Oh god actual productivity

I spent the past two hours and twenty minutes drafting up a chapter breakdown for the new, improved, much shorter version of Tallulah, and because due to my new time-management strategy I was supposed to stop at 3, I compensated by leaving it incomplete so that I could come back to it tomorrow and finish it up. I am, frankly, a little bit amazed with myself.

And all of this after almost posting a super-angsty rant that, fittingly enough, opened my eyes to the obvious solution to my Tallulah rut.

The problem, as I had identified it after a good ten seconds of perusing my old writing, was that as time went on and the story continued to not be finished and subsequently spiraled out of my rapidly-deteriorating control, I had become far less interested in telling a story than in Making a Statement. That one Statement swelled into many, each of them even more out of my jurisdiction than the last, and ultimately that blog post ended up being twenty minutes of me trying to articulate just how much I hated myself for being an incurably horrible person.

I predictably went on to lament that it Hadn’t Always Been This Way, that In The Beginning it was actually just a couple of scenes I had in mind that were just super-vivid and had nothing to do with this existential, reductive gender politicking.

Scenes that I have never actually written, even though they were the very first scenes of Tallulah to ever exist.

And In The Beginning, one of the characters was just a ripoff of another character from another story (somebody else’s story), a character that I hated and wanted to see justice dealt to.

Which was a crucial arc in the story that I complete reworked in the revision, Because Of Reasons, which utterly changed the story at such a core level that I still have trouble trying to grasp all the huge important things that it changes by merely existing, because doing things that other people have done before just because you want to do them yourself makes you a Bad Writer and you’re Not Allowed, even if it’s one of the key things that you need to make your story, y’know, work.

Thinking all of this thought for a moment, I realised that, actually, if I just went back to that original idea, the one where I was gleefully ripping shit off because it was what I wanted to do, if I stopped trying to Make A Statement that I am not qualified to make and instead picked up the threads of the story as it was when I first wanted to write it, then maybe – just maybe – I would find something that worked.

And lo and behold, it fucking worked.

This chapter breakdown isn’t finished, but that’s fine. It’s good to have work left unfinished sometimes, or at least that’s what I hear and I’m willing to give it a shot as I already fucked up my self-imposed time restrictions. What I have written currently is exactly the focus that I was missing, not just as in “lacking” but as in missing, like pining-for missing. It feels good to have it back. It feels right. And while in terms of being a Proper Story there is tons of shit missing, that can come later. I can fill in the blank spaces as needed, and also enjoy not feeling like I have to fill in the blank spaces, enjoy the fact that this story is its own thing, and doesn’t have to adhere to some arbitrarily imposed storytelling format. I may never fill them in at all.

And I can also get back to enjoying ripping things off, because seriously it’s the best thing ever and is proven to work, if you enjoy it. If it motivates you. Because as writers, we need to do what works. You want inspiration? Let yourself be a hack – to start with – and just see if that doesn’t take you to good places. I bet you it will. I bet that if you are willing to be honest with yourself about that suspiciously copyright-infringing idea that you’re guiltily frothing at the mouth at the prospect of trying out – try it out. As Wicked shows us, anything too appropriative can be worked out in the editing room. I suggest that you do, in fact, be very fucking strict and force yourself to save it for the editing room. Because to get to the editing room, you actually need something to edit.

So yeah. Progress. Taking my own advice, despite my best efforts, always works out well. After six months or something of fuck all happening on the Tallulah front, this feels good. More of this please.


Cross-disciplinary action

It turns out that I actually grossly underestimate myself, because according to my thesis supervisor my thesis is going really well.

This assessment comes after meeting with him today to discuss the revised chapter breakdown I sent to him – we also inevitably discussed a lot more than that, and he reckons I’ve got a really solid, original angle to approach this topic from and that I’ll probably be ready to start writing the actual thesis thing by October.

Interestingly, I agree with him.

I was expecting to sort of nod and laugh and agree and then walk away in a cold sweat of terror at being expected to start writing a thesis in three weeks, but the truth is that I actually think his assessment is accurate to my ability to perform. I can do it.

