Wednesday, October 29, 2014

FTL is Distracting Me from Writing

Something I struggle with as a writer is time management. Not only do I mean that it's difficult to manage having any free time, but it is difficult deciding what to use that free time for.

Logically speaking, since I'm an unpublished aspiring author, I should spend every second of free time practicing my craft so that I can hone my skills and churn out a novel for publishing. For the most part I've been striving for this and I'd say that I'm at least more successful at doing so than most other aspiring authors my age that I know of (I've written before about how most writers reportedly do the least writing immediately after graduating college and how I've worked to ensure that I stay just as active as before).

Sadly, writing was never my only hobby. I grew up with an arguably healthy obsession with video games. It all started when my family got a Sega Genesis bundled with Sonic 2 for Christmas one year, and from there I was hooked. For quite some time playing video games was my primary hobby. I was well-informed on all the new and upcoming releases, and the whole gaming culture consumed my youth.

As time has gone on I've had less free time, more interest in writing during that free time, and a wife who I enjoy spending time with on activities that are not playing video games. I am no longer well-informed on the ever-expanding industry, and I no longer buy games as frequently as I once did, but I still have a decent collection of games that I go back to now and then when one interests me.

Recently that interest has been focused on FTL (Faster Than Light), an indie game that came out in 2012 and simulates the experience of being the captain of a space ship on a suicide mission. I had really enjoyed the game when it came out, but let it collect dust for a few years because, ironically, I was doing so well at it during one play-through that I feared failure which would result in a complete start-over from square one.

A few days ago I was listening to the award-winning soundtrack for the game at work because it was great as background noise to keep me focused on work, which reignited my interest in the game. A day or so later I bravely returned to my successful run, failed almost immediately, and then restarted with a whole new ship, crew, and strategy.
screenshot of my FTL ship and crew at the time of writing this blog
My FTL ship and crew at the time of writing this blog.
It's hard to describe how addictive this game is. I find myself thinking about it constantly and then playing it whenever I get a few minutes to myself because it is designed in a way that allows you to make rewarding progress in only minutes, but then dangles a carrot in front of your nose to prompt you to continue climbing the metaphorical mountain of progress. It then pushes you off your mountain and says "I bet you can't get the carrot this time" before offering to let you climb again.

To put it bluntly, I've been playing FTL when I should be writing.

At the time of writing this, my ship is very, very low on fuel (unlike the screenshot above in which it is only almost very low on fuel), because I forgot to buy any when I saw the cool weapons and defensive items I could buy instead. This means that unless I can find someone to sell me fuel or an enemy ship I can battle, defeat, and plunder for fuel in the next few turns, I'll be stranded out in space, forced to send out a distress signal in hopes that someone nice answers before the army of enemy ships catches up to my location and blows me to bits.

Given how tough the game is, I expect to run out of fuel, send out a distress signal, get blown to bits, and then I expect I'll start all over again; convincing myself that this time I can do better.

To add insult to injury, I've just realized that I should have written my novel instead of this blog. Oh the irony.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Using a Voice Recorder to Plan a Story

One of the greatest challenges that I face as a first-time novelist who is more familiar with the short story form is that it is difficult to break down the plot into each individual moving part. From the get-go I mapped out the novel and broke it down to a chapter-level, and was confident that I would then be able to easily write the story and make the scenes fit the chapters as I went. I was wrong.

What I didn't take into account was the fact that my plot ideas were constantly changing as time went on and as I began to explore each individual character and scene. The outline for my novel that exists in my head is now barely similar at all to what I originally wrote down.

With so much having changed, it can be very difficult to be able to see what should happen next. Imagine being in the middle of a American city with a river running through it, but only one half of the bridge is there, the other half of the city is in Europe, and there's a really low-hanging thick fog everywhere. Now try to cross into Europe from America.

One tool that has recently become very useful for crossing this impossible bridge is a voice recorder. I had purchased a very inexpensive one while in college to aid with my brief attempt at being a journalist for the school paper (which, it turned out, I was terrible at), and had then attempted to re-purpose the device for recording meetings during my internship. Since it seems that formal meetings are very scarce at my new place of employment, I frequently enjoy taking solo walks down a trail that runs right by my office, and I'd seen voice recorders occasionally used in the movies for a character to dictate their thoughts for reference later, I decided to try recording my thoughts regarding my stories as I walked.
talking into a voice recorder
Recording myself talking into a little electronic device has greatly helped me to plan and understand my stories. Talking while I walk keeps my mind focused on the topic at hand more than just trying to think about that topic and I can go back and listen to any ideas including how exactly I arrived to them. Rather than just recording tidbits of ideas when they come to me, I force myself to start talking about a particular problem I've encountered until I eventually talk myself out of it. This process has already resulted in brand new ideas that I'm excited to write as well as a clearer vision overall for where my stories are headed.

It may seem and feel odd, but I highly suggest anyone else to try this method for writing or any part of their life that might require some extra thought power.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Unexpected Perks of Employment

I must say that I am enjoying my new job very much. The people are friendly, appreciative, and helpful, and I enjoy the work itself. However one of my favorite things about my new place of employment is something totally unrelated to the job itself.

At my internship there was a small group of employees who would spend their lunch break going for a walk a few times around the building for the sake of getting out of the office, enjoying the weather, staying in shape, and socializing. I joined this group, and when I was transferred to another building a few blocks down the road I kept the habit despite being alone most of the time, which ended up being part of the reason that I lost over ten pounds in time for my wedding.

So when I started at my new job (and found out I had an even longer lunch break than I was used to), I made sure on the first day to go for a walk to get the lay of the land. I noticed a park not too far down the road, and later realized that there is a 26 mile trail that runs right past my office.
I've been taking a walk on this trail every day. Walking in either direction from my office is about 1.2 miles to the next major street. One way leads to downtown, which is scenic and beautiful in a residential and urban sort of way, and the other way is full of foliage that blocks out all the urban noise.

It's the unexpected surprises like this that really add make life just a little bit easier to live. The work itself has been great thus far, but I know that if I'm having a bad day I'll always have a place where I can go and get away.

Now let's see if walking a bit longer helps me lose some more weight...