My writing goals of 2016 were to build a better writing space, to take a couple of writing trips, to release my thesis novel on paperback, and to make progress on my fantasy novel. I made some progress in some of those areas.
I did accomplish gaining a better writing space, having bought a condo, which along with fixing up said condo took up much of the second half of my year. But, it was a good thing. Now I can sit out at the pool and read or write all I want. And better yet, I feel a lot more secure about my future remaining in Los Angeles. With the soaring real estate market in Southern California, I had to take the time to get this done, and I'm glad it's behind me.
I did make progress on my fantasy novel, though I haven't worked on it in six months. The break was fruitful, though. I thought about the story and characters a lot. When I do get back to finishing up that first draft, the plot is pretty locked down, but the framing of how the story is told will change. I'm glad I had the time to work that out.
I only took one writing trip this year. It was short, but I enjoyed it and made good progress during it. In 2015 it was Big Bear, 2016 San Simeon. Don't know where I'll go in 2017, but it'll probably be somewhere not too far away. Maybe Santa Barabara or San Luis Obispo. At some point in the future, I need to go to a writing conference to see what they're all about. Won't happen in 2017, but at some point, hopefully.
I did get the technical stuff worked out with releasing 'The Wicked Trees' on paperback. I'm currently going through the digital proof, and will then go through the physical proof. I expect that this Spring is a likely release time.
I hope I'll finish the first draft of my fantasy novel in 2017, but I'm not confident I will. I also have to get back to my horror script at some point and write another draft of that.
As long as I'm pushing forward, I'm happy. 2016 turned out pretty good for me, but I hope that 2017 will produce a much greater volume of writing.
We've had a pretty awful year when it comes to celebrity deaths. Going forward, I think it'll just get worse as so many of the stars of the '60's, 70's, & '80's are now entering their golden years. The heavy toll that the fast celebrity lifestyle brings, as always, is causing too many of our beloved celebrities to die far before they should.
The death of Carrie Fisher is going to hit many hard. Not only did we fall in love with her amazing wit and sharp attitude over the years, but she, as Princess Leia, was nothing short of a monumental part of many of our childhoods.
I don't think that Millennials had anything like Star Wars in their childhood. Harry Potter was huge, but it wasn't Star Wars huge. Virtually all of us kids growing up in the '70s and '80s lived and breathed Star Wars. We begged our parents to buy us the little plastic figures and space ships which we played with for hundreds, if not thousands of hours. There is nothing today, not even close, to the anticipation of The Empire Strikes Back or Return of the Jedi being released. They were enormous cultural events—around the world.
And as these main Star Wars actors pass, so does a little part of our childhood. It's crushing. It's not just that it reminds us of how mortal we all are as human beings, It reminds us that the beloved parts of our childhood were just a temporary moment in time that will one day be forgotten forever.
Unlike so many of the celebrities we see on the TV all of the time, Carrie Fisher truly seemed like a person who would be an absolute blast to have lunch with and hear her stories, so many of which will now never be told. Now we just have the iconic images of her that will never leave our brains: bending down to give R2D2 that all important message, fighting in the Rebel base on Hoth, being chained to Jabba the Hutt.
It's a sad day, but it puts into perspective how truly special our childhoods were, in large part because of this monumental sci-fi space series that happened so long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, that changed our lives forever.
I haven't done any writing in almost three weeks. I've done far too little of it in the past couple of months, and I won't be able to do any writing for at least a couple of more weeks.
I'm going through the long process of buying a condo in a co-op and fixing it up before I move in. It's been painting at the new place for a couple of hours before driving into work, every day. Up in the morning, home after midnight. It's right at the same time of year where I work a bunch of overtime since a lot of people are on summer vacation. Needless to say, I've been busy.
What I have been able to do, is think a lot about my fantasy novel that I'm about halfway through the first draft of. So while I'm putting the paintbrush to the wall, I'm still thinking about my characters and the plot-lines, and it's actually been nice because I've worked through some things that I think will benefit the project as a whole. Separation from a project is sometimes beneficial.
Yet, not being able to get any writing done, much less watch any of the tv shows I've wanted to catch up on, has been a bit of a pain. Every couple of nights I've been able to play some Witcher 3 for an hour before nodding off, which has been fun, but I'm seriously looking forward to moving in so I can get back into the old routine.