And I think it’s because part of my not taking study as seriously as I probably should is that I think it’s going to be harder than it actually is.

I mean who knows; in three weeks time I may discover that I’m just as inadequate as I think I am and that I have no business being anywhere within ten miles of a university, let alone Masters level study, but I don’t think that’s true. I think I’m actually prepared for this.

What I also think is that this thesis is going so well that I need to find a way to apply whatever’s working in this process to my other writing process: my novel-writing process.

This thesis goes against everything I do when I write creatively. I have a fucking chapter breakdown. I don’t even have a rough plan – that I like – that I’m using for Tallulah. I have plenty of notes, but they’re the note equivalent of a motorway pileup; I don’t know where it started, certain notes only make sense if you take them in the context of older notes that I have completely forgotten I ever wrote and therefore am not assuming are in play, and all I know is that it is a pileup and I’m stuck in the middle of it.

No wonder I don’t want to write it.

The other thing is that trying to apply “whatever it is that’s working” in my thesis to my novels is a really big, broad, vague statement. And I mean honestly, what’s working with my thesis is that I have a supervisor who I am accountable to for my work, or lack thereof. I can’t really translate that into my writing process.

Or can I?

Is the answer obvious enough yet?

It’s yes. Yes I can.

I need a proper wall-planner. That’s the first step. That’s going to be my “supervisor” for whatever novel-writing project to embark upon.

I also need a plan. A plan can change, but in order for that change to be meaningful I need to practice what I used to preach back in the early days of this blog: be able to both commit entirely to a plan and reserve the right to completely change my mind at any time. Because that is what’s working with this thesis. However the other thing that’s working is having somebody to bounce ideas off. I can’t really do that by myself, no matter how committed-yet-changeable I am, regardless of how wall-planner-y my wall planner is.

What I can do, though, is read a lot of stuff that seems similar to what I’m writing, and just read a lot about writing in general.

I can learn craft.

hate the idea of learning craft.

But I also love it, and I think at the very least it’s a kind of sounding-board. I love narrative structure and conventions and all the rest of it, so it actually makes a lot of sense. And I’ll disagree with tons of it anyway so I probably won’t become a mindless sheep just by finding out what Robert McKee has to say about the Hero’s Journey. I probably won’t have my entire identity replaced by a line-toeing brain slug just by learning craft.

And, of course, I can invest in something like Nanowrimo, or a writing community, if I want people to bounce ideas off and talk shop with.

The answer to my issue, the way to apply what’s working with my thesis-writing to my novel-writing, is to take it seriously. To invest, rather than theorise and assume. To treat it as something I’m living through rather than something I could or could not “do”, as if it’s in some “doing things” space that I can choose to visit or not visit. The answer is to treat it as the material that I am constructed from.

This year I came to the life-changing conclusion that I’m not a Writer. I still maintain that.

But I can still act like one.

And the thing is, I can take what’s working about my thesis and apply it to anything I want to do, from finally starting my YouTube channel to my exercise and diet to drawing or playing guitar or singing every day. I just need to approach it as something I’m living, rather than something I’m just interacting with. Because you don’t get the motivation to do things, sometimes, until after you start doing them.

So, in short, my plan is this:

  • Get a better wall-planner and find a place to actually put it so that I can actually use it to keep me on track
  • Read books in my field (genre is probably not going to work out); read books on craft (such as finishing Joseph Campbell)
  • Make a chapter breakdown (which actually did work for my first revision of Tallulah go figure)
  • Seek out other writers
  • After recovering from my anxiety-induced coma, talk shop with said other writers

I sense I’m still waffling on those last two, but the first three seem doable.

Who ever said an Arts degree wouldn’t give you any life skills?

Let’s see this through.

