Reading Skills

One of the many things they teach you in arts is how to “read” a text. This is the same “read” you would use if you are suggesting that somebody is “reading into things too much”: you get taught to do this in arts. You pay to get taught to do this, with money you don’t have. And then have to rely on the degree in “reading” you got into debt to achieve by trying to get an academic job, a narrowness of choice that you might not have had if you had studied anything other than arts. Which is part of arts’ grand conspiracy to make sure that they don’t have to suffer alone in their lack of worldly experience and life skills.

Maybe I’m reading into this too much.

What I’m not reading into too much, or at all, is the pile of books I bought myself for Christmas and am still paying off. I picked them to be both stimulating and easily readable, but I think I made a bad decision by allowing myself to buy a High Fantasy book. Specifically, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s that it’s High Fantasy and holy shit do I not have the patience to wait for things to start fucking happening. I’m up to page 20 and everything has been in flashbacks. Not even that; it’s been one long flashback, one that starts in chapter 2 and has continued up to this point, which is somewhere in the early stages of chapter 4. Which begs the question of why this book didn’t just start with the events of chapter 2 and go from there.

Fuck High Fantasy.

But it’s Robin McKinley, and I feel that I am obligated to read something by her. I think that once I get out of the pointless continuity bullshit I’l probably enjoy it, but I don’t know when that will be, especially since I’m probably going to put it down and read something else instead.

What that probably won’t be is Clariel by Garth Nix, the long-awaited fourth installment (fifth if you count the short story) in the Abhorsen saga, and oh my god was I excited to get my hands on it last year, and oh my god could I not bear to read past the opening pages of chapter 1 when I actually did. High Fantasy, man. I can’t take it anymore.

Happily I have some other things to focus on instead. Aside from writing the next chapter of my MA (fucking finally), finishing my shitty YA werewolf novel two months after Nano ended, that sort of things. I still have Kindred by Octavia Butler, Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman (not sure how I feel about that title), Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. I’m probably looking forward to The Bloody Chamber the most (after seeing The Company of Wolves and loving it), dreading (in a kind good way) Kindred, and I might flip a coin for the other two.

And after I flip that coin and decide which order I’m going to read them in I’m instead going to pick up Succubus On Top by Richelle Mead, which I was hmm-ing and haa-ing over whether to buy or not and then found it for fifty cents at the library and decided it was a sign. I like pulp. It’s probably why I liked Storm Front a lot more than Boneshaker when I reviewed them both. I think I was both too hard on and too generous to Storm Front when I reviewed it; I got caught-up in trying to viscerally render my truest emotional self instead of just saying what I thought about it. I’d read more. I’d have trepidations re the casual, predictable and weirdly self-conscious sexism, but the thing is that it’s pulpy and fast-paced (for the most part) and fuck it I enjoy pulpy and fast-paced, “hooky” reads. Books that were written fast to be read fast, which is supposedly what this shitty YA werewolf novel of mine was going to be, but it seems I can’t do anything quickly. Not even read my own books.

And that’s annoying, and it feels like a failed experiment, and goddammit I want my fast book. I want it real bad. I want to write it and finish it and then sling it off into the publishing world in, like, four months tops. I want that.

This post came to an uncomfortable end so I’m just going to leave it here.

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WWW: Gotta Write Through the Block

Welcome back to Writing While Writing, a segment where I liveblog my writing progress. Isn’t that a massive waste of time, you might ask? Well it always seems to work for me, and I think that’s because a lot of the time the best way to solve writer’s block is to FUCKING WRITE.

And the more the better so it’s actually not extra work; it’s more momentum, and momentum is all that matters.

Today, I am going to write the rest of my shitty werewolf YA novel that I started back in June last year, made a huge push with during Nanowrimo, diligently pecked at throughout December and, now, is waiting for me to hurry the fuck up and finish it. My problem throughout writing this novel has been one of tying everything together while I write, and the solution I came to was to write the chapters out of sequence, skipping ahead to the second half and starting from there during Nano. It skipped a bunch of stuff I didn’t have any inspiration for and allowed me to get right to the meaty stuff I was more interested in. While that was very effective and enjoyable, eventually I was done writing that stuff and had to circle back around to the stuff I skipped, which is where we are now.

And boy are we there now, and nowhere else, ever. I have been stuck on this portion of the novel for the last … is it a full month? When did I write that final chapter … shit, yeah, the 20th of December 2015.

