Musings On My Writing

“Stories of imagination tend to upset those without one” – Terry Pratchett.

I truly believe that by reading and writing fantasy – and sometimes scifi – I get to explore more than if I didn’t write any genre fiction. Fantasy delves into so many fields; linguistics, archaeology, history, etc. that I learn a lot more about the world than I otherwise probably would have!

That said, I do think that this quote by Pratchett is perfectly true. So many times I’ve been told that fantasy is worthless/for children/not ‘real’ enough. I think those that believe this haven’t read fantasy (or at least any good fantasy that really makes you think).

But I’m not going to allow them to keep me from writing what I want to write! Even if some people dislike stories that can be classified as Noblebright, which The Ruon Chronicles are. There’s so much hurt and hate in the world that I think we need more hopeful stories and less Grimdark ones.

That doesn’t mean that characters are without flaws and live in Happy World, though. For me it means getting inspired to face reality and make the choice that would leave the world a better place than before.

What about you? Do you like Noblebright stories or Grimdark? Or somewhere in-between?

February Update – a broken tooth, an ill cat, and other curveballs

While the whole of January was a bit all over the place, the last week was just, well, a curveball from start to finish.

The year started with some family members and neighbours being the victims of robberies (good old South Africa – you can always count on her on getting the year off to a good start), but luckily no one was hurt physically.

Then, just as I thought the last week of January would be a simple downhill to February, the universe laughed and kicked me.

I did learn, however, that I shouldn’t eat popcorn while reading, as I don’t focus on what I’m doing. I ended up eating an unpopped kernel and breaking a tooth. Okay, more like a big chip, but still. Luckily I wasn’t in pain as my dentist could only see me on Friday as he was ill part of the week. And, since I wasn’t in excruciating pain, I couldn’t blame them for taking the people who were in pain first.

The tooth was, however, mostly forgotten as Sir Tristan got ill this week. He’s fine now, it seems, and I suspect it was a hairball or something. But he honestly looked on the verge of death the one day. It was that awful feeling where you know if you take them to the vet now, the choice will be a few weeks of suffering or euthanasia now. I ended up deciding to wait one more day as he was still eating and it was just as well I did. By Saturday he was running around again and seems to be fine now. Huzzah!

Still, I’ve had him since 2007 when he pitched up in our garden a few weeks after my mom’s cancer diagnosis. So he’s been there through all of that and more with me. I know he’s getting on in years, but I don’t think we can ever be ready for the death of a beloved pet. (By the way, yes, I did try and find his owner and didn’t just adopt him. Although I guess he adopted me…)

The cherry on top, I guess, was that my anaemia came back. I hadn’t been sleeping well after the robberies, so it took me about a week to realise that I’m stupid and that the fatigue is from iron deficiency. I also only then realised that I hadn’t taken iron supplements for two weeks instead of the three days my brain had stopped counting at when all hell broke loose. Oops. But I’m almost back to normal now – well as normal as any fantasy writer can ever be!

And, hopefully, February will be more productive fiction writing-wise.

Thoughts on deep work and avoiding distraction

Please note: This is not a review. A review of Deep Work will be posted later.

I downloaded the sample of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World in December 2018 and just started listening to the audiobook after reading this New York Times article about deep work. (This download was also during my ‘let’s see how to be more productive’ stint of which you can read more here).

Cal Newport makes a very good argument that what he calls “deep work”, which is basically work which requires constant concentration and must be done without interruption, is on the decline as distractions like social media become more invasive in almost everyone’s everyday lives.

Distractions, distractions everywhere!

“When it comes to topics like distraction in the workplace, my philosophy is that instead of focusing too much on what’s bad about distractions, it’s important to step back and remember what’s so valuable about its opposite. Concentration is like a super power in most knowledge work pursuits. If you take the time to cultivate this power, you’ll never look back.”Cal Newport

I have been struggling with exactly this invasiveness of distractions and my seeming lack of steady concentration. Not to mention the toxicity of many of the social media networks.

Even my usually mild-mannered Twitter stream (books, more books, writers, history, and some crafting) has somehow become a hotbed of spewed opinions, many by people I don’t even follow and really don’t agree with. Thank you, Strange Algorithm. And so many of all of the opinions are obviously hastily typed in anger – okay, I have been there as well, but I really try not to! – that they offer more hurt to a cause than actually helping. Add to that a volatile mixture of hatred and prejudice simmering beneath the surface of the (partly) anonymous horde trying to “tackle” any injustice they see or imagine, and you far too soon lose all hope in humanity. Hang on … what am I doing on Twitter again?

But, already, I digress.  

Trying to carve out blocks of time to work without distraction has become more and more difficult and you really need to become mindful of just how many times a day you check your phone or social networks. Not to mention checking your email. With the rise of messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram, it has both become extremely easy and cheap to communicate and just as easy to not be able to “switch off”. We don’t talk about FOMO for no reason.

But how do you combat it?

