Silver Wordsmith: An author's journey
I’ve found it difficult to find the right words to say.
I find silence just as hard to maintain.
I have made no secret about my opinion of the country I grew up in – the one my parents and grandparents were born. I consider it a fortuitous badge of honour that my family moved away three weeks before the man currently running Russia came to power. And I want to be clear, when I use the word ‘running’, I mean that he is running it into the ground.
There are few, if any, pairs of countries on this planet that are as interconnected through family as Russia and Ukraine are. This war of aggression is nothing short of fratricide, perpetuated by a man intent on carving his legacy using the blood of his people and the blood of the people closest to them. No matter what bald-faced lies are fed about the alleged noble intentions of a war that is laughably passed off as a war of liberation, this is nothing short of a crime against humanity.
There will be be forever etched into the history books something called the Russo-Ukrainian War – an abomination that should have never come to be. And I know that people around the world are horrified by the newest invasion but they won’t be truly able to appreciate the heaviness of this tragedy.
To me, the conflict would forever be defined by a question that would haunt me forever – the first words my mom said to me when we first spoke after the invasion had been declared: “How does it feel waking up an aggressor?”
How does it feel to wake up and once again be a part of a great people led to commit great harm by a seemingly ceaseless succession of evil men?
How does it feel to look in the mirror and see yourselves related to the bad guys?
There are no words that I can say that would properly convey how much I condemn this war, how much I condemn what we’re doing, because, make no mistake, it is still that ‘we’ that sits like a thorn in my heart.
There is a naïve hopeful part of me that believes this can kick off a chain of events that can turn the page to a new chapter in Russian history, and perhaps we will finally wake up and have something to be proud of.
To say that 2021 was not my best reading year would be an understatement – this was my worst reading year since 2011, when I’d graduated law school and moved back to Vancouver. I’ve talked about this before but a lot of it is pandemic related. Given that my primary reding time was during my public transit commute to and from work and because I’ve been working from home all this time, it’s been harder for me to find time to read. One of my New Year’s resolutions has been to try to get my reading more on track, so we’ll see how that goes.
That said, I’ve read (and listened to, which I count as reading and will fight anyone who suggests otherwise) some great books this year. I ended up joining the book club that was organized at our housing cooperative and was exposed to novels I probably would not have turned to on my own. It was a great experience but by the of it, I had trouble keeping up and also with my poor reding schedule wanted to branch out into my own selections.
There were a few other notable reading events that happened for me during the year that don’t quite make the last below including:
Thanks, but Let’s Not Do This Again
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. I suppose I could have used The Way of Kings for this one, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the absolute trip that was this novel. I had to actually stop in the middle of the audiobook to catch up my knowledge on its context because I needed to confirm how much of it was based on what actually occurred and how much of it was just inspired by true events. Turns out, Hunter S. Thompson wanted the book so accurate that he actually lamented mashing up two separate trips into one because he thought it hurt the authenticity of the narrative.
To actually believe what was happening stretched the limits of my imagination, especially considering how horrible the two main characters were to a lot of the people they encountered along the way, but well, I guess that’s drug and drinking binges for you. In any case, it was a super fascinating window into a world so far removed from mine I’m not sure I’ll ever understand it, but I think one such trip is more than enough.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso. Good heavens was this graphic novel ever a depressing read – from the heinous crime that launches the events of the book, to the various characters’ reactions to it to the crushing proliferation of conspiracy theories and how they affect the people closest to the events. The illustrations are also done in a particular style that minimizes the expressions of the characters which further adds to the sense of sadness and detachment that oozes from every page. As heavy as the book was though, I think it was also brilliant. That said, I think the only way I could read was the way I ended up doing – a few pages at a time.
Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O'Malley. I’ve read the Scott Pilgrim series before, about ten years ago when I used to live in Toronto where this graphic novel (or comic, whatever, labels are stupid) is set. I encountered a couple of Instagram reels about the movie recently and got nostalgic so decided to pick it up again. I feel like it’s got one of the best main character introductions I’ve ever read since basically on the very first page you’re told Scott is twenty-three and has a new girlfriend who’s still in high school. It’s like, “Yup, there’s Scott, he’s a giant loser by the way”. I’m already halfway through volume four out of six and having a lot of fun getting back into this world that is basically like ours except with certain video game elements woven into reality. I highly recommend the read, but the movie stars both Captain America and Captain Marvel so you could watch that, too.
Best Book of 2020
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden. There is not enough I can say here about just how much I enjoyed this book. In fact, I prepared a whole separate post to go on and on about how great it is, but for whatever reason I had neglected to publish it. It’s a science fiction graphic novel, though the soft sci-fi aspects take a back seat to the gorgeous art and touching story. I’m going to be rereading this one again and not that long from now I just known it. In the meantime, at the risk of going on too long about it here, I’ll just leave this as a placeholder when I finally post that full entry and link to it.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Funnily enough, I have the same deal with this one as I do with On a Sunbeam in the sense that the book struck me so much I went and wrote a whole post about it and then just never ended up publishing it. Again, I think I’m just going link to it when I finally do get around to posting it. What I do want to say is that this was one of our Book Club books, which again is why I’m happy I joined, and one of the books I really enjoyed with how much it got into the descriptions of the landscape and the local wildlife without losing sight of what is essentially a coming-of-age story with a background undercurrent of murder mystery that suddenly ramps up to such a pace that you find yourself surprised you can’t put the book down.
I think that about wraps it up for this year. Here’s hoping for a more productive, but at least just as fun, reading year this year.
Whatever else I can say about the year 2021, it was absolutely amazing for my writing. I had not set out with the goal of writing every day of the year, but as the streak started to build in the first couple of weeks, I fully committed, and in the end, succeeded. 2021 became the first year where I managed to write even a little bit all 365 days of the year. The absolute rush that this ended up giving me – the feeling that not a day went by that I did not hone my writing skills was one of the most accomplished I’d felt as a writer. As an aside, I don’t by any means think this is a necessary thing to do, in fact, it can even be unhealthy if you put to much pressure on yourself, but for me personally, I’m so glad I achieved it.
With great day-to-day productivity came great total productivity. When it comes to the final word count at the end of the year, here too the previous records were smashed. My most productive year until now was 2020 when I clocked in at just over 150,000 words. This year, I more than doubled that amount to 330,000. Again, this was something I could not predict at the beginning of the year but was absolutely stoked by the result.
This also means the story is not just about total days but the average daily productivity this year. Out of the days I wrote, compared to last year, the average word count was 902 versus 718 for 2020 I also had 174 days with 1,000 words and more versus 58 the previous year, and only 38 days where I wrote less than 200 words.
All of this is not just about numbers, but being twice as productive as my previously most productive year led to some important milestones as well.
My fantasy web novel that is coming out on Royal Road in two weeks was hardly even started in January, but is now approaching 80,000 words. The children’s adventure story Cassia and Mateo, which is just a side project for my kids, became the first writing project to surpass 100K words, and then the first draft of my second novel followed suit only a couple of months later. That draft should also be wrapped up in the next month or so, leaving room for the first major milestone of 2022.
This was also the first full year where I have been posting The Bloodlet Sun continuously both on this blog and on Royal Road. And it’s been my most productive year in terms of updating this blog on a weekly basis.
That’s not to mention that a variety of little side projects found their way into my year, including catching up on writing down some stories I’ve been making up for my kids, and then launching a few short story and novel ideas that will hopefully take hold as future projects.
Let’s also quickly have a look at the bullet journal entry that provides a visual representation of my writing production for the year:
Nothing really stands out as far as patterns go except you can quickly spot my June/July burnout which I talked about here, the November kitchen renovation which took all of my energy, and the Christmas slowdown where I had a bunch of under 100 days that were mostly used to just keep the streak alive. Also looking back at this now I noticed that January wasn’t the strongest month either, so I have a good opportunity to have a quick start now and get ahead of last year’s production early.
