All posts by Jamie Todd Rubin

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

16 Books (and Counting)

Earlier this month, I finished reading my 100th book for the year. It is the second year in a row that I have read at least 100 books. Last year, I read 130, and I don’t think that record will fall this year. However, yesterday, I set a new reading record for myself: I finished my 16th book in a single month.

Last year, there were two occasions on which I read 15 books in a month, October and November. So far, this November, I have read 16 book. I will likely complete one more book before the month is out, but it is unlikely I will finish the book that I started to read yesterday before the end of the month: Don Quixote.

The last two pages of my reading journal contains a chart and some tables where I keep these stats. I am looking forward to inking in the final number for November on Sunday morning. (The photo was from late October before I finished the month. The count in the October 2019 box is 13 books.)

The last two pages of my reading journal.

Looking at those pages gives me some sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. I note that the last month in which I read nothing was January 2015, and the last month I read fewer than 5 books was September 2017. Last year I hit double-digits in 8 out of 12 months. This year it’s half that so far.

I think the chart also demonstrates I am something of an optimist. It captures my months reading stats through 2045. In 2045 I’ll be 73 years old, which still seems like a long way of. All told, the chart covers 50 years of reading. Next year will mark 25 full years that I’ve been keeping my list/journal. It will also be the year that I surpass a total of 1,000 books read since starting my list in 1996.

Growing a Beard

Some things are easy to do, and others hard to do. You’d think that the easier the thing, the less you’d have to do. Take growing a beard. It involves doing exactly nothing. Not growing a beard should be harder than growing a beard because not growing a beard involves shaving.

I was thinking about this because every year around this time, I get it in my head to grow a beard for winter. I live in a place where it gets cold in the winter, and a beard seems like just the thing to keep my face warm. Every year I give it the old college try, doing my best to do, well, nothing, and every year, somewhere between the 2-3 week mark, I cave. I decide that (a) what beard I’ve managed is too itchy to live, and (b) for all of the hard work I’ve put into growing the thing, I have little to show for it. I usually make this decision while in the shower, and by the time the shower is over, my face is beardless.

But not this year.

This year I decided that, come hell or high water, I was growing a beard. I kept careful notes this time. The last day I shaved was the morning we have our family photos taken. Day 12 was the worst as far as itching goes. Between days 10-12, I was washing my face three or four times a day, because the soap and warm water seemed to ease the itching. After day 12, I no longer noticed the itching. Sunday was 3 weeks, so today is 22 days, and here’s what I have to show for it:

My beard, 22 days in.

It seems the beard should be fuller, given how much time I’ve spent doing nothing. Three weeks of hard work avoiding the razor has produced something, but not much. I’m not sure how I should feel about this. Truth be told, I feel a little annoyed. My brother, for instance, can probably shave in the morning, and have about as much of beard as I do now by late afternoon. I know people whose beards come in full and dark (and much more quickly than my own). Not only is mine slow to grow, but its coming in a variety of shades, many of them leaning to gray and white, but enough darker color splattered here and there to hint at Jackson Pollock.

I have a theory about beards. I bounced my theory off Kelly last night, and she agrees. Men with lots of upper body hair but little hair on their extremities, grow beards more easily than men with lots of hair on their extremities, but little upper body hair. Need I tell you which category I fall into?

I shouldn’t complain. It is something out of my control. All I can do is nothing. So far, that seems to have worked, although I might need two months before this thing fills out. Good thing that winter doesn’t actually start until late December.

I can tell that it is growing, and more than ever before, however. My face does feel more insulated when I walk in the cold. This morning, it even felt like ice might be forming in the moisture collecting in the hair on my face. At night, when I press my face on my pillow, I pause because it seems like there’s something there between my face and my pillow–and there is.

This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I keep looking at myself in the mirror to see if I notice any progress. Even in the car, I’ll pull down the mirror under the sun visor and check the progress. I guess that’s because it is a novelty to me.

