Florida, Hurricanes and Power

For most of the past week, I’ve been living in the cone. What’s that you say? Anyone who has lived in Florida for a while knows that phrase. It’s being in the cone of uncertainty for the path of an oncoming hurricane. For most of the week, here in Jacksonville, we were smack dab in the middle of the cone.

Hurricane Ian was projected to hit Tampa Bay and then traverse the state directly toward Jacksonville. As usual, there was a mad rush to go buy groceries which doesn’t make much sense to me. How you going to cook all that meat when you don’t have power?

On Wednesday at work, we did our usual hurricane preps. Cleaned up the pipe yard and strapped down loose material. That night, the hurricane hit south of Tampa Bay at Fort Myers. Then it continued toward Orlando. At that point, it shifted slightly to the east. This was just enough that when it turned back north, it pretty much missed Jacksonville. The southern part of the county saw heavy rainfall, but the rest of us only saw light rain and mist and windy conditions.

Naturally and it happens every time, the power was knocked out. For this storm, my power was knocked out for about an hour and then would come back on for 1/2 hour, then back off for an hour or so. This continued all day. When the power came on, we would make a mad dash to the kitchen and brew coffee and do some quick cooking.

In case the power remained off for an extended period, we had a propane camping stove. Didn’t have to use it this time.

Every hurricane is a bit different. This one caused massive storm surges and flooded the hell out of Fort Myers. Sharks were swimming in the streets!

In Florida, most of the state is subject to massive damage during a hurricane. Here in Jacksonville, due to geography, it is probably the safest part of Florida for hurricanes. It’s been a long time since Jacksonville was hit directly with a hurricane. I think it was 1954. Are we due for another one? Eh, maybe. Most people here in Jacksonville do our normal preps, but don’t take hurricanes too seriously. Those that are new to the area tend to freak out the first few years.

Thankfully, even though there was massive property damage in Fort Myers and other areas of Florida, the loss of life was minimal. Houses and buildings can be rebuilt.

Distractions

Distraction is such a bad word, isn’t it? It keeps us from being productive and achieving our goals. In this day and age, there are so many types of distractions. A tablet, loaded with a game app or two. (spoiler alert: I have two idle games I love on my iPad). Reading blogs or reading books can be a distraction. The TV is a major distraction. If you are still on cable, there are a gazillion different channels to watch. Those that have cut the cord, have streaming services with a gazillion movies and shows. (spoiler alert: I’m a huge fan of Reality shows)

Suppose you could rid yourself of those distractions. Come home from work, kiss your loved one and head into your writing area. Leaving the tablet in the other room and making sure the TV is off. Unfortunately, you do all your writing on a personal computer or laptop. A huge distraction is video games. (spoiler alert: yes, I love my video games).

Putting a lock on your computer games and browser during your writing times can eliminate those distractions. What else is there? Yes, your dog needs to go for a walk. Or your loved one wants to talk with you. Those are harder to get rid of. (spoiler alert: I don’t ever want to get rid of them)

Suppose you have succeeded in ridding yourself of every single distraction and you sit down to write. You bring up a blank page and now you are ready to be a productive writer. However, the dreaded writer’s block occurs and your mind is blank. (spoiler alert: It’s happened to me more times than I can count.)

Okay, what the hell do we do now?

Thinking outside of the box, we should instead of trying to rid ourselves of distractions, we should embrace the distractions. What a novel idea. But how does that help us become more productive, you ask.

For us part time writers that have a day job, we focus while at work for eight hours a day. When we come home, instead of running from distractions, we should just let them happen naturally. This let’s our brain wind down from the workday and all of it’s stresses. Especially if you work in a high energy, busy workplace (spoiler alert: I do).

By giving into the distractions, I find that my subconscious is free to be creative. When I do sit down to write, there is no pause. No wondering if an idea will come out or if I’ll sit there staring at a blank screen. Instead, my fingers get to typing on the keyboard at a manic pace. My brain screams at my fingers, “Type faster, you idiots!” By not forcing myself, my best writing comes out like a magic majestic waterfall. Splashing onto the page seemingly in a chaotic manner, but somehow coalescing into a masterpiece.

Relax, give into distractions. Let your brain work it’s magic and … oh look, a squirrel!

To Tense, Or Not To Tense

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The feedback from my beta readers is trickling in. I’m excited to see what they think. Then my pesky bugaboo surfaced. Several readers thought that my switching tenses was jarring. Oh boy, I was afraid of that. Honestly, I don’t even know what they are talking about. I think I failed that part of grammar.

I could ignore the suggestion, but then I would forever have the nagging feeling that I didn’t do my absolute best. Time to do a deep dive into tenses. Wow! Sure are a lot of tenses. Way too much for me to absorb. Let’s narrow it down to the tenses I need for my memoir.

Memoirs are essentially essays, but a very long form of them. In essays, you would normally use past tense or present tense or both. Still too complicated for my poor brain. Time to simplify this so I can remember and recognize tense changes. I’ve come up with a few rules.

Rule 1

Never mix tenses in a sentence.

That’s all well and good, but how about an example?

Who said writing is easy?

Incorrect because the first verb is past, and the second is present.

Two ways of correcting this.

Who says writing is easy?

Who said writing was easy?

Both sentences now agree with their respective tense.

Seems simple enough. Hold on there before we continue. There is an exception to this rule. Sigh! Dialogue changes everything. Simply adding quotation marks makes the first incorrect sentence corret.

