Externalisation

I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a trip since that last post. I’ve been walking more regularly (if you can count having gone for an 80-minute walk every day for the past two days ‘regular’, though it’s certainly more than I’d been doing before), and listening to that song, and thinking about my super-awesome film adaptation of my novel …

And it feels so … right.

Too right.

I hate saying things like that, or ‘too perfect’, or whatever, because if it’s too perfect then obviously it’s not perfect, that’s the whole point. But regardless, the story I was imagining, with all of those actors, and the soundtrack, and the cinematography, and whatever else – it was a different story to the thing I’ve written. Notably different. It gave me some insight into directions the story feels like it ‘wants’ to go in, and I have to say that I liked what I saw; there was more connectivity, for a start, in terms of the disparate elements of the story that I’m currently struggling with and have been struggling to tie together pretty much from day 1, and part of me is frustrated because this is all ‘new stuff’ and the current thing I’m focusing on is defined by the fact that I’m not permitted to introduce ‘new stuff’ yet. Later on, sure. But right now, it’s all old, all the time, and only about half of the time do I remember that I’m intentionally doing this in order to achieve a specific, planned-out goal. I know why I’m doing it, and I’m very, very sure it’ll work the way I want it to.

I just don’t want to do it.

But then I started missing ‘my’ version of the story, the messier one, the one where all the elements don’t link up neatly and tie themselves into a coherent bundle to take out on a sun-filled picnic on Successful Novelist Hill. Even just the look of the characters. It got pretty ridiculous. And I’m glad that I started missing them, absurd as the notion is, because it’s brought me back to the importance of working on what I have right in front of me.

I say it was ridiculous, but only if you assume that the mind and emotions are easily controlled. They can be controlled, certainly, but the ease with which this is accomplished really depends on what program is running at any given time. I felt that by casting this thing (and then creating a promo trailer to that song, just to be thorough), I had given it away – put it out into the world and opened it up to be coloured by multiple agencies, no longer restricted to my own. It got a little metaphysical. And having an overactive imagination as I do, I took this fairly seriously.

I tend to run with ideas without thinking very much about why or what could come of it. Thankfully this does mean that some ideas, such as this one, eventually run their course and I just end up back where I started, and I don’t think it’s a bad process all the time, and certainly not this time – I think it was useful. It’s given me an idea of where this story could go once I start allowing myself to make big sweeping changes to what happens. And that idea may well have been different if I’d had different actors in mind; in fact it definitely would have. And that’s what I like about the exercise; it really does stretch things, moves them in a particular direction, and if it can get to a point where it no longer feels like it’s in your control, I think that’s actually a really good thing. For me, it means that I’m taking it seriously, running with the idea and seeing just how far I can take it. And that feeling of externalising this very internal process gave me an entirely new perspective on what it could look like, if I did allow certain influences to colour the way I was doing things. And the results weren’t bad. In fact I daresay I rather enjoyed them. I guess it’s kind of like that expression: ‘if you love something, let it go’. I haven’t let it go, but I’ve let it grow a bit. It felt organic, so I rolled with it, and I think it worked. And now it’s come back; now I’ve been brought back to the start, and that also feels organic. So I think this is okay.

The one regret I have is that this proposal has gotten held back by my indulgence in flights of fancy – progress, yes, but not the progress I’d intended on making. I’m not really upset about it, but it does have to get done, and I’d like to get some stability and sustainable momentum going for draft 2 sooner rather than later.

I may just have to write a whole bunch of these new ideas down. All of them in fact. Why wait? Why section off all of these things I’m meant to be doing into their own days or hours? Why not have them all going at the same time?

And if it’s a horrible idea, which I don’t know yet – why not learn it the most effective way? By doing it?

Ideas deserve to be noted down. And I keep saying to Make Notes. So I guess I should do that.

And on the upside, this proposal is almost done. So why not do something I enjoy in an immediate, emotive sense while also doing something I want to get done in a more pragmatic, rational sense?

I mean it’s a whole lot better than doing neither, right? Which is kind of what I’ve been doing for the past week.

I feel like I’m in seriously uncharted waters, and yet this all feels almost-familiar. Like I’m about to turn round the corner and realise that I’ve been walking around a circular hallway.

Well, better to realise it now than later, at the very least. I have a good feeling about this …

I hope this gets done right. I really hope this gets done right. I want nothing more than to get this right.

I think this is okay.

Let go, and keep going …

Sleep is for the emotionally stable

Like, just seriously, if any of you haven’t learnt this already, allow me to fill you in: SLEEP SOLVES EVERYTHING. Although having said that, this has been one of the most enjoyable days of my year, if not the most enjoyable, and I’m having it on zero sleep since … like 29 hours ago.

When it comes to having to wake up early, I end up freaking out about not getting enough sleep before the alarm goes off, to the point where, well, I don’t get enough sleep before the alarm goes off, if I get any at all. I’ve wanted to reset by biological clock for the past month or so now so that’s at least one positive, so long as I can stay awake until midnight before finally giving in and permitting myself to sleep. And I had BETTER SLEEP. You hear that, circadian rhythms?

However, like I say, today has been one of my favourites. I just felt jazzed the whole time (after I left the house and stopped feeling sorry for myself that is); I felt excited about going back to study, I felt excited about starting draft 2, and I felt excited at the prospect of keeping myself going for a whole day and making sure that it was full of stuff. I met a friend for breakfast at 9:30AM (another writer, also a beta reader, also had some very validating things to say about Tallulah as a character and helped me work through some ideas so thanks buddy!), hung around university for a couple of hours and fantasised about draft 2 with the actors I cast as the characters last night (which is a really good exercise for exploring character voice and characterisation if you’re familiar with the character, including the fact that any actor you cast is probably going to be at least slightly different to the version of the character in your head, which can be useful for seeing the character in a new light), did a 2-and-a-half EEG scan exercise thingy to help out some Psych people at university – which ended up running for longer than planned because the equipment was doing weird things, and was a real test of endurance as I was getting so tired I almost coma’d-out halfway through – but actually by the end of it I felt so much better for sticking it out. I felt like I’d been tested, made myself persevere despite my own protests and came out with energy to spare – because I knew what I wanted to use it for. The remaining hour I spent working out and writing up the proposal for draft 2 I’ve been working on for the past week, and while it’s still kind 0f slow going, it’s getting done, and it’s shaping up to look … well, not like a great story after the first three thirds, but that’s the whole point, so it’s looking like an effective and worthwhile exercise, and that’s justification enough for doing it as far as I’m concerned. It’s so validating. And really, that’s been this whole day: validating.

