Self-Imposed Stress

An interesting thing about stress, especially self-imposed stress.

I desperately wanted to get a new novel finished by Pikes Peak Writers Conference, so I’d have something fresh to pitch to the various agents/editors in attendance. To pull this off, I’d have to write about 1200 words a day, every day for almost 3 months. That’s almost NaNoWriMo pace. Yeah. I could probably pull it off, but the stress of writing quality words at that speed for that length of time stressed me out to the point that I couldn’t write at all. I’d open the document and just stare at what I’d written so far and just blank out.

I’d psyched myself out. Stupid brain.

About a month ago, I decided to pass on that opportunity and just attend PPWC to enjoy it and learn and network and such.

Stress gone. Almost immediately gone, to be honest. A few days after this decision, I managed to write several thousand words in a single sitting on this work-in-progress.

Since then, I’ve managed about 10,000 words on the novel. Since I’ll be attending the Ghost Town Writers Retreat in August, there’s another opportunity for me to meet some agents. I’ve decided to set August as my goal for finishing this fresh novel. Scrivener tells me that I need to do about 680 words a day, every day, until then to get things done. I don’t write every single day, so when I do write, I have to hit a higher target number. Most days, when I get a block of time to write, I produce 1k to 3k words. This means that August is much more attainable.

With the self-imposed stress gone, I won’t be letting myself down. It’s freed me to write. It’s opened up my mind and time to allow me to “fill the well” and expand on what I want to write. I’m in a much more comfortable mental space.

However, this makes me worry a bit. What if I get a tight deadline from a publisher? Will I stress to the point of missing the mark or seizing up?

Maybe. Probably not. I tend to do much better with external deadlines than internal ones. If someone needs something from me, I’m highly driven to get it to them by the time they need it. This provides me with energy and drive to accomplish something. I’m not sure why my brain treats my own deadlines differently. Perhaps this particular deadline was too ambitious? Not sure. Probably.

Here’s an example of a tight, external deadline that I managed to nail down.

A good friend of mine, Hank, was editing a horror anthology and needed one more story to round out the book. I knew about the anthology, but just couldn’t capture an idea that fit the theme the way I wanted it to. Then he called me up about 6:30 in the evening with an idea. Hank asked me if I could take the characters from a previous story and transplant them to a setting that fit the theme of the anthology.

It clicked. Hard. Yeah. I could do that.

Then I asked him when he needed the story. He was on a tight deadline from his publisher and passed that along to me. He said, “By midnight.”

Wow. A little over five hours to crank a short story, polish it up a wee bit, and submit it to him.

Here’s the deal: Hank and I can sit and bullshit for hours on end about lost of nothing if given the opportunity.

He opened that door by asking, “How’s things going?”

I responded, “Good, but I have a story to write. Gotta go.” I hung up on him. A little rude, but I’m pretty sure he was laughing on the other end.

I managed to crank out the story (4,600 words), print it, watch an episode of Fringe to clear my mind, edit the story on paper, and then transfer the edits back into the computer by deadline. I sent him an email with the story at 11:55PM. Five minutes to spare!

He called me the next afternoon and told me that I was in the anthology and that I had the anchor spot in the book.

See? I can hit tight deadlines. Just not my own, I guess.

Any tips for setting goals (sometimes crazy goals) for yourself and actually pulling it off?

February Word Challenge: Post Mortem

Welp. February is officially over. I managed to do 8 days out of the 28 in the month. Not a great success rate, to be honest. The month basically conspired to be one of the busiest I’ve had in a long, long time. Work was overwhelming. Writing (not here) ramped up quite a bit. Cub Scouts with my son has escalated to critical mass (I’m now the Assistant Cubmaster with plans to become the Cubmaster around this time next year). My son also had his science fair project to work on (with my help), and now a book report is in progress. Oh. We also built his pinewood derby car…. mostly. The construction is done, but we still need to decorate it.

Yeah.

Busy.

Like crazy busy.

