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.
That’s this week. More than last week.
Together, it’s 52,220 words.
In a fortnight.
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.
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.
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.