Yes, the delusion of being able to cast all of these awesome actors in the fantasy I have of the film of my book was at least 30% of what brought about my feeling of bliss, and another 50% was probably this song, which I’ve been listening to on repeat all day and I’m still not sick of it. It’s just so … jazzifying. I love the original as well, but the beat and backing track for this remix gave it a very different feeling, and it was the kind of feeling that I needed today. Also it’s just a good tempo for working to.

I won’t pretend that I got a whole lot done, though, because I didn’t, because this song acted as a sort of gateway into my ridiculous flights of fancy about the whole film-of-book fantasy, which is what I spent most of the two and a half hours I had free today between breakfast and the experiment indulging in. Got some new ideas for Tallulah as a story, and I like them, and I liked seeing the characters as being played by actors, just for a change in pace. And while not much actual writing may have been done, I got something out of today that I really needed: optimism. Because I spent a fair bit of today worrying about how I would ever cope with the workload I was preparing to take on once semester begins, and was very afraid of falling back into old habits. But then I came out of that longer-than-expected, deadly monotonous Psych experiment (nice people, but nothing can make those tasks interesting), and I came out feeling not refreshed, but sustained. Like I had broken through the barrier of ‘Just A Little More’, and suddenly there was no more, and I was free to do Whatever I Wanted, and I cannot express just how empowering that moment was, and how heartening. Perhaps borne of some musically-induced delusion, but if it gets me to stick with writing this book, then I’ll commit to that delusion like I put a ring on it/had a ring put on me by it/we exchanged rings and claimed mutual ownership of one another.

I dunno, the whole ring thing gets away from me a bit in this day and age, but the point is that I’m pretty happy right now, enjoying running on fumes, and it feels like I’m on the right track for keeping up this optimism. And I’m going to need it.

I’m not going to say that I’ll finish this proposal tonight, because that’s not the point anymore. The point is to do it. ‘It’ being ‘Writing This Book’. And that’ll take however long it takes. The point is not to put a deadline on it, not until a publisher tells me I have to, and that ain’t now.

The point is to get it done. Whatever way I have to, however long it takes, to get it done. And that’s what today’s serendipitous optimism has gifted me with.

I’ll be quite grateful to accept it.

And also to get some freaking sleep tonight.

Steeling

I saw man of Steel the other night (no spoilers, don’t worry), and other than the fact that it felt like it wanted to be a videogame instead of a film, the biggest disappointment was how much I liked the character of Superman (to my immeasurable surprise), and how much the film was nowhere near as interested as I was in having him be the absolute centre of attention.

Part of it was to do with pacing; it seemed like it was trying not to be an origin story, which is fair enough, because origin stories can be pretty dull, but the fact is that it was an origin story, and trying to be something it wasn’t ended up making it feel really rough. Looking back on it now, I would say that all of the pieces were there for a really fantastic, character-driven Superman story, but arranged in the wrong order, with the focus going elsewhere a lot of the time and thus undermining this one really stellar aspect of it, the one I most wanted to work and was afraid it wouldn’t – and it didn’t, and it most certainly could have; it could have been the thing that drove the whole film, and instead merely ended up as the thing that should have driven the whole film. Maybe the creators got scared because it’s Superman; maybe the production was troubled, maybe Zack Snyder just shouldn’t have directed (for my money, I’d say the first and third are most likely). But whatever the case, it felt like a pretty fantastic first draft, and it should have gone back for editing.

I’ve been facing the same issue tonight in terms of pacing, writing up that proposal for draft 2 only using what I’ve already written to try and create a coherent narrative. I thought I had the right idea, but upon close inspection (and wanting to do as good a job as I can, restricted as I am by the limitations of only being able to use material I’ve already written to fill in any gaps that might open up) I realised that, actually, something else seemed much more intuitive, but there were so many options for how it could go that I ended up creating a whole new Word document just to work it out. It’s been rewarding, but also difficult, to the point where I gave up about three hours ago and started looking for pictures of actors who I think look somewhat like my characters, just to have references, and also to procrastinate. I have to say, Robin Wright and Evan Rachel Wood go really well together as a mother/daughter pair, which I felt very validated to discover indeed. I think I’ll send them the script tomorrow.

Speaking of which, whenever I imagine actors playing the characters in any of my books, I start to think more critically about the dialogue, the interactions, the dynamics at play. This is because I tend to cast actors who I really admire, and also, as an actor, and as a film-goer who has seen far too many really talented actors (particularly actresses) stuck in roles that don’t challenge them in any regard whatsoever drives me insane, and I start feeling that if I were to turn Tallulah into a script, there might be a real danger of that happening, which I would never be able to forgive myself for. And yes, this is an utterly ridiculous thing to get worked-up over, but aside from the consequences of my over-active imagination, it’s quite a good mental exercise in terms of looking at how the dialogue and character interactions work, because giving them to good actors makes me want it to be better. Getting far too upset about it is just because I’m a neurotic freak; that part’s optional.

I mean not for me, but for normal people.

So yeah, it’s been a pretty lax day. And I think that’s okay. I think I’m still recovering from the intensity of last week’s three-day readthrough, the high from which I am missing now, but I’m glad it happened. It was a galvanising moment that did its job and has had a lasting effect; that overarching sense of the draft’s continuity has remained, so that’s good, and what I did manage to write tonight was very generative. It’s presented new problems to be tackled, and I’m tackling them – it’s just taking longer than I’d anticipated. But it always does, when you have absolutely no clue how to do what you’re trying to do. And that’s fine. That’s part of the fun of self-directed learning.

