Category Archives: Writing

Ursula K. Le Guin's Writing Schedule is Very Relatable

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Ideal Writing Schedule Was Very Relatable

“My life is very ordinary, common place, middle class, quiet and hard-working. I enjoy it immensely. I do not find it appropriate to talk about it very much.”

The schedule of famous writers and creators has always been a fascination of mine, and I know I’m not alone. Despite what social media tells you, there’s no right or wrong way to create. What works for one person won’t always work for someone else. Glean what you can. Reject what doesn’t work. Part of creating is learning what works for you. Be kind and humble enough to let others follow their own path.

All that said, I find Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing process relatable, delightful, and somewhat enviable—well, except for that 5:30 AM wake-up. (Who does that?) While Le Guin’s ideal schedule is nothing compared to the alleged Hunter S. Thompson routine, you never know what happens after 8:00 PM, for all we know “middle-aged Portland housewives” go hard.

5:30 a.m. - wake up and lie there and think. 6:15 a.m. - get up and eat breakfast (lots). 7:15 a.m. - get to work writing, writing, writing. Noon - lunch. 1-3 p.m. - reading, music. 3-5 p.m. - correspondence, maybe house cleaning. 5-8 p.m. - make dinner and eat it. After 8 p.m. - I tend to be very stupid and we won't talk about this. I go to bed at 10:00 p.m. If I'm at the beach there would be one ore two long walks on the beach in that day. This is a perfect day for me.

It’s easy to see the appeal. I too am a fan of thinking in bed, breakfast foods, reading, and taking time to be stupid. (The graphic above omits her 10 PM bedtime, for some reason. So it’s only two hours of stupidity despite what we all hoped.)

Le Guin’s schedule originally appeared in a 1988 interview with Slawek Wojtowicz (you can read the full transcript and see a scanned image of her response at the link—it includes some wonderful handwritten notes as well) and more recently in Ursula K. Le Guin: The Last Interview. Want more? I’d encourage you to check out Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, a phenomenal documentary from Arwen Curry.

Eight Hundred

Eight Hundred

You never think it’ll happen to you and then it does. Since I started writing, I told myself I had thick skin. I believed myself armored with tenacity. But, armor eventually fails. Creative chinks don’t care about our intentions. They reveal themselves in a hundred different ways and often too late.

A book can flop. The most well-meaning comment can eviscerate. Sales numbers can collapse. Positive momentum can falter and then vanish entirely. The list is endless. Any of those can wear you down. They can make you want to give up. They can destroy you.

It happened to me around late-2016/early-2017. The catalyst is unimportant but the outcome isn’t. My armor failed. I felt defeated, and my confidence was shattered. I didn’t know what to do. I felt creatively adrift. That pernicious devil known as imposter syndrome arrived, and he brought his bag of “What Ifs” with him. What if I’m not good enough? What if this story is crap? What if I’m not cut out for this? What if? What if? What if?


“What if I’m not good enough? What if this story is crap? What if I’m not cut out for this?”


I withdrew creatively. I told very few. I kept up appearances, but inside it hurt. Thinking back, it still hurts. But, I kept writing, I drained those emotions out on the keyboard. Time passed. I finished one manuscript, then another—my biggest project to date—there were failed projects in between, unfinished starts, and discarded ideas. There always is. But I kept going. The writing didn’t stop. The writer is tempered by adversity, and I worked through it doubting myself the whole way. Eventually, I returned to the Bell Forging Cycle.

Writing is an interesting endeavor. There are a thousand ways to do it, a thousand voices offering (or selling advice), and numerous experts waxing poetic on a soapbox. It’s no wonder we all get the author equivalent of stage fright. What if someone’s way is better? What if we’re not efficient enough? What if our style changes? What if we’re not striving for the same goals as everyone else? We judge ourselves based on the perceived success of others. It’s no wonder even the masters talk about being stricken with impostorism. In a world of “experts,” it’s become a cyclical feedback loop.

So why all this? Why bare my soul now? This is my eight-hundredth post on I Make Stories. Every two hundred posts, I take a moment and evaluate where I am at creatively. It’s become a tradition. (Previously: 600. 400. 200.) Who knows how many thousands of words I’ve shared here? This silly little site has become a bit of refuge over the past few years—a place to vent, explore, and share—it’s my outlet.

It’s funny how in moments of struggle you forget your successes. I have three books behind me with a slew of fantastic reviews. I have readers who email me with excited questions or words of encouragement. (Or just wondering when the next book is coming.) I have colleagues who trust my opinion on their work. I have a community of creatives around me. When I started this blog eight years ago, I had no idea where it’d go. I had no clue what would happen. I wasn’t classically trained. I had a limited college education. I was a twenty-something kid with big ideas—that’s it.

But, here I am eight years later and staring at the completed third draft of Gleam Upon the Waves, Book IV of my Bell Forging Cycle. For those patiently waiting: we’re getting close.

