Words and music

I’ve had a really, really bad case of writer’s block with this blog lately. Or rather ‘poster’s block’ – I’ve got like 6 drafts of posts that I haven’t had the heart to publish. I have had a whole bunch of things that I wanted to write about, and they’re things I want to share – it’s just a matter of finding the right way to say it, and for whatever reason, I’m not there yet.

And then of course there’s my baby, Tallulah. Going nowhere, and going there fast. Which is not fair; it is going somewhere, but every time I look at that plan and just … look at it, it feels wrong. It’s like when you think of something you really want to say or ask, and then something happens and you lose the thought, and all you can intuit is an approximate articulation of how that idea felt in the moments before it slipped away. It feels close, but I know it’s not what I want. It wasn’t meant to be what I wanted anyway, just something to roll with, something to enable my ability to roll if you will, and it did work to that effect, to a point. I got to almost halfway through revision and then hit a wall, writing the same chapter over and over again. I had a couple of breakthroughs but while the last one felt best, it also poses a difficulty for me, and for the aspects of my plan that work.

I talked a little while ago about the ‘movie version’ of Tallulah, the one that I picked a bunch of actors I like and cast them as the characters, and it added a whole new dynamic to the story, and particularly the characters. Namely that, as per stereotypical depictions of Hollywood actors, they all started demanding more screen time, and the end result was that the story suffered a crisis of identity – whose story was it? The name said one thing, but the emphasis said another.

And all of this happened while I was listening to a particular song. And it is a song that I need to uproot from its spot in my Tallulah plot and donate to another story’s garden, because WOW can music affect my writing.

That song became the anthem of Tallulah for a while – something about the music felt right, and the lyrics, if I tilted my head the right way, stopped being about sexytimes and turned into a desperate plea for non-specific intimacy, which is what I liked about it. But it also exacerbated the issued I had with characters clustering the narrative geography, and the story that had already started to get away from me had now decided to throw a house-party and, as they say, lost the plot entirely.

Music takes you places, and it is a tool of affect – it makes you feel things, is what I’m saying. There is no music I have ever listened to that has had no emotional effect on me, so it’s important to be mindful of what music you’re using while you’re writing, if you’re using music at all. Tallulah is the only book I’ve written (drafted) almost entirely without an accompanying soundtrack – I made a few playlists, but I’d listen to them when I wasn’t writing it. It became too leading, and this song in particular was a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in terms of grabbing me by the hand and yanking me off into unexpected and even unwelcome adventures.

Perhaps because I wasn’t writing very much, listening to this song had even more of an effect on me when I heard it – there was nothing to contrast the song-ideas to the story I’d physically written (digitally whatever it still took physical labour), and as such they started to take precedence. Before I realised it, I had started thinking of Tallulah in terms of this clustered ensemble cast, and all of the solutions I tried to come up with were concocted in relation to this version of the story, as good as though I had forgotten that there ever was another one.

And then today I had another brainwave, and from that brainwave I got back on-track, mentally at least. Right now I’m studying for exams so there isn’t a whole lot of revision going on, but I feel like I’ve gotten back on course. I feel like I know where this plan has to go, and that in order to go forward, I have to go back.

Without this song.

I like associating certain songs with certain stories or characters, and when it sticks it sticks hard, to the point where I can’t think of that story or character without also thinking of that song. It feels like I can’t leave out the song when considering the story, like it’s no longer my idea but the song’s idea as well, like I need to consult the goddamn thing any time I’m thinking of making changes – I feel obligated to remain constant to that version of events, to maintain my ‘integrity’, and if that sounds stupid, that’s because it is. The only obligation I have is to myself, and I know that, but that’s why it’s so important to be mindful of your influences, to keep yourself from basically holding your ideas ransom to associations that may have formed totally involuntarily – or even if they were intentional – it becomes so easy to fall into these habits and sub-routines, to find yourself on an autopilot trajectory you didn’t realise you even had programmed in.

I mean it was that and also just thinking ‘Hey, my plan feels like three-quarters of one story and one-quarter of another jammed together into four quarters, I should change that’, and finding a natural through-line I could incorporate. And that got the ball rolling, got me unstuck, and made me realised just how hooked into this song I was while thinking of this story, which was entirely different to what it had once been.

I like the movie story, and the last thing I wrote was heading in that direction. I wouldn’t mind writing it. But I want to write the story I started out with, and I feel like I’ve found a way to do it.