University stuff is pretty much all done, just gotta work out whether I apply for a student allowance, be accepted into the programme I applied for and talk to the graduate adviser, and then in four weeks I’m going back to grown-up school. I’m going to try and make the most of it. I’m going to approach it as though I’m never going to study again, which, to be honest, is almost certainly the case. I want to look back on this in ten years’ time and feel like I pushed myself as hard as I could. And given that I’ll be studying full-time, writing a novel and quite possibly going back to the gym, if I do push as hard as I can, the results should be pretty fantastic.

Though at the same time, I don’t want to make impossible goals for myself. And I haven’t even been accepted back yet. So we’ll see how it goes. But I am looking forward to it. Plus I’ll actually have money to be able to go do stuff, which is pretty nice to have.

And even though it’s going slower than I’d like, this thing is getting written, and that’s all that matters. I’m counting it as having been a year since I started writing; it’s certainly a year since I started writing in earnest, and it is that sense of earnestness that has come to define my experience of writing Tallulah. I aim to keep it up.

 

Throwaway Lines

After reading this post about childhood inspiration on Shannon A. Thompson’s blog, it got me to thinking about one of the earliest Rules of Writing I ever learnt, from my dad: Never Delete Anything.

When I was 13, I was obsessed with Dragon Ball Z. I also drew quite a lot more, and as I was not particularly confident about drawing people that looked like, well, people (or at least how I wanted them to look, and no, I’m not any more confident 13 years later), I drew animal-people instead. A bunch of those drawings turned into characters, and before I knew it I had come up with my first ‘official’ book idea: Animorians (C), genetically-modified super-soldiers with Ki powers, made from a combination of human and animal DNA, created by Monsanto to wipe out all opposition to genetic engineering and copyrighting DNA sequences. Naturally, as these things go, the super-soldiers turned on their cruel human overlords, and after the Animorians (C) collectively took up martial arts in order to curb their natural super-aggression, balance was restored to the galaxy (well, three galaxies, but same dif). And the actual story takes place a few thousand years after humanity is extinct. I guess I was a bit of a misanthrope in my youth.

I wrote that book a LOT. I had tried writing a book a few months prior to that named, for maximum originality, The Dragon Sword (guess what that was about), but it just didn’t get me going in the same way that my martial arts-practicing warrior race of adorable yet deadly, Disney-esque anthropomorphic animal/human hybrid creatures did. This book kept me going for like a year, and during that time I actually managed to write about a hundred pages of story. I was flying through it; I was about three-thirds of the way through the story and getting really jazzed about how things were turning out when I realised, to my dismay, that something I had written about eleven chapters ago didn’t quite sit right with me.

To this day I cannot quite remember what exactly went through my 13-year-old mind, how exactly I arrived at the conclusion that I did. I do remember thinking: ‘Well, I’ve done so well already and I’m on such a roll, I can’t possibly run out of momentum’. Perhaps that was enough.

Because I proceeded to delete everything I’d written back to – and including – the offending chapter, planning to just write it all again. With the appropriate edits, of course.

And, much to my surprise, I just didn’t really feel it when I tried to write it all down again. I started to realise that I was, shockingly, not enjoying writing the exact same stuff that I’d already spent a year writing, and eventually I petered out altogether.

I did write other drafts of that story, none of which I completed, but I did get up to around chapter 8 (which looked very different to the one I deleted), and those newly-written chapters, in which I spent no insignificant effort trying to recapture the original magic of what I’d so casually destroyed, I kept. Because that massive mistake, plus some sage words from my father, hit home to me the importance of always keeping your work available for reference. (As well as just saving you a LOT of time. And I do intend to finish this story one day. Probably with drawings.)

Our old work may embarrass us. Heck, our current work may embarrass us. (And now I have lived to see the day when I used the word ‘heck’ unironically. I feel so unclean.) But to throw it away is to forgo what it can teach us, even if we think we already know what we can learn from it, and that there’s nothing more to be gained.

Because our old work is not just our opinion of it. Our old work is also the opinions that we had while we wrote it, a record of where we were when it was relevant, and sometimes that’s a window into a relevance that, as we move on, we may want to find a way to open again, because we’ve lost sight of it as we chase after new horizons. Which is part of growing, and is a very good thing. But being able to look back on old things with new eyes, being able to capture perspective – I mean that’s what writers live for. We wish we could sit in on other people’s brains and see how they tick, yet sometimes forget that we, ourselves, have brains as well, and that sometimes we’re closed-off even to ourselves.

My next novel after I finish Tallulah is about a couple of 12-year-old kids, and I have absolutely no clue how to write a convincing 12-year-old kid (also, one of them is a girl, which is even more out of my jurisdiction). If I had some of my writing saved from when I was around that age, it would at least be a start.

But that’s not all. Old work can also give us new ideas; we often see things differently to how we did when we originally wrote them if we go back to revisit them, and it can often be just the brainwave we need, the forced perspective that suddenly clicks something into place that was just a little off. And, of course, it can sometimes reminds us of really cool, ambitious things we once tried, and now need a little shove to try again. Things we regretted never finishing.

And sometimes, we can actually return, if only temporarily, to the mindset we were in when we wrote it, and see our old work in all its relevance, be transported as if nothing had ever changed.

That last one has a very obvious double-edged quality to it, of course, and a lot of my old work – though newer than Animorians – has pulled me back into some very dark, anxious places. But I saw The Great Gatsby today, which is a divisive film from what I hear, and I really quite liked it. I haven’t read the book, and I’m open to the possibility that this may have had something to do with just how much I enjoyed the film, but the thing is that while, yes, Baz did get hip-hop in our 1920’s nostalgia (not to mention filming it in colour, how inauthentic can you get), it emphasised the things that he was trying to emphasise – the glamour, the swagger, the bravado of the era, and the emptiness of it all, the hollowness inherent in boasts of Greatness, how fickle it all is – and how that relates to our situation now, still recovering from the economic crisis. A lot of the songs featured were covers or used samples from old songs, remixing and re-envisioning Old Classics, and while some may not like the ‘update’ – and I certainly won’t begrudge them for that – the fact is that we can’t go back anyway. There is no way to be truly ‘authentic’ to that time, because that time has passed, and the only kind of ‘return’ we will ever have access to is a calculated re-imagining, never quite the same, because of the intent behind it – and, when taken to extremes, that kind of denial leads to shallowness of meaning and toxic stagnation. Which is kind of the point of the story.

