So, in order to get time off for Stonecoast this July, I traded a whole bunch of shifts at work…which has resulted in me working eleven days straight. Right before that, I worked ten days straight—I had a day off in between the two stretches. Plus, I write at night.
I shouldn’t complain. I know people who work more hours, longer stretches, more stressful jobs.
But darn it, I really just want to sit alone by myself for a day. In the dark. And silence. Without people. Alone.
Huzzah for introversion!
As most people know, introversion isn’t about shyness or anti-sociability. It’s about energy production. Introverts generate energy within themselves, and lose it during social interaction. Important caveat: the energy loss varies from person to person. Chilling with friends takes energy, but significantly less than dealing with irate customers or dozens of strangers at a party. By contrast, extroverts generate energy through social interaction, and lose it when they have to be alone.
So ideally, for an introvert, life should look something like this:
And for an extrovert:
Energy loss more-or-less equals energy generation. For introverts, that means that they get enough alone time to balance out the social interaction (which, while fun, is expensive, energy-wise). Extroverts get enough people time to compensate for the times that they’re alone. Everyone is happy.
It doesn’t always work this way.
Sometimes, like at cons, the creative environment and awesomeness of seeing everyone face-to-face masks the energy loss. That’s why so many introverts collapse after conventions; we’ve been steadily losing energy all weekend, we just haven’t really noticed. Adrenaline does the same thing. We had a fairly busy weekend in the brewery recently—and man, I was flying.
Sample! Growler! Growler sample growler! RETURN GROWLER SAMPLEGROWLERSAMPLESAMPLE!
And then I went home and promptly crashed.
Since Balticon, however, my own graph has looked more like this:
It’s out of sync. My alone time isn’t enough to pay for the energy I’m spending on work, writing, and various other things. Think of a bank account. If my paycheque is suddenly slashed from $500 to $100/month (I’m using round numbers, bear with me), I’ll go into debt if I keep trying to pay my $200/month rent (again, I am pulling these numbers from the air).
Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, your energy source is just as important as food and water. Extroverts need people. Introverts need solitude. Force them to go too long without their generator of choice, and bad things happen.
All of which explains my own exhaustion and irritability. Yeah, I’ll own up to that—I’m trying very, very hard, and I feel terrible after snapping at people, but it happens.
But what can we do? After all, at some point, every one of us will go through stretches like this.
Setting boundaries and limits helps, I think. I am protecting my few off-days. Communication, as well: explaining to people that you love them, AND ALSO need to sit alone by yourself in such solitude that you cannot even sense the presence of another human being.
And of course, knowing yourself and maybe planning for those stretches. For me, some of these extra shifts were unexpected; I’m trying to roll with it, but having strategies in place—carving out time with/without people, allowing yourself breaks, getting enough sleep and such, which I admit I struggle with—might have made this easier.
Ah well. Only a few more days. And then—
Cool Thing of the Week
Apparently, I’m getting a reputation as a lush! My ten-year-old self would be horrified. Two people sent me the same link to 18th century drink recipes—I raise my eyebrow at the ones with egg and cream, but some of them actually look quite good!
With NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow, word count and pace-of-writing has been on my mind. For those unfamiliar with the term, National Novel Writing Month challenges writers to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s 1667 words per day.
Word count’s a really personal thing. Some people have bigger ones, some have smaller ones, but as long as yours works for you and gets the job done, it’s probably fine.
(Yes, I’m twelve. Why do you ask?)
I’m a fast writer and I can slog. In my third year of university, I made the wonderful discovery that armed with a decent outline, I could write a paper in a day. A hard, brutal, brain-numbing day, but a single day.
When writing Strix 2.0, I was motivated to push it out very quickly. I rewrote the novel essentially from scratch from late April to late June: 80,000 words in about two months, averaging 2000 words/day.
Then I wrote the Victorian Dark Fantasy. There was no pushing involved with this book. It gushed out (*snerk*) from late July to late September: 100,000 words in about two months, averaging 2000 words/day with a few 5000-7000 word days.
I’m not convinced this way is better.
After all, here we are in late October, and what have I done since then?
Pretty well nothing. I rested for two weeks while my betas read, and then I’ve spent the last two weeks editing. I’ve written a few blog posts and such for the day job. Looking at my Whiteboard of Doom, I see several things due in the next two weeks, all of them hitting just when I’m really, really tired.
This is the thing: writing is draining. Not just in terms of long nights, it’s draining in that you’re pulling out raw emotion, distilling it down, and putting it on paper. For me, this was particularly true of the Victorian Dark Fantasy. In one sense, it was an easy book to write, because the words wouldn’t stop flowing. In another, it was incredibly difficult for precisely the same reason.
