And along came COVID-19.
Or, as a great poet once wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”
Since the last post on 22 February, I have drafted, or least dictated and mostly edited, eight different blog posts. They will all probably still happen at some point but will likely need a little bit of updating or alteration first.
The last couple of weeks have been fairly hectic, particularly the last seven or eight days as my company, a gaming company with typically large venues, joins the growing list of companies to “temporarily suspend operations”. The OLG, a crown corporation of the Government of Ontario made the announcement forcing us closed about 17 hours before the scheduled release of the information that our parent company would be doing that for all of its operations across the country. The government announcement came late on Sunday afternoon and by midnight my place of business was shut down and something close to 90% of the people who work there had been informed that, until such time as the government lifts the closure, they will not be coming to work. Of the few of us who remained, we generated a list of things that have to be done in order to both close the building and to be ready to reopen. The four of us left in my department, and almost immediately down to three by a self-isolation, came up with a list that could probably keep us busy with those necessary tasks for about three weeks. We had hoped to be able to get most of the stuff done before the Board of Directors made the next expected call, which they did on Thursday morning, to just get the critical stuff as most of the rest of us would be leaving work by the end of Friday.
I understand the basics of capitalism, and that if there is no income, there is no outgo. Oh, companies can get through short periods, and sometimes not so short periods, where they are spending more than they are taking in, but there is always point where that changes. When there is zero income, it has to change very quickly and very severely. Lots of companies and people are discovering that at the moment.
For me, for the duration, that means I have about 50 hours of newly-free time per week. It also means that my family’s income takes a significant hit, and things are going to suck financially for a while, but we’re not even vaguely alone in that, or even in the minority now. We will adjust as we can.
But I have five workdays back for the next few weeks or however long until the government begins to lift restrictions.
And so I have lists.
A list of things to be done daily, that will, hopefully, ultimately leave the house sparkling.
A list of things to be done two or three times per week in the same direction.
A list of things to be done weekly, and many of those are animal-related things as we’re more or less a giant snake and a small crocodile away from having our own zoo. Not really an exaggeration, but a post for another day.
A list of things to be done to the house that I already have what I need to take care of. Yardwork, a bathroom ceiling fan, and so on.
A big list of creative things. Writing and editing and publishing and blogging, and maybe this time when I can actually make major headway on certain other creative projects that I haven’t really mentioned out loud.
And, of course, a list of things to keep myself healthy and sane. Martial arts and geocaching and just being outside for fresh air now and then.
Above all, though we may be spread across the house, I have time to be with my family.
I hope also to be able to participate in things that help my friends and community to help us all take care of ourselves and each other.
For me, today is Day 1 of finding a new routine and making use of those lists. My Day 1 is later than some and earlier than others, but we are all in this together in some fashion.
For the duration of the current troubles and beyond, please try to take care of yourselves and be well, everyone.by
by So I’ve been pretty quiet lately on both the blog and Facebook, creatively speaking. There are reasons.
The big one is that I’m trying to figure out exactly what it is I want to accomplish creatively. If I look at my recent journal entries, I’ll find a debate with myself between creating a torrent of words (one goal set was to draft six novels this year) because I have a lot of stories I want to tell, or to work harder on a much smaller number of really finely crafted tales looking at big ideas and concepts dear to my mind, or even to try for some combination of the two.
The slightly less big one is that there are things I want to do other than write fiction. Family things, creative things, social things, academic things, athletic things, philosophical things. Lots of things. Many, many things.
How do I get done everything I want to get done?
The quick answer is live forever. Which means the real answer is that I have to make some choices. Some of those choices are hard, but that’s life.
Creatively, there are stories I want to tell and stories I need to tell. Need comes first and want follows as time allows. There’s audio and video coming, too. Yes, some of this relates to my writing, but not all of it. I need more satire in my creative life, and more collaboration, too. And more poetry.
And perhaps a wee bit of help.
Choices are being made. Things are happening, but it’s pretty much all been background stuff so far.
That’s about to change.
Yeah, yeah. I know. Believe it when it happens, not before.
Be well, everyone.by
by So as of yesterday, I’m on a two week vacation, not returning to work until Monday, November 12th, and I’ve got, as one or two of my kids might say, a crap tonne of stuff to get done.
