30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 19: Today in Writing Memory, My Memory Totally Sucked

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.19.14Where I Wrote: The Dancing Crane Cafe at the Bronx Zoo.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Awesome. After the last few days of struggle, I feel amazing about putting out new words–genuine progress.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Fine. Ultimately. Woke up unsure if I actually wanted to go out today, but by the time I got to my spot, I was fine.

The Experience: If I had to characterize my mind, I’d give it a cup of coffee. Not a mug–a disposable, paper cup. With a “java sleeve.” My mind would always hold this cup of coffee and take comically long, loud sips from it after saying douchey things–that way you know he’s definitely a douche.

“Sure you wanna get up today?” my brain asked as I rolled over and checked the time. And then, “slurrrrp.”

“So you think you got out of that writing loop you were stuck in? You’re probably right… slurrrrp,” as I walked to the Bronx Zoo.

The douchebaggery stopped for a while when I got to the zoo, another place where I used to work–although, unlike the Time Warner Center, I worked at the Bronx Zoo so long ago–and enjoyed it so much both before and after working there–that old experiences never skew my love of it.

At worst, I’m guilty of making it too familiar in my mind and then being surprised when I visit again and get a reminder of its beauty and size. Particularly today though, I was surprised to rediscover a bunch of potential writing spots inside of it. Much like the Botanical Gardens’, those spots–mostly outdoor benches–are unusable for the winter, but there are still benches to be had in the zoo’s exhibits.

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Tiger Mountain’s Pavilion B, for example, has benches tucked far enough out of the wind that it’s oddly hospitable even on a cold day like today. The Zoo Center is (thankfully) an exhibit again and features a bench people probably don’t use. Another location that I’m actually going to selfishly withhold, is particularly amazing and secluded.

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But the most accessible and writer friendly location is the Dancing Crane Cafe, where I, in all-business mode, went first, determined to have a solid writing session before going into distracted photographer mode. I got there quickly, bought a coffee and a pretzel, sat down, and…

“Oh hey. Seems you forgot to save a copy of your work from last night to your tablet. Didn’t you remind yourself to do that? I remember you reminding yourself to do that… *slurp*.”

Oh… Well…

Do I just… walk around the zoo now? Do I rush home and write there? Do I go home, write a post about how I failed and just… wait til tomorrow? Also, is, perhaps, a table flip in order?

“You could just <sigh> write or something… *slurp* I mean, do you need that file?”

I… didn’t. I knew that yesterday’s fix was fine. The only question was whether a decision I made in my last 400 words was a good idea or a bad one. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t write–I could just create a new file here. I knew what scene came next and how to start it. I just had to employ safety strats; that last-400-word-decision was a simple change that has a huge tonal impact on the story but a super tiny, easy to alter footprint, so I could just write the safer version of the next scene and decide later if I should switch it to the unsafe version.

What all of this equated to was a super liberating, “Fuck it.” I sat there and made actual progress and enjoyed writing Memory for the first time in a few days. And, when I reached the end of my session and the transition for the tomorrow’s session came effortlessly, I was ecstatic.

With an hour to spare. I walked around the zoo, checking out largely empty exhibits and brainstorming. Being genuinely crazy-person-weird by saying dialogue aloud when I thought I was alone (I wasn’t alone).

And, somehow, that was it. After struggling for the past few days, with the same scene, I was expecting the hammer to drop–to get home and find that the scene was a total disaster somehow. Or, failing that, to find that my computer–and only my computer–had burst into flames while I was gone. But that never happened–I reread the scene and it was fine. I considered last night’s addition and decided in favor of the unsafe version (because, of course–why the hell would I ever go safe?).

And that was that. Today’s disaster was weak sauce, easily–almost abscent-mindedly avoided. A bullet effortlessly dodged. Writing done. Victory had.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 18: All the Fun of Writing in Circles

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.18.14Where I Wrote: The Dining Concourse at Grand Central Terminal.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Laughably bad. I should be horribly depressed and defeated, but there’s something hilarious about being stuck in a writing loop, trying one scene over and over again to no avail… and then finding a ridiculously simple solution.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Absolutely expecting to jump into the beginning of the endgame of the novel but totally stymied by my gut; I followed it to a semi-random spot at the last minute… and then followed it right into what I thought would be a quick reread of yesterday’s work.

The Experience: Today was all about the gut feelings.

When I woke up, I was pretty sure I’d be launching into the next chapter of Memory, having ended yesterday’s scene with a solid cliffhanger. I took my shower, planned my destination for the day–a coffee shop I’ve heard about repeatedly and thought I’d try. A random variable (something I want to start including in my outings regularly).

But then, the gut reaction. It’s already almost 12. You’re going to try a coffee shop at lunch? There might not be seats and it is… stupidly cold outside. Right… No. Whatever. Blazing ahead anyway. That one coffee shop, here I come.

And then I was on the train, reading, when I heard “Grand Central Terminal,” and, again, the gut reaction. That coffee shop will SUCK if you go now. Remember how insane the City Bakery was? Besides, you wanted a random variable–you haven’t been to the Dining Concourse in a million years. You might still find failure there if that’s what you really want.