Boneshaker & Storm Front (a 2-4-1 book review)

Since I can’t exactly update you on my writing because [insert incredibly valid and relatable excuse here], I may as well update you on my reading. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest is one that I picked up because the premise sounded cool and I’ve always wanted to check out some steampunk, while Storm Front by Jim Butcher is Storm Front by Jim Butcher, and as it seems the book ideas I’m coming up with lately fall broadly into the urban fantasy genre I may as well know what I’m dealing with. In short: I didn’t like Boneshaker that much aside from some stuff right at the beginning and right at the end that I wanted to hit me in the feels and I guess it did, just not as hard as it could have; and while Storm Front was pretty fun and I appreciated how tight and Chekhov’s Gun-y the storytelling was, it’s also one of the more misogynistic books I’ve read lately. Which is saying something, because I’ve been reading a lot of YA paranormal stuff in the past couple of years. In the end, though, nobody does misogyny quite like men.

In fact let’s just start with that and get it out in the open: when I saw Thor: The Dark World I was incensed at how many misogynistic cliches they managed to stuff into the story, from Frigga getting Fridged, to Lady Sif being a Strong Female Character, to Jane Foster being literally reduced to the status of an object (not even the MacGuffin, just the object containing the MacGuffin). Part of why I found that so unpalatable is because it was made in 2013, a full year after Katniss invented feminism and destroyed the patriarchy. Storm Front was published in 2000, when the word “feminism” was very much still an f-word, and misogynistic shit like putting women in refrigerators, the virgin/whore dichotomy and a super-tasteful rape joke here and there were just seen as hallmarks of storytelling.

I will say this: I like Harry Dresden in the sense that he is a total loser and he knows it. The only problem is that he’s a very, how shall I put this, male character, and while some of his flaws make him interesting and even a little bit original, he also has flaws that the book goes out of its way to excuse. These latter flaws are, as you might have guessed, his views on and attitudes towards women, and the story’s treatment and casting of women make them so much worse than they would be on their own. I am pretty sick of the whole “he doesn’t understand women” character; I am super sick of the male hero having women throwing themselves at him in one form or another, whether it’s for sexual reasons or because they need somebody to save them, and Dresden ticks all of these boxes. It’s a shame, because the pacing is pretty good – this is a first novel so I’m going to cut Butcher some slack on that one – there are a lot of little incidents that end up paying off later on in the book that make the whole thing feel very well put-together, and aside from the rampant sexism is a pretty rollicking good time, especially for a first novel. It’s nothing particularly deep; it’s written to be read quickly and effortlessly, and if you can ignore the misogyny … well, if you can ignore the misogyny then we probably can’t be friends, but you might enjoy this book more than I did. And I did enjoy it. I just really, really wish it had been, y’know, not misogynistic.

I feel like I would read the rest of the series, or at least the next book or two, just to see if it gets less sexist, because it if does then the rest of it is great and I’d be very into that. The fact that it was written over a decade ago, by a man, and the fact that the series is still on-going and has 15 entries to date are not excuses for the sexism in this book, but I don’t think it’s a guarantee that just because this book was honestly quite foul in a lot of places, the rest of the series won’t get better. But when I eventually get around to reviewing the Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman I will have a lot to say about the difference between a sexist character and a sexist story, and that was a trilogy that only got worse in that regard as it went along. I am dreading the same thing for The Dresden Files. I’m nowhere near as hateful of this book as one Goodreads reviewer, but I honestly wouldn’t disagree with them on many of their points, either. Maybe the one about it failing “on almost every technical level”, because while the writing wasn’t amazing it was absolutely fine, and for me it was the pacing and payoff of little things throughout the book that sold me. Also maybe the comment about Harry being nothing but another smug asshole chauvinist main character, but only because I think the story is far more guilty of being un-critically misogynistic than the character, and to me that’s what matters. I’d forgive a story for having a misogynistic character, easily, if the story made it clear that they are, in fact, misogynistic, and that this is a bad thing.