That’s infuriating.

And what’s most infuriating is that I haven’t been doing what works, and that’s why I haven’t been writing. What works is to do the thing that first comes to mind, however hackneyed and cliche and perhaps even tone-dissonant it might be, because this is a first draft and the only thing, the ONLY THING that matters in a first draft is words. If you make words, then you’ve written a first draft. But with these three remaining chapters – two and a half, to be exact – I just haven’t been doing that. I’ve been thinking “well I need a good build-up to the stuff I’ve already written that makes sense and explains the stuff that happens later on”, and the stuff that happens later on is IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER IT’S A FIRST DRAFT JUST FUCKING WRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIITE

So I’m going to just fucking write, and write about it while I do so. I do have ideas, that’s the thing, and they’re horrible, generic, lazy ideas that feel weak and thin and unsatisfying and I FUCKING HAVE THEM, so I’m going to use them, and this book will be written in half a fucking hour, just in time for the battery charger to finish so that I can go trim the hedges.

Let’s get to it.

Okay more like one hour later but still. It took a lot longer to not trim the hedges than I thought.

And no, that was not my fault. But that’s a story for another time.

This time, I have written 673 words of an end-of-chapter scene that I still need to write, which is totally me removing the only excuse I have to not write the two and a half chapters and totally not me putting off writing those two and a half chapters by any means necessary.

I JUST DON’T WANT TO WRITE THEM THEY’RE SO FUCKING BORING

I skipped them because I couldn’t think of a way to lead into the stuff that I wanted to write. Now that I’ve written all of that stuff, I can’t think of a way to write these chapters in such a way that they not only lead into what I’ve already written – which has of course backed me into a corner continuity-wise, because I just had to get the tiniest bit clever while I was skipping ahead – but are also not boring as shit. And the thing is, I was blaming myself for not “doing what works”, but I don’t think it actually works on these chapters. Not when I’ve forced myself to only be allowed to write certain things for the whole draft to make sense.

Because first drafts have to make sense.

Wait.

I.

… goDDDAMMIIIIIIIIT JUST

FUCK

OH MY GOD

WHY IS THIS SO GODDAMN HARD IT’S LIKE A FUCKING PATHOLOGICAL DISORDER WITH ME WHAT THE FUCK IS SO HARD ABOUT WRITING BADLY ON PURPOSE

 

No but seriously, I think the problem is that by backing myself into a corner because of stuff I wrote in the later (chronologically speaking) chapters, I have to now basically pull a Prequel Trilogy and try to explain those things instead of letting them speak for themselves, and for the life of me I cannot think of a compelling way to do that. And that’s because, in backing myself into said corner, I have prevented myself from freely coming up with story events spontaneously and freely. The point of this exercise is not to come up with the most generic shit ever; the point is to allow the most generic shit ever, if that’s what comes up. Now I’ve got the opposite problem, where the only “valid” choices I can make are those that are well thought-out and serve as nothing more than a logic-bridge between the causal events of the game. I can’t just wing it anymore, and winging it was the whole point, because the whole point was to get good at quickly coming up with ideas for stories when I got stuck and allowing myself to use those ideas regardless of how generic they might be. The point of this exercise was creative liberty, and now I’ve put myself in a position where, in order for this story to work, I can’t take any liberties anymore. I have basically invalidated the entire exercise unless I can somehow think of a way to spontaneously come up with exactly the correct ideas to bridge the continuity gaps in this draft.

Now that that’s taken care of …

What am I actually “stuck” doing?

Okay. Specifically, there are some things that I wrote into the story that I had planned to show in past chapters, so that they could influence future events (the ones I was writing). Beyond those things, I am free to do whatever the hell I want.

Nope, not helping.

Goddamn I don’t know maybe I just need to rewrite the entire beginning of this book. I mean …

No. I have no idea. I’m just stuck and it fucking sucks. I’m going to finish this scene …

So okay one last try: this scene that I’m writing is another one that I “backed myself into a corner” with, and yet I don’t care. I like it, in fact. It fits. It feels like part of this story. For some reason, this doesn’t apply to the other stuff I have yet to write. Why is this?

Well for one thing it’s a scene rather than a chapter. It’s about the characters rather than the world-building. It’s not going right back to the very beginning and …

Well shit.