And somehow, that swayed me. I jumped off the train, oddly… not excited, now that I remember it. It’s almost like I knew what was coming–hinted at by my suddenly runny nose.

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I got to the Dining Concourse, grabbed coffee, and found a small table under one of its weird, low archways. I popped out the tablet.

And… the gut reaction. You don’t know how to start the next chapter. Maaaaaaybe… you should reread yesterday’s scene?

I’m glad to say that in Day 17 Louis’ defense, the scene wasn’t bad. Ultimately, it only had one hiccup that made it… awkward. Not confusing, but loose in a way that I hate; have you ever watched a movie or show and noticed a major–but totally silent–jump in a character’s logic? Their knowing something that they shouldn’t? It was that kind of hiccup–a subtle error and easy to miss.

So easy to miss that I absolutely missed it yesterday… and today. My session started with me reworking the entire scene, changing everything else to fit that one logic error instead of just… fixing the one logic error. About halfway through, I realized that the reworked scene was worse, stopped, and stared at my tablet for a long while.

It’s at this point that I finally realized the culprit was a single logic error. It was also this point, sitting and staring and unable to focus, that I realized my runny nose had a hand in this mess–I just could not keep a clear head. But I was not about to give up.

Probably a horrible idea though, because not giving up meant groggily trying to fix everything but the one logic error again. I’m not sure if I forgot or genuinely thought it would be better to change the rest of the scene (I think I had a good few additions that I desperately wanted to work in, but I’m not sure because, at this point, hours later, I am significantly more disoriented).

After running my second circle around the one scene though, I was done. I packed up, determined to do no more damage to the scene by poking at it clumsily.

Only to figure out how to fix it with one sentence on my way back home.

Not willing to just let the day go as a total failure, I got home and fixed the scene in maybe… ten seconds? And then went on to add (apparently) 400 words that I’m worried will be absolutely horrible when I look at them tomorrow.

But, right now, from the bottom of my heart, I can honestly say… whatever. I will take those 400 words. And I will turn in ridiculously early and hope for the best tomorrow.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 17: Dirty Carpet and Gemstones

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.17.14Where I Wrote: The Guggenheim Hall of Minerals in the Museum of Natural History.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good. After reorganizing what I wrote yesterday, the rest of the scene I’d been struggling with came with relatively little trouble. There were a few hurdles to get over (it was an active parlor scene, so writing it was a new experience for me), but I think I hit every beat that I needed to (and every one that I could hit without making the dialogue incredibly artificial and overly convenient).

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Ready. After yesterday’s post, I was so ready to accept the balance challenge for this week and kick its ass. This was rounded out by excitement for returning to the Hall of Minerals, my favorite exhibit in the Museum of Natural history since my days as a littlen.

The Experience: Today was a really strong, straight forward bout of writing–a fantastic first step for this week of schedule-honing. I had to be up early today if I was going to get to the museum. And I was. I had to be out of the house quickly, so no Rebirth. Thus, I didn’t play it.

The reward for those small sacrifices was experiencing none of the vague bullshit that will often rise up to oppose plans. I wasn’t rushing, so there was no, “Shit! I forgot to go to the bank!” There was no frantic packing and hustling out the door late, so I didn’t forget to visit the museum’s site and make sure donation rules for admission hadn’t changed. At worst, there was the moment when I got lost in the museum and thought they’d gotten rid of the Hall of Minerals. But then I just took out my map and realized/remembered that the Roosevelt entrance off of Central Park West leaves you on the 2nd floor, not the 1st.

And then I got there. The Hall of Minerals in all of its old, dark, strangely dirty glory.

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I don’t know why I love it so much. There is, of course, my general affection for Earth Science; in an alternate reality, there is absolutely the version of me who studies minerals–who’s extremely happy with and vocal about his totally lame love of all rocks.

There is also my fascination with worlds we don’t see–chemical reactions and ancient processes in places we’ll never know. Atoms forming into unit cells. It’s terrifying and beautiful to think that something like rutilated quartz just… happens. A slow, deliberate, silent process.

… But there’s a really good chance I just love it because it’s the least popular part of the Museum of Natural History with the most seating. It’s dark. It’s really plain. The floor is rugs; in fact, nearly everything, with the exception of the minerals and their cases, is rugs. The (poorly depicted above) amphitheater where I set up shop? Also rugs. Rugs that are as strangely dirty as the display cases featuring softer minerals–the ones wilting into powder and wafting down into unseemly deposits.

I love it. It’s so dysfunctional. How could I not love it?

I entered, took in the nostalgia, sat down to write but found myself distracted by the extremely nerdy audio prompts explaining the displays in the amphitheater, and wound up taking some time to view the rest of the exhibit and read. It did not come close to the near-total failure of Day 12 in the Botanical Gardens, but that’s probably because–again–I wasn’t pressed for time. I believe I had four guaranteed hours of freedom and relative quiet in the Hall of Minerals.

And there I worked on the scene I’ve been struggling with… and managed to work it out–managed to tame it into a full, provocative gateway to the novel’s endgame. The beginning of its Conclusion. It took a few hours, but with water fountains and restrooms just a short walk away, I could’ve pressed myself to write more. I didn’t, however, having just fixed the total mess that came from forcing yesterday’s session.