I'm also looking forward to the change in environment to see how it affects my writing process. I have a feeling that I'm going to spend most mornings poolside doing some reading or writing before I hop in and get my exercise for the day. Plus, since I'm moving from one end of the San Fernando Valley to the other, I'll be able to check out a whole new neighborhood of coffee shops.
I'm hoping a change of environment does my creative process some good. I have a feeling it's going to bode well for me.
Every now and then you run across a gem of a statement on Twitter. A few weeks ago, fantasy author @BrianRathbone tweeted the following: Writing is the art of claiming time and avoiding distraction.
I don't think I've ever heard what writing--in terms of life, really is--summed up so succinctly. The vast majority of people who love to write, who in fact do write novels, screenplays, poetry, etc., don't make a living at it, so they have to find time in between commutes, work, grocery shopping, reading, spending time with others, and general life. The actual small amount of time one gets to write in a day is very precious.
For most serious writers, being distraction-free is a must, if one wants to get anything accomplished of any decent level of quality. It's the same as if you're working out complex mathematical formulas in your head: being able to focus is key. Your story is a puzzle, and you're constantly searching for the correct next piece.
Some non-distinct grey noise in the background can be beneficial (coffee shops are great), but anything that is very distinct, and specifically targeted directly at you, makes it all but impossible to complete the task at hand.
Some people don't seem to understand (a) how strongly distraction negatively affects a writer & (b) how precious the short amount of time one has to write really is. I think many people don't have the desire to try to be exceptional to the world in any way (or the desire to put out the monstrous amount of effort required to be exceptional), and for some of those people, doing whatever is necessary to not be bored in the current fleeting moment is on the forefront of their minds, constantly, just like with puppies.
When these puppy-people distract you, especially when they distract you often, for no other purpose but to express some banality of the moment, so that they're not bored--they are taking away something from you that is precious.
And you just want to take a rolled-up piece of newspaper and smack them over the head, and say "Bad puppy!"
There are some parents that don't like their children playing violent video games. I'm not going to tell anyone how to raise their kids, but I will say that there's a lot about life that kids can learn by playing first-person-shooters, all of which are violent to some degree.
I was playing Star Wars: Battlefront yesterday morning, and one player on our team repeatedly would stop in an ice tunnel hallway, right before it opened up into a large ice cave. This would prevent everyone behind him from getting into the larger room and taking cover. Time and time again, he would do this, resulting in the death of several of his teammates. We lost the game by a significant amount.
Only a "Newb" would do something so strategically dumb. But here's the thing: all gamers advance from the newb level to something better, by doing two things: learning how to become a better player by oneself, and learning how to become a better teammate.
We all know people who are that newb in our work environment: the person that through their own incompetence, slows down the whole team. In a video game, kids have the luxury of communicating in a non-PC fashion, so if you're really hurting the team, people will tell you, in no uncertain terms, and you'll get a stronger incentive to learn how to help the team, instead of hurting it. In real terms, video games are perhaps the strongest teacher of teamwork for kids, outside of organized sports. The thing is, there're plenty of people that will help you become better, if you ask.
Most video games, and especially first-person-shooters, also have reward systems. You might get an added item that gives your gun the special functionality that you want. It might be something as little as a different color that you can make your gun stock. But the harder it is to get that bonus, the more value it holds to the community that plays that game. Some bonuses require more than a hundred hours of play. They're held up as badges of prestige. You have to work to get it. Those that learn how to play the game better, and those that have better natural skill, can get those bonuses faster, just like in the real world.
Most first-person-shooters allow a tremendous amount of customization to your character and/or weapon, so that you can work towards creating what you need to do well, based on your unique skill set. You get to work on your comparative advantage, again, just like in the real world.
Another important lesson that first-person-shooters teach kids is the risk/reward trade-off. Newbs all tend to take too much risk. They'll run out into the open where they are sitting ducks. They'll go up against three enemies at the same time, dying before they can even take one out. You see it again and again with players who have very low-level scores. However, as their skill advances, they learn how to adjust their risk levels. Perhaps they can go up against those three opponents, once they're good enough to do it, but that usually requires a tremendous sink of time to learn how to be that good.
First-person-shooters have a wide plethora of life lessons inherently built into them. I'd suggest that their benefits far outweigh their negatives, even for young kids. Of course, adults should be playing them, not only for the tremendous amount of fun they are, but for the cognitive exercise that they exert on the brain.
