Werewolf things

Yet again, writelessness defines my current existence. It’s fine. I can do things other than write. Such as read Bitten by Kelley Armstrong, who I am indebted to for the title of her book Industrial Magic that gave me enough of an idea to build an entire story premise out of (which I have yet to do anything with).

Bitten is … I mean I’m still reading it. It’s rather engrossing. I’ve never read werewolf fiction before; I’d heard a lot about how wolf pack dynamics are translated into super-dysfunctional power dynamics within werewolf culture – so far this is holding true – but actually reading it is … interesting. The main character, Elena, is rather messed-up and I like that, though I’m not sure just how credible her messed-up-ness is considering the reasons given for her messed-up-ness. Also there’s comparisons between psychopathy and animalistic behaviour that I don’t like, mainly because the term “psychopath” does not mean what it’s insinuated to mean here; it is not a synonym for “violent murderer”.

Also there’s some passing off of rape as hot sex.

This is not a YA book; this is aimed at adults, and presumably adults already have a healthy understanding of sexuality, including the very important line between fantasy and reality. Rape fantasies are a thing. They’re quite a common thing. They are not the same thing as wanting to rape/be raped. And while we can argue forever about death of the author and reader agency and what-the-fuck-ever else, at the end of the day there are plenty of adults who are just as impressionable as your stereotypical teenager when it comes to sexuality. Just because your target audience should be mature enough to understand that a sex scene involving sketchy consent that was obviously written to be sketchy consent is not necessarily a justification for when it happens in real life, doesn’t mean that they won’t. And also, yeah, it happens in real life; and also in real life survivors of sexual abuse sometimes read books. There are a lot of books – a lot of media in general – that handle sex, rape and consent just as badly as Bitten has thus far, and in fact many handle it even worse.

It’s not okay.

Now, all of that on its own is more than bad enough – but then there’s Elena’s backstory of messed-up-ness in which rape and sexual abuse are the main feature, and are also, it seems to me, played for rape-as-drama value and nothing more. What struck me about Elena’s backstory is that it doesn’t seem to affect who she is as a person. She obviously has trust issues, but sexual trust issues? Not that I can see. And obviously survivors of sexual abuse can and do recover and go on to have healthy sex lives; that’s not my problem. That’s, like, the opposite of a problem. My problem is that this is not real life; this is a story, and whatever gets put in a story HAS TO MATTER. Thus far – and I’m not even halfway through the book, so take this all with a bucket of salt – a lot of it doesn’t, other than as generic trust-issues angst-fuel that could have been just as effectively achieved if Elena’s backstory just went for the foster-family-didn’t-want-me angle. Thus far, the sexual abuse aspect only serves to confuse and infuriate, because it has no bearing whatsoever on who she is as a character. Bad writing and bad ethics.

Why am I still reading this again?

Well, I persist in reading Bitten because a): I paid money for it instead of checking my local library like a smart person, and b): I am honestly quite fascinated by unethical art. I am doubly-fascinated because, again, this is my first official encounter with werewolf fiction. It’s why I like songs like Every Breath You Take and Dirty Dancer; they tell us something about our culture, the people in it and the norms and values that are given precedence. The whole “beast within” thing has massive influence on our culture in particular, where repression and aggression are set up as diametric opposites in a false dichotomy of self-expression, the constant struggle between becoming an alpha or being made someone else’s beta. Werewolves just fit the bill because they’re both wolves and humans, and as we all know, wolves are ruled by an Alpha (per pack) and humans are assholes.

Except, well, that’s only half true. Humans are assholes, but wolves – in the wild – don’t actually have an Alpha. It’s only with captive wolf packs, where members are not always family members (according to the research linked above, wild wolf packs are family units; the “alphas” are just parents being parents), that the Alpha Wolf phenomenon occurs. In other words, only with human intervention did wolves ever adopt that particular power dynamic.

So actually, werewolves having that toxic Alpha/Beta mentality where their culture, such as it is, is based on unbridled aggression and an “only the strong survive” mentality … actually makes a lot of sense. But only because of their human nature being too strong to resist, ironically enough.