I will continue to do nothing for another 3-1/2 weeks in the hopes that this thing will start to fill out. I looked online for tips for growing a beard, but like most things online, the tips seemed ridiculous and largely unbelievable.

A few people who’ve seen me asked if I was growing the beard for Movember. I’m growing the beard to stay warm in the winter when I am outdoors. Given my snail’s pace, Movember probably wouldn’t work for me. I’d need Mocember, Manuary as well.

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

This evening, I solved a mystery that has been plaguing me for years, but in order to understand the context, we have to begin with the question that writers often get, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I answered this question eight years ago, but it is worth revisiting here. Harlan Ellison may have gotten his ideas from an idea factory in Schenectady, but I get mine in the shower. Of all the places from which to get ideas, the shower is the most inconvenient. I don’t recommend it. Usually, the idea rises like a soap bubble, just as I have finished lathering up my hair with shampoo. Under those circumstances, it is impossible to dash out of the shower and scribble the idea down. You have to fight for it. And like a soap bubble, the idea is clear but delicate, so you have to keep a close eye on it, and avoid jostling it lest it burst.

This is not as easy as it sounds. If the idea is strong and clear, it is one thing. But if it is a fleeting thing: the perfect line of dialog for a character, worded just right, then it becomes a lot more tricky for me. My shower becomes an exercise in repetition, and I can be heard muttering the line over and over, like someone trying to remember a phone number.

I have often wondered why a shower stimulates ideas at the rate that it does compared to just about any other activity. I think it is because it is the only time in my day when my mind is completely unburdened of other activity. My default idle is reading. If I am not doing anything else during the day, I am reading, whether a physical book, a magazine, a newspaper, or listening to an audiobook. There is no time in my day when I just sit and do nothing, just let my mind wander–except for the shower. I guess my mind, cooped up all day like dog, runs free once I hit the shower. It is remarkable how often I get useful ideas in the shower. These can be ideas for anything–blog posts, stories, dialog, working out a problem I’m having with something I am writing. The shower rarely fails me.

Of course, it is difficult to capture the idea in the shower. You have to treat it carefully. But I’ve learned not to worry too much about that. With the except of the perfect line (or dialog or prose), if the idea doesn’t make it out of the shower, I assume it really wasn’t that good of an idea after all. Or perhaps I just tell myself that to make me feel better.

How does this relate to the mystery that I have finally solved? Well, let me tell you… beginning a few years ago, I started to experience a strange phenomenon in the shower. At some point, I would reach for the shampoo–and hesitate. I could not recall if I had already washed my hair. Washing it twice is no big deal. It just takes more time. But it bothered me that I had been so preoccupied that I couldn’t even remember if I had washed my hair. This didn’t happen all the time, but every now and then, there’d I be, my thoughts drifting and I couldn’t recall if I had already washed my hair.

This evening, in a flash, it came to me–in the shower, of course–that there seemed to be a direct correlation between my absentmindedness and the abundance of ideas that come during the shower. When the ideas are ripe for the picking, I get into that same mental state that drivers get into when they leave the office, end up in their driveway, and have no memory of anything in between. I go on autopilot, my mind completely focused on the emerging ideas, and the lizard part of my brain taking care of the basic functions, like washing my hair.

If you are wondering, the idea that came to me in this evening’s shower–one in which I really had to focus because I wanted to keep the wording precise–was: “Harlan Ellison may have gotten his ideas from an idea factory in Schenectady, but I get mine in the shower. Of all the places from which to get ideas, the shower is the most inconvenient. I don’t recommend it.”

I’m pretty sure I washed my hair twice.

Settling Down to Read

My reading chair

After my morning walk, I took advantage of some quiet time to sit down to read. In one part of my new office is an old rail chair we used when the kids were babies. It is nestled right in between the Q and S sections of my bookshelves, and thus, right where any of my books would be shelved, had I any books with my name on the cover.

