A moofable feast.

Be brave enough to burn and you'll be brave enough to fly.

Friday, January 9th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report/The State of the Me

I have some more bits of poetry news, but I think I'll save it for next week, since I've been talking Big Decisions here. My fifth big decision for the year is that I'm going to post a new piece of content to my Patreon stream every Friday in 2015, starting with this one. Today's is a bit of tongue-in-cheek speculative poetry/satire. The Patreon entry is here. Some of these Friday tidbits will be locked for patrons only if I think they have potential to go further, though many will be free. Expect flash fiction and poetry to make up most of it.

To talk a little bit about the tangible benefits of not posting stories as they're written: the chapter that I wrote on Wednesday was about 2,000 words long and ended at the point where I ran out of steam for the day. Yesterday, I started writing the next chapter from the point where I left off, and then found when I got to the end that the first third or so of what I'd written went much better with the previous chapter, and helped it move to an actual conclusion. I didn't just tack it on the end, of course... I had to go through it to integrate the new material with the old, so the whole chapter is stronger.

I wrote 5,000 words between the two days... the next chapter is now 3,000 words long and the one I wrote yesterday is 2,000 words. There's a good chance it will wind up being longer when I'm done with today's writing.

This is the thing: even though I'm writing a chapter each day, I'm not ~*done with*~ the chapter at the end of the day. Until it gets published, it's a living thing with the capability to grow. Writing day by day forces me to treat each chapter as its own thing. Even if I have time to do some editing, I don't have the necessary perspective or distance to look at something I've just finished writing and know what it needs.

I have an inkling that what I wrote yesterday will actually be split into two chapters by the time I'm done writing today, and the third of the three chapters might end up being pushed back until later by another chapter by the time it would go up (next Friday). But even if that happens, the chapter that bumps it will be in an appropriate state of completion by Tuesday of next week, so nothing will be rushed.

I've got one more fairly major decision to announce for the start of 2015, but details are pending on it so I'm holding it for next week.

The State of the Me

Well, it had to happen sooner or later... after three nights of decent sleep in a row, I had an insomnia attack last night, and wound up with a kink in my back due to having sat up for too long. Nothing dire, it's just made for a slow and uncomfortable start to my day.

Plans For Today

Well, it's pretty late in the day, so there's not much left to do except write.

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Thursday, January 8th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

Okay, so, today's decision for 2015 is a big one, and not one I made lightly. It's something I was thinking about all through the holiday break, and I've gone back and forth on it a few times because it's kind of scary, but it's something I feel strongly about.

Starting this year, I am not ever posting a chapter on Tales of MU the same day it is written. I will put the publication schedule on hold to avoid this, as I have already done this week.

It's a matter of quality control. The benefits of being able to literally walk away from a chapter, literally sleep on it (the sleep being literal, not the "on it" part), are just too great. The difference between the best "same day" chapter and the worst "was allowed to marinate" chapter is just too great.

Some people might get the impression I'm just talking about polish in the sense of catching typos, missing words, et cetera, but really, it goes so much more than this. It takes a little distance from the subject to see what's really happening in the story, to find the nascent themes and the dangling threads and weave it all together, to see the opportunities that I'm missing (for something to happen, or even just for a really great line), to recognize mistakes before they're committed to the narrative, et cetera.

And the thing is, while this policy might result in some missed updates, my experience in 2014 has shown me that the story will still move along faster. Because when I hold myself to the "publish or perish" approach, everyone gets to see me trying to build up creative momentum chapter by chapter. If I'm publishing when both the draft folder is empty and the creative well is dry, then you get a week's worth of chapters ("only" two or three, but still a week) of words chasing each other in circle's. Some of that's just Mackenzie's/The TOMU style, but too much of it is too much.

The specifics of how this policy will be implemented are something I'm not going to try to predict, as I have no idea how often I'll need to invoke it. The good news is that each time I do invoke it, I'll wind up with some padding, which makes it less likely that I'll need to use it again in the near future. The alternative of just pushing on and continually writing day-to-day is that I tend to keep writing day-to-day, which means I never build up any padding.

Now, accountability is going to be a big part of this. One problem I have with keeping up any kind of padding is that my brain has been wired for writing as performance art. I need the feeling of working without a net. I need the feeling of an audience. Tomorrow I'm going to be giving my patrons a viewing link for my drafts folder, so you can follow my progress on a couple of different levels. That is, you could just check it to make sure I'm being honest with myself ("Yep, there are totally chapter drafts in there."), or you could read along/read ahead. Your call.

