Experiences writing genre

Not that I’ve been doing it lately – super-important procrastination takes priority most of the time – but writing genre for its own sake has been a pretty interesting experience thus far.

I used to write genre, of course, without thinking of it in such overt terms. I knew I was copying from other sources, other types of stories, established formulas that I recognised and knew other people recognised, was relying on being recognisable when I myself used them to tell my stories through.

Then I went to university and got all subversively-inclined, and my love for genre became refined and self-aware, and I told myself that I could only love it as much as I could undermine it, outdo it, turn it against itself and prove how well I could navigate and redeem it from its flaws. Only then would I have earned the right to enjoy genre conventions in any way whatsoever.

And then I saw City of Bones and decided that I was being an elitist stick in the mud, and even if you’re an elite stick in the mud, you’re still a stick in mud, and I think I can do better than that.

I had this idea when I started writing my YA project that it would ‘write itself’ – after all, it’s such an obvious and recognisable formula that I was following, surely no actual effort would be involved, right? I mean all the work had been done for me already!

No, obviously, that’s not how it works. For one – even if you’re following a formula, an established, done-to-death formula, and that’s the mindset you go into the project with, that’s different to understanding how and why the formula works as a whole, as the through-line of a coherent narrative – specifically, your narrative. What is the story you’re intending to use this formula to tell? Does it all work the way you think it does in practice?

For another, this whole idea of being a ‘pantser’ versus being a ‘planner’ – I’m historically a pantser, and as such it is my ‘mode’ to sweep myself up in the writing and get involved in the here and now. Which is great. I like working that way. But then when this mission of ‘writing genre’ comes into play and I remind myself that ‘this is what I’m trying to do’, I start to see how I could be doing it better, even more formulaic, even more generic and conventional. And that’s where I get stuck – not because I don’t like what I’ve got, but because it could be so much more generic, and that’s exactly what I’m going for.

In that sense I’m still kind of playing with the idea of genre, writing with a very keen awareness of what it ‘is’ and how to play it straight. As I write, and reflect upon that writing, I become aware of just how familiar I am with formula. I’m not just talking the Hero’s Journey formula, because that’s incredibly (intentionally) broad – I’m talking the kinds of formulas that stories I enjoy use, the tools that they use to get readers invested in what’s going on. The way a story opens, for instance – when I first decided I was going to write some YA, the idea of finding a way to write a really ‘hooky’ opening appealed to me like nobody’s business, a way to seamlessly integrate the introduction of characters, the setting, the core conflict, and the Cool Stuff (such as magic in Harry Potter, Pokemon in Pokemon, being a vampire in Vampire Academy, which I have now finished and have Thoughts about that I will share at a later date), and an attractive package to put it in and give it that little something extra, make it more than the sum of its parts.

Presentation is kind of everything, if you can assume that what’s being presented is as solid as it should be. Obviously this is not a given, and all the style in the world won’t save a badly-told story (and even parodies have to be told well to work at all), but if we take, for example, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we get a really solid and engaging setup that does all of the things I want to do; and it’s this kind of formula that I’m looking to replicate as well as the broader, generic formulas of plot and structure and whatnot.

But since I’m writing YA, aren’t there tropes from YA that I should be following? Well, sure, but YA crosses over a lot, for me, with Fantasy for instance – there’s lots of Hero’s Journey stuff going on, and lots of Secret World stuff going on, too, so the trajectory is pretty similar. Start off with the Ordinary World (Privet Drive, The Shire), get the Call to Adventure (Hagrid, Gandalf/the Dwarves), and accept it (leaving the Dursleys, taking the Ring to the Prancing Pony), perhaps after refusing it at first (not leaving with the Dwarves), or at least hesitating a little (‘but I’m just Harry!’) – and really, that’s it. That’s all there is in terms of ‘formula’ in the general sense. The formula I’m trying to follow is not only generic, though – it’s text-specific.

And honestly, I can’t think of an example of what I’m actually trying to replicate here. Again, Philosopher’s Stone comes closest – it gets important information out there and introduces characters and basically uses the showing of character dynamics to help tell the reader what the hell is going on, and it does it all through the use of an energetic, over-the-top situation where the elements of the story being told and introduced manifest as a source of tension between the characters. More than the sum of its parts. I’m not sure quite how to deconstruct it down into composite parts for analysis, but that’s the ‘formula’ I’m talking about getting excited to replicate in the Opening Act as it were, that kind of dynamism – finding my own way to make it dynamic and involving so that the necessary technical information gets across smoothly and engagingly.

And that is part of the conventional formula in a sense – not every story does it the same way, or even well, but most at least make the attempt to give the reader something interesting to get them through the first act, where they will be beaten over the head with exposition whether they realise it or not. Something like Star Wars does this very well, but in a different way; the opening of the original Star War doesn’t tell you what’s going on, and that’s what gets you engaged – it shows you what’s going on, and makes you wait for answers. How do you set up a completely alien reality to our own? Just show it in action. And for Star Wars, this works because it doesn’t then cut to our world; the only world we ever get to see is this new strange one, with its own rules and normalcy that we’re going to have to get used to on our own time, and that is engaging.

However, Star Wars does also do a bit of the head-beating in the way that the Force is introduced – Obi-Wan literally just explains what it is, and it doesn’t really feel very significant, taking a back-seat to what he has to say about Luke’s father until later on in the movie, when we get to see a bit of the Force in action. But all things considered, while it introduces the world very well, the Cool Stuff could have been done a bit better.

Even Philosopher’s Stone does it similarly – Harry is told about Hogwarts and magic by … being told about Hogwarts and magic. True, Hagrid does give Dudley a pig tail, and if that had been the end of it until they actually get to Hogwarts, I might have thought it was a bit slicker. It works fine, but I’m keen to do one better, if not two or three.

