First off, let me wish all of you the most incredible things for 2014.
Success, money, love, happiness; may you have it all.
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as practical procrastination, but it’s the attitude I’ve chosen to adopt. We all procrastinate, right? Maybe I’m biased, but I do think creative people tend to fall prey to procrastination’s claws more often than other professionals. Sometimes procrastination gets to me sooo deeply that entire days pass without me writing a single word. The most infuriating thing is that since I have a day job, most of the time those days that fizzle away with zero productivity are vacation days that I took specifically to write. Needless to say, I have launched an all out war on procrastination. And I lost.
You can’t beat procrastination. At least not with any means I’ve tried. If you’ve found a magic trick, please shout it out in the comments. But what you can do is trick procrastination into thinking you’re procrastinating, while in fact you’re doing useful stuff. Aha!! Hence the name, Practical Procrastination.
Here’s how I do it. My process is obviously tailored to writers; whats more, it’s very personal, but I hope anyone can try it with good results.
First, I never work on a single project. Having only one project at a time is just daring writer’s block to strike. I always have a minimum of three parallel projects; two long, one short. Of the two long projects, I have a main and a secondary, but you can’t afford to see your secondary as such, otherwise when you get stuck, that project won’t feel it’s important enough to switch to.
Not sure I can solve your problem per se, but here are a few things that work for me.
I write science fiction but have no true scientific training. Sure, I tried my hand at Bio-medical Science, but it ended up not going anywhere. What I mean is, even if you’re a scientist, you probably won’t only write inside that area of expertise that is yours. You want to do your research, and you want to do it ahead of time, before starting work on your first draft if you can. This is where Practical Procrastination comes in. Nowadays, most universities offer some if not all their content in the form of recorded lectures, available from the comfort of your own home, whether you live in Belgium like I do, or in Alaska, or in Tokyo. How cool is that? You can check out MIT Open Courseware and Open Yale Courses for starters.
If you’re willing to put in money, though not that much for the value you get, you can check out The Great Courses. Their courses range between 24 to 60 thirty-minute-long lectures on any given subject. Writing about black holes? No problem. Have that story that dives into a lengthy explanation of String Theory? You shouldn’t explain String Theory in a story, but if you want to go ahead and be factual, here you go.
The idea is that you get to procrastinate, not do what you’d set out to do, but instead of drinking up cat videos on YouTube, you could be expanding your knowledge, finding inspiration for your next story, or researching the one you’re about to write.
No, I’m not saying to watch those cat videos where they teach cats to write or speak or any kind of activity. Forget cats. I mean, instead of running to Facebook to update your status with that great cat quote you stumbled upon, why not head over to the Query Shark Blog to learn a bit more about the querying process? Done that to death? Why not Writers Digest’s How I Got My Agent column? That thing is so inspiring that it will save you when you’re so desperate you’re ready to give up on that jewel of a novel. When possible, procrastinate in a useful way. Is it still procrastinating? Absolutely. But at least you’re doing something you won’t feel as much guilty about as you will with those damned cat videos.
Obviously, I mean outside of writing. If so, then procrastinate toward that passion. Unless your passion is cats, there’s no reason to be typing that noun in Google Search, especially not when preceded with adjectives such as “funny” and “adorable”. Let’s say you love ice sculptures. Why not brainstorm on how you could build a story featuring ice sculpting? Devise a plot. An ice sculptor falls in love with a woman made of ice. Expand, spice it up. A recently divorced ice sculptor falls in love with a woman made of ice. Shake it up some more. A recently divorced ice sculptor falls in love with a man made of ice. Keep working on it, bring in the overflowing knowledge you have about ice sculpting. Flesh out the characters. Come up with a plot or synopsis or even better, both. Maybe you’ve got your next novel or short right there. How about that?
Why not then use it for the writing? Do you love web development? I do too! Aren’t you tired of tracking your writing with messy spreadsheets? Check out how I used the little knowledge I have in PHP to write a little app that does my tracking for me. Automatically. Freeing up time for me to either write, or come up with more ways in which I can procrastinate without feeling guilty about it.
