Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rest and Repel Those Aliens - #fridayflash

It’s so cold out that he has to build a robot. After he’s shoveled the snow, and cut the wood, and the stoked the fires, his bones are still heavy with persistent chill. He’s weary and climbs into bed, beneath layers of sheets and blankets, from which he constructs the robot.

Technically the robot is a military exoskeleton, but there is no time for technicalities because the planet is under siege. There’s a jersey knit sheet over him, full of microfiber transmitters. A heavier quilt lays over that, but he puts his arms over it, because they always get too hot under all the blankets, and because when he makes fists in the quilt, it feels like two flight controllers molded to his hands. There’s another blanket over that so his arms don’t get too cold, and to seal him into the cockpit. The only thing it doesn’t cover is his head, though he can pull the blanket over it if he gets a nightmare.

The beauty of his robot is that it convects his body heat, storing and building it up much better than a snow suit or a single blanket unit. Also, it has hard light lasers that can smash alien ships with armor that’s heat resistant, and that’s wicked. His weary eyelids slide closed and he enjoys a heads up display that targets all the enemy craft hidden in the sunspots.

His robot is so smartly built that he doesn’t feel it take off. It moves through the stratosphere without a whisper, powered by Generation Two Improbability Drive Tech. The invading aliens don’t even have Generation One.

The wind rattles his windows like a hundred tractors driving by. He imagines a hundred enemy space crafts, out-numbering him, but they are out-teched and out-gunned. Just one squeeze of his imaginary triggers fills up the sky with his hard light lasers.

Sometimes he shoots them down. Sometimes he goes up and talks it out, and becomes instrumental in the peace process. Sometimes he falls asleep right away. Saving the world is oddly relaxing.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Recharges Writing?

Probably unrelated?
I’ve been wondering a lot lately about how to recharge writing. There are some people who never seem to stop – Stephen King infamously told the public he took three days off a year, only to reveal he’d lied and that he wrote on those days too. At Viable Paradise I was awed at how Elizabeth Bear could hit her laptop in-between lectures, critique manuscripts while jogging, and always seem to maintain writing progress even in crowded rooms of people who wanted her attention. She reported something like 200,000 paid words last year. From afar, King and Bear seem like model authors.

Update: Bear responded on Twitter that she takes breaks all the time.

I’m not like them. Based on an informal survey of professional authors I’ve been conducting, most aren’t like them. Most who would disclose their beliefs believe in significant periods of recharge, whether it’s a day or weekend off, or a few weeks or months after finishing a novel. More authors wouldn’t disclose or couldn’t come close to pinning down their processes.

Vacations don’t help me very much. In recent years I’ve kept data on myself around when I take breaks from composition and editing, and there’s very little correlation between a break and output at resumption or upon starting something new. While my recent novel-writing campaign started amazingly, it was one of seven projects I took significant breaks between in a three-month period, and was one of only two that seemed to jump out of the gate. The others ran on will power and routine until I could build up the steam.

Perhaps more importantly, I notice I don’t feel mentally refreshed upon returning to work. Most recently I was derailed from my novel by bronchitis, and then had to leave home for travel. As awful as bronchitis was, I was relieved to stop work because of anxiety about whether I was executing the novel correctly. After weeks off, I resumed yesterday and felt absolutely as incapable of getting it right as I did before. This morning I awoke feeling like I had nothing left inside of me, which is disturbing for a living being to believe.

It wasn’t until I helped a mother in a check-out line that the feeling changed. A joke fell out of me, and she laughed, and seemed a little relieved despite the child kicking her hip. It was as though giving someone that little relief temporarily validated me, and I felt like if I had a keyboard right then, the clouds would part.

This isn’t a whining session. It’s an invitation to you, friends, fellow readers and writers.

What do you do to recharge?

We know that it’s something taxing, partially on the body and partially on the mind. It’s something that everyone needs to pause from, and walk away from for the day. It may be that everyone has a different recharge cycle, or a different set of recharge cycles – surely some full-timers take the occasional afternoon off while also taking periodic vacations, while others are more idiosyncratic. That leads us to question what we do in those periods that restores us.

I’ve tried both avoiding reading anything and reading a great deal, and within the latter, reading narrowly and broadly. None of the above seems to change things. Do you read to recharge? If so, what? Is it research? Is your reading compartmentalized?

Many of my breaks have been around my home. If you know my health, then you can figure that I don’t travel often. Yet when I do travel, returning home doesn’t seem to have changed anything, whether I departed for family emergencies or to hang out with friends. Do breaks work on you? What is it about them?

There are authors who juggle 8- and 12-hour jobs and write in excavated free time. There are authors who are full time parents and still hit the keyboard every day of the week. Is there a shorter recharge cycle there? Do the Kings and Bears of the world recharge primarily in shorter runs, in breaks to jog or have dinner with family? If so, how do those refresh cycles operate?

A few questions for you. Perhaps too many. Feel free to drop any answers you have, even the partial ones. Most of the writers I’ve talked to about it seem to live on partial answers.
Counter est. March 2, 2008