That’s also why I haven’t been writing much of my YA thing – in fact any of it, not for about a week. This whole ‘writing genre’ thing comes with the pressure to ‘do it right’, and when I can see how to ‘do it right’, in my own sense of the phrase, it feels like I have no excuse to not go back and immediately change it to be ‘right’ before moving on, no excuse to do what I normally do and write the horrible first draft to work over later on. And I mean in principle it works, but in practice I just get all flustered and self-conscious and don’t want to do anything at all, let alone go back and re-write what I’ve just spent hours or even days writing. The stresses of perfectionism aside, that is the other issue with this ‘edit as you go’ approach – if you ‘know better’, then the implication is that you have to do better since you’re aware of it, which, when it comes to the writing process, is utter crap when it comes to the first draft, and also trying to do it is battling with the flipside of totally undermining all the labour you’ve just put into this thing. Which is another reason to just keep going, even if it’s not what you know it could be, even if you’re certain you’re going to go back and change it and undermine it anyway. Giving yourself a buffer of time is just good for sanity.

I shall try a new tactic, and just go back to making notes, but this time these notes will specifically be a summary of the ‘proper’ version of the story as the pieces fall into place while I’m writing the first draft. That way I get to vent my perfectionist tendencies without having to go back and physically rewrite all the stuff I’ve just written. Hopefully it’ll work.

In the meantime, I’ve got three days before my schedule tells me I need to be working on assignments, and in those three days I intend full well to get 50% of Tallulah revision done, and finish the current chapter of my YA WIP, which wraps up the first act. Then I get the most difficult part of any story – the middle – to squirm my way through. We’ll see how well my knowledge of genre tropes serves me then.

And even though I’m writing this post about this book I’m writing while I haven’t actually been writing it, it reminds me that I do actually enjoy writing about writing, rather than just writing about whether I’ve written much lately or not. So I’ll give that a go in earnest, too.

I revised a chapter

It is astonishing, amusing and aggravating to see the extent to which I put the onus for my productivity as a Writer on whether or not I feel like doing it. Today, for instance, I revised chapter 7 of Tallulah. This involved copy-pasting half of what is currently chapter 6 into a new document, saving that document, and … nothing else whatsoever.

And yet I felt the exact same kind of stuffy, claustrophobic hesitation to get it done as I would have felt if I’d required myself to write new stuff. Which, in terms of looking at the work that is to be done, is absolutely ridiculous. It seems beyond irrational to be so reluctant to do something so abysmally simple. I think it might possibly have taken me a full minute to do, and now I’ve got a chapter ‘done’.

Is there something wrong with me?

No, I don’t think so. I think part of what my reluctance to do this revision is tied up in is the fact that it’s so simple, that this isn’t actually the real work – the real work is going to be going over and looking at what I’ve done with these chapters and then seeing what I can do with that as a base.

It’s also the fact that this is a habit more than anything; the ‘I don’t want to’ state of mind is a deeply-ingrained habit of mine, and my theory is that it just happens, my mind just flicks it on like a lazy parent sitting their children in front of the TV (probably an iPad nowadays) as a default setting to conserve energy. It’s not actually that I don’t want to do it; it’s that I’m wired to be reluctant to do anything that I know requires my attention. It’s a physiological operation that my brain carries out automatically.

Alternatively it’s because I’m really unfulfilled in some way that I’m not paying attention to. I should take care of that so that I can write.


There’s the problem.

‘Living life’, as they are wont to say, is important. Our desires, our fears, our anxieties, our wishes – these are all things that demand attention on their own merit, irrespective of anything else. The idea that we, as writers, as artists, as people in general, should be doing things like paying attention to our feelings so that we can ‘get it out of the way’ in order to move on and do the ‘important stuff that needs to be done’ – that’s the problem. That attitude is the problem.

Why not get the really important work that needs to be done out of the way so that we can pay attention to ourselves?

Or – don’t? Just pay attention to ourselves? And maybe not write every single day like some kind of machine?

I think for those of us who are accustomed to not having much of a social life in particular are susceptible to this kind of thinking. We don’t expect much out of ‘the world’, and so we invest ourselves in our ‘thing’ – in my case, writing – to compensate, put all of our eggs in that one for-sure basket. But, as I repeatedly discover, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t make anything better; it’s not a substitute that works, and it makes me resent my writing for not being everything that I want out of life, and it makes me resent myself for not going for those other things that I do want that aren’t ‘to write’. All of these other things that I deny that I want, and so when it gets too much and I don’t want to write, not because I want to no longer be a writer but because I want something other than the same old song every single day, I cling to the insistence that this is all about writing and call it writer’s block, call it me being stubborn or lazy or not committed enough, when it’s actually life-block, when it is me being stubborn, but only because I’m fed up with my own crap and I just don’t want to deal with where that train of thought inevitably leads – that I want to be doing other things, other things that I’m afraid to get wrong, that I think I can only get wrong if I try to do them. It is another habit of mine, another default mode that at least I’m becoming more frequently aware of as I continue to write and continue to update this blog, giving me a chance to reflect upon it.

I wonder how useful this blog is.

I don’t give writing advice – or I try not to anyway – because there are plenty of other writing advice blogs out there already. And lots of them are great, and I follow a few of them. I am operating under the assumption that, by chronicling my thoughts and experiences of Being a Writer, I can at least serve as a cautionary tale, or as a source of subjective evidence for other writers to use in order to get a sense of where they are with their own work, rather than telling people what to do, sort of like having a reviewer that you’re familiar with – if you know their tastes and they say X about a film, then judging based on what you know about them and what they’re like, you can make an informed decision about whether you might go and see that film that goes beyond merely what they’re saying – it’s what they’re saying that gives you the real information.

So I wonder how useful this blog is as a chronicle of lived experience, as a resource for other writers or artists. I wonder what it would be like to go back and read all of my posts, what kind of picture it would paint, whether it’s coherent, what patterns would emerge – what I might learn from it. If I’d be able to identify certain tropes, certain tell-tale signs of when certain things happen and how to predict them, and even how to stop them from happening or re-create their effects.

