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Category Archives: Writing

Stuff I’ve written. Fiction, mostly.

Writer’s Block?

I like writing. You may have guessed that by the tone of some of my posts — most notably those that touch on the subject. The sharper among you may even note that the mere fact that I have a blog points to some interest in the writing sphere. Good job, guys. I have the smartest readers.

That said, writing is a pastime for me. Something to do when the work that pays the bills is done for the day. Again, I’m sure this is something you all know.

The problem with writing as a hobby is the pesky fact that it can get pretty challenging. I guess that’s the case with all kinds of hobbies, but writing is the one thing I do where I constantly run into that wall.

I’ve seen the things that professional writers have to say about writing, about the creative process, and about writer’s block. Most of them take the disciplined approach of sitting there and putting words down, even if they’re relatively sure the words will be thrown away on edit. They do that because it’s a job and when you’re working, you’re working.

I’ve used the ultra-scientific approach of dredging up memories of blog posts and tweets by authors I follow to construct this scenario, so I’d appreciate it if you could bear with me a little further.

I think that a job-like approach is the best way to look at it. If I’m being honest with myself, a pastime is something I could probably take or drop as my feelings dictated. If I truly want to improve myself as a writer, as I’ve said in the past, I have to take it more seriously. What that has to mean is getting my ass in the chair, staring at a blank screen for a half-hour if that’s what it takes. I like the things I write when I buckle down. Last night is a good example of persevering when I thought I had nothing to say, and I like how that turned out. I like the stories I’ve worked on that I’ve given up on partway through. I want to see how they turn out.

Writing has to be about more than flitting my fingers across the keyboard when the feeling overtakes me. It has to be about creating my own motivation by doing it. It has to be about pushing past my comfort zone and through my insecurities. And at its heart, it has to be about getting words onto the page.

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2014 in Writing

 

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Changing Gears

So far, I’ve been posting things that I’ve enjoyed writing, and been engaged on them, and enjoyed that too. Then there have been the short story ideas.

I’m happy to come up with short story ideas, and I see some things that I want to write. But I’m not enjoying posting them. I was hoping that having that as a challenge topic would give me more inspiration to come up with more ideas, but what it’s been has been a cop-out. A way to have a post that I’ve already written and can just type up quickly and move on. Good for having another post, but not good for getting another story idea.

So, I’m going to stop that. I’m going to stop throwing story ideas up here for this challenge. I’m not enjoying it, and I get the feeling you aren’t either. Instead, I’ll make it a goal to have one or two (I haven’t made my mind up about that yet) stories written to put up here before the end of the challenge.

I’m not feeling bitter about this switch. I want to enjoy what I’m writing and it will feel right to actually write some of the stories I’m thinking about.

Talk to you guys tomorrow,

Liam

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2014 in METABLOG, Writing

 

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Short Story Idea #3

Working Title: Power Failure

A primitive culture finds a piece of technology. The thing has indicators that can properly predict rain and weather changes, which the primitive culture learns to interpret. They attach religious significance to the item. when the thing starts flashing red, they worry. And when the red light stops blinking and the thing stops working, there are religious wars that wipe out the population. Later, a modern society finds the relic and replaces the battery. It boots up, and one guy says to another, “Hm. Looks like rain.”

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2014 in Writing

 

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It’s Easy Until it Isn’t

“What’s a blog challenge?”

“It’s where you write a blog post every day for 31 days.”

“Oh. That sounds easy.”

That from my eight-year-old daughter when I was talking about it just before it started.

I defended my trepidation, saying something inane like, “Yeah, it’s easy. Until it isn’t.”

But it’s true. Even right now, now that I’ve found what I’m going to write about tonight, the words are coming out smooth and true. That’s fantastic. But you weren’t inside my head three minutes prior, when I had absolutely nothing cooking up there.

This year was supposed to be the year of writing. Last year was the year of reading and that went over swimmingly. I read more books last year than I have in a single year ever, and finally hit the 50-book goal I’d set way back in 2003.

