Writing From Here

I’ve been agonising over my procrastinating for the past three weeks, and treating myself quite badly for not wanting or having the inclination to get some writing done. It makes little sense, as 1) I’m not getting paid to write, 2) nobody else is dependent on my ability or willingness to write, and 3) no that’s about it. I was going to say “it’s supposed to be something that I enjoy doing”, but that’s not really true anymore, and that’s part of the problem.

And in trying to get to the bottom of this problem, I’ve become aware of something. I have a strategy that I turn to, when I’m trying to get myself into the “zone”, to summon inspiration and enthusiasm from the endless depths of the void: I vividly imagine my story-worlds and fantasise things happening within them. I project myself into those worlds and, much like a maverick cop holding an incriminating photograph up to a suspect’s face in an attempt to shame them into a confession, I hold up these imaginings to my mind’s eye in an attempt to stir any slightest feeling of, I dunno, giving a shit. “Don’t you want this to happen?” I demand of myself. “Don’t you want this to be real? You can make it real! All you have to do is WRITE.”

And while said fantasising does sometimes result in neat ideas that I file away for hypothetical future use – well, both “hypothetical” and “future” are things that are different to “actual” and “now”.

But my mind has been unable to reconcile these two things. Bringing myself closer to my ideas should result in me feeling more connected to them, right? So why isn’t this resulting in me doing more writing? Is it just that my ideas suck and I don’t care about them, no matter how “close” they are? Is it that I now just resent myself because I have such a long and consistent track record of being shitty to myself because I feel absolutely irrational shame and guilt when I’m not writing?

Or is it because that’s not where writing comes from?

And, in fact, that’s exactly it. I honestly can’t remember what flipped this switch for me, but sometime last night while I was only half-awake, I realised that I can’t write from within my stories. I have to write them from here. Because while being “in” my stories is very imaginatively immersive, here, in meatspace, is where I am a writer. “In” my stories, I’m a part of the structure. But here, I’m the one doing the structuring. When I was feeling, earlier in the year, like I’d returned to 13-year-old Jason levels of excitement and looking-forward-to-writing-ness, it was because of this. I wasn’t trying to embody or live out my stories; I was excited to tell them. To create them. I got hype by being here, in the real world, and creating something that wasn’t there before, doing something consequential that extended beyond just myself. And you can’t do that if you’re doing all your work in your own head.

This realisation comes during week 3 of Camp Nanowrimo, and there’s about 2 weeks left to go. I could, conceivably, still “win” Camp Nano, at least based on my being able to write almost 50k words in a fortnight with that truly inspired crossover fanfic (still not finished, probably never will be). But this Camp Nano was never about “winning”; it was about writing, getting back in the saddle and remembering how to ride. Remembering that I enjoy the ride, for its own sake, not just based on where it can get me.

I realise now that, actually, I do enjoy writing for its own sake, not just as a means to an end. I also realise that I don’t want to be writing all the fucking time. I’ve caught myself, once again, in a toxic loop of taskmastering myself for the sake of looking like I care about being “productive” to … myself? My Superego? The Eye of Sauron? (Is there a difference?) And while it’s distressing and disappointing to know that this is still a thing that I do and a way that I get with myself, at least I’m catching myself out now, and finding that in doing so, I have a willingness to find a better way to live my life. That’s progress.

And, also, I’ve run out of games to distract myself with and have already re-watched all of Critical Role. If excuses were the problem, I’m out of them.

And if not knowing how to write given where I’m at right now was the problem, that problem is solved. I can do this. I just have to do it from here.

Nanowrimore

Time for Camp Nano again already, huh?

Maybe it’s the pandemic; maybe it’s years of acclimatising to an insular lifestyle and the consequent cabin fever that accompanies it, but whatever the reason, I’ve had a hard time keeping perspective for the past little while. I thought I was back on the writing wagon, but it turns out that I just wanted to be. I needed a break, to stop trying to force every one of my ideas through a story-shaped hole and just let them be whatever shape they come to me in – and it’s been good for me.

So good that, actually, I do think I’m ready for more writing now.

B and I have been having some soul-searching chats for the past few weeks, which has been very cool. It hasn’t all been about writing, but it’s still resulted in a lot of writing-related inspiration for us both. I’m ready for something more than just sitting back and letting thoughts come and go as they will; I want to write some stuff.

First, I want to get back to Bad Guys. I’ve realised that this project is not only still in the experimental early stages in terms of the actual work I’ve put into it, despite the fact that it’s been on my slate for two and a half years now, but also that I’ve been holding myself back from giving it as fair of a chance as it deserves. I am more or less discarding the zero draft I have now; this is a full rewrite – and maybe the first of several, because there’s more than one way this story could go. It might be a long time before I settle on one. And that would be a frustrating prospect (and may turn out to actually be exactly as frustrating as the prospect of having to write several whole zero drafts before something sticks sounds) …

Except that I’ve also been having other ideas, and brainstorming with B has amped me up for them. These may not end up turning into a story, but they’re ideas that are fun and exciting and I am so close to feeling confident about my writing again. I took more of a confidence hit after that huge fanfiction sprint than I realised at the time, and it’s taken a while to build back up. So I’ve got at least these two projects on the go, going into Camp Nano July 2020, and perhaps more as time goes on. Nothing’s settled right now, and that’s fine; everything’s up in the air, and rather than wishing it was on ground level with me, I think I can spare some energy jumping up to catch it.

Just gotta be careful to pace myself and be sensible and responsible with this. As I say, it’s been hard to keep perspective, and I’ve been getting pretty harsh with myself lately – that’s something I definitely want to avoid going into Nanowrimo. It’s been a rocky year, to put it mildly, for everyone in the world – I should be a little less surprised that it’s been no less difficult for me than previous years, at least.

And focus on just having fun this Camp Nano, rather than trying to achieve some arbitrary productivity goal. To re-capture the joy of writing for, well, the joy of it. I’ve said, emphatically, that I don’t enjoy writing for its own sake, only what it can give me. But I’m no longer convinced that this is true, or at least that what I said means what I think it means. I do miss writing, being moved by my ideas and the possibilities that I don’t see so much as feel. It’s starting to feel like it used to, when I was 13 and just starting out, exploring this amazing new tool and all the things I could use it to express about myself. I never thought I would feel that way again, and admittedly as I write this I’m quite disconnected from that feeling. But not so much that I think I’ve lost it entirely. And the fact that I got back to that point at all tells me that something I’m doing is working, and worth the effort to keep on doing.

I feel like I care again. I said at the start of the year that I wanted 2020 to be my year of caring about things for a change. And I’m committing myself, here and now, to making this Camp Nano an exercise in doing just that.

Weekly Words 11-17/05/2020

Last month, I came just short of winning Camp Nano at around 48k words, written over the span of that entire month, spread across various different projects. I thought that was a good effort – because it was. I’m still very happy with what I accomplished in April. It was a marathon effort for me, the likes of which I only really associate with intensive novel-writing crunch-time. It’s the kind of result I’d only expect of myself while really pushing myself, having every circumstance line up – motivation, time, energy, vision – to create the perfect environment to facilitate my writing process.

Then I decided to write crossover fanfiction and have written over 50k words in the last fortnight.

Writing: 28,348

That’s this week. More than last week.

Together, it’s 52,220 words.

In a fortnight.

Okay then.

So, for the past two years that I’ve stuck to my Weekly Words regimen, I’ve clocked in with an annual total of around 320-50k words. This means that, in the past two weeks, I’ve met roughly one-seventh of my estimated annual word-count.

By writing CROSSOVER FANFICTION.

I try not to give writing advice on this blog, preferring to let my experiences speak for themselves, and for you, my fine readers, to glean from them what you will. I’m going to break this rule today, because every now and then I learn something about writing that seems to work, and I want you all to benefit. Thus, here is my advice.

WRITE FANFICTION.

HOLY FUCKING SHIT WRITE FANFICTION.

