Oh the cleverness of me

The writer’s block has well and truly been hurdled over. I feel like a total genius for being so good at storytelling, even in the midst of what I assume is a fairly typical first draft. No, the story is not going exactly the way I originally intended it to. It’s going better. So much better. Because, among other things, it’s actually getting written.

but in fact, when I take a step back and look at it from afar, it actually is going the way I wanted it to – it just feels like I’ve gone off the rails entirely, so now I am convinced that this is exactly what I need to to: put the blinkers on, write what feels right in the moment, and go wherever it is that I’m going with the writing. 

basically I worked out something about Tallulah as a character, or rather, the way I think about her, and that is that she can be really horrible. and I like it. I always wanted her to do something horrible, just so that she wasn’t the hard-done-by sad-girl-with-a-good-heart stereotype, and stumbling upon this character trait of hers feels like unlocking the -Ga spells in Final Fantasy; she’s starting to work as intended, and in the most ironic way possible, because only when I went ‘forget this, I’m writing whatever I feel like right now‘ did this begin to really happen. she finally has some dimensionality. I liked her being uncertain and tentative, but not only was it very one-note, I didn’t really do it as well as I would have liked – I much prefer her being a bit of a cow, or rather I enjoy that she’s started to be one right now, at this point in the story, because not only is it character-development, but it’s also exactly what I wanted – to be able to hurt people while trying to do what she thought was the right thing; it’s just that the ‘right thing’ involves hurting people, and that’s not something she’s ever considered – nor did she consider just how good it would make her feel. and then, almost immediately afterwards, how horrible, because sometimes people decide to stand up for themselves and force you to reflect on your actions – and the best part is – in terms of storytelling, not in real life; in real life it’s the worst thing – that this ‘reflection’ is absolutely warped, twisted, biased to some manner of disproportionate emphasis on certain aspects of context, and it’s so easy, so rewarding to just go along with that first impression and think that you’re right, even when it wrecks you to admit it, because if you’re right, then you’re also despicable.

this … this is what I live for.

so long as that’s not where the story ends, or this particular story anyway. but it’s a wonderfully enjoyable bit of tension, and tension is drama, and drama is – when used respectfully – good storytelling.

the deadline for finishing the book is now the 16th of December. I doubt I’ll need that long, but I’m giving myself some breathing-room, just in case, because it is a first draft, after all. I’m sure I can get it done quicker than that if I really motor, but I want to take a bit of time and feel this one out – this is the home stretch; there is literally no room left for me to waffle, and if I try I know I’ll just end up going back and furiously re-writing things so that it gets back on track. so either way, whether I make the deadline or not, this is it. I’m almost up to 80k words; I have just equaled Prisoner of Azkaban in word-count, I believe, and I’ve given myself an absolute limit of 120k words. I honestly don’t think I’m going to need them, but again, a little elbow-room isn’t the worst thing in the world.

so yes, I am very excited, and very pleased, and getting a bit overwhelmed with how much I’m accomplishing, which is an indescribably nice feeling. this is why I recommend writing to anybody who’s ever thought of writing a book; it just feels so good, so long as you stick with it, and let yourself ‘do your thing’.  it fills you up.

not long now …

Progression

Today, I wrote myself out of a hole, and potentially into the depths of some Pangean chasm, home to miraculously preserved wildlife and vegetation the likes of which only Jules Verne might fully appreciate the significance of.

I think that today’s writing finally pushed me over the edge, specifically the side of the edge that melds into the slope of ‘just go with it’, and it’s far easier to just let myself slip all the way down.

So, specifically, I was writing a chapter and had an idea of what I was going to write, what would happen. It didn’t end up happening. I wrote something different. And it felt amazing.

This is not like the usual ‘oh that’s neat’ kind of feeling that tends to happen when you go off-track because of some kind of mini-epiphany/distraction-filler tangent while writing, which you always look back on later and realise was just you getting bored and needing something else to do; this felt good. this felt the way that scene in every stereotypical rom-com, where the leading lady quits her job by telling her anal-retentive boss what she thinks of him, is meant to feel; this felt like honesty being released and catharsis dictating the course of events to come.