That’s the problem: I’m going right back to the beginning and trying to make sure, from that point to the point I’m at now, that nothing contradicts anything else. No wonder this sucks.

I’ll just write it backwards.

Fuck yes I’ll write it backwards. What a fantastic idea. I’ve never done it before; it solves all my current problems, and most of all, in keeping with the ethic I’ve adopted for this novel, it’s so fucking obvious. Just write from the closest point in time to where I’m at now and go backwards, scene by scene, where scenes will only happen if I want them to, and if they justify what’s already happened. That way I don’t have to try and tether myself to certain restrictions in case I decide I want to do something different in the future, because I’m writing from the future.

Let this be a lesson gentle readers: writing really does solve writer’s block.

Okay. Gonna finish this scene and then revel in my genius. This book is gonna get the fuck written out of it.

 

Unexpected Results

So I had supervision today and apparently my revised chapter actually works really well – just a few more revisions and I can finally move on to the next chapter and still not be doing any creative writing yaaaaaaaaay …

No but seriously, I’ve learnt a lot of good things from this whole intensive, pre-emptive all-nighter phase. The best thing I learnt is that all-nighters are fucking awful and that even if it is the night before it’s due, it’s better to actually go to sleep for a few hours, let your brain rest, and thus avoid the diminishing returns that are inevitable by trying to force an over-tired brain to operate as though it isn’t tired.

Or maybe it’s that working really consistently is fucking awesome. Because it is. And that’s good because I’m gonna need to be doing a lot of that over the next month and half-a-week before the first draft of the next chapter is due, because alongside that I would actually like to get this goddamn Nano novel finished before February. I mean I started it in July last year. The Nano push was really helpful, but it’s definitely petered off, especially with this latest round of revision. But then again, having focused so intently on that chapter has taught me that I have it in me to work really hard, which means I can work really hard on my Nano novel as well. Transferable skills, people. Use them well.

I think I might be starting to understand how those high-power, doing-a-million-things-at-once people manage to do those million things at once: they commit to them. It seems that the trick to making things happen is to commit to doing them. Who would have thought.

It’s kind of like pokemon evolution: I started out thinking “the way to get things done is to do them”, which works. And now I’ve gone one step further, which is “if you commit to getting things done, you get a lot done”. I’ve gone from Bulbasaur to Ivysaur. I always thought Venusaur was underrated, so I’m looking forward to level 32.

It’s actually a bit daunting to start working on a new chapter of this thesis; I’ve been on this one for the past … what, four months? Five? It’s ridiculous. I just want to continue polishing this chapter forever and make it perfect, and once I’ve done that make it even perfecter. Which means it probably is time for me to move on. My supervisor pointed me in a very generative direction today and, while it’s kinda killed the dream I’ve had for what I could do with this thesis, it’s also opened up a lot of new possibilities that I hadn’t considered and that I do actually want to explore. You lose some you win some I guess.

I also guess tomorrow is going to have a lot of reading, some writing of thesis and hopefully a lot of writing of my now post-Nano novel. There’s so much I could do with it to make it interesting, especially since I’ve decided that, if I do get the opportunity to do a PhD, I’m gong to be looking at werewolves. I’m not going to do any of those things. This isn’t supposed to be interesting. It’s supposed to be written, and it still isn’t. Though I do think the time off I’ve been forced to take while working on this chapter will be beneficial in giving me some perspective and keeping me from trying to be clever.

For now, though, I may not have pulled a proper all-nighter yesterday but I still have some sleep to catch up on.

Test Results

So the all-nighter that I had planned that night … it didn’t happen. It kind of happened, I was up until about 4, but I was only writing until about 1. I still think I had a good plan in the sense of getting the stress out of the way; I think the problem was identifying where that stress came from. Stress doesn’t come from an all-nighter. It’s the other way around. Which is probably why it didn’t work.

It did work last night, though, more or less; I was up until 5, and there was a lot of writing done. But it wasn’t the writing that I wanted to get done. It was note-making, and planning, and mapping out an argument. And so now today I’m right where I didn’t want to be: I have yet to write a single goddamn word of this revised chapter, and it’s due tomorrow morning.

But.

