Another year, another book to burn.

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Last year, I burned one of my own unpublished books to close out the year. It was meant as a way to put the book behind me and move forward. A way to force myself not mope or wallow in self-pity at an accomplishment that revealed itself to be a failure. This year, I’ve decided to do the same, and for much the same reasons. What I didn’t expect was that it was a bit more painful the second time around. No, I didn’t burn myself, and it’s not that it’s exactly hard to burn a bit of paper, after all, it’s just wood-pulp and people have been burning shit like that for a million years or something. Hell, people are so good at burning stuff, we do it accidentally all the time. In any case, as difficult as it was to close out this year’s writing efforts, I expect closing out 2018 will be worse yet, but I’ve got an entire year to fret over it.

The good news for 2017 was that I managed to finish full drafts of two books and write about half of a third. It’s a pretty good showing, considering my first book took over ten years to finish. What I learned with my first book and second books, however, was that once done you have two options, revise/edit/publish or don’t. And to call them options is a little more than generous. In general, most of us get stuck in the revise/edit stage and never make it beyond. A writer could revise a book for their entire whole life and never get it to the point where a publisher will never take it and self-publishing just seems silly. Hell, a ton of authors do just that – churn away to no end. And this is why I’ve started to burn them.

This fall, at the writer’s conference, an author was asked for some general advice for writers, without a breath of hesitation she said, in a South African drawl, “Write the damn book.”  (Yes, it’s a direct quote, she even put that shit on SWAG pens.) Then she elaborated, saying something to the effect that if you’ve been working on a book for longer than a year, put it in a box and shove it under your bed or just burn the damn thing. This is hard advice to swallow when you look at people like JK Rowling who reportedly took 6 years to write Harry Potter, and don’t even get me started on the long awaited books from Rothfuss and Martin, but those folks are a sort of magic writing unicorn the rest of us aren’t. The rest of us have to keep moving and improving and trying new things, if we don’t then we remain stuck in a rut retreading the same old ground for years, burning countless hours of creativity and time on a project that is clearly struggling.

Even though I hadn’t yet heard this advice, that was what I was thinking when I burned Wine Bottles last year. It was very much on my mind this year, as I burned Deep Space Helpdesk … And yes, that was the one I got very positive feedback from an agent on. However, I’ve spent the past month and a half revising the first quarter of the book and I’m still not satisfied. Honestly, I think I’ve lost the thread of the story. The soul went out of it some time ago. I could have burned Dark Queen of Darkness too, it was the other book I finished this year and after the trashing I got from an agent, I probably should have done. Fear not, Hexe will get her chance on the flames next year, no doubt, and if I work very hard I might get to burn two next year.

If you’ve even read this far, you may be thinking: “Dave, you’re giving up, don’t give up, I thought you were more stubborn than that?”

It does feel like giving up. We make these things and want them to go on, be re-told and enjoyed. And I’d be lying if I said that this whole thing didn’t make me upset. The reality is that it doesn’t necessarily work that way. Either the concept works and you go with it or it doesn’t and you move on.

In this case, all I can say is that I’m not giving up as much as I’m moving on. There are other stories that will not be written or seen if I continue spending my few precious writing hours banging away on a book that simply fails to pull together a coherent theme and compelling plot. Perhaps, someday, I’ll return to the concept and give it another go, time will have passed and maybe I can re-imagine the concept into something that does work, but I know that the time is not now.

So, going into 2018, without Deep Space Helpdesk around my neck, I’ve got just the one book to revise and that leaves me mental and creative freedom to move forward with new projects. Maybe I’ll even get that break out novel, whatever it is, finished this year. Who knows? But I’m going to find out.

Happy new year, and happy writing, friends.

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Writer’s improvement hell – Tools #3 (Backups and document sharing)

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I should be working on Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, or blogging about the development of that project – which I think is a hell of a lot better than anything I’ve tried yet. Possibly, I should be blogging about the fact that I just left a workplace that I happen to like a lot for a new adventure (this was emotional for me and has rather consumed me for a few days now).