Instead, I packed up, decided against viewing the rest of the museum in favor of coming home, brainstorming (successfully) on the train, writing this post, and getting to work. I still had a bit of time before the museum closed, but today, like the rest of the month, was not about idle browsing. It wasn’t about taking time for simple entertainment.

Today was the start of the end. The acceptance of the schedule and the wherewithal to handle its many conflicting parts. Today was the beginning of making this writing thing work. The beginning of a slow, deliberate, silent process.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 16: A Great Imbalance

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.16.14Where I Wrote: Pelham Parkway, just off of White Plains Rd. in the Bronx.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Strange. Exhausted. The bad news: Today was the very first time I wrote something super hurriedly and then got stuck because it came out completely wrong. The good news: I know exactly how to fix it and I fully intend to actually cheat a little tonight (I didn’t last night) and at least get what I wrote in order (literally–I very quickly wrote a few segments of a single event in a bizarre order and need to adjust it). All of that said, I’m genuinely surprised that I met my quota for the day.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Anxious and reluctant, unfortunately. I’ve had my days when I needed extra time for work, but today was probably the most intense. I really didn’t want to stay in the Bronx today or, at the very least, I wanted to visit a slightly more interesting part of it (although Pelham Parkway turned out to be pleasant), but I just couldn’t take a chance on work hours tonight (and I’m glad I didn’t).

The Experience: Today was a stern lesson on balancing my time.

I’ve always known it was a struggle to juggle work and writing. It’s probably the primary struggle of writing–at the very least, it’s in the same pantheon of Writer Struggles as Motivational Problems and Writer’s Block. Typically, you go to work, come home, and you’re too tired to write. I was all about this problem for years.

Of course, now I have a way more flexible job. So, why the trouble? NaNoWriMo. I don’t want to antagonize the challenge at all, so I’ll specify that the trouble has been my inability to balance NaNoWriMo with work. In the Work VS Writing power struggle, NaNoWriMo has clearly won in a totally backwards way; now I go out every day, put in a surprisingly constant amount of hours at my tablet, punch out when my brain tells me I’ve put in enough work, and then come home too tired to work work. At least too tired to work well (my job is really, really intense about performance evaluation).

Today was the tipping point for that problem. It’s been too easy to think, “I’ll put in more/some hours tomorrow,” every day until I reach days like today, when I get up, look at the time, and realize, Fuck… I seriously can’t go to Manhattan again.

Particularly bad because, in truth, I didn’t even want to go to Pelham Parkway, a place where I have truly ancient memories and little else.

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It’s not that it isn’t nice; it’s actually pleasant–maybe even pretty for an expanse of greenery lined with roads. It’s not that there aren’t places to purchase coffee, but it is one of those strange places between places; I’ve rode through countless times on my way to different schools, hospitals, shopping centers. Probably any other mundane location I could possibly think of. And, like Loreto Playground from Day 10, it’s surrounded by residential areas, meaning there are no public restrooms there. It is, I suppose I could say, totally unremarkable. A last ditch choice on a day when I wish I had more time for anywhere else.

Somehow, I managed to knock out my quota at these benches and another a block or two away, where two lone tables caught every cold breeze that came off of the cars driving past. In summer, perhaps, this place would be fantastic. But today, it was cold and distracting. I was able to get a lot of words down, but they were massively flawed and demand instant attention or I’m in danger of forgetting a small, pivotal details of their fix.

All of this because I had to rush. Because I didn’t balance writing and work. I don’t want to go on about this, but I give it so much weight here because I officially can’t say, “I’ll go somewhere in the Bronx then!” ever again. I have not run out of locations in Manhattan, but the only three options I have left in the Bronx are wildly time-based; I will need to be up early and spend a full day at all three (likely), and of those three, I only actually want to write at one of them.

That means I absolutely must balance things out. I have to get into the groove of the Everwork, an uncomfortable, video game-less place where I constantly remind myself, “Bills are coming.”

Which means that next week is going to be all about the balance–another facet of the challenge tacked on. I don’t know if it’s writing about it here or the fact that I’m working this out for NaNoWriMo and Memory’s sake, but no matter what it is…

… I’m feeling preeeetty sure I can kick this challenge’s ass.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 15: Can’t Stop Won’t Stop

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.15.14Where I Wrote: The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good. It’s not perfect (as I was packing up my tablet, I thought of an addition I had to make). I honestly might cheat a bit tonight and add a handful of tweaks to the major dialogue exchange in today’s scene, but, overall, that scene achieved a few things I was hoping it would (and a few others I wasn’t expecting). It was a really emotional day for my characters and, although it was a struggle to realize that at first, I eventually got it to shine through naturally.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: It being an emotional day for them made it extra weird that I was insanely exhausted today. I do not know why; I woke up tired, rallied for Isaac (because, ya know, a man needs energy to fail a few Rebirth runs, I guess) and then passed on coffee I didn’t think I actually needed on the way to my spot. Turns out, yes. Yes, I really actually needed that coffee.

