful than expected. I anticipated there would be parts they liked and parts they liked less but didn’t expect to find out they read a few items in a totally different way than planned.  As an example, I noted my protagonist has been visiting the shrine very early in the morning and she tells her friend it is because she doesn’t want to disturb her family when she wakes and it is warm there.  They took this as a sign regarding her character and religious behavior OR that she’s doing something secret.  Really, I just wanted to indicate she hasn’t been sleeping well.  Yay for reader feedback!

External validation isn’t neccessary to write, but it is nice to hear that the thing I’ve worked on for months in private is enjoyable to read.  I don’t know if that will translate to someone wanting to publish it or a group of adoring fans wanting to buy it, but it is a start.  And it is just, well, nice.

Here are the cats, reviewing our work prior to the meeting.

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Lord of the Rings

As far as “stuff I like” goes, Lord of the Rings ranks pretty far up on my list.  I suppose that’s expected given my preferred genre of fantasy, but I like it for so many other reasons.

LOTR

This is the copy of Lord of the Rings I acquired during college, shortly before the movies.  I knew it was a fantasy classic, but I’d never read it.  I blew through it very fast as I speed read; so fast I was halfway through before I realized there were two bad guys with names starting with “S.”

There was one passage I returned to, over and over again.  It was so helpful in difficult times.  I find myself thinking about it even now when faced with a situation I would not pick for myself.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

This seems so obvious, and yet so easily forgotten.  Frodo isn’t really happy about the whole Ring of Power thing, and basically wishes it hadn’t happened to him.  Why do horrible things befall us?  Things we would not want?  There’s a whole theological narrative I could now put here but sometimes simple is better.  Shit happens, and all we get to decide is how we react.

When I was in my fourth year of ROTC, I was diagnosed with endometriosis.  The lining of my uterus had decided the grass was greener on the other side and up and moved elsewhere.  They lasered it off so it wasn’t a problem anymore (then, at least).  It was a medically disqualifying condition and thus my plan to become an Air Force officer was over.  It was depressing.

That’s when I highlighted this quote.  It took me a bit, but I eventually took up the ring and walked to Mordor where I got a job.  I’m still employed by the same company.

Often, we do not decide what happens to us, but we do get to decide how we proceed.

“The road must be trod, but it will be very hard. And neither strength nor wisdom will carry us far upon it. This quest may be attempted by the weak with as much hope as the strong. Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.”

The movie has this to say about the weak and those with small hands:

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”

Frodo and Sam, the most unlikely of all heroes, wander almost blindly into the depths of the land of Mordor.  Boromir may think one does not simply walk into Mordor, but these two surely do.  Oh sure, they’re guided by Gollum, but he tries to feed them to a giant spider so I don’t think that’s much comfort.

We may go forth taking only one small step at a time, but it is still forward progress.  We don’t know what our decisions today will yield tomorrow, or who or what they might affect

Mother Teresa said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, feed just one.”  We don’t need to feel like we’re changing the world to actually change the world.

“Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.”

I noticed the first two quotes when I was in college, but this is the book that keeps on giving.  Perhaps I didn’t notice this quote about advice as I was all too often willing to give my advice without prompting?

Do we know what will happen tomorrow?  No, we do not.  Do we know all that has happened today and yesterday to those we would advise (or judge)?  No, we do not.  Without complete knowledge, our advice can indeed be in error.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,” said Gimli.

“Maybe,” said Elrond, “but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.”

Elrond did not require the Fellowship of the Ring to take an oath to remain together.  Gimli was concerned they might wander off and prove themselves unloyal.  Elrond states he doesn’t think they should vow anything when they don’t understand what they face.  Both of them are so right, and this quote gave me a lot to think about.

I expect my friends to be loyal, but when they became friends did they know what might happen?  What they might be called upon to endure?  I haven’t had any major personal issues to test my friends but this is one to remember in that circumstance.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Here’s a quote about life to end my entry.  You can stay at home and be safe but you’ll be bored.  Or you can take a step onto that road and see where it leads you.