With writing, though, it’s a different kettle of fish. For one thing, reading is just staring at something and occasionally moving your hand. Writing is much more than that. There’s the whole thing, from coming up with an idea to making a reasonable and believable sequence of events out of it, making characters that feel like they didn’t come out of your head, and then actually sitting down and getting the words that you think should be there down. Then you have to read it all over again and fix all the little screw-ups that you’ve made in the first draft. It’s expected that the first draft is going to be a broken piece of garbage. Even for people who write regularly. If I’m going to produce crap, why even try?

That is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time. Probably since I heard the first-draft-as-steaming-pile theory. Then, thanks to Robb, I learned about this:

Performance, Feedback, Revision. How a person improves. Not just at writing. Not just at acting. At anything. That’s what I try to drill into my children. If I do well at something, their reaction is that I’m really good at it. My response is that I’ve had more practice than they have. And generally, that’s true. As hard as it is to convince myself to keep writing stories that aren’t very good to my mind, I know — I KNOW — that this is the only way I’m going to improve. So, even when there are nights that I want to read a book and not write, even though I’m in the middle of the summer blog challenge and there are twos and twos of readers out there depending on my words to get them through the next day, even when sitting in front of a blue screen with a white cursor blinking at me seems unbearable, I’ll sit here, think of an idea, and throw some syllables at it. Because I want to improve.

Until tomorrow,

Liam

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2014 in Writing

 

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Short Story Idea #2

This one takes a little bit of setting up. At the beginning of the year, when everything was possible, and I didn’t have reality all intruding on my writing goals, I had thought it would be really good to write a story based in Edmonton about a group of people who, for whatever reason, were brought together to fight evil. I didn’t have anything specific in mind yet, and I didn’t have any characters thought out. But I knew where I wanted to go.

When the reality of the time I take to write hit me, I decided to take a step back from the big goal of the story for now, and to think about the group of people that I wanted to come together. I’ve written one of the stories from that series — you may have seen part of it on my blog. It’s the Angel story that I was serializing. I finished it, but never got around to putting the rest of the story up, because I’m all inconsistent like that. You love me for it, and you know it. As such, it can’t really be a candidate for me to work on it, because, well, I’ve written it. I’ll get to the revision and all that at a different time, but for now, it’s off the table, because I want to focus on getting new stuff created.

As such, here’s the second story that I want to have for the convergence type story.

An alcoholic ex-professional athlete saves a kid from getting run over in downtown Edmonton because the kid was trying to find her father, who was abducted. The athlete, having returned the kid to the mother, becomes involved in the abduction case, and works to recover the man, who was abducted because of the company he works for.

See, the first story dealt with a mastermind of sorts, Dante, who reduced his assistant, or something, to a gibbering mad man with some technology or power that he has. And Dante is behind this abduction as well, because he wants something that the company the man works for has developed. The story isn’t incredibly well-developed, mainly because I haven’t spent a lot of concentration on the motivations of the shadowy bad guy behind the misery.

Anyway, the athlete finds out a little about Dante at the same time the reader does and, after the victim is rescued or released, the athlete now has motivation and direction in his life. But he’s still an alcoholic, so we’ll see how that works out for him.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2014 in Writing

 

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Short Story #1

So, I don’t really have a format for the story plans I’m going to share with you. I’m just going to lay them out. As I said, they’re not finished stories, and obviously there’s a lot of meat I’m leaving out. I’m sure that in the telling they’ll transform into something else, but this is what I’ve got so it’s what I’m going with.

Without further ado:

Working Title: 42
A man experiments on another man to discover the meaning of life.
The experiments are all consensual, involving interviews about desires and motivation, but when that doesn’t bear enough fruit, and this may have been part of the original plan, the experiments become darker and more demeaning, until they become dissection and medical experiments. Leonard, the experimenter, gets more and more frenzied in his research, while Dave, the subject, gets weaker and weaker. When Leonard says that the final experiment will have to end in Dave’s death, Dave chokes Leonard to death, saying as Leonard expires, “The meaning of life is survival.”

