Side Jobs

More Dresden Files. I know. But the series is almost done, and then I’ll find something new to talk about. (You can check out my previous Dresden Files posts here and here.)

Side Jobs is a different kind of story. The Dresden Files series encompasses more than a decade of adventures had by Harry Dresden, professional wizard. Side Jobs is a compilation of short stories interwoven into the larger plotline. They have little bearing on the series overall, but do offer insight and character development and, let’s face it, just a little bit extra for us nerds who can’t get enough.

I’m a couple of stories in, but for this post I want to focus on the first story in the book, A Restoration of Faith. In his introduction, Jim Butcher writes, “This one won’t win any awards, because it is, quite frankly, a novice effort…I had barely learned to keep my feet under me as a writer, and to some degree that shows in this piece.” This is a story that editors declined to publish, and it predates any of the full-length Dresden Files novels.

Reading it easily shows how fairly simple the story is. I’m 14 books into this series, and I feel like I have a good grasp on how Jim Butcher tells a story. A Restoration of Faith doesn’t come close to the finished works I’m used to. As well it shouldn’t. It was a long time ago, at the beginning of his career, and he was still learning. Obviously, it worked out. He made the New York Times Bestseller list.

I’m taking this story as a lesson today. Everyone starts somewhere. And the stuff at the beginning isn’t always that great. I’m still at the beginning, and anyone who’s read my posts knows I’ve been struggling. Maybe my stuff isn’t that great. That doesn’t mean I won’t write a bestseller. I just have things to learn first.

Forward Momentum

I’ve had a lot of trouble being productive this week. My forward momentum has stalled. Part of that is a discipline issue. Take, for example, yesterday. 9:00 hit last night, and I hadn’t yet gotten any writing done. I was tired, and my head hurt (it’s been raining for days), and it was late, so I chose to just watch some TV instead. That’s on me.

This post isn’t about the excuses I used to not write this week. It has been a busy week, and I’ve been gone a lot in the afternoons, but if I’d been as disciplined as I should have been I would have fit at least a little work in somewhere.

Rather, this post is about pointing out how easy it is to keep not working when I’ve already begun not working. Did you take physics in high school? Remember inertia? Merriam Webster-“a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force”. I know writing isn’t physics, but the same principle applies. The more I let myself slide on not getting work done, the easier it becomes to not get any work done. I need an external force (discipline) to change that trajectory.

What about motivation, you ask? Motivation is unreliable and ultimately worthless. There’s a great post by NerdFitness’s Steve Kamb called Motivation: You’re Doing It Wrong. Motivation inspires us to make a change and gives us a push, but it isn’t enough to sustain us through the long haul. Last night, I was completely lacking in motivation. That’s where discipline needs to step up.

Discipline is what makes me get out my laptop late at night and pound out a few hundred words because I haven’t gotten around to it all day. Discipline is what makes me choose to write instead of finishing the book I’m reading or watching new episodes of my favorite show on Netflix. Discipline is what’s going to get this project finished when I simply don’t feel like doing it.

All is not lost, though. Just like inactivity builds forward momentum, productivity does the same thing. As I mentioned in my post Back Into Creation Mode, I’ve been away from this project for a little while. I lost all momentum whatsoever, and I’m still trying to get it back. But once I do, that momentum will only build. Once I’m fully immersed in my story and churning out a couple thousand words a day, it’ll drive me nuts to not be working. Writing will consume my thoughts and keep me awake at night planning my next chapter. I won’t need as much discipline, because I’ll be completely motivated to keep moving forward.

Let me know what you think in the comments. How do you stay disciplined? How do you find the drive to keep working when you just really don’t feel like it?


Rediscovering My Love of Library Books

The title of this post is a bit misleading. I’ve always loved to read. I’ve never forgotten that I love reading, or felt a desire to not read anymore. But since I “grew up”, and especially in the last few years, I’ve felt that I didn’t have time.

