J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

Category: Writing (Page 2 of 7)

New Published Story “The Fo’dekai Artifact”

My science fiction short story “The Fo’dekai Artifact” appears this month in the web magazine Cosmic Roots And Eldritch Shores. This is my second fiction sale at a professional rate, doubling my number of published stories and bringing me two-thirds of the way towards joining the SFWA as an active member (which bestows the privilege of voting on works for the Nebula award, among other things).

The story has shades of Cthulhu/Lovecraft, featuring a race of mind-controlling squid-like aliens, but is primarily a science fiction tale that explores one way an expansionistic civilization might spread throughout the galaxy (without giving too much away: tiny ships, storing information in an infectious DNA-like molecule). Thematically, it’s a story about which class and cultural groups might be more open to the possibility of alien immigration/invasion, and why.

Cosmic Roots And Eldritch Shores charges a modest $1/mo. annual subscription fee (sign up for 2017 here). Well worth it, if you’re a fan of short science fiction and fantasy.

Reference photo: “Underwater Dance” the Russian photographer Willyam Bradbury Stock Providers: “Octopus” http://www.deviantart.com/art/Octopus-473740570 by Kayla Ascencio http://www.kaylafantasyart.com/fantasygallery.html “octopus”  http://mysilentsky-stock.deviantart.com/art/octopus-31560066 and “Tentacles 2”  http://mysilentsky-stock.deviantart.com/art/tentacles2-31560216?q=&qo= by Guyang   http://mysilentsky-stock.deviantart.com/ “Octo ll” http://idnurse41.deviantart.com/art/Octo-II-136435437 and “Octopus Stock”   http://www.deviantart.com/art/Octopus-stock-136411455 by Pamela   http://idnurse41.deviantart.com/

Fiction Writing History and Update

Do we really need more books in the world? Yes. Yes we do.

In 2013, after fifteen years in the underground dance music industry, I got serious about writing fiction and made a real commitment to learn the craft. Since then I’ve worked on short stories or novels every day (either outlining/brainstorming, writing, or revising). Starting in late 2015 I started sending out short stories, and in May of 2016 my first published story appeared in Strange Horizons.

That’s the narrative I’d like you to believe, that I had good run making house music, running a record label, and being a nightclub promoter and then boom, I switched over to writing fiction and sold a story at a professional rate almost immediately.

The truth is messier, with lots of overlap, and many false starts.

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Happy at the Bottom

Recently I wrote about various careers I’ve had and am still having, both accidental and on-purpose. My current sci-fi author career is so fledgling (exactly one published story) that any sensible person wouldn’t call it a career.

My dad says it’s my calling. Maybe it is. But I’m approaching it like a career, methodically and strategically. I write almost everyday, not just when I’m feeling inspired. Even though I have little to show for my efforts (so far), I can’t remember having this much fun trying to build something. At least not since the days I was sending out cassette-tape demos in padded mailers to NYC house music labels (and getting ignored). Or joining Trip ‘n Spin, a disorganized, fun-loving music label/collective in San Francisco.

It’s kinda fun being at the bottom. My friends and family (and maybe even some of you gentle readers) are genuinely rooting for me. A few might think I’m tilting at windmills, but not in a mean way (I may even inspire some to tilt at windmills of their own). I don’t have a professional reputation to protect, because I have no reputation in this field.

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How to Think About Your Career

It’s possible to have a career without really thinking about it. Nothing wrong with that. I’ve had at least three-and-a-half accidental careers so far.

  • I started doing computer support and database design right out of college, just a few hours a week, at my dad’s friend’s company, learning as I went. Ten years later I was the Senior Database Administrator for the San Francisco Symphony, and I still do freelance db work to this day as my main source of income. But none of my friends ever remember this, because it’s so boring that I never talk about it.
  • My record label business partner wanted to start a weekly happy hour at an art gallery. I thought it was a terrible idea. The ayahuasca-snorting gentleman he initially partnered with to throw the event got a little squirrelly and they parted ways. I reluctantly stepped in, and under our management we had a decade-plus run as one of the biggest dance music events in San Francisco, lines around the block, written up in international guide books, DJs from around the world eager to play to our crowd.
  • I had no interest in DJing. But we needed to promote our album. So I learned to DJ at my own party, trainwrecking mix after mix. Spesh put me through DJ bootcamp and I got a little better. Soon we were headlining the biggest dance clubs in San Francisco, voted among SF’s Top DJs in the Nitevibe poll, on the cover of The SF Weekly, and touring in Europe. But eventually I quit because I don’t like travelling, or listening to hundreds of promo tracks to find the few good ones.
  • I started a blog in 2009. I can’t remember why. Probably to practice writing, to express myself, to share my ideas. Eventually some of my health posts (about sleep and artificial light, about the paleo diet) got popular. The blog hit a million views. CNN interviewed me. A TV show The Doctors flew me to Hollywood to be a guest. I experimented with advertising. Then I wrote a post about how I regrew some of my hair by intensively massaging my head, and things went crazy. Views through the roof, readers begging me to make instructional videos, asking for personalized advice. Should I take up hair regrowth coaching? I thought about it. Maybe I could help Tim Ferriss regrow his hair, or Prince William. But I’m not patient enough to be a coach, and I didn’t want to be the hair guy. Or another paleo guy. So I made it clear to my readers that though while I would still write the occasional health post, the content of this blog was much broader (systems for living well, self-experimentation, the creative life).

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Quality Control: Getting the Work Done Despite Your High Standards

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Over the last few years I’ve been compiling notes on good writing technique. My favorite authors have been generous with their advice, and I’ve been collecting it, analyzing it, and trying to apply it to my own work. How to build suspense, how to create relatable characters, how to construct a good sentence, a good scene, a good story.