Tallulah – well, it’s a very ‘down’ kind of story, or has been up until this point. that’s how it presents itself in my mind anyway. and I don’t really like that. for one thing, it’s hard to write, because everything is so heavy, and for another thing, it’s really one-note, and as such clashes with the whole ‘realism’ thing I’m trying to go for. whether or not I’m getting that aspect of it right, the atonality of the thing isn’t going to help matters any. 

what I was going to write was a bunch of indecision followed by a really, really bad decision on Tallulah’s behalf – not bad because it makes no sense, but bad because it’s the kind of decision you would only make if you were really not in a particularly healthy or stable frame of mind.

what I ended up writing was a good decision, one that led to a fight, and it was the first time in a very long time that I actually felt like I was writing Tallulah as a character to the fullest and most immediate extent, to the point where it felt like she was telling the story, rather than me.

and the best part is that, actually, this change in pace and tone could actually make my plans for what happens next even better, just because I changed things up a little.

I decided a couple of posts ago that I was just going to ‘write what I wanted’. the other part of that is that the things I end up not writing, the other things I had ideas but not energy for, I’m not totally dismissing – instead, my theory is this: I’ll write what I want to happen, and if it turns out that, in doing so, there is space for any the other ideas to fit in – appropriately – then I will fit them in at that point. until then, though, I’ll just do my own thing.

this latest development feels to me like the next evolution of that, where I – to use the old cliche – let the story do its own thing, and if by the end of it there’s room for that other stuff, it will tell me to put it in.

but that’s not even it; it’s actually even better than that. it now feels like I have a dialogue with this draft, like we’re negotiating terms on what ought to happen, and how, and when; I wanted to do something, I ended up doing something else because, as per usual, I lost all control over what I was doing once I got started, and it felt like the story had improved as a result – and that my plans were still in motion, only now with the added benefit of the story’s spontaneity.

there may be people who don’t like turns of phrase like stories ‘writing themselves’, because it sounds like a cop-out for just not having a very clear direction of where to go with the story and masking one’s own disappointment at the fact, or an effort to make the creative process seem more mystical and exotic than it really is to outsiders. there is this divide between writers who like to plan things out and stick to that plan, and think that if you can’t stick to the plan then it’s because you’re a bad writer, and writers who rely on letting the story tell them what it needs and use all sorts of artsy, vague, pretentious turns of phrase like that. or at least that’s how they sound to people it doesn’t make sense to, because it hasn’t happened for them.

this is my experience: the most successful draft I’ve ever written, in terms of ‘sticking to the plan’, is also the most unuseable. it is a story that, merely a month after completing the draft, had changed so entirely that the whole draft was rendered obsolete. it is also the first draft I ever wrote. and I stuck to the plan; I stuck like metal welded to other metal, and I stuck to it for the entire year that it took me to write that draft. because you can have a plan, and you can stick to it, and it still doesn’t make it a good plan. yes, that draft was actually the book I ended up giving up on earlier this year because it just wasn’t going anywhere, but that’s part of my point: plans are just plans. they don’t add quality to the end result.

I’m certainly not saying that planning is bad or stupid or irrelevant, but I am saying that, when it comes to a self-driven creative undertaking, it is totally down to what you are moved to do. if you feel moved to make preliminary notes, make preliminary notes; if you feel moved to ‘dive right in’, then get aquatic on that thing; if you feel like being meticulous the first day and then the next day think it’s distracting and off-putting and you just want to ‘get right down to it’, but it means changing your mind and being ‘inconsistent’, then change your mind. because this is the thing: doing things changes your situation, and different approaches work better or worse in different situations.

and then there’s the question of what ‘having a plan’ actually means; does it mean having every chapter summarised and having a synopsis written up before you start ‘actually writing’? does it mean having a word-limit for your draft? does it mean allocating X amount of time per day/week/whatever to doing writing? does it mean going for a walk in the morning to oxygenise your brain? does it mean you’ll make notes as you go and refer to them later? it means all of this, and more, or less, depending on how you are so inclined to approach the process of writing.

