Whatever works

So today I was yet again not writing, while also not doing any of the readings I’ve been tasked with reading, and instead leveling up Archaeology on my Night Elf Hunter while listening to the very enjoyable Imaginary Worlds podcast. On the one hand, it gets me through the day. It’s coasty. It’s … it’s just easy and simple and anxiety-free. It’s a way for me to avoid a whole bunch of potentially upsetting chaos (read: everyday life).

On the other hand, I thought, I have the privilege, the absolutely fucking disgusting privilege of being able to sit in front of my computer all day playing computer games and listening to podcasts, and nothing else. Ostensibly this is not true; I am going to have to do a shitload of work for this Masters to work, and I am going to do that, because I always do my work. It’s not always been enough, and it’s certainly not always been on time, but I’m getting over that phase. What I’m not getting over – well, let me phrase that differently: what I’m not getting towards is a point where chilling and coasting and avoiding potential, hypothetical stressors that, from experience, I objectively know stress me out far more to imagine than to actually go through, is not enough for me, to a point where my staggeringly charmed life becomes a platform for me to do all of the mind-bogglingly awesome shit that I keep imagining that I want to do.

And that’s the question I now face: am I just imagining that I want to do these things? I have one big project in November that I’m looking forward to, but other than that …

Because another thing I was mulling over today was how I Became A Writer, which was that when I was 13 years old I really liked Harry Potter and decided that I could Do That Too, and didn’t think about the consequences that pursuing this lofty aspiration would have on my psyche, my attitude, my prospects, my general well-being – and, I mean, it’s not like that would be reasonable to expect any 13-year-old to consider with appropriate severity, so that’s not the issue. The issue is that I threw myself fully into something that I didn’t understand the consequences of because it was a fantasy that I had, and being young and responsibility-free I had the freedom to indulge in it. It ended up being something that I pursued for many reasons, including fantasies of fame, self-esteem and, for some reason, beating people in arguments (that’s a power fantasy that I keep coming back to and I think I should probably talk to somebody about it), and because it was What I Was Meant To Do. I had, completely without realising it, done what so many unfortunate idiots have done throughout history, and that is to craft myself an epic narrative that justified itself by merely existing. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I actually considered that this was unhealthy, and not until early this year that I realised that I am not, in fact, A Writer. I am a person, and I want to do all sorts of shit.

Or do I? Because if I imagined that I wanted to be a writer, only to find that I really just wanted to Be Up There with J.K. Rowling because she wrote books I really liked, if I latched onto this grand ambition that was so grand it covered up the very small, specific reason for having that ambition to begin with and got carried away with it to my massive detriment, then what else have I imagined that I want when I really want something else, something far simpler, smaller and – quite possibly – more attainable?

Or, because I have anxiety and overthink the fuck out of everything: what haven’t I imagined that I want? Do I actually want anything at all? Or are my so-called desires nothing more than fancies I distract myself with while waiting for the ever-looming smog of anxiety to pass, knowing full well that that’s not how it works?

It’s not a question of what I want. It’s a question of if I want at all, and if I can tell the difference between actual desire and the fantasy of it.

Do I actually want to write Tallulah?

Do I actually want to learn how to draw?

To play guitar?

To sing?

To be confident in myself?

To make a YouTube Channel?

To Come Out Of Myself?

How can I trust myself to know any of this shit?

And if I can’t – which is the angle I’m going for, in case you hadn’t picked up on that – then where the fuck does that leave me? Because regardless of what I want, in purely practical terms I cannot keep on doing this. One day I will be forced to pick up the years and years of slack I have let slip from my hands, and I will be completely unprepared for it, and be bitter and resentful about it and dig myself at least one hole to sit and mope in when the bubble inevitably breaks.

And I just think of all the times I try to talk myself into being passionate, try to give myself rousing pep talks about purpose and discipline and doing something really big with my life, or even something really small and manageable and practical, and allowing for all of my neuroses and anxiety and depressive states and just …

Does this actually work for anybody?

How do people actually want to do things at all?

Because I don’t think that I do.

And I start to think there’s something wrong with me, because it should be pretty fucking apparent that you do or do not want to do something.

And then I’m like “oh right I have a history of depression” and it turns out I’m right, there is something wrong with me. He puts a point on the board!

And so I’m thinking maybe I need to re-visit the idea of medication.

It’s very privileged of me to have the kind of revulsion that I do toward the idea of me taking medication. Other people? Sure, other people might actually need medication, but not me. I’m just dealing with a behavioural thing; the reason I haven’t gotten through it yet is due to a combination of having to peel away so many layers before I actually get to the real shit that’s affecting me – which is just bad luck – and habits of avoidance and procrastination and delegation built up over the past 18 years, which is also bad luck but I haven’t exactly helped things any.