Sadly, for all of its good points, Storm Front is emphatically not that story. On the surface, it is actually startlingly refreshing that the majority of the supporting cast is female, but it’s a pretty transparent and flimsy surface. There’s a woman in this book who serves no purpose other than to be the butt of a date-rape joke about halfway through – don’t worry, “nothing happens” so that makes it okay – and to be a sexy lamp the rest of the time. There are no less than three women who are completely defined by being abused by men and unable to do anything to protect themselves, two of whom end up dead, one at least partially because of Harry (and at least he feels responsible for it, which is more than I was expecting). The two women who end up dead are also suggested to have been lovers, so there’s some good old-fashioned homophobia as well, and they were both sex workers, so throw in some casual whorephobia to top it off. The one “strong female character” is constantly belittled in Harry’s narration, shown to be near-hysterical when things don’t go her way, and ends up getting Damselled – again, at least Harry cops to the fact that it was his fault for not being more forthcoming rather than doing the tough guy thing of blaming her for “sticking her nose in”. He’s more progressive than he could be, but sadly he’s in a story that is, in places, scarily misogynistic.

This book has problems is what I’m saying. It’s the kind of story I was fully expecting to tell when I was still writing my shitty YA werewolf book, and you know what, I wouldn’t have regretted it, because I was focused on the story. And again, this book has tight, snappy pacing that, while it could have been tightened up (the majority of the filler in this book is also where a lot of the misogyny comes from, so cutting it out would have killed two problematic birds with one stone), was very enjoyable to read. The only thing is that, after I wrote my shitty YA werewolf thing, I would have revised it. And yes, this was written in 2000 when feminism was still struggling to even exist in the public consciousness, never mind be as accepted by mainstream society as it is today, and it really is hard to overstate how much things have changed between then and now, but my point is that this book reads like somebody writing as fast as they can with no thought to the consequences because they just need to get the fucking thing written. And to be fair, that’s exactly what this book is; that’s how publishing works, and how this sort of writing goes. You are expected to write fast and often, and inevitably certain things are going to be sacrificed as a result. We’re still at a place where feminist values are things a lot of us have to actively think about, rather than automatically defaulting to them, and so in that sense I absolutely understand why this book is as sexist as it is. But it doesn’t change the fact that it is as sexist as it is, either, and so if I do read more in the series, maybe I’ll skip ahead a few issues.

Boneshaker was notably less misogynistic, perhaps because it was written by a woman, perhaps because it was written by somebody who didn’t have as much chauvinistic baggage to work through, perhaps because it was written about a decade later, perhaps because of the genre – I don’t know, and it wasn’t enough to make the actual story very enjoyable. I loved the premise; I loved the prologue that sets everything up, and I usually hate prologues; I liked the idea of the two main characters, the fact that it was a mother and her son on society’s blacklist because of the dead husband/father’s crimes (which provide the premise), and the interactions between them were the best parts of the story.

Sadly, those interactions came right at the start and right at the end, because the rest of the story has the two of them split up. The rest of the story also suffered from consisting of: running away from “rotters” – perhaps because Cherie Priest is aware that “zombies” are part of the Vodou religion and did not want to contribute to the ongoing appropriation of the term, perhaps because she couldn’t be bothered coming up with something actually original and so just changed the name – meeting ambiguous allies; running away from zombies again; running into more ambiguous allies or sometimes the same ones; running away from more zombies again … it’s repetitive, it’s long-winded, and the characters are just really flat. I couldn’t care less if literally every single character had died at the end. There’s a twist at the end, and the twist is not important or meaningful or climactic; it’s just a twist. There’s a second twist afterwards that explains it and that one is better, but still. Also the actual steampunk part of the story just kinda seemed incidental; I was expecting a lot of innovative technological concepts, and there really weren’t any (aside from using the not-zombie gas to make beer and narcotics, which I must admit is pretty awesome). I don’t even know what the main focus of the story was, and perhaps Priest didn’t either, because it honestly felt like a solid first act split in two and bulked up in the middle with monotonous filler. There was a lot of potential in this story that came to nothing, and while I’d consider reading more in the series just to see if it does eventually come to something, I’m kinda not looking forward to the prospect. This didn’t have the snappy pacing of Storm Front to redeem it; at least with Storm Front I can learn a few things about storytelling technique to emulate. I can learn from Boneshaker as well, but only in terms of what not to do. Both of them have filler, but with Boneshaker the filler took up most of the story.