Killing newbs by the dozen--it's not only fun, it's teaching young kids valuable life lessons--lessons better learned in a game than in the ugly environment of real life.
I spent a few days at a hotel resort, in a room facing the ocean, up on the central coast of California. What a beautiful part of the country. California has it all: hip & dirty urban centers, mountains, the largest trees on the planet in remarkable forests, deserts, and a gorgeous coastline.
It wasn't by accident that I chose San Simeon for a writing getaway. The theory goes that if you're working on the large concept part of a project—big, majestic, open spaces are preferable for the creative mind. If you're in the late detail stage—a smaller, closed environment is preferable.
I'm working on a fantasy novel, and even though I'm about 30% through the first draft, there were still some things I needed to work on regarding the plot lines and the character arcs. So, I spent a few days, relaxing, writing, sitting, watching the ocean, reading, and swimming in a heated pool. And I think it paid off in spades.
I now have a very clear picture in my head of how my different plot lines are going to come together at the end of this novel, and where they're going to begin and probably end in the 2nd novel of the series.
Big, open spaces. In Los Angeles, there's not a lot of those. So, as an LA writer, it pays to get out of town every now and then, and see the wide open spaces in the rest of the this remarkably beautiful state.
I woke up at noon after ten hours of sleep, something I hadn't gotten in over ten years.
I got a fruit smoothie going for brunch.
Wrote for a couple of hours.
Went for a three mile walk.
Wrote for three hours.
Went for a three mile walk.
Had some Szechuan Beef for dinner.
Ready to watch some Netflix for a couple of hours before going to sleep.
That's a pretty damn good day in the life of a writer.
I'm a writer. I love quality narratives, both reading and writing them. My greatest hope in life is that I can make a living solely off of writing narratives, but even if that doesn't happen any time soon, I'm happy that I've found my life's passion. I feel bad for people who never find that passion which if often their missing piece to completing their life. It's an un-talked of subject that is the bane of many adult's existence.
During the last ten years, a major roadblock to my writing has been a vicious sleep problem that only seemed to get worse over time. It started when I switched from a swing shift to an early morning shift while working at Warner Bros. Remember the WB network? Dawson's Creek, 7th Heaven, Felicity? I used to work in the master control room that fed that network out to all of the local affiliates. One day, CBS and Warner Bros. decided to combine UPN and the WB into a new network: the CW. They moved the control room to New York, and suddenly I'm moved to a day shift. That worked out for me at the time, because I was working on my MBA, and most of my classes were at night.
Years go by, and my sleep issue only gets worse. I have to wake up at 5am every day to start the commute, and I struggle throughout the day. Then suddenly, at 6pm I'm wide awake—every single day. When I try to force myself to go to sleep at 9 or 10pm, I can't. Not even close.
I complete my MBA, take a year or so off from school (while I continue working), and then tackle an MFA. Too much going on, commute just gets worse every year, and sleep never improves.
My doctors put me on every type of medication possible, none of which work in the long-run, and I get increasingly frustrated because lack of sleep is the one thing that prevents me from doing what I love to do most—writing quality narratives, or at least attempting to. Over time, I get more frustrated because after putting tens of thousands of hours into writing, I think I'm actually getting pretty good at it, but I'm so tired all the time, I can't focus on doing it as well and as often as I'd like to.
I complete my MFA, and with my degrees behind me, I actually think I'll finally settle down into good nightly sleep. But, no. I'm always tired throughout the day and am wide awake as the sun starts going down.
Then a few weeks ago, I get the opportunity to switch back to swing shift. Once I do, I go to bed when I'm naturally tired (around 2am) and am able to quickly fall asleep every single time. Even when my noisy neighbors wake me up early because they want to start their never-ending construction on their house for the day, if their buzzsaws quiet down for a few minutes, I'm easily able to take a nap. Like turning off a light switch, my ten year old sleep problem disappears overnight. I quit taking all of my prescription sleep meds, and I still have no problem falling asleep.
I talked about it with my primary sleep doctor yesterday (you know you have a problem when you have more than one sleep doctor), and he apologized because he now thinks he knows why my sleep problem existed, and what could have been done to help it, years ago.