How to fight procrastination when all you want to do is sit in front of your TV and binge on the latest trending TV shows? How can you make that profit your writing? Well, I get those periods when even the thing I usually enjoy the most just tastes like shit. I don’t want to do anything at all but sleep and watch TV. Do I give in? Yes, yes I do. But I don’t give up and load YouTube, already salivating at the prospect of my feline friends and their goofy accidents. No, sir, no ma’am. I watch The Vampire Diaries or Homeland or Game of Thrones or How I Met Your Mother and Took Eight Fucking Years to Tell the Story. And that’s just the appetizer. When I binge, I indulge myself; I don’t get choosy, either. So long as it’s got a plot and characters, I’m game.
Why do I not more carefully choose what I watch, you ask? Because, that’s an incredible opportunity to learn. I mean, if Show X made it to broadcast, chances are it did something right at some point, right? Maybe was it in its promotion, its characters, its plot, or simply in the way it combined all of those elements? Well, guess what? We as storytellers have to deal with the same thing, putting together many dimensions of storytelling to create just the right story. If the people behind the helm fucked up and I notice, even better. Then I can get to wondering what it was exactly that I think they screwed up. How would I, in their shoes, handle things differently? I learn. And you can never learn too much.
Absolutely. But if you spend nine out of ten procrastination sessions doing stuff that’ll actually advance your craft, you’ll feel incredibly better for it. And you will enjoy those silly cats all the more.
Have experience with procrastination? Share your story in the comments! Come on, don’t be shy! You can even talk about cats!
I was having a drink with a writer friend of mine when that question came up. Well, she directed the question at me, and I realized I’d never really taken the time to think about it in depth. She was gracious enough to give me time to think about it while she went to the bathroom, and I’m not unhappy with the answer I came up with on the spot, but I thought it would be interesting to elaborate on the subject.
The Rwandan culture, inside of which I was raised for a good part of my childhood, isn’t best known for the importance it gives to creative processes. I think the trend is changing now, but artists just weren’t seen as glamorous as they are over here in the west. And my larger family is this kind of arena where everyone competes with everyone for titles and the number of material possessions. So, naturally, me wanting to write professionally wasn’t what my immediate family had envisioned for me. But hey, they were very flexible in terms of what they expected from me. I had to be a doctor; surely you understand. But failing that, a lawyer would do just fine. Or at least a really important-sounding title, something university-level in any case, but not the low ranking army dude with delusions of writerly talents.
This long-winded paragraph just to emphasize one thing — I don’t write because I’m drowning in family support or understanding. In fact, if anything, they are just grudgingly accepting my choice. At times I feel like some are just waiting for the moment when they can say, “Ha! See, I told you. You could be so far now, had you not wasted your life behind a screen and keyboard.”
So, why do we write?
My agent recently shared this post, in which the writer encourages his peers to keep going, milling after that ever elusive dream, no matter how far it may seem; and trust me, sometimes it seems light years away. But before those encouraging words, Shaun David Hutchinson, admits to the dread that sometimes comes with being a writer. If you want, read that post before continuing. I’ll wait for you. You’re welcome.
So, why do we do it? Why?
As I told my friend, over that drink in the first paragraph, I hate to keep feeding that famous saying according to which writers write because we must. I also don’t want to say it’s bullshit, because it isn’t — not really; but it has become such a huge cliche that it no longer means much. It’s not (really) true in the sense that there is no Angel of Death looming over us, threatening to scythe our heads off if we stop the motion of our fingers above the keyboard. There is no sickness that’ll befall us if we don’t keep churning out interesting characters and new worlds. And there is definitely no bus that’ll go boom unless we produce a daily word count — though thinking so might be the motivation you need. I myself use a similar strategy that involves my testicles and a very sharp/hot object kept away by the number of words I can spit out per day. But that old saying is relevant because no matter how miserable we get, sometimes because of writing, we still go on, like Spartans never retreating, never surrendering. Even when all odds are against us, when we’re drowning, when writing is futile, still we push on.
Why do we do that?
Would it not be liberating to look those people in their fictional eyes and say, “Fuck you Jane Character, and fuck you double John Protagonist. I have bills to pay; I need a second job. I have friends to see, partners to romance, and some TV to watch. Tell your stories your fucking selves!”