It was a cold morning, and after I sat down in my chair and put my feet up, I decided that I needed to take the chill out of my bones with a bowl of hot oatmeal. With the oatmeal finished, I sat down again, took some sips of my Coke, and cracked open the book I am reading. These days I usually read several books at once, and at the moment, I have 5 books in various stages of completion.

I opened to the page where I left off last night, and read less than a paragraph before a wave of guilt washed over me. I had set my empty oatmeal bowl on the kitchen counter because the green light was glowing on the dishwasher, and the green light means that the dishes have been cleaned. I’ve been trying to be better about these things, not leaving it to others to empty the dishwasher, so I took another sip of my Coke, and set about emptying the dishwasher. And since I was there, I took the dishes that had stacked up on the counter and put them in the now-emptied appliance.

With that chore done, and my conscience clear, I returned to my chair sipped some more Coke, and cracked open the book once more. I looked around the room, three sides of which are surrounded my windows. The rising sun in the east was shining in through the back windows, and a beam of sunlight happened to catch on the bottle of vitamins I’d placed by my desk so that I wouldn’t forget to take them in the morning.

Of course, I’d forgotten to take them this morning.

I could have just sat there and continued to read my book, but I knew if I didn’t get up and take the vitamins now, they would slip my mind and I’d forget to take them at all. So up I went, took my vitamins, washing them down with a swig of Coke (the can was now almost empty and I’d barely started to read!) and settled once more into my chair, my book in my lap, determined to start.

And start I did, but I didn’t get through more than two or three pages before I noticed the noises from the kids devices in the next room intruding on my peace and quiet. (We have yet to install French doors between my office and the living room.) I wondered, momentarily, what to do, when I spotted my Bose headset on the desk nearby. I got up, grabbed the headset, sat back down, put covered my ears and flipped the switch on the side. Suddenly, I was immersed in silence.

I began to read and the world fell away, as it often does when I am immersed in a book. One page, two pages, three pages. Then a familiar sensation. I closed the book, set it in my lap, and frowned at the empty can of Coke on the shelf beside me. I looked longingly toward the bathroom on the other side of the house, and got up once more.

With that done, I sat down once again, book in my lap, and began to read. Twenty minutes had passed since I’d started, and I’d gotten nowhere. The quiet moment had passed, but I’m nothing if not determined, and I was going to spend the rest of the hour reading this book. I read a page, and then another one. I kept thinking about the interruptions and how these days, this really wasn’t uncommon for me. Indeed, it was kind of echo to the daily rhythms. After all, often while working on something, I will, for no reason interrupt what I am doing to check what’s happening on Facebook, or Twitter, or to see if there are any interesting new blog posts–eureka!

I dropped the book, sprang up from my chair, dashed across the office to my desk, where I sat and began to write a little essay about the joys and delights of settling down to read on a quiet Saturday morning.

My Favorite Book Series

For the longest time, I would tell people that my favorite book series was Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I read the series at a time when it clicked with me. I have read the entire series at least 5 times. I used to imagine what it would be like to live at the height of the Galactic Empire. I wondered what it would be like to know Hari Seldon. That said, I never wanted to be Hari Seldon.

Tastes change over time. One of my kids favorite pastimes seems to be asking me “what is your favorite ______“? I try to explain that it often depends, and over time, favorites change as tastes evolve. This is especially true with reading. You never know what lies ahead that might take over as the next favorite.

If you were to ask me today what my favorite book series is, I’d say, unequivocally, it is Craig Johnson‘s Walt Longmire books. I binge-read the entire 15 book series and the existing novellas between October and November. Today, I finished the most recent entry in the series, Land of Wolves. When I was finished, I felt a mixture of joy and grief. The books are so good, and the thought that I’d have to actually wait a while for the next Longmire book filled me with dismay.

Unlike the Foundation books, I read the Longmire books with an increasing desire that I wanted to be Longmire, or at least, like him. The books filled some kind of need I have for open spaces, small towns, and life outdoors. This is the great thing about books, but specifically about these books. Reading them, I felt as if I was getting what I needed. I was there in Absaroka County, Wyoming with Walt, Vic, Henry, Lucian, Ruby, and many others. They became familiar faces in a way that Hari Seldon, Hober Mallow, and Salvor Hardin never did.