I wonder if it would help me get past my current roster of habits, to find a break in the cycle and step ashore, and be in a better position to try something new.

I honestly don’t think this can be any sort of publicity platform. I wanted it to be, in a very vague sort of way, kind of how I ‘want’ to be the next American Idol. I don’t really want that. And this blog – this is where I process my process, where I deconstruct my overworked thoughts and assumptions and conflicts and try to get something clear and coherent out of it. And I like it like that. I like that being its function. I’m happy with it not being anything ‘more’.

I guess this is my life-draft.

Ah, the life-draft. I never really did get around to doing that. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Maybe it still is. Maybe I’m in a different place now.

I do think that it’s partly habit that keeps me coming back to this point of not wanting to write. But part of that habit has to do with being afraid to expect very much of the world, to hope for certain things. Things that I’m in a place now where they actually seem to be available, and the ball is in my court as to whether or not I’m going to pursue them and see if anything comes of it. I’m not used to that being the case. If it ever wasn’t the case. I’m used to seeing the world in such a way where it isn’t the case.

Habits die hard. Old or new. Habits die hard because we are made of them. They don’t work in terms of abstract logic; they work in terms of cause-and-effect, by the logic of ‘if something happens often enough, you get used to it’. Right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy – that’s not the kind of logic that habits operate by.

I have a habit of not wanting to do things. Writing is one of them. Taking chances on things I’m excited by the prospect of but afraid of backfiring is another. Sometimes they’re the same thing.

I have to think that somehow, I can use my habits to my advantage, that there’s some way to turn them against themselves, or divert them down a different path, apply them to a different scenario where they’ll actually be helpful and transformative rather than suffocating and restrictive. Which was the point of the life-draft.

I wonder how helpful this post is. To anyone.

Maybe I don’t want to write.

Maybe I want to wonder.

Maybe that’s all it is.

But at the end of the day, I know one thing for certain: I got that chapter revised, even though I didn’t want to, and that means I win.


Electrolux state of mind

After last night’s galvanising soul-searching session, today has been perhaps the most productive and focused day since the end of the mid-semester break. Not only have I gotten uni stuff done, but I want to get more uni stuff done – doing work (work that you enjoy, or enjoy applying yourself to anyway) really does make you feel like you have more time.

And I have three hours free after my final tutorial today, in which I predict I can probably actually finish revising Tallulah. I don’t really know if I can call this a revision though; it’s so scant, literally just chopping up chapters and redistributing the parts throughout the story’s timeline – purely structural. Also whittling down from 28 to 20 chapters, which I already feel is too short, but at the same time, given what I’ve got written, there’s a lot of unnecessary stuff being cut out as well, which is good. And ultimately, if this structure works, I can flesh it out later in the knowledge that I’m working with a solid foundation. And that’s where things can get a bit fun.

It’s kind of changing my idea of what it means to have a ‘style’ of writing – Writing, to be more precise – whether you’re a ‘pantser’ or a ‘planner’ – people who use those terms often acknowledge that they aren’t meant to be taken as literal divisions of style, that there’s a lot of overlap generally with how people do operate, but I feel that I have been firmly situated in the ‘pantser’ camp for pretty much the entirety of my Writing Career, and am now shifting to a more ‘planning’-centric strategy.

Of course that’s partly because I’m working with a written manuscript, which was ‘pantsed’; my YA WIP is kind of a mix of pantsing and planning – ‘plantsing’ perhaps – where, because I’m intentionally going for the most generic formula I can think of to serve as the underlying structure of the story, I’m constantly going back and rewriting things as I go to make them more conventional, and getting more familiar with the conventions I’m playing with as I reflect upon what I’ve spontaneously written, thinking more clearly about what they are and what functions they serve.

I guess it’s all structural for me at this point, in terms of where my focus is, and structure pretty much requires a planned approach, though with Tallulah it’s a retrospective one, going back and excavating structure out of the spontaneous panorama of prose I produced after it was finished, whereas with the YA WIP I’m far more focused on making that manuscript adhere to a generic structure right off the bat.

Which may be because of where I’m at with Tallulah as well – nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Doing my comics course has made me very eager to write my own comics, for instance (write or draw? I guess technically it’s both), and I’m actually thinking very earnestly about how viable an option that would be for me, ascertaining where my skills are at and how much time I want to invest in it; while I was watching The Lizzie Bennet Diaries I was obsessed with the idea of transmedia narrative and really wanted to make a webseries of my own; after I took a sociology course on gender and sexuality (and ever since then) my stories got more and more political and focused around the issue of gender representation in the media. And it’s only really dawning on me now just how richly coloured my storytelling urges have been by the various brushes of my influences.

I mean if I hadn’t taken that gender and sexuality paper, I may never have thought about writing Tallulah at all. The story may never have even occurred to me. If I’d never seen City of Bones, my YA WIP would almost certainly never have existed; if it hadn’t again been for that sociology paper this particular WIP may not have had a female protagonist. I have to wonder in what ways I’ve been narrowed in terms of my scope of interests due to the influences I’ve been exposed to and engaged with. I have to wonder what kind of stories I could be telling, if only I was a little more open to them, a little less clamped-down on the things I’m currently invested in.

That’s the eternal question, I guess – who am I, who could I be, what makes me who I am and keeps me from being who I’m not – that drives speculative fiction (and I would say that all fiction is speculative anyway). If I wasn’t so overtly political about gender politics, what kind of stories would I be telling, or interested in telling, or interested in seeing told? What would my character-creation process be like? What if I’d done a business degree instead of arts? Would I want to write a LoTR homage celebrating the wonders of venture capitalism? If it’s true that all storytellers just tell the same story over and over again, what would my one story be?

And I look back at the stories I’ve told, and the exploration of gender actually has always been a big part of it, even though that exploration took on very different incarnations. But at the same time, there were exceptions, too – storytellers who tell the ‘same story’ over and over may be doing it intentionally, for instance, because they know that it’s expected of them and they want to play with that expectation. I honestly don’t believe that storytellers only ‘have’ one story in them. I think they just find it more lucrative, whether financially or emotionally.