in the end, the only thing that matters is that you do what works for you, because then, necessarily, it will … work … for you. and you don’t have to try and know what works for you right from the start, if you’re not sure; that’s why we have brains and memory: so we can learn from experience. take advantage of it. I don’t know who I’m preaching to at this point, really, but I know there are some people out there with a lot of doubts and preconceptions about what it ‘takes’ to ‘be creative’ – all it takes is using some of your time to mess around, and being willing to look past what ‘should’, so that you can get to what ‘is’. 

and if you can’t do that, well, fake it ’til you make it. seriously, it works pretty well, so long as you actually stick to it.

~~~

I’m feeling a bit better about the prospect of having to make concessions to publishers, after talking to a friend about it. she reasonably pointed out that there’s probably a middle-ground between my perfectionism – and indeed the perfectionism of any artist who takes their work seriously – and the demands of the publisher. and, really, that’s what I meant yesterday about my own standards ‘holding me back’ – it’s about how ‘precious’ you are with your work. in the end, if you aren’t willing to concede anything – I mean good luck, seriously, and if you find out how to make it work, let me know. I am definitely interested. until then, I think it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to aim for ‘good enough’. so even though I won’t get two drafts done before the year is out – nowhere near two drafts – I ought to have an edited version of this draft done by at least early next year and ready to go. the fact that it’ll be pretty rough is an advantage in terms of having to make concessions, because if I sent away what I considered to be the ‘perfect’ version of the story and then be told to change – well, anything – I would probably have a mental breakdown and never try to get published again.

so yes. a good day in terms of writing, and also in most other terms; I spent all day out of the house, met up with friends, one of whom gave me her old smartphone, making it my first smartphone, so that’s a significant occurrence of mutation in the evolution of my social life, and had some very nice Mexican food (though there wasn’t heaps of it, sadly). and in the end, writing is self-expression, so if you are happy, your writing will probably be better because of it. at the very least, you will get more out of it.

Tempting …

There is nothing quite so distracting from writing a draft than the prospects of how much better you could make everything in the second draft.

Which is fine. It’s good to have that kind of thing to motivate you to finish what you’re doing, to have ideas and the energy to use them, and as I’ve said before, this is where note-taking once again proves its worth as a writer’s tool – take those ideas and catalogue them for future potential use. You never know if you’ll need them or not, but it’s far better to give yourself the option.

And then there are the days when this alluring vision of the future becomes so strong, calls to you so insistent and yearning that you start hating what you’ve got so far, because every moment you spend expanding what you know, in these moments, is a steaming pile of biological waste with no future anyway is keeping you from exploring the superior vision in your mind of the way things could be, an instant escape from the drudgery of your present obligations, if only you would put aside propriety and commitment to the task at hand and let yourself have a little fun.

And at the end of the day, that’s all it is: a little fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that – except that it is a distraction, and you’re writing a draft, and writing is …?

Yes, that’s right: it’s WORK. It’s a lot of work. It’s frustrating, it’s upsetting, it’s painful, it’s stiff and stubborn and it’s a constant battle against parts of yourself that you would never face in any other context, and unless you ‘man up’ or ‘grow a pair’ or whatever other masculinised analogy for perseverance you wish to employ, the work will not get done, and that goes for your ‘bit of fun’ as well. And at the end of the day, the reason you started the draft, or the painting, or the drawing, or the screenplay, or the sculpture, or the dance choreography, is because at one point, it too was ‘a bit of fun’, and enough of a ‘bit of fun’ to see if you could make it work. And chances are that this is still the case – it’s just that the honeymoon phase is over, and now the real work begins, and your commitment is being tested. This is the time where you make your biggest decisions with your project – do you bugger off in order to chase after something younger, newer and different? Or do you have faith that you were on the right track in undertaking this thing, and even though things are getting difficult now, that you still are?

This is not an argument against fun; without fun, there is probably no reason to live. I firmly believe that. But that is definitely not to say that work that is not also fun all the time is therefore pointless. This is an argument for finding a balance – a sustainable and practicable balance – between the two, incorporating both, and in such a way that it doesn’t feel like a chore or part of a schedule to have fun, and that you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something when you buckle down to work. Basically, I’m arguing that you need to find what works for you.

