If I had a nickel for every false start I’ve had, I’d have a collection of really tired cliches.

Starting things is hard.  Maybe not as hard as finishing them, but still tough.  Right now I’m working on a new scifi concept, and I swear I’ve rewritten the idea in my head a hundred times for every one time I’ve written a start down.  And I still don’t have it nailed down yet.

But I kind of love this process.  I mean, I hate it with a fiery passion because it shows just how many bad ideas I having knocking around in my head, but also it’s good to get those out and out of the way to make room for new, usually even worse ideas.  Someday I may even have something halfway decent, though right now it’s not looking good.

Pessimism is not a good trait to have, uh, ever, but especially when trying to start writing.  I know in my soul that anything I do will be awful, so why bother?

…it’s not like I have an answer  to that question.  Yet.  But get back to me in a few weeks.  Maybe something will have appeared.

Since entering Japan I’ve come across the expected amount of cool gadgets – which is to say, many.  But although I was prepared to enjoy robotic sushi trains and dinosaur hotel employees, I didn’t realise there were lots of everyday appliances I never knew I always wanted.  In this ongoing series, I’ll explain a few of them.

Hot water dispenser

Simple enough to explain – it’s a water reservoir that sits on my counter.  I keep it filled with water, and it boils the water and then keeps it at whatever temperature I set.  (Usually 90°C)  I press a button and hot water comes out.  That’s it, that’s the whole gadget.

This has changed my life.

First, I can have tea whenever I want.  That may not sound like much, but the difference between “Well, if I want tea in 20 minutes or so, I guess I should put on the kettle” and “I want tea.  ::sips tea::” is HUGE.

Second, now that I can have tea whenever I want, I have been free to explore all kinds of lovely hot drinks.  Japan has a lot of instant hot drinks, many of which are actually healthy, and the ones that aren’t are still delicious.  I’m currently obsessed with a ginger yuzu “tea” powdered drink which is just AMAZING.  And for Christmas my husband bought me Persona 5 tea – Crow flavor.  (If you know, you know.)

And last, instant ramen (of which you can buy a dizzying array)?  ACTUALLY INSTANT.  Game changer.

My husband was telling me about some video he had seen where a person talked about how we don’t have enough time to Read All The Books.  He said that if he read a book a week, he could only read in his adult lifetime a mere few library shelves.  A quick stride down one aisle was all he could manage.  Out of a probable 130 million books that have ever been published.

I’m not sure what the point was – something on realizing we can’t know everything? – but it caused a quick panic for me, followed by scoffing.

If you read only a book a week (or more likely, much less than that) as an adult, you’re probably only counting “real” books.  As in, you sat down and read something you held in your hand, either on a device or on paper, and you read it front to back.  Understood.

If you’re a parent of small children though, this doesn’t count bedtime stories.  Or the hundred times you read The Very Hungry Caterpillar this week.  But those are books, often very good ones with important things to say, or else you wouldn’t read them to your children even when you’re really too tired, right?

Speaking of which are we counting rereads as “books read this week”?  What about the couple of times a day I pick up some random book and read a few pages from the middle because I can’t help it?  (I have Reader’s Disease.  It’s a thing.)

What about audio books?  What level of distraction is allowed to consider those as “read”?

What about non-fiction?  Not just the obvious “real books”, but newspapers and magazines, (if you happened to be old fashioned) or their related web articles.  How long does a book have to be to count as a book?  How many pictures are allowed?  What about popups?  Reference?  What if I skim the really long descriptions?  What about scripts?

And what about story in other formats?  I read not only comics, manga and graphic novels, but also play visual novels, which are basically games you read and occasionally interact with briefly.  Does that count as a book?  I think so.  If so, what about other games with story as a main point?  And if audio books count, shouldn’t video books be a thing?  Do movies and TV shows count as books?  They certainly count as story.

Saying there isn’t time to read all the books you want is just a scare tactic.  We are beings made up entirely of story.  We live and breathe it all the time, even while berating ourselves for not reading enough.  Read for joy, and maybe let yourself off the hook a bit, hm?

Besides, this means I’ll have roughly 129 million+ books to read in heaven.  (Yes, my idea of heaven is essentially a universal Library of Congress.)  Excellent.

I hate comparing books.

I feel like I’ve been complaining a lot of here, and I’m sorry about that – really, there are many good things in my life right now, not least of which is that I actually have time to write, which is just amazing and hasn’t been true for many years.  I promise I’ll write about some good things on here too.

But first, I really need to repeat this.

I HATE comparing books.

This doesn’t just apply to my own books.  My pet peeve is that, for years after Harry Potter got popular, every fantasy book published had a quote on the cover somewhere comparing it to Harry Potter.  “The next thing to read after Harry Potter!”  “When you’ve grown out of Harry Potter, try this!”  Or my least favorite: “Watch out, Harry!”

