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Odine, I think that is a good strategy, and it's one I try to implement.  But I know myself.  If I allow myself to just focus on world building, that's all I'll ever do, and I'll never stop.  It's gone on for years.  It's an OCD tendency with me.  I've written a lot of the history of my world, and still working on that, but when I try to flesh out some story in the backdrop of it all, something requiring character-driven elements, I feel like its too big for me, and I'm suddenly overwhelmed.  It's like I go into fight or flight and I can't think.  I can catch glimpses of bits and pieces of a story I'd like to tell, but I can't put it all together.

I think Fozzie's last post helped confirm for me what I've suspected for a long time.  Maybe I'm not getting anywhere because I'm not willing to let go of the story I wanted to tell and allow for it to evolve.  I'm a perfectionist and in all things, I plan first, and then execute.  Maybe this would go a lot smoother if I didn't have an end goal already in sight.  But compromising my end goal or calling it into question just elevates whatever anxiety/uncertainty I'm already experiencing and leaves feeling even more confused and overwhelmed.  

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It's funny also to see people saying they write things just for enjoyment. A couple years ago when my parents moved we went into attic to go through crap. I found a box full of old notebooks which bas

I’m about to start a new project, if anyone cares I can post my real-time progress if anyone wants to see my BS in action.

For my actual projects. I really need to replace all the baseboards in the house and paint. But it's hot. That's the project I need to work on.   I started selling these pom pom wreathes for $200 a p

15 hours ago, Tank said:

I started typing out some advice, but then I realized it was the exact same stuff I was saying earlier in the thread.

Well, its not that I didn't read it!  I guess I'm just so far out of my element that even advise from a professional doesn't help much?  I'm not a creative person.  I love math, solving puzzles, etc.  I have a physics degree and like to derive physics equations for fun.  I'm a left-brain guy.  I'm actually beginning to think that I don't even have a right-brain.  But for a long time now I've wanted to create something, and I'm hell-bent on writing this thing.  But I swear that it makes my brain hurt more than any physics problem ever has.  Sometimes I have to take vacations from thinking about it, and then when I finally do sit down and devote a couple of hours to it, it drains me.  The other night I spent two hours doing nothing but thinking, and at the end I had nothing to show for it.  Nothing.  

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I am very much NOT a math person. I can barely do a monthly budget and I am trying to buy a house which absolutely melts my brain.

That said, I often refer to what I do as “story algebra.” I don’t know if this will help you or not, but a lot of times I approaches ideas like an equation.

The simplest form of this, you capfuls know your beginning, and your ending, so X would be the middle. in algebra you approach standard math from not standard directions to solve for X, right?

If your brain works like that, maybe you can apply your problem to what you’re writing? Without more specifics it’s hard to say. But if you took your basic elements and put them into an equation where there is some unknown quantity, you can use the context and parameters of what you DO know to connects some dots to fill in the blanks?

 

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Do you have some physics/science stuff in your world/story? 

My literature teachers always said writing about stuff you know about, or have experience in is way easier and rings true, than writing about something too removed from your wheelhouse... 

Not to throw another ingredient in the mix but maybe incorporate some hard sci-fi in there somehow? Keep the fantasy stuff but maybe it's in a technological future/alternate universe? 

Creativity is hard. Even moreso when you put pressure on yourself to make something good. Start with trying to make something at all! That in of itself is a struggle. The more you do the better you'll get and the easier it will become.

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I'm pretty set on writing a fantasy story though.  As genres I love both sci-fi and fantasy, but what I absolutely hate is when writers combine the two.  Seeing aliens, future tech, are whatever, placed in an otherwise fantasy setting of castles, dragons, magic, etc., has always been a big turn off for me.  I may not be writing about what I know best, but I think I have enough knowledge to make it work.  Mythology has always been an interest of mine, and I've drawn extensively upon that, Celtic mythology in particular.  I've also read all the books by Joseph Campbell, and also studied Carl Jung and Mercia Illiad, as they have a lot to say about motifs, symbolism in myth, etc.  All of this has helped tremendously in the world building.  The problems arise when actually trying to write a story.