And I mean something like ‘gender’ is probably too broad to be considered a ‘story’ anyway. A theme, certainly, but you can do almost anything with a theme.

Now I’m really tempted to write that LoTR homage about the wonders of venture capitalism, which I don’t believe in. I want to write something that doesn’t seem like me. I guess that was the other thing about Tallulah – I wanted to write it because it seemed like the last story I’d ever try to tell. And now it’s influenced every other story I want to tell, to some degree.

Nothing in a vacuum. I guess that means we’re all really clean.

Or covered with dust. One of the two.

*scream of the primal variety*

I just finished revising chapter 6 of Tallulah and it took like 10 minutes WHY HAVE I NOT JUST BEEN REVISING EVERY SINGLE DAY I WOULD BE FINISHED IN LIKE ONE DAY.

Instead it’s taken me over two weeks to get to this point, but hey, it’s done now, no use crying over spilled milk or wasted time. It does happen anyway, and that’s fine, too. It’s all stuff. Stuff is good.

I almost lifted my no-heavy-expletives rule tonight because I had a lot of tension banked-up from the past few days. That incident on facebook had a much bigger effect on me than I’d thought, so I had to get pretty personal with myself, and at least I can swear in the drafts and it opened it all up and felt so much better. I haven’t been sticking to the revision plan – I know I haven’t really talked about my lack of progress on this blog, but I’m sure you will all be able to handle the shock of this news – and it’s thrown everything else out of whack as well, from my study to my state of mind. But it conflated with the facebook thing and nothing is ever done in a vacuum in life; everything effects everything else. It’s never just any one thing. Well, okay, sometimes it is, like getting hit by a car, but barring that …

Arbitrariness is very powerful. It’s a form of accountability to say: okay, I have until 7pm on weeknights to get all of my study done, and then I can’t do any more studying. It’s arbitrary, and that’s what makes it powerful – it means nothing, so the work that needs to be done within that time has to pick up the meaning-slack, so to speak. And if the work means more, I’m happier to do it.

It also means that I stay focused on Tallulah, and that I maintain an attitude of being able to just let my work stand as it is, however good or not that work may be, and to let it go and move on to the next thing. That is so important to me; I have a history of stressing about things and not ever having a cut-off point for things that I get invested in because I want them to be ‘right’ or ‘enough’ – there isn’t a natural cut-off point for art, for essays, for anything personally expressive (and yes, essays are personally expressive), so you have to have an ‘unnatural’ one – and this way I give myself a bottom-line that is as arbitrary as the need I perceive to make things ‘perfect’. I just do. I crave approval, and we all know people only approve of things that are perfect.

One day. One day I will discover this magical world of Reality that people keep talking about. Sadly my wardrobe is a bit lacking in trans-dimensional ferrying properties. I’ll just wait for the owl.

This revision is just so simple, so slapdash and rough – I like it because it doesn’t feel like a ‘thing’ in its own right, just a stepping-stone to the ‘thing’ I’m working towards with this second draft, which will – hopefully – reveal itself to me when I finish the revision and then go back and read it through. That’s what I’m excited about, and I’m excited because it could happen really, really soon.

And then once I’ve finished this revision, while I can start planning draft 2, I won’t really have time to work on it seriously because of assignments, which means I can shift some of my focus onto the YA thing, which means I could even have that drafted by the end of semester if I stick with it.

Acknowledgement is a powerful ally in life. It gets you going again when you hit a bump in the road and get a bit jilted. We had a couple of filmmakers come in to talk about the process of making films as guest lecturers and, combined with all the other stressors, and the catharsis of swearing, I realised that what I want is to work, really hard. Having to stop at an arbitrary point gives that hard work a funnel to pass through, forces concentration. And forces pragmatism, in the sense that if it’s not done by X time, it’s not done, and there is no more time until the next day or whatever. So I’ve gotta make it count.

I want to make it count. I want to work like I don’t know how to stop.

And rightnow I want to go to sleep, so I think I’ll do that.

A dilemma

I … I just …

I can’t do this genre stuff anymore.

I mean … I want to. I really want to. It’s just so easy, so satisfying, so incredibly lucrative. Obviously not in the financial sense, but in the sense that I just get so much out of it. It’s so comforting. I can feel all of my doubts and fears about writing something ‘good’ ebbing away, as I find more and more that I can write something ‘right’ – structurally, formally, thematically right. All of my political, moral, socially-conscious values go right out the window and I am absorbed into an infinite loop of zealous reproduction of procedure, and something inside me – a kind of stress – dulls and fades.

I have realised that I like the stress.

I have realised that I need the stress.

The stress keeps me sharp. It makes me alert. It keeps me nervous, yes, but about the right stuff – it’s like when Bruce Wayne couldn’t beat Bane in DKR because he had lost his fear, which made him sloppy (though not so sloppy that spending a few weeks doing push-ups in a ridiculously gimmicky prison couldn’t whip him right back into shape again) (also he hadn’t done any Batman-ing for the past eight years and had a trick knee but don’t let’s get bogged down in specifics) – writing this genre stuff is making me so …


Wait, what am I complaining about?

That’s exactly why I wanted to write this thing. I wanted something easy and fun and iterative to sink my teeth into so that I didn’t have to always be so tense and on-edge all the time. Writing Tallulah feels like walking a tightrope while blindfolded; I don’t know how far the drop is, but I know that it’s a hair’s breadth to either side of the sometimes ridiculously narrow path I’m struggling to walk with it. I definitely get far too worried about what people will think of it, whether it’s ‘progressive’ enough, and then that only makes me more nervous when I think about how shallow and calculated it could come off as if it’s obvious that I’m trying to be ‘progressive’ and conscientious and anti-cliche and whatever. Particularly with the gender stuff. I am writing this YA thing so that I don’t wind myself up so tight that I snap.