Several big problems with this in my mind – first, the comparison didn’t do justice to either book.  Harry Potter is great, but this other book either 1) has the same feel, but isn’t as well done, 2) has the same kind of ideas, but a very different feel, or 3) has nothing in common except that it’s on the fantasy shelf.  And maybe has a young protagonist?  In any of these cases you’re either saying that HP isn’t as good as this, or this isn’t as good as HP, or (most likely) they just really hope someone will buy it on pure name recognition and disappoint some grandchild somewhere for their birthday.  It isn’t Harry Potter.  And that’s totally fine!  It’s a different book, and you might even like it better.  Or in a different way.

Second, it promotes this dumb competition between books.  Which is completely stupid.  I don’t know a single person who reads only one book series and books that are compared to it.  I know lots of people who read whatever they can get their hands on, especially within a particular genre, but none of those people care if a book has been compared to another book they love, except that it might lead to someone else recommending it to them (and yes I see that’s the point – I’ll get to that).  I do sadly know a few people who only read one book or series of books, period.  No amount of comparing will get these people to read something else.  They just like what they like.

All this is not to say that I don’t understand why this exists – I fully blame Amazon for this – we have this, “Ok, I read this, what’s next?” mindset.  It’s a dumb thing to do to ourselves for the reasons I’ve listed above – we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and not broadening our horizons.  We need to stop chasing after that feeling we had when we read that one book, and realize that other books have other feels and experiences to offer us.  Different ones.  Which is good.

Anyway, this is a long rant to say that a lot of agents require comparables – a list of books that your book is like.  I hate trying to do this – I always feel like I’m either reaching too high or not high enough.  And I don’t want to sound full of myself and say nothing is like Quirk, but I can’t think of anything like Quirk.  Which is why I wrote it in the first place – I wanted to read a book that didn’t exist yet.  Comparables might reduce risk in picking a book to represent.  But it also might weed out books that are different, and keep the reading public from seeing new things.  If we keep churning out more of the same, we’re going to start missing things that could make us grow.

Some days you can explain my life in slippers.

Take days where I wash clothes.  First thing in the morning, I head into the freezer of a hallway.  (It’s the end of winter – spring is definitely coming, but it isn’t here yet.)  I live in an old Japanese house – not old enough to be interesting, just old enough to be inconvenient.  It has no insulation.  There are single pane windows, and the whole place is made “to breathe”.  In the main rooms, we have ductless heaters, but the hallway and bathroom downstairs has none of that.  In the winter it freezes and in the summer it burns.

So I wear slippers, and a fuzzy house coat.  I make my way to the bathroom/laundry area, and switch to bathroom slippers, which are resistant to slippery wet floors and easy to clean.  The washer has just finished running, so I pick up a laundry basket and open up the lid.  Some Japanese homes have combination washer/dryers, but they are very slow and mostly disliked.  We don’t have that.  Most Japanese line dry all their clothes, either outside, in front of the heater, or in the shower if they have a nice shower heater (we don’t).  We are actually lucky/Western enough to own a separate, gas dryer.  So I start to pull out wet clothes.

I take out about half, watching carefully for Japanese clothes that won’t stand up to gas dryers.  The washer holds up to 9kg, but the dryer is only 5kg, so I usually split a load of wash into two dryer cycles.  I hoist the basket, switch into my house slippers and pad to the genkan (a recessed foyer) to switch into outdoor slip-on shoes.

Oh, did I not mention?  The only place we could setup our gas dryer with proper hookups and ventilation in our old house…was outside.  So we have a working dryer on a stand in our carport area.  With a tarp for extra protection from the elements.

It’s cold, so I put on my coat over the house coat, switch to shoes, unlock the front door and head outside.  I head down the stairs and around the corner to the dryer, lift the tarp and pop open the door.

The dryer is filled with clothes.  I’d forgotten my husband threw a load in last night and apparently never took them out.

I can’t set the wet (or dry) clean clothes down outside and I don’t have a basket that isn’t full to carry the dry clothes anyway.  Sigh.

So I go back inside, switch to house slippers, walk to the laundry, switch to bathroom slippers, dump the wet clothes back in the washer, switch to house slippers, head to the genkan, switch to shoes, go outside and pull all the dry clothes into the basket, come into the genkan, switch to slippers, bring the clean clothes upstairs to put away later, go back down to the laundry with the empty basket, switch to bathroom slippers, pull out the wet clothes again, switch to slippers, go to the genkan, switch to shoes, and finally put the wet clothes in the dryer.

I start the dryer (avoiding the always tempting button with a picture of a man with a big nose and a smile), pull the tarp back over and head back inside.  I put the empty basket next to the genkan so I remember that there are clothes in the dryer (I have a system!) and put my coat in the closet and my slippers back on.

And now it’s lunch time.

I’m thinking about adding to the content of this blog.  It can’t be interesting to read me rambling about writing all the time, and I’ll probably annoy myself doing it too often.

I think ideally I’d like to add some kind of creative writing to this.  Maybe a serial or else some short stories that don’t fit anywhere in what I’m working on.  Eventually, I could add extra content for characters in my books, but since none of them are published yet that’s probably best left until people might care about it.

I can’t decide if I want to do a fiction or nonfiction serial.  I have a couple of nonfiction projects that are half finished and might serve as a good jumping off point for this.  I could do something on the craziness of having a newborn, for example.  Or maybe I’ll start working on a book idea and see where it goes – that would make it be a lot more rough drafty, but it still might be interesting.