It’s also gotten me to thinking about other stories of mine that have fall down mud-slides without me noticing (or remembering), and continuing on without trying to get back to the path, and a lot of it has to do with music when it comes to things I’ve actually sat down and written. The book I was writing before Tallulah took on a certain shape while I was writing it, had a certain mood of its own and I really liked it, and then I made up a playlist for it (and wrote a bunch of lore and backstory) and it became this big sprawling thing that I just couldn’t get a handle on. And now I think that this is perhaps the main reason that I didn’t write a second draft while I was doing undergrad: I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish, and I had no idea that I had no idea what I was trying to accomplish, that I’d gotten so sidetracked that I could hardly remember what the ‘track’ was. Of course I didn’t literally forget, and I often lamented how different things were and that I was being so indecisive, but that’s the whole problem – it’s that attachment, that investment in something new while still having something unfinished sitting on the shelf that really got me. I was split in two and didn’t know which side to take.

So I guess this has been an exercise in being mindful. I think it’s turned out well, and I’m looking forward to these exams being over in two weeks-ish and being free again, for about a month and a half until I’ve got Summer School (assuming they sort out enroment stuff; apparently I enrolled in my diploma the same year as a big system overhaul and they actually don’t have the appropriate forms even created for me to fill out yet so this should be fun), which should be ample time to … do stuff.

I’m not even going to think about finishing anything at this stage, because while the actual act of revising is not time-consuming, planning most certainly is. I may have a new plan cooking up, but I’ve still got this one to finish in the meantime, and it may just give me some much-needed insights. I’ve got to go back and do it properly, though, which means really rough, really messy, really patchy and hasty and obviously thrown together violently and without attention to details of continuity. It might help me. And if it doesn’t give me what I’m looking for, at least I’ll know one more thing that I’m not looking for, and I’ll know why.

For now: be mindful, and if like me you fear waking up any earlier than 10am, give it a try. I’ve been waking up at 8 for the last two days and already I feel … different. Good. Like I’ve lived longer. Or more, I guess. Length has nothing to do with how much you live.

Showing vs telling: why I prefer to err on the side of telling

As the semester draws to a close and I have two major essays left to write, and the excitement about my on-again off-again consumed-half-my-life WIP continues to mount and I feel the pressure of not having finished Tallulah yet, I have been thinking about, well, what to write about. Specifically what to blog about. This being a blog where I, supposedly, write about writing, I thought the topic of writing might work.

I remember one time when I was 13 years old, staying at the holiday home of one of my mother’s co-workers and being unable to sleep, and I spent my sleepless night writing Dinoverse fanficiton (before I knew what fanfiction was) in my head. And I do mean writing it. This was the only time I’d ever thought of a story in words rather than visuals, and it was an amazing experience, one that I haven’t managed to recreate to date. This also means that it was the only time I’d really thought of storytelling through writing in terms specific to the medium – the only time I’d thought of a story in terms of how I would tell it, rather than simply what I wanted to show.

The idea of ‘show, don’t tell’ has been one that I’ve been concerned with adhering to for far longer than I’ve been aware. I mean I always knew it was a piece of writing advice that you were supposed to take on board if you were serious about writing, and the arguments made about it did make sense: it’s no fun to be left out of the action when dry, objective exposition takes all the imaginative labour away from you, and you end up just listening to some asshole saying stuff at you, nor to be treated like you’re a mentally handicapped imbecile who can’t associate, say, body-language with emotions, how blushing means embarrassment and the clenching of a fist or jaw signifies anger and/or tension – and in cases like this, the bottom line is that telling just doesn’t feel like storytelling.

Showing, then, became what I experimented with, trying to get into the habit of using it for everything. You are not encouraged to do this as a writer, but hey, new skills new fun; too much showing is also really obnoxious, because it gets to the point where you’re only making innuendo and euphemisms and simile. Depending on what you want to convey through the narration, that can work in terms of setting a tone or establishing character, but that doesn’t mean it’s not obnoxious to read.

After much deliberation, however – and listening to John Green reading a draft of the first chapter of TFIOS (which I still have not read) – I’m now of the opinion that, if I have to choose between erring on the side of showing or telling, I’ve gotta go with telling.

Because telling is awesome – and, perhaps most importantly, it is what words and language are for. It is the strength and restriction of the medium – so why not take advantage of it?

Showing evokes ambiguity, which is to say that it does not make it clear what’s going on with the character/s, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions. It’s also respectful to your readers’ intelligence because it asks them to draw their own conclusions as to what it all means, but on the flipside it can also try their patience.

