March’s Malformed Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of March, and the public at the beginning of April)

Last month, I mentioned blood pressure problems.

The good news is, I have the blood pressure under control. The bad news, it’s given me a cough so fierce that I occasionally fall over. People have told me I work to hard, so now I’m taking a thirty-minute break every four hours around the clock for a breathing treatment that leaves me wheezing and quivery but functional. It’s an opportunity to prove the maxim “sleep is for the weak,” and I needed to develop my abs and rib muscles anyway. The doc changed my meds yesterday, so I’m hopeful I can exchange these side effects for less inconvenient ones.

This is all covid damage. I’m not risking developing more problems. You want me at your events, enforce a mask policy. I got too many books to write to put up with any more symptoms.

I also failed to finish Run Your Own Mail Server last month. See the above cough. I’m down to one technical issue, MTA-STS, and a few social issues that only require spewing words. I was tempted to wait on this post until I write those, but that’s pretty much a guarantee that I won’t complete either. You folks are my strongest supporters, and I need to give you the attention I agreed to. (Not the attention you deserve, of course. I don’t have that much attention.)

One of the headaches in this book has been its constant violation of one of my usual writing rules: do the hard part first. When I approach a new project, I rank the contents in order of difficulty. Usually, there’s at least one thing I haven’t previously done. Those are the things I need to write first. Writing the stuff I know how to do is pretty straightforward, but the unknowns wreck my plans. RYOMS could only be written in one way, though. The services must be set up and documented in a particular order, without shortcuts. If the book said “This is wrong but we’ll come back and fix it later,” I know perfectly well that none of you would go back and fix it. We have to set it up right the first time. Which led to some extra work. I use pyspf-milter so I wrote about it, but rspamd turns out to be a wiser choice. Retreat, refactor, rearrange, try again.

On the fiction side, I sold a new Rats’ Man’s Lackey tale to a magazine. The RML tales have a strange publishing history; every magazine or anthology I’ve sold one too has collapsed before they could publish my tale. Once a story destroys a publication, I put it up on my bookstore. I’ve written enough of those to release a collection, but a few buyers are still in business so I have to wait for them to implode–uh, publish. Publish.

I’m most of the way of a massive Terry Pratchett Discworld reread, not just studying his craft but how he improved his craft. There’s something fascinating about reading a large body of work in the order it was written. The quality of Pratchett’s early work was borderline, but some editor saw something unique in his craft and decided to give the kid a chance. You can see him improving with every book. At a technical level, there’s a certain fascination in saying “Oh! This is where Sir Terry discovered cliffhangers!” “Hey, he learned the difference between description and setting!” “Ooooh, he figured out how to stop violating drifting point-of-view, thank you Om.” This binge gives me hope for my own craft, because nothing Terry with his craft did was magic. The art expressed through his craft was magic, but art is not craft. I started reading Pratchett when The Light Fantastic came out, and in retrospect I can honestly say he taught me how to improve my craft.

Note that you can’t binge-study James Patterson. This kind of study requires examining the work of someone who writes their own books. You also can’t binge-study Ayn Rand, because she never got better.

Anyway, this binge study leaves me feeling validated about my method of deliberately practicing one skill per project. That’s a dangerous feeling; I don’t study to see what I’m doing write, I’m looking for ways to improve. I’ve found a few, but I still suspect I’m missing something big. Oh well. I guess, in a year or two, I’ll have to… study Pratchett again.

I’m going to cut this a little short, because the coughing has backed off and I desperately want to finish RYOMS this week. Thanks for supporting me, everyone!

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