Except that this utter inability to tell whether I actually want to do anything with myself sounds a lot like depression, and I thought, honestly thought that I was past that. I know I’m a hell of a lot better. I have actually wanted things in the past year or so, and felt it very keenly. And maybe the rest of it is just fear and residual low self-esteem, symptoms that linger even after the cause has long since resolved. Ghosts in the machine.

They do say that self-diagnosis is a bad idea. I’m starting to see why.

What I’m really getting at, since I know full well that all this talk about medication and depression and the question of how we know that we truly want anything is probably not something I can adequately process at 2:13 a.m., is that I already know that my trying to convince myself that I should be writing Tallulah since I have more than enough free time to do so, should be doing all of these things that I tell myself I want to do, never works. What I don’t know is why it doesn’t work. What I wonder is if it works for other people, and why I’m the odd one out. Or if I’m just using a bad strategy and need to be doing something else.

As always, I know one sure answer: “just do it”. It always works. It has never not worked, in my entire fucking life, but the lesson also never sticks. And I know, objectively, that this is part of the lesson, part of what I have to learn: that I may never have that autopilot option available to me, considering how long it’s been and it still hasn’t gotten internalised, so if I want shit to go a certain way I have to make it happen, have to exert myself every single goddamn time and that’s just how it is, sometimes you get dealt a shitty hand, etc.

But then, I also haven’t really tried to make it a habit. And I know that works. I’m still doing my workouts in my room – far from nightly these days, but still a good 2-3 times a week on average, and compared to where I was last year I’d be lucky to get in 20 workouts in a 52-week period. I’m getting back into waking up in the actual morning as opposed to the afternoon, and I’m really liking what it does for my daily attitude and outlook. So maybe I do actually have to do that thing that so many writers advise other writers to do and literally write every single goddamn day. And when I say “write” I mean “add to the word-count of a specific writing project”. Because I do write every day, if you count texting and status updates. But I don’t want to count those. I want to count what we would all probably call Actual Work, and I want it to be regular and consistent and I want it to fucking go somewhere.

How do I know I want that?

Fuck it, maybe I don’t. Maybe I just tell myself that’s what I want, because that’s how I’ve learnt to try and motivate myself into having a purpose, because without a purpose, I have learnt to believe, I am depressed and miserable. Except I love not doing anything. I love boredom. I love quite moments to myself that consume more time than I can imagine. I also love getting so absorbed in some project that before I know it the day is over and I haven’t done a hundredth of what I have the energy to do.

I hate to say this, as an enlightened millennial, but I don’t think I can do this shit with videogames and social media in my life. Maybe I’m just imagining that, too.

But even if I am, so what? It’s all I’ve got anyway. What else am I supposed to go on?

The other alternative is that I simply don’t want to do any of these things, and that the reason I try to talk myself into wanting them is because I’m ashamed of who I am if I don’t want to Do Something With My Life. Because then I’m just some asshole living at home without a job and no social life and no desire to change any of it who is totally okay with it.

Okay not the social life part, but the rest of it. That’s not what a responsible adult looks like.

Jesus. Do I really imagine that I want to be a responsible adult? Is that really what my life goal has become? No wonder I can’t fucking talk myself into doing anything …

This all deserves more consideration, but for now: 200 words a day, starting tomorrow. I could say 2000. I could even say 1000. But I also want it to actually, y’know, happen.

200 words a day, starting tomorrow.

I really, really hope this works.



I have met with my Masters supervisor, who said I had a very rich, interesting thesis and seems like a pretty cool, very smart dude. I have a premonition now: given my propensity to get really exciting at the prospect of having a story to rip off, and given that my Masters is talking about various sci-fi and fantasy YA novel-to-film adaptations, and given that I’m going to be getting really fucking intimate with these films for the better part of the next 12 months …

My first book submitted for publishing miiiiiight be a sci-fi or fantasy YA novel.

I am a little concerned, but also excited, at the prospect of my relationship to these kinds of films transforming over the course of this thesis. I remember writing an essay on Alien way back in 2014, and while that semester was my worst in terms of my emotional state (and one of the worst grades-wise), one of the high points was watching that movie 3 times in quick succession and starting to get really intimate with it. I think there are some films that just perfectly suit particular kinds of theoretical inquiry, and Alien was one of them; even though I’ve seen The Fellowship of the Ring (extended edition) over 100 times, over the course of a decade, I feel more engaged with Alien, which I’ve seen a grand total of 3 times, all of which took place within a couple of months one year ago. It’s not just how much we engage with something that shapes our relationship to it; it’s how we engage with it. I’ve never really tried to watch LoTR with a critical mindset – for one, those movies are really fucking long, and for another they’re not very neat structure-wise, particularly in the extended editions, which makes them hard to sit through if you want to take notes – but I think if I could manage it I would benefit from the experience. It also might help me get over my hyper-awareness of anything even resembling anything that happened in the The Hobbit films, which has so far pretty much ruined the original trilogy for me, as if I needed another reason to hate the The Hobbit films, oh my god, I hate them so much.

