January 3rd, 2012


[links] Link salad salivates

Statisticians Reveal What Makes America Happy

The Hump Master: 1942 — I know what humping is in railroad operations, but I never realized there was such a person as "the hump master." How'd you like that on your business card?

Would Colleges Be Better Off Without Football?Everything we think we know about college football's impact on students' grades, graduation rates, rankings, and school finances adds up to this: Football might be bad for some colleges. Yes, this.

Power in Numbers — A profile of scientist Eric Lander.

AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) — An aging simulator from MIT. I note passim that late stage chemotherapy does a pretty good, if not precise job, of this same thing. (Via Curiosity Counts.)

Two more states allow same-sex civil unions — Note that civilization continues to not collapse, and traditional marriage continues to endure despite the horror of gay nuptials.

The spectre of 1932: How a loss of faith in politicians and democracy could make 2012 the most frightening year in living memory

Conservative White People’s Primary — Juan Cole compares Iowa's ethnic makeup with the US as a whole. Why do we care about the caucuses?

Nobody Understands Debt — Paul Krugman on the deficit. Warning: this column will only make sense if you are a member of the reality-based community.

George W. Bush presidency barely mentioned in Republican contest — Why talk about one of your most epic failures? Not that voters seem to be able to remember that.

Eric Cantor's Press Secretary Interrupts 60 Min Interview to Claim Reagan Never Raised Taxes — This is why the rest of us think conservatives are basically nuts. Bald-faced denial of basic historical fact isn't a coherent governing philosophy. It isn't even a coherent philosophy for sane daily living. Yet millions of low-information GOP voters will nod along with the assertion rather than believe the facts.

The Truth Inside Romney's Swift Boat MomentSooner or later, we will grow as a nation and realize that a political smear doesn't become true just because enough people believe it to make it effective. Some day, the truth of things will matter again. At which point, the entire Republican campaign playbook would be null and void. A victory for reality like that ain't gonna happen in FOX News America.

?otd: When's the last time you ate a Midwestern pork tenderloin sandwich?

Writing time yesterday: 0.0 hours (chemo fatigue)
Body movement: 30 minute stationary bike ride
Hours slept: 8.5 (lights out time, absolute insomnia with no sleep)
Weight: 212.0
Currently reading: Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein


[process] More on finishing

Yesterday, I wrote about finishing what you started. [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]. [info]kellymccullough in particular pointed out in comments that I'd somewhat overstated my proposition.

What I'd meant to talk about was a fairly narrow (if possibly widespread) issue of allowing a new idea to distract you from an existing one while in the middle of a writing project, specifically a novel-length project. This is a common enough symptom of muddle-in-the-middle, wherein about a third to halfway through the writing process, the manuscript feels tedious, pedestrian and boring. Your subconscious is looking for excuses to bolt at that point. Many if not most writers go through that experience. The point I was after was not to let the new shiny pull you off the current project. That's bad discipline, and as you can neither revise nor sell an incomplete manuscript, it's bad for your career.

[info]kellymccullough pointed out quite rightly that one can write oneself into a corner with respect to craft issues, lacking perhaps the right tools to do proper justice to an idea. Forcing yourself to keep working on a manuscript you're not ready to finish can be self-defeating as well. Knowing the difference between distraction and an intractable writing problem is of course a challenge.

I myself have dealt with this. As I said to Kelly in comments:
And to be clear, I have one major unfinished novel that's been on my desk for the better part of the last decade, for exactly the reason you describe. (It's Original Destiny, Manifest Sin.) At that time, I didn't have the professional tools to finish what I started back around 2004. But I didn't abandon that novel because I had a better idea — which, you'll note, is specifically the issue I address in the post — I set it aside until my professional development as a writer let me come back to it. And ODMS is the next novel on my writing schedule after I wrap the Sunspin cycle.

Original Destiny, Manifest Sin was simply beyond me at the time that I began writing the book. That's perhaps the strongest novel idea I've ever had, but needed me to be a stronger writer to address it. As I've observed elsewhere, I realize a while back that in some important senses, the entire Sunspin project is a warm-up for returning to ODMS. This has to do with my control of structure and character in a highly multithreaded storytelling environment.