And makes for bad art.

This film took something old and beloved and turned it into something both new and old, a forward-looking throwback. It’s like taking that old idea for a story that once upon a time meant so much to you, and not being quite able to remember why, but finding something in it that does still speak to you, and running with that, to tell the story that you, now, need to tell.

And seriously I’m not trying to bash on people who didn’t like the film, for whatever reason. There’s no accounting for taste; it’s not something anybody should have to be held accountable for, unless they use it to justify hurting other people or something. I defend this film and the artistic choices Baz made as a director, but I’m not saying that this film was a brilliant piece of art that will or should be remembered for all time – I very much enjoyed it, but other than Leo continuing his return to form and how surprisingly nice it was to see Tobey Maguire again after Emo Spiderman, a few very nice visuals and the inspired soundtrack, this film didn’t feel like anything particularly significant to me as a whole. Also, postmodernity is the biggest fad I’ve ever heard of; I got thoroughly sick of it after a year of studying Arts, and much as I often enjoy Baz’s employment of it (this film being no exception), I’ll be glad when it’s over. But for now, right now, I think it fits. Things get dated, from art to opinions. It’s a sign that we’ve moved on. And we can’t help moving on.

And that’s a good thing.

Speaking of which, I’m going to finally see Man of Steel tonight, because living in New Zealand means that Gastby hasn’t even been out a month in cinemas here, so at least MoS was a little more punctual. Still, for a dude who can fly so fast he can turn back time, I’m a little disappointed. And while I appreciate the ‘grittier’, more ‘realistic’ feel they seem to be going for with this version of Superman, because the main reason I don’t like Superman is because he’s so unrelatable, I can’t help but be wary of the possibility that they’ve brought him too down-to-Earth. He is Superman, after all. He’s not meant to be one of us.

Old work can never be new. But it can still hold something that remains relevant to us, the ones who did that work when it meant something different to us.

And that kind relevance is always worth keeping.

Pacing

Well, here I am again, having spent the whole day up to this point (the ‘day’ starting for me at around 3pm, ugh) not doing any work on Tallulah. So let’s fix that.

Now, I know what I have to do, and I was going to write about it and repeat myself all over again like I’ve been doing for the past week or so, talking about all of these things I’m going to do, but instead I’ll save you all the time and just inform you that I worked it out:

  • My deadline to finish the Tallulah Triumvirate – write a ‘what I’ve got’ proposal for draft 2 tonight, then write a list of all the things I want to have happen in the story without worrying about how, and finally to re-read and make new notes on beta reader feedback – is the 3rd of July, which is when I’m seeing the graduate adviser at uni to discuss study things.
  • Then after that, I’ll have – in theory – the three pieces of the Triforce necessary to awaken the Seven Sages, who will grant me the magic meter necessary to draft Proper Proposals for draft 2 from the 3rd of July, and once semester begins – on the 22nd – draft 2, the actual writing of, will commence.

And that’s the plan. That’s the whole plan. It’s done. It’s set. It’s official. The loop has been skipped over.