Generally, telling and showing refer to the telling and showing of what a character is going through, and the ‘position’ of the character – whether they’re the object or the subject.

Tell me: Jerry felt angry because he’d just been punched in the face – yeah, I get it, you think I’m a two-year-old who can’t figure anything out for himself, good luck with that whole writing-for-a-living thing. On top of that, your character is the object here, and it no longer feels like his story, but a story being told about him. If that’s what you’re going for then fine, but there’s no reason for me, as a reader, to try and invest in this story, because you’ve given me nothing to work with; it’s all just been laid out for me. This is the writing equivalent of being fed through a tube.

Show me: Jerry staggered as the punch split his lip, spilling hot blood down his chin, blood that instantly rose to a screaming boil as he righted himself to return the favour – awesome, your character is pissed, look how smart I am for working that out all on my own! I’m imagining this happening; I’m becoming immersed in what’s happening to Jerry, having to attach this boiling blood and split, bleeding lip to him and making a judgment as to how we feels about it, because I haven’t been explicitly told what it is, and as a result I’m seeing him as a person – I’m getting a sense of his subjectivity.

That is why you show: because it’s obvious, so obvious that to tell it would not only be boring, but downright insulting. Obviously you need to gauge your target audience here, but if we’re talking, say, ten years and above, showing tends to be the way to go. It draws you in because it makes you work to piece together what’s happening and what it means, to make sense of it.

But when it’s not obvious, things get insulting all over again, this time because you’re expecting your readers to spend time either trying to figure out what the hell is going on, or simply to get to the actual story instead of wading through lines and lines of ambiguous prose, and at this point reading becomes a chore.

Thus, you must tell some things. It wasn’t that Jerry thought she was ugly, exactly – well yes, it was, but even in the privacy of his own mind he was too conceited to admit to being so shallow – you can show that, but why would you want to? Either Jerry ends up being even more unlikeable than he already is through this passage because what’s shown is so despicable and graphic that you just don’t want to read it, or it’s so long-winded and indirect that it takes too long to get to the point … and you just don’t want to read it.

And seriously, Jerry, you’re a tool.

And the other stuff, like showing is more ‘immersive’ but telling is ‘faster’, and if you’re telling a story properly then it’s not just content but presentation that tells the story – showing is slower, so when the mood is slow and contemplative, or tense and anxious, using more words to draw out the time it takes for things to happens also reflects the state of mind of the characters; and likewise, telling is faster, so in a situation where lots of action is going on or there’s a sense of urgency, you need to get things done fast, as this also conveys the state of mind of the characters. It’s not an across-the-board solution; both have their uses, and it would be irresponsible to insist on only using one.

Having said that, if you are only going to use one, I say tell.

Why, you may ask?

One word: DISCWORLD.

Terry Pratchett does almost nothing but tell. But it works because he uses the one advantage of written storytelling that no other form of storytelling – save oral – has: the ability to convey the voice of the storyteller.

There are people we love to hear talk, not just because of the sound of their voice, but because of what they say, how they say it, their mannerisms and turns of phrase – it makes them distinct; it makes us remember them, and at least when we’re talking about telling a story, forming a narrative, you don’t get that with showing. You get it with telling because it’s like a conversation. A one-way conversation, sure, but in a sense, that’s all that a story is.

Terry Pratchett is a funny and insightful man, and that only comes through because he tells. We get his point of view because telling is subjective.

Sometimes.

Jerry felt angry is something that anybody could say, and it’s flat and boring and objective – it treats Jerry and his feelings like objects, and the narrative voice has nothing distinctive at all about it, nothing conversational and, consequently, nothing inviting to recommend it to the reader, who is not included in the fleshing out of this scene, because they have been left with nothing to flesh out.

Something more subjective might be along the lines of: Jerry had been punched in the face before, and he had been angry about it when it happened. But this time there was nothing extra to go along with that anger; this wasn’t some one-sided affair like the time his father had decided he’d teach Jerry what it meant to speak your mind about how hard daddy was hitting mommy when you were five years old, or the time Alex Coldridge had gotten so angry about being called a fat pink turd that he’d needed to see Jerry break down and cry, violently, in the middle of the playground while everybody watched, to prove that nobody would stand up for him, and that when push came to shove, that Jerry couldn’t stand up for himself. This was the first time he felt able to punch right back, and this certainty made him want to do it all the more – because, at long last, he finally could.

Jerry’s really going through the ringer here.

Also, being from New Zealand, writing ‘mom’ instead of ‘mum’ just feels wrong. It’s like the one word that I don’t pronounce as though I’m American.