To expand, I guess Dave is a bit of a lump. He’s never had any motivation, he has no job, spends his days watching TV, when his room mates can afford cable. He knows Leonard through mutual friends who jump at the chance to suggest Dave when Leonard says he’s trying to find the root of human motivation.

Anyway, that’s the first story idea I have come up with for the challenge. Let me know what you think of it in the comments.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Writing

 

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Summer Blog Challenge — an Introduction

Another year, another challenge.

Every year with the summer blog challenge, I try to figure out at the beginning what I want it to be. In the past, I’ve used it to plan a story, and I’ve had challenges that have had no unifying theme. It’s been awhile since the story planning one, and I’m starting to feel like I want to do another writing-based one. But I also want the freedom of going off-script to write some other posts if the feeling overtakes me.

So, this is what I’m going to do.

Ray Bradbury once said that new writers should write short stories instead of novels. It gets more stories written, there’s some quicker feedback, and more obvious progress. And I think I agree with him. So that’s the area of writing on which I want to focus. But I’m ever plagued with the lifelong question: What should I write?

I’m not asking you this question. I’m asking it of myself. And that is going to be the thrust of this blog challenge. At the end, I want to have ten ideas that I can work on after the challenge is over.

I’m sure that I could come up with ten ideas and just throw them up here in this blog post, but I want more than that. I want a skeleton of a story that I can start to work on, not just a vague one-line description. So ten posts this challenge will be story proposals that I’m writing to myself. Along with this post and a final post that will talk about the stories and maybe a ranking of them, that leaves what? As many as 19 posts that could be about anything else.

And of course, I’m going to make an effort at the daily digest again, keeping all you blog fans up-to-date with the challenge posts from the others.

Later on, I’ll have another post later on with the participants and their blog information, and you can peek in on their blogs when the digest posts come out.

For now, I’m excited about the next month. There’s been a whole lot of not enough of this lately.

Liam

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2014 in METABLOG, Personal, Writing

 

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Up To Now

I didn’t make it to 20 posts. I did, however, make it to 38. The days leaked by and work beckoned, along with the waning Scouting year and my desire to play on a soccer team. My need and desire to live my life has always superseded my need and desire to chronicle it, so I dropped the project until things calmed down a little bit.
By now, I’m assuming, if you’ve been keeping up, you’ve picked up on a theme for this blog series: Jobs that I’ve had. I’ll summarize what’s left that got me to where I am and close things out properly.
The year was 2008. I’d had two fantastic, productive, instructive, and relevant years at Intuit. I’d transformed from a Comp Sci graduate to a professional programmer. i’d also had six very disheartening, deflating, and irrelevant months after BCM/HBM/PFW was scrapped. My business unit in Canada had, by and large, disintegrated. My boss had moved on. His boss had moved on. Suddenly, I was the only programmer on the team in Edmonton who hadn’t either left or found another job. It became clear very quickly that if I didn’t find something soon, I was going to be the asshole standing when the music stopped. So, I found something new with Vlad’s help.
I did well at the new job at Haemonetics. There was a lot of work to be done. There was a motivated and enthusiastic team that welcomed me. The work was exactly what I’d been missing the previous six months.
However, when that project was cut, I had to find something else. Which was an eight-week refactoring and bug-fixing blitz. When that whirlwind of a contract ended after a couple of weeks of 16-hour days, I found myself cast adrift. I didn’t find anything for just about a month. In the end, I worked with my old boss from Intuit, using Ruby on Rails in a very small team setting. That was about a 65% employment. It was awesome because I was getting paid to learn Ruby but it didn’t last.
Weeks after that work ended, but fortunately, shortly before money ran out, I ended up back at Haemonetics. I worked there for two very good years before they decided the project was done enough that they didn’t need contractors anymore. Nervous because of that lean summer two years before, I found work well in advance of teh end of my contract. Infact, I found two positions. I took the job at Intuit and worked there until after tax season, when I went to work for POSP.
I have a lot of uncompleted thoughts about POSP: the work I did there, the amount of time that things took, how I felt about my work there. But eventually, it was time to move on, and I went to Telus to work on their TV applications. I’d only been there a couple of weeks before Intuit called me again. they wanted me to start in August, a month short of the end of my contract. I managed to split the difference and rejoined Intuit on my ninth anniversary.
I’m just over 8 months into my contract with Intuit. And now we’re where I expected to find myself in time for the final 20 to 38 post.
So, as I said, this blog serios has been on the theme of jobs I’ve had. Jobs are like relationships in that they all end. So, if we’re talking about jobs I’ve had, we’re also talking about jobs I’ve had that have ended. Granted, we can only talk about jobs that have ended until we get to my current job.
Or can we?
I’m currently working at Intuit, but this job has also ended. I gave two weeks notice on April 23. On May 8, I start at another job. But it will be subtly different from the last five and a half years. It isn’t a contract. I’ve accepted an offer to join Gamesys Canada in a senior role that has a heavy focus on mentoring and leadership.
There is a lot to recommend this job. Not the least of which is getting to work with Robb again.
I worked with Robb at Haemonetics both times, and at Accenture. I have missed it.
Also, a game company. How could I pass that up?
I’m still not sure how I feel about giving up on contracting. It was a big part of my life. It put food on the table. I expected to be very broken up about shutting down Bisonweb Inc. But I find that I’m a little ambivalent. I’m moving to a good company that wants to do things the right way. In a way, I’m a little sad that I didn’t build Bisonweb up to what I had wanted it to be but this is basically my dream job, if such a thing exists.
I hope you’ve enjoyed following along this blog series. I’ve certainly appreciated the opportunity to stroll down memory lane.