 

If you hadn’t noticed before, my cats are named after characters from LOTR.  The orange one is the King and the other is the Steward.  Aragorn and Faramir say hello!  Or they would if they were awake.

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I did upgrade my Lord of the Rings collection from the paperback above.  Aren’t they pretty?

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C’mon Spring!

We had some lovely weather this week!  I like being warm.  It makes me think of days like this one, when a friend and I went tromping through a state park.

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Revisions

There were no more Legos involved in revising this week.  I read Violence: A Writer’s Guide by Rory Miller.  This was fascinating and gave me a lot of information on how fights really go, though I’m not quite sure how to translate it into my fight scene.  I’m not sure I want my novel to be as graphic as the real deal.  There will be consequences to the violence though, and the book was very helpful there.  I gave up on that scene and moved on to other things that are easier for me to write currently.  I can always go back.

And so it continues.  I don’t know if I’ll hit my March 1 goal for this draft, but that’s okay.  It was not based on much anyway.  I’ll just keep revising, one chapter at a time.

The Other Idea

When I tire of my current project, I daydream about my next one.  I don’t have much going on there, but I did watch Everest: Man vs Mountain on Amazon for research.   I’d watch this documentary regardless as it is interesting.  It also lacks in the fake drama found in most reality TV.  There’s nothing to fake when climbing Everest.

I also watched Atomic Blonde.  It had nothing to do with either idea unless I call it research for fight scenes.  Yes, let’s do that!

Reading

Progress toward my 2018 Goodreads goal of 60 books has slowed thanks to The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson.  I think they should count for more than one book!  You can find my review of Way of Kings earlier this week.

Questions for You!
What are you working on this week?
What are you reading?  How goes your reading goal for 2018?
Watch anything fun lately?

Revisions with Legos

I did pull away from the shiny editing software this week to spend more time on the larger revisions my novel needs to move forward.  It isn’t that those edits aren’t important.  It is just really likely I’ll be changing the words around anyway so there’s no need to spend a lot of time making them perfect at this point.

The edits have taken longer than I expected, but as I’ve never done this before I suppose that isn’t surprising.  I’m through the first act and managed to cut almost 10,000 words in the process.  There is more continuity, and the characters’ motivations are clearer.

Today I found a reason to do something I’d been plotting for some time.  Behold!  Staging a scene with Legos.

Everyone with hair or a helmet is a bad guy.  The one in purple losing the fight on the bottom right is our heroine.  It is important to keep these things clear.

The cats got in on the fun.  I asked Faramir for help getting the protagonist to rescue her friend, but he knocked over the small tree, picked up the big tree and moved it to the bag, and then wandered off with the flower.  He killed her friend in the process.  I think he must be a fan of the antagonists.

How is your writing going this week?  Are your pets helping or hindering your efforts?

 

Getting Stretchy With It

I posted about yoga the other day on twitter and wanted to share with you some ways I stay mobile and flexible with my desk job at work and the time I spend at home writing.

Setup

If all I do is sit slumped at my desk at work for eight hours and then come home and pound away on my laptop, no amount of stretching is going to prevent neck pain.  When I started NaNoWriMo, the laptop proved especially problematic.

Here was my solution for writing at home:

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Note the ergonomic mat for standing.  The desk also cranks down so I can sit.

I know not everybody can get a stand-up desk like this one, but there are some homemade designs you might try.  I used this cat-approved rig until the desk came in:

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Whatever you do, stand or sit, be mindful of your posture.  I can make my hip hurt in less than five minutes if I let myself stand unbalanced.  Also note that if you’re used to sitting, standing for the entirety of an eight-hour shift may cause pain as well.

Movement

So if both sitting and standing can cause pain, what do I do?  Move.  I try to get up and move around at least every half an hour.  My computer throws up a pop up window to remind me.  This resets my posture and allows me to switch between sitting and standing after some stretching.

Most of us could stand to move more in general anyway.  There are all sorts of ways to get your exercise in, and although I’m no expert my thought is you should pick the one you’ll actually do.  That’s right – don’t pick the method identified by Google.  Pick the one that you will actually do every day.  One can even simply walk into Mordor.