And I mean yeah, sure, you can still convey a sense of voice by showing. It’s all words; words mean nothing without language, and we all modify language to suit ourselves, the impressions we want to convey through what information we give and how we give it. Sometimes that’s telling, and sometimes that’s showing.

But I have to say, I think telling is still better when it comes to word-based storytelling, simply because, in literal terms, you can’t actually show anything. It’s all telling anyway, so you may as well take advantage of it.

I can say rain pelted the sheer black cliff-face, but that’s not showing you rain pelting a sheer black cliff-face, it’s telling you that there is a sheer black cliff-face, and that some rain is pelting it. I realise that this is taking things very literally, but if that’s not enough to convince you – well, I’m not really trying to. I’m just saying that I prefer telling to showing, and it’s because I prefer that subjective, voice-driven approach to storytelling. It doesn’t mean that I want every book to be told in Pratchett-esque comic prose; for one I don’t want everything to be comedy, and for another I don’t want every story I read to be that conversational – but that kind of tone I guess is what I like. Going back to the TFIOS example, John Green’s narrative voice, which he has lent to Hazel for that novel, is what makes the book and its events particularly distinctive and engaging; it is conversational, but part of that is because it’s first-person. With a Discworld novel, you’re never under any illusion that it is anybody but Terry Pratchett telling you this story – with TFIOS, I imagine I’d be able to invest in the idea that it’s not John but Hazel relaying events to me. They’re both good – just different, and different examples of how the same principle can be executed in two different ways. And that is also good.

As a final example, here’s a passage from one of my favourite books: The Changeover by the late Margaret Mahy, to whom, because of this book, I regret never writing any fan-mail:

This house which had been a happy house now felt threatening, for its present desperation flowed back into the past and ruined not only the present day but the memory of all that had gone before it, which suddenly seemed to be only a mocking cat-and-mouse game that the world had played with them. (108)

Yeah, I cite things now; I’m academic.

That’s not actually my favourite passage; my favourite passage has to do with a splinter, but for the life of me I can’t remember what page it’s on. Just read it. It’s got its problems, but depending on how you look at it they could also be considered strengths – kind of like Vampire Academy, which I really do want to get around to writing a review of.

But anyway, there’s my argument for telling instead of showing. I’m going to try and bear it in mind in future – there’s an art to telling, and writing (and speaking) rely on it, because that’s all they can do. But they’re also the only storytelling mediums that can do it, and there really is nothing quite like finding a good storytelling voice, telling a good story. I think it’s time for me to start thinking in words a little more often. I feel like I’ve been missing out on a hell of a lot of fun.

Hanging up the hangups

Generic writing is something that drives me insane. I hate seeing it, whether it’s done by other people or by myself. But that’s nothing compared to the thought that I might be writing really generically, without having the perspective of looking back over it after getting some critical distance from it in order to see it a little more clearly and thus relying on nothing but nerves and self-loathing to direct my evaluation process. Guessing, in other words. And then I tend to state it as fact, to myself and to other people, and then I’ve made that statement and I feel that I’m expected to stand by it and ugh horrible yuck.

One such guessing game has been taking place with this chapter I’ve been revising for the past … wow, a week now. That’s actually less time than I thought; I really need to keep on top of my day-tick-off-ing. But the amount of time spent is not positively correlated to the amount of guesswork involved regarding how well I wrote it, nor the anxiety felt. It’s not correlated at all. It’s correlated to whether or not I’ve written at all. I just hadn’t been able to get a handle on this chapter and felt that everything I’d tried was wasteful and pointless garbage, including that little breakthrough that I had and posted about. I’ve noticed that these instances are marked by the writing getting really dialogue-heavy, as I try to steer the writing into less generic territory and try to ‘be real’, and what ends up happening is that I start trying to imagine or role-play a real conversation, and that’s not what stories are made out of. Not stories I personally enjoy reading, anyway. I definitely enjoy reading the odd word-for-word anecdote, because sometimes the stuff we say in real-life is actually priceless in terms of entertainment value, but more often than not it’s flat and iterative. We are plenty generic in real life conversation.

So I kept telling myself that what I’d written sucked, and that I had to find a way to write something that didn’t suck so that I could move past it and start taking this revision seriously, more of that self-alienating inner dialogue that I hate so much but have yet to manage to kick.

And tonight I caved. I decided that I couldn’t write something realistic to get to where I wanted to go with the story, that perhaps the story I want to tell isn’t actually realistic. And I wrote the most contrived, generic, predictable thing I could think of, because it made the bits of the story that I was trying to get together … get together.