I like it, and I’d like it more if that was the point. Again, I’m not even halfway through this book yet; maybe it’ll surprise me with hitherto un-hinted-at insight and self-reflexivity. I’m going to finish it regardless because, again, I paid for the damn thing and I want my money’s worth – and it is fascinating. I want to write my own werewolf thing; actually my friend and I want to co-write a werewolf thing, inspired in part by the article I linked above, so it behoves me to do some research into the market.

It’s also interesting how Elena is the only female werewolf in existence – lycanthropy (never called that in the book) is only passed down through the male line, which is horrendously sexist (and makes the “no it’s totally not rape” scene even worse), but I like it for that reason. We’ve got this little world run on the same dog-eat-dog, hypermasculine ideology that our contemporary real-world society runs on, and it’s werewolves. And the one female werewolf in all of existence, who is very much aware that her role within the pack is to provide sex and/or dinner (well, she says she’s aware of it), is the main character. Never mind the story; that premise is enough to keep me reading, even if it’s not explored quite as thoroughly as I’d like – not yet anyway. I guess we’ll see. And it’s certainly giving me ideas for my own writing, and I guess at the end of the day that’s what matters. I’ll try and construct a review/critique thingy once I’m done reading; I still haven’t done my Vampire Academy one that I started in October 2013 so don’t hold your breath or anything, but I’ll try.

In the meantime, if you have to take some kind of lesson away from this post, let it be this: if you’re gonna put rape or sexual abuse in your book, do it for more than just a dark backstory. It’s old, and it marginalises the severity of rape and sexual abuse, which are real things that happen to real people. So … yeah. Don’t do it. Do your research. And just be a baseline decent human being.

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What’s in a first draft

Call it a first draft, zero draft, pre-draft, skeleton draft, preliminary notes, inane rambling, word-vomit – it ends up being the same thing in the end: a first attempt at converting story data from thought to text form. The conversion inevitably results in an imperfect translation, wherein certain data may go missing or turn up in places it wasn’t supposed to (not always for the worse), mysterious repetition of data patterns may emerge without rhyme or reason, entire documents may be completely illegible and beyond salvaging, and by the end you may wonder what the point of trying even was to begin with.

As far as I can tell, that means you’re doing it right.

Everything I learnt about drafting novels, I taught myself. It was messy. It was frustrating. It ran out, and at the moment I’m trying to extend it so that I can move beyond the single draft and subsequent single revision I’ve accomplished for Tallulah, the novel I’ve been writing for the past three years. And the number one lesson I learnt was this: the worse your first draft is, the better.

But something else occurred to me today. It’s not just that having a bad first draft is good in terms of identifying problems (the worse they are, the easier they are to spot) and solving them (the worse they are, the more obvious the solution will be). It’s also that the first draft – and, really, reading that first draft – is where you find out if you actually want to tell this story at all.

In other words, you have to write the book before you really know if you want to write the book.

I learnt that by doing it. It’s exactly as frustrating as it sounds.

And I learnt that, with this book at least, I do want to write it, and that’s fantastic. I’m still trying to write it as I write this. But what has occurred to me is that, if considering a first draft less as a project and more as a process, and specifically the process by which the writer decides if they wanted to complete the project in the first place, the whole “bad is good” rule takes on a whole new meaning.

If it’s meant to be bad …

Why try at all?

Why not just make preliminary notes? Why not make notes on every scene that you have in mind, write [insert scene/emotional climax/insightful social commentary here] at the points where ideas haven’t arrived quite yet, toss it into a folder or Word document or Scrivener project and call that a first draft? I have struggled with the notion that story and coherence are not at all important in a first draft ever since I heard that advice, simply because I have a clear idea in my head and insist that I am able to put it down in writing, and that if that doesn’t happen for me it’s my own damn fault for not being focused/disciplined/committed enough to the task, rather than because “clear ideas” often aren’t as clear as we think they are when we get them out in writing or say them out loud, or we find that the idea itself isn’t the only thing that needs considering once we start to externalise it from ourselves. Even while writing my more or less stream-of-consciousness first draft of Tallulah, I cared about story, I cared about plot, continuity, consistency and all those other important things. But if “bad is good” holds true, then surely the less I care, the worse it will be, and the worse it is the better it is and aaaAAAAAAA?