However, this has almost all be a good kind of busy. The lone exception is the Day Job work sucking me dry almost every day. Things are changing for the better soon, I hope. We’ll see how it goes.

The end result was a collection of eight little vignettes of prose that I hope you enjoyed. I enjoyed those 80 minutes (yeah, that’s it, 80 minutes) of writing. They helped me get through those days, and fueled the fire for my other writing. I found joy in those 10-minute bursts. They helped remind me what I enjoy about creating with the written word.

Even though I only hit 8 out of 28, I feel this was a success because of my renewed vigor for my other writing efforts.

That’s a win. A Big Win.

Thanks for following along with me through February. I might still do a few of those 10-minute sprints here and there if I feel like it. I’m certainly not done with them.

February Word Challenge: Day 16

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • allege
  • portico
  • entombed
  • Northerner
  • treadling

Free Association:

  • buried
  • dead
  • cemetery
  • mausoleum
  • casket
  • cement box
  • cement shoes
  • sink, not swim
  • mobsters
  • mafia
  • Russian
  • hackers
  • election
  • really, we went there?
  • reset
  • reboot
  • Big Red Button
  • power outage
  • blackout
  • babies
  • born
  • birth
  • life
  • renewal
  • hope
  • future
  • science fiction
  • science fact
  • facts
  • science
  • questioning facts
  • making progress

Prose:

Josie shoved off of the outer bulkhead and floated counterspin toward the main tunnel in the core of the station. From her orientation, it went up and down, but it could have just as easily been a left/right option. When she neared the tunnel, she dragged her fingertips along the ceiling to slow her flight. It also brought her closer to the “up” tunnel she needed to go through.

The computer spoke to her through a stud embedded in her skull just behind her ear. “T-minus ninety seconds to detonation.”

Grinding her teeth against the reminder, Josie grabbed a ring at the intersection and swung upward with all her might. She’d practiced this maneuver many times and had almost perfected it, but had never done it when the station was about to self destruct. She had to time things just right to get to the escape pod, cycle the airlock, and get inside. The pod would protect her from the explosion, she hoped, so all she had to do was get inside and buckle in.

Josie’s timing was off and she slammed against a wall that sent her spinning upward toward the escape pod’s airlock in a strange angle. She tried to orient herself as she flew, but never could manage to get a foot or hand on a handle to send herself into a controlled flight path.

She wasn’t going to make it, and now, more than ever, she wished she’d never been forced to push the Big Red Button on the upper left of the bridge’s main control panel.

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

 

February Word Challenge: Day 14

Happy Valentine’s Day for those of you able and willing to celebrate it! Yeah. I missed yesterday. It was my wonderful wife’s birthday, so post-work time included a fancy dinner and spending time with her.

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • bombardier
  • reallocation
  • dukedoms
  • felting
  • Squibb

Free Association:

  • duke
  • earl
  • king
  • queen
  • chess
  • checkmate
  • finality
  • death
  • the end
  • stories
  • short stories
  • novels
  • WIP (Work In Progress)
  • rough draft
  • critiques
  • edits
  • editors
  • publication
  • self publishing
  • cover art
  • layout
  • interior art
  • deviant art
  • words
  • spelling
  • grammar
  • cookies

Prose:

Gramma gingerly put on her oven mitts — I think her arthritis bothered her more than she let on — before carefully pulling the tray of cookies from the oven. As she turned to put them on the counter, her elbow bumped the edge of the open oven door, and the freshly baked goodies dropped to the floor.

“Oh, shoot,” Gramma said.

That was about as coarse as her language ever got. I heard her say “damn” once and “crap” a couple of times, and those moments were downright scandalous for her.

We both stood there, looking down at the pile of brown cookies and dark chocolate chips mired in a mess on the hardwood floor.

I locked eyes with Gramma. “What do we do now?”

“Well, Dearie. I think we just clean up this mess and get to making new cookies. The oven’s still warm, so it won’t take long. How about you get the broom and dustpan while I start in on the next batch?”

That sounded fine to me, so I leaped to and grabbed the cleaning implements from beside the pantry. Before long, I had the mess cleaned up and put the broom away.