Tank, your story algebra suggestion really appeals to me.  That could help, as I already have a beginning, and a couple of endings (I'm not committed to either right now.  I decided to let the story tell me which ending to go with as it unfolds).  But what my mind always wants to do is link the beginning and ending by a chain of events.  In other words its all plot.  Making this a more character driven story is the real challenge.  For example, I know that a character in my story has some sort of identity crises.  This person discovers that everything they believed about themselves and where they came from was all a lie.  In one traumatic instant, their identity was stripped away, and suddenly this character is doing things that their old self would have sworn they could never do.  Now, I know this happens, but there's no real context for it in terms of the plot that is developing independently.  I myself don't know who this character is or what this identity crises is.  Its all abstract.  What little bit of the story that I've so far been able to tell is all plot.  All the character stuff is just hanging in this nebulous cloud and I don't know how to make it part of the tale.  I'm really bad at this.

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I always tell people that you need a plan, but also, once you hit the page, don't be afraid to stray from it. Let it go where it wants, but if you get lost, you can use it to get back on track. It sounds like you have in mind, so that's good. A lot of people get stuck on just that.

That said, you may be getting lost in the weeds by thinking of too much at once. Maybe you should try breaking things into smaller pieces.

What if, just for now, you only thought about the first act of the story? First acts classically help define the character and plot connection. Speaking very simply, here's an act one checklist, keeping in mind, that Act One is mostly character:

1. A hook

2. Who is the main character?

3. What is their normal existence/status quo?

4. What is their major malfunction?

5. What is the world they live in, and what is their conflict with it?

So speaking in ANH terms, since it is text book and we all know it... The hook is Vader attacking the Blockade runner. The main character is Luke. His status quo is working on his uncle's farm. His major malfunction is that he longs to get away-- either for adventure, to be with his friends, or just plain LIVE. The world he lives in is a backwater planet away from everything, but somewhere out there an evil empire is doing evil stuff.

Starting with the hook, this COULD be essential to the plot. Like if there is a MacGuffin (death star plans, one ring, etc) you might intro it here. But you don't have to. Fantasy stories like to start with a bit of world building pre-amble. Like the recap of the last time the one ring was in the world or in GOT the establishing of the wall.

Basically, you want an intro chapter that teases your world without getting in too deep. Like a snap shot. AND/OR you start a chain of events that will eventually intersect with your lead.

Without worrying about plot at all, do you know what these points would be? If you don't, then this is where you need to start. If you DO, then this should be all you need for the first chunk of the story.

Give that little world hook and/or plot tease, then jump into a day in the life of your lead character. Stick with them, and establish the points above. Once that stuff is established, you bring in the plot a bit.

5. Catalyst / inciting incident

6. Antagonist connection

7. Key conflict / Call to action

8. danger / climax

9. twist / acceptance

Back to ANH... The catalyst/inciting incident is the seemingly random thing that happens to the lead that starts them on the path to adventure. For Luke, it's going to find where R2 has run off to. ANH establishes Vader and the empire early, but they also hit it here when we see the Stormtroopers are on the hunt for the droids. The Key Conflict / Call to action point is where you first really merge the plot and characters.

The simplest way to think about it, is that the lead is tasked to DO THE THING that the plot needs, but at the same time, doing that thing triggers their major malfunction, and often times, there's some level of refusal. For Luke, he learns that somebody needs to get the Death Star plans to the rebellion. This is what he wants-- an adventure, and Obi-Wan is telling him to come. Luke wants to live up to his father's reputation, but he is scared so he hides behind his uncle. The refusal can be seen in a straight up denial, like with Luke, or it could be more subtle-- like Frodo being all in on a quest, but quickly realizing he is in way over his head, or Jon Snow realizing Ned is in trouble after he's committed to the Watch.