I enjoyed the mysterious in the Longmire books, but there was so much more to enjoy. I enjoyed seeing the world from Walt’s perspective. I enjoyed his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure things. I enjoyed the setting. I delighted in the banter between characters. I especially enjoyed the writing. Craig Johnson is a master of the form. Johnson’s humor, as it comes through Walt, is often aware of the formulaic patterns of life, and I think that self-awareness helps to keep the writing and stories fresh.

There was an added dimension to these stories: George Guidall. I listened to the audiobook versions and George Guidall narrates them all. And since all of the books are told in the first person, George Guidall has brought the voice of Walt Longmire to life, far more than even Robert Taylor did in the television series. In all of the audiobooks I have listened to, there is only one other narrator that really became the character and brought them to life in a similar manner: Craig Wasson did it for Jake Epping in 11/22/63 by Stephen King. But that was one book. George Guidall has been Walt Longmire’s voice for 15 novels and several shorter stories.

And speaking of shorter stories, the short pieces that Johnson has written about Longmire are utterly charming pieces of short fiction, delightful to read.

I have enjoyed other character series. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, all 24 of which I have read, are pure fun. But Johnson’s Longmire books are something more than just character books. They are what I always imagined reading a book should be: windows into other people and places, well-written, and so vivid, that I am completely and totally immersed in the stories, the characters, and the setting. The characters don’t seem like characters, but people I know, the settings, places I hang out. Rarely has fiction had this strong an affect on me. To sustain this through 15 novels is remarkable.

So the Longmire series is my new favorite book series, and I now wait, impatiently, for the next story in the series. Could it be that Walt and Henry will be heading to Alaska? I think I’m more excited about the next Longmire book (yet to be announced) than the next Star Wars movie, coming out in less than a month.

100 Books in 2019!

Last year, I read 130 books. It was the first time I had ever surpassed 100 books in a year. Indeed, it was the first time I’d read more than 60 books in a year. It seemed like an outlier. So when it came time to set a goal in Goodreads Reading Challenge, I opted for a more modest 100 books. (Originally, I was aiming for 148 books, but scaled it back after I thought about attempting some longer books.)

This morning, I finished reading Depth of Winter by Craig Johnson, and thus, finished my 100th book of 2019. It makes the 130 books of 2018 seem like less of an outlier. Indeed, given my pace this year, I’d estimate that I’ll finish between 115-120 total before the year is out.

So far, the mix is 68 nonfiction, 32 fiction. I’ve been very heavy on nonfiction these last several years, and the reason for so much fiction is due in large part to my reading the entire Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson this year. I found that to be one of the most enjoyable series I have ever read.

94 of the 100 books have been audiobooks. Audiobooks are the real reason I am able to read as much as I do, and I am grateful for them. 5 have been paper books, and 1 has been an e-book.

The total comes to 38,373 pages. That seems like a lot, but last year, my page total was 61,545 pages. I don’t think I’ll come close to surpassing that, even if I manage to read 120 books this year.

Anyway, as soon as I finished my 100th book of the year, I started right in on the 101st. It happens to be Land of Wolves by Craig Johnson, the most recent Longmire novel to be published. Once that is done, I’ll be all caught up with Walt and the gang until next year. I suspect much of the remainder of the year will be on nonfiction.

But I never really know where the butterfly effect of reading will take me

Capclave 2019, Day 1

Yesterday, I attended the first day of Capclave, the Washington, D.C. area local science fiction convention. This has been my local convention ever since I started to sell stories. I haven’t been writing much the last few years and so I haven’t been attending conventions, but I decided to attend this convention for two reasons: First, Robert J. Sawyer and Martha Wells are the guests of honor, and second, I’ve started to write again, and it would be great to catch up with old friends.