Okayokayokay – let’s be rational now. This is awesome. This is unspeakably awesome. This is so much goddamn writing, I don’t know how I still have the internal reserves to produce this writing after doing all of that fucking writing. It’s been the kind of effortless labour that you fantasise about as a writer, where the words flow freely (sure there were a few hiccups but I’ll get to that later) and the energy you use doesn’t seem to get used up, instead just continuing to flow and fuel your efforts into infinity. It’s so ideal, I don’t have the words to adequately describe the reality of it. This has been a fortnight of virtually perfect writing.

Naturally, the first thing I want to know is: “how do I only do this forever now?”

And this is where a younger, more self-loathing Jason would fall apart. After reaching such high highs, how can I possibly ever settle for less, or make excuses for any effort that does not result in a similar outcome? Well, now that I’m a little older and wiser, the clear answer is “to stop from going insane”, and also “because productivity is not the sole measure of your worth as a human being”. That second one in particular is something I think us writers find really hard to get behind, because without numbers, how else can we measure our legitimacy as writers?

Well, here’s my thinking right now, where this project has, in fact, kind of stalled. Hindsight has kicked in, and after realising that I could have done things in such a way to set myself up for a much more interesting narrative situation to write from than the one I’ve ended up with – and the fact that this is fanfiction and, no matter how hard I work on it, there will never be any kind of value added to my amateurish pursuit of a career as an author – yeah, that’s given me a lot of self-doubt and frustration to work through. It wasn’t too good to be true, just too intense to be realistically sustainable. It was real. Hell, once I get my head straight it probably will continue to be real. But I have a working brain, and eventually I was going to start thinking outside the glorious, blissful box this process had put me inside. I was always going to trip up on this particular issue.

The thing is, though, that I already thought this stuff to start with, and it didn’t stop me. I don’t know how to keep it going, but I do know what got it going – so that’s what I’m going to outline here today.

Step 1: Get Primal

I’ve gotten really backed-up with all the things I want to say about my experiences of delving into Romancelandia. I have a lot to say, and I’ve been planning to try to say it all in an ever-lengthening hypothetical blog post. I realise now that I’m going to have to tackle each topic on its own, maybe start a new series of posts – maybe start a new blog altogether, or a podcast or something. I can’t summarise; it’s too much, too interesting, too involving. And honestly, I’m not sure if this blog is the place I want to recount my experiences.

However, one thing I will talk about here is one of the massive benefits that’s come from reading romance: learning how to suspend my judgement for the sake of engaging with a primal fantasy.

The entire romance genre seems to be predicated on chasing, expressing, and otherwise experimenting with primal fantasies. I really should have taken better notes, but the various romance novel-based podcasts that make up my current podcast diet discuss this concept in greater or lesser depth – they also refer to the “Id” in this context – and the Fated Mates podcast goes into particular detail about it in several episodes. I’ve taken their discussions and run with it to come up with my own concept of the “primal fantasy”, which is basically a fantasy, idea, or feeling that resonates on a base level – often one that is hard to “justify” with words or reason, though in theory it doesn’t have to be that at all. Basically, in terms of writing, it is the thing that inspires you in the moment, something that you crave to express, one way or another.

This won’t help you if you do what a lot of us writers do when we confront these primal desires, which is to start analysing it. These tend to be the kinds of desires that manifest in fantasies and thoughts that we will immediately deem “problematic”, or “basic”, or “toxic”; there’s overlap with “cliche” and “generic” and “predictable”, even “regressive” and “archaic”. And, it’s not like those labels aren’t deserved int he context of social reality. It’s good to be aware of these things and their consequences.

But for writing a zero draft, the trick is to know how to enjoy these primal fantasies, and know that enjoying the fantasy is not the same as endorsing or even desiring the reality. It seems like such a simple thing, and one that we’ve probably already worked out – yet it was precisely this moral conundrum that was tripping me up when I set out to write this fanfiction project. I knew, intellectually, that there was a difference between a fantasy scenario and a real one, and that finding some kind of primal appeal in the one did not equate to necessarily feeling the same appeal for the other. I had to learn how to not judge myself before I could even take advantage of the primal fantasy – and that’s where reading romance, and listening to people discuss their own reactions and thoughts about it, came into play.

If you need help identifying your primal fantasy, try this: think of something, some example in some media that you’ve engaged with that sticks out when you think of the word “basic”. Try these words, too: “cliche”, “derivative”, “exploitative”, “generic”, “problematic”, “regressive”, “trite”, “toxic” – you get the picture. Then, take those words and replace them with the word “primal”, and just see how it feels to do that. Do this as an exercise in suspending judgement of your fantasies, for the sake of accepting them for what they are at an emotional level. Follow that fantasy thread; give yourself permission to imagine yourself achieving success. If it resonates, congratulations! That’s a primal fantasy for you.

There are issues that I have with romance, and they’re all to do with the flipside of suspending judgement, which is that sometimes shit slips under the radar. I had this moment of realisation with the novel I’m reading right now, where a conversation between the heroine and hero that I would have instantly labeled as “gross” before I started learning how romance novels are best read for enjoyment, I instead reacted to with an only half-joking “aww yeah”. I realised that this had happened, and I’ll admit, it’s made it hard to get back into that book – though only because I wanted to expand upon this experience, and couldn’t put it into words, and it all just kind of snowballed and I ended up getting nothing done for a while.

But, again, you’ve got to trust yourself when you know the difference between fantasy and reality, instead of insisting that because you feel one way about the one, you therefore, consequently feel the same way about the other, and that makes you a bad person. Maybe this is a problem limited to arts majors, but I feel in this day and age where all creatives – and people, of a left-leaning-ish persuasion at least – are in a state of perpetual self-consciousness about how “woke” we’re being and what attitudes we’re “perpetuating” without realising it, it’s so very, tragically easy to get lazy with it and start judging yourself and others based on fuzzy criteria with little to no actual critical consideration behind it. And this, to me, is one of those situations. It’s a matter of moral accountability, and while accountability and self-reflection is most definitely healthy and important because putting bad shit out into the world is not good, it’s also important to be honest. And if you honestly do not mistake fantasy for reality, then you need to own it.

And if you can do that, then you can benefit from the primal fantasy. I managed it – quite a feat, but like I say, romance reading and podcast-listening really helped me out – and embraced the fact that, hey, you get a house in Blood and Wine, and you never really get to do anything with it; and also, like, Succubus Blues is a great book, there are things I would have changed about it but I really love Georgina as a character, I like the sexytimes, it’s romance, I’m about it – I am into both of these things.

I should put these things together.

That’s a primal fantasy to me: something that moves you. And the benefit of being able to not judge yourself for being thus moved is that you will be moved.

And if you can be moved, you can write about what moves you.

Step 2: Just Go With It

I’m not here to say that the 52k words I’ve written over the past fortnight are any good. I’m just here to say that I wrote them all over the past fortnight, and that’s more important than trying to measure their qualitative value.

The primal fantasy isn’t just a fantasy; it’s every feeling you have that moves you to express it. Now, importantly, and helpful for clarifying the boundary between fantasy and reality if you’re still feeling self-conscious: the expression we’re using is writing. Nothing more – and nothing less. These ideas will be written.

And what if they’re not ideas? What if there’s no vision; what if you can’t even find the words? What if it’s a nebulous feeling, vaguely, perhaps tangentially linked to some ideas or thoughts or whatever that may not actually have anything to do with it?

Just go with it.

I wanted to realise this fantasy of owning and maintaining a house in Blood and Wine, and while I was thinking about it in terms of the parties and balls and whatever that you could do with a house, to be honest, the main appeal was the feeling of those thoughts that drove me, not the specific thoughts themselves. And I think that’s the most primal of fantasies: the one that is hardest to put into words, but resonates so clearly on an emotional level. Same with Succubus Blues; that entire series just gives me a feeling, that feeling you get when a beloved series ends and you know, rationally, that it can’t be extended without ruining it, but you still crave more. I wrote 52k words based on two feelings with no rational way to gain closure for them – except writing, something, in the direction of those feelings.

That’s enough. We’re being primal here, guys; this is not where we need to start enforcing three-act structure or the MICE quotient. This is where we feel and write, and it doesn’t matter if the words aren’t perfect. This isn’t even really about what the words are, just that they get written.