Guess what happened?

The bits of the story that I was trying to get together GOT TOGETHER.

IT WORKED.

It worked PERFECTLY.

DO WHAT WORKS.

GRR.

And so on and so forth.

This is basically the whole ‘let yourself write crap’ thing all over again, but I never even considered that this was under that mantra’s jurisdiction, so to speak. When I think of bad first-draft writing, I think of inconsistent characterisation and too much stream-of-consciousness and nonsensical/nonexistent continuity and tons of self-contradiction and just an utter lack of polish and coherence overall – not the exact opposite, which is what I think of as being ‘generic’: really straight-laced and predictable, ‘safe’, cookie-cutter kinda stuff, the kind of thing everybody expects you to end up writing because everybody thinks you’re a hack and aren’t as good as you obviously think you are, the kind of stuff they expect you to write because they think, honestly, you haven’t got what it takes to do any better, and you will work that out one day, too, and thus fall back on the tried-and-true baby formula of generic writing and finally take your mediocre place in the world, and let the real geniuses handle the fancy stuff. And that’s really why I hate the idea of generic writing, because it represents failure on my part to be a ‘good writer.’

First of all: fuck those people. And if you are one of them: stop. Let the assholes be assholes. They don’t need your help. You have writing to do. Like a boss.

And yeah, I can’t do the no-swearing thing anymore. I’m a writer, goddammit. I need to use all the words!

ALL THE

Second of all: the people who are actually like that probably aren’t the people you think are like that. Unless you think they’re like that through observation of their behaviour towards you, in which case they probably are.

And thirdly and most importantly: any writing that you don’t like the idea of counts as bad. Technically, generic writing is ‘competent’ writing. It’s cliche and boring and defined by the fact that it is iterative and unoriginal; that sounds pretty damn bad to me.

This is what I have learnt tonight, and it got things moving again, yay! My story is moving! It is progressing! And by that I don’t just mean forwards, I mean upwards as well – it’s growing. It’s getting to where I want it to get to, and it feels right, so yay for generic writing.

It’s a tool like any other, and it has its uses. It ain’t wrong to use it for what it’s good for.

And again, I’m just calling it generic because that’s how it feels right now, before I’ve had the chance to go back and look over it as a whole package. Which I am looking forward to looking forward to again, and if I keep this momentum going, I will. There’s nothing like getting stuff done to make you excited about getting it done.

I’ve also thought of what I want to ‘do with’ this blog moving forward, give it a bit more structure. And get rid of all of these awkward categories and sub-categories. Yes, one of those things is lifting the swear-ban – though having said that, I’m one of those people who swears just to swear, rather than because that kind of punctuation is necessary, and thus while I may drop the odd f-bomb every now and again, I will do my utmost to make sure that it is actually warranted. There is something so sad about words that have been used so many times that they’ve started to lose their significance. I don’t want that. I want to treat words well.

Especially expletives, because let’s face it, they’re the best ones.

But mostly I just want to have this blog be somewhere that I can really write about being a writer, not just how my writing is going. I’ll definitely keep the updates on writing progress and stuff, because not only do I need a way to vent (or express jubilation), but I like the idea of this being kind of an open writing diary, an insight into the writing process as it happens. I just want to do other stuff, too – all related to storytelling. This isn’t going to turn into a cooking blog or anything.

Once I have some more concrete ideas I’ll just start doing it, I think. See how it goes. And I also need to get through the rest of The Hunger Games series, and finish my Vampire Academy review … and write essays …

Anyway. Revision is going well again, and really hasn’t been going anywhere near as badly as it could be overall, although it’s felt like that a lot of the time. I just have high expectations I guess, probably too high. It’s definitely too high when it’s keeping me from doing any writing at all.

Sometimes, you really do just have to write complete and utter shit.

And when it gets you moving again, it’s exactly the right thing to do.

Fan-cy that

There is nothing quite like the overwhelming urge to plagiarise the hell out of something because you wish you’d done it yourself.

That voice that goes: ‘Nah, man, it’s all good, it’s just fan fiction, all the cool kids are doing it nowadays, it’s totally a legitimate expression of devotion to somebody else’s work that is only looked down upon because of our privacy-centric capitalist economy-driven societal norms, don’t be a part of their system’.