Even if nobody ever actually looks at the draft folder, I'll *know* it's there and people could be looking.

This is something I've meant to do on a larger scale for a long time. It's just the sense of "Oh, must have the house tidied up before company comes over!" that's stopped me. But with no timetable for the company actually arriving, it becomes a reason not to have company rather than a reason to clean.

The State of the Me

Three days of decent sleep, though today has been a very slooooooow wake-up day in ways that are hard to articulate. Edit To Add: Whoops, just noticed this has been sitting open and unposted since 11 this morning.

Plans For Today

My decision to resume MU next week hinges on starting the week with three drafts in my folder, which means priority number 1 this afternoon is going to be to write a second draft to join the one I wrote yesterday. I'll probably noodle about with poetry or flash fiction as a warm-up exercise.

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Wednesday, January 7th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

Okay, so this is day three of my five days of decisions for 2015.

This might seem ambitious in a year when I'm also writing a novel, but I'm adapting my unpublished (long) short story Outside, Looking In into an interactive novel using Twine. I've already shared a proof-of-concept first chapter with my sponsors back in December. I had a second one, but lost it to careless file management. That took a bit of wind out of my sails, but, you know. I'll get over it.

The loss of the second chapter made me rethink my approach, though. This is my first major project with Twine (I have messed around with it quite a bit over the last year or so, but not in an organized fashion) and what I was envisioning was something more like a video game than a choose your own adventure, with internal scoring systems that open or close opportunities further down the line. Where the original story was one conversation in one night, the interactive version I imagined would document the entire budding relationship that hinged on that one night.

That's a bit ambitious for a first time project.

I think just as my first step was to write the story in non-interactive format, I think my next step should be to simply make that original short story interactive, in order to get some solid experience under my feet. If that goes well, I can see about expanding things.

So that's decision 3: I'm just going to port my story to Twine.

The State of the Me

Two nights in a row of good sleep and waking up feeling refreshed. Good progress.

Plans For Today

Today's the day I resume updating Tales of MU, so that's going to get most of my focus. As part of my official return to the MUniverse after a few weeks of absence, I'm also going to be gathering ideas for the next podcast.

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Tuesday, January 6th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

So, each day this week I'm going to be announcing a decision I've made for the coming year. Yesterday I was talking about my epic fantasy project, which now has a working title of The Moon Red With Blood, henceforth referred to as "TMRWB".

Today I'm talking about my plans for Harper's Folly. This project is one that was going really well in the first part of 2014 and then lost steam when I got sick and sleep deprived late in the spring.

The thing that made it hard to recover from this fumble was the format of the story, which is a mock blog. Unlike Tales of MU which is only published using a blog as the content management system, Harper's Folly was a blog-as-story. When real world time started to drift out of sync with the story time, I had a conundrum that got bigger the more time I spent trying to solve it.

I've decided the solution is to ditch the blog as publication vehicle. The story will still be told through the device of Harper's blog, complete with subject lines and date stamps... much as it already is in the ebook version. I just won't be posting it to an actual blog anymore. At the beginning publishing it as an actual blog seemed like an important part of the story's conceit, but with reflection and distance that just adds too much overhead to a story that's a side project. It almost guarantees that the same problem will happen again in the future.

I do have a solution in mind but I'm not going to go into it until I'm closer to implementing it. For now, the key points are: I'm going to be moving Harper's Folly, and continuing it in its new location.

The State of the Me

Last night was the best night's sleep I've had since before I left for Christmas. I attribute this in part to the fact that yesterday I resumed taking certain supplements I had previously cut from my regimen for budgetary reasons.

Plans For Today

My brainstorming the plot for TMRWB went muuuuch more quickly than I expected last night, leading me to the point where the only place to go further is concocting the characters, so I'm going to be doing that today. In the afternoon I'm going to shift to MU writing.

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Monday, January 5th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

Hello, internet!

Today is the first proper workday after the holidays, the first proper workday of 2015. You all know I'm a big fan of taking stock at milestones in time and space like "first of the month", but somewhere along the line I read that there was a superstition about not starting anything on the first of the year. I've adopted this into my own yearly rituals for the simple reason that making a a huge snap decision about something that's going to shape your whole year in a single day is a good way to get in over your head, over-commit, or whatever.

