Keeping things interesting

Yesterday and the day before – night before I should say – I remembered that the times during this semester when I wasn’t in a soul-leeching slump were a result of not worrying so much about completing the work I had set out before me in one fell swoop. They were the times when I was instead just following lines of interest every day, not being able to finish anything and ending up with at least one compelling reason to wake up the next day. There were no days, only points at which I went to sleep after doing stuff, and then woke up to keep doing it. It was awesome, and I’m glad to find that even in the face of imminent deadlines, I am able to get back into it.

Which brings me to the actual things I’m spending my time doing. This werewolf book is continuing to exist, for better or worse, and what I learnt today is that making a story interesting while not stopping to think, much less edit, requires a lot of down-time to actually come up with interesting ideas. There’s a balance to be struck between this impulse-driven dash to the finish-line and the need to take breaks in order to let my imagination settle and the pulp to rise to the surface, resulting in interesting new cultures, a combination of going with the first thing that comes to mind and giving myself a chance to reflect upon it.

It also requires allowing myself to write in a non-linear fashion, to put down ideas in writing more or less as soon as I have them, and in the way that I have them – just making myself write exactly what I want, exactly the way that it is in my head, and not worry about why I want to write it that way, what it says about me that this is the first thing that comes to mind, etc.

The end result was writing almost 1400 words today of a scene that happens a bit father in the story than I’ve linearly written up to so far. And it actually felt really good, which I’d never considered might be the case before today. Before today, my method of writing has always been linear; I’ve never thought about it this way before, but I always used to think of my stories in terms of being books – not as in “written stories”, but as in physical books. I think that’s why I’ve always been compelled to write them in order, of sequence, because that’s the way you read a book. But I think this probably has a lot to do with the fact that I started and then abandoned a lot of stories in my youth, for a reason that I can finally, today, put into words that make sense to me: I am used to writing books, but not used to writing stories.

I wrote Tallulah like a book, in order, and the reason it worked – other than my being uncommonly motivated to actually finish it – was because I myself didn’t really know what happened next, so my process of writing this story was very much also a process of reading it – which, again, you do from start to finish. I don’t know if I can shift mental gears to the point where I’m comfortable writing Tallulah non-linearly, as a story rather than as a book, but what I know is that I kinda prefer it, a lot. Today was me writing the story rather than the book, and I don’t think I would have ever done it if I hadn’t also been pushing myself to write more or less as fast as possible. Tallulah, for all that it was largely stream-of-consciousness based on a general structure, was much more deliberate than this werewolf story is. It was based on idiosyncratic ideas and themes (at least compared to my ideas up to that point), and that took some thinking about, whereas this werewolf story is built on much more “creative commons” ideas, simply by virtue of commonly-used ideas being the first ones that come to mind, before I can get too creative.

I wonder, therefore, if all of the stories – books and television shows in particular – that, especially if part of a series, start off pretty generic and then get more interesting as they progress are that way because of the deadlines involved in their production. Having a deadline puts pressure on you to come up with ideas, and the ideas we all come up with first are the ones that we’re the most familiar with. I’ve always just assumed it was out-of-touch “money people”, marketers and so on, enforcing the repetition of generic, often grossly outdated tropes, stereotypes and cliches to build stories intended for mass consumption, the whole “lowest common denominator” thing. Now I think that it must also have to do with the fact that, when you’re low on time, you just take what you’ve got and do what you can with it.

The reason I think it gets more interesting over time is because, once you’ve gotten comfortable with your foundation and have gotten familiar with the body of ideas you’ve built up, it becomes much easier to think about them creatively, even while working at a breakneck pace. Which is really cool as a thing that I can look forward to while writing this werewolf story, if I do find that I want to continue the series – and, of course, any other series I decide to try this breakneck-speed-writing strategy with. I have a few in mind.

But there is also a downside, which is the downside of other writers maybe only ever being exposed to those early episodes/books/whatever, only being exposed to the same old formulas over and over again, thus perpetuating our cultural familiarity with and reliance upon them as default, go-to ideas that we can use to build stories out of. And much as I’m enjoying my current ability to allow myself to use and re-use the “lowest common denominator” ideas to build this story out of, I know they’re “bad” ideas. I know they’re problematic, that they’re ideas I wouldn’t use normally, ideas that, if a book not written by me was based on them, I would find frustrating, boring and offensive. Our pool of go-to ideas needs to get more progressive, and it’s not going to happen until there’s a widespread, concerted effort to make that kind of change, to go to the root of the problem, rip it out and then plant something new in its place.

I’m trying to keep it simple and kind of reductive in this book. I’m trying to use the generic ideas on purpose. I’ve already deviated pretty hard from that plan, haven’t quite been able to shuck my ingrained sense of liberal guilt about relying on certain tropes and themes that have been marked as regressive (for good reason). Ironically, it’s the same process of relying on ideas I’m already familiar with, the first ideas that come to mind. In that sense, it’s technically still okay, still the bedrock upon which I can build up familiarity and then, once that’s established, begin to get creative with it. Except for the fact that a) these two trains of thought I’m defaulting to are politically inimical to one another, and b) only one of them is a train of thought specifically devoted to constructing solid narratives, and sadly it’s not the progressive one. It’s actually kind of like how people say the villain is usually the protagonist, the one who wants something and sets the agenda for the hero to respond to, rather than the other way around: the storytelling concepts and strategies I’m familiar with are pretty villainous in a lot of ways, being very sexist and racist and ableist and so on, but they are all ways of making something happen. My political beliefs, on the other hand, are a response to something happening, and are therefore not exactly conducive to telling stories, just censoring the bad parts, and however noble that intention might be it does not make for good storytelling, because it’s stopping things from happening, cutting them off, removing options rather than creating them. It sounds counter-intuitive in a way – surely the “conservative” ideas should be all about restriction while the “progressive” ones should be all about, well, progression – but that’s not what I’m finding while writing on autopilot. I know how the “bad” ideas can be put together to create a story that moves and engages, so they’re the ones I’m trying to make myself use.

The obvious irony is that I’d probably find it was the other way around if I’d grown up with exposure to stories that were more progressive. There does need to be a paradigm-shift, and having said that it is already happening, across the board. I’m excited to see the kinds of stories that the people of the next generation come up with, since their stories will come from a culture that is, if not exactly utopian, at least more utopian than the one we currently inhabit.

Also maybe I should stop reading YA novels because seriously so much of that shit is normative as fuck. Although it does seem to make people a lot of money.

Money or morals. The age-old debate.

Let’s try getting something actually written first, maybe …

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