It could very well be that your initial idea of ‘how things were going to work’ was made at a point where you lacked the knowledge and experience to make such a decision – or, to be more specific, to make a definitive decision. Having an idea of ‘how things are going to work’ is necessary, even if it turns out later on that it needs to change, because at the end of the day, you need some kind of structure. If it needs changing later on, then that’s because you’re learning about yourself, how you work, under what conditions you feel the most motivated to work and, conversely, the factors that take you away from the work; you’re learning about the balance that your mind and body wish to maintain in order to work healthily, rather than running yourself ragged or, on the flipside, not pushing hard enough to yield any rewarding progress and therefore no sense of accomplishment or personal fulfillment.

It’s like working out. You don’t just want to pump iron every day; for one, it would drive you insane with monotony, and for another, your body actually can’t handle it, at least at first. I only ever went to the gym for a month with any kind of consistency, so I don’t know if that changes. But at the very least, when you’re starting out, you need – let me emphasise that: need – to pace yourself, to protect yourself, to be aware of what your limits are and, rather than trying to break them in a mad dash to the finish (which will not work if you want persistent, long-term benefits), instead just gently expand your limits at a healthy, gradual pace. It is not about ‘getting fit’; it is about keeping fit, and that means that you need to cultivate a sustainable routine for doing the things that make that happen.

With writing, it’s not just about telling the story or writing the chapters; it’s about cultivating good writing habits so that you can keep doing it. That’s why things like a daily writing-quota or a set period of time each day devoted to nothing but writing that one specific project are so important: they are there so that they can become habits, things that you do because your brain is hard-wired to do them, things that you would have to make an effort to stop yourself from doing. Things that you do without even thinking about it. And the important thing is that you work more habits into this than just when you write, or how much you get written during that time, because it’s not just about writing either; you are not a machine, and you need to remember it. You are a person, and you need breaks from work. ‘Work’ is not about enjoyment; it is about accomplishing tasks. It is the accomplishment that is rewarding most of the time, rather than the actual work, so that’s about long-term rewards. But I don’t think that people can thrive on long-term rewards alone, always having to wait and postpone any benefits that they might get from what they’re doing. I also don’t think that you should just aim to do whatever looks like it’ll have the fastest results, because a lot of the time they’re also temporary and you want to get into the habit of being able to look ahead, to build a legacy rather than just going for a quick fix – again, it’s about balance. Have some of both, and work that balance into your routine.

So as you may have gathered, I am not simply spouting wisdom and advice because I have nothing better to do; I’m having trouble with this draft. I am at a juncture of the kind that I have outlined above, and right now there is nothing more than I would like for this whole thing to just be over and done with so that I can move on to the next step that, in my mind anyway, is incredibly appealing.

It is the idea of changing the format of Tallulah from a ‘straight’ novel into more of a collection of episodes. Not a serial, because I don’t want to stretch this story out any more than I already have through resorting to ‘filler’ when I don’t know what to write but I haven’t met my daily quota yet, but the idea of episodes makes a lot of sense for the story I’m trying to tell. And it’s an idea that I like, a lot; it may be my new ‘thing’, using an episodic format for stories, because other than anything else it makes it easier to divide the story up into sections and then focus on each of them individually as more-or-less self-contained short stories. With a project like writing a novel, the smaller the pieces that you can divide it up into, the easier it is to manage when it comes to editing and, indeed, writing, because your focus is framed within clear boundaries.

It might just be due to how I think about the difference between episodes and chapters when it comes to books. Chapters I generally see as somewhat arbitrary points in the book where you can safely put it down and not really need a bookmark to avoid losing your place in the story. Episodes, on the other hand, feel like full, miniature stories that, when taken together, present you with one whole, varied, and hopefully dynamic story; it sections up the content and gives you not just a story, but a story consisting of multiple smaller stories. That’s the idea I’ve got about the difference between these two ways of doing relatively similar things, and it is for this reason that I am so eager to revision Tallulah as an episodic story, rather than just a continuous, run-on narrative, which is what it feels like at the moment; and it’s so tempting that I really am just getting more and more frustrated with the reality of what I’ve got written already, and where it seems like it’s going, because every time I seem to make any progress, it feels like I instantly get blocked again.

