Writing Environment, Good Habits, and Old Dogs With New Tricks

The last entry made it pretty clear that I was working towards productivity again, but I stipulated that I didn’t know how it would work out. This entry is an update, and a look at some of the arguably useful stuff that isn’t writing—that too often takes time away from writing, in fact.

I’ve been doing a couple of things recently which fairly directly relate to the notion of laying some new work out. The first being reading fairly voraciously. For most of the last couple months I’ve been consuming about a book a week (mostly) in genre, which amounts to reading at the very least 100,000 words a week, and probably fairly significantly more—though I don’t have exact word counts of course. (If you’re interested, I’ve been reading Sanderson, Leckie, and Weeks.)

The second is working up a new setting (The Scape) for the upcoming series. It’s coming along fairly well. If not incredibly quickly, it’s at least got a consistency I’m pleased with.

Today, however, I’ve been on a slightly different mission. I’ve been working on where and how I write.

For the past year and a quarter I’ve been shoving money towards Writer each month (because I was too cheap to pay up front for a lifetime package) and not really getting much out of it. I can afford the $5 a month, of course. My writing is allowed to incur expenses like that. But the goal of using Writer was to cocoon myself in a distraction-free environment while maintaining offline capability and online cloud saves, and the reality is that I don’t need to pay for that when I can use Google Docs.


The “all-new” writing environment, free of distractions.

So I dropped my Writer sub. I like it a touch better than Google Docs for purity of environment, but, as you can see from the image above, I’m typing this article on my desktop in full screen and the only thing visible are the words of the entry itself. (My second monitor is turned on but all that’s going there is Foobar, running through the Firefly OST.) The actual canvas I’m working on here is about as blank as it really needs to be for my purposes, so paying extra to get a tiny variation in how I see things isn’t worth it.

But, as I was working through getting my Google Docs template and view to be as minimalist as possible, I ran across something to help me work through another issue I’ve had difficulty with: productivity.

It is my (and perhaps many other writers’, for that matter) constant quest to figure out how best to track what I do, without being bothered by tracking what I do. Meaning both where do I spend my time (both fruitful and not so fruitful) and how much “intended-for-publication” work do I produce. How good have I been about sticking to goals? Have I hit a minimum amount of production (to be read as wordcount), and am I taking enough time in front of my ever-expanding canvas each day?

So the gem I ran across was this article, which essentially breaks down how to automatically track the time I spend trying to produce—as well as how much I produce—and stores a variety of useful metrics related to these things. You can see an example of the information this automation makes available on Jamie Todd Rubin’s site.

During this process I upgraded my Evernote (to “Plus” which ran me up front about what five months of Writer would) and signed up for a RescueTime account. I set my default Evernote notebook to Writing, which is where my automated reporting will be mailed, ready for me to look at it when I want to check my progress. I also generated an API key for RescueTime, which should allow me to track more accurately what my time in my writing sandbox to the words I produce actually is. (This is not nearly as difficult as it is made to sound by the author of the automation article, for the record. It’s literally naming the key and generating it on RescueTime’s site, and then copying it into the spreadsheet’s configuration.) As an added bonus, the pure use of RescueTime gives me an idea of roughly how productive/not productive I’ve been with my browsing, all in a very simple interface built right into a Chrome extension.

And I’m happy to report that if you’re at all technically savvy the entire process takes very little time. I had things installed (untested, but I’ve got a high degree of confidence that they’re installed correctly given how simple the process was) within a couple of hours. That’s even including time dealing with the kids and various other annoyingly human random intrusions like needing to use the bathroom or being thirsty.

So here I am, a couple days shy of 41, and I’ve got a shiny new cloud-based writing environment and (as yet untested) cool automation to track my production and time use. Who says old dogs can’t learn new tricks?

I’ll update again soon on the automation, the writing environment, and (fingers crossed) the new setting.

What the What in September 2015

So, my last writing update was that I’d started fiddling with some serial (as in the type of writing, not the slang, which is more true of the now than the then, as you’ll see) stuff. I’m not any more. What am I doing instead?

Currently I’m dealing with the six year anniversary of my son Ethan’s death. I’ve been in (and still am in, really) a very dark place. Really. Really. Dark.

The good news here is that I’ve started working on better living through (monitored) chemistry, and have felt somewhat better as a result. The bad news being that it doesn’t appear that the drugs I’m on can stand up to the actual anniversary of this heavy a loss.

Things haven’t been normal this year—I started the drugs when I started to careen into my “typical” months of depression this Summer and it seems to have helped for most of that span—so I can’t say for sure where I’m headed now, but it’s been fairly normal for me to emerge from desolation in the late September/early October timeframe, and to be (relatively-speaking, then) productive after that.