Uh, wouldn’t that be awesome? Why can’t we do it? What is that thing that keeps us shackled to the edge of madness, sometimes even talking to ourselves to resolve potential conflicts in Jane and John’s stories. Do you know how many times I surprise myself behind the wheel, reenacting some dialogue bit that just popped into my head?
But Jane and John, whether casual friends, archenemies, or furious lovers can be reasonable too. Reasonable in that way my family can at times, of course. When you’re ready to throw them out of your life, like clingy and manipulative would-be-exes, they’ll soothe you and caress you and hug and plead. Until you give up — no, that’s the whole point. Until you give in. They’ll say things like: “Oh, calm down, honey. Let’s not overreact. We’re sorry we’ve been so needy lately. Give us another chance. Let us show you that we can change, that we can do — that we can be better.” Then they’ll study your face, and when you’re about to deny them, they’ll pull their trump card. “It’ll be different this time around, baby. You can tell the story. We’ll be good, we’ll obey. Hell, if you don’t trust us, you can even plot!”
And so you plot. And they keep their promises at first. They are where you told them to be at the beginning of page one, but by the time page thirty turns, they have hijacked the story. Again. And once more, you’re talking to yourself in the car, insecure, wondering if your jokes will be funny, worrying about your assholes not being too assholey or not enough! And you neglect your friends. You never get that second job, and the bills keep coming, and in the meantime your partner’s patience wears thinner and thinner.
So, again, why do that? Is it really because you must? Because you have a holy mission to deliver your word to the world? Because you’re next in line to Jesus’ throne, you just have to broadcast the good word? I doubt it.
There’s one writing advice I never understood and vowed never to follow. It was this: If you want to write for the money, quit it right now. Save yourself a world of hurt. Or something like that. And it was puzzling to me, because I didn’t understand it correctly. I thought it meant you should write for the art of it, or as some writers profess they do, for yourself. I didn’t want that. Not only do I have no interest in writing for myself alone, but I wanted to live writing and the only way I saw to do that was to live off my writing. Or at least aim for that, because the time it takes to write the story itself is rather daunting. But what that advice is really saying is, if you go into writing hoping to be rich and famous, you are more than likely to be disappointed. So, we have scratched off the money as well.
So far, if you’re anything like me, you’re not writing because you were pushed into it; not because you have a duty to bless humanity with your prophetic prose; and certainly not for the cash.
So, and I promise this is the last time I ask, why the fuck to we write?
I’m still struggling with my own answer. But I think the following is why I write.
When I came to Belgium from Rwanda and after I’d mastered the basics of French, I entered the library at the school that I was attending. It was small with a very low ceiling, even for my age-10-size, and smelled of paper and dust. It was filled with shelves so packed with books that they threatened to tumble over at any moment. Each shelf contained so many books that it took some force to pull one and examine it. So, there I was, in that tiny place that to me seemed isolated from the rest of the world. Over the next three years, I spent any time that I could spare in the library, reading there when I had the time or borrowing for the evening when I didn’t. That time was not a great one for me. But the books made it bearable, occulted the problems that I didn’t have the maturity to deal with. They embraced me when I was alone, made me laugh when I felt like crying; they scared me and in so doing, made me feel that there were far more frightening things inside of books than there was in my life. Books made me believe in love and introduced me to friendships and let me live adventures that few people can imagine.
And later, I learned that I too could imitate those worlds, that I could learn the process of creating them. I could see the threads that made me treasure some, but barely caress others as if they were old stuffed animals. I wanted to tell my own stories. I wanted to give to someone what had been given to me. An open window onto somewhere else. I clung to that idea ever since and steered the ship that is my life toward that one goal. Have I reached it? I don’t know, but I’m on my way. It feels like I’ve been on my way since forever, but now I know. I know where I’m going and I’m sure I want to go there and I’m prepared to pay the price. Any price.
