Author Archives: Peter Damien

The Anatomy of Idea-Rot

Recently, I sat down to work on the novel-in-progress of mine, a book called The Girl in the Cupboard at the moment, and I came to it not with a feeling of excitement…but dread. I wasn’t surprised, but I wasn’t happy about it either. I also wasn’t surprised about the next thing that happened, which was that I thought up another big novelistic idea and became incredibly excited about it.

This happens constantly to me.

Fortunately, I’m getting smarter about it and I knew what to do: I made many pages of notes for this later idea, and then I put it away and went back to my notes for Girl in the Cupboard, but even as I did so, I knew that the dreaded IDEA ROT stage had happened, and if I wasn’t going to abandon the book…I was going to have to fight my way back from this point.

What is Idea Rot and more importantly, how does it happen? How can it be prevented?

The stages of Idea Rot are pretty simple.

1) I have the BIG IDEA. It is VERY EXCITING. MUCH THOUGHTS. SO STORY. WOW. VERY WRITE. I get very excited. I write a lot of notes, I start writing scenes for it and doing whatever bits of research are needed (Usually, my story ideas come out of my reading, so the research is frequently already done). I babble incessantly about the book. THIS IS THE BIG ONE YOU GUYS!

2) I start writing some pages of it.

3) Unfortunately, I am not a well-functioning writer these days. I don’t know why not. I think part of my brain fell out while I was chasing kids around, and it was that useful bit. The remaining bits aren’t all that useful. So the book is there, in early-stages of being written, but I don’t get to it. So I think about it, I tinker, I make notes.

4) Despite not being a well-functioning writer these days, I AM a working writer, and a decently busy one, when I can get the anxiety and crushing lack of self-confidence out of the gearworks and get the engine running. I try to write a lot of articles and book reviews, because being in the BookRiot world makes me a very very happy person, and I try to be as useful as possible.  I don’t do as much short fiction as I used to — non-functioning writer! — but I DO do some, and I try to work on that too.

5) The book is not getting written. 

6) The problem is, I BADLY WANT the book to be getting written, because I WANT TO WRITE A BOOK. And I think the idea is too damn good to let die! Plus, I want to do lots of books, and not being able to do ONE is kind of a killer to that plan. I admire and am intensely jealous of so many functioning artists. Big ones, like the people at Pixar, like Hayao Miyazaki and Guillermo del Toro, writers like J.K. Rowling and Joe Hill and many others…but also less internationally-known ones, like many of my friends on Twitter. Perhaps they don’t know how jealous I am of their work and their working habits…but I am.

7) I HAVE GOT to get this book written.

And thus, IDEA ROT has set in, encroaching around the edges like the first hint of green appear on the edges of a loaf of bread that’s been sitting around too long. Suddenly, a number of things happen at once. For ONE, the book idea has now been sitting around too long. For another, each time I sit down and maybe get to work on it, there is PRESSURE. I have GOT TO WORK on it, It has GOT TO MOVE, and it’s GOT TO GET FINISHED. Pressure like that isn’t the best way to work. Third, the dread has set in. I know when IDEA ROT is happening. I know it’ll be just a little bit before the final stage happens, as I mentioned above: I think up a new idea, and I get excited about it and want to abandon this old one, which has become like all the boxes chained to Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.

It’s a lot of boxes, because this has been happening for years and years now. I have a quite-long trail of unwritten novel ideas stretching out behind me. Some of them are still viable and I might come to them someday, in their time. Others have had their day in the sun and are outdated, dead ideas. They didn’t get turned into full drafts (some got hundreds of pages long) which means they weren’t even the best learning experiences. Those are the ones I regret.

So what’s the key to preventing Idea Rot? Well, it’s kind of a no-brainer: it’s just to write every day. That’s obvious advice. People tell you that all the time. But perhaps we don’t always say WHY it’s so vital.