The Experience: I did not take pictures of the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. There were many people there, but I probably should’ve gone for it regardless–snapped a picture of the exterior at least. I probably should have bothered.

But today… was not the day for bothering.

I had no trouble getting out of the house. I had no problem hopping on my train. I had no issue landing a seat on said train and enjoying more Clariel for most of my ride.

No, the problem began near the end of my commute, when I genuinely started to nod off while reading.

Empirical Fact #1: It was not Clariel.

Empirical Fact #2: Today was one of those weird days when I woke up to find that the bags under my eyes actually black. I know other people must experience this too, but my first bout of life this morning was a trip to the bathroom, a distracted observation at the mirror that I looked like a raccoon, and a prompt return to sleep.

Empirical Fact #3: When I got outside, I found that my left leg hurt. Weird. My left leg never hurts–it’s my right leg that sucks. I believe I actually thought, Huh. It’s almost I’m over-exerting myself or something, but that’s silly.

Empirical Fact #4: I had coffee before leaving. So… why even with the exhaustion?

I convinced myself I didn’t need coffee because of that final fact and proceeded to ignore the second and third… And the fact that I’d slept maybe five or so hours in total after last night’s work marathon. Five hours. Not bad when you’re sedentary.

Horrible when you get outside every day.

I wish my brain had not been an unfocused blob today. I wish that I wasn’t so wasted that I actually turned on wi-fi and checked Kotaku for a few minutes in the middle of my writing session.

I wish especially that I’d had the energy to explore more of the Performing Arts Library, which I’d only been to once, years ago–so many years ago that it seemed like a completely different place. I wound up heading right up to the second floor–which I think I saw the first time (please forgive–still tired)–but where I expected to find generic library cubicles, I instead found a sleek, glass encased sitting room with massive tables and chairs that were so comfortable that they definitely didn’t help with the exhaustion. I’m absolutely sure there are other great spots in that library (and as it’s absolutely free in a beautiful location with outdoor seating and coffee shops galore, I’ll absolutely be back to find them).

But today, I just clung to the one reading room for dear life–satisfied that it was literally the first thing I saw after riding an elevator up to the second floor. Particularly unwilling to migrate when I found bathrooms directly next to the elevator I’d just stepped off of. I found the chair farthest from everyone else, sat down, started writing.

And hit a block. I honestly wasn’t falling asleep (it wasn’t that bad), but it was insanely hard to work out any details for any part of my story. Everything I clumsily smacked onto my keyboard was vague and simplistic. I knew that today would be a little tough–I knew I hadn’t plotted out every detail, leaving myself some decisions to make this session–but making those decisions was like pulling teeth. I was checking my progress after 300 words. And then I was online, actually reading articles and other blog posts. I was contemplating having another sub-1000 day.

But then I actually got a little annoyed at myself. You can do it. You’re just not doing it, I actually told myself. I took a deep breath and sighed a sigh that was dangerously close to being a whiney “Fine-uh!” sigh.

But it was an, “Alright. Let’s kick this pig,” sigh.

I buckled down; reread the last two days’ work; spotted small tweaks that needed to be made; made them; kept reading; discovered that, with today’s exhaustion, I’d missed an emotional beat for my protagonist that really needed some seeding in yesterday’s work. I went back. Added. Ironed. Straightened. Got to new content and rolled right into one of the first scenes I imagined for this story (a year or so ago, when it had a completely different conclusion). By the time I was done, I’d almost hit NaNoWriMo’s quota and definitely surpassed my own (which is hovering around 1000 words these days).

And, more important than anything else, I was up to a huge, emotional payoff that leads right into the conclusion–a fact that feels strange to me even now. Because just last night, I’d blinked and remembered that Memory of the Black Sun is a play off of Shadows of the Black Sun, the title of the very first, insanely generic Fantasy story I made up when I was… God… 13? 12? It was wildly different now–Memory isn’t even comparable to Shadows. The original was supposed to be a multi-part epic. Memory is shaping up to cap around 200 pages–a novella by Fantasy’s standards.

But now, suddenly, after a snap decision made 15 days ago, it’s almost done. On a whim. I easily could’ve pushed this story back another year while postponing my last edit of War of Exiles. But now, Memory’s almost done and, against all reason, I’ve actually started to get excited for the edit of Exiles. Outside, I spot reminders of it and its unwritten sequels and my breath catches because I know I’ll be back in that world soon. I’d been terrified of a focused, straight week of editing, done quick so that I could keep all of the plot threads together instead of procrastinating and losing track. But now, that editing week feels more and more like it’s going to be child’s play; silly to fret over–sillier to silence my world for.

There’s something intimidating in that determination. Something scary because it’s so wildly different. NaNoWriMo’s going to end and I’m not going to be able to stop. And that terrifies me.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 13: Reclaimer – The Time Warner Center

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.13.14Where I Wrote: The Time Warner Center. I know–I was there on Day 5. I actually went back to the exact spot where a wild Blogger appeared. I did not do this because I’m running out of places to write in. I did it specifically to reclaim that spot. If it was any other day, I probably wouldn’t have bothered at all, but after barely getting any writing done yesterday, I was in business-time mode, eager to correct mistakes and take back my story and one of my writing spots.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Alright. I’m glad that I was able to pick up where I basically left off two days ago without issue. Chapter 4 got very easily and fluidly under way when I remembered another, major element that I could use as writing fuel (a location I’d forgotten to implement while brainstorming the upcoming scene because I was too busy getting snappies of trees and leaves). I may have to cut down what I wrote.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Business-timey? Reclaimy? Yes. Yes–reclaimy.