Until more later on,

Liam

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2014 in Personal, Writing

 

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The (Paper) Pusher

An uneventful month and a half at AltaGas in Leduc was notable only for the fact that Jeff, the guy at the golf course who was solely responsible, in the first summer, for ensuring that the trees had enough water, was working an internship in the office. We laughed over old times and played crib over lunch hours. But there are more exciting times ahead. I will provide, for your edification, education, and enterntainment, a tasteful montage. It will get you through the next couple of yours until my next noteworthy job.

Montage

Scene 1 (set to the research music in CSI, Bones, House, and all those brainy shows)

Liam, returning to the basement suite, opening a computer science textbook and knuckling down to study. He reads one page, turns the page, then throws the book over his shoulder, and turns to play Madden football.

Scene 2 (the research music turns more tense, almost frantic)

Liam, sitting hunched over a test, sweat pouring from his forehead. Zoom out, and it’s a classroom full of students writing their finals.

Scene 3 (intense, emotional music, like on a show where there’s an important part and they didn’t want to write the dialogue, so they just put music in)

Liam, standing in front of a professor who is wearing a stern face. Liam is pleading his case. The professor is unmoved but Liam gets down on his knees, a supplication. The teacher shakes her head in disgust but waves Liam off his knees. She holds her hand out to shake but Liam grabs her in a hug and spins her around.

Scene 4 THE FINAL SCENE (80s music denoting victory — maybe Survivor, maybe Triumph)

Liam is driving home down Highway 2, tears streaming down his face. He is laughing and crying like Jesse on the Breaking Bad finale.

