Running up that hill

What little I know of Kate Bush is that she is a very talented woman – the constant comparisons to Tori Amos don’t make any sense to me, but whatevs. This is kind of beside the point, but the fact that she sings a song about running up a hill is rather important to me tonight, because essentially that’s what today has felt like.

I had Ideas about What I would Do today, and none of them came to fruition. It’s because they weren’t plans. It’s because I just sort of thought ‘well I have like 12 hours to play with, surely I can make myself use some portion of that to further my goals’. Mostly, though, it’s because I didn’t want to do it.

It’s not that simple, though. The more time spent not doing it was time spent wishing that I was doing it. But I am still actually not sure what ‘it’ is, nor how to measure it, what kind of units to break this task down into, how to tell when something has been accomplished with my time spent doing ‘it’ …

It’s work. And it’s not just task-oriented; it’s operationally-oriented. I can do tasks fine. Activities, even. I can do a mean activity. Operations, on the other hand, the big sequences of tasks and activites that are bundled together in an order of due process in order to reach a certain goal – a goal that, for whatever reason, every fibre of my being screams at me ‘oh HELL no’ in response to – that’s like Kryptonite to the Superman of my motivation. I don’t know why I don’t want to ‘do it’, but I sure don’t. That I know with resounding clarity.

And it feels, exactly, like being back at university, and putting off that assignment, just one more day, just one more day isn’t going to hurt, blah blah blah …

It’s no good saying I’ll do it tomorrow. Today was tomorrow yesterday. Things are still not done. Tomorrow means nothing.

So. Analysis time.

Last night, after I wrote my post, I thought to myself: ‘Well, tomorrow I’ll Find My Voice and then Do Some Planning, and I have plenty of time to do it in’. Today, I didn’t know what to turn that into; there was no intuitive process of ‘breaking it down’ that I could think of, and so I ended up playing computer games instead. So obviously, somehow, I need to take this very broad generalisation that I’ve given myself by way of a ‘plan’ and find some way to translate it into a series of clear-cut micro-tasks, something more tangible and coherent, something that I don’t have to think about while I’m doing it.

So the first question is: What Am I Doing?

  • I am taking my existing manuscript, looking at how the series of events currently plays out, comparing it to what I want to happen in my head, and then making as many alterations – not changes – to the existing structure as I can in order to meet up with what I wanted to happen in my mind, relying on what’s already there instead of an overhaul.
  • Writing a synopsis of what I want to happen in the story – only what I know I want to happen and not trying to tie up loose ends yet – could help me to clarify that and hold that image, and help me to find the Voice of the story. I already have a synopsis or two floating around somewhere, so I could use those as a template, but I’ll probably want to write a new one. At least one new one.
  • The story is divided into chapters already, and each chapter is at least somewhat episodic in nature. That means that each chapter is sort of like a mini-story in and of itself. And I have made notes on every chapter, including an endnote for each chapter that summarises what the chapter ‘does’ in its current state and my thoughts on how it contributes to the overall story, both in terms of what happens and in terms of when it is happening. This is a good starting-point, because it is (fairly) succinct and clear analysis of the kind that I am looking for in terms of what I want to move around and where I want it moved to, and why.
  • I also have a document with chapter-by-chapter summaries that I wrote after finishing each chapter (slightly idealised to reflect what I imagined the chapter to be more than what it actually was, so I don’t know how useful that is, but it’s worth looking into).

All right. So, I have notes for each chapter, a synposis (or more) for an overview of what I want to happen in the story, and chapter summaries.

My idea right now is, using my existing manuscript as the basis, write a synopsis of what happens. Then I want to compare what happens to my old synopsis (if it’s in good working order) of what I wanted to happen, and see where the disparities are, and if there are any solutions that currently exist within the synopsis of what happens that I can use to make it more like what I want to happen.

So essentially, my first task is to do some comparative research and analysis on two synopses.

I can do that. I can do the hell out of that.

And how will I measure my progress? Well, the first thing to do, I think, is to write my new synopsis, the one that represents the entirety of the current manuscript. This means, at the very least, going back through the endnotes and seeing what my thoughts were. But it might actually end up mean reading the manuscript all over again. And since I just did that, and it took like three months, and I’m looking to start university in less than one (if I do indeed go back), I am not super-psyched about that – so I’ll see how I go on the endnotes.

This synopsis must also be broken down into events. Scenes. Interactions. Whatever – they need to be broken down and unitised so that I can more easily shift them around.

After writing that synopsis, I will go back and find my original synopsis, and then do the whole comparison thing, looking for ways to shift things around in the current manuscript in order to better match my ideal, and also looking at where the gaps in my vision are that can also be filled by what I’ve written.

Here is the issue: I actually don’t think that I have an original synopsis, at least not a ‘clear’ one – if I have a synopsis, then it’s full of attempts to bridge big gaps instead of just being a list of the things that I wanted to happen. So if I don’t have one, and I can’t use that document of summaries of each chapter for whatever reason (though I almost certainly can), I’ll have to write a new one. One that is honestly what I want to happen, and without worrying about how. That’s what the other synopsis is for.

The theory here is that, once both of these synopses are written, I can ‘overlay’ them and all the holes in the first will be filled up by the second and vice versa, and between the two of them I may have the story that I’m looking for.

That’s where I’m starting, anyway. If I knew it would work, I would have done it already. I’m worried that it’ll end up being a huge waste of time. But I need to get moving.

And I also need a next step to look forward to. Because I did actually try writing a synopsis a month or so ago, and it ended up not working out because, again, I jumped the gun and tried to fill in the gaps that I knew were there. I have to include the gaps this time; I have to accept that my vision for what the story should be may well not be complete, and include that incompleteness, because that is part of the vision, and I need to see the whole thing. I need an accurate map, so that I can get to where I want to go safely, and then do the necessary terraforming after the initial area-scan.

So the next step, after writing these synopses, is to take the scenes and shift them around until they feel right. And I have no idea how long that’s going to take, so I’ll just have to mark off whether I’ve done it or not every day, until it’s done. Rather than giving myself a window of time every day, though, I think I’ll give myself a deadline. That way, at the very least, I can get some last-minute adrenalin, because while it was far from ideal, some of my best essays have come from waiting until the last minute (though to be fair, almost all of my essays were written at the last minute anyway, so that’s not saying much).

I give myself until the 17th to get those two synopses written, and until the 22nd to have a synopsis from which to work so that I can get started on draft 2.

And that is something that I don’t know what to do with, but seriously this is good for today, I’ll work that out later, once the work actually starts getting done.

Deadlines and units. And a wall-planner. That’s what I need. I can’t say ‘work from X until Y’, but I can say ‘have work completed by Z’. That works for me. A deadline will help me bypass the ambiguity of how I’m supposed to measure my progress, cognitively if not logistically, and take the pressure off trying to think my way out of it instead of working through it. The logistics are taken care of by unitising, so that I have something tactile and tangible to work with. And the wall-planner is there to provide the only adhesive that can hold this ship together: accountability. This needs to get done. I need to do this. So I need to be accountable for it.

And that, ladies, gentlemen, and everyone else, is how you run uphill.

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