Maybe I’ve been a bit harsh on Jane and John. They aren’t always the assholes I wrote them to be up here; sometimes they’re compassionate and kind; many times they still take me away from this world just enough so that I can dream. And if I do my job right, then someday they’ll take other people away too. They’ll lead them to lands of wonders and seas of magic; they’ll get them lost in the ruffle of turning pages or lace them against their readers’ light emitting diodes. When that happens, when I have transferred the magic that writing is to me onto others, then I’ll be home. Because I’m a writer and that is why I write.
Then maybe I can say that paying the Price of Words was worth it.
If you’re a writer, what is your reason?
Thank the heavens, we change. If we’re willing to learn, to grow, we can undergo a kind of metamorphosis. We can shift from asshole caterpillars to thinking, compassionate butterflies. Yes, there is a point to this long-winded metaphor. Stick with me. A few days ago, I realized I had been a caterpillar for a good chunk of my life; and like caterpillars are wont to do, I was convinced I was in the right, or that at least it was my right to entertain any kind of idea, particularly that idea. Arrogant and stubborn, I thought that my life experience and usually analytic attitude gave me an edge, that everyone else was just emotional and conformist, not willing to look at the reality in which we live. I was wrong. This piece is my way of saying, sorry for ever thinking like that.
My crime, you ask? This is how I used to think about suicide. Many of us have fought to get a shot at life; we ate dirt and shat blood for it. If someone can’t handle life, let them end theirs and be done with it.
Now, I could go on and start building a case for myself. Provide context, soften your heart, and beg to be understood. But that’s not why I’m here today. The intent of this post is to share my transformation, and hope that if you think the way I used to, my words will help you shift your perspective.
We have all heard of the usual suspects. People who kill themselves are selfish. Suicide is for the weak. It was the work of the Devil! (yes, with a capital D!) Well, I don’t hold a PhD in psychology or anything, but here’s what I think. We tend to marginalize people who decide to end their lives for several reasons. Here’s a short list off the top of my head.
1) Suicide makes us feel vulnerable, especially when we knew the person who died. We realize that we knew their problems and sometimes have similar ones, that any day, it could get just that little worse for us as well. So we get angry, and in losing ourselves to that anger, we forget that it is not about us.
2) We mourn. Someone was taken from us. It’s unfair. Once again, we squeeze the world tightly around us as if it were a blanket, and only remember the departed when trash-talking the way the chose to go. Because we’re the ones suffering, right?
3) Guilt. This also is especially relevant if we were close. Maybe we could have done something — if only she had come to us, if only he had let me see his pain. Maybe, maybe, maybe.
I notice a trend in those excuses supposed to justify the unjustifiable way we regard people who have commited suicide. It’s got very little to do with the dead and everything to do with the living. The pain left behind, the loneliness, the betrayal. And I think it’s sad that we can get so self-obsessed we forget that those who decided to kill themselves were people too; people with histories, lives, lovers; people who’d cried and laughed and fucked around in every sense of the word; people who mattered.
No one decides to blow their brains out because they’re bored. No one just goes, oh fuck that! People kill themselves because there’s no other way. No exit. No loophole. No fucking hope. From their perspective. When too much is too much, it’s too much.
So, it’s not okay to parade around shouting how those people are weaklings who didn’t deserve life to begin with. It’s not akay to think that because the void they left overwhelms us, we can taint the lives they led with accusations of selfishness, trivializing the pain that led them to tragedy. And it is most definitely not okay to put a mirror where they bled and stare at our own tears and red-eyed guilt, all the while thinking, if only they… Point is, we didn’t see it coming. Maybe we could have, maybe not. Doesn’t change a thing, but let’s not put it on them. And for the love of whatever-you-hold-dear, will you just leave the Devil alone? He’s got enough on his plate already!
Ask yourself this! Have you ever thought about suicide? I know it’s a heavy question and a heavy subject. I know that by default, Society would rather forget about those grim conversations. If we don’t talk about it, we don’t think about it, right? But guess what, life — or death, if you want to be morbidly accurate — doesn’t forget about shit.
I have never considered ending my life. But I have been in situations where I thought, yeah not that impossible to think about, after all. Then I sat down and really thought about suicide. About the people behind the ugly word. About what would happen if I was one of those people and my loved ones and/or acquaintances spoke of me with so little regard and so much pompous self-righteousness.