If it was about the words themselves, then I’d have lost heart pretty early on. To be honest, it still trips me up, because as much as I’m going on about this great new philosophy of writing to solve every writing problem ever, old hangups die hard. And that’s fine; that’s normal. Nothing unexpected. But this is where, again, you suspend judgement, and just go with whatever comes to mind while engaging with that primal fantasy. This isn’t freewriting if you don’t want it to be; this is just what you feel moved to write, when you feel moved to write it, and the reasons themselves don’t matter. If you have a reason – even if that reason isn’t something you can or want to put into words – then that’s all the permission you need.

Step 3: Get A Writing Buddy

Because seriously even with all of this fantastic primal fantasy shit I mightn’t have written half this much if I wasn’t writing alongside B while she worked on her own novel.

We were both being driven by our respective primal fantasies, which was great, but the really big thing was that we were helping each other remember that it’s okay to embrace and express ourselves through them. I think that if it had just been me, I might well have chickened out after the first few days and fallen into a judgmental rut. But, because writing buddies are the best thing ever, I wrote 52k words in a fortnight. Did I mention that already? Because I wrote 52k words in a fortnight.

And I didn’t do it alone. B hit 60k words on her novel today, which is amazing and awesome – it is impossible to not only overstate, but even really describe how much of a help it is to have someone to share in the process with, someone else who is in the energy, to give you support and someone who you can support in turn. I think one of the really simple reasons the writing buddy system works is because it’s a reminder of why we tell stories – to connect with each other. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the stereotype of the tortured, isolated artist is bullshit. Lonely artists don’t create good art because they’re isolated and/or mentally ill; they create good art despite being isolated and/or mentally ill. It’s a damaging, toxic narrative (and I do mean toxic in this context, not “primal”) (though if that’s a primal fantasy for you then hey you’ve got something to work with) that needs to die a death so quick it’s like it never existed. Get ye a writing buddy! Or just write around other people, even if you don’t know or want to interact with them – or, I guess, just know that it’s a valid option. Nothing wrong with writing on your own if you want to, but I just want to put it out there that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Rant Over

I didn’t write my fanfic today. I’m not sure if I will pick it back up – at least for a while.

I was so … numb. Not bothered or upset, just kinda … meh. I also felt kind of like a failure when I tried to get this whole “primal fantasy” thing to work – because, quite simply, today I couldn’t find my primal fantasy. Then B suggested I might be tired, and some more “reflective” writing might be an idea. I gave it a go – and realised that I was scared of getting things wrong. Not any specific things, just an old and recurring fear that has yet to loose its hold over me.

So, in writing out my feelings, I wrote out what I wanted. It wasn’t a specific goal or task, or even a feeling.

It was to always win and never be wrong.

I don’t think there are enough uses of the word “basic” for that, throw in “self-absorbed” and “indulgent” for good measure – it all fits. But that was my primal fantasy; in this moment of fear and doubt, this was who I wished I could be. You have to be honest to find your primal fantasy, and that’s why suspending judgement is so important: it gets in the way. It cuts you off from acting on your primal fantasy. In many contexts, this is a good thing – like if it’s stopping you from acting on it in a way that affected other people, for instance. And it’s so, so hard to learn, to train yourself to recognise on a base level that not all situations are the same, and that it is okay and safe to discriminate between them.

In this situation, I was just identifying what I wanted, while ostensibly looking for something to move me.

And it did. So I took a trip down dead horse lane and picked up my old, sprawling high fantasy epic that teen Jason spent way too much time and emotional drama over. Way too much judgement. Specifically, judging the author-avatar self-insert main character of this story for being too good at everything without earning it.

But that is a primal-ass fucking fantasy right there, and while I’ve tried to key into this before, it hasn’t worked for me until today. I only wrote 890 words of a random scene I pulled out of a figurative hat – but damn did it feel good. And, more than that, it’s gotten me thinking about that project in a new light, and I’m starting to see that, actually, maybe adult Jason can make it work.

I don’t know if I’ve explained this whole “primal fantasy” concept very well, but I hope at least the gist of it comes across clearly. I hope it helps, or at least gets you thinking, if you’re in a bit of a creative rut, and especially if you’re warring with yourself on the grounds of not wanting to be “problematic”. It’s a valid thing to be concerned about, and I am specifically talking about what will help during a zero draft – after that, then it’s helpful to be critical, and stop using the word “primal” to replace those other words as a rule.

But, still, keep it around. It might just help you understand things in ways you might not otherwise be able to wrap your mind around. Use it as a tool, rather than a divine edict. Use it if it works. It’s definitely working for me.

And when it doesn’t? Then do something else.

Stay safe everyone.

Weekly Words 4-10/05/2020

Writing: 23872

Fanfiction, huh?

To be fair, I’ve had this experience before. Back in the day, I attempted an epic Dragon Ball Z fanfic, and actually made it a fair way through what I had plans for. It was exhilarating, taking these characters and stories that I knew and loved and had my own ideas about, and just … making it all happen. I felt so powerful.

More than that, though, I felt so involved. It’s one thing to add your own story to the grand tapestry of all the stories that have come before; it’s quite another thing to include yourself into an existing story, one that really means something to you, that you’ve given part of yourself to, and then let yourself shape it with the passion that it brings out in you. It’s something that I’ve been missing in my own stories for a long time. Even Wolf Gang and Bad Guys; even Tallulah, for those of you who have been here since the beginning. I love all of those projects in their own way, but none of them really feel like I’m getting it when I write them. They’re close, but not quite there.

And writing this crossover fanfiction – and, of course, getting into romance novels – has shown me, or started to show me, what the issue is. I’m not following my passion. I’m chasing “good ideas”, stories that “work”, themes that “fit”. I’ve been aware of the downsides of my own perfectionism for a long time, but until now I never realised just what a critical flaw it’s been. It’s held me back from trying to do the things that I actually want to do, for the fear that I’ll mess them up somehow.

I don’t think I’ve lost that fear, but I have written over 20k words of this crossover fanfiction project. Let me repeat that, mostly for myself: crossover fanfiction. I’ve taken two things that I really like, smashed them together, and by serendipity they happen to go really well together. But that’s not the point is that I went for it, and it felt – and still feels – great. I feel great. That’s what I want from my own stories.

And now I realise that the way I get that from my own stories is to make sure that I’m only telling the stories that I actually want to tell. Even if those stories are “bad” and I “shouldn’t” want to tell them. There’s something in them that I want, and I’m not getting it by refusing to let myself try.

So, basically, writing fanfiction got me to where I’ve wanted to be this year, and last year, too. I’ve wanted to care. To care enough to risk getting it wrong, for the chance at getting it right. But it’s not even about getting it right anymore; it’s just about getting it. About understanding whatever it is that drives me towards a certain story, even if everything surrounding it is total fucking garbage. I need to be able to do that.

And I think that, perhaps, now I am.

As my friend B said to me tonight: writing from the heart is powerful, too, so write the song in your heart.

I think it’s time for me to do just that.

More like FUN-fiction

This isn’t the post I was planning to write.

Nothing that I wrote today was what I was planning to write.

As for what I was writing …

[SPOILERS for The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine and Succubus Blues]

I’ve talked about getting into romance novels fairly recently, but my first foray into the genre – or a hybrid form of it at least – happened years ago, when I discovered Richelle Mead’s Georgina Kincaid series, which I’ve also seen referred to as the Seattle Succubus series. I think Succubus in Seattle was a missed opportunity, personally.

Regardless, while those books have their issues, especially looking back on them from the year 2020, I absolutely love them. I re-read them last year, and I’m pretty sure they single-handedly saved me from what might have turned into a depressive slump. I owe so much to Richelle Mead, for being my first guide into the world of romance genre fiction, even though as far as I can gather these books don’t qualify as “romance”, even of the paranormal kind.

I continued my exposure to elements of the genre through YA and Urban Fantasy over the years, and while I’ve yet to find another series I adore quite as much, I did find that I really like certain aspects of Urban Fantasy. Ironically, most of those elements would be crystallised in a work of High Fantasy – and not even a book.