These YA novel-to-film adaptations, on the other hand, I’m sort of in-between with in terms of my engagement, in that while I can’t help but be critical of every piece of media I come into contact with, I also enjoy them immensely, even the shitty ones, kind of more for the fact that they even exist than anything else in that case. The good ones I just enjoy, even if I do burn out pretty fast on some of them (coughDIVERGENTcough), and certainly using the word “good” to describe a lot of these movies is a stretch. But fascinating? Utterly. And I think that, even if I get sick of these movies along the way, my fascination will only grow. And it’s my fascination that I’m counting on coming through for me, to create some of that creative tension I’m feeling in want of lately and spurs me on to get back to creative writing.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m not a writer, but I love writing, and I’m going to be doing it my whole life, whether as a career or a hobby. The hope is both, and if we’re counting academia then it’s already kind of both, except I’m paying to write instead of being paid. Hopefully that will change also. In the meantime, I’m going to try and use this opportunity to get my own momentum going so that, even if I am not whipped up in an ecstatic rapture of plagiarism-lust that can serve as fuel to my writing fires, I will be getting some creative writing stuff done – and also to remember that, if that doesn’t happen, it’s no big thing, because I can do something else instead. I love writing, but part of that is because, contrary to what I’ve been telling myself all these years, I don’t have to do it. I love it because it’s not an obligation. It’s just something that I love, and if you love something, you can let it go from time to time.

Also holy shit I’m doing Masters. Let’s see how this goes!


Great expectations

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about pressure. I’ve thought about how I lack enough pressure, the tension that winds me up and make me so restless and frustrated that I have to do something, anything, to relieve it. I’ve thought about how I’m knotted in it, unable to untangle myself, to breathe, to recover before pushing on, and so instead I stop where I am and just dangle, waiting for the anxiety to pass even as I know the pressure – of obligation, or promises made with good intentions – still waits for me to meet it. Often I feel that both are happening at the same time; I am stifled by pressure while being simultaneously unable to find the “sweet spot” that will turn that pressure into creative tension I can use to drive myself forward.

I’m not really sure what to do about this. But it feels like there’s an answer in here somewhere.

In the meantime I bought six young adult novel-to-movie adaptations: Beautiful CreaturesCity of BonesVampire AcademyEnder’s GameThe Giver, and The Maze Runner, as well as the Twilight box set. And, seriously, this is all for academic purposes. Fuck knows I would not be buying any amount of Twilight anything if it wasn’t. (I did go halves with Mum on the box set though, as she lost half of her Twilight DVDs.) I’m so looking forward to the next twelve months.

Which will also hopefully include finishing Tallulah. My strategy of planning it in my head rather than on paper is absolutely foolproof and watertight, except for the part where I actually get around to doing it, and that’s the “lacking creative tension” rut I’m currently in. Hasn’t helped that I’ve started enjoying World of Warcraft again recently, right the hell out of nowhere – or perhaps precisely because I’m so close to a breakthrough with Tallulah and my writing habits in general, and my brain is well-trained to sabotage my every happiness. One of the two.

The other thing is that I’m getting excited about all my other stories; I was excited before while I was writing my werewolf thing, and to be honest that excitement never actually went away, it’s just that my focus was elsewhere. But I’m quite eager to write a bunch of chapters 1-3 of my various novels and just see what it looks like, see if there’s one I’m particularly fond of and that wants to be written more than the others. So maybe that’s what I’ll do: make a list of all the projects I’m enthusiastic about and write the first three chapters, planning them out and doing all of this weird new-age holistic writing stuff I’m apparently now really into, where I eschew such earthly things as actual writing implements and basic self-discipline to better connect with the cosmic Prose Eternal and write about how good it feels to think about writing on this blog about – supposedly – actually writing.

Or I could, y’know, do some actual writing.

But I do need to pick a plot of time and use it, and it has to be early in the day, like first thing in the morning kind of thing, and early in the morning. My plan to make myself wake up really early has suffered since coming back from Malaysia, and part of that is because it’s currently winter over here and mornings are pretty fucking harsh, but the alternative is to do what I’ve been doing up to this point, which results in zero writing actually getting done, and that’s not acceptable. Writing up to chapter 3 of Tallulah over the next couple of weeks sounds like something I could get good mileage out of. The other issue is that Tallulah is still very messy in my head, tangled with all the “what if” ideas I dumped into it in an attempt to make it look like a “real story”, and in the meantime all of these other younger, sleeker, more focused stories are frolicking around, enticing me to join them in their Bacchic revelry (in a completely sober and platonic way), and it’s because I can actually see where they’d go as stories, whereas with Tallulah I’m still struggling to de-tangle it in my mind so that I can give it a fair second chance at being something great. And I do want it to be something great. It deserves that.