The Experience: As I said above, I was all business today.

I’ll be completely honest–I got another late start; the first DLC for Mario Kart 8 came out today and I took an hour to try out the new tracks and, repeatedly, Link. However, in stark contrast to how I would’ve acted a few years ago, I did not abandon all responsibility and just play Mario Kart for hours. I tried out the tracks, enjoyed an almost dangerous amount of nostalgia, and then said to my sedentary side, “Nah, I’m good. I actually just… really want to get out there. Maybe later though?”All business.

In no time, I was outside and eager and glad to be both. I was planning on a coffee shop at first–a place I’d never been to–but I decided against it when the Time Warner Center popped into mind with the same strange, challenge-nagging that made me stop at Oscorp (135 East 57th St.) two days ago. Did I really want to just let the Time Warner Center hang there as a bad experience? Did I want the miasma of old work memories to ruin something else for me?

No. No, I definitely didn’t.

I hopped on the train, Garth Nix’s beautiful and charming Clariel keeping me distracted from a commute that would’ve reminded me of work again.

I got to the Time Warner Center and decided on Whole Foods instead of trying Bouchon; maybe another day, after NaNoWriMo, but the cafeteria in Whole Foods was easily the more writer friendly spot, with its seating and rest rooms and water fountain. And besides, that’s where Paul showed up. I would go back there specifically because that’s where things got most awkward for me last time. I managed to nab a table, get out my tablet, immediately turn off wi-fi when I saw that free networks were available, and challenged my memory of Day 5. And my failure to curb my photography addiction yesterday. And, to a smaller degree, the now tiny voice of my sedentary side, which, as I walked off the train on 59th, immediately urged me to walk down the street and check out the new Smash Bros. that was likely demoed at Best Buy.

All of those things honestly did not even occur to me once I sat down. I just sat down and challenged them all and won without realizing it, getting down the scene I’d intended for yesterday and stopping at my next major set piece, knowing I needed to brainstorm its appearance a bit more to make certain it was awesome enough. The weirdest thing that happened was when I got up to leave and realized it was around five, the time I normally pack up and head back home for a night of work. For getting a late start, I’d wound up syncing with my schedule without even trying.

Without even trying.

13 days in and it’s not hard at all to bounce back. To get back into a groove that I would’ve avoided for months. Maybe it would’ve been different if another stranger had appeared.

But if I can handle writing a novel–if it can be this easy–what’s so bad about talking to a stranger?

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 12: Too Perfect–Must Take Picture

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.12.14Where I Seriously Barely Wrote: The New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Honestly, kinda meh. I will get it out there right off the bat that I’m not upset about how little I wrote. I am sure though that what I did write needs to be cut down a bit; it was the product of me not having prepared enough, getting to the day’s writing spot, and then being way, way too distracted to work out what came next in the plot.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Now that I think about it (and laugh), I was actually just excited to go to the Botanical Gardens. Little preview of how today’s session went, right there.

The Experience: Turns out some writing spots… are too goddamn good to be writing spots.

In case you don’t know, photography is one of my hobbies. Thanks to a friend from a few years back, I got into it a bit more than the average person–there are tripods involved. Tripods balanced by the fact that my camera absolutely requires tripods to get anything decent (it’s definitely old and falling apart).

I recessed from photography though; pulling away from it was part of a kind of hobby purge I performed earlier in the year when I realized that my desire to be really good at a handful of things was actually detracting from the one talent I was best at. It’s something I still stand behind–I don’t take pictures or do design work on Photoshop or devote my time to online multiplayer in a variety of FPS’s because those aren’t the things I want to be the best at. I’m not a logo designer–I could be, but it’s not what I already am. I’m not a pro gamer although I might hit that distinction if I dropped way too much time into gaming. I’m also not a photographer even though I really like taking pictures.

I’m a writer. I always have been. And, earlier in the year, I realized it was silly and self-defeating to try to be everything but.

That said, I learned a really, really valuable lesson today. My need to take pictures of things can absolutely outweigh my need to write.

When I rolled out of bed today, I was excited to visit the Botanical Gardens because, having been there recently, I knew it would be an awesome place to write. Not a mistake–it definitely is. If you’ve never been, there are benches everywhere here–in a place designed to be quiet, relaxing, and beautiful. And, although I’m sure it’s busier in the summer, it is the one place in New York that never feels crowded–there are only other patrons here to relax or employees who are almost strangely nice. No, coming to the Botanical Gardens to write could never possibly be a mistake.

The mistake was thinking, “I’ll bring my actual camera so I can take nice pictures for once instead of shaky, quick snapshots on my tablet.”