We all have a circadian rhythm that regulates our body. This biological clock, per say, is adjusted by external cues called 'zeitgebers.' One important zeitgeber is light. Your body is used to absorbing morning light, which is a cue to stop melatonin production and increase testosterone production. This signals your body that the day has begun. Your body then goes into a process of regulating itself for the day. When the sun drops, your body decreases testosterone production and increases melatonin to put you to sleep.
Many years ago, when I was working swing shift, I had mornings off, and I would go on long walks or hikes many times a week. The morning sun set my clock going into day cycle. Everything worked like it should have.
When I moved to early morning day shift, I'd drive to work in the dark, and then stay in a dark control room until 3:30pm. I'd commute home, and then try to take a walk around 5pm. That was when sun starting hitting my skin, and my body took it as a cue that the day was beginning. I could never fall asleep at 9pm because my body didn't think it was nighttime. I would fall asleep around 2am or so, because that's when my body thought that night began. Then my alarm would wake me up 5am, and I'd have to deal with another hard day after only getting 3 hours of sleep.
Switching back to swing shift fit what my clock was currently wired to be, perfectly.
Had my sleep doctor realized that a few years ago, he would have put me on light therapy. The key is to get your body thinking that morning is at the start of the day. There are bright, white lights that are designed specifically to do so. For people like me, who work in dark, enclosed places, this can be a very useful tool.
I actually bought one about a week ago. I have it stationed on a table in my living room. Much of the morning I'm in the living room, in front of my tv (which is a plasma, so I need to keep my shades shut to see it), I need a light shining on me for a few hours to keep my circadian rhythm properly tuned. I'm currently changing up my kitchen so I can do some writing there in the morning, where sunlight pours in, so that should help too. Plus, I'll be doing my morning hikes and such.
Tuning my circadian rhythm to my work and sleep schedule is the solution that I've long looked for and have finally found.
So I think my problem is finally solved, at a great time too, because I am ready to pour monster amounts of hours into my writing. For writers that live far north, and get tired during the winter months—your circadian rhythm may be off. Use a mood light in the morning to get it back on track. Without a lot of light in your day, you probably have a vitamin D deficiency as well, like I do, which only adds to the feeling of being tired.
Sleep is the most crucial element for writers to do their job well. Sleep problems can be complex. Spending time with the right doctors and doing the research to find out what the core of the problem is, is absolutely crucial in solving the problem.
The worst thing in the world is to find what you truly love to do, and then not be able to do it well because of a problem that can be corrected. Do the work to find the solution to the problem. It may take years, but if you can correct it, your life will be improved in tremendous ways—and your love of craft will only deepen.
I've blogged before about writing retreats. Many authors swear by them, both official retreats (where you meet other writers) and unofficial retreats (where you just get away from your daily life for a few days and focus on getting those next few chapters down).
Last summer I spent three days in a cabin in Big Bear, and I had planned to do a lot of writing, but ended up spending most of the time learning how to use Scrivener. It was time well spent, and I totally fell in love with the idea of getting out of town to focus on the novel. Instead of spending my credit card points on Starbucks, which I've done for years, I've been using them recently to save up Orbitz points, specifically to get out of town three or four times a year, for brief excursions, to get away from the distractions of home.
Having worked a ton of overtime over the holidays (including a twelve hour shift on Christmas and on New Year's Eve), I'm itching to get out of town for a bit. I've been focusing on improving the writing space in my apartment so I'll be more apt to spend a couple of hours a day writing at home every morning. But I think getting out of town for an extended weekend to focus on my fantasy novel would do me some good.
Big Bear is not an option this time of the year because I don't want to put chains on my 300 and drive through the snow. So I'm thinking of going to Pismo Beach or San Luis Obispo for a few days at the end of the month. The only problem is that we're starting our El Niño winter here in Cali, so if I plan it too early, I might be spending time at a beach during a downpour.
I truly want to get to Austin either this October or next to check out the city and the film festival. It's the festival for screenwriters, so it's a must to get to at some point. I think in the early summer I'll take a long weekend and drive back to Big Bear or up to the Sequoias for a quick writing getaway. And hopefully I'll be able to squeeze another one in sometime late in the year.
Maybe in 2017 or 2018, I'll try to get to a writer's conference. For now, I'd like to just keep to my commitment of getting a few writing getaways in a year. It seems to help a lot of writers in their process, I think it'll help me as well.
Keeping the focus is a big part of my 2016.