As I walked toward Gramma’s side, I distinctly heard her mumble under her breath, “I gotta make sure and not drop the fucking cookies again.”

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

 

February Word Challenge: Day 12

Huh. Been a while since I’ve sat down to do this. I’ve been battling a medium-sized head cold for the past few days, and work has been a bear. I’m on a team of 3 people. 1 has been out for 3 weeks (he’s back Monday!!!), and the other has been in/out taking care of her husband after some sort of surgery. I’ve also had massive projects at work ramping up. Basically, at the end of the day, I’m wiped out (from the cold and excess work), and I really don’t want to sit down in front of a computer. I usually have a spare moment or three during the day at work. That hasn’t been the case.

Ok. Enough of my bellyaching and making of excuses. Time to get rolling with the post for today.

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • hawked
  • gamine
  • stockholders
  • islets
  • dampening

Free Association:

  • business
  • taxes
  • accountant
  • CPA
  • treasurer
  • non-profit
  • Pikes Peak Writers
  • writing
  • fiction
  • query
  • pitching
  • selling
  • marketing
  • cover design
  • cover art
  • artist
  • drawing
  • painting
  • amazing
  • talented
  • NotSomethingICanDo
  • blank page
  • scary
  • GottaDoItAnyway
  • typing
  • words
  • sentences
  • paragraphs
  • chapters
  • novels
  • series
  • trilogies

Prose:

Mary sat down at her typewriter to put down more words about her favorite character, Sue. Sue was a stay-at-home mom with a weird talent for knowing exactly what her husband and children were thinking, no matter where they were or how far away they were. Sue’s ability was her most secret thing.

Mary typed out a line of narrative about Sue listening in on her husband while the hot administrative assistant walked by. Her husband had a few lewd thoughts about the curvy red-head.

Sue screamed off the page at Mary, “He wouldn’t do that! He’s faithful to me!”

Mary squeaked like a stepped-upon mouse and pushed back from her desk. “Sue? How did you do that?”

Sue pushed her way off the paper and out of the typewriter. “I’m powerful, right? We’ll in your next book, you’re going to make me powerful enough to leave my fictional world and enter yours. Got it?”

“How did you know that? I’d only just started outlining that second novel.”

Sue sighed. “I’m a mind reader, remember? You gave me that ability. Now, what do you think I do with that while you’re typing away here in your lonely, cold basement?”

Mary glanced around the brick walls. She took a moment to take in the dank pipes, washer/dryer combo unit, and the broken-down freezer. “It’s not that lonely. Fuzzbucket comes to visit me on occasion.”

“That’s your cat. You need some real companionship. I’m talking about humans. Get out. Go see the world. Then come back and write a steamy sex scene between me and my husband. Do you know how many chapters it’s been since I’ve been laid?”

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

 

February Word Challenge: Day 8

What happened to day 7?!?! Wow. It flew right by and I didn’t even notice. I worked from home yesterday and barely had time for a snack during the day. I certainly didn’t have the 10 minutes it takes to do these writing exercises. Today isn’t much different, but I’m forcing the time to be open to get this done. That’s how the writing life happens sometimes.

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • trammels
  • Oktoberfest
  • snake
  • audience
  • extruding

Free Association:

  • reptile
  • no legs
  • creepy
  • fangs
  • venom (not poison!)
  • bite
  • puncture wounds
  • infection
  • gangrene
  • amputation
  • American Civil War
  • brothers
  • killing
  • violence
  • bullets
  • balista
  • catapult
  • rocks
  • arcs
  • ballistics

Prose:

Creeping around the corner of the building, I peered into the dank alley. The stench of rot and decay flowed from the mouth and into the street. Piles of garbage, a stray cat, and no small amount of large city rats where the only things visible. A rusted fire escape hung at an odd angle above one overflowing dumpster.

Unsure I was supposed to be here, I checked the small slip of paper in my hand. The humidity and my near death grip on the paper had smeared the ink a bit, but I could still make out the lettering. I was between the abandoned bank and the old school barber shop. Right where the note told me to go.