Likewise, back to my original point about stopping work, there are life crises that represent a legitimate and even necessary halt to writing. This was discussed by [info]valarltd and [info]cathshaffer. My own cancer treatments have done this to me. I cannot write for several weeks after general anesthetic, nor can I write after the first two or three months of chemotherapy. My right brain goes into vapor lock in a big way. In ordinary life, I've never been blocked for longer than a weekend in the past decade. If I get stalled on a project, I shift gears and write a short story or some such to clear my head. Then I keep going. But not with cancer. I don't have those choices. Likewise the serious illness or death of a family member can throw you off. Not finishing a manuscript under those circumstances isn't a failure of discipline, it's a recognition of the pressure of life crisis.

My point being to clarify yesterday's post — sometimes there are reasons to abandon a project. Simply falling in love with another idea is very rarely one of them. Discipline is still important, critical even, but as I've often said, there is no canonical writing advice except "write more". "Finish what you start" is pretty high up on the list, but it's still context dependent.


[writing|cancer] 2012 and further goals, more thereupon

As I said on New Year's Eve [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ] regarding my 2012 writing goals:
For 2012, if I can stay out of the oncology unit, I plan to write the other 400,000 words of Sunspin, revise the first two volumes for submittal and publication, and write several requested novellas and short stories. […] Even if I do go back into cancer treatment, experience shows I can still be reasonably productive. If I metastasize yet again, I still plan to write another 100,000 words of Sunspin, as well as revise the first two volumes and write the requested short fiction.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. If my health permits, I'll finish the first draft of the entire Sunspin cycle. By way of official news regarding that project, my agent and I have redivided it from three books to four for reasons of length. The titles now are:

Calamity of So Long a Life
Their Currents Turn Awry
The Whips and Scorns of Time
Be All Our Sins Remembered

Their Currents Turn Awry is the new title, and is now book two between the previously announced titles Calamity of So Long a Life and The Whips and Scorns of Time.

Also in Sunspin news, Subterranean Online will this year be publishing my novella "The Weight of History, the Lightness of the Future", which is essentially chapter zero of Calamity of So Long a Life. So if you're interested in this project, watch for that.

My more detailed 2012 plan for writing is as follows:

January and February, 2012 —Revise Calamity of So Long a Life for submission and publication, with a March 1 delivery date to my agent, and going to market shortly thereafter.
March, 2012 —Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
April and May, 2012 —Write another 100,000 words of Sunspin, edit into first draft manuscript of Their Currents Turn Awry.
June, 2012 —Initial revisions to Their Currents Turn Awry, release to my first readers.
July, 2012 —Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
August, September and October, 2012 —Write another 300,000 words of Sunspin, edit into first draft manuscripts of The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered.
November, 2012 —Take a break from Sunspin, pursue short fiction commitments.
December, 2012 —Revise Their Currents Turn Awry for submission and publication, with a December 31 delivery date to my agent.

That will put revisions and submittal for The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered in early 2013, and then I'll be done with the cycle and free to move on to other projects.

The huge open question is whether I go back into treatment this year. The gap between conclusion of my last chemotherapy sequence and the detection of the next metastasis was nine months. If I can squeeze out a year, all of the above will happen. Even if the worst happens and we find a new metastasis in February, at my next scan, I'll still get the work through March done for certain, and probably manage the work planned through June, though it may take me several months longer to reach those goals, if I have to take time off for surgery or whatever. So at a minimum, I'll get Calamity of So Long a Life out and Their Currents Turn Awry written and revised, even if illness forces me to push drafting The Whips and Scorns of Time and Be All Our Sins Remembered into 2013.

In a larger sense, I figure these days I'm about one to two years from dying at any given point depending on my next diagnosis. More swiftly, of course, of the cancer comes back in an inoperable location or otherwise excessively troublesome. So when I look down the road, at other projects such as Original Destiny, Manifest Sin, it's with a less confident eye than I used to have. I figure my long-term goals beyond Sunspin aren't so much goals as hopes. Here are the benchmarks, things I'm looking forward to living to see if I can manage it.

December, 2012 —The Hobbit part one released
December, 2013 —The Hobbit part two released
June, 2016 —[info]the_child graduates from high school

If I make it alive and in some form of health to June, 2016, I will have won. That much time grants me my daughter's entrance into adulthood, and lets me see her start her own life. That much time grants me as many as five or six more books, at a minimum four more even if I spend much of the intervening years in treatment. And it lets me go back to Peter Jackson's Middle Earth twice more.

And, well, if I don't make it that far, I'll spend as much time as I can with [info]the_child and write as many books as I can.

Thinking about it in those terms both focuses and trivializes my 2012 goals. Perhaps you can see how my thinking is bent as time passes. But this is the life I'm leading, and I'll do the best I can.