Aside from World Fantasy Convention in Toronto from the 1st to the 4th of November, about which more (probably a lot more) over the next few days, I have a pretty big To Do list. This includes:
- Pounding out some serious new wordage. For every day I’m not at WFC, I’m looking for at least 1500 words of new fiction plus a blog post as often as I can manage.
- Doing a lot of editing. Setting aside at least an hour every day specifically for editing one of the three Warforge novellas I wrote last year. Revision notes are already accomplished. Long past time I made these fit to read so I can get to the next piece of the story.
- Finish planning on what I’m calling the Small Realities Indie Publishing Experiment. This is also past due, and part of my overall 5-year publishing plan, that I’ve also roughly planned.
- Record the raw audio for at least four short stories. And I even have them picked out. Yes, I’m finally going to start podcasting some of my fiction, as I’ve been promising myself I’d do for the last couple of years. The raw audio for two stories is already complete and one just needs a little second pass editing to make sure my retakes are good.
- Get as many as twenty stories out into the wild looking for home. This is, more or less two submissions per day for the days I’m available, and, I’ll be honest, that’s still well under half of what I have ready to go. I haven’t been good at submitting the last two years, for various reasons. In fact, I didn’t submit anything anywhere in 2011. That’s changing now.
- Get a full web site under way. I have the domains I want. I have a rough vision. Why the heck haven’t I gotten off my butt to get some web hosting?
- Gather up all the scraps of poetry lying around and turn it into electrons before I lose any of it. I wrote poetry on whatever is handy. The problem is I don’t always manage to get it into the computer. Some of it is decent and I’d like to hold onto it if I can.
That’s the creative list, and it seems pretty ambitions. Always aim high. But there’s other stuff to get done, too, a lot of other stuff.
- Finish Fall Cleaning. We’ve been trying to reclaim the house from ten years of life with children since we moved in at the end of 2002. It’s been a long hard slow, but with the exception of one room upstairs (see #2 in this list), the first and second floors of the house are pretty much reclaimed.
- Repair and paint Gamer Boy’s room. There are a couple of large holes, currently covered by framed posters, in one of Gamer Boy’s walls. These happened, and I think I’ll leave out how to protect the not-so-innocent, not long after we bought the paint. I’ll be supervising the repair job and will have some significant assistance from Gamer Boy for the paint job.
- Paint the master bedroom. A secondary task, if Gamer Boy’s room gets completed quickly enough. We bought the paint at the same time.
- Ease back into running. The last time I tried to get back to running didn’t work out so well. I forgot the cardinal rule: Take it Easy. Result, again, over stressed hamstrings and a calf that made me limp for three weeks and probably took twice as long to heal. I’m going to try again. Slowly, with the objective of being able to run a nice, relaxing 5 km by the end of the year.
- Finish the medium and long term financial planning. This has been a goal for a while, and we’re making some serious progress. For the short term, we need to learn to stick to the budget we set. For the long term, we need to figure out just what our goals are and plot an annually updatable path to reach them. Long past due.
- All the standard household chores. Too numerous to list and everyone has their own anyway, so how interesting would that be?
- All of the numerous errands and chauffeur duties that come with having three kids.
More than enough to fill two weeks of time, wouldn’t you say? Especially since there are four days more or less completely spoken for by World Fantasy Convention.
I’d better get busy.by
by (This post originally appeared as a guest post on Chocolate Scotch, a blog run by Sue Baiman in early August. I encourage everyone to check out the huge variety of thoughts on creativity posted there.)
There are far more ways to express yourself through art or craft or science than there are people. I’d go so far as to say that everyone is creative in some way. It’s something inherent in human nature, though not everyone allows that part of themselves to peak at the outside world, and only a few of us allow our creativity anything approaching free rein. Still, whether we consider ourselves creative or not, we all think of creativity as one of the most positive traits someone can possess.
So why do we have a cultural cliché in the tortured artist? Why do we feel on some level that we have to suffer or sacrifice for our art?
If creativity is a mostly positive thing, it also has its issues, moments that threaten the act of creation and sometimes your life beyond it.
Creativity has a dark side.