So here we are on the first Monday of 2015, and I've made a few decisions. I'm going to be talking about them in my status posts throughout the week.

The first decision, the big decision, is to actually go ahead with something I had first decided back in early December that 2015 will be the year that I write a fantasy novel, a traditional swords-and-sorcery novel like the sorts of ones I read growing up. I know there's a consensus that those kinds of stories are just a flock of banal cliches, but the thing is, there hasn't been a great amount of diversity in the voices telling stories about those kinds of action adventures or the people whose adventures are told.

I've kicked around different versions of this idea, some of which are more pointedly subversive than others. Back in November I came to what I think is a really solid idea for a total subversion of the usual "fantasy quest" narrative that I do hope one day to write, but right now, I think I just want to widen access to the straightforward escapism of heroic fantasy. I will do my best to be conscious of avoiding the worst excesses of the genre, like colonialism and coded racism, but I just want to write the novel I thought would be really cool to write when I was 13, using the knowledge and skills I have on the edge of 35.

This is a big project and one I'm going to be taking a more structured approach to than normal. I have 12 months, minus a few days. So I'm going to lay out a plan that looks like this:

First week of January, I'm going to be coming up with the very loose plot, as in: this is what kicks off the story, this is the almighty macguffin, this is the antagonist, et cetera. The following weeks of January, I'm going to be coming up with the heroes. The reason for this order of operations is that the traditional heroic fantasy, the heroes are in a reactive mode: there is a threat, they come together and respond to it.

In February, I will be sketching out the story in very loose terms, basically by writing a summary in paragraph form of each chapter. I've discovered that while I don't like traditional outlines, I can write very quickly by starting with a summary and expanding it.

In the remaining months of the year, I will aim to write 10% of the novel per month.

Obviously this means my goal is to have the book written by the end of 2015, not finished in the sense of polished and published.

I know from experience that I work much better when I have the immediate satisfaction of sharing my work, so I will be using my Patreon feed and cloud sharing to allow my sponsors to follow along with my progress, read my drafts, see my notes, et cetera.

The State of the Me

Doing okay. More or less completely bounced back from the holidays, apart from some lingering sleep schedule drift.

Plans For Today

Going to be doing some very broad strokes stuff for populating the fantasy novel with characters.

Also figuring out where I am with the newsletter subscription list. There were some new sponsors/subscribers over the holidays, when I wasn't in a position to do anything with that information.

Finally, I'll be using the afternoon to get my ducks in a row for the rest of the week, writing Tales of MU. I'll be posting stories on Wednesday and Friday, then resuming the "every other week day" schedule. The Wednesday/Friday starting point means I'll have two full days of fully back in the saddle for each chapter this week.

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Friday, January 2nd
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

Well, I was only intending to work two or three days this week, but even that hasn't worked out very well. I've done my typical thing of underestimating my need for rest/recovery, mixed with the fact that this is also a holiday week making things around the house a bit more unsettled. Add that to the fact that I somehow lost a couple of drafts I was working on just before the break and it's been a pretty dead week.

That's okay, though. I was planning on working, but not counting on much getting done. I was counting on a newsletter, which hasn't happened through a combination of rather boring if frustrating technical problems and having a lot to say but lacking the cogency to say it. I think that'll be an "early next week" thing. January and the new year will start in earnest next week.

The State of the Me

Doing okay? It's been really hard to settle into a routine regarding sleep, food, exercise, and pills in the wake of the holidays. Today's been the closest thing to normal yet.

Plans For Today

I really need to do some writing today, not because of deadline pressure but because I need to be writing and I'm not. There's a lot of inertia involved in the writing process, of the "Object in motion tends to stay in motion, object at rest tends to stay at rest" variety. I'm so rusty at this point that I think it's going to be random/free writing, but who knows?

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Monday, December 29th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

Greetings from sunny yet chilly Hagerstown. We are back in town after spending all of last week with my family in Florida. I am glad I decided to take the week off, both because I would have hated to have missed a minute of it and because the bits of work I did try to do (editing a poem, writing a holiday newsletter) proved to be impossible with my netbook. My mobile computing situation has been steadily degrading over the course of the last year, though it didn't matter as much because I was traveling less. Back in August I tried installing a more slimmed-down OS on my laptop to see if I could extend its life... apart from the expense, I really wasn't looking forward to buying any of the current netbook options because the market continues to trend away from my habits/needs in that area.