When I was a little kid, I ran a lot of cross-country. My strength lay in pacing—I understood that if I went off the start line like gangbusters, I’d be too tired to finish. Far better to take a steady pace and pass the early leads later on.
I don’t seem to be very good at that while writing. I charge out of the gate and sprint the whole way, and I think the only reason I haven’t collapsed so far is that I’m young and spry and excessively caffeinated.
It’s a weird balance, though. On the one hand, yes, I’d love to take things slowly and not feel exhausted by the end of every project. I’m reminded of Spoon Theory: you only have so many spoons, so you need to consciously choose how to spend them. But at the same…there are so many things I want to write. There are so many stories to tell. And frankly, writing’s been pretty important to the ol’ budget this year.
I guess finding the happy balance between WRITING ALL THE THINGS and not dying is another aspect of professionalism. Full time authors can’t burn out, because then their circumstances become very precarious. If you don’t write, you don’t eat—so it’s probably best to ensure you can write consistently for years and years to come. The secret I need to learn is that word count means very little if it kills you.
So to all of you starting NaNo tomorrow: best of luck, have fun, write as much as you are able—and take care of yourselves. We’re all here cheering!
By the way, I’m twenty-two. It occurs to me that I never did a birthday post. Mostly because…reasons. I don’t know—I was busy with Strix or something.
Speaking of Strix, the manuscript came back to me. Then I fiddled around with it some more, and tossed it back over the wall to my editor. Scripts are off to the actors for Strix-the-Podcast (you knew that was coming, right?). I’ve begun recording my narration and amassing a collection of music and sound effects. I’ve nearly hit ~10,000 words on The Victorian Dark Fantasy. The Secret Kids’ Opera Project got the thumbs-up from the artistic director and the music makes me squee. When The Hero Comes Home Volume II (I’ve got a story in there) comes out soon. I write for two blogs. There are various other projects at the “Hey, KT, wanna do X for me?” stage of things. Also, I have a dayjob, and it is an awesome dayjob.
Somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not doing enough.
Looking at the preceding paragraph, I realize the absurdity of that statement. That’s partly why I wrote everything out. Nevertheless, it’s a very real feeling. There is this nagging sense that I should be doing more. I should have The Victorian Dark Fantasy written already! I should have another podcast! I should blog more! I should be freelancing and writing more short stories!
Part of me says, “Heck yes. I’m young. I can still survive on willpower, day-old pizza, and caffeine. If I’m going to be doing all of this, now is the time to do it.”
The other part of me says, “You know, there might be a reason you’re perpetually ill…”
Burnout is a problem for creative types. And as my long-suffering family can attest, it’s always been a particular problem for me. Not that it’s a problem that I really know how to solve, because the answer I come up with always seems to be, “Do more work!” It’s like running laps in July to forget about thirst.
Of course, it’s also really fun. That’s the trap. The more we enjoy things, the harder it can be to draw the distinction between work and play. At which point, forget about rest. Of course, this backfires eventually….
I suspect it’s also linked to Imposter Syndrome, which is hugely prevalent among writers, actors, artists, musicians, academics, and so forth. If you’re scared that someone’s going to point out what a fraud you are, it makes sense to be trying to churn out as much work as possible. Either something will be good enough that you no longer feel like a fake, or at the very least, everyone will be too distracted to realize your fraudulence.
This isn’t a terribly effective tack, either. It’s hard to create when you’ve tapped the well dry. Really, it comes back to balance. It isn’t all “on” or “off,” “black” or “white,” “all” or “nothing.” It’s quite possible to work hard without working yourself to exhaustion. I realize the irony of me saying this…and I also realize that I’m going to be struggling with this one for a while. But better struggling with it than blithely unaware, eh?
I saw something like this, somewhere. I don’t recall where, now, but I thought it’d be fun (or at least, interesting) to chronicle my progress as I beat this paper into submission. Due to a combination of an even bigger paper, Ad Astra, and exams, this paper basically needs to get written today. Preferably before 10:00 pm.
7:36 am – Crawl out of bed. I’ve been semi-conscious for about an hour, having spent most of the night tossing and turning and dreaming of far too many people demanding beer tastings.
9:17 am – Apparently checking library hours would’ve been a good thing. My usual haunt doesn’t open for another hour, so I’ve relocated. I’m ok with that. Thanks to my ability to bike one-handed, I have a travel mug of coffee at my left. There’s no outlet nearby, so we’re going on battery power. And the essay starts now.