1) It keeps the work moving, fresh, and occupied. An abandoned house feels different than an occupied house which is just temporarily empty. I’ve noted that in a couple short stories, and I believe it. It’s the same with stories. A piece of writing you don’t work on for a day is different in nature and feel than a story you wanna work on but aren’t getting anywhere near.

2) It CHEAPENS your writing. I actually think this is the most important benefit of writing every day, fiction or non-fiction: It cheapens a single day’s work, and that’s great. If you’re doing 2,000 words a day — or whatever your goal is for a successful work day — and you then have a crap day where you only do 500 words, or you the day’s writing falls flat…oh well. It’s no big thing. YESTERDAY was okay and TOMORROW’S okay and so a crap day is just submerged beneath the steady advance of work days. If you only write once in a while, then EVERY time you sit down to work has to produce AMAZING WORK and LOTS OF IT because there’s more pressure on it. That not only puts a crippling pressure on the work and on you (or at least, on me) but it takes all the fun out of it. 

3) It means you stay mentally engaged with the work. You aren’t just seeing the work as this big black obelisk in your mind which you occasionally glance at and think “I must work on this” with the reliability of touching a lucky object and chanting the same wish over and over. Instead, you’re engaged with the work. Every day, the work advances, or at least changes, and that means that for the rest of the day, you’re thinking about it a little differently than the day before. And knowing you’re going to be writing tomorrow means you can think about what you wanna do the next day. What happened today and what’ll happen tomorrow. That’s incredibly useful. 

When I go for a run, I’m not only aware of how my run’s going today, but how it’ll affect my run tomorrow, and what I want to do tomorrow. 11 Mile day? Fantastic! But tomorrow, I’m only gonna do three really strong miles…partially because I don’t want to risk injury, but mostly because I don’t want to get mentally worn out. That’s my plan. Of course, tomorrow might come along and I feel so superhuman that I go for another 11 mile run, and that’s terrific too. The ongoing thought process is the useful bit, not the decisions. They aren’t carved in stone.

So, being aware of Idea Rot and these problems, and offering the Write Every Day advice, which I clearly fail to follow, what am I going to do about it? 

Well, I’m not ditching the book. I’m trying to figure out how to get back into it, how to retrieve the sense of fun and exploration. Part of that has been examining my working methods and figuring out fun ways to change them. Something else is just getting into the book any way I can, and I’ve been doing it with deliberate messiness. While working on this blog post, I’ve always been scribbling a scene from the book in a notebook. I don’t know where it falls, or IF it falls anywhere in the book…but it’s got some of the book’s characters having a discussion and moving around a place. That’s good enough. It’s fiction, it’s these people, it’s informative to me, and it gets me in there. It’s badly written and it may never appear in the book, but who cares. That’s a different day’s problem.


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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


Writing From The Set Of A Terrible Movie, Apparently

It’s been densely foggy for pretty much all of the past three days around here. I quite like it. It’s really pretty, and while it does trap in the acrid exhaust smell closer to the businesses, here in my apartment complex it is currently trapping the smell of someone nearby frying bacon. 

It thinned a tiny bit earlier today (you could see the end of a street block) and then it thickened up more than it had been all week, until going outside felt like stepping into a terrible old horror movie where you could tell the budget had run out, so they were desperately hiding unfinished sets with as much fog as they could pump out. If I go running in the dark and the thick fog and I get killed by a monster, it probably serves me right.