While my position on fan fiction has shifted over the past couple of years from outright condemning it to actually rather admiring those who practise it, simply because it seems like honesty to me winning out over self-consciousness or fear of social stigma, it does make me a little sad to know that a lot of the ideas I really want to write are being taken directly from stories I’ve read or watched made by other people. And while in some ways that’s unavoidable – we all have to get our ideas from somewhere – there’s a difference between taking really commonly-used ideas that come to be known as tropes and conventions, and taking specific scenes from books you’ve read or films you’ve seen just because they resonated with you really strongly to use in your own work.

Harry Potter tends to have this affect on me. Prisoner of Azkaban is my favourite of the series, and other than Lupin, the reason for that is a combination of the Knight Bus and Harry’s short stay at Diagon Alley. That part of the book is the most wish-fulfilling part of the entire series for me, because it’s the most desirable thing when you’re about 13 years old and you really start to feel just how tied to your parents you are in terms of what you’re permitted to do – it’s the fantasy of being left the hell alone, for the expectations and the surveillance to vanish and to get some space to yourself, and start exploring what you can do with it when you don’t feel like you’re being tested on it.

And I cannot adequately describe just how badly I wish I’d written something like that first.

Independence – or the guise of it anyway, because even if Harry is ‘alone’ at Diagon Alley, he’s still under the watchful eye of Fudge and more or less under house arrest – is something I often forget about the importance of when I think back to being a teenager, and it’s right around that age that I started getting sensitive to its importance, and then after that I guess it just lost its novelty as I got more of it, combined with the fact that I was really never much of a rebel. But it’s not even about rebellion. It’s just about autonomy, about not having to watch yourself because of other people, and being able to get a sense of yourself that is all just you.

But the real wish-fulfillment part is actually the fact that Harry isn’t truly alone. He’s safe. He’s got Tom the innkeeper to fall back on if he gets into a tight spot; he’s got a ton of money; he knows Hermione and Ron will be along in a few weeks – this isn’t the grisly reality of adult independence; this is supervised independence, where the supervision is unobtrusive but still very much there. It’s not something I want much as an adult, as I’m in a complicated situation regarding independence right now and it’s been this way for so long that I’ve basically forgotten what it’s like to ‘want out’ so to speak, and it’s something that I got enough of as a young adolescent to feel fairly satisfied, but the memory of wanting it never went away. That’s a formative experience if ever there was one, and not just one that I wish I remembered when I think about my stories featuring young adolescent main characters, but one that I now wish I could write without knowing that I got the idea for it from Harry Potter.

And it’s that sort of awareness that makes me think: ‘Well, why not just write fan-fic? It’s not like I have any original ideas anyway’ – which is wrong, but that feeling does get to me sometimes; the amazing, fully-formed and professionally-edited ideas of other storytellers come to me in their glorious packages and I just want it, and to have it in the form of a commodity, of a media product packaged for my consumption, is not enough – I want to make it, I want to tell it, I want the story and I want to be the creator. I want my cake and I want to eat it, and I want to clone it, and myself, and do it again, twice, forever.

And a whole bunch of writing didn’t get done today; one positive thing coming out of my slacking off is that now I really just can’t be bothered being stressed about anything anymore. It’s going to be bad – and I know it’s going to be bad. That’s a certainty. All I have to do now is get it written.

And that sucks, because this essay I’m finding it hard to write is for my favourite paper this year (it’s about comics, and what I have learnt so far is that they are awesome), and I’m finding it hard to write it because I know I have a whole ton of study to do on top of writing it and trying to find time to write Tallulah. So I think I have no choice now but to start getting used to the idea of getting up in the morning, rather than in the afternoon as I am used to doing, because given the time I end up going to bed regardless of when I wake up, getting up in the morning is going to just give me more hours to work with. That and I just have to study, even if I don’t really learn anything because I’m really distracted.

Or I just don’t study and stop putting in any effort whatsoever when I feel like not putting effort in.

Being your own boss is hard. Even being a university student, you really are your own boss. There are consequences for not adhering to institutional deadlines and guidelines, sure, but it’s still all about self-directed work. I’ve never really gotten used to it.

The more I think about needing to do this work, the less I end up doing it.

So I guess … I just stop thinking.

Great. I’m so good at not thinking.

Ugh.

So the moral of the story is that I might end up writing fan fiction, but more likely I’ll just end up handing in this essay a day late and not doing half the study I’m meant to do. But I’m past feeling disappointed with myself right now. I have more important things to be getting on with, and I need to get on with them.

And once I do, the whole disappointment thing will become irrelevant. Convenient.

Toning it down

Currently revising Tallulah, and I’ve realised one of the reasons I hate this ‘high school stuff’, and it has nothing to do with the high school setting.