Whether or not this is an accurate assessment, I certainly feel that making Tallulah an episodic story would help with this feeling of aimlessness, because it would also force me to be very specific with what I want to happen in the story, and when. I also theorise that it would feel more satisfying upon finishing an episode, because it would be like finishing a story. It’s more up-front planning to do, but it’s also a more manageable and fun-sounding way to do the planning, because rather than trying to just plan out a linear plot, it’s planning out a series of self-contained events that link up to create that linear plot.

But the main reason I like this idea, I think, is because it’s different to what I’m currently doing, which feels like it could be accomplished by slamming my face into the keyboard over and over again and occasionally hitting the space bar until I meet my word-quota for the day, because no sooner do I ‘finally’ write that one chapter that feels like it’s opened up all the possibilities in the world and simultaneously shown me the path to the story that I want to tell than does some new obstacle land right in front of me and cut me off again.

The obstacle right now is a matter of planning, or lack thereof. And it’s not the end of the world, in the grand scheme of things; ideally I would know exactly the story I wanted to tell right from the start and then have written that, but that’s not what went into this story. What’s gone into this story is more than just what I’ve written; it’s also what people have said to me about it, their responses, their opinions and feedback on something that is not just unfinished but totally experimental, which I asked them for. I am now of the firm opinion that all those people who never show their first drafts to anybody have a really good grasp on the situation. But who knows how I’ll feel by the end of it all.

The main reason I kept writing Tallulah to begin with is because people responded positively to the first chapter, and I felt like I’d finally cracked some kind of secret code by writing a female character that real-life female people said read like a believable female character with a believable female perspective and in the end that’s just a very specific kind of praise; I kept writing Tallulah because I was getting praise for it, and it was the specific kind of praise that I wanted. As such, motivated by this, I now think that I may have done something rather silly and tried to write a story for these people who were responding to my work in a way that I wanted them to. And right now – perhaps because of my current frustration, perhaps because I’ve realised something important about drafting, perhaps a bit of both or perhaps something totally unrelated – I’m of the opinion that a first draft is not actually about trying to write at story at all – or that perhaps a first draft is not actually the most useful place to start.

What I think is that what I think of as a ‘first draft’ is actually something that comes after you already know what story you want to tell, a process that you begin when you’ve done some preliminary experiments, just written a bunch of ideas down, not in any particular order, and then had ideas about those ideas, and that this process of note-taking and experimentation is what an actual ‘first draft’ is. But whatever you want to call it, it’s the thing that I feel I missed out on by trying to write a story right from the beginning, because I didn’t have a clear enough idea of what story I wanted to tell, which is why right now it feels like I have so little control over what’s going on.

Or maybe I’m doing it all ‘properly’ after all and the disappointing truth is that this frustration is just one more thing that I’m going to have to learn to deal with in some way, either by just bulldozing right through it, which feels like I’d be missing out on some sort of vital clue my subconscious is trying to give me by setting up this block, or by wracking my brains until the ‘right thing’ tumbles out of my head and onto the page in the form of prose.  I don’t know.

And once again, this is something to work into the routine – when writer’s block strikes, have a way of dealing with it. I don’t know what way, but I guess I have to try something and see how it works. At the moment, my method is to write this post, and get this off my chest. It’s sort of worked as well. I think I’m now de-enraged enough to clearly state what the blockage is, and knowing is half the battle, after all …

The main issue I have with what I’m currently writing, the point in the story, is that I’ve set up a bunch of things that I think are interesting, but I don’t have the energy or motivation to write about them all. I only want to expand on one of those things. And seeing as it’s a first draft, I suppose I could do a lot worse than to go with my gut on this one, and just let the other stuff do its own thing for a while until I get back around to it. If I ever do. It does feel like I’m leaving some opportunities unexplored …