10:41 am – We’ve relocated again, as my usual library is now open and my battery died. Now I have a proper carrel and outlet. Essay is approximately 1.5 pages long…I got distracted by reading the news, and also by a friend’s editing job that seemed much more interesting and pressing than St. John.
11:11 am – I wish I could be done this essay.
12:02 pm – Essay is four pages long and has two pretty pictures. In one of nature’s cruel jokes, I feel both low-blood-sugar-y and nauseous. I need to eat, but I can think of only a few things less appealing right now. Braving the dining hall to see if I can stomach anything.
12:20 pm – An English muffin and hot chocolate with a side of awkwardness. Awesome. So glad to know I’m putting my few remaining free meals to good use. In other news, I think my stomach hates me. Oh well. Back to St. John.
12:27 pm – Screw it. My body really hates me. Calling a short break to mindlessly surf the web and wait for it to stop this nonsense.
3:06 pm – Closing in on 8 pages done. This is the first time in my university career that I have included pictures in an essay, and I like it. However, I am thirsty.
3:38 pm – The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Going home to rest. Will resume soon.
5:40 pm – I slept. There was also dinner. Bracing myself for another attack.
8:07 pm – Ok, so I got distracted. BUT I AM WRITING THE CONCLUSION NOW. FEAR ME, ESSAY! (Side note: Saint John is the patron saint of theologians, writers, and people at risk of burns. I am sometimes all of these things, so he’s totally got my back on this. Right?)
8:19 pm – DONE THE CONCLUSION. But…I still need a bibliography.
8:43 pm – DONE DONE I AM DONE!!! At 3661 words, four pictures, and 52 footnotes, we are done! Haha! Now I only have one giant paper to go!
But first…baking pretzels!
What’s the hardest part of writing?
Is it coming up with ideas? Is it thrashing out a plot? Getting to know your characters? Sitting down to write the thing? Editing? Peeking through your fingers at the edits? Hitting the send button?
Well, everyone’s different. For me, the hardest part of writing is the time between sending a piece off and hearing back. That dead space when I know the other person has it, but I don’t know
- What they think.
- If they’ve read it.
It’s awkward. You’re dying to know, and you have to wait: whether it’s an agent, an editor, an actor, a beta, or even your mom. Patience—I work on the deep breaths.
Because there isn’t all that much you can do, other than wait. Two days ago, I had five separate pieces in various people’s hands. By yesterday, I’d heard back on two (both good news, incidentally, but I’ll leave that for another post). As for the other three…I know two will take a long time, and I’m not expecting to hear anything for a while. The other…I just don’t know.
As hard as it is, don’t obsess. Put it out of your mind. Work on something else.
(All of the above are things I keep telling myself.)
Turns out I’m still in school, and for the first time, I have a bit of breathing space with the writing/podcasting. This dead space is a great time to actually make some progress on this, my last round of essays. I’ve also really enjoyed my forays into short fiction. Keep busy, keep doing things. Don’t stop just because you’re no longer clasping the piece in question to your chest.
It’s also a matter of sensitivity, I think. Hopefully, when you give people things to read, you have an idea of what else is going on in their lives. If it’s a friend, hopefully you know when they’re in the midst of essays, or when they have a flurry of work. If it’s an agent or editor, you can assume they’re juggling many different projects at once. When it’s time, your turn will come. But you’re not the most important thing.
These are good skills to cultivate in general. Patience. Perspective. (p)Sensitivity. I keep coming back to my favourite lesson learned in New Zealand:
I guess we’ll find out.
I need to get that put on a bumper sticker or something. Although, since I don’t drive, it might be kind of pointless. A fender sticker, maybe?
I need more coffee.
If nothing else, the past year has been a lesson in time management.
Managing time effectively isn’t really new to me. The difference is that, for the past seventeen years, school has always been Priority No. 1. It made things easy: school came first, and everything else just kind of fell into place around it.
Not so this year. The three major demands on my time (school, dayjob, writing/podcasting) all duked it out for the top spot, all demanding about the same level of attention and importance. This isn’t a unique situation. Heaps of people have families, jobs, school, and writing. There are tons of writers who wear many different hats. So how do you balance it all?
I’m still trying to figure this out. But I’ve discovered a few things.
Accept that your list of priorities is constantly updating itself.
Just because school isn’t always the top spot doesn’t mean that it never is. Right now, with my exams less than a week away, studying is taking precedence over The Next One, which I’m aiming to finish rewriting by early January. However, I work tomorrow night, which means that I have to upload Hapax-the-Podcast tonight, which means that this morning, finishing up Chapter 17 took precedence over studying.