All through school and into college, a stack of library books perpetually lived in my bedroom. That’s where I spent much of my free time. But then something changed. I graduated. I got a “real” job. I got married. I still loved reading, but months would go by without me picking up a single book. This made me sad, but I didn’t know how to change it. I just didn’t have the time to waste.

I think I was conditioned to think this way. Adults used to tell me they used to read a lot but couldn’t find the time anymore. Especially after having kids. I never saw adults carrying stacks of books through the library, not like I did. So it made sense that I didn’t have time anymore either. After all, I worked all day, and when I got home there was still dinner to make and a house to clean. Weekends were spent catching up on house things, or doing couple things, or just vegging in front of the TV because I was completely unmotivated to do anything else.

My perspective has now changed. Granted, I’ve officially been unemployed for more than a year. I spent some time helping my family after my mother’s surgery, then my husband and I did the whole military-move thing. My days now are mostly spent at home, pursuing whatever I want. I’m busier than I’ve ever been. I’m writing, I read for my critique partner (and others, occasionally), I work part-time for an online company. I do the house things: cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, etc. I train and exercise our puppy. I have church commitments. But there’s currently a stack of library books on my dining room table.

I’ve realized over the past year that if something is important to me, I need to make time for it. It’s a simple lesson, but one I put off for far too long. It’s what’s motivating me to buckle down on my writing. I love to read, and if I truly want to do it, I need to sacrifice something else.

So I make it a point to read now. Sometimes it’s only an hour while I eat my lunch. Sometimes it’s a couple of hours in the evening, when I’ve planned my day right and managed to get everything else done. Sometimes it’s even an entire Saturday, when I’ve had a long and stressful week and need to take a day off. My point being, I want it in my life. So I find places that it fits.


Ghost Story

I’m still reading the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher (see previous post here). I’m about to finish Ghost Story, which is book 13 (spoilers!). This is one series I just can’t seem to put down. I’ve read a couple of other books interspersed throughout, but even then I have trouble getting Harry Dresden out of my head and focusing on a different story.

I’ll admit, I didn’t like the beginning of Ghost Story. At the end of the previous book, Changes, Harry is shot and falls into a lake, and we’re lead to believe that he dies. It’s fitting, then, that the next title is Ghost Story. Because, when the book starts, Harry is a ghost. He gets sent back from the afterlife to find his killer, but, since, he’s a ghost, he can’t communicate directly with his friends.

I have to applaud Jim Butcher here, for being able to change how he writes his protagonist. It’s still the same Harry, but how he interacts with the world is required to change. He can’t be exposed to sunlight. He has to speak through a medium. He can’t access his magic, nor can he interact directly with mortals. The character has to adapt to new circumstances and change the way he investigates this case. As the author, Jim Butcher has been writing Harry Dresden pretty much the same for the past 12 books. There’s a rhythm and set ways that Harry responds to stimuli. To abruptly change these things while still keeping the story true to its roots is impressive.

That being said, I didn’t like it. I don’t adjust well to the basis of a story suddenly being changed. It happens a lot in the TV shows I watch too, especially when they introduce time travel. Suddenly the characters you fell in love with are acting completely different, and it becomes hard to reconcile in your mind. The same is true for characters in books. I love Harry Dresden, and to suddenly see him portrayed so differently has been difficult for me to deal with.

Like any good reader, I’ve soldiered on, and I only have about 100 pages left. The book has grown on me, but it’ll never be one of my favorites in the series. Harry was finally able to interact with his friends, the other characters I’ve grown fond of, and those relationships are comforting to see. He also discovered how to access his magic, which seems to make him more whole and allows him to act more like I’m used to him acting.

I’m eagerly anticipating the end of the book. See, I don’t believe that Harry is actually dead. I think Harry’s starting to believe it too. There are two more books that I know of after this one, so I think Jim Butcher is going to bring Harry back to life, which will make a terrific resolution and settle my mind. I’d much prefer to continue reading about Harry the wizard than Harry the ghost.

What about you? Does it bother you when the basis of a character is suddenly changed? Let me know in the comments!