Rob Sawyer was the GoH at the first science fiction convention I ever attended, RavenCon in 2007. I had just sold my first story, and Rob was incredibly nice to me. I think the last time I saw him was at the Chicago Worldcon, and it was great to get to see him again yesterday.

Chatting with Bill Lawhorn, one of the Capclave con-runners, we tried to figure out when I first attended Capclave. I thought it was in 2010, the year that Connie Willis was guest of honor. Bill read through the list of earlier Capclave’s and I was fairly certain I hadn’t attended those.

I was wrong.

Searching the blog this morning, I found that I attended Capclave 2007 when Jeffrey Ford and Ellen Datlow were guests of honor. I was not a panelist then–indeed, the first time I was ever on a panel was at Readercon in 2008, I think. But I sat in awe on many of the panels as people whose names I’d been seeing on books and in the magazines talked.

At that 2007 Capclave I attended a workshop led by Edmund Schubert, Jagi Lamplighter, Jeri Smith-Ready, and Allen Wold. In the years since, I’ve sold more stories to Ed Schubert than any other editor; I attended the Lauchpad Astronomy workshop for writers in Laramie, Wyoming with Jeri Smith-Ready (her husband, Christian Ready helped run it), and yesterday, I moderated a panel that included Allen Wold among the panelist.

I had a late lunch with my pal, Bud Sparhawk, who has to be one of the most prolific “retired” people I know. It had been a few years since I’d seen Bud and it was great to catch up with him.

I had my first panel at 8 pm, “Before the Beginning,” a panel on what happens before a writer starts to write a story. It turned out I was moderating this panel, which included Sunny Moraine, Ian Randal Strock, Ted Weber, and Allen Wold. It was a light audience of maybe a dozen people, but I think we had a pretty good discussion. It was the first panel I’ve moderated in several years and I was a little nervous about it, so I made sure to prepare ahead of time. For those curious, here are my notes (the stuff handwritten, are things I scribbled down during the panel):

I’ve got two panels lined up today, neither of which I have to moderate, fortunately. Looking forward to another fun day.

25 Years and Counting

25 years ago today, I started my first job out of college. I’d graduated about three months earlier, and spent the summer after my graduation continuing to work in the dorm cafeteria office, where I did some computer work. Meanwhile, I looked for full-time job.

I graduated with a degree in political science and journalism, and really had no idea what I wanted to do for full time work. I was good with computers, having grown up learning to tame them, and when a job came up with a company looking for computer people to work at the corporate “helpdesk”, I applied. I was eventually called for an interview. That interview lasted all day. Then, nothing for several weeks.

Eventually, I got a call offering me a job. It came with a salary, and benefits, and I was really excited about it. I took it. My first day was on October 17, 1994.

Fast forward a quarter century. Today, I am still working for the same company. My role has changed over the years, as has my location (in 2002, I relocated from California to Virginia), but I still work for the same department as I did when I first started, although it has gone through a number of name changes in the 25 intervening years.

When I tell people I’ve been with the same company for 25 years, the response I get is a nearly universal, ” That’s unheard of these days.” All I can say is that I wouldn’t really know, never having worked anywhere else since graduating. I will say that longevity is fairly common where I work. In fact, I am not even in the top 100 in terms of longevity. Indeed, even within my own department, I am 16th overall in terms of how long I have been with the company.

My kids asked me this morning if I liked working there, given that I have been there so long. I smiled, and nodded, and said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” When I first started, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first year. Everyone else seemed so much smarter than me. Now, they still all seem smarter than me, but they tolerate me, and I’ve got to admit, I think I’ve finally warmed to the place.

I’ve always been the slow, but steady type, after all.

My Capclave Schedule, 2019 Edition

It has been a few years since I’ve attended science fiction conventions, mainly because I haven’t been writing much. But, I will be at my local convention, Capclave, this coming weekend, October 18-20, in Rockville, Maryland.