Overall, I think the story of this year has been consistency – from daily writing, to regular updates to not dropping major projects in favour of the newest shiny thing that has happened to cross my path. This had allowed me to gain confidence over the last twelve months and even just by the shear force of the volume of my writing I felt like I’d significantly improved over the year. And this improvement is not just confined to the quality of the writing but to my comfort with it – I’m finding that I’m able to power through more difficult sections with increased ease and find myself getting stumped less and less.
No writing year before has had me so pumped for the year that’s ahead. I have to remember to set realistic goals in the face of this success – just replicating the writing production of 2021 in 2022 will be enough, but if I can average out at 1,000 words per day, that would be my new Everest.
Looking forward to everything I’m going to be able to write in 2022, and hoping that with increased productivity follows the increased chance that I might write something good enough to be accepted for publication.
The final quiet before the new year will fully kick in has settled over the house. The older kids are in bed snugly, my wife is settling our youngest down. I’d just done with the kitchen – and everything is put away. As I hope that 2021 can be put away after this, a year that offered its own host of challenges, that tested our ability to make the right choices, that continued to strengthen us by testing us.
And yet, tonight, I’m feeling hopeful – a hope that comes from within and not because I’m told I need to be hopeful. It’s the peace that comes with new beginnings. Today, I sit in the calm after the storm; tomorrow, I can weather anything.
With Christmas Eve being tomorrow, instead of the usual weekly update I just wanted to share my season’s greetings with all of you who may be reading this blog.
If you’re here, I want you to know that I appreciate it. I think one day I might look back on these years as my humble beginnings, and if there’s any time for dreams and wishes, it’s around Christmas.
I know this year won’t be easy for a lot of you. If there’s loved ones you’re not able to see, I wish you a speedy reunion. If there’s something you didn’t get a chance to do, I hope it’s coming your way soon. If you sit at the end of the year lamenting it was unkind, I wish you only the very best in 2022.
I know sometimes the road isn’t easy, I know sometimes it’s hard to see why it is so. I know that we all feel tired, one way or another. Every day I am in awe of how fortunate I am to have a loving family by my side to steer me trough all of this. Whoever you are out there, either hug your anchors tighter, or take heart that families can be made.
Whatever you’re looking for this holiday season, I hope that we can find it together.
I’m sure I’ve said this already but I can hardly believe it’s December, so I wanted to take this moment to go through a bunch of minor updates for this month
Launch of Second Magus
Just about a month to go before I finally start posting my LitRPG-inspired fantasy story on Royal Road. Expect a teaser cover here next week before I can on a short holiday break.
Second Novel Length
I keep thinking I’m about to finish the first draft of my second novel but yet it just keeps going. It recently broke 100,000 words making it only my second work that has crossed this threshold – the first being a mostly-for-fun project called Cassia and Mateo which was originally written for my kids. I already one of the ways to trim this one down though, having chosen to abandon a problematic subplot. Still going to need a whole lot of revising once it’s done to get it to a usable length.
Bloodlet Sun Chapter Musical Chairs
I remember a little while ago I wrote that the most recent chapter of The Bloodlet Sun I finished ended up being way too long, but I thought I needed to keep it that way because there was something in it that tied to the previous chapter. Now that I’m editing it, I don’t think I can go through with it anymore. There’s a pretty significant plot turn in the middle of this chapter that I think would serve much better as a mini cliffhanger, so I just might split this one into two, but only put one other character’s POV chapter between the two halves.
If anyone follows me on Twitter they would have discovered much to their annoyance that recently I’ve tweeting almost exclusively about hockey. I don’t know what it is, considering I can’t actually remember when the last time was that I watched a game. But my beloved Vancouver Canucks seem to be turning a corner and possibly leaving a dark era behind them by getting a new General Manager and coach. Hopefully this means that better times are ahead and I will have less of a need to send out bitter tweets.