Well, here’s my first thought on that.

You know how Twilight is particularly awful because you can tell that Stephanie Meyer cared a lot about it? That’s the kind of “bad is good” I’m talking about in a first draft. You have to care.

I’m not talking in a moral sense; I’m talking in a mechanical sense. When we care about something, we treat it preferentially and with huge bias, whether we want or are able to admit it or not, and whether that bias is complimentary or not. Sometimes, especially if we think of ourselves as smart people, that bias can be particularly hard to detect because we’re so accustomed to being on top of things and ultra self-aware all the time about everything. (Arts students, I’m looking at us.) You need this for two reasons:

  • Caring will make your efforts more earnest, making the good bits better and the bad bits really, really bad – which will make them easier to identify/fix
  • If you don’t care, you shouldn’t be writing it to begin with

If you’re writing something and doing all the things you’re meant to be doing – not worrying about how it looks now because it’ll be edited later, meeting your writing schedule, sticking to your plan – but you just don’t care about the story?

Don’t tell it.

Simple.

There is no shame in not caring enough about a story to tell it, even after you’ve started.

You need to care, but only because if you don’t care it means you should be doing something else. So I guess a better way of saying it is: only do it if you care enough to do it. Let that be your deciding factor.

And what I’ve found is that writing the thing, putting in effort and actually trying, is where I find out if a certain story is the one I want to be telling.

In short: yeah, you do have to try. If you’re forcing it rather than following your passion, then it’s going to be a slog the whole way through and, unless you are actually being paid to do it, not worth your time. I mean perhaps if you have an idea for a story that you know would sell well (telepaths, I’m looking at you) but just have no personal passion to tell there’s some concessions you can make as to your personal preferences, but in all other cases, do it because you want to, because chances are you’re never going to get paid to do it.

I hope you will, just like I hope I will, but there is a certain freedom in acknowledging the statistical unlikelihood of that scenario. Because once you take away the “I have to” part, all you’re left with is “I want to” or “I don’t want to”. And if you want to, you’ll try, and if you try, the bad stuff will be truly bad, and if it’s truly bad then you can fix it really easily …

And at the end of the day, you’ll have a really good first draft, and the opportunity to decide whether this story is the one for you.

Now if only the actual drafting process could be shortened from a year to, like, a couple of hours. That’d be swell.

I’m totally not still sour about failing Nanowrimo what are you talking about

(Also does this count as writing advice because I don’t know how I feel about that)

Nothing Doing

I can feel the slump coming on again. This time I am particularly aware of it being a direct consequence of the actions – mostly inactions, to be precise – that preceded it. “No, I won’t do this” “no not doing that either” “ugh seriously why would you even think I’d do that do you even know me”, followed by “dear GOD I’m so fucking bored”, and, now, this. Dissatisfaction in all aspects of life. Not depression or sadness or anger, just … disappointment. Could be better. Kinda annoyed it isn’t.

But rather than write about what a slump I’m in, I figure I’ll list a bunch of things that I’ve done recently instead. Not a list of Accomplishments, just things I did. Because I did do them. And it’s so easy to write off most of what we do as something that “doesn’t count”, for the most absurdly ill-reasoned … reasons.

Yes. Anyway.

  • Wrote notes for story ideas
  • Finished God Stalk by P.C. Hodgell (well worth the read; I’m very glad I forced myself to finally do it after swearing off ever reading high fantasy again and owning the damn thing for 2 years)
  • Did a workout after, what 3 months?
  • Proved to myself that, actually, I don’t have to eat when I’m bored, impatient, dissatisfied, upset, lonely, etc., and can actually regulate my goddamn intake – and that it’s almost silly how easy it was. Quite the revelation, hoping to keep it up
  • Played Bayonetta for the first time, which is seriously OTT and just very fun to play
  • Listened to music for hours on end and got sick of most of it (though that’s been going on for a while now)
  • Turned off the music (just now) (huh that feels a lot better)
  • Watched YouTube videos
  • Wrote notes for story ideas

And before I go to bed I’ll probably make myself nudge forward my word-count for the new Tallulah opening chapter. I came to the conclusion today that I still don’t know what the hell I’m going to do with it, and was rather put out by it. Then just now I remembered that that was part of the reason I was happy to be writing it from scratch – not just because I can make new things happen, but because nothing has to happen anymore.