Now to talk about Writing.

~~~

Writing those two scenes out of my head the other night gave me an exciting and dangerous new idea, which is to just do more of that instead of writing the ‘what I want’ list. Exciting because it felt SO GOOD to write new stuff, dangerous because, well, it felt so good to write new stuff, and it could easily end up derailing me. So perhaps I can pick scenes to write from the list of stuff that I want to include in the story – or, to be more accurate, stuff that I like the idea of including in the story. That way I need to write the list regardless of whether I write the scenes, and if I do want to write scenes, I am allowed to – once the list is done, or at least while it’s getting done.

And again, I’m not going to worry about how it might or might not actually work; I’m just going to get it all out of my head so that I can process it better, as is my general drafting strategy, and it’s worked pretty well thus far.

What I noticed, though, while trying to write my draft 2 proposal, was just how much of this new stuff was creeping its way in, and that’s part of the reason why I stopped; it felt gunky and messy, and I didn’t want to continue with something that had been, for lack of a better word, corrupted. I lost focus and got distracted, as I did when I started writing chapter summaries. The past two days, while I didn’t get a whole lot done, I did at least spend detoxifying my workspace (read: brain), and that was worth the halt in productivity – although I’d say getting your workplace in order if it gets messed up is productive.

And part of the reason for this new stuff creeping in was an issue of pacing.

Just restricting myself to writing up a proposal for draft 2 based on what I’ve got to work with, without adding in anything new, means that I can see where all the gaps are that need to be filled. That was the original plan, but the more I started investing thought into these exciting new possible things to happen in the next draft, the more I lost sight of that original goal, hence the ‘corruption’. Makes sense, right?

In other words, what I was trying to do was make this proposal make sense in terms of pacing, and how it flowed. Which is, like, fair enough. At this point I was thinking of this as being the be-all and end-all of my draft 2 proposal, because I had tunnel-vision, so the whole thing about leaving in the gaps to see where they needed to be filled up was totally disregarded – until today, when I looked it over again, and realised that I’d done it.

It wasn’t unintentional, either; I remember thinking ‘well something needs to happen here‘ and then putting in an idea for a new scene to act as a bridge, and that’s the point that I do want to get to – after I’ve written the Bad Continuity version. And the list of all the new things that I think are really shiny and awesome, most of which will probably not make the cut. But you never know what you’ll need until you don’t have it. Or something like that. Actually that’s very fatalistic; let’s not go with that.

The urge to make things look right on the page is really not something I can ever hope to get away from – and I don’t want to. At some point down the road, I’m going to be completely relying on exactly that urge; it’s just a matter now of learning a bit of impulse-control. And making notes for this ‘indecent proposal’ (references to movies I haven’t seen used as puns for the win) as to where the gaps are and how much they annoy me, because coping  mechanisms are important.

It feels really, really unintuitive, even thinking about doing things this way. But I think it will be useful to do. The operative word here being ‘think’, but still, I at least know the theory behind why I’m doing it, and the theory seems sound enough to me. It’s just getting it done that’s always the hard part.

But also the fun part. Important to remember. Writing is, in fact, fun for writers. Who knew.

101

Wow, it’s been 101 posts already … I mean yeah, I’ve had this blog for about eight months now, but still, it seems like a much shorter time than that.

Guess I should celebrate in some way …

Well, being a writer, and this being a blog where I write about writing, I may as well celebrate by doing just that.

I started this blog as a way to detoxify from my Tumblr blog, which was about any old thing and I have basically stopped using, except to reblog gifs and the odd feminist article, and sometimes spew venom over a film I took issue with, or just for the sake of spewing itself, regardless of whether I had a film to aim at or not. This blog I wanted to be something a little more disciplined and, well, mature – something to actually consider while writing for it, rather than just dumping kneejerk responses in word-form. Hence the no-heavy-expletives rule (which I have broken on a couple of occasions, once without noticing and once while quoting somebody).

But more than that, last year was the year I started feeling like I was taking writing seriously, and while I did write about writing on my Tumblr blog, the fact that it was intermingled with all the other stuff I was writing about made me feel like I wasn’t doing the process justice. Writing means a lot to me; I’ve been ‘doing it’ for half my life at this point, having turned 26 years old last April, and so I felt, after feeling unsatisfied with the space I had given myself to log my experiences as a writer on Tumblr, that it needed its own territory. And so this blog was born.

I have grown to really love this blog, but there are some ares in which I think I could improve. I’ve given more advice than I should have for one thing; this blog was meant to just be a record of my experiences, not a Writing Advice blog – there are lots of good ones, and following some of them is one of the few reasons I still have my Tumblr blog at all, and they don’t say ‘do it this way’, they say ‘try it this way and see how it works for you’, which is exactly the kind of writing advice I think everybody can benefit from, whereas I have, I think, gone a bit more the other way into ‘this is how you do things’ territory, which is just a wee bit hypocritical of me. And yes, learning and feeling validated is part of the writing experience, and I assume any experience that requires the acquiring, application and development of skill is the same, but I know that one of my pet peeves, especially as a writer, is being told what to do, and so I wanted to avoid telling other people what to do just on principle. Hopefully it’s come across as a snapshot of where I was emotionally and mentally at the time of writing rather than actual instruction, because seriously I’m just learning on the fly here; I am possibly an expert, but only at what I do – and I’d say that’s true for everybody. Creative writing is so subjective an enterprise that I feel uncomfortable giving or receiving instruction on how it should be done, because I feel that the term ‘should’ does not apply to begin with, unless it’s that you should do whatever works for you. So that’s probably the most consistent problem I’ve had with the way I run this blog.

Then a couple of weeks ago I made a bigger blunder, which I wrote a post about, involving the issue of gratitude and asking for beta readers. Long story short: if you get beta readers, then regardless of whether you like the feedback or not, even regardless of whether it’s helpful or not, it’s still important to acknowledge and respect the fact that people agreed to spend their free time on reading your writing, so that you could have the opportunity to gauge how a wider audience might react to it, and why. That’s something no writer can do without, if they’re writing for an audience outside of themselves, and it’s not something any writer is owed, either, so gratitude is kind of important.

But other than those two incidents, this blog has been really fulfilling and helpful to maintain, and keeps me centred in a way. During the home stretch of making preliminary notes on my first draft of Tallulah, writing while I read and made those notes got me through the last third of it in under a week when I had been dragging my feet for the last three months and couldn’t think of how to motivate myself. Through that, I got into the habit of writing a post every day, on average, and I don’t know if it’s a result of that or if it’s just coincidence, but I’ve gotten almost as many views on this blog in the past month as in the last three combined, which has been pretty validating.

And it’s also kept me writing. I don’t really consider this blog as ‘writing’, because I tend to reserve that word to mean ‘working on my current WIP’, but that’s a bit unfair, just because it’s inaccurate. I’ve managed to write around about 1k words every day for the past three weeks by maintaining this blog, and that’s pretty amazing to me. Though it has also kept me somewhat on-task with my actual WIP as well, which is enough reason to keep this blog going on its own merit. And of course it’s been a way to help me wrap my head around some thorny situations and get out of my own head so that I could make better decisions than I probably would have without a means to externalise my inner conflicts.