Year in Reviews
As the year draws to a close though, while I lament how quickly it passed by, I’m still looking forward to doing my review posts. The writing one is especially exciting because it’s been an exceptionally productive year for me. The reading one, well, it hasn’t been great, but I did read some fantastic things so I’ll be happy to highlight that. Might even add a quick exercise in review entry, if only to motivate myself to try to beat my goals for the following year.
Speaking of the year-in-review. As many of you had experience in early December, I was pretty stoked for my Spotify wrapped this year as it perfectly hits on two favourite areas of mine – lists and egoism. My kids again managed to eff up my top songs, as four of the five entries were from my five year-old’s Disney villains playlist that he insisted we create for him. One of these days this thing will actually be accurate for me. With top artist I ended up with Green Day, mostly because they appear the most in my ridiculous everything-and-the-kitchen-sink playlist. Still made it into the top .5% of listeners which just goes to show that no else listens to them anymore.
Princess Switch 3
Okay if you’re all looking for lighthearted holiday entertainment, oh, and seeing one of the best acting performances of all time, may I recommend the Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star? If you want to see Vanessa Hudgens not only play three different characters but also those characters cosplaying as each other (who doesn’t?) then this is the right one for you. I’m not even kidding. Whatever you say about the third installment in the series, Hudgens is so good at blending her characters, it’s worth it for that alone. Do recommend the prior two movies first, both to understand the plot/characters but also because they are admittedly much better movies.
Anyway, I think that’s it for fun December things. Still can’t believe the next one will be in 2022.
Oh dang someone has exploded Christmas all over this house.
With the kitchen renovations behind us and a sense of normalcy returning to our lives (ignoring for a moment that our youngest is doing a weird sleeping thing where we’re not able to put him to bed for the night before two am and are therefore slowly turning into zombies due to lack of sleep), we finally had a chance to set up the house for the holidays.
This weekend we actually got some dry days for the first time in what feels like forever, which meant we had a nice trip to the Christmas tree u-cut farm. This time I was armed with measurements and a measuring tape so we got a tree that actually fits our place pretty nicely. You wouldn’t believe how much smaller they look in the open field next to trees that mostly top seven or eight feet. Then you pick something that looks puny and you bring it home and have a hard time fitting it through the door. This year’s is a bit more modest, though it was still bushy enough to swallow a tonne of lights, which I’d set up while the kids watched that (relatively) new Grinch movie. I think the end product turned out quite beautiful.
I also had a chance to catch up on some of the other decorations. For example, my wife picked up a set of fairy lights from Costco a couple of weeks back and I found a place for half of them. Although I love fairy lights, one problem is they just don’t string like other lights, and these Costco ones are battery powered so I can’t even put them on a socket and a timer. Still, the kids asked for their room to be more festive, so I ran a couple of the strings between their bookcases:
The important thing is that they enjoyed it, so thank you Costco buyers once again.
Speaking of Costco, for the last couple of year what’s been missing from our Christmas décor was a wreath. This year Costco was selling ones with lights, so we figured why not, probably the cheapest nice-looking wreath of that size we could buy. Only problem was that it was of a size that seemed much smaller in the store. On our door though it looks something like this:
I commend the hook on our door that’s been managing to hold up this monstrosity. Also, I know it’ll probably look less ridiculous if I lower it, but I only have energy for so many things.
So with all the lights up, I managed to put the boxes away, and with only a few more things to move back into the pantry after the renos, it might be time to relax before the new year rolls around.
It helps too that I only have two weeks of work left before taking a break before the new year, which would have been made easier if it wasn’t for whatever reason extra busy at work, but the countdown sure helps.
Until then I can daydream maybe sleeping in (baby permitting, see previous comment about zombie-like state) and drinking more hot chocolate and eggnog than is recommended for any normal human being.