I ended up getting a larger laptop, because it's the only way I can really get what I need. I got a good post-Christmas deal on it, though... I didn't pay any more for it than I might have for a netbook. Also, the main problem I've had with full-size laptops historically is the weight, but that's one area where the market has been favoring me: they're making them lighter and lighter.

It does have Windows 8, but eh.

Anyway, Christmas money is all spent and my mobile computing situation is improved. I think it might be big enough (in terms of screen real estate) and powerful enough for me to do book formatting on it, which will be a big help if I'm not always tied to a desktop for that.

The State of the Me

Home now after a day of travel following seven days of late nights, busy days, and unabashed appetites. I'm giving myself some time to bounce back a bit, the same way I did after my November trip though for much better reasons. This is why I announced TOMU would return in 2015; just taking a couple days to catch my breath means we're already into New Years.

Plans For Today

Well, I've got a new computer to break in, meaning installing my programs, getting my files synced, and also just establishing a "working relationship" with it. I have to say that I am melding with the keyboard pretty quickly. Some of the reviews described the keys as clunky, but for a tactile touch-typist, it's just really remarkably responsive. It's just like the perfect size. I'll be working on that holiday newsletter while it's fresh in my head, too. I'll probably send it out the day of New Year's Eve, so it can serve as a wrap-up/look-forward thing.

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Oh, almost forgot...
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alexandraerin
...I had a nice conversation with Michael of ILYS.com yesterday.

For those who have missed me talking about it before, ILYS is a web-based writing tool that helps promote word flow. They let you set a word count goal and do not let you edit your work until you reach it. The psychology behind this is that editor-mode in your brain is more critical than writer-mode. Self-doubt, analysis paralysis, impostor syndrome... all of these things can force writer-brain into hiding. Editing can require you to be ruthless that is toxic to the actual act of creativity, so ILYS helps you build a firewall between them.

The feature that makes ILYS into a real killer app in my mind, though, is the one I see less talk about from the psychological side, and that is: it doesn't let you see what you're writing. The classic version gave you one letter at a time, which I think was important for sort of building trust? The new and improved version has a "ninja style" where all you can see is your word count, which ticks upward like a high score every time you get another word out.

It sounds kind of scary, it sounds kind of ridiculous... but man, few things are more daunting than a blank white page. You can sneak a peek at what you've been writing (useful if you get interrupted and lose your place), but while you're typing, you're not looking at what you've written, which means you're not judging it, either.

Anyway, while I was working yesterday, I noticed there was a feedback form on the dashboard that was just a box saying "Talk to us!" So I did. I explained that the multi-story saving feature wasn't what I'd hoped it would be and without the ability to re-open saved stories/previous sessions and edit them, it wasn't very useful for how I use the site.

The thing is, I've been using ILYS, but I haven't bothered with the saving feature for much of the writing I've done on the site, because I've found it easier to transfer it to an editor while it's unsaved.

Anyway, I got a reply within minutes suggesting that more robust save features were in the works but asking me if I could describe in more detail what I was looking for, so I did. Michael thanked me for my feedback and for the clear context I provided for it, and outlined some improvements he'll be making to meet my needs, which he said he would be implementing shortly.

Now, since ILYS launched their pro version after NaNo ended, I have noticed what I would call a steady commitment to improvement. Little things here and there show that people are paying attention and tightening the bolts. The one that stands out to me is that at launch, I couldn't type HTML tags (because it would automatically encode the angle brackets as their own HTML macros), but that was fixed pretty quickly.

This was phenomenal, though. The level of responsiveness and attentiveness was outstanding. It sounds like something like what I was looking for would have been on its way anyway, which I had kind of expected? But he took the time to listen to what I was looking for and then tell me what he was thinking for addressing it, and then assured me it was a priority. That is some top-notch customer service right there.

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Thursday, December 18th
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alexandraerin
The Daily Report

So I got the podcast recorded last night, but then encountered significant hurdles getting it off my phone and onto my desktop for editing. First, the USB connection wasn't recognized. Then it kept stalling out when I tried to upload it to Dropbox. I ended up staying up later than I'd expected trying to even get the dang thing onto my computer, by which point I was well into the second wind of insomnia.