There’s two widely-circulated methods of writing that get all the attention: there’s writing stream-of-consciousness (pantsing), and there’s writing from a plan (planning). I got sucked into the idea that I had to pick one and specialise in it, because surely if I got good at doing it then I’d finally have an autopilot mode of writing that would steer me through every obstacle and writer’s block I ever came up against, and wouldn’t confuse myself. That last one especially; I have a history of working myself into a panic over doing something a certain way because I might confuse myself.

What the actual fuck.

How does that even fucking occur to a person? How can you confuse yourself by doing something wrong? Surely you just go “hey this isn’t working” and do something else? Where did this worry come from? I mean probably from feeling inadequate and unable to compare to my best friend as a teenager and therefore second-guessing everything I ever thought was a good idea in order to keep from feeling embarrassed for even existing, let alone daring to have ideas that might be different from what he thought was good, but apart from that?

But wherever it came from, after what feels like a lifetime of it it’s finally starting to lose its hold on me, and that’s pretty dope. I can sit down, write a few paragraphs on a blog and suddenly not give a damn. How absurdly, beautifully simple. I can write this new chapter in an hour; I can write it in a decade. It does not fucking matter. I want to write it quite a lot quicker than in a decade, but that’s fine too. It’s just what I want. I want other things as well. I want to go volunteer at a counseling hotline for instance, and look into perhaps getting back into psychology as a career/study option. I want to finally get through my various anxieties and insecurities to the point where I can start looking for jobs without having the closest thing to a panic attack I’ve ever had.

I want to fiddle around with making YouTube videos; hell, just videos. They don’t even have to go up online. I want to make good on my ambition to play guitar for 10 minutes a day at least 3 days a week, and to make myself draw something at least that often as well. I want this to be the year where I finally get responsible about what I eat and when – and why.

And that’s all great. I want. I want a lot. I would work great as a Disney princess. Hell, I’d work great as several Disney princesses.

Hmm, there’s another idea …

I have lived by the habit of telling myself that I’m “doing nothing” when, really, I’m just not doing that. Whatever that happens to be at the time. And what a goddamn waste it’s all been, all that scolding and berating – for what? Nothing. It didn’t get done even when I accused myself of not doing it, so in the end it just made things worse. I think right now is not the time to just say “well I didn’t do anything today and that’s all right”; right now is the time to acknowledge that everything I do is a thing that I have, in fact, done. That what I “do” doesn’t have to be particularly significant for it to count. To run myself out of excuses for feeling like I live an empty life. It’s not empty. It’s not a matter of degree. It’s just my life.

And it can be anything I want it to be.

I have a history of not being really great at keeping this writing blog on-topic.

But I also don’t care. Because it doesn’t matter.

I still want this writing blog to be about writing and nothing else, and that’s fine. It’s just what I want.

I also want to put a few words in before I hit the sack, so I think I’ll go do that.

And then tomorrow, maybe I’ll write more. Or write something else. Or not write at all. I don’t know.

want to write more.

The road goes ever on and on …

The Last Big Thing

Yesterday, I decided it would be instructional to read this blog of mine. All of it. From the beginning.

It’s taking a while.

But it is, indeed, instructional; I have found that I do come to the same conclusions over and over again, meaning both that they’re sound conclusions given my circumstances, and that I keep forgetting. But I think it’s more that I just get carried away with the next thing and fail to remember, rather than actively ignoring, these lessons, which is hopeful. And I have also found that I don’t mind that it happens, which is nice. It’s just writing.