Speaking of things serving people right, a man in England moved into a studio apartment on the ground floor of a refurbished monastery and discovered a trap door in his pretty wood floor which led down into an ancient and ruined dungeon. So he went exploring with a friend.  Neither he nor his friend were eaten or possessed by the Things With Long Arms and Clacky-Clacky Teeth which had been chained up down there centuries ago, but like me running in the fog, it would have served him right. He’s still living there, so we’re in the early days of this horror movie. I assume he’ll come out of bed one morning to find the trapdoor propped open and small, odd, muddy footprints leading across the floor…

Still plugging away at the book, but about to take a break and go write a bunch of articles for BookRiot, because my vast queue of articles I stacked there seems to have been expended. Fortunately, I have a whole bunch more to write. When I first started writing for them, I was so excited to be doing it and so terrified I would run out of things to say and have to stop that I covered pages with notes, trying to come up with as many articles and ideas as possible. I didn’t use much of it, since I eventually settled into whatever the hell it is you call what I write there. Now, I don’t worry too much about running out of ideas, although I do occasionally worry that I’ll devolve into kvetching about things and render myself irrelevant. Not quite yet, though. Er. I hope.)

Anyway, the novel is ticking along nicely. I’m not that far into it, but I like what’s happening…and best of all, amidst all the flailing of the last few pages, I’ve really come to understand Jenny, my main character. I know what’s wrong, I know what’s good, and I know what makes her tick, jump, and relax. After the opening rush of the book settles down, I can get to exploring her and her situation, and I’m looking forward to that. There are still a lot of things I don’t know, but I trust they’ll be there when I need ’em. It’s really nice to be writing fiction again. I don’t feel entirely useful if I’m not. (Usefulness and relevancy; the two things I worry about most, apparently.)

I want to talk about Pacific Rim, but that’ll have to wait, because I want to go eat something rather more. 


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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


An oddment sort of day

I woke up this morning anticipating a very busy and chaotic morning. I had agreed to watch the son of a friend of mine. The boy’s just turned three, is both wonderful and also something of a force of nature (particularly when combined with my own three year old). I figured the morning would pass in ruckus and noise and I’d chase after them. (There are worse ways to spend the morning).

Instead, I wound up not watching him. And then Nathan wound up going off to live for the morning and part of the afternoon at the pet store, while his mom worked. Suddenly, I find myself with an empty house, some tea, and all sorts of writing to do. Unexpected, but there are worse things.

Last night, I wrote a thousand-plus words of the novel. They started out difficult, but by the end, the story was flowing and the language had settled down and I was having a blast. Those are actually the best days, because they teach you that it gets better if you just keep plugging away at it (just like you can learn that a run which starts with pain and lack of breath will turn out to be fun, once you hit your rhythm). I stopped last night, mid-sentence, knowing exactly what was happening next. Today, I’m itching to get back to it. Before I do, though, I’ve got an article to write.

Well, if we’re honest, I have a dozen articles to write…but I’m trying to pace myself. Instead of writing piles of articles each day, I’m trying to space them out a little more sanely and devote a little more time to the fiction. The novel right now, but some short stories, soon enough. I adore my non-fiction writing, but don’t feel I’m doing something useful and relevant if I’m not writing fiction. (The fact that I’m not sure anyone reads short stories anymore, and that they don’t seem to stay published for very long, doesn’t help that ephemeral feeling much, but what can you do).

My reading fixation, of late, has been Sherlock Holmes. Not just reading, of course. I keep re-watching and pouring through both the wonderful Benedict Cumberbatch BBC epiodes, and also the Robert Downey Jr. movie (I don’t have the second one, but want to re-watch it). I’m not sure what this fixation is for, or about, or where it’s going…but I don’t worry about it. I just assume that somewhere in the back of my head, gears are turning and something is working itself out. 

Right now, I’m reading A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin, which is due to be a movie starring Ian McKellen soon. I’m looking forward to the film all the more because the book is excellent. 

Enough chatter, and back to the book. I have shadowy monsters with too-long legs, moving unnaturally fast down a darkened street, coming after a woman who is stuck in a window. I guess I should go make something happen.

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Posted by on October 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


Ages, Genders, And Also Ages

Every now and then, a particularly clever piece of spam slips through G-mail’s impressive filters and lands in my inbox. This one is excellent.