When I got to the Botanical Gardens, it was overcast. I thought it was going to rain, meaning that I went straight for the spot I remembered from my last visit–a handful of canopied benches in the Native Plant Garden, not too far from the Visitor Center. I got there, whipped out my camera, set up my tripod, got a few simple, kind of ugly, overcast shots to post here.

Only, No–there are better shots here, I found myself thinking. I looked for them, lining up the Native Plant Garden’s small river and waterfall with its benches and paths. I tried several spots, knowing there was a decent angle somewhere, getting a few pics that I were just alright.

And then it sank in–time had passed. A lot of time. At least a half hour, sunk directly into trying to find a good shot to use for this site. Alright. Alright. Time to write now, I told myself. I got out a portion of a scene, remembered that it wasn’t where Chapter 4 was supposed to start, backpedaled and started the scene I forgot because I was so distracted.

And then a strong breeze came through and blew leaves off of the trees around me in a large, perfect wave.

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Well, it certainly sucks that I missed that first wave of leaves. That was the shot, but at least I got a few that were dramatic. Should probably leave my camera out just in case. I went back to writing.

And then the sky opened up.

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Well, I mean, come on. I couldn’t not take these pictures. The lighting is too perfect. I sat down again, trying to focus on where I was in the story.

And then, another breeze. I wound up sitting with my tablet on my lap and hand on my camera–standing next to me–staring at the trees, repeatedly turning the camera to different angles, and taking way too many pictures.

It got to the point that I realized I had to find some place less photogenic or I wouldn’t get any writing done. I packed up by sheer will (I seriously, honestly had to push myself to leave), and wound up back at the Visitor Center, just inside of the Conservatory Gate.

Even if the Botanical Gardens was just the Visitor Center, it would still be a haven for writers; there’s a lot of outdoor seating, rest rooms, a small cafe that sells obnoxiously-priced coffee and not-so-obnoxiously-priced hot chocolate (maybe I’m biased, but it was $2.50–far, far better than City Bakery’s $7.00). In that cafe (I think it was called the Pine Tree Cafe), I finished up the scene I’d been working on, trying and failing to keep it concise.

Failing because I realized I hadn’t even brainstormed this morning–I’d just charged my camera and commuted to the Botanical Gardens, only thinking of taking pictures of everything. In my last moments of writing, I let the scene run on because… “It’s better than nothing?” I stood at my table in the cafe, stared at my tablet, arms crossed… and then finally shrugged. “Yep. Got nothing.”

In contrast to the last time I barely got any words out though, I wasn’t upset; I laughed about it here. Because it was such a lesson. Dropping those other hobbies doesn’t mean they won’t nag at you. The obvious example is the way I will definitely consider playing whatever multiplayer game if I’m home. The need to pull myself out of that environment isn’t key, but it’s wound up making writing so much easier during NaNoWriMo that it’s insane. When I’m writing outside, I don’t drop what I’m writing to play Slayer or Skirmish because I can’t.

But, other hobbies can totally, obviously encroach on writing if you unwittingly choose a spot that has everything to do with them. Am I saying not to try the Botanical Gardens? Of course not; it’s amazing. And it’s free on Wednesdays.

But if you’re also a photographer, visiting in the Fall–of all times–maybe don’t bring your camera.

Or maybe do–for a preliminary visit–to try to get it all out of your system. And to pick a nice spot for next time.

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30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 11: My Best Writing Session… Ever?

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.11.14Where I Wrote: Had a brief start at 135 East 57th and Lexington, in the atrium of the building that I still think of as Oscorp. After a short while, I migrated to my actual choice for the day, the Atrium Shops & Cafes at 54th and 3rd.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: So good. I’ve had writing sessions where I put in a lot of work or a little work that I felt really good about. This was just a smooth sprint of writing what is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever written. At the very least, the coolest thing that I didn’t have to fight to convey properly… So good.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Good. Ready. Excited.

The Experience: Today was all about time for me. I woke up really late–dysfunctional-late–after a night of work. That meant the spot I had planned for today would have to wait. It also meant that I needed to get back to the Bronx in time for comic book TV shows with my mother, one of the things I look forward to every week (and the reason I’m getting this post out so late).

What all of that ultimately meant was that I would have to go for a solid, extremely reliable writing spot. A place that I knew would have seating and be comfortable (like yesterday’s Loreto). That meant I’d be returning to the Atrium Shops and Cafes.

But before getting there, I stumbled onto Oscorp. Or… well, the building that they used as Oscorp in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy. So, really, a building that hasn’t been Oscorp for what? Ten years? Whatever.

 

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The point is, I stopped there–the atrium itself has seating at its center and around its two fountains. Not the most comfortable seating in the world and I have no idea if there are easily accessible rest rooms.

So why stop there? Honestly… I nerded out. I was writing a fight scene with a flying villain. I know it’s cheesy, but, somehow, I couldn’t resist starting that scene at Oscorp. Forgive the fan rant here, but Sony has proven that they are absolutely determined to never put a good Green Goblin on film. For whatever reason, they clearly love their Harry Goblins–it’s soul crushingly obvious that at least one of the producers has an obsession.