Interestingly, I am at this point on this project when the 800th post has arrived. Here I reflect. In manuscript land, I’ve reached the moment where it’s time to contact my beta readers. The point where I solicit the first round of feedback on the roughest of stories. Just thinking about it makes me nervous. I can feel those old emotions welling up. Those old doubts that held me in check and slowed me down. I’m worried. I’m scared. I’m nervous. The wound may have scarred over but it still stings. I can hear our ugly adversary cackling “you’re a fraud” in my creative ear. But, I know he’s a liar. I know theirs no truth in that. Perhaps if I had quit, he’d be right. But I didn’t stop. I kept writing. I stuck around. I’ve gotten better. I kept telling the stories I needed to tell. Saying the things I need to say. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Sometimes it’s all we should do.

Right now, Gleam’s a manuscript. Soon it’ll be a book. A book you’ll be able to read. And here we are, eight hundred posts behind us and more stories in the future. Milestones are meant to be passed. Stopping isn’t in the cards. It wasn’t before it most certainly isn’t now.

Post one thousand is somewhere in the future. And who knows where we’ll be then?


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

Grant Morrison

Ghost Stories, Non-sequiturs, Inexplicable Mysteries, Dead Ends and Absurdities

“Otherwise, I know I’m often wasting my breath and electronic ink saying this, but the “real-world” is a pretty weird place where lots of inexplicable things happen all the time, and I like to catch the flavor of that too. It just seems more modern and authentic to me as a storyteller. The “real world” doesn’t come with the neat three-act structures and resolutions we love to impose on it, and if repeated doses of movie and TV-storytelling have convinced anyone that it does, it‘s time to get out and about a bit. The real world is filled with ghost stories, non-sequiturs, inexplicable mysteries, dead ends and absurdities, and I think it’s cool to season our comfortable fictions with at least a little taste of what actual reality is like.”

Grant Morrison

A Riverboat's Paddlewheel

A Riverboat’s Paddlewheel

Oceangoing ships would opt for screw propulsion earlier than their riverboat counterparts. While constant contact with the water was beneficial in rough ocean conditions, it posed a detriment in early river travel. The wear and tear on screws were harsher in clogged and snag-prone conditions. Major damage could incapacitate a packet boat, and it was much easier for a riverboat’s carpenter to make repairs to a vessel’s above-water paddlewheel rather than a submerged screw prop.

A paddlewheel also allowed riverboats to ride at a shoal draft which permitted navigation among the shallow western tributaries. This helped extend the packet’s reach further inland. While future engineering would deepen and clean rivers, those early benefits allowed paddlewheels to be the dominant propulsion for almost a century.

The sidewheeler Belle of the Bends taking on cargo alongside the sternwheeler Belle of Calhoun
Two Misses in Memphis, 1906—The sidewheeler Belle of the Bends taking on cargo alongside the sternwheeler Belle of Calhoun. (See the full sized image over at Shorpy.)

Packets came in two distinct and common varieties dictated by their paddlewheel placement: the elegant sidewheeler and the labor-ready sternwheeler[1]. Early in their history, it was much easier to balance a pair of wheels at either side of the vessel — at first amid-ship but later moved just one-third forward of the stern. These boats proved superior to the cumbersome keelboats from earlier eras and quickly overtook the river trade. Their enormous paddleboxes or wheelhouses were bold, showy, and elegant. Early on, they proved to have some distinct advantages. Sidewheelers had a more stable foundation. On two-engine boats, one wheel could be reversed which allowed the packet greater maneuverability. As they became more popular, many captains grew to prefer the look, and the paddleboxes provided a foundation for wide traveler promenades.


“The sidewheel river packet is the most beautiful creation of man.”

—Captain Ellias C. Mace[2]


Unlike the sidewheeler, the sternwheeler was not as well-loved. Early sternwheelers were slow, ungainly, and unbalanced. As Hunter says in Steamboats on the Western Rivers: “Compared with the side-wheeler it was a dull, cart-horse sort of boat, useful only for the meaner kinds of work. For speed, pleasing lines, and flashing performance, the sidewheeler stood first from beginning to end; it was the western river steamboat par excellence.”[3]

Detail of the blueprints of the 1912 towboat Captain Stuart.
Detail of the blueprints of the 1912 towboat Captain Stuart. Click here to view the full blueprints.

Par excellence or not, technology and construction methods improved, and the sternwheel’s advantages began to outshine their formerly-favored cousins. The wheel at the aft allowed the hull to serve as a bulwark from logs, ice, and other debris which could jam or damage a wheel. Because of that, those packets didn’t have to stop as readily to avoid accident. As other methods of construction were developed, the sternwheeler’s capacity for hauling cargo was significantly increased. Single aft wheels were lighter and allowed for a wider beam which enabled a more shallow draft. This helped them become masters of the smaller tributaries. By the 1880s it was said that a sternwheeler under the same load as a sidewheel vessel of similar size would draw less than half as much water—an essential aspect of river trade.