And I’ve also started walking more regularly, and for longer, since I started getting into a more focused, regular writing routine, because I need the exercise just to think clearly; I just got back from an hour and a half walk, and I’m sure it would have been a little shorter if the traffic lights had been a little kinder to pedestrians, but that’s the kind of thing that, before I was in the Writing Zone, I would have made excuses for not having enough time for, funnily enough. Now it’s just something that needs to be done as part of the process, and as one of my goals this year is to lose weight and watch what I’m eating, that’s pretty awesome.

And it all ties back, in some way or another, to this blog. It keeps me going, and it serves as a record of my motivation to keep going. It’s light therapy, a word-per-day quota-filler, and an enlightenment-generator all in one. I wouldn’t have sorted out half the stuff I did in the last week with regards to going back to university if it hadn’t been for proving to myself that I could actually make a plan and follow through with it, while writing a summary of my manuscript. I mean I’m a bit stuck for what to do right now, but I’ve got the tools now to figure it out as well.

And, of course, none of that would mean quite so much if you guys weren’t all following along as well. Not necessarily every day, or for every post, but still, it’s meant a lot, probably more than I realise, to not just be able to write down what’s going on with me and my writing, but to know that other people are interested in knowing, and letting me know that they’re there as well. And better still, I’ve even gotten messages telling me that this blog has actually been helpful to some people, which is exactly what I hoped might happen; it is always very humbling and very validating when that happens, or even when somebody just leaves a like or a comment, and I deeply appreciate it all.

So thank you all for following for this long, and I hope you’ll continue to follow me for the next 101 posts.

Here’s to writing.

Putting it out there

Given that I have had these monumental, potentially world-changing ideas over the past 24  hours regarding my book, and given that they have been distracting me from writing my proposal for draft 2 in the clearest of mindsets, I took it upon myself to write down a couple of scenes that I was toying with the idea of, as I couldn’t find an effective way to set them aside for later.

The first was the one I mentioned in my last post, and it was really helpful, because it externalised my idea and gave it a receptacle to be stored in, ready for access should I need it again in the future – and more importantly, helped me to see some of its limitations. I think that regarding that revelation I had, it could definitely be useful, but most useful in a far smaller capacity than I had thought about using it for. Which is nice, because again, I really am fond of what I’ve come up with.

I also learnt how to light a coal fire while writing it. Being a writer can make you learn things, whether you want to or not.

The second one …

I mean I’m glad that I wrote it. It’s a big dramatic scene, and I’m both a writer and an actor. I love me some drama, is what I’m saying. Also the scene ends with the main ‘actors’ surrounded by a captive audience for the climax of the piece. I guess the iconography of the open stage and an enraptured audience is just very therapeutic for me or something. I would never have it happen that way if I put it into the book.

But it exemplifies one of the core issues with the story right now, and that is that some of the stuff that happens in it, while I really like it, just doesn’t fit with the story. And this scene in particular, because unlike all of the chapters in the draft, it actually could have happened without Tallulah even being there to begin with. So if I ever do decide to use that scene in the final draft, that will have to change, somehow.

And also I ended up writing about things that I just don’t have enough understanding of to write respectfully about, so that will have to be changed as well if I ever consider making this thing canon.

But it was helpful, even if just to get it out of my head so that it wasn’t distracting me from writing my draft 2 proposal. And it helped me realised that my draft 2 proposal was getting away from me, that I was not just introducing new things when I said I wouldn’t, but I was just making really sweeping changes to the stuff that already happens. So tomorrow I’ll go back and make a more conservative proposal, and build up from there until I’ve got something that I like the feel of.

I’ve realised that not only should I use what I’ve already got to plan out draft 2, but that I want to use it, because flawed as it may be, I’m really fond of it. That fondness is going to get me into trouble one day soon, I can feel it, but that’s a bridge I can cross when I get to it. For now, I’ll just try and enjoy the ride. Or something. Some sort of car-related analogy.

Speaking of which, I should probably really get onto getting my full driver’s license. I’ve had a learner’s for four years. I mean I have no occasion to drive anywhere, ever, but one day I probably will.

Aaanyway. Whether or not I ever use these two scenes I wrote today, it felt so good to write something new story-wise after … I don’t even want to think how long. Something new for Tallulah in particular, for what I’m actually working on right now; I have written some other stuff, but not finished it. These two scenes I wrapped up in one sitting, and I’ve clocked about 4k words for the day as a result, as well as gotten my head straight and worked out a plan for writing up proposals for draft 2. So I’m pretty happy with that.

Tomorrow I may also write that list of things I want to happen in the story, just to get that out of my system as well. And then build from the ground-up, and go slowly, make sure I’m placing all of my bricks correctly and that I’ve got a matching number of nuts and bolts and whatnot.

Yes, I’m going to build a cabinet tomorrow. I look forward to having nowhere in my room, or even the house, to put it. The writing can wait until this highly essential task is complete.

Man, I may have woken up at 3:30pm today (which is very, very sad), but I obviously need to go to sleep. That last scene I wrote was really heavy, though, so I’ll try and do something light to counter it before I let myself go into the vulnerable and emotionally-charged sleep-zone.

Solving writing problems with writing is pretty cool.

Running on cold feet

I didn’t get much sleep last night, and for the first time in a while, it was because I couldn’t stop thinking of my book, and what it could be, but isn’t right now.

The odd thing – and I think it’s a good thing, too – about this experience was that, unlike with any of my other stories, thinking of how it could be different was not just a flight of fancy with no consequences; it felt like a serious dilemma, a choice that I had to make before I could commit to continuing this novel. (Which isn’t that odd when I think about it now, because unlike all of my other stories, I’m actually in the process of writing this one, so there are consequences to my decisions. But whatever.)

Granted, it was about 5am at this point, and the stuff you think is important at 5am while you’re failing to sleep is perhaps not the best guideline for distinguishing what actually is important to focus on, but at the time it felt like a fair portion of the world’s fate rested on this decision. It wasn’t a change in terms of what happens in the story, but it changed the meaning behind it, and that, of course, changes everything else as well.

I like the exploration that this new option offered me. It came from just thinking of a scene in the story and how I might want to film it, if I ever got the opportunity, and suddenly a little bit of Japanese horror film editing crept its way in there – that stop-motion, slight fast-forward trick that they do for the creepy ghost people every now and then. It was just for one or two quick shots, just to establish a mood and confined to that one scene, but it immediately sent a shock wave throughout the neural territory that Tallulah occupies in my head, and suddenly I was transported into an alternate dimension for my story, in which certain core concepts had been altered and the entire tone of the story altered with it, and it was fascinating, and quite inspiring.

