I am done with assignments. Yesterday, five days late and bloated with repetitive citations from a single academic resource, I handed in my last ever essay. The fact that it was late was rather fitting; it’s like those sports movies where the Good Guys try their best and still don’t win but that’s not important because it’s about the personal triumphs that they’ve made in striving to better themselves. I have other wins coming down the pipeline. That’s how I’m feeling.
And the first win, I feel, is going to be finishing this goddamn werewolf novel.
I love writing this novel, because it keeps changing as I write it, but for the better. I discovered a week or so ago that I actually have a decently compelling plot, and I hadn’t expected that. Now I’m excited to follow through with it, give it a push and watch it snowball under its own momentum. It doesn’t even mean that I have to get rid of the stuff I’ve already written that didn’t take that plot into account (seeing as the plot didn’t exist when I started writing): I can just wait until I’m done and then carve them up into more manageable chunks and fit them in that way.
I also love it because, as I’d hoped, it’s taught me new ways to approach and understand my other stories – most crucially, it’s taught me the importance of distinguishing between fantasising about random shit happening to my characters, and actual storytelling. The revelation came when I was thinking about Tallulah, kind of lamenting the fact that nothing I’d really thought up for the story had much momentum as I revisited a scene with her doing something or other. It hit me like a runaway piano slamming into me from behind and exploding in a spray of splinters and discordant notes: something was happening in this scene in my head, but it wasn’t progressing anything. More to the point, at no point in my fantasising had I ever had the intention of making this scene part of a progression. It was just me fucking around because I was bored and disappointed, looking for a distraction. I realised that I’d been holding up my own progress by actively choosing to daydream when I could have been plotting, narrativising – storytelling. And it really woke me up to just how much storytelling I could get done if I actually, y’know, tried.
I love this werewolf novel because it doesn’t even matter to me if I never actually finish it; it’s already given me so much value just by virtue of existing, by virtue of my active devotion to working on it and engaging with it, getting back into the writing process in the most productive way I can ever remember doing, maybe even more productive than the first draft of Tallulah. I learnt so much from that experience, and I remember looking forward to what I’d learn next. It took me about three and a half years, but here I am, finally learning a whole new bag of tricks.
Fucking werewolves, man. I never would have guessed.
And with the added inspiration of seeing my old writing buddy Sam launching his own novel, which he’s been working on for 14 years, the importance of actually making stuff happen has never been this resonant to me. Mostly because, for the first time in a very long time, I actually feel competent enough to make things happen all on my own steam. And, as always, and I mean always, the source of said feeling of great competence comes from forcing myself to do things …
But also, and also as I had hoped, forcing myself to do things that I actually want to do. I wanted to write a shitty werewolf novel, so I started writing a shitty werewolf novel, and holy fuck was it worth it. Now it’s making me want to do things I didn’t think I wanted to do anymore, that I’d given up on when progress either screamed to a halt because I stopped working on them or never picked up because I never gave it a shot. Add one more reason to my list of why I love formula and generic storytelling: it gets the ball rolling, and it tests your capacity to trust yourself and let yourself do the things that make sense to you – and rewards you for it. You get progress. You get a sense of accomplishment. You feel competent and empowered to do anything, not just the thing you’re currently doing, which you may or may not even want to pursue for its own sake, or at least not limit yourself to doing only that. Very much the case with me; this werewolf story, fun as it is, is not the kind of story I want to spend most of my time telling. It’s fun right now, and I assume it’ll continue to be fun for a while. But it doesn’t have to be anything more than just fun to be worth doing. It’s put me back in touch with all the other things I used to feel were worthwhile and then lost my passion for through inaction, frustration, doubt, and most of all through self-censoring. You can’t create at the same time as you self-censor. It has to be one or the other, in the moment. It’s the overall process where you can look back and see how you balanced the two out, maybe tricking yourself into believe that you did actually do them at the same time. That’s how it seems to me right now, at least.
And at least right now, I’m going to write this shitty werewolf story some more. Or maybe revisit my other shitty YA thing, because actually there are a lot of ideas there I wish I’d taken better advantage of and would really like to follow through with. It was originally exactly the same thing as this werewolf book, and then I let it sit for too long and got bogged down with ideas that I felt obligated to follow through with, instead of doing what I wanted to do. No such problems with this werewolf book. It’s about werewolves. It’s about every werewolf story I’ve ever come across. Originality is not getting in my way. And I’m starting to see how I can get out of my own way in every other story that I have, as I hoped would happen.
I’m just starting to realise that everything I hoped would happen as a result of my writing this werewolf book has, in fact, started happening. I really should listen to myself more often.
And right now I really should go and write, because it’s what I want to do.