But that sensation of being dulled by the ease of genre-writing – it feels like I’ve gone just as far in the other direction, and that I don’t care enough. The thing about genre writing is that, easy as it is to do, it’s even easier to do it really badly, and by badly I mean by-the-numbers with no real consideration as to why it’s being done that way.

But – I think now I’m right back to caring too much. I mean I don’t need to try and get this published; I don’t need to let other people read this. I want to – and that makes me very self-conscious, because it just feels like people would be disappointed with me if they read it, after the huge fuss I constantly kick up about how boring and iterative and even offensive these exact kinds of stories can be, and now here I am, writing one myself.

Or am I? Yet again, this is a first draft; I have no idea how it’ll work once it’s finished, and more importantly, I have no idea how other people will see it – and what other people? Who specifically? I just can’t predict any of it; it’s out of my hands, and yet compulsively I continue to snag these worries like string on barbed wire, hook into them and unravel them until they have no semblance of coherence or consistency, and just dangle in the wind.

Or something.

Writing is a really sensory experience.

This is one of the reasons why Writers will not ‘just do it’ so often – we know that if we ‘just do it’, it will, eventually, work out, because that’s what happens when we do ‘just do it’. It gets done, and we have something to work with; it’s a long-term play and it works. But the actual doing – we have to deal with the second-guessing, the stress, or the lack thereof, the worrying about where that stress has gone, the shift in mood and attitude – why am I suddenly enjoying writing this kind of stuff when I’ve been enjoying writing that kind of stuff for ages? What is this new emotional landscape that I inhabit? Does it want to eat me? Can I grow crops here? Do I want to grow crops here, or should I be considering investing in a timeshare at most? What is the appropriate way to feel about what I’m … feeling?

Okay maybe that has less to do with being a writer and more to do with being a neurotic self-dissociative freak; yes I know that those two things are pretty much exact opposites but I’m ranting now so shush.

I mean … what is it that I’m actually worried about? Is it just the change in feeling? That I no longer feel stressed, and instead just feel a little … foggy? Like I don’t know where I’m going? I mean that’s how it’s always been with me. My stories don’t tend to reveal themselves to me in whole; they reveal themselves to me in scenes, in ideas and images and overarching themes, not as – well, stories. There’s a story suggested by this collage of disparate elements, but not yet constructed. So I’m constantly finding my feet when I write something, when I draft, when I revise. And I know with this one I’m writing genre and it seems really straight forward but … maybe it’s not. Maybe I’m feeling foggy because I think it is.

Maybe I’m becoming the very thing I swore to destroy.

Or maybe I just really want to finish Vampire Academy. Talk about genre fiction … don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying the hell out of Vampire Academy, but part of it is because of the cringe-factor, the unintentional outrageousness of it – or perhaps it’s totally intentional, but for that I’d have to talk to Richelle Mead and – well, I gather that she’s kind of busy. Also, it doesn’t really matter. It’s there, and all I do know is that it’s there, and I think and feel a certain way about it, however it was intended.

I guess this is what I’m worried about; doing things intentionally but not self-reflexively, without really understanding why, just understanding what. You can be intentional without being self-aware – the Prophecy, for instance. That old chestnut. You can absolutely intend to put a Prophecy in your story that is so overtly overblown and cliche and familiar that it almost couldn’t not be a parody, but that doesn’t mean anything other than that you knew that, because you’re writing for a specific genre, you ‘need’ a Prophecy, and Prophecies ‘are written like this’, and so that’s what you do. Intentional – absolutely. Self-aware – utterly unrelated. That’s what I’m worried about. I’m doing the genre stuff and it feels like I’m doing it right, but not for the right reasons.

Unless the right reasons are simply ‘because I want to’, and then we’re back to square one – should I, shouldn’t I, will it make my ego look big, etc. …

I guess maybe I should just be committing to putting aside some time for Tallulah revision while I’m drafting this thing, because I haven’t been doing that. Maybe more of a balance would work.

Maybe I should do that right now.

And then finish Vampire Academy. Although it’s just so horribly delicious. I don’t want it to end. I don’t want to want to read the next one.

I don’t.

I don’t I don’t I don’t I don’t I don’t I don’t GIVE IT TO ME NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW

Throwing it out there

Oh first drafts. Nothing works as well as it should.

That’s not true; some things work exactly as well as they should, and some things work even better.  You just don’t know until after you go back and read over it.

Right now in my YA project I’m going through the obligatory ‘welcome to the jungle’ phase where the protagonist has to come to terms with their strange new circumstances. This is also the dreaded ‘info-dump’ part of the story, and oh my god I hate it. So in an attempt to try and alleviate my hatred of it – mine and, so it feels, everyone else’s – I’m sort of just throwing things into the mix to try and make it go smoother, make it more interesting, make it so that it’s not just information being conveyed, so that it has an added level of significance and engagement.

And already I can feel that it’s not quite working. Which, this being a first draft – this all sounds very familiar. It’s just disappointing when I’ve come up with a scene (yet to happen) where all of that ‘more than just X’ stuff is indeed happening and I can’t think of a way to do it again here.

I think the key is to look to kill multiple birds with one seriously flawless diamond. Substance plus style, and performing more than one function. If there’s more than one thing that needs to happen, then finding a way to do them together seems like a good idea. Though not a solution to every issue with irritating-but-necessary moments in a good genre story. I’ve gotta find a way to do it that is both creative and conforming to genre expectations, doing the work that needs to be done in a way that hasn’t been done before. A test of my understanding of the needs of the genre more than anything, really.

This is quite an appealing prospect. I’ve written genre stuff for most of my Writing life, but never quite as closely as with this project – there’s always been something else going on. Here it’s much more straight up, which makes this strange for me. There is something powerful about it though, following in well-trod paths – it’s like learning magic. You learn The Words, and then you say them, you conjure forth The Spell. There is certainly power in copying what others have already done before you, something far beyond reducing it to being merely ‘ripping off’ or ‘being lazy’. It’s a contribution to the collection. Your own personal contribution that fits in with the rest of the archive, yet carries your own unique signature. Yours and theirs, both at once and each indivisible from the other.