But at the end of the day, you don’t need to take every opportunity that you come across; you just need to take the right ones. And since you won’t know until you try, you may as well go with your gut, with the one that appeals to you the most. Just so long as you have a little self-awareness about it as well. Again, don’t just go for a quick fix, or for what you feel you ‘should’ be trying to accomplish with your limited time on Earth. Life is not a story, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tell one anyway.

All right. Thanks for reading. Hopefully something in there has been useful to you, or at least a relatively entertaining way to pass a few minutes on the internet; I know it was helpful for me.

Back to the old writing-board.

Word Document.

Whatever.

The Horning of the Shoe

It’s always fun when you write something, wish you’d included something you’ve just realised is quite important, incorporating it in a subtle way, and then, because you’re writing a first draft and don’t want to backtrack, just word-dump the thing you wish you’d included in as un-subtle a way as possible, and assuring yourself that you’ll totally change it in the second draft so that it’s not as clunky and you know it’s really bad but hey better to have it there badly than to not have it at all right?

At least it’s getting written.

There’s that old saying: ‘If you have nothing to say, then don’t say anything.’ I think that’s the old saying. actually no, I’m pretty sure that’s not the saying at all, but the saying in its original form does not back up my argument. which is that this principle applies to writing as well: this is part of why I’ve found it so hard to write 2000 words a day for this draft; some days I just literally have nothing of worth to write, and thus we have the infamous ‘filler’ or ‘padding’ or ‘waffling’, depending on how you are so linguistically inclined.

this is part of why the idea of ‘structure’ seems so unintuitive and unappealing to so many ‘creatives’ (a term I disagree with, because it suggests that some people are not creative); what they take to mean by ‘structure’ is ‘being told what to do’, and these are totally different things. ‘being told what to do’ can still generate creativity, but not always the feel-good kind, because it can feel like you’re being ‘worked’, like you’re having your creative productivity turned into a commodity or tool of some kind, a mechanized process taken out of your control and made separate to you, and nobody likes being objectified. ‘structure’ is essentially the bread-and-butter of creativity; it is having a goal, and having a system via which you will meet it. it’s been a difficult thing to navigate for me in this draft, trying to balance structure with creative spontaneity, and trying to match the pace of my schedule with the enthusiasm and clarity of purpose required to write something that actually contributes to the project, as opposed to just meeting the arbitrary word-quote for the day.

There’s also the issue I have where I like the idea of stories taking their time, but then not making allowances for not actualy having a very long story to tell. part of that in this case, though, is because I’m still not sure how much of the story should focus on one aspect I like, and how much it should focus on the ‘main’ focus, at least what the main focus of the original idea for the story was. and that is part of why drafting is so useful, in theory anyway: it’s an opportunity to test all of these uncertainties out and see what comes of them.

the downside is that this all takes time and energy, and it’s going to take time and energy to go back and read over it again as well. and from experience, if what you’ve written contains more ‘filler’ than ‘content’, this is a test of endurance – somewhere in all the filler, there may be some neat stuff that you want to keep, but the rest of the time you’re reading through stuff that you know you will never use because it’s distracting, nonsensical, pointless, tone-dissonant – any adjective you wish to use that implies ‘bad’ within the context of telling a coherent and engaging story.

in the end, if you don’t have a story to tell – a clear-in-your-mind story – then no matter how hard you try, you won’t end up telling one. the official test for this is apparently whether or not you can sum up your story in one or two sentences. I did not like the sound of this when I first heard it, partly because it sounded so restrictive, partly because it made it sound like the only good stories are ‘dumbed-down’ stories made to entertain the plebian masses, and partly because the story I was working on was not one I could sum up in one or two sentences; said story I have now given up on, because as I was finally able to admit, it was not actually a story, but a cluster of ideas that didn’t create a narrative when put together. and you have to be able to admit things like that. not only is there no shame in it, but it frees you up, gives you raw materials to use for the next project. the day after I officially resigned that non-story to the void, I was on a story-seed-high for the next week, and it’s all been useful ever since. that was about seven months ago, and the thing is that I was able to use most of the elements from the original concept, because while the ideas didn’t fit together in a story, they were still good ideas – they just needed to find suitable employment.