Stretching / Mobility

I try to do some yoga every day, or at least stretch in between tasks at work.  It is easy, free, and doesn’t take any athletic talent.  That’s good for me!

If you need some help in this department, check out ROMWOD.  Every day they post a different 15-20 minutes of yoga instruction, with 45 minutes on Thursday.  Don’t panic because it is in a CrossFit gym and they talk about CrossFit.  I did CrossFit for four years and ROMWOD is not a high-intensity interval workout.  You don’t need to do CrossFit to play. It is relaxing, easy, and how I learned most of the stretches I know now.

Consider looking ta Deskbound by Kelly Starrett.  This includes stretches and mobility tools for desk jockeys like us, as well as ideas for how to be ergonomic while pounding away on the next bestseller.

Cats

I didn’t realize how important they were to my overall flexibility until Aragorn helped me stretch. Here he cuddled with my hood while I was in seated forward fold. That’s over twelve pounds of assistance!

Okay, your mileage may vary with this one. But it does ramp up the cute factor.

Questions for You!
What do you do to stay healthy?
Do your pets assist?

Learning. All of it.

This week, like last week, was all about the revision.  Or is it, “Revisions happened this week, like last week?”  Perhaps, “I did revisions this week, like last week.”  The Grammarly extension for Firefox is fine with all of the above.  The Hemingway Editor isn’t happy with the “perhaps.”  AutoCrit thinks I need more text to analyze.  My plan did not include getting this deep in line editing this week, but I’m a sucker for automatic tools with graphs and highlights.

I also watched several more classes of Brandon Sanderson’s BYU course on YouTube.  I really like his books and the classes are free so I think it’d be silly not to take advantage of them.  This week I learned I’ve been doing dialogue tags all wrong.    I’d like to blame all of my English teachers, but who knows if they actually taught me wrong or if I’m just dense.

The engineering degree has been awesome for engineering, but not as helpful for writing.  Many science classes ask for the passive voice in reports, so my background goes against the common suggestion for fiction writing in that area.  On the upside, I get to use zombies to help me find passive sentences.

I’ve learned more about “to be” verbs than I thought I needed to know.  Actually, I never would have guessed I needed to know about “to be” verbs.  I don’t think I knew they were verbs before Friday.  Now I know, and I want to minimize them.

Then there is this lovely chart for past tenses in English.  I was having difficulty understanding past perfect and past perfect progressive.  I feel better about my word choice now but don’t know what the perfect or progressive do for me, and that chart includes other words like “participle” and “infinitive.”  I’ve heard jokes about split infinitives but as an engineer, I never laugh.

To summarize, this week was all about learning!  Or I learned a lot this week.  Much was learned.  By zombies…

Why bother?  Because I’m trying to write an engaging story, not a clinical assessment of facts.  For the last eighteen or so years, I’ve aimed for clinical assessment of facts.  It’ll take awhile to reprogram for storytelling.  I’m up for the challenge though!  Learning is more fun when it is for something that brings you joy, and I love writing.

Grammarly wanted me to take out the “for” in the above sentence.  It would then read “Learning is more fun when it is something that brings you joy.”  That would make it sound like grammar brings me joy, and that isn’t the case.  Which leads to another thing I’ve learned – don’t just take the advice of editing software!

I do have enough words for AutoCrit now, though most of the reports don’t work as well for blog writing.  It found all the passive sentences I added intentionally.  Here’s the readability report.  Hope you have at least a fifth-grade reading level.

Editor | AutoCrit Online Editing 2018-01-13 19-14-18

In case you’re wondering, these reading levels are high for fiction.  The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway scores only a fourth-grade reading level with the Flesch-Kincaid test.  None of the best selling fiction authors writes above a ninth-grade reading level and Tolkien comes in at six and a half.  This blog has all the awesome charts for reading level.

There you have it.  Or you have it now.  Have it now, you do, if we are channeling Master Yoda.  Go forth and conquer your week! I’ll be here looking at words.

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