Perhaps an idea will come to me in the morning. If I wake up in the morning. Otherwise the afternoon will have to do. But either way, I got 2.4k words written today, which is pretty cool, and the story is moving, if not very excitingly. And again, it might turn out to be fine once I come back to look at it. All I can do for now is take what I’ve got and run with it.

Okay. Sleep now.


Return to form

Well, I didn’t get my assignment in on time, but talking to my tutor I have been assured that I am not failing the paper because of it; I can hand it in late (today) and have one mark removed. Out of 30. So it’s not the worst thing in the world.

I think it was a good idea to go to the lecture yesterday, even though I could have spent those two hours writing my essay (and it seemed that most of the other people in the class felt the same, as only about 30 people showed up); I’ve now come out of this two-week break by attending lectures and doing readings as per normal, and re-establishing the routine I built up in the first few weeks of semester, and already things are starting to feel familiar and manageable. So in the long run at least, that was a good idea, I think.

No writing of other stuff today, though, I don’t think. There’s so much work to be done; I’ve got this assignment to write, then I’ve got readings to do – if there’s time – so that I’m not totally screwed for my tutorials on Thursday, and on top of that I have another essay due tomorrow. It’s not a particularly difficult essay – 1k words split between two mini-essays and it requires no research at all, so I can do that in a couple of hours – so once that’s out of the way I’m maybe safe for the week. If I don’t do any creative writing. Which is just kind of the hand I’ve been dealt; it’s not the end of the world.

All of this university stuff is making me really think about what kind of follow-up plan I have to move onto afterwards. Whether I’m going to go for traditional publishing and sending stuff off to agents or whether I’m going to try something else. I checked Kickstarter to see if there were any novels getting funded that way – there are – and I may well do some research into that. I have an idea for using Kickstarter as a platform that I’d honestly just like to see if it worked or not. The idea of keeping all the rights to my stuff is, well, beyond appealing, but the idea of making a living out of writing is something I’ve wanted for the last 13 years. Not just novel-writing; storytelling in multiple mediums. And obviously having the two of them together seems pretty awesome, and if there is a chance that it can work, then why not? If I tried Kickstarter and there was some interest generated but the book didn’t get funded, I could still use that boost of publicity to build up more of a platform or something, and take that with me to agents and publishers (and have something to post up here, of course).

There’s also the issue of how to use Kickstarter with regards to a book. Like the article says, it’s more about testing the waters to gauge interest rather than acting as a sales-generator. Would it also be useful as a way to publicise the book and then use the money for advertising as well as paying for an editor and cover design and all the other stuff? Or would that be like double-dipping? Is it any better than just going for the self-publishing over Amazon option? Could the two work together?

This is mostly me thinking of how long it could take, if I send Tallulah off to an agent and rely on a publishing house taking interest, for anything to come of it. Not that it would necessarily be faster to do it over Kickstarter, but it might feel more immediate at least. And might help it to get noticed, if nothing else.

And if it did work, if it led to a successful funding campaign and I was able to take it and self-publish and have some kind of audience there to receive it and that was somehow enough for me to, if not make a living off, maybe make it so that I don’t have to look for full-time work and thus have more time for writing, I feel that would be worth it. And again, even if it failed, there would be something to ‘sell’ to publishers.

I just don’t know enough about it. Having student loan money, the temptation to start buying books on how to self-publish and how to create publicity for yourself is tempting. I don’t know how well it works, of course, and I don’t want to be spending my money on something that doesn’t get me what I want, or to find out that what I’m writing is wrong and doesn’t fit the model of success or whatever. I don’t want to spend money on learning formulas that don’t help me tell the stories I’m trying to tell.

I guess maybe that’s the tradeoff. I get to write whatever the hell I want, in exchange for perhaps not many people ever hearing about it, or my being able to make a living off it. But having gone back to university to give myself more time to write before I have to deal with the ‘real world’ is making me realise just how much I’m putting off dealing with, and how much better off I’d feel if I had a plan for dealing with it instead. I want to know what’s viable, what options I’ve got, how to take advantage of them. And I can’t help but feel, all the while, like I’m not asking the right questions.

Anyway. Got this essay to write, and then another one, and then the entire week’s study to catch up on, all in the time between now and tomorrow evening. The lame thing about having lecture and tutorials in the middle of the week means that you have to plan against the calendar; my seven days per week actually start on Friday, effectively, because my ‘accountability days’ are Tuesday and Thursday, and after that I’m off the hook for the rest of the week. It’s something I’m going to have to learn to deal with, just like figuring out some kind of plan for next year and my writing, if I really do want a shot at keeping control over my intellectual property and make a living off it as well. People are doing it, so obviously there is a way to get there. Maybe I need to join some writing communities or something.

Regardless of all of this speculation and creeping doubt, though, I feel really energised, and I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t gone to my lecture yesterday instead of staying at home and working on my assignment. I can take a hit of one grade in return for the long-term benefits of starting as I intend to finish: committed. And it even feels like I’ve got back all of that time I felt like I’d lost by not keeping busy. There really is something quite magical and time-distorting about doing things with your time.

Right. Let’s get this thing written.

Not right now

I had this amazingly inspiring dream the other night that got me all jazzed with story ideas, so I wrote it down. I loved these ideas; they troubled me and I wrestled with their implications and I loved them some more. It wove an intriguing and confronting outline for a story and I would love to see it done, and I would love to be the one to do it.

Just not right now.

I get really worked up about not doing things ‘when I have the energy’ for them, because so many times in my life I’ve passed up on doing things that I wished I’d tried later on in life. But there’s a danger in overcompensating for that and making too big of a deal out of doing things right away just because you’re afraid of missing out – some things really don’t need to be done right now this very moment, however much it seems like a spur-of-the-moment, admirably spontaneous thing to do. In fact sometimes it’s important that we don’t do those things, because they’re unconsidered, because they required a more responsible and level-headed approach to avoid becoming destructive or damaging.