I’m very proud of this montage. It comes the closest to adequately describing how I felt about my last couple of years in university.
I’d do another montage about meeting Kim, finding true love at long last, and starting a healthy, meaningful adult relationship for the first time in my life, but I don’t want to synopsisize those early days. That’s the subject of its own blog series, some other day.
The reason Kim and I is relevant to this post is, Kim made a comment about the employment state of her previous boyfriends and how she’d never started a relationship with a guy who had a job. Granted, I could have said something witty about how her men needed to dedicate themselves to her and that they just had the right priorities, but I don’t have a suave bone in my body. Instead of going that route, I said, “I’ll have a job by Friday.” Come Friday, I had two. I only accepted one, though, and a week and a half later, I started at Halliburton.
I won’t pretend that I treated Halliburton as much more than a place to earn a pay cheque while I applied for programming jobs. Oh, I worked at the job. I did my best with the tasks that were given to me.
The timing of my graduation was a little unfortunate as far as immediately finding a programming job. I worked as a temp for six months and just about quit when they said they weren’t going to hire me as a permanent employee. I’d actually gone home and was looking for programming jobs with a growing sense of futility when they called me back into the office and offered me the permanent position.
Things went pretty smoothly after that. I worked to get all of the data moved over to the new database. The first six months of my job were spent filling up a spreadsheet that was supposed to be used to automate the data conversion, but after that time, they deemed that the spreadsheet was not sufficient to the task. The new database did not give me scripting access and the spreadsheet option was the only hope of automation. As I said, though, it was horribly broken. So, I went ahead and entered the data through the … ugh … web interface.
When I finally finished work with the data conversion, I started on a different piece. Like other jobs, this was very process-driven and I didn’t do a great job of it. But I was much more effective at it than I had been at the other jobs that were much the same. Something about a mortgage payment and a wife and kid made me work to get better at it rather than moving on.
Then my boss quit. He had his fingers in a lot of pies, and one of those pies — namely the running of the document office — got handed to me. It was on an interim basis for the first four or five months, and HR dithered and dragged their feet, but right around the time that Lily was born, my promotion went through.
I was in charge of my department and getting paid well, but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to be a programmer, not a boss, so I kept applying for entry-level programming jobs. That’s not strictly true. There still were no entry-level programming jobs, so I sent out a pile of resumes, cold-calling in the hopes of landing something.
Eventually, Victor, who had invited me out to Saturday morning soccer, suggested that I apply at Intuit. I was skeptical, but I applied anyway. In the upset of the year, the best company I’d applied to, the one that I’d thought I had the least chance of landing, was the company that got back to me. I was terrified, but I read some books on job interviews, and learned how to do an interview. I did well and got a job offer.
Before I left Halliburton, though, I had a couple of “boss” things to do. One girl was far too slow at her job and I had to fire her. It was hard because she’d been my first hire. I know it was for the best and I think she knew it too, but I had nightmares about that.
On the other hand, I got to interview and hire her replacement who seemed like a really good fit and, as far as I know, she might still be there.
I got a speech from my boss, telling me that if things didn’t work out at Intuit, I could come back. It was a relief, but when I left Halliburton, I knew I wouldn’t be back.

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2014 in Personal, Writing

 