For nearly two weeks now most of my energy has been usurped by the kitchens and baths renovations that are taking place in our unit. This was a project that was years in the making and has been going on at our housing cooperative since early August. It’s been a huge undertaking by a handful of volunteers here who have generously donated more time than I can image. I gotta say, as much as I appreciate it, it has been quite the adventure actually having to go through it, especially with three unvaccinated kids in the middle of the pandemic.
Last week, when the bulk of the renovation was being done, we just lived at my sister-in-law’s (who had gone trough the same thing months earlier). Their poor three-bedroom unit had to accommodate nine people, including five kids, three of whom are toddlers (though don’t tell the oldest toddler that she is one, or she will cut you) and as fun as it was all hanging out together, by the end of it, I couldn’t keep track of what day it was.
Then over the weekend we managed to move back in, spent two days entirely on getting the kitchen organized and then clearing out Monday morning so they could get floors installed, hoping that by staying out of the house, we could move back in at the end of the day and finish setting up the pantry. Note too that because we’re keeping the kids safe during the pandemic, we’re keeping them out of indoor spaces, and we live in a city where it seems to rain entirely through the fall and winter, we basically ended up living out of the car that day only to find out that we need touch ups the next day, so we were at it again on Tuesday Not blaming anyone in particular … except perhaps the “contractor” that’s spearheading this project. The less I say publicly what I really think about them, the less legal trouble I might get into.
I ended up taking 8 vacation days for this and nothing about the time that has passed feels like anything like a vacation. I guess this is a rite of passage into adulthood – surviving a renovation or contractor work. I remember my dad was only a few years younger than me when he basically had a contractor build our new apartment in Moscow, and was so much up their asses for the various deficiencies that they ended up going bankrupt months later. I actually missed him being able to provide a sympathetic ear during this time, and sharing his favourite stories of all the things they’d mucked up.
At this point, I just want a sense of normalcy to return – I want to be fully moved back into our place and have our home back. I want to get the Christmas lights up and get cozy. I want to be able to freely write instead of stealing a few minutes here and there just to continue my daily writing streak. I want to have the time to go for a run, I want to not feel like I need caffeine first thing in the morning in order to properly function. But mostly, I just want my kids to be able to settle in and enjoy their home again.
Anyway, that was a lot of griping about essentially ending up with some shiny new kitchen cabinets. Just got to remind myself that it will all be back to normal soon.
It’s the second week of November so it’s time for those random little updates that weren’t worthy of their own separate post.
Four rejections in one day
The heading pretty much says it all. I’ve recently set my own personal dubious record for receiving four short story rejections in a single day. Hard to stomach on any regular day but it just happened to be my birthday too. I swear the writing gods are sometimes conspiring to test my resolve. Did it feel good? No. Did I have a great birthday anyway? Absolutely, thanks to my family. Will this discourage me from submitting in the future? No, the next day I sent out stories to five more journals. So yeah, nice try, but I’m still here and fighting.
Back to the Office
After nearly twenty months of working exclusively remote, our office had our fist full day back last week. A bittersweet event, to be sure, for this introvert who has really thrived working from home. By cutting out the commute and being around my kids, my working situation had actually been far improved during the pandemic, and challenges remain with constant mask wearing at the office and just being worn out at the end of the day. That said, I can’t stress enough how nice it was seeing my colleagues face to face rather than through Zoom calls, and feeling more like I was physically part of something. For now we’re doing one day a week until December when we’ll ramp it up to a minimum of two days a week, so there’s still a lot of flexibility to look forward to.
November Running Lull
The last time I managed to get out for a run in the month of November was 2018, a lot of it having to do with the fact that this is when it starts raining forever in this city. Looking at the forecast, this month will be no exception, but I still want to break the streak even if it means being cold and soaking wet. Doesn’t help that it’s also pitch black when I run so I just happen to find every single puddle out there to step in.