Instead, I’m going to muse on backups and document sharing. This rant will be a lot shorter than the other two in the set. If you’ve read tools #1 and tools #2, you’ll know my writing setup consists of an Ubuntu Linux laptop and a MacMini desktop that I rarely get to use because reasons. I’m mostly using LibreOffice and Scrivener. A big mash-up right? How can I possibly keep all that straight, and more importantly how am I going to move documents back and forth – e-mail?

Another question that filters in here is how to I keep my work safe? What if my computer is stolen, or thrown into the duck pond? OR the geese eat it!

There are options – to deal with both of these concerns, actually. Most of which aren’t ideal with Linux.

The two categories are the cloud, and something else.

The cloud options consist of things like dropbox. If you’re like me, you think that the cloud is just another way for very large corporations to suck money out of you without providing you something you couldn’t have done just as well on your own. That said, there is some comfort in knowing that if your house burns down tomorrow, all of your writing work will be spared. If not going with a cloud option, for backups and what-not, there are a couple of choices.

The first choice in home-backups would be thumb-drives. In fact, this was my primary backup system for some time. They’re easy, portable, and cheap. However, they’re also not the most stable medium in the world. If you don’t spend enough money on one, you are looking at a potentially high failure rate. Imagine that your thumb-drive containing all of your work fails. Well, that would truly stink. There’s nothing more irritating than a failed thumb-drive. Imagine if your thumb-drive is bad AND your hard-drive fails, or worse, you’ve forgotten to backup your work in a few weeks and your computer spontaneously bursts into flames. It’s pretty unlikely so I expect this is a pretty good choice for backups. After all, they’re back ups, not primary storage. However, for me, that’s only half the story. What if I want access to my stuff from multiple places and I don’t want to have to try and work out version control on a thumb drive?

Next possible option is to get one of those fancy routers with a USB port that you can plug a portable hard drive into. This would kill 2 birds. I get portability AND a certain amount of backup, excepting for a couple of issues. The first is that I’ve got to fight Linux to make it work. Fortunately, I’m a reasonably smart guy and can probably make it work, plus Ubuntu has a fairly robust community. Problem solved right? No. Now I don’t have remote access to my files, and the portable hard drive connected to my router is the primary storage for my files, meaning that I still don’t have a back-up. This still leaves thumb-drives, which I’m ALWAYS forgetting to use anyhow.

Alright, let’s consider ‘cloud’ solutions. To be clear I do not like the ‘cloud’ it’s a word that IT managers use when they’re too stupid to implement their own, more effective and cheaper solutions. Don’t argue with me on this one, it’s a position I won’t budget from unless clear evidence can be produced to the contrary. HOWEVER, for certain applications, it has an appeal. First off, let’s discuss problems. One being security. How do I know that if I dump my files on to some cloud service that they’ll be secure? In general, you can’t. This is the reason I won’t use Dropbox. Another problem? Cost. Many of these services have monthly fees associated with them. Yet another is constant network access. So why consider it then? Because there are a few services out there that have encryption so intense that if you lose your password, don’t expect to ever see your files again (something I generally approve of), second, if you set it up right, you won’t need remote access, you’ll have copies on your local computer. The remote cloud stuff is just a backup. So, we just achieved two benefits. This is good. As for cost? Well, there are services that will back-up a certain amount for free, and for someone like me, the free amount is enough.

So, in spite of my deep-seated prejudices against ‘the cloud’, I’ve found a cloud-based service that works just fine. To date, I haven’t experienced any problems with it. Is this the best solution? Probably not. The best might be to develop my own back-up service that goes to a locally hosted RAID array. Yes I could do this, but it would cost a lot and take a lot of time. As a result, I’m sticking with my setup for now. Am I going to recommend what you should use? That would be an emphatic no. You have to do what makes you comfortable and works for you. Same as all of the other tools.


 

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