While I have my issues with it, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is absolutely one of my favourite games ever. Yeah, real original, I know. I will never feel comfortable with the gender dynamics throughout the game, regardless how well so many of the female characters are written, at least for the most part; I will definitely never feel comfortable with the racial dynamics. But in terms of just pure atmosphere, and the fact that the good things about it are so good, it’s definitely got a place on my all-time favourites list.

That’s mostly because of the most un-Witcher-y part of the game, though: the final expansion pack, Blood and Wine, in which Geralt finds himself in the fairytale-esque land of Toussaint …

And gets a house.

There are all kinds of fantasies: power fantasies, revenge fantasies, sex fantasies. There are as many kinds of media that cater to them. But there is one kind of fantasy that I don’t hear talked about enough, and that is what I will call the independence fantasy. It is, kind of, what the American Dream is a form of; it’s the feeling I got when I read The Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry was alone – but watched over from afar – in Diagon Alley for, like a month. For the first time, he was out on his own in the world, free from parental oversight and meddling, fully autonomous. And also getting free ice-cream every day while living in a paid-for room above a charming wizarding inn.

In Blood and Wine, you are made the owner of a vineyard, and are set with the (optional) task of restoring it to its former glory. It’s the “optional” part that bothers me, honestly, because while I do enjoy the story of Blood and Wine, I felt like the “you have your own house” aspect was a massive missed opportunity. Geralt is a man who has never had a home, outside of maybe Kaer Morhen. But his home is the Path. The underlying conceit of Blood and Wine is that the eternal wanderer finally has this chance to settle down – to the point where, after you complete the main story (you might also have to complete refurbishments on the house), whichever sorceress you managed to successfully romance will join you there. It’s jarring. But it’s also so … nice. It’s maybe too nice, if I’m being critical; but on a purely feelings level, it’s just so comforting to think that Geralt can have a real, honest-to-goodness happily ever after.

Which is, of course, the prime directive of the entire romance genre. Which I am, as of writing this post, really getting into. I am definitely going to write my big ranty post about how much some aspects of it bother me and how conflicted I feel about my many, many thoughts and feelings about the genre, especially as I am always going to kind of be an outsider – but that’s another post, and will be written another time.

For now, all you need to know is that I got really invested in this idea of the independence fantasy offered – and not nearly fulfilled enough – by Blood and Wine. The first time I played through it and got the house, I couldn’t help but wish that I’d gotten to throw a party once I’d had it all fixed up. I mean, that’s what you do when you move into a new place, right? You have a fucking housewarming party! Why no Dandelion? Why no Ciri? Why none of the various colourful characters you meet along your journeys; why none of the many people you’ve helped in your travels, maybe even some of the people you’ve wronged or inconvenienced, just so that you can either throw it in their faces now that you have land and a title, or make amends over a bottle of Est Est (maybe even a cup of Sangreal)?

Why no ballroom dance mechanic???

And as I’ve been writing a hell of a lot more over the past couple of weeks, as I join B in the final stretch of her zero-draft-writing process by undertaking some productivity of my own, I’ve been trying to use this opportunity to force myself out of my comfort zone. I get so stuck on ideas that I feel like I can’t do “right”; even though I broke through that barrier once with Wolf Gang, and more or less a second time with Bad Guys, the hole always re-seals itself, and the effort it takes to break through to the other side hasn’t gotten any easier. I had the energy and the ideas for writing – I just had to find a way to undercut my inner perfectionist gatekeeper. If only I could write about that house, and what should have happened with it.

That sounds like fanfiction; I have real books to write. Why would I ever bother with fanfiction?

Though, to be fair, I do support writing fanfiction. I think it’s inherently creative; I think it’s a fantastic way to “learn the ropes”, so to speak, and I think it’s a legitimate art form all on its own, too. Not to the point where I think people should be able to make money off it, but certainly to the point where I don’t think it should be illegal or anything.

And so what if it’s indulgent? I could do with some fucking indulgence; I need to remember how to be indulgent, goddammit! Fanfiction might be exactly what I need right now!

If only I actually gave a shit about Geralt; I like him well enough, I guess, but not nearly as much as I enjoy being Geralt – being the Witcher, the hero, the lone wolf against a world full of monsters, who gets this adorable fucking vineyard and has to restore it with the help of a loyal and fastidious majordomo and throw a fucking ball, goddammit

Still not enough. I need to get, like, romance-level indulgent. I need to abandon all shame, forget about “getting it right” and just … well, get it. That’s not all romance is about, but it’s one part of the deal that might just be able to help me out.

And those Georgina Kincaid books – I love them, but there are things I’d change if I could.

Hey, I could!

And fuck it, why not do both? Geralt of Rivia meets Georgina Kincaid; why the fuck not? It’s fanfiction. I can do anything the fuck I want. I should do anything the fuck I want! That’s the point, isn’t it? This is the skill I’m trying to cultivate within myself, right? Right!

Writing: 10071

… so, that went well …

This isn’t quite a Weekly Words post, but I’m including it in this category because it serves the same purpose: it gives me perspective. I was so hung-up over getting this goddamn “house fantasy” right, I spent all of the energy I could have spent writing yesterday researching architecture, and ending up with more questions than answers. I was so incapacitated by my perfectionist tendencies that I talked to my therapist about it the day before that. (She gave me some really good advice, none of which I was ready to hear until I’d slept on it.) I just needed to do something, to let myself work with what I had, rather than what I thought I needed yet lacked.

Because, ultimately, I just needed to write.

Apparently, I really needed to write.

And now I’ve got this Witcher/Seattle Succubus crossover fanfic, and do you know what’s fucking wild? The second I committed in my mind to writing it, I realised that these two stories that I had randomly smushed together like Barbie dolls just so happen to work fucking perfectly together. There’s so much symmetry. Geralt is a witcher, a man who takes contacts to kill monsters by people who by and large treat him like one; Georgina is a succubus, a woman who willingly became a monster in order to protect the person she loved and now lives out her monstrous life preying on everyone else, whether she wants to or not, because she’s under contract with Hell to do so. They’re both outsiders, Geralt because he’s seen as a monster, Georgina because she knows she is one. They’re both, when you get right down to it, Urban Fantasy stories and settings, even if one is faux-medieval and one is set in the modern day. The plot of Blood and Wine is Geralt trying to hunt down a monster targeting knights who seem to be failing to live up to their chivalrous code; the plot of Succubus Blues is Georgina trying to figure out who, or what, is stalking Seattle killing immortals, and has her in its sights. In Blood and Wine, the Beast of Beauclair is driven to kill to protect the woman he loves; in Succubus Blues, the vengeful Nephilim who starts out targeting Georgina falls for her instead. It’s just …

It’s serendipitous is what it fucking is. I did say “no more swearing on this blog”, didn’t I, well fuck that this is amazing and I need all of my words to emphasise that fact.

This was meant to be.

And already I’m thinking of how this could be, so very easily, converted into an original story. Well, “original”. But I’m a huge fan of ripping off other ideas, at least as a launching-pad; it’s where so many of the best ideas come from. Inspiration and imitation are not only good things; they’re inevitable. Plagiarism is obviously crossing the line, but the literal setting and characters aren’t the really important part, just the general themes and relationship dynamics. And, I mean … Georgina and Geralt don’t strike me as a romantic couple. A crime-fighting duo? Absolutely. But there would have to be a lot of character tweaking for those two crazy kids to ever make it together and have it be believable.

Not that this will necessarily end up being a romance; I really want to see more stories where men and women can share the spotlight without having to get naked together to make it feel “realistic”. I still feel cheated out of an amazing buddy-cop dynamic in the Vampire Academy series between Rose and Christian; I feel super cheated out of what should have been an awesome, platonic team dynamic between Rey, Finn and Poe (well, the “Finn and Poe” part doesn’t have to be platonic). I miss Harry and Hermione, and even then, I think that’s only a good starting-point for what we need to see more of. I do think Georgina and Geralt would make a fun team; I think that their character types go together like milk and honey. They’re both loners, at heart, even though Georgina is a people-person and Geralt’s livelihood depends on him at least talking to other people; they both solve mysteries; they both have strict rules that they have to abide by – they both have supernatural abilities …

I almost can’t believe I fell right into the middle of such a confluence of ideas. That I set myself up to benefit from my influences in ways I could never have predicted. I guess that settles it. The universe just loves me. I am the Chosen One. Feel free to start erecting statues in my likeness.