The trick to marrying plot and character is this step. You have to make sure the plot needs the main character-- not that they have to be special, maybe they are just in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, but either way, they are tasked or given some sort of quest. In most cases, it's not what they think it is. Luke thinks it's giving Obi-Wan a ride to Anchorhead. Frodo thinks once he finds the Elves they will handle shit. In any military action movie there's always the mission they are assigned, but then it goes awry.

That's the danger/climx and twist/acceptance phase. For Luke, his giving a simple ride to Anchorhead to Obi-Wan turns into his family being murdered and his life destroyed. Basically, the first act leads to some adventure or action that leads to the lead's status quo being taken away, leaving them with no choice but to push ahead.

Obviously, studying mythology and Joseph Campbell, none of this is news to you. But to bring it back to story algebra-- I'm sure you know a fair amount of these points, but if you don't, look to what is before and after and reconcile the difference.

When I plot stuff I generally have 3 or 4 bigger plot or character ideas and I lay them down on a little worksheet. Then I fill in the gaps after I think on how to connect those beats. The real key is making sure you know your lead character's life, and how the plot can screw it up for him.

 

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Yeah, that's a great post, and a big help.  I'm relieved to see that I actually got a lot of that first act stuff nailed down already.  A lot, but still not all.  And I think you're right that I'm thinking of too much at once.  Even though I don't know how it happens yet, I instinctively know that there is some kind identity crises and subsequent betrayal coming, but that happens later.  I guess I haven't been fleshing out the rest of my first act because my mind keeps leaping forward to this betrayal business and what it is.  So maybe I need to shelve that for now and continue to flesh out my first act?  But, if I already know that's coming, shouldn't I somehow be sowing the seeds for that when developing the first act, meaning that I should be thinking about the betrayal now?  That's where I'm getting stuck, I think.  Its a chicken-and-egg situation for me.  

Again, awesome post.  Very helpful and I'm surprised and relieved to see that I've already successfully done a lot of what you outlined.   

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Starting with the hook, this COULD be essential to the plot. Like if there is a MacGuffin (death star plans, one ring, etc) you might intro it here. But you don't have to. Fantasy stories like to start with a bit of world building pre-amble. Like the recap of the last time the one ring was in the world or in GOT the establishing of the wall.

This is one thing I'm hesitant about doing.  I'm currently reading LOTR (I've seen the films a billion times but never read the books), and the thing that I really like about both LOTR and The Hobbit is that the lead character is a nobody who pretty much spent his whole life in his small backwater home, and pretty much knows no more about the world beyond his own borders than the reader does.  Throughout the quest, the reader is slowly introduced to the world with the hero.  I've read a lot of fantasy stories and my favorites are the ones that fit that mold.  I always thought it was such an organic way of introducing a secondary world to the reader, and that's what I'm trying to do.  So I don't want to reveal too much in the beginning.  

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1 hour ago, Quetzalcoatl said:

  But, if I already know that's coming, shouldn't I somehow be sowing the seeds for that when developing the first act, meaning that I should be thinking about the betrayal now?  That's where I'm getting stuck, I think.  Its a chicken-and-egg situation for me.  

 

You’re not writing a linear finished novel, you’re getting down a first draft. You can always go in and weave/edit stuff later. Get something down that you can then hone. 

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I said this before but don't start trying to write some 12 volume epic fantasy story. An architect doesn;t get to design an Olympic Stadium for his first project. Take your world and write a simple story. I mean simple like a girl is kidnaped. A young man ends up saving her. Turns out the girl was the daughter of a local nobleman and the young man gets knighted. 

If you have to have to have to make it part of some huge narrative then make that the origin story of a knight or something in your epic 12 volume story. But write a simple short story or novella first. 

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7 hours ago, Tank said:

You’re not writing a linear finished novel, you’re getting down a first draft. You can always go in and weave/edit stuff later. Get something down that you can then hone. 