We are a  specialized agency in (Global) Customer  Service  Research.
We are starting a big research project in the United States. We need
to recruit `Detect!ve-Sh0pper’ individual to join and work as a surveyor.

There is no charge to join us and this project takes place every month.
You will get $3OO per each assignment. Payment check/money order
will be a certain amount that you will be required to cash at your bank,
reducing your salary and have the rest used for evaluation.

Contact us with your personal INF0 if you interested_.

=:= N.a.m.e-:
=:= PhysicalAddress-:
=:= Phones-:
=:= Sttate,City,Zip-:
=:= Ages-:
=:= Genders-:
=:= Ages-:

Your response would be greatly appreciated, Thank you.


 I’m done with this writing crap. I AM a Detect!ve-Shopper Individual from this day forward! 

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Posted by on October 7, 2013 in Uncategorized


Writing, Exercising, and other Autumnal Bits

It’s properly fall here now. I’m fascinated by how Autumn happens in the Pacific Northwest area. In Minnesota, there was a brief and beautiful fall which gave way quickly to bleak, gray days which hung around until the snow fell and the ice formed and it became winter.

Out here, though, the trees change to amazing colors, the air turns a bit sharp and cool…and it stays like this for ages. Because we don’t get the brutal snows, there were some trees that hung onto their fiery leaves well into January last year. Right now, the sun is out on a chilly day and the light is golden and beautiful. You wouldn’t expect long, Ray-Bradbury-like Autumn days in the Seattle area, but there they are.

I am a few scenes into the novel. It came with a title, The Girl in the Cupboard, but I was surprised to realize a title from a different project also fit, and so now it’s got two titles. The printed title page sitting next to me on the desk says The Girl in the Cupboard, or, Fugue.  I’ll pick one eventually, but I’m enjoying it right now. “OR” titles always felt like a proper classic literature thing. Moby Dick, or The Whale. That kind of business. 

To write it, I’ve occasionally been visiting the small college that’s a mile or so away from me. To get there, I shortcut through a local park, along a thin trail that winds through thick forest. It’s gorgeous and the path is lined with blackberry bushes. I ruin my dinner occasionally, because I pick and eat them on the way there, then pick and eat more on the way back. My favorite thing, though, is walking the path when it rains. Occasionally, I get tired of being wet and duck under a little cavern under some trees and remain perfectly dry as the rain comes down so thick, it beats itself into mist against the ground and fallen logs.

The other wonderful thing about this time of year is how much run it is to go running. I run at night, since it’s easier than trying to work it into the rest of a hectic day. This time of year, I wear a light running sweater when I go out. It’s completely dark and chilly and it’s just me and a lot of traffic (I run along the busiest street I can find. It focuses me. I don’t entirely know why). 

Last night, I went running and discovered my right leg really hurt. Rather than doing something sensible and going home, I instead figured I could run it out and headed off. It got worse instead of better, until I was two miles away from home and couldn’t support my weight. After sitting for a while on a bus stop bench, I admitted defeat and hobbled home. Today, my right leg is stiff and has the deep aching pain of an elbow that has been over-extended. No exercise tonight, alas. Hoping to be back out and running in a day or so.

I’ve fallen completely in love with Susanna’s Pacemaker and have been building fascinating schedules for myself. I’m currently on a randomized one which I hope will get me to November 1st and in vicinity of 50,000 words. On the lower word-count days, I’ll be able to do articles for BookRiot and stuff like laundry and the dishes. On higher word count days, I’ll just focus on that. (and I’ve already decided that if the day calls for 300 words and I feel like producing 1,000, I will, dammit.)

In addition the novel, I’m working slowly on a short story. It’s got a lot of variations to it, so I keep starting and stopping the writing as I try to figure out which ideas go in and which don’t. It’s a lot of fun, though. Right now, it’s all by hand in a notebook.

Right. Fresh pot of tea is made. Time to get back at it. 