2015 was a year of decent progress for me. In February, I started this blog, and have been posting relatively frequently to it. In July, I finally released my thesis novel, The Wicked Trees, on Kindle. Throughout the summer I made progress on my unnamed horror script. I also got about 25% through the first draft of my next novel, a medieval fantasy story, which I plan on turning into a series. I've rewritten those first few chapters numerous times and I like where it's going.
Later in the year I finally purchased a stellar writing rig, a MacBook Air, and became pretty proficient with Scrivener, which wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. I've switched shifts at work, so now I have my mornings open to write, and gain about an hour or so every day because of an easier commute time. I should gain a lot more energy throughout the upcoming months as I'm getting good sleep for the first time in years.
My first project of 2016 is to build myself a better writing space. I'm getting rid of my breakfast nook that takes up too much of my kitchen and am replacing it with a small wooden table and chairs. It's a nice sunny spot in the morning to get away from the living room TV and Xbox. I might even try to squeeze in a little desk next to it. I'll see. The main objective is to have a small, distraction free space, where I can spend a couple of hours every morning with my laptop, before I go into work. I think I'm going to purchase an Amazon Echo to fill my writing space with music when I'm in the mood for it.
My plan is to get my thesis novel out on paperback sometime this Spring. It'll be nice to finally move on from that project, which I felt turned out pretty damn well.
I want to make significant progress on my fantasy novel during 2016. If I could get the first draft nearly completed, that would be great, but I'm not going to rush it.
I also want to make a decision as to which direction to take my horror script. I think it's satisfyingly scary as is, but I want to add something to make it more iconic. I've been tossing around ideas in my head for months. I'd really like to take a couple weeks here and there and push it further towards a final draft.
I'd also like to take a couple short writing trips in 2016. I've always wanted to go to the Austin Film Festival, so maybe this is the year I'll finally go. Perhaps I'll attend a writing conference or just go somewhere and hole myself up for a few days and focus on my novel while in a different environment.
Anyway, 2016 is here, and I'm excited about it.
I'm a week into my new shift at work, having moved from an early morning day shift to a swing shift. It's been wonderful so far.
The last ten years, since I've worked the day shift, I've had major sleep issues. Part of that was taking on too much—full-time job, long commute, completing two graduate degrees. The major issue, however, was that the shift just didn't coincide with my natural sleep cycle.
The last week, I've been falling asleep when I'm tired (which is something new to me), usually around 1am or 2am, and I've slept 6-8 hours every night. It's been a miracle. The amount of sleep I've been getting has instantly doubled while working the new shift. Plus, I've gained over an hour a day because of the decrease in commute time.
I haven't written at all this week, but that's okay. I've been working out and playing a lot of video games (and since this is best release schedule in eight years, there's no excuse not to be playing a lot of video games). But soon I'll get back into the writing habit. I've been working out plot lines and characters in my head, and will dive back into my fantasy novel soon enough.
I also have to get 'The Wicked Trees' released on paperback. I'm in no rush to do that, but will probably get it done in the upcoming months.
This has been a tremendous reset for me, giving me much more energy and focus to take on life. I'm really looking forward to see what I can accomplish, now that conquering the sleep issue is hopefully finally behind me.
About ten years ago, I had a shift change at work, going from swing shift to early morning day shift. It worked out at the time, because I was working on graduate degrees, and needed early night time for classes.
The years went by and the commute got much longer. I live about 20 miles from work, and during those ten years, I've gained over an hour worth of commute time because of increased Los Angeles traffic. I've also gained many pounds because I've been so tired doing the 90 min. commute home.
Starting tomorrow, I'm going back to swing shift. My commute into work will still be about an hour, but it should take me no more than 25 min. to get home.
The ultimate goal of this is to get more time and energy to write. This new shift will be a better fit for my natural wake/sleep cycle as well.
So hopefully, I'll be able to step it up and gain a lot of writing time. Somewhere down the line I'm going to have to move to a state where the traffic and expense isn't so punishing. But at least for now, I'll have a bit more time to type those words. And I'm really looking forward to spending mornings in local cafes, drinking mochas with my laptop in front of me, and a book sitting on the side, ready to be picked up.
A couple of days ago I flew from LAX to MQT to start two weeks of vacation in the rural Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I was born. While at airports and in planes, I like to observe human behavior for future character creation tips. I ran into a couple of dandies on this trip.