I finally did get it into Dropbox when I had the bright idea to turn off my phone's WiFi and and use the data connection. By the time this happened, though, I was too wiped to even listen to the thing, much less cut it together.

So, I'll be doing that today and tomorrow with an eye towards putting it up tomorrow.

The State of the Me

Kind of frazzled, kind of tired.

Plans For Today

Despite coming into the day a little flagged, I'm in good shape for wrapping up the update I started yesterday, which will leave us at a good break point for the holidays.

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Reader Reviews Are For Readers
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alexandraerin
So, there's this guy. Not going to name him here, but he's an author, and he recently celebrated the milestone of having accumulated some number of reader reviews on the internet. I say "celebrated", but the majority of his post is given over to shaking his head in confused consternation that some percentage of them are made up of people saying they would have liked to see more female characters.

"I could understand if they were saying that this wasn't what they wanted so the story's not for them," would be a paraphrase of his lament, "but I feel like they're trying to hold me accountable for having done something wrong."

As of the time I saw it, the comments on his post were all sympathetic towards him and pretty merciless towards the reviewers. They just want to impose quotas! They want to take away your artistic freedom! If they don't like your story as written, why can't they read something else?

I have a lot of things I could say about the fear of quotas. I won't cover them in detail but I always wonder: if blog posts and negative reviews by random internet people is actually a viable enforcement method for these mysterious quotas, then why are stories still written that fail to meet them?

But it's the sentiment of "If they don't like your story as written, why can't they read something else?" that I want to address here.

Friends, fellow authors, this is what we have to understand: reader reviews are not written for us. They are written for other readers. When a reader signs into Good Reads or Amazon or wherever to say how many stars they gave a book and why, what they are doing is leaving a signpost for future readers that says "This way! This way! If you're looking for this sort of thing, here it is!"

Or "If you're looking for this sort of thing, you're likely to be disappointed," as the case may be.

There's this idea that has always been implicitly in a lot of people's heads. Some of the current blow-ups in the video game world have brought it to the forefront and strengthened it, and it's the idea that a review of a piece of entertainment is meant to be an objective measurement of its quality. Related to his idea is the thought that when someone who dislikes a work because of what might be summed up as content issues or matters of representation, the sorts of things that are often written off as "political correctness", they are cheating the artwork of its deserved rating and thus cheating it of sales it deserves.

The idea is that if your book about manly men having manly adventures is reviewed negatively by people looking for a book with more women in it, this negative review will depress your sales even though for people who don't care about "that stuff" there was no problem reported in those reviews.

Well, first of all, all those "lost" sales are going to fall into of two categories.

The first category is the people who might have checked the book out in case it gave them what they were looking for, but thanks to the reviews they know it doesn't.

Even as an author and creator, I am deeply suspicious of the idea that these people owe me their money, owe my work a chance, to such an extent that something has gone wrong if other readers are letting them know in advance they might be disappointed. I want my work to find its audience. I want my audience to find my work. I have enough confidence in the appeal of my writing that I don't need to trick people into reading it and hope that if they're disappointed by what they bought they don't seek refunds. That's a terrible business model.

Of course, if you're thinking of a work's quality, value, and appeal as objective things then you can't think in these terms. Your audience, like your rating, is just a numerical score. How good is your book? 10,000 readers good!

And this gets to the second category of sales you lose to negative reviews, which comes from people who put a similar amount of stock in numerical ratings. They see your book is 4.5 stars and this other book is 5 stars, and rather than being curious about why some people didn't like your book, they accept that the second book is simply objectively superior and buy it instead.

You could blame these "lost sales" on the "artificially" lowered rating your book has, but the real culprit is the belief that reviews/ratings are an objective measure of quality.

Here's the thing: there are a lot of books out there. The way books succeed is by connecting to people who will enjoy them and become advocates for them. Reader reviews are an important part of this process.

A signpost saying a book is lacking in female characters is just information that consumers can take into account. It's not an admonition with force of law insisting that readers stay out. It's not a declaration that women (or sensitive, caring men) cannot enjoy the book under penalty of law. It is not a petition to the author demanding that he go back in time and change his work before it was published.

It's information that consumers can choose to take into account or not before they make the informed decision how to spend their time and money.

Pure and simple.

How can you be against that?

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