It’s just a shame that the “actual content” of Storm Front was so fucking sexist.

All in all, a pair of problematic texts. I definitely enjoyed Storm Front, but with huge reservations. I’m kind of ashamed that I enjoyed it. It’s that bad. And as for Boneshaker – I just wish it had been good. It had good ideas, it really did. It just didn’t follow through with them.

I get the feeling that Boneshaker is not really supposed to be a stand-alone story, that it’s setting up the world so that you can get used to it as the series builds on it, and that’s why I’m willing to give it a pass, in the same way that I’m willing to give Storm Front a pass because it is a first novel, written in a different time, and it has other elements to recommend it on. They both have potential, but it’s potential that, if it ever pays off, will obviously do so further down the line. They’re kind of polar opposites, in that while Storm Front was simultaneously very engaging, snappy and well-put-together it was also seriously fucking toxic, to a truly disturbing extent, while Boneshaker was neither offensive nor dynamic enough to really hold my attention. It took me about two weeks to read Boneshaker, and three days to read Storm Front. So if I had to pick a series to follow just on those grounds, it’d be The Dresden Files.

I have decided, though, that I do want to start getting more into urban fantasy, although from what I’ve heard Jim Butcher is hardly the only urban fantasy author guilty of rampant misogyny. I like the idea of steampunk, but maybe somebody can recommend me something more, I dunno, meaty to cut my teeth on.

And worst of all: I didn’t want to rip off either of these books. Although I might go back to my cyberpunk-fantasy series that I was super excited about three-ish years ago and then just nose-dived into nothingness. I feel like there’s some potential there.

Or I could work on my thesis. That thing I’m going into debt for as I try to prolong my assimilation into the adult world.

Or my current novel that I had a huge brainwave for the other day and was all inspired to follow through with. For the thousandth time.

And still haven’t.

Also for the thousandth time.

I think I might have a problem.

So THAT’S the problem

Progress on Tallulah: I have taken the handful of chapters that “could work” as something to build on from the current manuscript, copied-and-pasted them over to a new folder, and am now waiting for them to sprout leaves or something. The point is I did something and now I’m waiting for me to do the next thing.

How to brain? I am not know?

But I knew this would happen, and that’s why I did it: I’m in the trepidation stage – or state – that tends to accompany Big Decisions, even if that Big Decision is nothing more than writing a book. Which honestly is not a very big decision. It’s only a big decision if you bring the fantasy into it, the fantasy of staying up nights agonising over X and Y details, of reaching a speed-bump and being unable to get over it for days or even weeks, only settling for a mediocre solution because you’re too exhausted to reach your creative potential and having to *gasp* deal with it and move on, of it consuming months if not years of your life where, for some reason, you won’t get anything else done – or, worse, you’ll have so many other things to do that you’ll constantly be picking up and putting down the threads of your story until you either forget which one goes where, or you stop caring altogether, making the entire enterprise a complete waste of time.

So today when I found this article on Form vs Formula, written by Shawn Coyne (I have no idea who that is but he wrote a book about writing and is an editor so yeah), I had a moment of much-needed recognition. The anecdote is that the editor was recommended an unpublished writer who had great potential but whose stories “just didn’t work”, agreed to work with them on a new story on a profit-sharing basis as she didn’t have money to cover the usual editorial fee, and got to discussing how the story should go using his (I assumed patented) “Story Grid” technique to make it work better:

Coincidentally, she told me that she had a draft of a book she’d written with a similar character in her closet.

She suggested that we begin with that draft to see if there was anything salvageable from it.

This is when I started to get nervous. But I relented. Maybe the manuscript could give us some direction…never say never, right? Why reinvent something that has already worked?