Then again, I can be very dismissive about things like that. “It’s just writing”, yes, and it’s important to have a healthy relationship with your writing (or any self-directed activity) in terms of the amount of pressure you put on it to fulfill you – but on the other hand, plenty of advice that I end up giving myself to get out of writing slumps, for example, could probably work very well in other contexts as well. I just don’t think about it. And for a very long time, I’ve been aware that I don’t make connections like this, use lateral thinking, and it’s always an after-the-fact kind of lamentation of “dammit why can’t I be cleverer”. Always comes with a bit of self-hate. Which is not cool. I want to work on that. It’s just thinking.

Lately, though, the thing confronting me is not ideas that I should have had on my own, but ideas that other people have already had and how attracted to them I am.

This article found its way to me today, and two points stuck out to me as particularly salient to my current situation. The first one is #6, in which cool ideas are really quite common. This isn’t the same as “everybody uses the same ideas”; it’s much more generous than that, while at the same time kind of even more of a downer: everybody has cool ideas, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything good will come of it (“good” in this case = publishing deal/worldwide recognition for your cool idea). At the same time, whenever we talk about “cool ideas” we are automatically referencing the possibility that our cool idea might just be the same as somebody else’s cool idea. I only recently learnt that Alfred Russel Wallace was a person, let alone the fact that he came up with the concept of natural selection independently of Charles Darwin. Their idea was the same, and it makes sense that they came to the same conclusions because they were interested in the same things. Likewise, all of us humans who belong to the same culture and are interested in certain things in big clumps will probably have a considerable amount of imaginative overlap. I mean how many Giant Robots exist concurrently in our popular consciousness? It definitely depends on what media you’re exposed to – but that’s my point. There’s Transformers, there’s Gundam, there’s Metal Gear, Voltron, Power Rangers, Gasaraki, Evangelion, Star Wars; and all of that came from somewhere. Nothing, not even imagination, happens in a vacuum, without outside influence and a convergence of contexts. So ultimately, our “cool idea” is probably similar to somebody else’s – it’s just that we haven’t heard about it. A cool idea is not the same as a well-publicised idea, but that doesn’t mean it may not be making the rounds all the same.

In short: whatever your cool idea is and wherever you trace its origins from – it’s still a cool idea, and there’s no reason you can’t use it. Other than copyright, but these days copyright is undergoing some interesting evolutions, so one day that may not even be a barrier to entry.

The other point was #8, in which most trends are over by the time you hear of them. Kind of like how the light from the stars is light we on earth are only getting some X-billion years after the fact, and many of the stars we see actually don’t exist anymore.

Hell, there’s a cool idea right there: what if one day all the stars simultaneously went out, and we realised that we’d never actually seen the stars at all?

I don’t know where that idea goes (see #4, in which ideas aren’t stories), but it’s cool nonetheless.

Vampire romance novels are, I mean, were they ever popular? As a trend I mean. There was a lot of hype about vampire romance novels, but hype is not intrinsically linked to thorough research. You can hype something you know almost nothing about, and part of the hype in the case of vampire romance novels was the controversy of the Twilight saga, its depiction of romance and sexuality combined with its (supposed) target audience. But people would make jokes about “teen vampire romance novels”, as if that were a thing. I know there are, indeed, many young adult novels wherein vampires fill romantic roles in the narrative tapestry – but does that make it a thing? A thing-that-exists, sure, but a thing-with-social-relevance? We have Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy and True Blood that seem to have “made it”. That’s four. Four franchises. And True Blood doesn’t even count, because it is not for teenagers. So it may not even be that trends are over before they begin; it may be that trends never existed to begin with.