All right. Tension. This is going to be hard to plan while still waiting for my supervisor to be assigned to me – another reason why WOW is so recently engaging for me – but I can still designate myself to waking up ever-earlier in the mornings until I hit, I dunno, 9am or something. Once I’m happy with that I can start dedicating those mornings to writing. And in the meantime I can make a list of the projects I’m going to write up to chapter 3 of, and plan out those 3 chapters.

This could be a lot of fun.

And it will definitely be a lot of work, but I need to do it. I think that’s where the tension is going to come from; like all motivation, most of the time it doesn’t come to you – you have to go to it. Better get on that.

Precious things

The other day I was grappling with my laptop as it writhed in the throes of free-Windows-10-update agony, its screen flickering black every half second and rendering it funcitonally useless, no matter how many times I restarted or tried booting up in safe mode. Eventually I found the way to roll back to Windows 8.1, and I will never live down having to thank the fates for the opportunity to ACTIVELY CHOOSE TO USE WINDOWS 8 OVER ANY OTHER AVAILABLE WINDOWS OPERATING SYSTEM.

The upshot of all of this was that, for one thing, I spent much less time online than I would have otherwise – and for another, I got some writing done.

I wrote on paper with a pen.

I am now officially “old school”, and thus more credibler than you.

Anyway, I took this opportunity to start thinking of Tallulah in terms of the words I wanted to use, rather than the events that I wanted to happen. I find that this is actually a fantastic way to get around my revulsion towards planning out a story before I write it; it’s taught me that planning out events isn’t off-putting because it’s “all already done”, it’s because I’ve put down a vague outline and now have to go through all the effort of making it precise. The solution? Get precise right from the get-go; lock yourself in, limit your options, and think of your story in terms of the words you want to tell it with, rather than the images you want to put in people’s heads. Obviously both of these approaches will theoretically lead to the same outcome, but since the medium of writing is, well, writing, you may as well take advantage of it.

It certainly worked for me; I wrote a lovely little opening paragraph and then a whole chain of ideas came rushing in on its heels, and I had a little writer’s high so intoxicating that I had to stop writing, lie back on my bed and just think some thoughts of what this story could be. You gotta ride the waves when they come, because they ain’t going away anytime soon.

As soon as my computer was working again, I copied that paragraph into a word document and then expanded on it. But I found that my expansion was not what I wanted. It was an idea, not part of the story, and so today I’m going to go back in and cut it out. I’m going to hold onto that first paragraph, be precious with it, and let myself write the whole story in little precious pieces. I’ve done the whole throwing-paint-at-a-blank-canvass thing, and it worked very well. Now I need precision, and what better way to be precise than to cut out “and then I guess this could come after” nonense? That’s filler. I hate filler. Filler destroys good stories. Filler causes climate change. Filler ruins the economy. Don’t do filler, kids.

(Unless you’re writing a first draft; then do whatever the hell you want.)

(Filler will mar your soul.)

Story-planning with words rather than cinematic images works because it’s basically just writing. Obviously don’t do it and then neglect to write; hopefully you’re thinking of awesome paragraphs and lines and sentences – if you’re particularly inspired, entire chapters – and then immediately writing them down when you feel they’re right, even if you suspect you might think of something better if you wait a while. Because you will, but you can’t know how long that’ll take, and you have something that feels solid right now, so write that. Always go with what’s reliable right now over what might be awesome a little further down the line, because the thing about writing is that if it is awesome a little further down the line – just go back and edit it in! That’s what revision is for. Do your revision, kids. Save the orangutans.

(Seriously though save the orangutans; they are beautiful and majestic creatures whose natural habitat is being destroyed for palm oil, which if you don’t know by now does not come from orangutan palms please go read some stuff on the internet and I bought a t-shirt in Malaysia where the proceeds went towards an orangutan preservation effort so yay me.)

(It’s a really nice t-shirt as well.)

So I’m looking forward to this. Think I’m gonna have to start carrying that notepad around with me; I might become one of those writers who writes things down on paper first and then types it up digitally afterwards. Neil Gaiman does that, I believe. Seems to have worked out for him.

In any case, I have started to write the way I’ve always wanted to write, even if I haven’t always known it: within limits, the limits that writing presents, because writing isn’t supposed to be anyone’s everything. I honestly think that, where there is truth to the manic-depressive tortured artist stereotype, it’s because they’ve cornered themselves by making their art everything that matters to them, and that’s a hell of a lot of denial to be dealing with. We need more than any one thing can offer us, and sometimes that is a sad truth, because the other things simply aren’t available. That’s how it’s been for me, but it’s starting to change, and as a result I can now treat my writing as simply one thing of many that I love spending my time doing.

I think it’ll make me much better at it.