Well, after all of … this … is over.

I think it’s finally starting to dawn on me just what this is, and I’m meeting the limits of how much my life of self-imposed lockdown has prepared me to handle it. The emotional side of it I’ve got down pretty much perfect. It’s everything else that I need some help with. Especially since, eventually, lockdown is going to lift. We’re going to get through this.

I just want to feel a little more certain that I’m going to get through it, too, rather than staying exactly where I am all over again.

But, again, that’s what these posts are for: perspective. And for the sake of perspective: I just did something I was really hesitant to do, really anxious about doing, something that tore me up inside with self-doubt and perfectionist stalling and all kinds of other excuses and fears. And ultimately, what it took to snap out of it was having a good friend around, and forcing myself to follow through with my ideas, even if I wasn’t one hundred percent sure how it would turn out or if I could even “do it properly”.

Something is better than nothing. I did something today. And that’s all that ever matters.

Stay safe everyone.

 

It Is Time (Monthly Words January-April 2020)

Hey.

I’ve been writing.

Writing: 62,991

Most of that writing has been done this month – which makes sense, as this month is April, which is also Camp Nanowrimo. I signed up expecting to maybe get 10-15k words done, because while I had decided that I “need to get back into writing”, my heart wasn’t in it. Even without my heart in the right place, I did make some decent headway on my own; I set my project as “various projects”, my word-count goal to an at-the-time optimistic 30k, and those two pressure-relievers helped quite a bit.

Then my co-writing friend, who I still don’t think I’ve ever named on this blog because I’m paranoid, but let’s call her B, asked me to do some sprints with her a couple of weeks ago. I went from just over 2k words by the 13th to around 22k by the 20th, and before I did my final push of writing today, the last day of Camp Nano, my word-count for April was just over 45k. Having the freedom of being able to work on – and stop working on – any project I felt like, combined with a 30k word-count goal as the only standard I “had” to meet, has made it so much easier and encouraging to do writing this month.

But mostly, it’s been writing with B as she works on her own novel. I’ve said it time and time again, but having a writing buddy is, certainly for me, the biggest source of motivation that I have for writing, by far. That’s not to say it’s an automatic guaranteed of said motivation: at the start of the year we did try doing some sprints, and then just co-writing, but my heart wasn’t in it and it didn’t give me the kind of motivation that I’ve had this month. I have to have a least a little energy for it myself; but having a writing buddy can take a spark and fan it into a flame.

And that’s been great – but I’ve also noticed how I’ve gone back to my writer mindset, where I get tunnel-vision and find it hard to persevere against in-the-moment frustration with what I perceive as a lack of talent or vision or judgement from myself. I’ve noticed that I’m losing perspective on what I’m doing, the big picture, what the results of my efforts look like overall, rather than moment-to-moment.

In short, I need Weekly Words back.

I didn’t need it at the start of the year; I haven’t needed it until right now, a full third of the year through – but, well, I do need it now. I’m writing now, as opposed to most of the rest of the year. According to my own records, I didn’t do any writing during March. Which is wrong, actually. I did a ton of writing in March, and I’ll touch on that in my next post. But I think that it’s also helping that I keep a focus on writing that “counts” this year, not to discount the actual amount of writing that I do in all forms, but so that I have a clear sense of the progress I’m making on my various projects.

That being said, word-count alone isn’t enough to track that progress, and part of the reason why I want Weekly Words back is because I need perspective on the process itself. I’ve been working on Bad Guys – and a new story, one inspired by my last therapy session and the fact that we are living through a global pandemic. I doubt it’ll be the only one of its kind, but it’s my one of its kind, and I’m pretty excited for it. But with both of them, the consequence of tunnel-vision during my writing sessions has meant that it’s hard for me to really appreciate how much of a real effort it is to be writing, and in particular writing new things.

Bad Guys, I realised recently, is not the cut-and-dried project that I originally estimated it would be, fooled by the simplistic premise into thinking that it was so inherently self-contained that it could never develop or grow into anything more. Spoilers: it has, in a big way, and that’s something that I’m still grappling with, because that simplicity was so … nice. It’s not simple anymore. In fact basically from the start it’s been a many-headed beast of a project, so similar to my last big fantasy project in that regard, a project that could go any number of ways that would all work in their own way, leaving me the task of picking one that seems the most like a story – or the story I want to tell, anyway. And surely that should be relatively easy? Painful, perhaps, but at the end of the day we all have specific tastes and values; shouldn’t I just pick the version that scores the highest on my taste-test and … profit?

But what I’m finally starting to realise is that maybe it’s not that there are different versions of this story, but a plethora of potential ideas that I want to explore. I had to concede last year that, despite almost two years thinking about this story, I’d only spent two months actually telling it, and that meant that I was at the very beginning of the creative process when it felt like I should be very deep into it. The ideas that I have, regardless of how old they are, are still “new” – they’re untested, closed, still in their packaging; they’ve never been used. And consequently, I don’t know if I have a use for them.

Happily, stepping back now to look at what I’ve been doing and really think about my overall efforts over this past month, I’m starting to see that what I’ve done is actually exactly what I need to do, as well as what I’ve told myself repeatedly would work if I’d just, like, do it. I’ve been writing events in Bad Guys, rather than trying to revise or reboot my existing zero draft, add in new chapters, or tell full stories. I’m taking the most vivid ideas that I have, those for which I have the clearest vision and highest level of enthusiasm, and letting that be the focus of my writing. And it’s resulted in some of the most gratifying work I’ve done in quite a while. It was very hard, and still is, to get into the right headspace for that kind of writing, because it requires having both a clear vision and a willingness to accept the limits of that vision – limits within myself. And I’m a giant narcissist, so the fact that I’ve been able to do that at all is kind of miraculous. All the therapy must be working after all.

Last night for writing sprints with B, I tried writing my latest, probably inevitable idea: Bad Guys as a romance novel. It’s an idea that I had sometime at the start of the week, and ever since it’s been unshakable – romance has such a clear structural logic to it, and my main character fits a certain character archetype so well (the Alpha; I was quite delighted to come to this realisation), that the temptation is too great to not at least consider. It was kind of a return to “simplicity” as well, and so I decided that I’d give it a go.

But I made a crucial mistake: I wasn’t open to the vision that I had for this new version of Bad Guys, and so ended up skewing in a totally different direction. My driving force of “Romance” has somehow resulted in “body horror”, and I’m sure a certain Austrian psychoanalyst would have thoughts about that. I certainly did, and none of them were particularly pleasant or positive. It was a character I’ve never really written before, certainly not from their perspective, and on top of that one of the many, many characters of whose place in the story I’m not at all certain about. I have been working under the assumption that she’s just not going to be in the story at all, partly because there are already probably too many characters to share the spotlight amongst, but also because I never had a compelling or convincing idea for her role in it.

As a result, most of my sprint-time last night was spent in a strange balancing-act, dealing with frustration that I had failed to follow through with my initial impetus for writing on the one hand, and not capitalising on the potential of what I’d ended up writing on the other. Throw in the whole “I can’t write women” angst of every male writer everywhere – and a fair number of female writers, I’ve heard, which must be so much worse – and I wouldn’t say that I was feeling particularly hype during my sprints last night.

I ended the evening knowing that something needed to change; I needed perspective, a reminder that what I was doing was working, a chance to recharge and refocus before succumbing to tunnel-vision and going into a writing coma from the unbearable pressure of having to be perfect. It was a pretty vague goal, but I knew it was the right one. And even though I didn’t really know how I was going to achieve it, being able to at least identify it began the long process of getting myself un-stuck.

And then, today, I sat down to write this post, and I realised something.