I took deep breath to steel my nerves and immediately regretted the mouthful of ick and ooze flavoring that flooded my senses. After my gagging fit subsided, I pressed into the miasma.

After passing the overflowing dumpster, a cold sensation passed over my back. Before I could turn around, the cold turned to freezing, and an arm wrapped around my chest.

A harsh whisper froze me in my tracks, “You’re here for the bite, yes?”

Before I could decipher the strange accent, a sharp, frigid pain arced through my neck.

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

 

February Word Challenge: Day 6

Day 5 flew by (shopping and then the Super Bowl) and right after I got home, I crashed and burned. My wife is sick right now, and I think my body is fighting it off as well. This means my energy reserves are low, so my time slotted for doing this yesterday was spent getting ready for bed and going to bed a bit early.

On with Day 6, though!

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • Muscat
  • muscatels
  • viewers
  • typographically
  • elder

Free Association:

  • old
  • elf
  • elven
  • forest
  • bow
  • arrow
  • archery
  • hunting
  • deer
  • venison
  • stew
  • chili
  • spicy
  • heartburn
  • heartache
  • broken heart
  • romance
  • love
  • happily ever after
  • sunset
  • dusk
  • moon rise
  • full moon
  • werewolf
  • vampire
  • dark ages
  • medieval
  • euro-centric fantasy
  • alternate fantasy
  • urban fantasy
  • into the fire

Prose:

This is going to be non-fiction. It’s about my friend’s book. Patrick Hester just had his first published novel, Into the Fire: Samantha Kane Vol. 1, released a bit ago. I’m so over the moon happy for him, that I can’t help contain my excitement. He’s worked for years on this novel. If my memory is serving me correctly, this was the first thing he submitted to our old critique group. He submitted roughly 50 pages (that was our monthly limit) to the group.

My process back in the day (and I still use it) was to rank the submissions in order of “least want to read” to “most want to read.” The unknowns always went on top, and the “most want to read” went to the bottom. It gave me something to look forward to after slogging through the less refined prose. Patrick’s submissions very quickly went from the “unknown; top of the pile” slot to the bottom of the pile, and his prose stayed at the bottom of the pile each month. It was my treat — my dessert — for “eating” my way through the rest of the submissions.

His work was great back then, and it’s only improved over the years that I’ve known him. As an example: The first submission I gave back to him had coffee stains on several pages. I happened to have a mouthful of coffee when a particularly hilarious line hit me… and that coffee ended up spraying out my nose and onto the pages. I had to apologize to Patrick that month about the stains on his words. It wasn’t the last time I had to make such an apology as he continued to amaze me with his craft month after month.

Congratulations, Patrick! You have this first success under your belt. It’s been well earned, and I hope many more come your way!

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

 

February Word Challenge: Day 4

What happened to day 3?!?! Well, the Day Job was SUPER busy, and I had to work on another large project at lunch and during the evening. The next thing I knew, it was the 4th. Things happen. No need to beat myself up for missing a day.

On with day #4!

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • hairiness
  • unanimity
  • Johannes
  • enthralls
  • Dobbin

Free Association:

  • ugly
  • gross
  • snot
  • sick
  • cold
  • flu
  • lung butter
  • fields
  • stones
  • granite
  • golem
  • flesh
  • life
  • death
  • grave
  • six feet under
  • funeral
  • cemetery
  • headstones
  • flags
  • patriotism
  • country

Prose:

I pushed open the abandoned house’s front door with a loud squeal of rusted hinges. I wanted to sneak in, and I hated the sound the hinges caused. There was nothing to be done for it. I prepared for an assault as soon as I stepped into the dim foyer.

Nothing happened.

This put me even more on edge. I knew someone, perhaps something, had to be in the house. The random lights coming on in the house along with different windows being opened at different times tipped me off. I’d been watching the house for the past two weeks waiting for my chance. The moon was finally new and the overcast skies blocked out the stars.

The inky blackness was my best chance to get into the house, find the hidden treasure the urban legends spoke about, and get out unseen.