Well, I’d fucking hate it. I started to realize how big a dick I’d been my entire life. I understood that one doesn’t ‘give up’, one is simply overwhelmed and washed away by relentless waves. One day, you just can’t fight it anymore. It can happen over a lifetime; it can happen over the course of a few weeks; it can happen overnight.
If you have never thought about suicide, it might be a good idea to do so. Not about comitting suicide, but thinking of those who do; try to understand them or at least to see things from their point of view. I guarantee it; lessons will be learned.
If you have thought about doing it, if you’re thinking about doing it, or if you ever find yourself in a place so dark that the idea of suicide seems appealing, please don’t go through it. I don’t want to sound condescending, or worse like a character out of a hollywood flick with a ton of violins playing in the background, but here it is: there’s always a way out. Always. No matter how deep the well, how dark the pit, or how hot the furnace, there’s always a way out.
In spite of the pain, the shame, or the fear, you matter too much to let go.
An by it, I mean I. I think I have enough apologies shelved away to last me a lifetime. But I’m back. And I’ll try to keep posting more regularly this time, I promise.
I actually have some pretty interesting ideas for where I want to take the blog next, but I’m missing one crucial ingredient. Time. Of course. I thought that now that I’m done revising and over-revising my manuscript, now that I’ve entered the querying phase, I’d have more time. But no. There’s always more to be done.
So, I guess the only thing to do is contend with the time I’ve got now, try to stretch it as best I can to fit at least a few posts a month. That’s my goal.
I don’t want to let this be a useless ramble, so here are a few books I’ve read lately and what I thought about them in once sentence.
OLDMAN’S WAR – – John Scalzi
One of the best military science fiction books I’ve read so far.
THE GHOST BRIGADES – – John Scalzi
Interesting sequel to Old Man’s War but not as good.
READY PLAYER ONE – – Ernest Cline
Every geek’s wet dream.
SHADOW OF THE SUN – – David Macinnis Gill
Interesting conclusion of the Black Hole Sun trilogy, but this was the weakest installment for me.
I come to you at the start of this new year with the re-launch of my saga. Tenebrae Book One — Mantax was first published in 2010 by Editions Chloé des Lys, a small Belgian press. For various reasons, I decided not to stay with them and restart the franchise with the second edition of the first book.
Book Two of this science fiction series is scheduled to come out in the first quater of 2013. So go ahead and begin the adventure with book one. At this time, “Mantax” is only available in French, but an English release should follow by the end of the year.
If you like science fiction (and who doesn’t?), you should love this space adventure. Meet Tom Loengard and Margarett Carvaletti as they start their epic adventure.
To learn more about the book and where you can get a copy, head over to http://www.liretenebrae.com the website I created for the entire saga.
All the books will be available both in print and in ebook format. Though at this time — and as far as ebooks are concerned — only a Kindle version is available.
Pasted below is the back-cover copy as well as the front cover of the book. Enjoy the read.
L’an 2058. L’armée des Nations Unies décide de couper le financement d’un projet top secret sur lequel Tom Loengard, un général en charge du département scientifique de l’Union Africaine, travaille depuis une dizaine d’années. Il se voit alors contraint de collaborer avec Margarett Carvaletti, une milliardaire civile qui accepte de financer son projet.
Furieuse d’être exclue lors des premiers essais et estimant que cela est son droit légitime, Margarett se faufile clandestinement dans le bâtiment. Tom et elle sont alors piégés lorsqu’un mauvais fonctionnement du réacteur irradie une grande partie de l’enceinte – y compris toute voie de sortie.
Avec un réacteur qui se déstabilise rapidement et qui menace tout le continent Africain, les deux compagnons d’infortune prennent une décision qui les propulse en territoire inconnu.