Current (non, again, perhaps) project news is that I’m working on Epic Fantasy, because it’s my favorite genre and it’s what I’ve been running away from because of the fact that it’s incredibly intimidating. (We can debate all day long what’s a simple genre and what’s complex. That’s not important. What’s important is how I feel about my own work, and I’m both intimidated by and drawn to Epic Fantasy.)

So, what’s it all mean?

Fuck if I know at this point. Could mean I get my shit together, organize the things I want to before I start in on a novel, and then get churning. Could also mean something abortive again. There’s a lot of things in my life that affect my writing. The biggest question is my mental state, and as of this second I’m pretty fragile.

I turn 41 this month. That means I’ve “failed” in an already “stretched” milestone (having to do with writing/publishing/age and thus a colossally stupid goal in the first place) and am undecided as to how I feel about this.

For what it’s worth, here’s the reality I’m facing: I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. I’m currently on prescription anti-depressants to help mitigate this condition, which from the criteria for the diagnosis I know is something I’ve been struggling with for a hell of a lot longer than just since Ethan died. To say I’ve lived over half my life under the shadow of depression isn’t hyperbole.

I want to produce. I need to produce. But these things don’t necessarily equate to the words inside getting out.

So that’s it. That’s where I am.

I’ll update when I can.

Art and Livelihood

In the wake of the launch of “Tidal” (a new music streaming service without a free tier and offering lossless audio) there’s been a general buzz around the internet regarding music and art and what artists should get and whether musicians deserve to eat and the like. I thought that I’d just offer up a few basic thoughts since they were running around in my head anyway.

By Phintias (User:Bibi Saint-Pol, own work, 2007-02-10) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

First off, I think it is vital to understand that I was raised by artists (specializing in drama and music) and I was raised with art in my life (drama, music, museums, literature, etc.) but I was also raised to think that you should get a sensible job/career in order to feed your family.

This last point I have raised as total bullshit and noted that it wrecked me artistically for a long time, thanks. One way to break a creative kid? Tell them that being creative isn’t viable.

This feeds into the whole Tidal thing, and if musicians (artists) deserve to make their livelihood from their art.

Hell. Fucking. Yes.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I am not suggesting that merely the act of being creative be somehow automagically rewarded with a living. That’s not it at all.

What I am saying is that our world should put a value on creativity which allows room for those with the ability to be fairly compensated for the time and energy they put into their art. I’m saying that someone who works at their music eighty hours a week should be compensated with more than coffee money. I am saying that a poet who dedicates their nights to expounding upon the ephemeral beauty of urban life be given more than applause and free cover.

I live in the real world as much as anyone else. I am aware of the fact that some people do not value art, and that as such we have to contend with their dismissal of the very real need to maintain a connection to culture. I’ve experienced resistance to art in ways which range from simple matters of taste to all out disdain for anything that’s not directly about a physical, tangible, “useful” product.

The reasons people question if artists deserve to make a living doing what they do are manifold.

Should anyone get paid to do what they love? (Well, yes? There are people who legitimately love selling cars. I know people who enjoy fixing computers. The fact that artists like what they do doesn’t make them unique.)

What about how easy it is to create “art”? I mean, after all, it’s such a broad thing that you can call anything “art” so why does something that takes so little effort deserve compensation? While the truth may be that you can take $5 worth of paint and throw it on an $8 canvas using a 2$ brush and call it art, the actual ability to do so isn’t just physical. I absolutely agree 100% that anyone can write a novel. NaNoWriMo is predicated on that theory, and they prove it time and again: anyone can get the words down. But doing a thing and doing a thing well and thus crafting it into actual art are two entirely different things. The relative ease of painting my bedroom myself doesn’t change the art in what a decorator does any more than the ability to write a grocery list makes me a poet.

Should any “product” that doesn’t “do” something be paid for? Given how many crappy products are out there being made and sold by the same people who suggest that art isn’t “doing” anything, this one is pretty hypocritical, no? Art absolutely does things. Music conveys mood. Paintings express emotion. Stories ignite the imagination.

These thing (and more) always crop up around discussions of art, and probably always will. “What good will some sculptures in the park do?” some city councilman might complain. “It will cost us over a thousand dollars to pay the artist for them!” I can give you the answer to that in real life stories. We live in an area where there are a number of sculptures down in the heart of our city. Every single time we drive by our children light up and wave to all of the different sculptures.

Yes, part of that is the fact that we have instilled respect for art in them. But you know what? Part of it is just the fact that art makes things better.

Just like when a song comes on that they like, they spontaneously start to dance—and have since before they were old enough to be told what music was.

Art of all kinds is what many of us we live for, even if we don’t have a hand in creating it. Art is our relaxation. It is our comfort. It is our escape.

I am proud to work (and it is work, and it’s taken me half a lifetime to get even a little bit good enough, so it’s no quick path) on creating the kinds of things we live to experience, and I fully support the idea that everyone who works hard on their art deserves the chance to be compensated fairly. The Tidal launch simply shines another light on how poorly musicians are doing in the world of art, and I think it’s probably worth talking about that.