Robert J. Sawyer and Martha Wells are guests of honor at this convention. I am looking forward to being there. Here is my preliminary panel schedule for the weekend:

Friday

  • 8 pm: Before the Beginning (w/Sunny Moraine, Ian Randal Strock, Ted Weber, and Allen L. Wold. When developing a story, what comes first, the setting, plot, characters, or something else? Is it writer or story dependent? How does this choice affect the story? What planning does the author do and how does this change while writing the story? I am moderating this panel.

Saturday

  • 2 pm: Biggest Mistakes New Writers Make (w/Larry Hodges, Dina Leacock, Ian Randal Strock (M), Sherri Cook Woosley). What was the biggest mistake you made as a new writer? Do you still make that mistake? What incorrect assumptions do new writers make? What advice would you give new writers about managing their career?
  • 4 pm: Writing Under Duress (w/Kelly E Dwyer, LH Moore, Lawrence M. Schoen). Tips, cheats, and strategies to keep writing even after life punches you in the throat. General self-care for writers.

Sunday

  • 10 am: Plotters and Pantsers: A Debate (w/Day Al-Mohamen (M), Beth Brenner, Michelle D. Sonnier, Sherri Cook Woosley). The audience will vote at the start and end. The two sides will go back and forth defending their style. The winner is the side that changes the most votes.

Lab Book for a Novel, Day 8: The Voice and POV Dance

It has been a few days since my last post. I’d been traveling for work, and spent much of the weekend working as well so writing the last few days has been minimal. Yesterday was Day 8, and through Day 8, I am 811 words ahead of pace. That sounds good, but things are a bit deceiving, and this is where setting a daily writing goal can be problematic.

Although I’ve written 4,800 words, only the most recent 1,700 are part of the novel now. The other 3,100 words have been tossed because they weren’t right. (They weren’t deleted, as I don’t delete, but they have been crossed out in the manuscript. So despite having averaged 600 words per day over the first 8 days of writing, I have only 1,700 words of acceptably story to show for it.

You see the flaw in a plan like this, right?

Fortunately, for me, this is fairly common at the beginning of a story. I stumble around a lot trying to find the right point of view from which to tell the story, and trying to find the right voices for that point of view. I started in first person, thinking that was how I wanted to tell it, but quickly realized that wouldn’t work, at least, not for the entire story. There are things the reader needs to know that the viewpoint character doesn’t know, and that is hard to do in first person without some kind of special talent, like telepathy, which this particular character does not have.

So I switched to third person, and rewrote. But I struggle more with voice in third person than I do in first. Moreover, I decided that I was going to move between characters, although never within a scene. So I needed to come up with distinct voices for each of the character viewpoints thus far.

Finally, I couldn’t figure out where best to start the story. I think I mentioned that it takes place in two distinct time periods separated by about 60 years. I tried starting at the beginning (in the earlier time period), but couldn’t seem to get to the heart of the matter quickly enough. The sense of overall urgency in the story was lacking. So I tried again, this time from the latter time period. That seemed to work better. Yesterday (my best day so far) I wrote 1,700 words covering the first two scenes, and I think I have things finally going the way I want them.

As one who does not outline (pantser instead of plotter), I also finally have a sense of the general direction the story is going. Right now it looks like there will be three overarching “parts” to the novel. The first and last will take place in the latter time period, with the middle part (a fairly big part, I think) taking place in the past.

I haven’t written yet today, but I know what comes next, and I am eager to write it, and that is always a good sign.

This difference between how much writing I do toward the first draft, and how much stays in the first draft is tricky, however. If I am aiming for a 90,000 word first draft, it is completely conceivable that I’d write 100,000 words or more, only 90,000 of which end up in the draft. To that end, I’ve added another element to my logbook for my novel. This is a green bar. Each day, that bar will indicate a cumulative count of how much of what I written is in the first draft. Stuff that I’ve cut won’t show up in this measurement. As of today, therefore, things look like this:

Introducing the green "draft total" bar.
Introducing the green “draft total” bar.