Here’s the thing, though, the thing that really made me take it seriously: the current tone and conceptual backbone of Tallulah is quite markedly different from what I’d originally wanted to go with. I couldn’t think of how to do it the way I wanted to at the time; it seemed like I was stuck with a choice between two extremes, and so I just sort of wrote and let what happened happen. And I’m cool with that. That’s drafting. That’s getting ideas out there.

But now I have this new idea that helps me with something old, something that I left behind, and it feels like if I don’t at least give it a shot and try to make it work, I’ll be giving up on what could be a really fantastic story, and one that is truer to my original vision. And so far, going back to the roots of this story has only brought good things.

However, the other thing is that the current story that I’ve got – that’s good, too. I like it. I like the way that it turned out. Obviously there is a lot of work to be done before I feel like it’s ready to go, issues with consistency and the dramatic rises and falls in the action and tension and whatnot, but the core components and base materials I am very happy with, and am having a really good time with. And what’s more, I’ve enjoyed getting familiar with them. This new idea is new, and while it does harken back to my initial affection and ambition for this project, I honestly think that without the novelty, this wouldn’t be so appealing. And there’s no way I’m going to completely undermine a year and a half’s worth of work now just because I couldn’t get to sleep last night. I can never get to sleep. I suck at sleeping. This is not a new thing, and I know that the mind starts doing weird things when it’s been kept awake for too long.

I’m going to continue tweaking what I’ve got before I start adding in anything new, as I planned, and this whole 5am epiphany thing is going to get its own Word document so that I can have it on record, and out of my head. I do feel like it could actually solve a few of the issues I’ve been having with the more mechanical aspects of the world I’ve built for Tallulah, and again, takes it back to its roots and gives one of the more difficult concepts I wrestled with a new lease on life. So while I’m not going to implement it until it becomes the only option that seems right for the story, I’m not going to totally disregard it either.

It did make me think of something, though, and that’s the part that world-building plays in influencing the way in which I invest myself in a story when I read books, or watch films, and is the dilemma that I now face with Tallulah.

Taking Harry Potter as an example, just to beat a dead and already so beaten it’s little more than meat-sludge and bone-juice by now horse, part of the reason I got so invested with it was because there was a clear system in place for how things worked. You’re either a Muggle or a Witch/Wizard, you get a wand, you get Sorted into a house, you learn X subjects which neatly categorise the different ways in which magic can be learnt and applied – its mechanics are open and available for the reader to imagine themselves interacting with. It is about as interactive as a book gets, really, without going into Choose Your Own Adventure books, and it works to invest the reader because it has built a playground for them to run themselves through in their imagination, something with solid rules that they can rely on – boundaries foster creativity. I also assume it’s a really big part of why there’s so much HP fanfiction; yes there are obviously the characters that readers want to spend more time with, but there’s also the Wizarding World, and the transparency of the inner workings of that world, which is absolutely an integral part of how the story is told, invites people to craft their own ideas that fit in with that system, to reward their learning and understanding of it and apply it. It’s the same reason I think so many people like the idea of Rules of Writing – just the idea of Rules in general. It makes things transparent, and it allows you to invest yourself safely, to be a part of it, to be included, to get with the system. It is actually a whole lot like playing a videogame. And the approach, as far as I’m concerned, also makes the most sense for a series, rather than just a one-off story.

This kind of story, however, stakes a lot of its success on that system that it exposes and invites people to invest themselves in. If it doesn’t stand out enough, if it’s not ‘better’ than what else is on offer, if it can’t carve itself out some sort of niche that people are going to look at and take notice of, then the transparency gambit has failed, and that transparency, the repeated mentioning of the Rules and exposures of the System, actually end up hurting the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief, because if they’re not invested in it, then they won’t want to hear about it.

Then there are the stories that don’t even really have a world to hide at all. These are the stories that read almost like watching a puppet-show where you can see the people who are operating them; they are so transparently stories for their own sake that there is nothing to be invested in – other than the story itself. A ‘pure’ story does not present the audience with a point of entry; these stories exist at the same ‘level’ of existence as the audience, and make no attempt to disguise it, and give the audience nothing to go on other than the story itself, the message, the flow, the narrative dips and dives, the ideas transmitted through the telling of it. There is no Second World here, no playground, nothing to self-insert into. The best example I can think of for these kinds of stories would be something really self-aware and postmodern like that film Spring Breakers – or, actually, jokes. Why did the chicken cross the road? Nobody cares anymore at this point, but nobody even asks why there was a chicken crossing the road to begin with; it’s required for the story, a tool with extrinsic value and nothing more. That’s the only justification needed. And when people don’t ask the question, that’s when these kinds of stories work – and also the point upon which they risk everything.

And then there are the story-worlds that do present a set of mechanics, that do offer an internal logic and system of operations that feels like world-building, but then keep those mechanics secret; they don’t flaunt their systems to the audience because that’s not where they’re staking their success, because they are not exercises in world-building, but in world-hiding. The best example I can think of off the top of my head is Silas from The Graveyard Book. Neil (who I am, of course, totally on a first-name basis with) has confirmed that Silas is, in fact, a vampire – but we don’t need to know that in order to ‘get’ him, or to invest in him. It is, in fact, the fact that he’s so opaque when the rest of the characters are more transparent (ghost puns ftw) that helps to make him stand out so much by comparison. He is not really a vampire, not in any consequential way regarding what defines him; he’s Silas. And that’s actually really good for a vampire, because it is that air of mystery, of the uncanny, and of singularity, that gives vampires their cultural capital.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing to invest in – it’s just that now, instead of a playground, you’ve got an unopened package with no markings on it. You can see its shape, you can feel its weight, perhaps hear tantalising mystery sounds from within that seem to give it away, but you can never be sure. Opacity can be just as fulfilling to invest in as transparency; it’s not the same kind of investment, because it’s not ‘safe’ to imagine yourself into that world, but instead you now have the opportunity to let your speculative imagination run wild, and the question, rather than the answer, becomes the point of entry into the story. And if it’s done right, then getting an answer, discovering that Silas is a vampire, can actually be downright disappointing, because then suddenly the system has been revealed, lumped into a category that everybody already knows and has expectations of and standards for, and it ceases to be its own thing – unless, of course, it’s a strong enough story/world/character to stand out even amongst the other members of that category. I’m not saying that Silas is such a character, but I’m not saying he isn’t, either. I’m saying that he represents the effectiveness – and the appeal – of world-hiding: mystery, and originality. These kinds of stories are, to my mind, more suited to one-offs as well, because they feel so internal, so self-contained, and, when done right, so distinctive as to be incomparable.

So last night’s lightbulb-flash has now set up a struggle between all three of these types of stories regarding world-building for me with Tallulah. They’re different kinds of stories, and they have different pros and cons, and I like them all for different reasons. It’s not like I have to make a decision, however it felt like I did last night – I just have the idea now, one that I didn’t before, and it’s opened up a new opportunity for me to look into, at some point. Or not at all. Or right away.