First off, I really like small behaviors that can go a long way in defining who a person is, especially non-verbal behaviors. The more we learn who the characters are, the more satisfying the narrative is going to be.
Second off, there're two types of assholes. Asshole Type 1 is a person who realizes they're an asshole, and just doesn't care. Asshole Type 2 is a person who just doesn't realize that they're being an asshole. Both have intriguing aspects. I think each has their benefit to a story given the narrative situation.
When I entered the Delta terminal at LAX, it was crowded as all can be, as it always is. Since the check-in and security process went amazingly quick, I had a couple of hours to kill. I thought I'd sit down and have breakfast. However, every seat at every bar and restaurant was taken (the terminal is rather small for such a huge airport).
So I decided to grab a cup of coffee and to sit down and write for a bit. They now have a/c posts (of course not enough of them) where multiple people can plug in multiple devices. Not wanting to kill any battery juice before I took off, I searched for a seat near a post. There was not one.
What got me though, is that many of the people sitting next to the posts, had nothing plugged in. There were ample seats away from the posts, yet they chose to sit near the posts, seemingly to a/c block those who needed a charge. I'm assuming that the majority of these people were Type 2 assholes, not aware of what they were doing. Instantly, I can read a ton into what kind of people (or characters) they are.
I board the plane. I sit down and wait through a minor mechanical problem. The plane takes off. Instantly, the lady in front of me reclines her chair all the way back. For the duration of the flight, she's the only person that I can see that has her chair reclined back, and it's not to take a nap. She just wanted more room—at my expense. There went four hours of potential writing time because I no longer had enough room to open a laptop.
I'm guessing she's a Type 1 asshole. She's a person that just doesn't give a fuck. She'll gladly take some of what is mine in order to have more for herself.
On the second leg of the flight, I board a much smaller plane, and have a window seat. Same exact thing happens. The only person on the entire plane to lean their seat back is sitting in front of me. On this plane, however, the amount of legroom is unconscionably small. The seat drops back into my face. It was the most claustrophobic experience I've had since being shoved into an MRI tube.
I loudly discuss with the person next to me how little space I have. The man in front of me doesn't care. He's clearly a Type 1 asshole. What a villain. I plotted my revenge, but the flight was so short I didn't have ample time to carry it out.
Next time you want to efficiently establish that someone is a Type 1 asshole, have them get on a small plane and drop the seat back into the lap of the person who's sitting behind them. Small behaviors like this speak volumes about who the person is—most likely in many facets of their life.
Here's a picture of me trying to read on that second flight, with my book above the headrest of the asshole who sat in front of me, because that was the only space available:
Haven't blogged in a bit, but I've been busy. Have been doing some writing, mostly rewriting the part of my new novel that I lost in the Windows 10 debacle. The more I write with Scrivener on my new MacBook Air, the more I love it.
Tomorrow afternoon, I'm flying out of LAX, to Detroit, and then to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to spend a couple weeks of vacation time in my hometown of Ishpeming. I'm hoping to get some writing done there. There's a nice, old library in my hometown that's a good environment for writing. Will also try to take some pictures of the fall colors as well.
Can't wait to get out of this horrendous Los Angeles heat. Hopefully, by the time I return in early October, the worst will be over. The cooler the weather, the better the sleep, the more writing gets accomplished. I'm not sure how in the hell Hemingway did it while staying in Key West and Cuba.
I don't think there's a central hub for fiction writers in the world like there was in the 1920's when artistic people flocked to Paris. In modern day America, Brooklyn is probably the largest fiction-writing enclave as it's close to the big Manhattan publishers and on a cheaper side of the river.
Los Angeles has always been the world center for screenwriters. Places like Hollywood, Burbank, and the West Side, have coffee shops that are loaded with people working on their scripts. I feel that in recent years, however, Los Angeles has attracted more people who want to be novelists.
A big part of this is that people who want to be screenwriters get frustrated with the process of selling scripts, or their writing skills naturally shift more towards that of a novelist . Part of it though is that LA is a creative hub, and one that has better weather than NYC.
There are downfalls of being a novelist in LA. It's expensive, and much of your time is going to be squandered while you sit on freeways, packed in with thousands of other Los Angelenos.
The benefits though are clear: Los Angeles is so vast culture-wise, you get to witness the entire world condensed into one city. Beyond that, you get to watch as all these cultures come to LA and start molding into one. It's a fascinating sight to see and is the ultimate writer's paradise.