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Diggin’ a Hole

“This is dirty fucking work.” That was from Jim, who ran things at the construction site that would become Jagare Ridge Golf Course. I don’t think he was necessarily trying to dissuade me from taking the job. I think Jim was just incapable of not speaking his mind. Maybe he wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into, since he repeated the phrase three or four times throughout the interview.
The timing was perfect. I was on the last vestiges of what passed for a paycheque from Bikeman. I had just enough money to pay off my first student loan payment, fill up with gas until my first cheque from the golf course, and get a Slurpee on the way home.
Sean had interviewed at the golf course the week before and he’d come to the job through Hire-A-Student. Jim had also told Sean it was dirty fucking work, so we shared a laugh about that when I told him that I’d gotten the job. Sean, however, had some engagement in Lethbridge that weekend and couldn’t start on the Saturday, like I did.
That first day held its own little bits of Hell. I’d sprained my wrist playing street hockey, and it hurt to make a fist or wrap it up, and so the twenty or so handshakes I endured on introduction sent waves of pain through my right hand. I had to endure it silently, though. I hadn’t told Jim about my injury and I fully expected that it would heal on-the-job. I did figure out how to sling a shovel with one hand, by lifting it out of the ground in the crook of my wrist. But the handshakes were the worst. Except for Colin, who’d lost his right hand in a construction accident some years before. He shook my left hand and became my favourite.
I rode a shovel for what seemed like forever but probably amounted to a couple of weeks straight. That’s a couple of weeks of ten-hour days, except Saturday, which was a lighter 9-hour day, and Sunday, which was a blissful day off. We were following a trencher around, digging holes for sprinkler heads, and digging the actual trench where the hill was too steep and the trencher couldn’t do it. Once the first few holes had irrigation done up for them, Jim got us, and by us, I mean Sean and I, laying landscaping rock along the eighth hole.
I can’t really remember how many hours Sean and I sat at that spot, throwing rocks into the dry creek bed. There was a pile of dirt that came with the rocks, which prevented them just dumping the rocks into the spot. And they wanted a single layer of rocks along the ground. Enough so that you couldn’t see the landscaping fabric underneath, but not so much that it was unsightly. In Jim’s words, “Make it look natural.” In Jason’s words, “How the fuck is a flat section of rocks supposed to look natural? Is that some kind of migration pattern?”
We persevered at that job, even though it felt like it would never end. In fact, when I went back there after that first year, the job still wasn’t done, and they didn’t have plans to finish it any time soon. It could be that they finished it sometime in my third year, but I’d largely forgotten about the rock-work on hole 8 at that point.
We did landscaping rock at other spots, too, between digging holes and working on hole 8. Along with a larger group, we used bigger rocks on the creek bank under one of the bigger bridges. Colin, he of the one hand, was always passing compliments around to the workers. He’d come on as a supervisor and was always pitching in, but if he liked the work you were doing, he always let you know.
One guy, Keith, was tabbed early-on as a gold-bricker. No, we didn’t use that term. We used a different term. But they mean the same thing. He didn’t hide from the truth. I don’t think he flaunted his laziness, but he wasn’t ashamed of himself, either. When the job under the bridge was done, Colin started in with the compliments. “Good job, Liam. Good job, Seaner. Good job, Jeremy.” He looked right at Keith, turned around and walked away.
Another incident with Keith was a little later in the summer. He was by a trench, leaning on a shovel, when Jim called across the field to him. Sean and I were there and we heard Jim giving Keith crap. Keith didn’t hear, so he lazily put his hand up to his ear and leaned forward. I thought Jim was going to have an aneurysm. He got off his quad and yelled “WORK!” Sean and I shared a pretty good laugh over that one. Keith wasn’t so amused. I think he started getting a little defensive after that.
There was another guy, Rob. Early on, Jim was trying to convey the idea of “Dirty fucking work” to us. He said that we’d be digging holes manually. I think Rob was a little intimidated by Jim because he didn’t say anything until after Jim left, but once it was just us, Rob turned to us and, in a horror-filled voice, said, “Did he mean with our… hands?!” He held up his hands in front of himself as if he didn’t recognize them.
I didn’t find myself missing my social life as much at the golf course as I had at other jobs. I didn’t really go out that much, but working with Sean was fun enough that I guess I got that part out of my system. Moreso than baking donuts alone or stocking shelves alone. We lasted that whole summer and we made good progress. Sean and Jeremy planted a crap-ton of trees, I got to build a staircase with a chainsaw and sledgehammer. Jim got the tractor stuck in a hole that they dug for the pumphouse.
I stopped that first year with a couple of weeks left. I got a bad bit of heat prostration and didn’t have the energy for work anymore. But I was headed back to school, determined to make a fresh start of it.
I returned to the golf course over the next two summers. Neither of those years was as memorable as the first. I did get to make a couple of rock waterfalls that I thought were really cool, and there were definitely characters in both of those years, from Murray the stoner to Ryan the WHL goalie. And in all three cases, they were very strong motivators to get back to school. I didn’t hate the job but it was dirty fucking work and not necessarily something I wanted to be doing the rest of my life.
That last year, I had to stop after a couple of months. If you’ve been paying attention to this blog series, you’ll probably be able to guess that it was my back that let me down. It got so bad that even just walking across uneven ground was pretty much unbearable. I had two months left in the summer, so I had to find another job. Fortunately, Hire-a-Student had my back again.

NOTE: I know there are things that I’ve missed writing from the first year at the golf course. Sean knows them. And I’m sure that he’ll fill you in on things like the whiteboard, Jeff the water guy, how everyone was scared of Colin including the guy we threw into the pond, and other stories. In fact, if he’s willing, I’m calling Sean out to write about the Ridge from his point of view. I’ll host it if he writes it.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2014 in Personal, Writing

 

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