Then there’s the flipside to this, and waiting too long to do things because, after all, one could just do them later, or there’s no energy for it right now and there’s no point in trying to force it, you know yourself after all and what you’re likely to do, and it gets to the point where in the five days you’ve given yourself to write this freaking research essay it’s taken three days to even come up with an essay question and now the bulk of the essay has to be done in two days instead of three or perhaps even four, the looking for relevant resources to serve as research for this research report and remembering how to use MLA citation, feeling so harassed by malevolent mass murder of time-crows that even though you’ve picked your question you have no idea what you actually need to be focusing on in order to direct said research and *breathe* it should be really easy in your head it’s so clear what the issue is what you’re drawn to with this topic you’ve chosen that’s why you chose it in the first place so then now why can’t you see anything but red when you try and think of what’s relevant what’s driving your interest what’s right there in front of you why won’t it come out in words YOU’RE A FREAKING WRITER WHY CAN’T YOU WRITE

And on these days, you know what really helps?

It helps to know that, yesterday, I got some Writing done. I drafted a bit more of my YA thing, and wrote about the lore and the way the powers work (don’t want to call it ‘magic’ because technically it’s alchemy but who am I kidding it’s all pretty much just magic) for about three hours and I had a ball, and AFTER all of that I sat down for five minutes and found my research question. Arguably I could have spent those three hours spent Writing doing research instead; but just as arguably it was only because I spent three hours actually doing something that I wanted to do that I had any energy to give to the research at all. The point is that I can look back at yesterday and genuinely be glad that I did something that I wanted to do, right then and there, and I got some important other stuff done as well.

Because, to be honest, the research stuff – yeah, I have trouble translating my interests and feelings into words, and into questions and keywords to type into a search engine to look for relevant academic resources. But I know that there’s a direction there. It is something that I care a lot about, and I refuse to believe that just because I can’t think of words to put it into right now it means that I don’t know what I’m on about. I’ve already got some resources already that are looking into what I’m trying to talk about. So that’s a good start.

I’m not skipping any more lectures to finish assignments, though. My reasoning is that I need to have some impetus to plan better, and something arbitrary like that will force adaptation and consideration rather than letting myself with a sigh of ‘oh I’ll just read the slides’. It doesn’t help, because the slides aren’t all that informative, especially with the stage 3 papers where you’re actually expected to be paying attention to what’s going on, which is fair enough. And I miss going to lectures anyway. It’s a quality of life thing. If worst comes to worst I can try taking notes at the same time as writing my essay during the lecture, but I somehow don’t think that would work.

The hardest thing is just doing this for me, not doing it for the tutors or the lecturers or for some idea of being good enough, of being worthy to do this. I’m doing it regardless of whether I’m good enough to do it, and the only thing keeping me from doing it well is worrying about not doing it well enough for somebody else. It’s a mindset that I’ve had pretty much my entire life, and it’s held me back in so many ways – not just from trying, but then for things I do try I feel defeated before I’ve even begun, trying to avoid disappointment – not my own, but somebody else’s. I got back some pretty unprofessional comments with that first assignment I got back, and if I can think of a way of bringing it up without getting really angry and making an idiot of myself, I will, because it’s just pathetic that we, as students, are expected to hold a certain degree of personal conduct and then our markers don’t follow through with it themselves. Ridiculous and hypocritical; something may well need to be said. And furthermore comments of that nature don’t actually serve as feedback. I don’t want to do the same if I do bring it up; I want to make a point and make it clearly and to the point. It’s stuff like this that makes me really reluctant to make an effort at all. But at the same time, it’s likely that they didn’t mean anything by it, and I’m all about giving feedback, so why not give some of my own? This would be one of those things that I’d regret not doing when I look back on it, too, so here’s a chance to head that off right away. And who knows – I may even learn something useful for the next assignment.

In the meantime, I have to get this bloody thing written. I have to go look for more resources, I have to consider what I find and use it to write about my question – really it seems like it’s not so much a matter of trying to write an essay so much as reviewing what’s already been said about a chosen topic. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but that’s how it feels.

And I’ll probably also finish the chapter of my YA thing that I started yesterday and then got sidetracked from with the world-building and writing of lore, which was a very enjoyable diversion. It even gave me some ideas for what could happen later on in the series; and yes, this is most definitely going to be a series, whether or not anybody reads it. This is a story that needs to be told in parts. It was so tempting to just rush ahead and write the scenes that came to mind – and really, that’s not a bad idea. I’m having the same urges with Tallulah as well; it doesn’t matter if I never use these scenes again, it matters that they’re there if I need them.

And I may do that right now, in fact. Yesterday, the only meaningful work that I got done with my essay happened when I was in a good mood from doing things I was glad I had taken the time to do. Sometimes it’s important to delay gratification, not to delay it, but because there are other things that need doing and have to take priority. But I’m not sure that this is one of those times. After all, if the work I end up doing is better, then what does it matter how long it takes?

So long as it’s all handed in by midnight tomorrow, that is. And I mean I wrote an A+ essay in six hours on the day it was due that one time. And this is my first semester back in a long time. Even if I don’t get this essay as right as I’d like, it’ll be handed in, and that’ll be the end of it.

Right after I drink this day-old water out of my Twilight bottle. It’s not really mine; it’s something my mother got from a midnight preview, but I use it because, for one, it’s a really good water bottle, being made of metal and thus not subject to the toxic crap that comes form using those cheap plastic ones. And then on top of that, there’s a part of me that gleefully awaits the day when somebody challenges my right to use a Twilight bottle, demanding to know about my ethical stance on the series.

I’m sure that will be an interesting conversation.

Just not right now.

Questions that need answering

So, I thought I had my research question last night. I then looked at it again today and it seemed far too vague. And then I came up with a new, somewhat less vague one, felt very excited, and then discovered that there was an existing article that covered basically the exact same topic.