But what if this thing that I want so badly be critical to the story isn't in the first draft, and I can't even see a place for it?  Doesn't it pretty much mean changing the whole premise of my story?  Remember the movie Signs?  That whole story was ultimately about a guy regaining his faith that he had lost, right?  That was the whole point of the story, the big pay-off that everything was leading to.  If, hypothetically, this is what Shyamalan set out to do from the beginning, didn't he have to keep that in mind when writing the story, sense everything ultimately revolved around that?  The film Doc Hollywood concluded with Ben Stone being forced to re-evaluate his priorities, and he learned that what he thought he wanted isn't really what he wanted.  If that was a desired outcome that the writer wanted, didn't they have to lay some groundwork for that when formulating a first act?  If I already know what I want my story to be about (an internal conflict, a crises of faith, or whatever), don't I, to some degree, need to think about that even in the first act stages?  I guess that's what's really hanging me up.  I don't know how to handle all of this stuff that's going on inside of the characters and when I need to start thinking about that.  Maybe I've jumped the gun, but already somewhat know where I want the story go character-wise even though I'm still in that first act stage of development.   

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10 hours ago, Quetzalcoatl said:

But what if this thing that I want so badly be critical to the story isn't in the first draft, and I can't even see a place for it?  Doesn't it pretty much mean changing the whole premise of my story?  Remember the movie Signs?  That whole story was ultimately about a guy regaining his faith that he had lost, right?  That was the whole point of the story, the big pay-off that everything was leading to.  If, hypothetically, this is what Shyamalan set out to do from the beginning, didn't he have to keep that in mind when writing the story, sense everything ultimately revolved around that?  The film Doc Hollywood concluded with Ben Stone being forced to re-evaluate his priorities, and he learned that what he thought he wanted isn't really what he wanted.  If that was a desired outcome that the writer wanted, didn't they have to lay some groundwork for that when formulating a first act?  If I already know what I want my story to be about (an internal conflict, a crises of faith, or whatever), don't I, to some degree, need to think about that even in the first act stages?  I guess that's what's really hanging me up.  I don't know how to handle all of this stuff that's going on inside of the characters and when I need to start thinking about that.  Maybe I've jumped the gun, but already somewhat know where I want the story go character-wise even though I'm still in that first act stage of development.   

Reading this makes me think of my 5 year old feeling overwhelmed when it’s time to clean up. She sees all the toys and just can’t imagine being able to do it all, and do she can’t do anything. 
 

What it seems like Tank and everyone else is saying is, basically just pick up one toy and put it away. Don’t worry about everything, just do something. 
 

A first draft doesn’t have to do everything. It doesn’t have to have all the details figured out, or all the hints. You might write a first draft and then realize you have to change everything - look at the early Star Wars drafts, since you brought up Lucas. 
 

Just do something, even if it isn’t exactly what you want. You may be surprised and what comes out could be better, or it could be complete shit.

My kids are probably sick of me quoting Edison about finding 2000 ways not to make a light bulb. If you write something and it’s horrible, you found a way not to tell your story, and that’s an important part of doing anything.

 

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You can change or alter anything at any time, so long as you have something down. Editing is where it comes together. Go read some of the early Star Wars drafts and see how different they are from ANH. 


The only definite is that if you never start actually writing, you’ll never finish.

 

edit: Fozzie and I posted at the same time and both brought up early SW drafts. That’s a sign!

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I'm spinning my wheels again.  The good news is that I pretty much have my act one checklist completed.  I nailed items 2, 3, 4, and 5.  I pretty much had these for a while now, but how fleshed out should these answers be in the act one stage? 

 "What is the world they live in, and what is their conflict with it?

To answer this question thoroughly, don't I need to know something about the story that I haven't even developed yet?  Without getting too much into it, I know that my protagonist has inherited a spell (it's passed along at birth) that will allow him to seek out something that the bad guys want to ensure remains hidden at all costs.  That makes him the most dangerous person in the world, and he's been in constant danger sense birth.  That's his conflict with the world.  What this hidden thing is though, I don't yet know.  I have a couple of ideas, but nothing definite yet.  It might be a magical artifact, or it might be an actual place.  Should I know that?  Is that considered part of the first act stuff?  Or have I sufficiently checked off that item in my first act list?  And if so, then what?  Am I supposed to move on to the plot stuff?