*Update for this one: by the time I’ve uploaded this entry I did manage to find a time to run – thankfully it was only drizzling that morning. Going back the previous four Novembers, the most I’ve even run this month was twice, so I’ve got my new goal to beat the previous November record.
The rain has also put a dampener on my ability to catch up with my reading. Used to read on my public transit commute but with that being gone, I implemented reading into my morning walks and audiobooks into my morning runs. With the rain coming in, it’s not just my running that’s affected but reading as well. Fortunately, the stuff I have read this year has been mostly amazing, but it’s still slim pickings to choose from when I’m doing my end-of-year review.
Speaking of weather, anyone want to tell me that climate change isn’t real can just go ahead and live through the day we had – the first waterspout tornado right in our city in my memory, and one that apparently briefly touched down ashore only a couple of kilometres south of where we were, not to mention being pelted with hail the size of large peas. Our summers are getting hotter and drier and our winters are getting wetter (something I didn’t even think was possible). I mean, it was fun while it lasted and the kids got a kick out of looking at the hail I brought in, but the long-term implications are still looming large
Monster Chapter of Bloodlet Sun
I’ve finally completed the first draft of Chapter 11 of The Bloodlet Sun and it clocked in just shy of a monstrous 14,000 words. That puts it at nearly twice the size of an average chapter. Believe me, I’ve struggled with the decision as to whether or not to split up this POV character’s chapter into two and deliver the second segment a few chapters later. However, I found that there were plenty of reasons not to, including that the first half was not so strong that it could stand on its own and I really wanted the ending of this chapter to follow closely with the previous chapter so readers could make a specific connection. Oh well, no going back on it now, just a lot of editing left to do.
Looking back at these now that I wrote them out it seems like these are mostly downers. October ended here with a gorgeous fall weekend last week. I managed to take the kids on a long walk through the forest where we had a tonne of fun and Halloween itself was great. Since then, it’s been non-stop rain so maybe that’s affecting my mood. Hopefully in December when the lights are going to be up and Christmas approaching maybe it will be a bit cheerier.
At the end of last week, I learned a very important lesson – you don’t just get to affect your writing, but your writing affects you as well.
What happened was that I was going through some serious sections on three separate projects. In the same week, I was moving from climactic event to climactic event in my second novel, was writing one of my main characters in serious peril in The Second Magus, and was wrapping up the monstrous 14,000 word eleventh chapter of The Bloodlet Sun. All three contained intense scans but also all three required a lot of attention because of how important those scenes were to the overall work.
The week itself didn’t turn out to be exceptionally productive, though decently so, but by Friday it had left me absolutely drained. It took me a little bit to figure out exactly what was going on but then I traced my mood back to my writing.
It’s easy to forget the two-way street here when as the creator the temptation is to see ourselves in total control of our work. These worlds exist only in our heads and therefore should not have any external influence on us whatsoever. Except that’s not entirely true is it? The things we create we end up processing. The emotions that we spill onto the page have to come through us. If something in our writing is intense, then we’re the ones that put it there, and we experienced that intensity to make our writing authentic. Even if what you’re creating is completely fictional, and not drawn upon your real-life traumas, there is still some reality in there for us.
In the end, we want to make others feel something with our writing, and how would we able to do that if we don’t feel anything ourselves? And so we also need to remember to be kind to ourselves. We’re not typing machines that are tuned to spit out a certain word count on a daily basis. For this reason, we have to allow ourselves to regroup and take whatever time we need to jump back in.
For me, I had basically written off that Friday and took the weekend away from my writing, except the cursory minimums to maintain my daily writing streak. There were a few guilty feelings there I had to chase away but otherwise it was good for me, and I was able to pick up those same projects the following week without experiencing burnout.
So I would recommend the same to you – be in tune with how your writing makes you feel, and react accordingly.
Michael is a husband, father of two, lawyer, writer, and is currently working on his first novel, at a snail's pace. A very leisurely snail. All opinions are author's own.