For the past 5 days I have been very, very intensely working on this thesis. I have been deeply engaged with it. I have been committed to it. And I remembered the other day how wonderful it felt to be committed to a writing project; it felt great with Tallulah, it felt great for my Nano novel (which has been on the back-burner while I dealt with this thesis), and it feels great with this thesis. And it’s woken me up to the possibility that I might actually be totally fine with an academic career. I really do enjoy this stuff. It’s just that my default relationship with academia has been to see it as a chore, as a means to an end, as an escape tactic to quell my anxiety and depression that gets triggered whenever I’m faced with the prospect of trying to find a job, something I could rely on for income so that I could focus on writing. (Don’t ask me why I find the prospect of a PhD less daunting than trying to find a desk job, because fucked if I know.)

I never actually considered that I might actually enjoy it for its own sake. And I think I do. A lot.

So this is new for me. I’m not sure what to do with it – other than, of course, continuing to be intense about academia. I’ve been working on this thing throughout the day for the past 5 days, and it’s felt amazing, like it’s cleansing my blood. Today will be a stressful day simply because I have so much “actual work” to do, but at the same time I have done a lot of work in general to make this thing coherent. And the one good thing about being up against a deadline is that it forces you to prioritise. Not everything that’s in my current chapter can stay in it, and even less of it works, so I have a lot of editing decisions to make. But the way I’ll get through this is by knowing that, after I’m done writing it, I won’t have stopped working. That’s the lesson I’ve taken out of this. Not the one I expect, like it wasn’t with nano, but a good one nonetheless.

Which is to just keep writing, because goddammit it feels good to commit.

Large Headron Collider

I have had an epiphany.

I have this MA chapter due for submission by the 13th, so 6 days from now I need to have finished writing it. This is because it was originally due today but my supervisor had mercy upon me and gave me a week’s extension. I have done some work on it, but the more work I’ve done the more I feel like I’m just not getting it. Which is frustrating. When you don’t get your own argument, what’s the chance anybody else will? But such is the way of academia, at this level at least: it takes a while to nut everything out.

The problem is that “taking a while” is very much my MO, a habit I learnt in the same way that you learn to jaywalk: it’s not safe, but it also tends to work out fine, and it requires less concerted effort than intentionally going out of your way to, for example, cross at an actual crossing, or start writing more than two hours before the assignment is due. Instead, I have cultivated a habit of waiting until the very last moment, where I forfeit all agency and allow myself to be propelled along by a combination of fury and panic, much in the way that the ancient Greeks would get smashed in order to allow the god of wine, Dionysus, to possess them and use them as his vessels.

But unlike the ancient Greeks, the all-nighters that this habit forces me to undertake are anything but full of revelry and carnal delights. I also swore an oath to myself, after my last all-nighter, that I would never pull an all-nighter again. And despite having been granted an extension, it has felt like I’ve done nothing but delay the inevitable all-nighter that forever dominates my destiny.

Until.

This morning.

When I actually woke up in the morning, which I used to do for a fair bit of last year and appreciated doing again today, and had this thought:

I hate all-nighters because they feel horrible. They feel horrible because they are full of stress and panic, and even though a lot of my best ideas and idea-wrangling occurs during these frenetic rites, a lot of much-needed pruning and wider perspective is not really possible. As such, there will be a lot of good ideas combined with shoddy delivery, and while this is all revision and revision is allowed to be messy, I’d rather have a mess with a coherent narrative throughline.

But it is undeniable that I do have a lot of my best ideas when and only when I pull an all-nighter. The cocktail of stress, determination and frantic searching of my brain for ways to extend bridges between isolated idea-islands tends to result in some pretty amazing material, and I only wish that there was a way to get those ideas without having to pull it out of the mire of pain and misery that is the all-nighter.

And there is.

And it’s so obvious that I don’t know why I didn’t think of it sooner.

Instead of pulling an all-nighter the day before my chapter is due, I’m pulling an all-nighter tonight.

Here’s my logic: my brain is like the Large Hadron Collider. The particles that it sends hurtling towards each other at impossible speeds are my ideas. And that’s where the analogy breaks down, because unlike the LHC, I can’t just switch on my brain and have it automatically resolve in an inevitable exciting result. I have to power this thing manually. To get these ideas to smash into each other and create interested quantum results, I have to expend my own energy to turn it on, and keep it turned on.

In other words, I have to manually push these particles towards each other, transferring my own energy into them by running at impossible speeds myself. Which, in this analogy, is me writing.

My brain is a Large Hadron Collider powered by a dude on a treadmill. And that dude is me.