there’s part of Tallulah as a story that I fail to mention whenever I give somebody the summary – which is a maximum of two sentences every time I’ve done it – and it’s the part of the story that’s giving me the most grief, the one I’m the most uncertain about, the part of it that feels like it’s definitely more for me rather than for readers. which doesn’t mean that it’s bad or that I should quit it altogether, but it’s certainly something I’ve noticed. and the reason I don’t mention it is because it just doesn’t add anything to what I’m telling people about the story …

and so it looks like it may be time to make another cut. but that’s okay. it may turn out that I can find a way to make it work, that there is a way that it can actually make the story better. besides, a summary is not literally the entire story; it’s a summary. it doesn’t include sub-plots or character nuances or the various smartass subtextual aspects you’ve so painstakingly incorporated into the narrative. I guess the issue is that, right now, it’s not a sub-plot; it’s become the main plot, and again, that’s not what I’m telling people the story is about. and I prefer the story I’m telling them about.

but it’s a bit late now to go back and change things so that it fits the summary. I’ll run with it and see what happens – again, there may be something about it that I won’t notice until I go back and read it in preparation for the second draft, something that tells me exactly what it’s meant to contribute to the overall story. even just writing that, thinking of how I could restrict its prominence and tighten its focus, is giving me some ideas. they’re the kind of ideas I’d recognise in other stories I’ve come across. so that’s hopeful.

and of course, it could go the other way and turn out to be what I actually do want the story to be focused on. I doubt that very much right now, but you never know. or, as a fellow writer suggested, it might turn out to be best-suited to being a separate story altogether.

either way, regaining focus and keeping focused even when I don’t feel like I have anything to write are a couple of things I want to work on. I’ve said to people that you can’t write unless you feel moved to do so – but being ‘moved’, I’ve come to think, is like being happy; you can be happy without feeling happy all the time, and I think it goes for being moved to write as well – you just need to act as you would if you were moved to write, and trust that, in a few hours, maybe a day, you’ll look back and be unable to tell the difference when you reflect on what you’ve been up to.

well, all of that has gotten me more excited about finishing this draft, so that I can get on to the next phase of writing this book. so I guess that’s a win.

Feelin’ Good

Finished this latest, very hopeful chapter. hopeful in terms of the direction this draft is going in, to be specific. the sense of things opening up and simultaneously locking-in is a thrilling relief after weeks and weeks of consecutively-dropped writer’s blocks upon my literary skull. I haven’t felt this good about finishing a chapter for a very long time.

good things to come. I can feel it.

Linearity

So, following my resolution to write scenes rather than linear chapter-based writing, I wrote most of a chapter today. though to be fair, it’s also a scene that I knew would happen. more or less. it’s almost always different on the page than it is in my head, and that is frustrating, because while I know what was in my head makes sense to me, I don’t know if it’s the same once I write it down. I guess that’s the advantage of firsthand perspective, having your own nuances of thought and pathology already encoded into the way you think and assume and perceive and project and to not have to decipher yourself before you know what it is you’re thinking or intending.

other than those pesky teen years of course.

I have to admit, writing in a series of isolated scenes that don’t link up with a linear narrative right from the start is an idea that I constantly dismiss whenever it comes to mind, because it just seems so un-intuitive. or, more specifically, it doesn’t feel like ‘writing’. ‘writing’ to me is all about storytelling – doing little stand-alone scenes, whether or not they’re meant to link up later on down the track, feels like a warm-up exercise rather than the real thing. I guess the other thing is that the scenes I have in mind are, well, in mind, and writing them down doesn’t feel like it helps me very much – it feels like a distraction. I guess that’s just how I’ve conditioned myself to write; I always go from point A to point B, and only once I’ve reached point B may I continue to point C, and so on and so forth; and it’s not that this is something that I never deviate from, because I have written a lot of stand-alone scenes of ideas for stories that I’ve had – it’s just that, when I’m ‘writing something’, I automatically set out to write whatever it is from start to finish, in a line. it’s no wonder I get lost along the way.

with this draft as well, I just feel like writing isolated scenes would interrupt what momentum I have managed to get back other the past few days. it is something I’ll try and incorporate into future drafting sessions, though, because I do think it’s a good idea. warming up is essential to any exercise, after all – I can see the appeal of doing this as a pre-draft process, getting everything that is clearly thought-out down on paper. even if it’s just a few lines, a summary, a frenetic rant, whatever; making preliminary notes (and continuing to make notes throughout the draft) is very useful when embarking on a draft. and come to think of it, I did do that, so I guess I’m doing okay …