Granted, it had a different line of inquiry to what I want to look at, but all the same, it was frustrating. Plus sitting at university for even 2 hours consecutively without taking a break … well, it was hard to maintain focus, shall we say. I’m going to try and stay there until the library closes tomorrow, even if I end up not  doing much work, just because, well, I am more likely to do work if I’m there.

Other writing has, of course, gone out the window, because I feel horribly guilty about not doing this writing. Which, in the end, is silly, because if I wasn’t going to get any study done today, I may as well have drafted or revised or something. Remember not to beat myself up about things is hard; once I get it I end up getting a lot more stuff done, funnily enough – this way I’m just guilt-procrastinating and playing browser games. For hours. Like 3 hours. It’s ridiculous.

I need this question clarified. I need to know what I’m looking for so that I have a line of research to conduct so that I can have something to write my damn essay on. I do know what I want to look at, I just don’t know the best way to turn it into a research question, and it’s driving me partially up the wall, and if it goes on must longer I will require a warning label reading ‘may contain traces of nuts’.

Why. Why did I think going back to study would solve anything?

I mean that’s a ridiculous question; it has solved a whole host of things – where I’m getting money from, what I’m doing for the next year-ish, expanding my horizons both personally and career-wise, and giving me an excuse to hang around in the one place where I actually do get work done, not to mention forcing me to occasionally leave the house. I need to settle on a line of inquiry, turn that into a question and then hope the rest just falls into place. Pick something and run with it. Otherwise I’ll never be done and it’ll be a last-minute rush again, which I really don’t want, and I know I can avoid.

And I need to keep writing other stuff while I’m at it. This whole day could have been a lot more productive if I’d just called it a no-go on the study after the first two excruciating hours and then let myself write something I actually enjoyed. But I did at least get a 40-minute walk in today, so that is a decent silver lining.

Maybe I’ll do a little bit of revision now just to wind things down – the next chapter up for revision shouldn’t take too much work, and it would be nice to accomplish something as well as keeping up momentum on Tallulah. I really need some new music, though. You can only listen to the same 50-ish songs so many times before you almost wish you’d never heard them before.

Basically I was disappointed with today’s progress, and more than that, I’m disappointed that I couldn’t just call it for what it was – a miss – and have some fun at least. I would have called that a fair trade if I’d been in a more forgiving state of mind. I think tomorrow, while I need to focus on this assignment, I also need to work in some breaks and do some other things, rather than just trying to force myself to do one thing for 6 hours and just will it to work. Maybe one day I’ll get to that point, but it is not this day, nor tomorrow, I would assume. And time spent is not equal to work produced, as I learnt, much to my humility, with the first draft of Tallulah.

So I guess I’ve got my answer. Take a chill pill and just do … something. Just pick a thing, no matter how much better it maybe could be if only X thing I don’t really clearly understand, and get it done.

And move on.

Not a bad lesson to take away.



So, the plan to wake up ‘early’ (I’d set my alarm for 10:30am) did not quite play out, but I did go in to  uni and do some research on my topic, enough to get some notes and non-academic resources out of it. I set 5 days aside to get this thing done, but now I don’t think I’ll need them – 3 or 4 seems more likely as long as I’m actually doing the work, and today was a decent start. Could have been better, but first attempts generally go that way. I’m confident that I’ve got enough momentum to carry me through here. My goal for today is to come up with a research question, as we’re meant to come up with our own, and then tomorrow just find a ton of academic resources to build an argument with.

I also got the first of my 3 YA novels from The Book Depository, which is the first Vampire Academy book, so I’ll probably start on that tonight after I come up with my research question. Or, alternatively, I’ll start on it after I’m done with all of this assignment stuff. Passion for my YA project having drained away, the upshot has turned out to be getting much more excited about Tallulah again, which is, I would say, a win, not merely a balancing-out of circumstances. I’m starting to see possibilities, exciting new directions that build on what I’ve got going with this revision, and I want to see how they look once this revision is done, so wanting to get this revision done is obviously very serendipitous.

It really is funny how you’ve got to spend time to make time. Yesterday at around this time I was fretting about how little time I had to do anything; this evening I’m pretty confident that I can get three things done – formulate an essay question, revise a chapter and then either draft a bit of my YA WIP or read a bit of Vampire Academy. Since the movie’s coming out soonish I’m certainly interested to know what all the fuss is about, and of course join the book-purist bandwagon. (Also I’m seeing a movie tonight. So possibly 4 things will get done. Not bad.)

And it’s also research. I have all of these assumptions about what YA ‘is’, but I’ve only seen a few examples of it – high-profile examples that have been turned into movies, for the most part. I loved the trope-heavy nature of the City of Bones film, and that was definitely the biggest influence on Mortal Foil/Foiled/what’s in a name I’ll think it up later, but I have started to really feel the restriction of only taking influence from one source, even if that source itself took inspiration from several other things. So I’m looking forward to expanding my perceptions of what YA means.

Or alternatively all three of these novels will follow a really similar formula and I’ll learn nothing new. We’ll see.

The other thing that I’m looking forward to is the fact that all of these books are written by women; about 90% of my bookshelf is devoted to male authors, and aside from anything else it would be nice to start moving towards balancing that out a bit. But mostly, as I’m all about gender stuff, it’s always interesting to see how men and women write differently – and similarly. Growing up with a lot of male authors undoubtedly shaped my writer’s voice a certain way as a writer, so there’s also the prospect of expanding my influences in that regard.

As an exercise, last night I copied a page from that JG Ballard book I’m still crawling through just to see how the style felt to write. I think it’s got to be more than one page to get a real sense for how and why a different writer chooses their words and structures their sentences, pacing and whatnot, but it’s a really interesting exercise nonetheless, cloning somebody else’s voice into your writing history. I will definitely do it again, and would advice any other writers out there to give it a try. And now I’ll probably go try and construct an essay question before I get too tired.

It’s good to be doing things again.