John Green has decided to leave social media for a year. (Thank goodness not vlogging!) And this is how it has affected him thus far:

However, even if I wanted to, I can’t cut myself off from it completely, as I also use it in my day-to-day work. The problem, I think, comes in that, no matter how much you want to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter, you fall into a popularity trap. It leads you to worry about whether your Instagram photo composition is the perfect flat lay or composition. It leads you to miss out on stuff around you (or a warm meal) because you’re busy trying to take a better selfie or photo of your food. It makes you feel inferior because your photos aren’t of the same quality as someone who does it for a living. It makes you worry that you can’t post a work-in-progress photo again because you’ve only knitted another 10 rows in two weeks and won’t that be boring? It can basically make you hate part (or all) of your life for no good reason.

Again, I bring you John Green…

Then again, I can (and think I should) really clean out my “following” list as well as the amount of time spent on the networks overall. Listening to more ambient sound and instrumental music to drown out the constant noise of an open plan office (awesome because I love my team, not so awesome when I need to sit and write) should also help, I think. And, of course, I need to stop checking my phone every other minute!

I’ll probably also get more ideas as I work through Cal Newport’s book, but, until then (and until I write a review), I’ll start taking mindful baby steps.

Books Can Make You Do Stupid Things

Or, musings on owning a large number of books

So on Sunday I at last got around to carrying all my books downstairs to the bookshelves. (Long story short – my place flooded and I got new carpets end of last year. I know. Don’t judge me.) I had by that time carried down about a third of the books. It took me two hours to carry down the rest in some of those huge fabric shopping bags.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I even carried my phone with me in case I fell down the stairs and had to phone a neighbour or family. See, I was being a responsible adult. Ha ha.

And now I’m reminded of the time I carried a bookcase down the stairs by myself… and got stuck halfway down the stairs with the cat laughing at me. (People with cats know that look they get.)

But, see, I had had enough of open space on my bookshelves. I need to have books around me. It’s just one of those things. Like a security blanket. Or a teddy bear. But more difficult to move around.

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I don’t understand people who don’t have any books (I’m not talking about those who can’t afford books) or don’t read at all. “How can you not?” I ask. “Don’t you feel like you’re missing out on all the adventures?” I beg of them. And then I am reminded that not everyone got the chance to find books that they love. Or they were shot down because they dared to love Mills & Boon romances. As if reading romance suddenly makes you less of a reader.

Perhaps writing and reading genre fiction has made me more aware of this. Perhaps having studied literature has also helped. Many books that win literary prizes I can’t stand. Many books that others would want to pulp I find entertaining and read more than once (here’s looking at you, Night of the Living Trekkies).

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So yes, maybe books can make you do stupid things. Like trying to carry twenty bags of books downstairs by yourself. Or buying a box filled with books because it’s a library sale and they only cost R10 each. After all, they have a heady perfume to them. They call to you with gorgeous words, titles, and beautiful or strange covers. They tempt you with the adventures and knowledge you know are locked inside of them. They give you escape from a world that seem to be spiralling out of control a little more every day.

Keeping all of this in mind, perhaps carrying my stash of adventures downstairs wasn’t so silly. After all; I got to sit and read while waiting for my stiff muscles to recover.

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Goals for January 2017!

Writing Goals

After a disastrous December when it came to writing, I want to give my patrons (check out the Patreon page here) a proper short story for January. Besides the Patreon short story, I want to (at last…) finish “A Mask of Paper and Porcelain” so that I just need to edit it a bit and then it will be ready to submit for publication.copy-of-charms-of-life-and-death

The Jozi Flash 2017 is also still going strong and I need to have eight stories written by 31 January – bring on the pens and paper!

Besides these projects, I need to work on Charms of Life and Death’s draft. Let’s just say the time I thought I was going to have in December I did not have.

I also want to consistently blog (this means posting flash fiction, Folklore and Myth Thursday, Weekly Finds, etc.), as well as consistently blog over at Trebles On My Mind.

Finally I want to take part in at least one of the weekly flash fiction challenges (like Microcosms and Cracked Flash Fiction).

Reading Goals

This year I want to dig into the TBR pile I have at home instead of simply acquiring new books and adding to it. This includes not getting more audiobooks until I’ve finished all of mine. I went a bit berserk with audiobooks of some classics – and they are quite hefty tomes to listen to. Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens is something like 60 hours long!

First up on my pile I want to read is John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and Terry Pratchett’s The Shepherd’s Crown. I actually received the latter a year ago *hangs head in shame*, but haven’t had the heart to read it yet; knowing that it’s the final one. When it comes to non-fiction, Geza Vermes’ The Story of the Scrolls: The Miraculous Discovery and True Significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is first on my list.

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Getting Back Into a Routine

Reaching all my goals this year will mostly mean getting back into a writing routine – something I had begun to neglect over the past few months. By setting up a routine (with enough time to rest as well) I should not be as overwhelmed as I was in November and December. Okay, December was mostly just a writing failure all around. I think my brain was just too tired to do much of anything.

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