I’ve been spending the past month trying out new ideas, and last night was the newest. A completely new character POV, for a character I wasn’t even totally sold in including in the story. And while I’d been writing her, I got ideas. Ideas for how to make the scene more dynamic, pull the structure together and make it feel more like a story; ideas for her motivations and personality that never would have occurred to me if I hadn’t spent last night experimenting with the ideas that I had, however disappointing the results, and however thin the actual ideas. This character has gone from a “maybe” to a “even if it’s not this story, I need her in a story”, just on the strength of those ideas – on the strength of finding that I actually like the ideas that I got. This character is suddenly exciting to me, and the cost of that excitement was spending time exploring an untested idea of mine, followed by getting perspective on what, in the grand scheme of things, that effort really amounted to. The fact that I was frustrated and disappointed with myself is just a sign that I didn’t have that perspective, or even the basic conscious awareness, of what I was really doing when I wrote what I wrote last night: something new. I felt disappointed and frustrated because my expectations of the experience didn’t line up with the reality. But I have that perspective now, and I realise that, even if it’s taken me until now to realise it, I’ve been doing exactly what I’ve wanted and needed to do for this project all along.

I’m also realising that I’ve used the word “perspective” many more times than I would enjoy reading if somebody else was writing this little rant – oh well. Hindsight is 20/20. Guess this is the year for it.

Oh yeah. I went there.

I still don’t feel like Bad Guys is “there” yet. Too much is still up in the air; whatever connective tissue is lacking to bring my ideas and excitement together – well, it’s lacking. But what’s working right now is focusing on the ideas themselves, and not worrying about how, or even if, they will all link up in the end. I’ve been writing “out of order” all of this month with Bad Guys, and that feels really, really right – so, it only stands to reason that continuing to do so will continue to be right. And if there’s one thing I’m always enthusiastic about, it’s being right.

Ultimately, I’ve learnt the lesson that I keep on learning as a writer, which is that writing problems are almost always solved with writing. This experience has expanded my understanding of this lesson in a very particular way, which is that you’re not always where you think you are in the writing process, and that on its own can be a source of writer’s block. But once you’re open to accepting the reality of your actual progress, even if it is crushingly disappointing in theory, that’s often the moment when writing can start to be exciting and eye-opening again.

And, also, the lesson of not beating yourself up for not being ready to accept that reality right away. It’s hard to accept that things aren’t going the way you want them to, they way you hoped they would, the way you’ve been depending on them going in order to achieve the expectations goals you’ve set for yourself based around that outcome. Not just in writing, obviously – but definitely in writing. I’ve got two-and-a-third years under my belt with Bad Guys now, but almost all of that has just been fantasising. In terms of writing, it’s barely three months. Barely three months of actually working on it, progressing it, developing the project and my understanding of it, what it needs, and what it doesn’t. That’s where my time and energy needs to be going.

Just as well that’s where it has been going this month, then, even if it took me the full month to realise it. Better late than never, though. While hypothetically it would have been great if I had this enthusiasm and perspective at the start of the year, I wasn’t ready for it. But I’m feeling ready now.

Stay safe, everyone. We will get through this, together.

Covidiary, Day 1

Writing about writing, huh?

Not today!

Though given that I’ve only published two blog posts in the past three months … I’ll just say that, if I do have any actual human readers left at this stage, I will never be able to adequately express my awe in the face of your persistence. It is very much appreciated.

Here in NZ, it’s the end of Day 1 of lockdown: for the next four weeks, we’re all supposed to stay at home, practice social distancing, and self-isolate if we start getting symptoms. We can go out for walks, but not to meet up (unless we live alone, in which case apparently there’s the option for a “buddy system”, it’s all a bit head-scratching to be honest), and of course we can access essential services like supermarkets and hospitals (and mechanics, apparently? Also some hardware stores?). But essentially, we’re all supposed to just stay at home: no eating out or ordering takeaways; no going to the movies; no hanging out with friends. It’s unprecedented in this country, and for many others, too. People are having to come to terms with the stark reality of being confined to their homes for the next several weeks – and potentially having to do it all again if these measures aren’t enough. It’s like something out of a post-apocalyptic novel.

… gotta be honest, feels pretty normal to me.

I am having some very interesting thoughts and reflections right now, and they’re all stemming from the fact that, even with a deadly virus with no cure (yet) ravaging the entire planet, my day-to-day life looks … pretty much the same as it ever has. Well, the same as it has since I was, I dunno, 16 or thereabouts. I’m 33 in four weeks; my 33rd birthday is going to be the week after we are due to come out of lockdown, actually. I may do something to celebrate this year after all.

And sure, that’s not totally true. I’ve felt dirty and ashamed and malformed for almost twenty years for my feelings of inadequacy in social situations, to the point where I’ve built my life around avoiding them beyond what feels essential – mostly. That “mostly” is starting to become very distinct for me as I reflect upon my life and how it came to be this way, because I do actually have friends that I see, almost like clockwork, once a week for our D&D session. Before that, I did arrange the odd meet-up with the few friends that I have who actually had time to spend meeting up; and of course I went to university and had to attend lectures and tutorials and even *gasp* made some friends with whom I wanted to spend time. Not many, though. And that’s the limit of the “mostly”, because while it’s true that I am no longer a truly self-isolated being … well, I have gone four weeks without interacting with anybody not living in the same house as me before. It’s sucked, but I’ve done it. This aspect of lockdown, at least, is not as big of a deal for me as it (rightly) is for so many other people.

And it’s hard not to make that comparison and, in taking stock of my situation, feel a little bit hollow inside. This is, in some ways, the grimmest reminder of how unhappy I am with the way I live my life.

And yet …

As I brought up to my therapist in our last-for-a-while session: this is also exactly the kind of doomsday scenario that my solitary lifestyle has perfectly prepared me for. Four weeks with no human contact beyond the four walls of my house? Please. Give me a real challenge. (Don’t actually; I probably can’t handle it.) Yes, it’s because I’ve been living with intense self-doubt, self-loathing and social anxiety for the past almost-twenty years that has made it difficult if not impossible for me to live a healthy and fulfilling life – but in this particular scenario, the capacity that I have to be perfectly fine (“fine” is a strong word, but I digress) on my own, with only social media to turn to if I want some human interaction, is the exact skill I need right now. Don’t get me wrong; I still want to be rid of my need for it once all of this blows over, and I still have all the same feelings of being a freak and doomed to an eternity of misery based on the fact that I have adapted to live life the way that I have – but, in this very specific, almost cartoonishly extreme circumstance, I find myself actually being very grateful to myself for having developed this capacity.

And, really, that’s probably a much better attitude to have than self-shaming, even outside of a global pandemic. Yeah, it’s disappointing that I have to deal with an irrational fear of rejection, neglect and social manipulation/peer pressure whenever the mere prospect of social interaction rears its ugly head – but the fact that I do have the capacity to survive on my own is, at the very least, a silver lining worth acknowledging. It’s not the life I want, but if I think of what my life might be like if I wasn’t able to go for long stretches of time with only myself and infrequent texting for company (and, to be fair, my family, even though we don’t spend a ton of time together), it quickly becomes clear that this is a skill worth having if I need it. I don’t want to need it, and I’m pretty sure that I can and should get to a point where I don’t need it on a daily basis – but, all things considered, it could definitely be worse.

I’m starting to realise that this is actually the perfect opportunity for me to start practicing some serious self-compassion as well. This is the one time where I have the perfect excuse to frame my capacity for self-imposed social distancing and self-isolation as a strength, rather than something to be ashamed of. And that’s good practice for when all of this is over – because I shouldn’t be ashamed of it in general, simply because shame doesn’t make anything better, and in fact makes it so much harder to get better and move on.

In a sense, lockdown is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

But …

The fact that I’m so well-suited for it comes with another unexpected recognition, and this time it’s kind of a shallow one, sad to say.

Because if there was ever a time for the world to throw so much at me that I was forced to “get real” and “wake up” and “take action”; if there was ever a time where the strange, masochistic fantasy of being forced out of my stupor of apathy and procrastination and irrational, low-level phobia by forces beyond my control and starting on my path to becoming my ideal self …

It would probably look something a lot like COVID-19.