At least not with that level of specificity. Because what I did see, and what everybody else saw, was a huge rise in interest in paranormal romance (rather than vampire-specific romance). Vampires may well have kicked things off, but even though Superman was the first superhero, Batman was the one who started the trend of superheroes, by proving that there was a resilient formula inherent in the Superman story that could be generalised and perpetuated in different specific forms. From Twilight we got Hush, Hush, we got Beautiful Creatures, we got Tiger’s CurseWake – and, despite what Richelle Mead might have to say on the matter, we got Vampire Academy, and I’m glad we did.

ampire Academy is one I might actually still review just from a genre perspective, simply because on the surface it comes across as the most cash-grabbing, zeitgeist-chasing undertaking you’ve ever seen, in which teenage vampires go to a high school where they learn to do magic. But none of that changes the fact that, whatever Mead’s own personal motives for writing VA when she did, it doesn’t matter whether she did it for the intents and purpose of making a quick buck, or because this story had been burning inside of her for release and the catalyst of Twilight andHarry Potter‘s success gave her the opening she was looking for. It does not matter. What matters is that the hype was real at the time, and the series benefited. (I still haven’t looked at Bloodlines, but I really want to know what the hell happened after Last Sacrifice so I may just have to get around to that.)

And, if this article is to be believed, it was lucky in that regard. But I don’t know how much I buy that one. I mean obviously, yes, trends to come and go; but logically, if trends are on their way out by the time you hear about them, and you’re a writer, and you don’t know they’re on the way out and you write your thing anyway and it sells, then surely you are adding to the lifespan of that trend? Like, I dunno, Divergent? And this is why #8 stood out to me: because trends don’t just die – they come back. Dracula begat LeStat, LeStat begat Angel and Spike, Angel and Spike begat Edward and Bill, if you think vampires are straight you’re missing the point – and even though Animorphs hasn’t seen its Second Coming quite yet, stories about people turning into shit are not uncommon. It was just that Animorphs had some really interested, seriously fucked-up lore to go along with it. From what I’ve heard. I really should go read that series at some point. It seems important.

Particularly as people-with-animal-powers is one of the ideas that’s been kicking around in my head and screaming for attention over the past few weeks.

I have a lot of ideas and not enough stories to give them to. It’s a problem, but not, like, an urgent or even important one. And I feel it would be even less significant, perhaps even cease to be, if I could just get over my insecurities about re-treading the ground others have already walked before, especially since I am fully aware and even proud of the fact that there is a huge part of my identity as a writer that loves doing that. I love copying and pasting; I love reiterating the already reiterated concepts and tropes and conventions everybody’s seen a million times, because it’s established and predictable and going through it yourself is a clear way to measure (a certain type of) proficiency and skill.

I think my biggest obstacle is that, much like how I don’t really think about how concepts in one context could apply to another – writing advice being relevant in tense social situations or moments of frustration, for instance – I tend to think, in this case, “people with animal powers” or “people with giant robots” and then go straight to “… has already been done before and I have nothing new to offer”, rather than, I dunno, literally anything the fuck else. It’s not just dispiriting to think that way; it’s dispiriting to know that I think that way, that this is the treatment of myself that I default to. Part of it could be that I’m still more or less in holiday mode and just cannot be fucked thinking outside the box, but then again, when else is a good time to think outside the box? If this isn’t the free time I was looking for, when is? When semester starts again?

And you can’t force inspiration, but you can force effort. And at the end of the day, maybe that’s the reason I’m stuck on the Last Big Thing: I don’t put in any effort into exploring the idea and seeing what hasn’t been done – or, more organically, what I think would be interesting to add to it. I just fall instantly into a self-defeating slump of “well, it’s been done, why bother”, and it pisses me the fuck off, because I know I can do better than that.

My imagination has been so narrowly framed as well lately, and by “lately” I mean “all the way through university”; sociopolitical issues and formal deconstruction are pretty much the two nodes I swing between, to the exclusion of all else. It’s just not very … varied. And it’s getting to the point where it’s actually stifling, where I need to be able to concern myself with other ideas and inspirations, otherwise I feel like my thoughts are going to shrivel up and die from lack of nourishment, that my imagination will become more mechanical and conveyor-belt-y – which is all very ironic, because supposedly studying arts helps you to counter that kind of thinking.

I’m also thinking of giving psychology another go, because at least I know where I’d go with it career-wise.

And I had some cool ideas while I was studying psychology; and to be fair I’ve had a lot of cool ideas while studying arts. Probably the biggest wealth of cool ideas I’ve ever had, actually, so maybe it’s just a “grass is greener on the other side” kinda thing. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go roll in it for a while though.