However, I’m still looking into planning restructuring for draft 2, and it hasn’t involved this new development yet, and again, I want to hold off on adding in new stuff until it becomes apparent that the story needs it. So until that happens – if it ever does – I’m sticking to what I’ve got, because it works fine, and I like it fine. More than fine, in fact. You stick with something long enough, it becomes part of you. Sometimes that’s not healthy, like with toxic relationships or habits, but in this case, as far as I can tell anyway, things are chugging along very smoothly. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But it’s good to be able to, just in case.

Building Blocks

Got some more university preparation stuff dealt with today, and I’m still behind on what I wanted to be doing with draft 2 preparation. But that’s okay – I’m just going to go with what worked when I got stuck last time, and do what feels good.

Currently what feels good is to actually just go ahead with making a list of all the changes I want to implement. I think I’ve left myself enough notes to work with, and there’s already a document made for a section of chapters within which I know I want changes to be made. I really do actually want to go back and read the draft again, just to get that feeling of clarity back, but I doubt it would work the same way twice. And even if it did, I think I can remember enough to at least make a list and then compare my changes against the summary I made to see if my ideas all add up.

I just really want to get on with it. I want draft 2 to get underway, and I want it to get underway as soon as possible. Part of that is just because I feel moved to make a list of the changes I’m thinking of, but the other is because I want to have a solid plan for draft 2 before university starts, so that I have as little of an excuse as possible to not follow through with it. I want a schedule. I’ve worked out a bunch of potential timetables for study already, so I want to fit in this draft into that timetable as well. I’m predicting that, assuming I get in, I’ll be more or less living at university for the next year, at least. Who knows what’s going to happen with my writing if I decide to go into postgrad, but one thing at a time. The point is that I don’t want this novel to be washed away by the deluge of tertiary study like my last one was, so the sooner I can get in a solid, cohesive plan mapped-out, the more likely it seems to me that I’ll actually stick to it, because it’ll feel like something I can realistically achieve. That’s the plan anyway.

I will still probably make a master list – more of a summary, but with the same function in mind – of beta feedback, just so that the main critiques are all in one place; I think the best way to do it is actually to just list all the things that more than one person noticed, and where there was a clear consensus in terms of a reaction. But for this part, the structuring, I already know what all of my issues with it are, and as I didn’t ask for any structural feedback I may as well get on with it, and strike while the iron is hot. I may as well use this motivation for what I feel motivated to do.

But I’m definitely going to at least look at the beta feedback before I get started actually writing draft 2, because I felt like I really benefited from the outside feedback the first time around, and if I can have such a different reaction to reading my own manuscript a second time, I assume it’ll be potentially just as enlightening to revisit beta feedback as well. And I should just read it a second time on principle anyway, and note down the main things most people noticed.

Reading over my summary notes right now, I’m just not quit sure how to use them – it’s useful, but I’m not sure in quite what capacity. Probably just to keep me honest while I go nuts with making revisions, and specifically to remind me of what happens in which chapters – I definitely liked splitting the story into clusters of chapters, as it was very useful (though I might just have gotten luck with a particular set of chapters that made sense to have clustered together) – but I think it’ll be most useful once I actually get started making a list of the changes that I’m thinking of making.

So I guess I’ll do that.

Keep it simple

Ah well, I guess I was due for a slip-up. No work done today – not draft-work anyway. I did sort out some adult stuff. Ish. As in looking up tax codes and other interesting things of a similar nature. Tomorrow gonna find out the student loan things I need to find out in order to plan for a future in academic study, apply for this really easy-looking job that requires only manual labour for a few hours every few days per week that I am probably ridiculously overqualified for but that might actually hurt my chances of getting it but hey won’t know until you try right, and yes, look back over the beta feedback again and work out how I want to collate that information while I look back over it. It’s all been given to me in different formats and styles, some easier to summarise and put into list form than others, so this is going to require a little more shifting of gears than the draft read-through I just did, more of an obstacle course than a marathon. Though in keeping with that analogy, it should also not take quite so long.

Something kind of nice that I realised while reading through my draft this second time is that I realised that the story – and indeed all of my stories – are pretty simple and straightforward. That’s not saying that the plot is simple and straightforward; it’s to say that the core idea that drives the plot is really easy to get a handle on, and then the rest is presentation. Which matters, obviously. But it’s just kind of a relief to get to this point. I think it’s just that, particularly with ROTM, which I might possibly be resurrecting just because of this revelation, I’ve had a habit of getting caught up in the little details – just as I did with those synopses of Tallulah – and ended up losing sight of the bigger picture, which, ironically enough, is actually not that big at all. The things that drive me to want to tell the stories that I want to tell are almost always pretty small, really basic concepts that don’t require a whole lot of complexity to explore, and then running with it and seeing just how far I can take it is where the fun comes in – it’s just that now I have an increased capacity to remain focused on that initial driving concept and not get bogged-down in the little details. I get excited by simple concepts presented richly when it comes to stories; I’m fine with stories that are more or less just a platform for presenting some kind of mind-bending philosophical query, and I can appreciate stories that are more plot-driven than anything and are almost nothing but the details in terms of substance, just for the effort that goes into making them, but that’s definitely not my jam, so to speak. I think it’s why I like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings so much, why texts like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Old Kingdom Trilogy and Cowboy Bebop really do it for me – any story where I don’t have to think very hard to ‘get’ it, but I do still have to use my brain to engage with the ways in which it’s presented, is what really excites me, both as a writer and a reader. And that’s really become clear to me since re-reading Tallulah over the course of a mere three days.

I mean it could just be that, because I was reading so fast, I had to focus on big-picture stuff and I got a real sense of the core themes as a result (which also means I managed to at least somewhat present that core concept throughout the draft, so that’s pretty heartening as well), and thus sacrificed a broader engagement with the ideas presented in the manuscript – but even if that’s the case, it’s still a welcome change of pace, new territory for me. I feel that this year – particularly the past week – has been another good one for learning and growing as a writer, and that influences all the other spheres of my life as well. I’m liking the new perspective, and I really want to take it for a spin, go back and revisit some of my older works (especially the ones that I’ve written a decent amount of in story form, such as the two other first drafts I’ve written of stories), and see what I can glean from the experience through this new filter.

Basically I just feel like Doing Stuff. And I haven’t felt like that in a long time. So yeah. Things are looking good.

And this draft is one of them, not to mention the source of all of this newfound good-feeling-ness, so I’d better keep up the love on that front.