Don’t you?

Current Project (Non?) News

So as I mentioned last month I’ve got a lot of energy going into just being a stay-at-home parent. That’s something I do my best not to resent, but I’m human, and resentment is something we all have to deal with at some point in our lives. Of course the good news is that kids eventually grow up, and while they may not be out of my hair completely in a few years, they’ll eventually be in school much of the time, and that will afford me the opportunity to get some more concentrated work done than I’ve been able to recently.

That said, I have still been trying to find the right kind of project to work on, and so recently I’ve been turning my mind towards the idea of writing an extended story (a series, if you will) in a serial manner. So presently I’m at work sketching out a “multi-season” outline using Gingko. (Which is a sort of outliner I came across during the search for online tools brought on by the fact that I’ve moved to Chromebook for my work and don’t have access to some of the fancy Windows-only software I was using before.)

Part of the reason for this is that doing a discrete chunk (roughly a novella-length work) of a longer story and publishing it (then collecting a number of these chunks and assembling them into a novel-length volume down the line) seems to me like it might work better for my life right now than writing that full-length work outright. The planning will all be there (all the arcs and the actions are intended to be laid out in rough form in advance, and just written in pieces) to make sure what comes together at the end of a season is a discrete story (even if it has a number of stories all tied up within it), and given how much I enjoy television as a story form (much, much more than I enjoy film, actually) I think this will end up being a decent fit.

I have zero information on when there will be a release date for the first volume. I have nothing to share on the subject of what it’s about beyond that it takes place in a dark fantasy world and is likely going to be best for mature readers. (That’s regardless of their physical age—I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think reading maturity is tied to a given birthday because let’s be honest: some folks won’t ever be able to deal with the fact that I swear freely in my writing, or that my titles are violent. No matter how many birthdays they have behind them.)

What I can say is that I anticipate needing time to plan (writing and business—remember, I self-publish so I have to think both sides through) things out, to write the first couple of episodes, to have my Beta folks read them over and give me feedback, and to get things squared away for publication. That means the “boring” stuff like formatting the ebooks, as well as the “awesome” process of working on a cover treatment for the entire series.

We’re likely looking at months. Depending on how things are going with the process I may go ahead and have a brief period (a couple weeks) of pre-orders on the volumes in place, so you may get sales information earlier than I’ve managed in the past. Once I’m rolling on the series I anticipate regularly staggered releases, but what the intervals will be like is a mystery at this point. Twice a month? Monthly? Every two months? We’ll see.

Should be interesting in any case.

Guest: L. Blankenship with an Excerpt from the Disciple Omnibus

Today I’ve got L. Blankenship back with an excerpt from her Disciple series (Disciple I, to be precise) in order to mark the release of Disciple VI and the Disciple Omnibus! If you like what you see here, be sure to grab a free copy of Disciple I from the links at the bottom of the page, or just jump in and buy yourself a copy of the Disciple Omnibus itself!

You couldn’t sleep either?”

At the whisper, I looked up from struggling to lace my boots with trembling hands. My master stepped into my dormitory room, adding his lamp’s light to my candle.

“Why must I dress as a boy?” I whispered back. Perhaps I was not so buxom, but I doubted I’d fool anyone. “This makes little sense.”

“Patience.” Master Parselev placed his lamp on my writing-table and checked my packed bags. “They’re gathering at the chapel already. None of us got much sleep, it seems.”

The straw mattress creaked when I stood, boots laced and the woolen hose sagging between my thighs. I ran my fingers around my waist, under my layered cotes, to check the drawstring. “Are these right, Master?” I’d strung the hose and braies together as best I could guess and as memory was my Blessing I had no excuse for failing. Men’s underthings weren’t much concern to me — if I saw such, or more, it was while the man lay bleeding on the surgery table.

“If they stay up, it’s right. Good. This too.” He slung a heavy felt cloak across my shoulders and pinned it on. The hood buried my face in shadows; my blonde braid, even wrapped around my head, would give me away.

I asked, “Master, this journey will be long, won’t it?” Parselev had given me more clothes than I’d ever owned to pack in those bags. All heavy winter woolens, too. “Shouldn’t you go, then?”

He looked down at me, mouth quirking to one side. Master was a greybeard, said to be over a hundred years old, but his kir kept his eyes bright and his face lightly creased. I had only been his apprentice two years. Surely I could not be ready for this.

“It must be you, Kate,” was all he said.

War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Disciple Covers


The six-part gritty fantasy romance series is now complete!

Disciple, Part VI on sale at:

Amazon | B&N | More retailers

Disciple, Part I available for free on:

Amazon | B&N | More retailers | Via Email (L. Blankenship)

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