With giant robots that have animal powers.

Hell, maybe it’s just the heat. It is disgustingly humid where I live at the moment, and heat never does much for your motivation or creativity, unless it’s motivation to lie in the shade while creatively angling yourself so as to best catch passing breezes.

It’s not just the heat. It’s a habit I’ve built up over a very long period of time, and it’s time to break it. Time to actually start letting myself explore ideas again, and find the fun that repels the doubt.

Time to not care if it’s the Last or Next Big Thing, and just let it be my thing.

Also maybe take a shower because JFC this heat …

As it turns out

If you actually force yourself to sit down and write THINGS GET WRITTEN.

So now I’m un-stuck again. I didn’t run out of creative momentum; I just had to manually rev it up again. I wrote more tonight than I have in the past two days combined. Take that lack of inspiration.

And thus, as it turns out, all of that writing advice saying to treat writing like a job and that you have to make yourself do it even when you don’t want to – it fucking works. Like, not all the time, obviously, but enough to make it worth trying when you get stuck. I wrote out that stupid character, wrote in a fight that turned into friendly banter (but was not replaced; always make copies!), and it’s all moving again; all the energy has come back, and I didn’t even have to plan anything – beforehand. You end up planning on the spot a lot when you write, but that’s good, because you’re planning based on what you’ve written. Obviously this means you’re planning from a very zoomed in perspective rather than taking a more macroscopic view of the overarching project, but until it’s down in writing it’s all only in your head anyway. Which doesn’t make it unimportant – just impractical to try and predict how it’s going to turn out, what adjustments it’s going to call for. You’ve gotta write it before you can respond to it.

So yeah. Can’t write? Just try writing. It works. Again, not all the time, but again, enough so that it’s always, always worth the shot. I will remember it.

I’M WRITING MY BOOK AGAIN WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

A really good start

So, upon coming back to Tallulah, things were going great for the first couple of days. The first chapter of the new draft was tighter, more like a story than a rant thanks to an unexpected but very welcome change in narrative voice; I started to see that I could practice my preaching and really use telling to good effect, instead of insisting that everything be shown. Sure, a bit of the viscera of the teen angst that fueled the first draft was lost, but clarity and a sense of flow and continuity came in to replace it, and it was a refreshing change of pace. Everything was going great.

And then it turned out that I was writing a fucking book and I got stuck FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

*ahem*

Today has been a shitty, grey-mood kinda day, and I blame myself for starting the day by playing videogames, against my own better judgment, because I know that when I start the day playing videogames it sets the tone for everything else that day: uninspired coasting.

But that’s also quite unfair. For instance, I am able to write this blog post quite easily; I actually tried writing another one before this that spurred this one into existence so, obviously, my creative faculties have not all been numbed by the nuclear bombing that is saturating my brain with videogame flow. This is fairly creative; I’m taking stock of what I’ve written, comparing it to how I feel and letting it change my thoughts and my mood, creating a new context of perspective for me to work from and, thus, a shift in topic as my priorities change as I work through them. Which is how writing works – and, really, applying yourself to anything.

Which makes me think I could force myself to go back and continue writing this first chapter, which up until I started writing this particular post I thought I was too stuck on to continue. Which is because, up until I started writing this particular post, I was too stuck to continue with that chapter. All the humour I was inspired to inject into the story was invisible to me, perhaps because it wasn’t there at all, and when I tried to think of how I’d go back and put it in I couldn’t bring myself to have faith in any of my ideas enough to even try them out and see how they worked. All the interesting changes in character due to the change in narrative voice started to make me question my own motives, my own certainty in what I was doing, and in the vein of any good self-fulfilling prophecy I then began to lose that clarity and slip into potholes of doubt and pessimism. And when I wrote in a character I was sure I was going to let just drift away, a character I was kind of looking forward to letting drift away, I think that was the nail in the coffin, because upon writing them back in yesterday I found myself unwilling to write any further, and it’s been that way ever since.

Until now.