This was the moment of recognition for me. I’ve already written these chapters, there’s stuff in there that could be useful, so why write it off entirely? The thing is, though, that this is more of a “putting-off” strategy than a “moving forward” strategy: I know what’s in these chapters, I know what will and won’t work in the re-imagining of the story I have in mind already without even reading them (not to mention that I read that manuscript at least four times over to make notes, albeit over a year ago, but my point is that I am fairly familiar with the material) – I have some work that’s “already done”, and the implicit catch to re-using that work – which I was very aware of when I made the decision to build my new plan on its back – is the rhetorical question of: “well, I’ve already done the work. Why bother with anything else?”

Which doesn’t make sense if you look at it for more than two seconds, but if you’re already aware that you’re stalling for time because you have anxiety or just really bad habits you’re still in the process of un-learning – which I do and am – then logic doesn’t matter. Excuses matter. That’s why it’s a rhetorical question: the answer is “I don’t wanna”, and that’s all that matters.

And as Coyne’s story progresses, this turns out to be the case for his client as well:

I read her abandoned book and it had some really great moments. Innovative turns of phrase, some seriously frightening scenes. Overall, it gave me even more confidence in her abilities. But it most certainly did not work. It never paid off the promise of the hook in an inevitable, yet surprising way. She did not disagree.

As writers, we learn a hell of a lot from our own bad writing. Because most of the time it’s glaringly obvious. That’s why writing a full – let me repeat, full – draft is so invaluable to anybody who wants to write a book: you don’t know your own story, not really, until you’ve got it written and ready for reading. It will transform your understanding of your own process, and you will quickly discover what works, what doesn’t, and why. Whether you want to own up to any of that is, of course, up to you, but the principle is there.

I ran it through The Story Grid and then we sat down to go through the places where it went off the rails. Weeks later, I thought we had a very clear understanding that the new lead character for our reverse engineering project would not be based on the character from her previous unsold novel. Rather we’d use a few of the scenes from the novel that really worked and perhaps adapt them to suit as major turning points for the new novel. I left her with a working map of about 60 scenes/chapters that included all of the conventions and obligatory scenes of the spy thriller form (more on this later on). I thought the conventions and obligatory scenes that we’d sketched out were uniquely twisted and innovative to a degree that would delight a thriller fan.

I don’t like reading about this process of doing things “because that’s convention”, but I know for a fact that I love actually doing it. So long as it’s a story I’m not taking too seriously and I’m not too precious about, but that’s not to say that such stories aren’t worth taking seriously; it’s to say that I have my own ideas about how to do things and that changes depending on how I feel, because.

And here’s where my moment of recognition of my own process transforms into a recognition of why exactly it is that I don’t like writing advice of this nature:

She came back six months later with a book far closer to the original manuscript she pulled out of her closet than I thought possible. While scenes were changed, the very problems that made it unworkable a year and a quarter before riddled the narrative. And an obligatory scene—the hero at the mercy of the villain scene, crucial to nail in a thriller—was gone entirely.

I took a deep breath and went through her draft scene by scene again and confronted her about the lack of the crucial obligatory scene.

“Well, I wrote it, but then I didn’t like it, so I cut it,” she said.

I explained that it was fine to do the scene differently, but without it, the book wouldn’t work.

“That’s not true, I read THE LATEST BESTSELLING THRILLER BY BESTSELLING AUTHOR X and he didn’t have that scene…why do I have to?

Here’s a hard thing to grasp and I’m sure I’ll go to my grave trying to explain it. Just because a book becomes a bestseller, it doesn’t make it something to emulate. There are myriad of reasons why some books become bestsellers and still don’t work as Stories (See The Emperor’s New Clothes phenomenon). Sometimes, there’s just a hunger for a particular kind of book (Vampires, Zombies, BDSM novels) based on some ephemeral need in humanity’s collective unconscious that drive sales. Trying to write one of those books that get swept up in the tide or even, the ultimate for some, a book seen as the cause of the tide is folly. It’s like selling your house and putting all of your money on number 7 at the roulette table because you have a feeling #7 is going to hit!