So sitting here was like an odd, completely backwards and nonsensical challenge. I’ll do right by you, Norman, I thought as I sat down to write a fight scene with a villain who’s nothing like the Green Goblin (aside from the flying) in a place only tenuously linked to Norman Osborn.

Now, I have a cycle for my NaNoWriMo sessions, starting with Day 1. On Day 1, I sat down with an idea and–a complete first scene (the excerpt for Memory of the Black Sun on my NaNoWriMo page). So, I sit down with a solid idea for what I’m going to add, write as much of it as I can, and then, when I’m reaching the limits of the idea, I pack up and head home and brainstorm the next part of the story on the way. Sometimes, that next part is still vague by the time I sit down for my next writing session on the following day.

But that was not today. Today, I sat at Oscorp and rolled right into the first few pages of a fight scene I plotted out on yesterdays commute back from Loreto. It was easy, fun, and it flowed like I was watching it happen and taking minutes.

When I had to migrate for comfort, I walked and worked out any kinks in the rest of the fight scene.

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And when I got to the Atrium, with its Barnes & Noble and sea of public seating and wi-fi and comfort, I went straight through the rest of the fight and a few scenes afterward.

I’ve known a few visual artists and one of the problems I’ve heard from them with their work is that they envision a piece, try to draw it, and then produce something that doesn’t… quite look like what they had in mind. One friend from high school would pinpoint specific parts of her work, saying how the hair or the nose was slightly off in a portrait. But that phenomenon isn’t specific to people who draw or paint. I’ve kind of always known that it could be applied to writing.

But not until today did I understand the insane magic of writing something exactly as I’d imagined it. I’m not sure how I haven’t done this perfectly before–maybe I’ve just waited too long on an idea, forgetting important nuances. Or, likely, I’ve just let characters do or say what they wanted, which often disagreed with what I assumed would happen (something that I will always, absolutely stand behind).

But today–with its dysfunctional-late start and its time limits and necessity for easy–today my characters and I wanted exactly the same things. All of those mutual wants–all of the action and all of the dialogue–were awesome and charming. All of the right words came in a flash for every detail. It was beautiful.

I want every writing session… to be this writing session.

I want every day to be this day.

30 Days of NaNowriMo – Day 10: A Stark Contrast

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.10.14Where I Wrote: Loreto Playground in the Bronx, a tiny park that’s tucked into the suburbs and not easily accessible from any train.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really, really good. I did not make quota today, but, after Day 9’s lesson, I immediately made the changes to the sneaking segment I mentioned yesterday without waiting to get back around to it in an edit. The result was a clean, efficient editing session with a bit of progress thrown in, ending right at a fight scene.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: Optimistic. I hadn’t planned for a session that was largely editing, but then, I didn’t have much of a plan to begin with. After yesterday, I realize I don’t really need one.

The Experience: I woke up refreshed today. Well, in a writing sense; physically, my back was killing me, but that was only for a short while–an ache that a few runs of Isaac and the rest of my easy-going morning routine sorted out.

By the time I headed out, it was much later than usual. But that was intentional; I’d already decided that today would be low impact on my wallet, meaning I was sticking to the Bronx.
Thus, the choice of my writing location, Loreto Playground. It immediately sounds like a much weirder choice of writing spot than it is; I was not sitting in a playground meant just for kids, stupidly trying to ignore all of them screaming and (in my imagination) throwing things at each other and hitting me instead–constantly. No, Loreto is actually a park here in the Bronx, small and sequestered in the Van Nest area. In my youth, I walked by this park a ton on my way to a nearby Blockbuster (dating myself). It wasn’t until recently that I actually sat down here, in a part of the park with a large ski ball track (I… think?) and chess/checker tables where I’ve only ever seen seniors.

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When I got here, the same bench and checkered table where I sat the first time was unoccupied, making for an easy, comfortable writing session. The only problem was needing a bathroom; the entire area is residential, so I wound up walking to Einstein Hospital, a solid 15 minutes away. Somehow, I expected to have to argue about using the bathroom (the kind of weird assumption that would’ve driven me home months ago).

But, of course, I didn’t have to argue. Why did I think I’d have to point out, “A potty emergency is still an emergency!” when I got to their ER entrance? I wound up thinking about this on my way back to Loreto (the first time this month that I’ve actually migrated back to the place I started).

To be honest, that was the majority of the day, actually. When I sat down at Loreto, I wound up thinking about how I felt the first time I sat there, months previous. I’d been nervous and awkward. And really unhappy. Back then, I had the very tablet I used today and I’d set it up on the same table, deciding to punch out a quick poem or two to kill the time. Without researching word processing apps or having an idea what I would even write about. In essence, not really sure what I was doing at all. It’s such a strange, stark contrast to how I feel now. Back then, I even had the idea for Memory–roughly the same collection of plot points that I brought to November 1st.

I hate hearing people say, “All you need to do is start!” because I’ve never felt that’s fair. It assumes that everyone’s lives are similar; that people are stupid cows who would just be able to be happy or lose weight or do anything else if they just decide to stop being stupid cows and clumsily paw that light switch on. No–it takes more than that. Pretending that there isn’t is no different from telling a poor person, “Well just… invest, stupid!” It’s never that simple. For me, there was a ton of emotional baggage that weighed me down. It took a wealth of experience–good, healthy experience–between then and now to bridge the motivation gap.