N’ayant que l’un l’autre sur qui compter, ils vont tenter de survivre dans un monde où chaque nouvelle rencontre peut être la dernière…
More inconsistent updates on my part. At this point, I’m going to run out of apologies. But, it’s because I have so many things going on behind the scenes, and hopefully, when they go from hidden status to public, you’ll feel compelled to forgive me. Well, you probably haven’t even noticed that I was gone, so I wonder who I’m kidding… 😉
Anyway, here’s one of those reasons. Menial: Skilled Labor in Science Fiction, an anthology published by Crossed Genres Publications, will be launched on January 21st, 2013. And it contains one of my shorts. The Heart of the Union, was my first anthology sale, and I’m very excited to receive my copy.
To learn more about the collection, table of contents and all, visit THIS PAGE dedicated to the anthology and hosted by Crossed Genre Publications.
I know that you guys are used to inexplicably long posts from me, but this time I plan on making it short. My very short story, “Over There”, is now live HERE.
This is a milestone because it marks my first short fiction sale in the English language. I’d like to say I don’t care for validation, but man does it taste sweet. Especially coming from DSF of whom I’m a great fan. So there you have it.
Please give the story a read, and if you like (or don’t, for that matter) feel free to rate.
On a side note, it’s really funny to see how things pick up after the first sale. After I was accepted by DSF, I received acceptances from Crossed Genres (upcoming post about that) and Stupefying Stories. And hopefully, more will come.
As you can see looking at my blogging history, I’ve been hiding away lately. Well, I wasn’t really hiding away. In addition to planning a few releases of my own books, scheming to set up my very own small press, I also co-authored and co-produced a short story collection with my writing group based here in Brussels.
It’s been a terrific ride, and while we still have lots of work ahead of us, we all were happily surprised to see how welcomed the book was. Local media gave it some great critiques, and so far readers have all been happy.
Anyway, this was a really quick update to let you guys know that I’m still alive and tell you a little bit about how things are moving.
The next post will deal with a road-map for the short-term future. A hint, there’s something about Infinity and Acacias, my favorite kind of tree.
The Meantime is now available on all Amazon websites, as well as in select bookstores in Brussels, London, and Paris. To learn more and order a copy of the book, head over to: http://www.themeantime.be
You’re standing on a brownish dirt path. Ahead, the path willows and wanders down the slope of the knoll on which you’re standing. Down into the valley, it snakes between green fields swaying in a windy rhythm. Past the valley, it wraps upward round a bigger hill, perhaps a mountain. The road reaches for the sky until, finally, it disappears, swallowed by the mountain’s thick foliage.
You take a deep breath and cry out your name. As expected, the landscape shouts back at you, calling your name like a satiated lover. You smile and lower your eyes to your feet. A dust layer has nested on your skin and is winding toward your ankles.
Lightning strikes and frightens the sun into hiding. Clouds roll above the valley and the breeze shifts to a blast. The vegetation around you flutters in all direction. You tense up. But when the thunder comes, it’s a mellow melody. It caresses nature and reassures her. And before long, she’s happily swaying again.
When the water hits your face, it refreshes. The drops tumble down like bullets, but they smash like petals. In seconds you’re drenched. You spread your arms and let the water dance with you. You turn and turn like the swirls of wind earlier. And every time you’re fitted with a different dance partner. A smooth one, then a wild one, then a comfortable one, then a passionate one. And others. So many others.
They whisper in your ears. They rub against your body. They taste sweet and salty, bitter and balmy, hot and cold. They take you places and make you wish for tomorrow. You tell them your secrets, hopes, and dreams. And they believe. In your words. In you. They’re your closest friends, they’re your illicit lovers, they’re your forbidden passion.
And you laugh. At the world, at the serious situations and solutions. You laugh at it all. Because this is what’s real for you. These liquid friends of yours, chuckling at your silent jokes, returning your smiles, raising the hidden flavors inside the earth. They awaken your senses, sharpen your mind, and leave you exhausted. And you love them for all that.
The rain fades as suddenly as it came. The sun drowns the valley again, and you feel the earth contracting around your feet. You look back at the path behind. It may be longer or shorter than the one ahead, but you know where it leads. You’ve been to those places. Happy, sad, ecstatic, electrifying, climactic, or catastrophic, you know them all. You want new, you want unexpected. And for that, ahead is the way to go.
And after your dance, you’re ready for the journey. No matter what’s between you and your final destination.
You take that next step.