Who said “writing is easy?”

Thankfully, I don’t have many lines of dialogue, so I can pretty much ignore this exception.

Rule 2

Never mix tenses in a paragraph.

If the first sentence is present tense, then all the sentences in the paragraph need to be present tense. Same rule applies if the first sentence is past tense, all sentences must be past tense.

Let’s check and see if there is an exception. Double sigh. Of course there is. However it is used in very rare instances and only by a skilled writer that is deliberately going for a certain effect. This doesn’t apply to me, so I can safely ignore the exception.

Rule 3

You can change tense from paragraph to paragraph or section to section or chapter to chapter, but you MUST signal the reader. This let’s them know that you are changing tenses. Here’s an example with the signal in bold.

Riding the daily commuter train, I sat down on my usual seat by the window. Looking out at the fields rushing past with hints of colorful wildflowers is soothing.

Four months ago, the fields were covered in snow and looked pristine.

Thankfully no exceptions to this rule. Grammar rules are complex enough as it is. With this new found knowledge, I can go forth and tense-mix never more.

Hopefully.

The Process

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Tomorrow I start my patented stop smoking process. Well, not really patented, but this process is one that I came up with the last time I stopped smoking. It worked then and I know it will work this time. The trick is to stay stopped which is as hard as stopping. My doctor has agreed to keep me on Wellbutrin for a year this time. Last time, I was on it for three months and within a week or so after stopping Wellbutrin, I started smoking again.

I’ve been on Wellbutrin for two weeks now and definitely get a bad taste in my mouth from smoking. Time to start the weaning process. First some prep work. I get a brand new carton of cigarettes and tear off the top of the carton. Usually I keep my cigarettes in the car, but this time I’m keeping them in the kitchen.

Day 1 (tomorrow) First thing in the morning, I pull one pack out of the carton. There are twenty cigarettes in the pack. Before I go to bed tomorrow night, I will smoke all twenty of them. Once the pack is empty, I’m done for the day. Last thing I do tomorrow night is I open the next pack of cigarettes. I take out one cigarette and place it in the now empty pack. Then I label the top of that pack with a 1 and place it back in the carton.

Day 2 (Sunday) – I grab my pack for the day. It has nineteen cigarettes. Once I smoke all nineteen, I’m done for the day. Then I open the next pack and take out two cigarettes and place them in the empty pack and label it with a 2. I continue with this until I’ve opened all 10 packs. Each day smoking 1 less.

On day 11, I grab the pack that is labeled 10 and that is all I smoke for the day. At the end of the day, I throw that pack away. At the end of twenty days, I’ll be down to only 1 cigarette for the day.

Why so elaborate of a system? I don’t have to count how many cigarettes I’ve smoked each day. When the pack is empty, I’m done. I’ve tried in the past to count how many cigarettes I’ve smoked in a day. That works for two or three days and then I forget and smoke way too many. This way, in the evening, I can look at how many cigarettes I have left and figure out how to stretch them to last the rest of the evening.

By the time I get down to the 14 cigarette day, I’m now counting the time between cigarettes in order to make it last. Each day, I gradually extend the time between cigarettes.

One last thing. I found in the past there was a day or two where I’m about ready to go to bed, but I still have cigarettes in my pack. Instead of saving them for the next day, I stay up and smoke all of them until the pack is empty. To me, it’s important to keep to the ritual of having an empty pack each night. Otherwise, I’ll be tempted to carry them over to the next day and defeat the whole process of smoking 1 less each day.

This is my plan. I’m sticking to it because it worked before.

Brandon Sanderson Lecture #5 – Worldbuilding Part One

Overall impression – At first I almost skipped the worldbuilding lectures as I’m not that into magic. I’m glad I did watch it as the writing process he uses for his fantasy books is also applicable to almost any genre. He explains worldbuilding by using a lot of examples. His second Law sparks a lot of ideas for me. Huge amount of information, I had to take periodic breaks to process what he was talking about.

Below is the notes I typed while listening to the lecture. Some of it may not make sense to you if you haven’t listened to the lecture. These are merely highlights of what I picked up on during the lecture.

Notes

Sanderson’s Laws

  1. Your ability to solve problems with magic in a satisfying way is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic. (deus ex machina is a bad thing) – really a law of foreshadowing.
  2. Flaws/limitations/costs are more interesting than powers. – Characterization building.
  3. Before adding something new to your magic (setting), see if you can instead expand what you have. – Bigger is not necessarily better.

Hard magic vs. Soft magic – Hard is rules based, soft is more a sense of awe. Hard magic has consequences that is evident. Soft is also consequence, but hidden.

Sanderson’s Laws are for him to write. Writers can have their own laws for writing.

Avoiding info dumps when explaining magic systems. Use the try it out to explain it.

  • Flaws – Things characters can/need to fix
  • Limitations – Things characters can/need to overcome
  • Costs – Consequences for the characters choices

Dig deeper into a concept and explore the different ramifications of it rather than throwing a bunch of stuff into a book.

Iceberg theory of worldbuilding. Readers see just the tip of the vast worldbuilding the author has done. In reality, that is false. The worldbuilding below the water is hollow.

Sanderson’s Zero Law – Always err on the side of what is awesome. (Ideas)

All lectures of Brandon Sanderson are now linked on the Storylines page if you wish to follow along in order.