I expect to get in some decent writing this week, and over the weekend. Next week I am traveling again, so we’ll see how things go.

Lab Book for a Novel, Day 3: Reading While Writing

More than 24 hours passed between my second and third writing session, but still three days in a row. I wrote yesterday early in the morning, before 5 am. Today, I just finished my day’s writing at almost 7 pm. I managed 620 words, so that’s three days above my 500 words/day quota. Today’s writing felt a little choppy–I felt like I was throwing a little too much out there at once. But I resisted the temptation to go back and change anything,. Right now I just need to keep moving forward.

On the plane out to L.A. I finished re-reading On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I think I’ve read this book 7 times now. It is the only book on writing I have ever read and found value in. I re-read it now and then for inspiration, especially when starting something new.

Having finished it on the plane, I needed something else to read, so I started reading Mary Robinette Kowal‘s The Calculating Stars. I stopped reading science fiction several years back, not for any particular reason. I just wanted to read other things, mostly nonfiction, but other types of fiction as well. But I will be attending Capclave next month, and it seemed like I should have read something recent in the genre, especially since I will be on panels there.

The book, so far, is amazing. I’m always impressed when writers do a good job at something technical. One of the main characters in Mary’s book is a pilot, and as a former pilot myself, I was impressed with Mary’s descriptions of flying. But the story is very good, too, and therein lies a problem for me.

When I am writing a story, I really can’t read fiction. I usually avoid it. But Mary’s book is so good that I just have to keep reading. And I suspect, by the time I finish it (maybe tomorrow on the plane home) that I’ll want to jump right into The Fated Sky, sequel to The Calculating Stars.

All of this is to say that Mary’s book is very, very good. So good, that I am breaking my own rule of avoiding reading fiction while I am writing fiction. The rule exists not so much because I am afraid what I am writing will be influenced by what I am reading. Instead, I worry that, given my limited time, I will choose to read her novel instead of work on my own. It’s fine to skip a day here or there, but if I start to skip too much, I start to lose the continuing of what I am writing.

In any case, three days into my own novel, I’ve got about 2,500 words written, and I think I might be closing in on the end of the first chapter. I don’t know how other writers think in terms of chapters. I generally write and number scenes, but as I go, I get sense that several scenes fit together in a collection that is properly called a chapter, and that is how I label them. I think chapter one will be done tomorrow or maybe Friday.

Lab Book for a Novel, Day 2: Early Concerns

I was so tired yesterday, after not sleeping much the night before and being up early for my flight to L.A., that as soon as I finished writing, I crawled into my hotel bed at about 6:45 pm and collapsed. That meant that I was up early, despite getting 9 hours of sleep. So before heading into the office, I took advantage of the time to get in some writing.

I added the second scene to the novel, just shy of 1,000 words. I jumped viewpoints in this scene, and am set to do so again in the next scene, before jumping back to the original view point in scene 4. As many of my stories are first person, third person is harder for me. As I write, I worry that the different view points are not distinct enough from one another. In other words, instead of having to find the right voice for the story–which is always the hard part for me at the beginning–I have to find the right voices. And those voices need to be distinct enough from one another so that they come across as different people.

My other worry is that the story is interesting enough to keep a reader’s attention. This is a slippery slope for me. In the past, I worry about this too much and end up going back and starting things over to find what I think is a more interesting approach. I do this again and again and write a lot but make little real progress. I am trying to learn from that here, and I keep reminding myself that this is the first draft, and until it is finished, no one but me is going to see it. Let me just get the story down and I can decide if it is interesting enough to hold a reader (and make it more interesting, if needed) in the second draft.

It did feel good to get in my quota (and then some) before my day even gets started. I’m eager to write the next couple of scenes, and that is always a good sign. There’s a chance I’ll get some more writing in this evening, but for now, after two days, the score is about 1,800 words written compared to 1,000 words of baseline. So I’m nearly 2 days ahead of schedule at this point. That’s a good way to start.