Or I could write about life in Japan.  I’m an American expat living on the outskirts of Tokyo after all – that’s probably interesting enough to get some content out of it.

I could do all of it!

 …or maybe none.

They say that for most people, writer’s block is just having too many ideas and not getting them down on the page, rather than running out of ideas per se.  This feels like a straight shot to that kind of problem.  Probably should just pick one thing to add, for now.

Today I’m thinking about the two mindsets you’re asked to keep together to be a novelist.  Practical and impossible.

To write, you have to lie a lot.  You have to spend a lot of time in worlds that don’t exist.  Today I spent time thinking up a writing system that doesn’t exist and then taking it through the steps from inception to a modern world in which it was the primary means of communication – looking at how it would have changed and what technologies might have come up alongside and with it, and what tech we know today that would never have been invented at all.  I spent a long time exploring how even different people groups might be thought of differently if we wrote with something other than the materials and systems we actually use.  And why a culture might decide to use something else in the first place.

And now I’m writing a blog post explaining that I didn’t actually write anything down during that whole time, and I feel bad because I now have a lot of “actual work” I have to do – querying (always that nowadays) and revising and outlining and writing some non-fiction (this post, some emails, a newsletter, etc), and now I’ve added some research that I need to do, because maybe the system I spent the morning dreaming up does actually exist somewhere in the world, and if so I need to study it in all its forms, figure out if it’s useful to me or if I need to change my thoughts entirely, and make notes on the whole thought process because I might need to use some part of it later even if this exact thought is a bust.

It’s a strange transitional world to work in.  I mean, that’s the job right?  You have to dream up stuff that hasn’t happened, but you also have to develop the practical skills needed to be able to communicate those impossibilities.

I think the worst part is actually thinking about the process.  I find myself becoming 120% more insufferable when I think too hard about what exactly I’m doing.  Especially if I then talk about it.  That can’t be good for anyone.

The problem with a first draft is that you might die.

(Why am I thinking about first drafts when I’m querying a finished manuscript?  After my last ramble on what I should be writing I came up with some interesting thoughts for a new book, so I’m working on that as well as the Quirk sequel.  Because my answer to whether I should write something new or the sequel is apparently “do both and stop sleeping”.)

I remember in college reading Anne Lamott on first draft fears (Bird by Bird) and thinking, “Oh!  That’s me!”  There’s other people out there who are just as insane as I am!  This is…good?  Reassuring, anyway.

What I mean by all the above is that when you write a first draft, it’s awful.  Seems obvious, but if you’ve never written anything long form before, let me be the one to let you know:  the longer the first draft, the worse it is.  And what is even more tragic is the fact that you forget that sometimes.

It goes like this – you’re writing along, thinking things are going pretty well, when WHAM- you hit a word that doesn’t quite fit.  So you stop and correct it.  Then you realize that it didn’t fit because actually, the sentence you were working on was wrong.  So you delete that and start to try again.  Except with that sentence gone you question the meaning of the entire paragraph.  And that’s usually all it takes for me to fall into an abyss of wondering WHYIWRITEANYTHINGATALLISUCKATTHIS

It’s all very well and good to remind yourself that it’s a first draft and it’s supposed to suck.  But what I want to do is stop up my ears because I’m either perfect or worthless and there is no in between stage and every other writer is perfect I’m sure.

So I walk away and don’t look at that section for the rest of the day.  This prevents me from deleting it all wholesale.  And the next day I’ll either confirm that it’s all crap but probably have an idea of where to start fixing it…or, possibly, see it’s not so bad after all.  And then I can keep on writing trash after that.

The trick is, I might die in my sleep.  And if it was a crap day, maybe it’d be best to destroy anything I left behind.

…I should get my will up to date.

What should I be working on now?  This is the question bothering me (well, let’s be honest, one of many) as I query away for Quirk.  I know I want to still be writing, and ideally I’d love to get to a spot where I’m writing something, editing something else, and publishing a third thing, pretty much all the time.  That just sounds lovely to me.  Busy, but ideal.

So I know I want to write, the question is what?  Right now I’m working on a sequel to Quirk, partially as a default answer to the question and partially because certain members of my family have threatened me with bodily harm if I don’t get one into their hands soon.

This seems like the right call, because then I should be on the right track if Quirk sells the way I hope and I get a deal for more books.

But what if Quirk doesn’t get published?

I mean, sure that’s a worst case scenario, but it isn’t out of the question.  First novels often suck, and mine might too.  (cue panic attack)  In that case, wouldn’t it make more sense to write something else, so I have something else to query should this all go sideways?

Maybe I should work on Quirk until a decent amount of queries have been sent, then switch just in case?  Or outline one or two other things so I can move between projects easily and not commit to just one right now?

As always, there’s a lot I don’t know, and opinions out there seem to vary.  Considering I got into writing so I could stop having panic attacks, I’m going to need to take a few deep breaths.

At least I managed to write a blog post.  Progress.