Everything gets attention. The trick is figuring out what needs the most attention when.
Cut back where you can.
This can be hard, because often, the non-essential things are fun. And you don’t want to cut back too much, because the non-essential things help keep you sane. That being said, an “I’ll do it if I can” attitude helps. I liked choir…but I don’t get paid, I don’t pay them tuition, and there are plenty of other sopranos. Although I like singing, the consequences of putting it on the chopping block are relatively small.
Have some firm expectations.
I need to produce one podcast episode a week. End of story. It needs to go out. While in New Zealand, I was so homesick (and jobless) that I promised myself I would just never refuse a call from work. End of story. I get the call, I hop on the subway.
This goes back to the updating priority list. In a way, though, it’s easier to plan around certain immutable things. Knowing I need to upload a chapter by Sunday at 12:01 am makes it easier to schedule my week. Likewise, it’s a lot easier to simply assume I’ll be working particular days, and then treat non-calls as bonus time, than it is to pray I won’t get called in.
Ask for help.
My professors this term were amazing. I am so incredibly grateful that they were as understanding as they were. Every one of them was so supportive of my literary endeavours. Professors and bosses are people, too. Simply explaining the situation and asking for advice/consideration can go a long way towards easing the strain.
Accept that you will be tired.
But when you’re juggling this much, you will be tired. Even when you have time to socialize, you may need to sleep instead. It does suck. Let’s be honest—watching audio playback march across your screen at 3:00 a.m. isn’t fun. Forcing your eyes to stay open as you do your readings on the commute to work is kind of miserable. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Knowing that upfront makes it a lot easier to accept.
Besides, it’s not like you’ll never sleep again.
And that would more-or-less be how I survived this term. Next term, I won’t work, and I won’t be producing a podcast episode every week, but I will have a full courseload and ongoing writing stuff. Will it be the same kind of juggling act?
I guess we’ll find out.
I’m working through my initial rewrites on The Next One right now. And I’m finding myself slightly bewildered. Although it is technically the prequel to Hapax, it feels quite different. Given that I’m Canadian, I think that I’m obliged to write at least one book about dysfunctional families in the woods. My dysfunctional family is battling floods, but that’s probably close enough. It’s also one of the darker pieces I’ve written. Hapax has its moments, but…
I think that some of my bewilderment also comes from the fact that I honestly don’t remember writing some parts of this book. This happens to me sometimes. I remember plot events, but I don’t remember the actual words I used. Suffice it to say, it is a most peculiar feeling to read your own words as if a stranger wrote them.
I’m hoping that my amnesia is a result of writing most of the book while backpacking. I wrote maybe the first half while still in Dunedin, but the rest was done in hostels and cafés across New Zealand, Australia, and the South Pacific. While that sounds really cool, the fact remains that I was churning out words after long days filled with lots of activity and little to no downtime. I saw so much, and experienced so many things, that it might not be entirely surprising that the “writing a book” part of the trip got a little blurred.
But, somehow, the words are there. That means I can work with them. Sometimes, I’m delighted by what I discover. Sometimes, I cringe.
This has certainly been one of the strangest writing processes I’ve gone through. Gaining experience, I guess… 😉
Over and out,
After four months, it’s time to say goodbye to Dunedin, and explore the rest of New Zealand and the wider South Pacific. My term at Otago has been unlike anything I could have imagined. I’m highly impressed that all of my profs learned my name (it was also slightly unsettling… I hadn’t realized how accustomed I’d grown to the anonymity of U of T). I’m far more grateful for U of T’s resources. I like that Otago gives exam topics/questions in advance. I learned that I really, really like the bike lanes and public transit around the St. George campus in Toronto.
But I think I’ll present an overview of the past four months in the form of a list. Here is… Dunedin by the numbers.
1.70 – Price of a Learner’s Cone at the Rob Roy Dairy
60 –Estimated average age of the jazz quartet that plays the Robbie Burns pub
4 – Ascents up Baldwin St (incidentally, the steepest street in the world)
3 – Expeditions out to the peninsula
240 – Minutes of walking before we gave up and accepted that we were stranded on the peninsula
2 – Shots of espresso in a Long Black
3 – Sandman books in the Dunedin Public Library’s collection (that I found and borrowed, anyway)
0 – Times I got bored of seeing the Southern Cross
5 – Classes this term
4 – Bank branches guaranteed not to eat my card
90-120 – Minutes spent in the Good Earth Café every Café Sunday
3 –Photo requests from friends back home
2- Photo requests accomplished thus far.