The Next Project
You’re in the middle of a project you love—a novel, a screenplay, a painting—something fun, exciting, and going very well. Creative energy burns through you, desperate to be turned loose, impossible to contain. A new idea sprouts in the back of your mind, something you can look forward to doing when you’ve finished. It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
It’s the Next Project, and it isn’t content to wait in the back of your mind until you can give it the attention it deserves. The Next Project considers the Current Project competition, and it will demand more and more of your mental attention until you reach the point where you’d rather abandon the Current Project and start on the Next Project.
I’ve written 1/3 to 1/2 of at least five novels, and I don’t know how many short stories, this way. Yes, I have every intention of getting back to each of them someday, but there will always be a Next Project to distract me and as each abandoned story falls farther into the past it also falls farther down the priority list.
But I’ve found a way to counter this dark side manoeuvre, to scratch the mental itch. And it seems so obvious, so absurdly easy, I’d like to smack myself in the back of the head for not thinking of it years sooner.
Work on the Next Project, but only a little teeny bit, or in a way that makes it different, or both. Spend ten or fifteen minutes a day on the new thing. Maybe with a pencil and paper instead of the keyboard. Slower, yes, but it lets you keep your focus on the primary project at the same time.
The best of both worlds? Always up for debate, but it helps.
No Means, Well, Um…
Okay, so maybe you can work on more than one project at a time. Lots of people can and do. Variety is nice, but just how many major projects can you have going at the same time and still make any real headway on any of them? It’s easy to take on too much. Believe me, I know.
And it isn’t always self-inflicted. Sometimes people come to you. You may have discovered this law of nature in your day job, but it crops up in the creative world, too: the reward for good work is more work.
Someone really liked a story of yours they read in an anthology last year so asks you to submit to theirs. That voice work you did in your cousin’s podcast was great—and could you do this major character in my thirty-episode audio drama? The blanket you knitted for the new baby next door was beautiful. My sister’s having triplets…would you mind?
And sometimes it’s got nothing to do with you. The universe is sneaky and underhanded, and it will throw things at you to suck up all of the time you thought you had. Voilà! You’re overcommitted. And there are deadlines, and you fall behind, and your stress level goes up…
When you get a new idea, it’s easy to give it some time to see where it takes you. When someone comes to you to ask for your creative help, it’s easy to say yes. It feels good on both counts: getting things done and doing things for other people.
But when you’ve taken on so much that you can’t get anything done, whatever the reason and whether or not there are deadlines attached, you’ve got a problem: you can’t get anything done. For someone who needs to be creative in some way, this is nothing short of torture.
There’s a deceptively simple solution. Be honest. Both to yourself and to the people you’ve already committed something to. Prioritize and explain those priorities. And don’t be afraid to admit that the universe has thrown you a series of curve balls. Be as open as you feel you can be.
And if someone asks you to do something that really excites you, don’t say no, at least not outright. Ask them to ask you again in a few months, if the offer is still open, or drop them a quick line when you’ve caught up a little.
Honesty is still the best policy. It’s not always the easiest though, even with yourself.
You’ll run across the advice sometimes that you should steal time from other parts of your life to pursue the creative endeavours that are so important to you. Take the laptop to bed with you, take a notebook to your daughter’s soccer game or your son’s karate lesson, and your boss certainly won’t mind if you do a little of your own thing on company time. Steal the minutes wherever you can and be as productive as you can with them.
Creativity’s dark side is whispering directly into your soul. There’s a huge difference between making time and stealing time.
Suffering a little for your art—giving up a few hours a week of TV or video games, or that thing you used to really love doing on Saturday morning that’s now far more like a chore than something fun, anyway—can improve your art, or at least the value and focus you place on it. Making other people suffer for your art just makes you a jerk, especially if those other people are your family and actually like having you around.
This is a hard lesson. The real world is very important.
Without Darkness, There Can Be No Light
Which isn’t the same as saying you should wallow in the darkness looking for a spark to clear it all away. You don’t need to succumb to the dark side to learn how to defeat it. You only need to watch out for the potential pitfalls your passion to create can lead you to.
Each of these things I’ve had to learn the hard way, and I’ve had to relearn them, too. More than once, and I’m probably not done with the lessons yet. There’s always more to learn, and more to create.by