Because I’ve realised that, while it’s certainly an issue to address, it is only part of the much larger issue at hand: this new first chapter is incredibly ambitious, far more ambitious than I’d given it credit for. And I like that, a lot, but it also means that it deserves a little more attention than I was planning on giving it.

Or not, alternatively. Perhaps part of what made it ambitious was the fact that I didn’t have a step-by-step plan for it – or, more specifically, that I hadn’t put one down in writing. I knew what I was doing while I was doing it, this exciting new thing, and it was working. And then I made myself do something familiar and it all fell apart; well, it happens. And if I can force myself to write even when I don’t have to, I am sure I can work out a solution to this non-essential problem as well.

I want this chapter to be huge, it seems, and I’m okay with that. I want it to do a lot of heavy lifting; this first chapter is to be the cornerstone of the story, the genesis from which all of creation springs forth. So it has to do a LOT of work to live up to that level of hype, and pressure.

A couple of thoughts I’ve had upon writing that:

  • I’m going to revise it anyway, so I may as well just go back and erase that one character and then continue as though nothing happened – no plan, no reconsideration, no lengthy plotting-out of the exact sequence of events and words. Just continuing with the wild energy that was driving me to begin with, and letting it lead me to wherever it goes
  • could plan a few things, get some key points in there, because if this is the part of the story that informs every other part of the story that follows it, I may as well put my best foot forward now. Because I can, and I think it would pay off
  • Maybe I’d use up too much energy doing that and then not want to write the rest of it

And that third one, I think, hits the real problem on the head: I want to write this first chapter.

… and that’s about it.

It’s not like I want to not write the whole story; it’s that I don’t want to write anything beyond this big setting-up chapter. This is what I have energy for, and there is nothing beyond that yet.

But that’s okay, right? Because how could there be anything beyond this when “this” isn’t even finished yet?

I have some images that could be turned into words, moments that could become events. I don’t have a story. To date I have never had a story for Tallulah that I actually liked enough to commit to; it’s always been a collection of ideas sieved out of the slush of a bigger group of ideas. And the one time I did have a story – the last revision – it was a story I didn’t like.

That’s just the nature of this project. And I’m okay with it now. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. It just means that I’m going to have to accept that this is the way it works; it’s not clear-cut and precise ahead of time, only in retrospect or in the moment, and that’s it.

That sounds horrible and impossible, actually.

But whatever. Not like I’m getting paid for this shit.

And given that, I may as well do anything I goddamn well please, whenever I goddamn well please. Right now I want to destroy that stupid character for daring to come back into my presence. So I think I’ll do that.

If they come back after that, then I’ll consider them. They’re gonna have to prove they belong here.

Man. Writing really does work.

Why not now

Tallulah: Revision 2 is officially underway.

As artists, I think the best and most worthy of our ideas are the ones that show up when we most need them. In the moments when we’re at the end of our tether and know it, sometimes an idea we’ve been uncertain about will suddenly appear to us and bring with it a burst of newfound clarity of purpose that we can use to rejuvenate ourselves. And since that happened today with Tallulah, I decided that it was probably in my best interests to follow through.

Everything I’ve thought about during this 3-month hiatus from revision, everything I knew I liked but wasn’t sure quite how to work with, is now The Plan. I’ll just work with it the same way I work with everything else. I forced myself to write again today, because that’s a thing that I can do even though I don’t have to, and it worked. I have something of a first chapter underway, and it’s got more or less everything that I want in it, is more or less the exact way I want to open this new story.

And it’s definitely a new beginning. I can tell because I don’t know quite what’s going to happen in this chapter once I’ve finished writing it. I have a few ideas, but I don’t know. And I’m going to let myself not know, and just write and find out. Mostly because this is the make-or-break moment for some very old, very troublesome and very resilient parts of the story I wrote that haven’t convinced me to either forsake or preserve them. I’m going to use the writing of this chapter and the way I feel to decide. And if these ideas don’t make it in, I’ll take the hint. Either they don’t work yet, or they don’t work at all.

This is fun.

I’m quite pleased with that.