I'm afraid that in ten years it's going to be all but impossible for struggling artists of all types to survive in Los Angeles. It's about as unaffordable a place to live as you can get. What I would love to see though, is a growing community of novelists. Hopefully, the more successful ones stay here. And maybe through some miracle, struggling writers can continue to come.
One last huge benefit of being a writer in Los Angeles is that creativity is embraced here. You don't have to worry about being judged harshly because you love to write. Walk into many coffee shops and they're packed with people working on their scripts (and to a lesser degree novels). If you can put up with the excessive talk about the movie industry (which I love as well), you eventually find novelists talking about their latest projects. My hope is that at some point, novel talk gains more ground on screenplay talk. I think that's already happening.
I just finished watching Netflix's Daredevil, and I have to say, it was really damn good. The series did many things extremely well. First off, the casting was fantastic. Second, they spent the time to adequately develop Fisk, the antagonist. Third, the DP (Matthew J. Loyd) and the directors did a beautiful job with the blocking/lighting/compositional aesthetics. The fight scenes are awesome. Even boring conversation scenes are done well, sometimes even crossing the stageline effectively and with purpose.
Netflix has been expanding their original programming, perhaps too quickly. Their best stuff, however, is amazing. House of Cards is one of the absolute best series you will ever see. Orange is the New Black is terrific. Even some of the offbeat stuff, like Lilyhammer, is done well.
Where Netflix really shines though is in its enormous library of movies, tv shows from other networks, and documentaries. Netflix streaming is currently only $8.99/month for new subscribers, and you can get 1 Blue-ray at a time for about an additional $10. So we're talking about $20/month or a bit more if you want more screens and more discs.
My point is that Netflix is an incredible value. I often hear people complaining about the price of Netflix or say that it's the first thing they're going to get rid of if they're low on funds. Some of these same people pay $150/month on cable, for a gazillion channels that have not a lot on them worth watching.
For a person like me who likes top quality dramas and obscure foreign films, there is no place like Netflix. But even for people with more average tastes, I don't know how you go wrong with the service. You can watch anything from cartoons to '80's shows to Breaking Bad.
There is no better deal in our world today than Netflix. Please, people, stop complaining about the price. You can't make $100M tv shows and movies for free. We live in an outstanding time where there's too much good narrative content to watch. Be happy, sit back, and watch your Netflix (and make sure House of Cards and Daredevil are on top of your list).
Having handed my novel to the final proofreader a week ago, I told myself that I'd take severals days off from writing to allow my creative brain to rest, catch up on some reading, watch a few TV shows, maybe watch a movie or two. The next day I started fine-tuning a screenplay that I had written for one of my MFA classes.
On a typical workday, in true Los Angeles form, I wake up at 5:10am. I start the commute at 6am, start working at 7am. I leave work around 3:30pm and get back home around 5pm. If I choose to exercise, I take an hour to do that, shower, cook dinner, and then I have about an hour a night to write before I'm checked out. It's such a valuable, small piece of time, that I feel guilty if I don't use it towards what I love to do most. On my days off I usually write for a few hours, but don't go overboard with it.
I'll be releasing my novel soon, and am excited to do so, not only to get it out to the world, but so I can move on to writing other projects (including novel #2). A short-term goal of mine is to adjust my work situation so that I can get rid of my commute and add a couple more hours to my day. I think if that happens, I'll feel a bit less guilty about taking off a day during the week to do stuff that's not writing-related. I think finally releasing the novel will help with that too.
I'm sure for most fiction writers, characters dance around one's mind throughout most of the day (as is necessary to work out who they are and what their conflict is). At some point you need to write stuff down that you've been working on for fear of forgetting it. When you have a non-writing related day job, getting something down on paper every day after work becomes all the more important. It's almost painful not to write.
Of course the dream of dreams is to one day make a living solely of one's writing. At that point the guilt of not writing every day has to weaken because the precious hours of being able to write have become more available. For all of the wonderful things that Los Angeles offers writers (could there be any place on Earth that give writers more to pull from?), the daily time lost to the inherent commute is definitely a downside. It significantly takes away from what you enjoy the most.
I know some writers worry about making a daily word count. 500 words, 1,000, 3,000. None of that bothers me. If I rewrite even a small scene for the better, I've felt like I've accomplished something. My daily goal is done.