Chasing the vagaries of the bestseller list (believing in formula and not form) is the mark of the amateur. That’s putting the by-product of the Story (money, fame, etc.) ahead of the Story itself. Your contempt for form and lust for formula may even give you what you want. You write the next huge thing that makes you hundreds of millions of dollars.
Now what? That kind of writing is equivalent to winning a lottery.

Why not just play the lottery?

A very good point. Yes, you can try and copy the latest fad, but 1) by the time you actually get your book written and published – if ever – that fad may be well and truly over, and 2) that time could have been spent learning how to master the basic storytelling skills that make a story really “pop”. Obviously Coyne has his Story Grid strategy, I like Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and everybody has their own spin, but my point is that I agree that gambling is stupid, and building up a skill set that you can rely on for the rest of your life, never mind your career, is a far better use of your time.

But then he discusses the difference between form (solid storyteling toolkit) and formula (chasing the zeitgest) and says this:

Form scares the big bestselling writers too. That’s why they often do write books that do not abide the obligatory scenes and conventions of their genres. But just because they have a wide audience of people who will buy whatever they write and make those books bestsellers, does not mean that they wrote a story that worked.

… so what?

So what if they don’t have a story that “works” if there are millions of people willing to buy their shit? Oh no, they won’t have artistic integrity; so what if they can pay the bills and feed themselves? They’ll know that they don’t deserve it, and that’s the main thing.

Yeah no fuck off.

This argument is the one that so much writing advice tends to come back around to, like an appeal to authority, where in this case “authority” is not god or the government or the majority, but “integrity” – or, put another way, what matters is not if your story sells, it’s if it deserved to sell. And it makes their argument weak.

It’s why I hate writing advice that isn’t along the lines of “just write the fucking thing”, because that’s the only writing advice that works (and even then, context is everything). The idea that it’s bad to write a story – even a best-selling story – that doesn’t follow Form or Craft or Whatever, simply because it doesn’t follow Form or Craft or Whatever, is inherently circular logic and it pisses me off. It’s how con artists talk. It’s how cult leaders talk. It comes down to the issue of deservingness, and the implication is that the only way to truly deserve success is to do things this way, my way.

This isn’t what Coyne intends here – or maybe it is, he does have a book and editing services to sell and, well, can’t blame him for pitching his wares. But the whole “teach a man to fish” thing is a fine and valid point to stop at. Why discourage people from doing what they want with their writing? Because it’ll save them time? It’s their fucking time; they have to learn this shit somehow. Let them do what they want. Point out that formula is a gamble and form is an investment, sure, but don’t try to make it sound like only one of these things deserves merit, and it just so happens to be the thing you personally endorse. Because writing is something you have to do for love, unless you have a guaranteed paycheck – because so often, you don’t have a guaranteed paycheck. So you’d better fucking love it. And if you’re doing what you love, why not do it the way that you love it?

With all that said, though, Form or Craft or Whatever – it is important. It doesn’t have to be theirs, whoever “they” are, and yes I am very much a person who has problems with authority, if said authority likes to shove it in people’s faces. I came to the conclusion that I enjoy being formulaic because it brings me a sense of “joining in”, learning the rules of a game that many other people are invested in and being good at those rules. That’s the kind of “form” I subscribe to, and that will change between cultures, sub-cultures, particular editors and publishing houses, etc. But it’s a conclusion that I came to myself; and yes, I did have to get off my high horse for it. I did have to concede that I was being a bit of a snob for writing off what is honestly a very enjoyable, never mind solid, way of telling stories. But I didn’t have to. Suggesting that people have to not be snobs is pernicious. Why not? It’s a free country. Maybe don’t expect success out of it; maybe don’t expect to not be treated like a dick if you’re being a dick to other people, but when it comes to telling stories your own way – well, tell them your own way.