And perhaps for some of you, that’s exactly what’s happening. I literally cannot imagine what that must be like; I can’t imagine how confronting this situation is for you, and my heart goes out to you. But it’s not happening for me, and I find myself feeling … cheated. Which is ridiculous, and objectively speaking I know it’s ridiculous, and astonishingly self-absorbed.

But there are so many of us who cling to this fantasy of being forced to change our awful, maladaptive, fear-driven habits by some irresistible and dire external event; and if COVID-19 isn’t it, what the hell could it possibly be? World War 3? A literal zombie apocalypse?

Or maybe it’s just a fantasy, and it’s time to let it go.

There’s a lot going on in my head right now. Everything feels very much the same, and yet completely alien to me, all at once.

And all of this might.

MIGHT.

End up being fuel for my writing.

No promises; like I say, I’m not feeling the galvanising call to action that I’d always fantasised would come with a massive, world-shaking event like COVID-19. The fact that it all feels like business as usual for me is unexpectedly heartening in most ways, but there is that part of me that’s disappointed I’m not more upset, more in need of self-expression.

Or maybe I’m just in shock, and I’ll feel it in a few days.

I probably will anyway. I’m so sheltered that there are bound to be things I’ll start to notice in the days to come, things I’ve taken for granted or simply haven’t ever been aware of, that come bubbling up to the surface during lockdown. I’m trying not to be an insane person and hope to feel the level of despair and panic that this situation probably actually warrants, just so that I can live out my very own character-growth arc. I’m trying not to be the totally-disconnected-from-reality artist who only sees the world in terms of how it can serve as inspiration for his art.

And I’d be lying through my teeth if I said that there wasn’t a pretty sizeable part of me that’s doing exactly that, and despairing at the lack of material.

Priorities. What are those?

It’s a dark time, and people always say that dark times produce great art. I think of that, and can’t help but feel deficient for the lack of inspiration that this situation is giving me.

I think of that, and think that maybe creative writing is the very last thing I should be worried about right now.

Besides, if I’m right and I’m just in shock, “inspiration” is probably going to be pretty easy to come by over the next four weeks – and thinking realistically, COVID-19 is probably going to be a reality for not just New Zealand but the entire world for way longer than that. I doubt I’ll be this blase about the whole thing for long.

But at the very least, I’m finding some silver linings. That’s probably the best any of us can hope for right now.

In the word of our glorious leader Jacinda Ardern: be strong, but be kind.

We made it through Day 1. That’s enough for now.

Hot Minutes

Hello.

Time off from this blog has been … well, I’ve done more stuff than I can actually remember doing, and I think that’s probably good. I started and chose not to complete a couple of summary blog posts, and by this point it’s just too much damn work. But I can sum up a couple of things, at least – and let’s get the obvious one out of the way.

Writing (since January 1): 12,737

Most of this has been Bad Guys, which is “good” in the sense that “this is the priority project that I set for myself”, but beyond that I’m really just not feeling it – and that’s fine. It’s there. I still care about it, and I know I do. I just need some space.

Also, I need a plan. Sometime last month I had this moment of white-hot frustration at wanting to just tell the damn story already but not having a road-map to follow for doing so – so, I’m in planning mode. Although that makes it sound a lot more intense and committal than I’m actually being; it’s more that when I put time aside to work on it, I’m working on a plan for it, because I’m done with the improv now. This is a good idea, it can be a good story, but it’s going to take me handling it with care to get it there. So I taught myself, for the third time, how to use Scrivener so that I don’t have to go back and forth between an indecent number of not-particularly-well-organised Word documents to locate all of my important ideas for this story, and … well, we’ll see.

Because this is my year of Caring About Stuff For A Change, and while all writing is stuff, not all stuff is writing. And to that end …

Other Stuff

I have a little commitment to myself this year: go out and see a movie every week. Just one.

It’s proven more difficult than the required logistics might suggest.

But, hey, I have seen some new movies, which is a big change of pace; perhaps it’s proving difficult because of that. I saw Little Women, which was lovely, heartwarming both because it’s lovely, and because director Greta Gerwig was not nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards and anger is something that makes your heart warm, too. I saw Parasite, which I am very happy won Best Film at the Academy Awards, because it was fantastic, and while I did see the second half of Marriage Story and fondly admired the acting talent on display … that’s a whole lot of white people. And that no longer feels natural to me to see on-screen. Which I’m pretty happy about. Also the whole brilliant-artist-dude-angst thing is just not my thing anymore, which I’m also pretty happy about.

I mean, unless it’s my angst, obviously. Make a film about that, why don’t you.

And I saw the new Emma, and at first it felt like sacrilege because I kind of grew up on the Gwyneth Paltrow version – which I still love – and nobody will ever be a better Mr. Knightley than Jeremy Northam. But while the trailer put me on my guard, the film itself was terrific, totally different to the 1996 version, and somehow truer to the novel while being extremely distinct from it at the same time. Anna Taylor-Joy is, well, a joy to watch as Emma, perfectly blending insouciant self-absorption with the burning independence and idealism of youth. See, I could be a real critic if I wanted to. And someone would pay me to do it.

Also the screenplay was by Elanor Catton, a NZ author who won the Man Booker Prize in 2013 for her novel The Luminaries. I physically recoil from literary fiction whenever I try to read it, so I haven’t read it, but hey, I liked this here screenplay quite a bit. Also the little I’ve read of her makes her seem pretty cool. One day when I’m feeling brave I will venture back into the literary world and try out her novels.

And speaking of novels – well, I finally did it. I read two straight-up romance novels; not paranormal romance, not YA, real, adult, honest-to-Nina Simone romance.

They were pretty great.

Although I do have some reservations about one of them, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, and no I’m not going to review these books here – maybe not at all – but suffice to say that it really sucks when a book does so much right only to have one really fatal flaw, especially when that fatal flaw is perpetuating rape culture by perpetuating the myth that men having their consent violated is either 1) hilarious or 2) a sign of how hawt they are. Not cool, Christina Lauren. But by the same token, if I can put up with some of the things I’ve put up with from certain urban fantasy novels, I can put up with this – I’m just not going to be quiet about it.

That aside – yes, both of these books were exactly what I was hoping for in terms of the storytelling: it was good. And The Duchess War by Courtney Milan – yes, that Courtney Milan – was both good and not dragged down by toxic misconceptions of who can and can’t have their consent violated. They both had strong characters, dynamic casts, a clear narrative throughline and internal consistency … it all just worked. It was solid. It’s the kind of example I need right now, trying to tell my Good Story (and, in the case of Josh and Hazel, an example of what not to do while I’m at it). Also, The Rise of Skywalker feels like a disappointing dream (nightmare?) in comparison, and to be honest that’s the real reason I need some good storytelling in my life right now.

And to be doing Stuff, of course. I think I’ve made a decent start of it this year – and how much more I could have done, hypothetically, is hitting home to me just how much bad-habit plaque has built up in my brain over the past two decades, and how much work it’s going to take to drill it away. I want to have done more work than I have, which is nothing new. But what is new is feeling more up to it than I have for a good long while. And I look forward to finding out what happens if I follow through on that feeling.

New Year’s Words

Happy New Year!

Again!

And to ring in the new year, I got to work on the Bad Guys revision that I first intended to do back in November, but honestly wasn’t ready to do until today.

And even wrote some new words for it!

Writing: 1494

Weekly Words is, for the moment on hiatus. I said a whole bunch of stuff yesterday, and I meant it, and I still mean it. I can’t in good conscience just blab about myself ad nauseum on this blog, because besides it not necessarily being the most interesting reading material, it’s definitely not interesting writing material. This isn’t about to become a news or trivia blog or anything, but god, there’s so much stuff going on in the world, and I’d like to be interested in it.

2015 was the year I deemed my “year of risk-taking”. Well, 2020 is going to be my year of “being interested in things for a change”. I’m re-imposing my no-swearing rule, because I’m all about intentionality this year, considering myself, the world, and what’s going on. If it goes well, I might even go back to writing *gasp* book reviews.

Exciting, I know.