Stephen King, who writes every single day, including holidays, famously said: "Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink."
I think King summed it up pretty good. As we writers near completion of a project, we fantasize about how great it will be to take off a bit of time after that project is finished. Then we try to take a break, but it rarely works. For some reason, we continue to create, because we must.
J.D. Salinger spent much of his life in a small shed on his New Hampshire property, pounding away on a keyboard, creating novels that he knew would never be published in his lifetime. That is what fulfilled his life. At times, I can understand why.
Having worked at Warner Bros. for over a decade, I've witnessed the global transformation away from physical media. Having forever changed the music and movie industry, the shift is now changing the model in which people receive the content they read.
I realize that most people still prefer to read a physical book. I had my doubts when I bought my first Kindle. Now it's frustrating to read a physical book because it's so much harder to look up a word you don't know. You can't just point to the word to get the meaning.
If we look at what is happening to film and television right now, we see that box office numbers are declining (DVD sales are plummeting) and we see that people are starting to give up on cable tv. I now watch Sling TV, which gives me several channels (like ESPN & CNN) to my television, from the internet, via an Amazon Fire Box. Besides watching regular TV channels, I get movies via Netflix and other movie apps. There's an app for PBS, for Western movies, for PopSci. The future of television will be apps, not channels bundled via cable. Right now, I'm listening to a rock station from Switzerland, through my TV, from an app. Once you immerse yourself in this new paradigm, you quickly realize that it is the future.
Which brings me to the all important question at hand: what is going to happen to all the book publishers that dominate the scene today? In ten years, there's not going to be a great majority of people still reading physical books. The dominant distribution method, like in the music, tv, or film industry, will be the internet. An author doesn't need a distributor to upload a novel to Amazon.
I feel that large publishers will still have a role to fill. They'll have the marketing muscle to push their product. They'll be able to get physical books onto shelves in the limited space where they are still needed. Besides that, I'm not sure what their purpose will be.
What I'm pretty sure of is that Amazon won't be as dominant in ten years as it is today. There will be a selection of viable options (like apps) in which we'll gain access to our books. Publishers, in most cases, will die off, because their middle-man purpose will be no more. Authors will have control of where and how they sell their books.
We're already seeing this. This is just one of many ways in which the internet has reshaped the world forever. The content producers are still needed. They will be forever needed. It's the content delivery specialists that are becoming dispensable.
We all only have so much time on this Earth. This concept doesn't tend to sink in until one reaches middle-age. I think like anything else, the less we have of something, the more we appreciate it.
A similar concept (but in reverse) is what economists call The Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility. If you love something-let's say it's cars—you'll tend to have a greater increase in happiness when you've bought your 3rd car, than when you've bought your 250th. Instead of buying more and more items with our amount of time (or life), we're constantly losing our supply of what's valuable to us. The later in life we get, the more it hurts when we've wasted what time we have left.
I've noticed something about this concept. As I've made my way through life, I see that there's a certain section of people who have reached middle-age who don't mind squandering time. It's not as precious to them as it is to me. People waiting in a doctor's office, or at an oil change station, will often sit, for an hour, and not do anything. Someone who has available time might spend hours dinking around the internet. People spend time at the beach, just sitting, doing nothing, for hours.
I can't relate to this behavior. It's torture to me. Time is far too valuable to just sit around and do nothing.
Fortunately, I love to read and write. I read when I'm waiting somewhere (thank God for the Kindle). I write when I'm home. I've recently added podcasts to my work commute. Now I can learn (mostly about writing) as I'm stuck on the freeway. It's actually made my commutes enjoyable at times and has reduced my anxiety over wasting so much of life locked in a car, sitting on a crowded freeway.
Here's my revelation: The more you love doing certain things in life (such as a craft), the more valuable time becomes to you. As you're stuck doing things that aren't what you love to do, you feel as if you're wasting incredible amounts of precious life. If you don't love to do much of anything, your value of time isn't as high as it could be.
I know when people sit around, they're often relaxing or thinking, and those are behaviors that hold value. But I don't think there's quite anything like performing an active behavior that gives you a deep sense of fulfillment.
We're all unique in many ways and love doing our own different things. If you're approaching middle-age and you don't know what your life's passion is, I'd suggest expanding your search. As life goes on, our free time diminishes, and how you spend it will in large part determine how deep of a life you'll live.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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