Two problems …

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“Persistment” (My Take on “Grit”)

I like the psychological concept of grit, which corresponds roughly with perseverance, and even more closely with conscientiousness (one of the “Big Five” personality traits). Popularized most recently by Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, the concept has been around at least since the early 1900’s. Grit, unlike natural genius, can to some extent be learned, and its application is more important than intelligence in terms of life success and fulfillment.

My own mental hurdle with this concept is that the word grit literally makes me think of someone gritting their teeth and just pushing, pushing, pushing, like Conan on the Wheel of Pain.

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Obviously Conan is just going in a circle, getting nowhere (though he is getting stronger and bigger). That can be the problem with brute force persistence too — you might get mentally tough but at the same time not make any progress.

For that reason I substitute the word persistment (persistence + improvement) for grit. It’s not as catchy, but it works to remind me that there are two parts to self-propelled success. Willful stubbornness will get you only so far. You have to actively get better.

A few weeks ago I wrote about my take on what it takes to create on a day-to-day basis (inspiration, daily practice, quality control, a learning system). What I didn’t really address was the mindset of the creative life. Where does the motivation come from? What should you do if you don’t “naturally” feel motivated to spring out of bed and spend hours wrestling with your medium to create something that may or may not end up good, meaningful, and/or profitable?

What is persistment (or grit, if you prefer) in terms of developing an artistic/creative career, or just living that kind of life?

Know (and Feel) Your Why

I’m talking about purpose. We get to choose if we want to dedicate our lives to something, and what that something is. For me it’s mostly about creating works that entertain others (and hopefully also inspire, fascinate, etc.). Life happens whether or not we assign or ascribe purpose to it, but I appreciate the additional agency that choosing a purpose provides. If you don’t reflect on and define your own raison d’etre, it’s too easy to get swept up in other people’s agendas, becoming a pawn in games of people craftier and more powerful than yourself.

Purpose doesn’t need to be complicated or grand. But it needs to be yours. The only requirement is that whatever you choose has a deep personal, emotional resonance. What do you care about, more than anything?

Know Where You’re Going (a Main Goal and a Plan)

For many years all I wanted was to be a successful dance music producer. That goal sustained me for my early adult life. I had a great run, publishing music on my favorite labels, co-running my own label, landing big licensing deals, co-promoting a famous San Francisco event, touring internationally as a DJ, and even quitting my technology work for a few years and paying my mortgage with only music income.

While I still love running Loöq and making music in the studio, that career has mostly run its course (probably). I no longer want to DJ, spend lots of time in airports, or participate in big dance music events, and those things are kind of required for next-level success as a producer. I won’t say I’m too old, because there are people older than me still loving it, still working the CDJs and pumping their fists in the air. But I was ready to try to something else. There’s no rule that says you can only do one thing your entire life.

I floundered, somewhat directionless, for a few years. That was a little rough. I continued to support myself and act like a responsible adult, but I didn’t have any big picture or vision for my career or creative drive.

Now I have my sights set on being a novelist. While there are many acceptable definitions of “novelist,” for me it means getting published with a reputable publisher, selling thousands of books, and making some income (though not necessarily quitting my freelance work).

I can’t promise you I’ll get there, but it’s where I’m aiming. It feels great to be headed in a specific direction, no longer floundering. I’ve committed.

(And if you’re a novelist trying to make it a dance music producer, we should get in touch and trade tips.)

Deconstruct Blockedness/Poor Performance

I enjoyed this lecture by Alan Watkins:

Watkins makes some interesting distinctions between sensation, emotion, and feelings. What he’s getting at is that we can’t just look at behavior and try to force ourselves to do better. We need to go deeper, and deconstruct what’s happening at a physiological level, then work our way back up the chain.

Same goes for “writer’s block.” If you feel blocked, deconstruct your blockedness. If you’re mildly depressed, fix your brain. If you don’t know what to write, then back up, brainstorm, outline, write what you’re going to write. If you don’t know how to write what you want to write, then do some research, study some examples, get some advice, take a class, etc. Same applies, in slightly different ways, to other creative fields.

Incremental Goals and Rewards

A friend of mine does something nice for herself every time she gets something published. I think that’s a great habit. Why not reinforce success?

But getting published isn’t within our control, and it doesn’t necessarily happen frequently. It’s important to also reward yourself for incremental progress, for setting and achieving a target. That could be meeting your daily quota, finishing a draft, or submitting a piece for publication.

Even if these actions don’t result in immediate external success (getting published, getting paid, getting famous, receiving awards, etc.) you should still count them as personal successes, and reward the behavior. Because you need to keep doing those behaviors to have any chance at external success.

So train yourself like a chicken, and condition yourself to do the things you want to be doing.

Frame Rejection as Feedback, and Progress

We all know rejection is part of the game. But that doesn’t mean you have to let it get to you. Ideally rejection should have a neutral emotional quality. Rejection is feedback, information. It can tell you any of the following:

  • that your work needs to improve
  • how your work can improve
  • that your work doesn’t fit the market you submitted it to
  • they don’t yet know who you are (reputation and connections matter)

I track my rejections, both for logistical purposes (so I don’t submit the same piece to the same outlet), but also as a measure of how much work I’ve put in.

For whatever reason, rejections no longer sting as much. Sometimes, they have a silver lining (when your work makes it out of the slush pile and the editor actually reads it, when you get personalized feedback or a nice comment).

I don’t know if I can explain exactly how to not take rejection personally. It helps having my first published story. It helps having clear successes in other areas of my life. Maybe most importantly, it helps to remember that rejection is about the work, and your progress, not you as a person.

What’s your take on grit, as it applies to the creative life? How do you nurture your own motivation?

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