but I feel good about today’s writing. because finally I’ve gotten to the part of the draft where it feels like the story can literally do nothing else but fall into place. I’ve gotten though the muddly bit at the start – the first half; I’ve decided that I’m going to extend the word limit a second time and go up to 120k words – but now I’ve got a pretty smooth ride from this point. all I have to do is write the rest of the draft. but it feels like the story is now locked down, because of the point I’ve gotten up to in the draft, which is a ridiculously good feeling; it feels like I would have to actually go out of my way to mess things up, because from this point on I actually have a pretty good idea of what I want to happen, and how I want it to happen, and in what order, and all that incredibly ideal stuff you would want when writing a draft of a book. sure, you’d want it from the start, rather than halfway through, but the thing is that as long as it happens it’s still good. plus this is only the first draft. who knows how much longer writing this book is actually going to take.

well, having said that, I haven’t finished the chapter yet. but I know how it’s going to end. it’s a scene – well, a scenario – that I’ve had in mind for a while now; I don’t know if it’s going to work, or if it’ll make it into the final draft, but seriously, if … certain people … can get book deals writing the kinds of things they write, I’m sure I’m in with a fighting chance. and anyway, this whole book is one huge existential, gendered struggle for me anyway. I keep saying that I have no idea what I’m talking about; it’s not true – it’s just that I don’t know if what I know has any relevance to other people who fit into the demographics of the characters I’m writing about. I know what I’m doing like people before Christopher Columbus knew the world was flat (though apparently somebody worked it out long before Columbus, in Greece, which figures) – and then some stuff I’m just sort of throwing it out there and hoping it sticks to something validating. it’s fun. it feels like I’m trying to make something work, which I am, rather than just going through some sequence of pre-determined motions.

back to that chapter, then.

Home Stretch

So for those who are interested, I’m experimenting with a WordPress blog, as you can see if this successfully shows up in my FB feed. this one’s going to be about writing, and the other one’s going to be about whatever other random stuff I come up with the rest/majority of the time. which is information in my first post on this blog, if you happen to have checked that out.

also, just for a change of pace, I’m not going to swear in this blog. mostly just to see if it’s possible.

in any case, it has just now struck me that it is the 12th of November, and in a month it will be the 12th of December, and I want this draft finished by then. this is the ‘home stretch’, because coming up to the end of the year is always the ‘home stretch’ with any self-directed project with arbitrary beginning and end dates, seeing as using a year as the window of time within which you do something is also pretty arbitrary. if it’s upheld by an institution like university or school or work then that’s still borrowed non-arbitrariness; the fact that they operate this way is still arbitrary.

the point I’m getting at, I guess, is that given that I assume that publishing houses are not going to be taking on a whole lot of submissions around the holidays (again, an assumption), perhaps I should be using some other deadline, one that I can set myself. because once the year’s over, all that’s going to happen is that the next one will begin, as if nothing happened at all.

on the other hand, I do have this sudden rush of urgency upon realising how close to the end of the year it is, so I may as well use what I got.

and considering that I’ve got no idea how I’m going to work in the character who was originally meant to be the primary antagonist of the story and I’m 60k words into the draft … basically I have a mess, and I need to do something with it.

I don’t know if you’re meant to treat a first draft as a story or not. I don’t know a whole lot of things. what I’m thinking now, after talking to some friends last week, is that the draft is not just about writing the skeleton of the book; it’s also about making notes, writing stand-alone scenes that may or may not end up in the final product, just generally producing many lines of inquiry and then, afterwards, sifting through the mess and picking up the stuff that stands out in order to make something coherent out of it. I’ve done the note-taking, but the stand-along scenes thing, which was the advice I got – I’ve written one, and that was a long time ago. I think I could stand to do more of that. after all, I don’t even know what I’m meant to be doing with this draft in terms of story, so why not branch out and get some more options? plus it’ll probably help to break up the linearity, which may help, because I don’t have the linear story all planned-out in my head anyway. may as well get down the key moments that I do have in mind.

yeah, all right, I’ll try that. hope it works.