And this all reminds me why this blog was never intended to be a writing advice blog: I don’t want to become one of these people who holds themselves up as an authority and tries to peddle secrets to success. Maybe it’s just a matter of delivery. Maybe that’s my main problem with Coyne’s argument. But it still sounds like a sales pitch, and buddy, I don’t got no money. I’m a writer. I just write because it’s fun.

When I actually can be fucked writing. And, I will concede, this article absolutely reminded me to stop being lazy and making excuses for myself. I gotta get the work done. No short-cuts. I gotta start over from scratch. And I’m kinda looking forward to it now.

Yes, you can disagree with somebody’s argument and still find something worthwhile in it. I guess humans are just complicated like that.

Five Tips of Successful Phosphoric Acids

Where have I heard this one before: “the solution to writing Tallulah is to make it a really small, simple story, really almost more of a short story than a novel”?

I mean if I were more motivated I would go through all 450+ posts I’ve published over the course of this blog’s lifetime, find every instance of me saying that or some close variation thereof, and post links to them here, because holy shit do I repeat myself on this primary social media platform of mine.

But you know what? Repetition is how we learn. I’ve complained about not learning lessons the first time around and how infuriating that is; the fact that I keep “re-learning” those lessons is less a failure to learn and more a trend of getting better at learning X thing. You can’t learn something without doing it a lot.

So, since I commit to the plan of simplifying Tallulah into a simpler, smaller story A LOT

This is the plan. This is the only plan. Write it, exactly as it is in my head regardless of whether that is “good” or not, as the simple, small, kind of incidental story that it is, and that is the story. Embellishments are just that: embellishments, and at the minute the working version of Tallulah is a series of embellishments that drag out and distract from the heart of the story. In other words, all that filler I thought I took out during the revision was … I mean it was a good lesson in cutting filler from a first draft, but the lesson was that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The whole thing is filler, except for the first chapter and the last … five? Like … yeah. The story I’m trying to tell is all in those chapters, and even then, because they were written to fit in with the rest of the story I’d written around them, it doesn’t work on its own.

Buuut it might be a decent place to start. Just strike those flints together and see what colour the sparks are.

That’s the analogy I’m looking for. Exactly. Shush.

Although maybe it’s just busywork, like my “character map” idea turned out to be. Like a lot of my “plans” end up being. But, I mean, it’s writing that I’ve done and will, in all likelihood, end up reusing in some capacity anyway, so …

My plan is basically to take what I’ve got in these chapters and see how much is compatible with the pared-down re-visioning of Tallulah that I’ve got in mind now, the “small and simple” version of the story that is really more of a scene than a story. And that’s fine. That’s what this story is; that’s what it’s going to be. The other characters and interesting filler I put in it can exist elsewhere; I do like them, they do work, but they’re getting in the way in this particular story.

This seems doable. This seems in the vein of my new philosophy, which I’ve definitely learnt and then forgotten and am now in need of re-learning, of writing a) exactly the stuff that’s in my head, exactly as it is in my head, b) allowing those ideas to be iterative, predictable, redundant and all manner of “bad” without censoring myself, c) not embellishing those ideas so that I can fucking write them down without distracting and derailing myself – in short, it’s about honesty, with an emphasis for making up for my rampant, toxic perfectionism. And in all honesty, Tallulah might not have a market in what I consider to be its “true form”. It might just be a short piece that I write for myself. And that’s fine. If that’s what it is, then that’s what it is, and to try and turn it into something else would be … well, not what I want to do. I never quite realised just how much of my attitude towards writing Tallulah has been based on the assumption that I was writing for the “young adult market”, but it’s completely true. And, obviously, it hasn’t worked like I wanted. It’s been a distraction based on an ill-defined end goal: I have no fucking idea what the “young adult market” actually is, let alone how to write to spec for it. I have been operating on the logic of thinking up obstacles to overcome without considering whether they’re actually relevant to what I’m attempting in any way. And also just getting really down about writing in general. Now there’s some turnaround. Now I think I’m onto something. And I’ve thought it before and it’s come to nothing, but goddammit, this can work. This can be a thing that works. I can make it work.

Just gotta … do that.