It has to do with the fact that my main character is acting like a disembodied observer from an alien race sent to Earth to conduct an ethnographic study into the social rituals of human adolescents, and that’s not the tone I’m going for at all. This feels like it should be being played for laughs, and I’m trying to write a serious scene.

And the only reason I’m writing this new stuff is because of continuity errors that will arise if I leave things the way they are, despite this plan I’m meant to be sticking to, have written two posts about sticking to, was based around allowing for that continuity crap to happen, so that I could focus on structure.

Granted, continuity is part of the structure, but this is getting embarrassing. I’m coming up with scenes and interactions that end up being really distracting and are only there to … I dunno. Fill space? Explore character? I mean I want to explore character, but it’s all feeling like filler, so …

Okay. Found a way to bring it around. Kind of. Rather than ‘exploring’ character, as in just tossing random situations at them and making them cope, I’m ‘fleshing out’ character by tailoring the situations to their character. Because it’s a story. I know how to do that. All the stories. That is what I am able to do.

*facepalm*

Though now that I’ve found a bit of a stride, it’s opening up exciting possibilities to look into with the next big overhaul. I feel there has to be one. I really don’t know if maybe I’ve just backed myself into a corner with this really slapdash revision plan, but there’s only one way to find out. I know at some point I’ll have to actually make myself sit down and go through the manuscript, line by line, and find a way to fit everything into my head, and a bunch of documents, as a map for editing it thoroughly and comprehensively, and then make myself actually do it. And part of why I’m doing this really skeletal revision is so that I don’t have to do that part.

But I do also need a more streamlined structure to work with. I don’t think I’ll be ready to send this off for publishing by the end of the year. But that’s okay. As long as it’s getting the attention it needs, I don’t really mind how long it takes.

And I’m getting really, ridiculously excited about my repeatedly-abandoned lifelong WIP, ever since I made the former designated love-interest the main character. It just … works. I’ve tried it before, but it’s never clicked like it has now. I think it was because I didn’t just swap the names and genders around; I just took the whole character and swapped them with another one, a kind of ‘what if’ scenario.

This also means that my former author avatar is now a prince, just to put the proverbial icing on the cake of self-aggrandizement. Which means I can hardly take it seriously anymore – which is fantastic. It’s become a parody of itself that nobody but me will understand or care about. But that’s fine.

I really want to write it.

And I really want to write Tallulah. Fully and devotedly. The way it deserves to be written.

I’ve made the decision to stop using Facebook for as long as I can hold out for. Just that simple decision gave me a rather profound sense of perspective and freedom, like without Facebook making my every move transparent and broadcast to the world at large (that’s how it feels anyway) I’m suddenly free to explore the internet in a way I haven’t been until now. A ridiculous false dichotomy, to be sure, but it’s a testament to just how much I let Facebook usage get into my head, and proves that I really do need a break. I’m thinking of keeping a journal. I feel that, sad as it sounds, a life without Facebook, in this day and age, might actually be worth chronicling.

Keep going.

Wanting

I’m in the process of gathering my thoughts on Vampire Academy so that I can write an informed and informative review/critique. But I realised that today was being spent ‘getting nothing done’, so I made myself do some Tallulah revision. It’s gone fairly well, but I discovered something while revising this chapter.

I hate high school.

Let me clarify: what I hate is how I’ve incorporated the setting of a high school into Tallulah. It feels so ridiculously cliche, and I guess I could use that to my advantage, but right now it feels like filler and I hate it.

I also hate the expectation that high school will feature in stories about teenagers. I mean I get it. Most people do in fact go to high school as teenagers; it’s a pretty universal experience, but not only do a lot of the same tropes and cliches tend to pop up over and over again, especially in films set at a high school, but it’s a universal experience that I didn’t have. I was unschooled, and so writing about teenagers in a contemporary, real-world (ish) setting makes me think that if I don’t include high school in some fairly significant way, the majority of my readers are going to wonder what the hell is going on.

I think a lot of that is just me worrying about things that I don’t really understand, as people are wont to do. Perhaps nobody gives a damn. I mean The Changeover is about a couple of teenagers, and high school features very, very peripherally, and I love that book. But then again, I was unschooled. Perhaps I’m including high school in my story for the wrong reasons to begin with, and that’s what feels so uncomfortable about it.