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5. Catalyst / inciting incident

6. Antagonist connection

7. Key conflict / Call to action

8. danger / climax

9. twist / acceptance

Without first knowing my story, how can I know this stuff?  This is the part where I have to walk away in frustration because I feel like my head is going to explode.  I'm sure I'm not just arbitrarily writing down whatever crazy thing comes to mind, right?  Shouldn't I already have some idea of where my story is leading in order to formulate the items on the above list?  Otherwise I'm just making it all up as I go along with no sense of direction.  Is that typical of how it's done?  And will these items determine what this hidden artifact/place is, or does the hidden artifact/place determine these items?  I feel like I'm trying to solve a math problem with no known quantities because literally everything is function of everything else.  What are the dependent and independent variables?

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I pretty much had these for a while now, but how fleshed out should these answers be in the act one stage? 

There's no rule. If you write it and it feels like something is lacking, you need more. Ifr it's over-stuffed, you need less.

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"What is the world they live in, and what is their conflict with it?

To answer this question thoroughly, don't I need to know something about the story that I haven't even developed yet?

Ultimately, yes-- but you are still thinking linearly. While I wouldn't suggest skipping around, write from start to end-- but it does not have to be the final draft. Write what you know now, and you WILL figure out more in the process of writing it. Then you go back and rewrite and revise.

How much about the Empire do you need to know in the cut Lukes/Biggs scene? You get from Biggs they must be bad, it's part of the conflict, but ultimately it's more about Luke.

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What this hidden thing is though, I don't yet know.  I have a couple of ideas, but nothing definite yet.  It might be a magical artifact, or it might be an actual place.  Should I know that?  Is that considered part of the first act stuff?

You could-- but again, you don't have to. This is what a MacGuffin is. It ultimately doesn't matter. It CAN come back to effect the plot, but generally not until much later. I'd sat decide what it is, then go. BUT, keep in mind if what it is doesn't work, you will come back and revise it later.

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Without first knowing my story, how can I know this stuff?  This is the part where I have to walk away in frustration because I feel like my head is going to explode.  I'm sure I'm not just arbitrarily writing down whatever crazy thing comes to mind, right?  Shouldn't I already have some idea of where my story is leading in order to formulate the items on the above list?  Otherwise I'm just making it all up as I go along with no sense of direction.  Is that typical of how it's done?

In theory you would know it, yes-- but often times it changes or evolves. I'm suggesting for you, since you're having trouble, writing a little chunk like the first act may help jimmy things loose. While I think you need a plan, you don't have to stick to it. And a lot of times I will write the first act of something just to see how it feels.

Again, I feel like you are stuck in this mode of having to know every single detail in your head before you put a single word down, and once those words are down they cannot be changed. Neither of those things are true.

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This is an interesting interaction.

Back when I used to teach people how to draw I would stress over and over again how an eraser is not a correction tool to undo mistakes but a drawing tool that needs to be equipped at all times and used in conjunction with the pencil.  That adjustments are not set backs or failures but essential steps in the process of making a drawing. The drawing is only finished when you decide there is nothing more to add or take away that could improve the over all piece.

The parallels to this conversation are nice. 

 

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Again, I feel like you are stuck in this mode of having to know every single detail in your head before you put a single word down, and once those words are down they cannot be changed. Neither of those things are true.

I guess for me its a matter of not knowing where to start.  Should I have a basic premise in mind when developing the first act?  Or should I expect the premise to develop from writing the first act?  What drives what?  That's what I can't figure out.  Yes, I've developed most of my first act stuff, but I can't even be that comfortable with those choices if I don't have some kind of larger picture to guide me.  I feel like I'm just flying blind and my anxiety is only fueled by the fact that I don't have any kind of larger vision for what I'm doing.  I need something to guide me.