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Posted by on October 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


Novel stuff and a Lord of the Rings idea

I have no novel progress to report, and that bugs me. I’ve been writing a lot, sure enough, in articles and a short story I’m fiddling with, but I’ve been so busy that nothing’s been added to the novel. What bugs me is, this is what frequently happens. I get started, and then stuff comes up and somehow I never proceed any further than the beginning, I make blog posts like this one about how I WANT to work on it, but haven’t gotten to it. Eventually, it slips away and I get busy with other stuff. Even further eventually, it slips off the “working on” pile and becomes a corpse.

I don’t want that to happen this time, so I’m trying to be aware of it. I’m a few articles ahead of myself at BookRiot, so I’m hoping that tonight I can focus my brain enough to sit down and work on the book. I want this one to happen, dammit. I have a feeling of being irrelevant as a writer until I start producing books. That may be an irrational and silly feeling, but there it is.


So recently, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones (which it turns out I love) and re-watching the Lord of the Rings extended editions, which I haven’t particularly seen in years and years now. It’s gotten me thinking about the Lord of the Rings novels. I read them exactly once, back when the Lord of the Rings movies were first coming out. I read them in vicinity of the Two Towers release, but I no longer remember precisely when in there. (god. That was 2002. I wasn’t even married yet. That was a lifetime ago.)

So I’ve been watching this stuff and thinking I should re-read the novels. It’s been a lifetime, as I said. And I thought it might be fun to read them, chapter by chapter, here on the blog. Maybe give it its own page. Once a week (or so) read a chapter, post my summary of it, my rambling thoughts and notes about it.

What’s more, it’d be fun to have people read it along with me. Significantly more fun than just reading it by myself. Isn’t this what the internet’s for? SO WE CAN ALL READ BOOKS TOGETHER?

It is. You don’t need to look it up. It’s for this, boobs, and cats.

So if that’s an interesting idea to you, lemme know, here or over on twitter. If it seems like fun to anyone besides me, then I’ll figure out a schedule. It’ll give us something fun to do over the winter. Hell, we could even read through The Silmarillion, a book I own an expensive copy of for the pictures alone and nothing else. I have never managed to read more than a handful of pages of that book.

Anyway, let me know.


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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


An avalanche of writery bits (Novel Update #2)

Working away on the novel. Done about four pages so far of handwritten material. I was intending to go maybe the entire first draft handwritten, but we’ll see if I need to shift or not. Handwriting is wonderful, but a problem I have is that it’s a lot slower and that can cause the writing (in this case, the novel) to get lost in the mix of other stuff, and I don’t want that to happen.

And boy is there a lot of other stuff.

I have got a whole pile of articles to write, plus in September I’m going to start doing a lot more book reviews (not piles of them, mind; that’s not really what BookRiot goes in for, it doesn’t seem…but I do plan to do a number of them each month, because I enjoy them a lot) plus here in August I’ve got two or three articles I want to get done and dusted before I forget all about them.

Plus, I just discovered a really nifty anthology from the always cool World Weaver Press about Fairy stories involving actual, definite fairies. What frequently happens is that I’ll read the type of story an anthology is looking for and in the process, get a story idea based on their theme. I love doing that. It was no different here. I’ve thought up a fairy story, and it involves Charles Dickens about whom I’ve read a staggering amount of biographical material, so I can pretend that my years of obsessing is actually research.

Some day I’ll explain the peculiar exhilaration and enjoyment of writing a historical figure about whom you know a whole bunch. But not tonight.

The novel proceeds interestingly. I thought the first scene would be kind of off-kilter and odd, but what I didn’t expect was an instant atmosphere of terror and menace. I figured that would turn up eventually, but two pages in? That was a surprise. I doubt it’ll last, because I couldn’t sustain a book with nothing but THAT for the whole of it. It’s just interesting how the scene dictated its own mood. I like when that happens.

Right. Time to work. 

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Posted by on August 16, 2013 in Uncategorized