Well, it’s exciting for me. Last year I did a lot of coasting, and it’s time to pick up the slack, because it just seems like it’ll be more interesting. I don’t think I would have been able to recognise that if I hadn’t finally sought out a therapist last year (or if that therapist wasn’t as good as the one I found), and if I hadn’t spent a considerable amount of time and energy last year doing things that weren’t writing, proving to myself that there are things I can do with my life other than writing, and things that I can be other than a writer.

And to that end: on the topic of writing, this year, I’m back to only “counting” the writing that’s going towards projects. Because that’s sort of the point for me. All the other writing is for recreation, brainstorming, etc., and it counts, but not towards this particular goal of telling my Good Story. Last year, I started counting every little scrap of writing that I did because I wanted to combat my terrible habit of trying to force myself to be “productive” by writing. I thought that, if I just took stock of all the literal writing that I did, I would drown out this inner critic by giving it what it “wants”, to the letter, and just overloading it with the sort of thing it deems “unimportant” until it learnt to shut up. It kind of worked, but I see now that while it was great for broadening my perspective and getting me to see that I’m much more “productive” than I give myself credit for, it’s also only half the job. I’ve softened it up – now to melt it down.

Or something like that. I’ve learnt to “count” things that, only last year, I would have considered not just unimportant but a waste of time, something akin to a moral crime, and that is a good thing. Now, though, I’ve got to learn to trust myself to just be chill. To have boundaries around my determination to make words, healthy boundaries that actually work to make my life work.

And if you’re ever going to learn how to be trustworthy, you first need to be trusted.

I dunno if that’s true I’ve just heard it said a bunch of times and I’m not really sure how to close this post have I already said Happy New Year yes that was literally the first thing I wrote okay this still isn’t over …

Basically, I’ve kept my commitment to revise Bad Guys, done some new writing, and my Good Story is one step closer to being told. If I’m starting the way I intend to finish, then this is the kind of start I want to make.

Bring it, 2020.

Yearly Words 2019

YEARLY TOTAL

Writing: 367,961

I’m not going to do much of a recap here; I haven’t read through all of my Weekly Words posts for 2019, and I think doing that is the only way I’ll get the kind of perspective that I’m craving, which will require some devotion of time that, at 1:42 AM, I don’t quite feel invested in committing to just now.

However.

All signs point to one overarching theme for my 2019, or at least one thing that I’m going to mention in this blog post: I need to have the means to extend my focus beyond my writing. Because writing is not enough.

It is, in and of itself, valuable and fulfilling and worth doing. But it is notsubstitute for everything else that I need. It’s not a substitute for socialising; it’s not a substitute for exercise; it’s not a substitute for R&R; it’s writing, and if I’ve learnt – or started to learn – one thing in 2019, it’s the importance of acknowledging things for what they are, rather than what they could be, or what I wish they would be. I like writing.

I hate just writing.

And my writing is going to suffer until I get some balance back.

Okay, one other thing that I learnt from 2019: I’m so fucking sick of myself and this has got to stop. There’s other shit going on in the world, and a lot of it is pretty interesting, even to me. I reckon it could be worth looking into.

Weekly Words initially started as a way for me to have some form of personal accountability for writing every day, to turn daily writing into a habit. If nothing else, I would at least be updating my Weekly Words blog post every day. Good in theory.

In practice?

Who the fuck cares about how much writing I didn’t do on X day? Or how exciting it was to break through writer’s block? Who wants to see this pattern repeat over and over and over again for SEVEN FUCKING YEARS? I honestly don’t know if any real-life people read this blog anymore, but I cannot blame any of the ones that I know at least used to for checking out. This blog is like a reality TV show about a mouse running in a wheel.

And okay, I care. I care about having a record of my experience as a writer, and that is the whole “thing” with this blog: writing about writing. Sometimes – very often in fact – there’s just fuck all going on; life is not a story, but if it was it would mostly be filler. Or my life at least, which does not make for good blog material.

But as I’ve realised, I don’t write for the sake of writing. I write for the sake of having a tool by which I can accomplish other things. I don’t revel in the construction and manipulation of language; I don’t particularly crave the tactile sensation of typing on a keyboard or writing on paper with a pen, pencil, or what-have-you. It’s a means to an end, and yes my joining the Mark Manson cult of Kantian pedantry means that this opinion makes me evil and shit but you know what, some things just aren’t that goddamn valuable to me and that’s how it is.

Writing is valuable to me because of what I get from doing it, not because I get to do writing.

And I’ve been trying to use it to get way too much, for way too long.

I guess, really, I don’t love writing for its own sake because it’s been so long since writing wasn’t this global substitute for literally everything else that one can do with one’s life; I treat it as a means to an end and, well, that is a bad thing. In this context. I think it’s fine to treat writing, and many other things, as means to ends instead of ends in and of themselves, depending on the context. But in mine, well, I think there’s room to appreciate writing for its own sake …

Or I can make room.

And, for the sake of my mental health, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that I need to.

I said that my 2020 New Year’s resolution was to tell a good story. It still is. But I think that telling this “good story” is going to involve me being able to look beyond myself to find it, and the same goes for this blog, and just myself in general. This is my blog, but that doesn’t mean it all has to – or should – be about me. Not least because I, like anyone else, am just not that fascinating all on my own.

But throw in some context, and maybe that’ll change. In fact I’m sure it will.

I gotta get some news in my life, man. I need to know what’s going on around me; I want to know. I want to participate.

And I think that Weekly Words might be over and done with.

I still like the idea of a monthly check-in, though, so I reckon I’ll keep that, and use that to tally up my writing efforts on this blog – I can keep my private records for the minutia. But going forward …

This is a writing blog. I want to make the most of that, expand on what that can mean, get to better understand what it does mean to me that I’m not admitting or embracing or considering. Writing is fascinating, as an art and as a field. And I’d like to be fascinated by it.

But you know what else is fascinating? Being part of a community. My interests span many different communities, and for reasons of anxiety or snobbishness or look fuck knows I really need to start going harder with this therapy stuff and get to the bottom of this, but my point is that I have steered clear of communities that could, potentially, be a great resource for me in many ways. I mean that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Find people with whom you share a common interest and go from there? Might be something to it. Finally, I can share my D&D 5E ranger revisions with people who will understand the burning hatred that drives such an undertaking just as keenly as myself.

Also friendship and whatever.

But yeah – just like using writing as a means to too many ends has toxified my relationship to and perception of it, this blog has very much become a catch-all dumping ground for my brain, starved of appropriate and functional avenues for exploration and expression as it has been for so very, very long. And it’s time to start putting things right. This might mean starting more blogs; this might mean spending less time being a record-keeper for my own life. I’m definitely not stopping writing; I’ve just finished my re-readthrough of Bad Guys and have actually found it very insightful – I have a better idea of what the story needs from me, and also what it doesn’t need. And that’s going to be a long commitment, one that I’m willing to make now that I’ve accepted it for what it is: a process that I was a little, let’s say, optimistic to try and measure out in months. This might take a while – I’m counting on it. And I’m ready for it.

But there’s the rest of it all as well, everything else I need and have missed out on this past year, a lack that perhaps I feel more keenly for how much I’ve been pushing myself to find it. And that has no place on this blog.

It’s time to engage, spread out, dive in, and be willing to not keep track of every minute experiential detail for the sake of having the goddamn experience itself.

And once I get used to that, maybe my true love of writing will come back to me. But first, I think I need to be willing to let it go, for the chance that it’ll come back.

This plan is risky-sounding, but it’s something that I care about. I’ve been waiting, longing, hoping for a project to come along that I cared about enough to risk fucking it up for the chance of getting it right.

Perhaps I was the project all along.

Okay there’s no way I don’t enjoy writing for its own sake, even given how badly I’ve handled it over the years; I get to write cheesy shit like that whenever I want as a writer. Can’t put a price on that.

Happy New Year!

… also HOW THE FUCK DID I WRITE MORE THIS YEAR THAN LAST YEAR.

Complaining. I did a lot of complaining this year. That must be it.

Also I guess I did write an entire novel? But I wrote an entire 50% of a teleplay last year …

Look whatever I guess the moral of the story is that even when I suck at writing I’m fucking amazing at writing guess I’m just doomed to be a baller-ass writer for the rest of eternity I guess that’s okay …