My long-standing work in progress, Coal Belly, is a sprawling weird-west fantasy adventure set on a planet which is crisscrossed by interlocking rivers. Along the rivers of Achus, both side and sternwheeled steamboats are ubiquitous. In a world where massive rivers are the dominant source of transportation, trade, and security, I felt it was important for me to understand the advantages and disadvantages of riverboat propulsion. Understanding small details can have vast implications for a story, and while second world fantasy easily allows for historical aberration, it’s always beneficial to ground aspects of worldbuilding in reality.

Below are some photos of riverboat’s wheels, both side and stern, which I’ve gathered during the years of my research for Coal Belly. You can click on any photo to view it larger. I’ve tried to group them together so you can see sidewheels, stern wheels, and some of the odder experimentations.



As will all my riverboat research posts, all the images above were collected over the last six years, so I am unsure where they all come from (usually the Library of Congress or from research at my local libraries.) But, they’re all old enough they should all be in the public domain. If something looks or seems amiss, please let me know and I’ll correct it.

In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping to keep it all visually consistent. I’m happy to answer any questions folks have about any of these images or riverboats in general. (Sometimes it gives me a good excuse to research something.) You can send me an email or leave a comment below.


More Riverboats

A Riverboat’s Paddlewheel is the latest in my series of posts sharing my research for my future novel Coal Belly. You can check out the other riverboat-related posts with the links below.


Footnotes and Citations

1 The key word here is “common.” There were a few outliers, of course. Ferries were often centerwheelers, with the paddlewheel built along the vessels beam and the boat constructed around it. There was also the batwing steamers—small vessels with two tiny side-wheels near the stern.

2 Mace, Ellis Clarence, 1862-. River Steamboats And Steamboat Men: a History With Articles And Pictures From My Scrap Book. Cynthiana, Ky.: The Hobson book press, 1944.

3 Hunter, Louis C, and Beatrice Jones Hunter. Steamboats On the Western Rivers: an Economic And Technological History. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1949.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →

H.P. Lovecraft's Patriotic Poetry

H.P. Lovecraft’s Patriotic Poetry

Ol’ Lovecraft fancied himself a poet, and he had a bit of a Hallmark streak in him and often penned verse to national holidays. I’ve shared his Christmas versification in the past, and we looked at his Halloween verse. Here in the United States, our Independence Day celebrations are right around the corner so I thought it’d be fitting look at Lovecraft’s patriotic poem.


Ode for July Fourth, 1917

As Columbia’s brave scions, in anger array’d,
 Once defy’d a proud monarch and built a new nation;
’Gainst their brothers of Britain unsheath’d the sharp blade
 That hath ne’er met defeat nor endur’d desecration;
  So must we in this hour
  Show our valour and pow’r,
And dispel the black perils that over us low’r:
 Whilst the sons of Britannia, no longer our foes,
 Will rejoice in our triumphs and strengthen our blows!

See the banners of Liberty float in the breeze
 That plays light o’er the regions our fathers defended;
Hear the voice of the million resound o’er the leas,
 As the deeds of the past are proclaim’d and commended;
  And in splendour on high
  Where our flags proudly fly,
See the folds we tore down flung again to the sky:
 For the Emblem of England, in kinship unfurl’d,
 Shall divide with Old Glory the praise of the world!

Bury’d now are the hatreds of subject and King,
 And the strife that once sunder’d an Empire hath vanish’d.
With the fame of the Saxon the heavens shall ring
 As the vultures of darkness are baffled and banish’d;
  And the broad British sea,
  Of her enemies free,
Shall in tribute bow gladly, Columbia to thee:
 For the friends of the Right, in the field side by side,
 Form a fabric of Freedom no hand can divide!


The US got involved in The Great War in 1917, so it’s fair to say Lovecraft is offering up a bit of reflection for past events and the current situation in the world. I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for the whole national personification thing—it’s such a delightfully weird tradition.

Happy Independence Day, fellow Americans and happy Tuesday to everyone else.

🇺🇸 🇺🇸 🇺🇸


Are you Lovecraft fan? Like cosmic horror? Like gritty urban fantasy? Why not check out my novels—they’re cosmic horror adventures set in a post-apocalyptic world after the return of Lovecraft’s monstrosities. Buy the series here read reviews over on Goodreads. All three are available in eBook or paperback.

The Bell Forging Cycle

 

Introducing: Gleam Upon the Waves

Draft Zero

It’s been a good weekend.

Gleam Upon the Waves, Draft Zero
Gleam Upon the Waves, Draft Zero

The tracker has been filled, but there is still a long trail ahead. Find out more about this book and read a synopsis over at this post.

Right now Gleam is sitting right around the same length as Red Litten World, but I expect that to change in the edits. But edits can come later. Today I’m going to have a quiet celebration, then take a few days off from writing, after that I’ll be diving right back into it.

Oh! If you haven’t read any of my books, you should rectify that.


Dead Drop: Missives from the desk of K. M. AlexanderWant to stay in touch with me? Sign up for Dead Drop, my rare and elusive newsletter. Subscribers get news, previews, and notices on my books before anyone else delivered directly to their inbox. I work hard to make sure it’s not spammy and full of interesting and relevant information.  SIGN UP TODAY →