(Lost Count) – Times I’ve nearly been run over
5:30 – Awakening for the ANZAC Day Dawn Service
3 –Nationalities living under one roof
1 – Ring to Rule Them All
1000 – Highest I can count in Māori
18 – Recommended inside temperature in degrees Celsius, according to NZ Health
6 – The actual temperature in our kitchen
9000 – Words written for essays
1 – Wild penguin sighting
16 – Most books I ever had out from the library at one time
251 – Pokémon officially recognized in this flat (sorry, but if it came after GSC, it doesn’t exist to me)
182 – Approximate age of a wonderfully massive and craggy tree in the Botanic Gardens
(Too high to count) – Times the creepy robotic self-checkout kiosk voice has chirpily reminded me to “Please place item in the bagging area!”
15 + – Weeks to switch my instinctive “default” from right to left
4 – Amazing, challenging, wonderful months
Thanks, Dunedin. Let me summon my very best Māori and say “Ka roto koe i taku ngākau, e noho ana.”
You’ll always have a place in my heart.
Today officially marks the halfway point of my time in the Southern Hemisphere. That seems like a momentous occasion, so because I’m spending a grand total of 6 months abroad, I thought I’d mark it by sharing a few lists of “six things.”
Six Things I’ve Learned While Abroad
- How to go from pyjamas to fully dressed without ever leaving the safety of my warm bed.
- If tired enough, one can sleep through almost anything. Even couches burning on the street, and the fire truck’s arrival and subsequent entanglement in hordes of drunken students.
- My USB key has become my most important possession.
- Despite what I had been led to believe, there are no rainbow factories in New Zealand, nor does it rain candy. There may, however, be unicorns.
- How to tackle a sheep, put it in a headlock, and drag it out to be shorn.
- Being away from home makes you realize exactly what home is to you.
Six Things I Haven’t Done Yet, but that are on my List
- Visit Hobbiton.
- Visit Shantytown.
- See Ayer’s Rock.
- Wander Wellington, finding all the places mentioned in “Weather Child” (the book that made me choose NZ over Australia).
- Winery tour. Also touring the Speights Brewery.
- Snorkel in the South Seas.
Six Things I Miss from Home
- My friends.
- My family.
- My apartment.
- My pioneer dress (never thought I’d say it, but…)
- My choir.
- The TTC (again, never thought I’d say it…)
Six Things I’ll Miss from New Zealand
- My friends.
- Rob Roy ice cream
- The Botanic Gardens.
- The land’s sheer, aggressive greenness.
- Seeing the Southern Cross overhead.
- Café Sunday.
Top Six Moments Thus Far
- Consuming delicious coffee, scones, and cream beside a toasty fire at Annie’s Victorian Tearoom.
- Walking the sea cliffs outside Oamaru.
- Shearing a sheep (well, only part of the sheep, but still).
- Finding the Peter Pan statue in the Botanic Gardens/Finding the Alice in Wonderland statue at Larnach Castle.
- Climbing up, and down (but mostly down) Signal Hill.
- My very first Tim Tam Slam, an experience for which I have only a single word: NOM.
It is 8:00, and I have coffee.
That wouldn’t be a terribly surprising statement… except that it’s 8:00 pm. I’m one of those people who can’t handle caffeine after 4:30, not if I plan on sleeping that night.
I don’t really plan on sleeping tonight.
I have two essays, a debate, and a short(er) assignment all due within the next week, then a test and another assignment at the beginning of the week after. So naturally, I’m here writing a blog post about my work, instead of actually doing it, but… I digress.
I have coffee.
I was in the library, working on one of these essays(EVERYTHINGYOUKNOWABOUTDARWINANDTHEVICTORIANCHURCHGO!), when exhaustion hit me like a truck. I’m not sure if it was crashing blood sugar, or the consumption of a single glass of wine earlier in the evening, but I was a zombie. Reluctantly (but really too stupid in the head to do anything else), I packed up my computer and returned home, where I had some cereal.
And I made coffee.
Now I can feel it kicking in. I’m still really, really tired, the “I-wonder-if-vampires-attacked-me-in-the-night” kind of tired, but the cogs of my brain are turning again. With any luck, both essays can be finished over the weekend. Schoolwork has been Priority No. 1 for me for almost as long as I can remember… but that seems to possibly be shifting oh-so-slightly (agh! I feel squirmy inside just typing that). I feel bad laying my fiction-type writing aside, even if it’s only for a few days. Inertia can be a powerful and terrible thing, and I’m not letting this story stall and die on me.
Now my coffee is gone….