And that’s what I can say without regret. That you won’t find that bridge–won’t find a way to be motivated to write or lose weight or do anything–until you work on making the elements of your life better. If I had to make up a term for it, I’d call it Happiness Base Zero (not unlike Beauty Base Zero), a foundation that you boil yourself down to, secure enough that you can actually build on top of it.

I’m no psychologist (I am actually laughing at the thought right now), but if you’re in a rut, consider finding Happiness Base Zero. Consider cutting removing the elements in your life that stress you out and upset you. Try to accept those things that you can’t get rid of. Make yourself happy.

And then, maybe, when you’re ready, make yourself write.

30 Days of NaNoWriMo – Day 9: The Art of the Quick Recovery

LS-NaNoWriMoProgress-11.9.14Where I Wrote: I started in City Hall Park, but, when I needed to search for a restroom, I wound up walking back to South Street Seaport, where I found Cannon’s Walk.

How I Feel About What I Wrote: Really good, although, more than any other day, I was aware that what I wrote needs a good edit for consistency. I breezed through a short… sneaking segment (I guess you could call it) that I want to round out. I then introduced another villain with, in contrast, an extremely detailed description. Didn’t really feel fair to the sneaking segment.

The Mood I Brought to the Table: After yesterday, incredibly reluctant and expecting failure.

The Experience: If there’s one thing I’m weary of doing on here, it’s being really depressing. I definitely don’t want to bring anyone’s mood down with what I write, so I apologize for bringing the funk yesterday. But I definitely wasn’t going to lie about how I felt; I don’t want to fabricate any of these posts–create drama and manufacture good vibes–because I’m not writing a story for you here. I’m just being honest and open for once, with total strangers because that’s something that kind of scares me–something I never would have done even just a few months back.

So, believe me when I say that I did not want to head out today. My morning was slow and rife with minor maintenance–the completion of small goals that meant putting off going outside and writing. Today, more than any other day, I wanted to succumb to that tired voice that pleaded, “You can just write here. You can play some more Binding of Isaac and then get to writing later. Your one friend is going to be on at some point and you can finish the Nightfall in Destiny. And even if you don’t get around to writing today, you can write tomorrow.”

At which point I started throwing on my clothes. It was too tempting. I wanted to do the silent wallow–fall into that same void I fell into when I got my first rejection letter. A week–at least–of not writing because I’d just been defeated by something.

So heading outside anyway and jumping on the train regardless was more of an experiment than anything else. Did I need that week to recover? Would I fail to find a new writing spot and go home defeated again, or possibly find a spot and just not be able to write?

I had absolutely no plan for a location. The morning saw me second-guessing every possible spot I could think of. When I was finally on the train, I just rode past transfer points for a number of different spots I thought I’d try.

In the end, I opted for City Hall Park.

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Simple and inviting, the above fountain had benches around it, loosely occupied. I took a seat, took out my tablet, decided to give it a shot.

And the words came. Despite the uncertainty, they came easily and comfortably. Actually, not just comfortably–comforting; the more I wrote, the better my mood got. Pretty soon I was smiling, probably looking just… super weird to the families that walked by, but eh.

Of course, the usual problems arose. Not the cold; I was determined to just deal with that because I’m tired of migrating for it. However, after about an hour, I needed a bathroom. There are no public restrooms nearby (although I didn’t look in the park itself, so maybe I’m wrong). Instead, I tried a Starbucks across the street and then a nearby Dunkin Donuts, determined to just come right back.

Instead, I migrated to one spot that I knew had public restrooms–South Street Seaport. It was not a long walk, and after the rest room, I thought, “Maybe Pier 15 again?”

But that’s when I saw a sign for the Cannon Walk.

“The Cannon’s Walk.” My eyes narrowed. I’d seen the same signs on Day 3. Was it a Chelsea Market kind of deal? Maybe they’d have seats? I shrugged. Walked in. Checked it out.

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And found this. Accessible by a door on Fulton St. (between Water St. and Front St.), the Cannon’s Walk was an… enclosed, public… alleyway? There was a bench, a few tables, doors that led into stores and (likely) the Seaport Museum, and absolutely no one around. Well, there were people from the stores and Museum walking around, moving stuff, but those who saw me never told me I had to leave or put back the table I’d dragged over to the one bench. I suppose the best way to sum it up was there were very, very few people, and those who stumbled through didn’t care to stop and take a breather. Or let their kids loose on the one bench. Or feed the squirrels. It was calm, enclosed enough that it wasn’t cold (at least until night fell) and, most of all, comfortable.

So I wrote, getting over quota for the first time in days.

And all after fighting myself to go out at all.

And so, I had my answer–clear and indisputable data from my experiment. I didn’t need the recovery time. I didn’t need to wallow. I never have. In fact, that recovery time, in which I’d put off writing–the one, sure fire thing that makes me happy–only made those ruts worse. And, really, of course they did. It’s so easy to miss something so simple, but, of course.

All I actually needed to do to recover from those failures was to just get right back up.