The feeling of filler also suggests to me that these side-characters I’m so fond of actually need to go, because they only time they ever show up is at the high school in Tallulah, really. I could just be throwing out the baby with the bathwater here, and I really do like these characters, but at the same time, they have always felt a bit distracting. Perhaps they need their own story. I honestly wouldn’t mind taking them on a road-trip or something and seeing what happens.

~~~

I’ve also had decided to do something rather drastic with that one story I occasionally mention as the story that I just can’t bring myself to write, the one I’ve abandoned multiple times throughout my 12-year relationship with it. I’m rather happy with the idea of just letting it go altogether on some days, but then the characters come back, the characters I’ve spent so much time with, that I feel so guilty for consigning to the depths of neglect just because they were part of a horrible, toxic part of my life and a story that made no sense without me as a direct referent, which was not sustainable or satisfying. What I did was swap the roles of the two romantic leads, and suddenly everything felt better. I got excited to think of what a first draft might feel like, what could come of it. I got excited about the prospect of this story actually becoming a thing again, rather than just a huge mosaic of assorted, chronologically-scattered ideas with no unifying principle to draw them together.

Two of my friends give me vastly different advice on what to do with this book whenever I bring it up. One of them wants me to hold onto it – they have a similar relationship (that has lasted a similar amount of time, and drew from scarily similar inspiration during its conception) with a project of theirs, and they want to believe it can work (their words, not mine). The other tells me to drop it – it hasn’t worked so far, and it has eaten into my focus and energy for other projects, which is absolutely true, so it’s just a big toxic mess that needs to go.

Right now I’m in the middle. It’s an option, but one that I can do without – at least for now. I have other stories to focus on, and I enjoy them a lot. This one perhaps just needs more time to gestate – or is just proof of the fact that waiting never gets anything done. I’m long past waiting; the project has become one of waiting, and that’s certainly part of the problem – if I’m not waiting to write it, it’s actually not the same project anymore, it’s something else. And that something else promises fun, which it has not done for … a long time. A very long time.

And at its best, this project was really fun. But that ‘best’ was always in my head, the planning, the speculation, not the actual writing. I think I’m past that, now, just in terms of how I work. I have proven that I can commit to and finish at least one draft of a novel, and I’m currently proving that I can revise a first draft as well.

Ultimately, I just don’t feel that moved to write it. And waiting isn’t going to get me there. But doing other stuff and seeing it through to completion might. So as ambivalent as I feel about some aspects of Tallulah, I will see it through to the end. I want the opportunity to start something fresh and new, even if that thing is actually just fresh and old.

I can’t help but feel whenever I think about this project that if I could find a way to get this story to work, it would be my greatest achievement. That’s mostly because I’ve thought about it more in terms of what I wanted it to be than what it is or how to get to what I wanted it to be. Which …

That’s what’s getting me excited. What it is. And the prospect of the journey from what it is to what it will be, regardless of what it could be. Something new from something old.

We’ll see. Tallulah first.

Stickstickstickstick

To the plaaaaaaaannnnnnn ugh why.

I had to go back and change some stuff because it had deviated from the plan. And then kept going and deviated from it again. But also technically stuck to it. I stuck to it enough that it means I’m hitting all the notes I need to hit and not doing anything that takes away from the whole structural thing …

I should have just stuck to the plan. It’s not meant to read like a story at this point. But whatever. It’s fine. Just more time-consuming, because it’s meaning I’m spending more time writing new words and less time stringing together disparate fragments of narrative into a new one, which is the main goal. I’ll make it up tomorrow.

The essay-writing also starts tomorrow. The only essay I’ve needed the full five days to write has been the one I spent 4 days trying to formulate my own question for, so I’m not that worried. That’s a lie; I’ve been worried all day, but I’m taking the opportunity now to calm down about it. I’m more worried about the fact that my documentary paper is passing me by and I’m really behind on definitions of key terms that I’ll need to, like, pass. So I should get onto that. Lots of catching up to do.

It seems that’s always the way – and it isn’t, but it happens a lot. I delegate a lot of my work to my future self, and he’s kind of … imaginary. And it works out about as well as that usually does.

But I can’t say it’s not going well. The revision is happening, even if I’m complaining about how it’s happening. At least there’s something to complain about. I kind of think of my complaining as a tired baby: just let it tire itself out and then chill while you have the chance. There’s no point trying to reason with a tired baby, and I’m tired as hell. I’ve been tired for half the day. I’m really not a morning person.

Hopefully I can get to the 50% mark with revision by Sunday, and catch up with all the lectures I’ve missed, and learn those key terms, and maybe read Catching Fire. But if not, I got some stuff done today, and it’s here, recorded, and it’s done, and that’s what it’s all about.