Here's the question that I keep coming back to over and over: what kind of human story do I want to tell?  Earlier in the thread, Zambingo said this...

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Even Star Wars for all its scale, is essentially just a story of two kids dealing with the actions of their asshole dad.

The movie Titanic was really a story about two star-crossed lovers, right?  The sinking ship was just the backdrop.  The movie Signs was really the story about a man regaining his lost faith.  The alien invasion was just a vehicle for telling that story.  So if I can first decide what kind of human story I'm trying to tell, maybe I can use that as a guide when developing the plot.  Does that sound like a good strategy?  Or does the human story usually develop from the plot?  Again, it comes back to me not knowing which drives which and so don't know how proceed.  

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It;'s all organic. I've written some things based on an idea, some on a location, some on a character arc, some on a plot. You build around the one you know best and adapt the others to it.

You have everything you need to write the first act. Just do it. It may end up answering a lot of your questions. There's literally no wrong way to go. Just write what you have figured out then see what you think/feel.

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I think I may have had an epiphany!  The character's major malfunction in the first act will point the way to what the human story is.  Using the Star Wars OT as an example, Luke's major malfunction is that he longs to get away from his mundane existence as a farmer and find adventure, yes.  But also, he wants to learn about his father that he never knew.  That's part of his major malfunction too.  He wants to go off with Obi-Wan and become a Jedi and basically follow in his father's footsteps.  The twist is that he learns that his father is a bad guy and following in his footsteps is revealed to be a dreadful thing that he must struggle to avoid.  Now he's conflicted inside and is pulled in different directions.  He's asked to kill his father and it doesn't feel right.  Instead he finds a way to save him, and in the end his father dies being the man that Luke wanted to follow back in ANH.  That's the human story that we see played out in the OT, and it's tied directly with Luke's major malfunction. 

So, if I know the major malfunction of my protagonist, I can play off of that when deciding what this human story is that I need to tell.  And once I know that, I can develop a plot for the express purpose of telling that human story.  

What do you guys think of this strategy?  

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That's great. Now WRITE. Stop thinking about it so much!

For mine, I had the idea first (a bunch of knights lost a million miles from home, having no idea how they got there or how to get back or if they're even in the same world at all). From there I decided to come up with who the characters were. Doing that helped me figure out some character beats/arcs I wanted to have happen, which then expanded out into plot points. Then I started writing the actual meat of the story, and a lot of what ended up happening in the story, I had no idea of until I wrote it. Some unplanned line early in the story would develop into a significant character trait that affected how he/she dealt with X event and Y character, which would ripple into other things, etc etc. And a lot of times, this stuff that developed organically was way better than what I had planned (and sometimes it fit in perfectly.)

You can't figure everything out before the story begins. It's not a mathematical formula. But it's fun as shit when you get going.

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Alright so my new thing these past nine or so months:

After being stuck at home and missing live music, I wanted to pursue just doing something myself.  I can play guitar but I'm terrible at it, and any attempt I've had in the past to work with buddies to play something together never went anywhere.

So instead, I decided to start learning editing and mixing on DJ software.  I'd seen a lot of people mix live on DJ boards in festival campgrounds at impromptu parties and always thought it was cool so I wanted to try i out.  I know enough with creation tools to put a few things together here and there that help with live remixes, the rest was just a matter of figuring out how to adjust levels and BPM's to do whatever I wanted to existing samples and mixes.  Apparently I impressed my wife enough, she got me a new board for Christmas.  Some of the software I use also lets me do some custom visuals which is pretty cool.

I had my first real gig back in September at a small and socially distant camping party and it went over pretty well.  I also did a livestream and then played a small backyard party for New Year's too.

I'm not at the point yet that I'd want to play live for anyone other than a small group of buddies, but I feel like I might could be a that point in a few months once more people become vaccinated and real events become a thing again.

Here's that stream I did a few weeks ago if you want to see what I'm up to:
https://www.facebook.com/TheRealRooBus/videos/237352791121458

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