A light from around the corner barely illuminated the entryway. I swallowed hard and moved across the creaky floorboards into the living room. The light came from the dining room through an open archway.

I stopped and listened.

The silence lasted only a few seconds before a gravelly voice commanded, “Come into the dining room. Have a seat. I’ve been waiting for you.”

I looked back at the still-open front door and contemplated fleeing, but the promise of untold riches in this house pushed me forward.

Moving into the dining room, I found a large stone man, a golem, sitting at the head of the table.

He motioned to a chair halfway down the table. “Have a seat. We have much to discuss.”

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

February Word Challenge: Day 2

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • approbation
  • rinses
  • mooching
  • parody
  • iterations

Free Association:

  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • funny
  • humorous
  • Prince
  • not allowed
  • denied
  • forbidden
  • fruit
  • apple
  • apple of my eye
  • vision
  • lasik
  • glasses
  • progressive lenses
  • sunglasses
  • transition lenses
  • blinding orb in the sky
  • Sun
  • Sol
  • Solar System
  • star system
  • FTL travel
  • teleportation
  • physics
  • Einstein
  • relativity
  • relatives
  • cousins
  • Poison Pinto
  • pinto
  • beans
  • not in chili

Prose:

Captain Malarin braced himself on the bridge with feet spread wide and balance perfectly centered. He refused to use the padded captain’s chair or even hold on to a railing when preparing for a jump. He felt it was a sign a weakness to use such assistance in front of the crew. “Weakness leads to mutiny,” his father had always told him.

His father should know, since he mutinied against his own captain back in the day. Then proceeded to put down three more after he’d taken over his own ship.

Now it was Malarin’s turn to show strength and prowess in front of the crew. He surveyed the officers at their stations to assure himself all checks were being performed. With a glance down at his tablet, he checked the numbers and status reports from the various departments. Everything showed green for their jump.

He gave the order. “Prepare for jump. Engage the Eglin Drive. Brace for transition into hyperspace.”

As the last order left his lips, everyone tightened their harnesses to keep them put.

Malarin swallowed hard as his ship, The Peaceful Bounty, changed shape and warped around the gravitational well in the center of the ship during the transition to hyperspace.

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson

 

February Word Challenge: Day 1

See here for my intro to what I’m doing this month. Check the bottom of the post for links to other people that are participating on their own blogs.

Five Random Words:

  • crossbeams
  • accomplishments
  • rings
  • performer
  • horror

Free Association:

  • brass
  • circus
  • trapeze
  • clown
  • car
  • phone booth
  • Superman
  • Batman
  • The Joker
  • Harley Quinn
  • Suicide Squad
  • comic books
  • Silver Surfer
  • surfboard
  • surfing
  • waves
  • oceans
  • sharks
  • jellyfish
  • sting
  • pain
  • leg
  • four years old
  • Galveston Beach
  • Houston
  • Superbowl
  • Patriots
  • cheaters
  • sore losers

Prose:

I hefted my trusty axe in both hands and prepared for battle against more C.L.O.W.N.S. on the other side of the door. With a deep breath that I exhaled hard, I kicked the shit out of the door in front of me. It flew open and slammed into the wall. The force of that impact rebounded the door back at me, but I was prepared for it. I took the solid wood door on my shoulder and charged into the room.

A single person afflicted by C.L.O.W.N.S. sat on desk in the middle of the office. It slurped and wetly gnawed on something covered in fur. At this point, it was impossible to tell if the poor creature had once been a cat, small dog, large rat, or something else.

I didn’t much care about what kind of animal it had once been because the moment the door slammed open, the clown lurched off of the desk and went down in a clumsy heap. Disturbing an eating clown was the best way to get the jump on them. They tended to not notice much else once the chewing started.

With a barbaric yawp, I charge the clown and swung my axe toward its neck. With a last-second flinch, it managed to almost get out of the way. My axe bit deep into the thing’s shoulder and lodged deep in the bone.

Other Participants:

Stace Johnson