And the theory is that, by Colliding my Large Hadrons now as opposed to the night before this chapter is due, I will benefit from the interesting sub-atomic explosion data without also having to deal with the potential of creating a black hole that will swallow the universe.

If I write fast and furious enough right now, instead of when it risks being too late, I might find a way to take the good parts of the all-nighter while avoiding the bad ones.

I might have just created my very own life-hack.

But of course that is dependent on whether or not it works, and boy howdy do I have a plan for testing it. My plan is to spend the next hour working furiously on this thesis, and then when that hour is up or I’ve written 1k words, whichever takes longer, I’m going to run old WOW raids for gold so that I can continue to feed my toxic, toxic habit of continuing to play WOW.

… and then once I’m done with that I go back to writing intensely, and then run another set of raids on another one of my 4 max-level characters, dear god what is my life …

And just do that, over and over again, until I’m out of raids to run I guess. Depending on how late I wanna go I might find other things to do – other games to play, like maybe finally getting around to continuing with The Last of Us. Though maybe not in the middle of the night, but you get the picture.

Because there is another side to this plan – I won’t say half because it’s not that big a part of why I’m doing this to begin with – which is that I have a desire to start making myself enjoy myself when I have the opportunity to, instead of spending my time not spent working on my thesis or fulfilling various other social and literal contracts sulking and angsting about how unproductive and lazy I’m being. So combining hard, intense work with playing videogames sounds like a pretty decent plan to me.

Let’s see if I’m right.

Post-Nanowrimo 2015: 1312

Oh my god I did writing I feel so accomplished …

I have decided to solve the issue of linking up the semi-written chapter 2 that I have with the semi-written chapter 5 by completely rewriting chapter 2 to make it about half the length, making it much simpler, flatter, duller, and generally just trying to get this shit done with as little ceremony as possible. There are two reasons for this: the first is that I want it done quickly, and the other is that I’ve found that, a lot of the time, the less fancy I try to be with my writing, the easier it is for me to get to the point.

It’s something I’m finding a problem with my MA as well: a lot of the time I feel like I’m wasting time, dancing around the subject instead of just addressing it head-on, and the really annoying thing is that it’s because I feel like I can’t just address it head-on because it’ll be blunt and flat and lack the impact that I want it to have. Part of this is because I’m used to trying to convey a specific feeling when I write, and writing in generalities – which is what happens when I try to write straightfowardly – doesn’t let me do that. But at the same time, trying to convey specific feelings that I have in my mind to written text doesn’t always work. Tallulah was a great example of that, where I got a metric ton of things in my head down in writing and at the end of the day it made for an almost unbearable reading experience. It was like she was seventeen different characters all vying for position, and that’s the exact thing I want to avoid ever doing again. But it’s my habit – I think it’s my habit anyway, because I’ve done it a lot – and trying to break it is proving hard. It’s why I’ve let myself go back and rewrite huge chunks of this Nano novel, so long as it’s to make it simpler, clearer and more straightforward. And that’s what I’m doing now.

I’ve also decided that I’m going to basically let myself write these three final chapters as if they’re part of an entirely different story, because that’s what I feel like doing. It’s what’s going to get them written; I don’t feel like linking up with all the shit I have in the chronologically final chapters, because … well, I don’t. And I kinda think this new version of the story is the one I’ll pursue if I ever do get around to trying to get this thing published, because it’s less obnoxious and whiny. The more of that I can have, the better. It’s another habit I want to break in terms of the kinds of lead characters I end up defaulting to. I think that, if last year was the year of letting myself write just for fun, this year is to expand upon that and let myself write characters who feel drastically different from what I’m familiar with. I used to do that quite a lot; I had some very interesting and singular characters when I was in my early teens, and as I grew older I cleaved stronger to recognisable tropes and archetypes – which is fine, but I do miss my weird casting choices. I’m not sure this project will ever be as interesting as any of my old stuff, but at least it can be something other than a written version of my inner monologue, only with werewolves.

Actually that would be more interesting that what this story is at the moment.

Anyway, it’s getting written again, and it feels good. Just gotta keep it going.

And then I can write *gasp* something else I mean fucking hell I’ve been working on this novel for over six months now, I was not expecting this level of time-commitment to this thing …

New Year’s Productivity

I just added slightly over 1k words to the revision of my MA chapter. It’s getting there. More importantly, the momentum is building up again, and that’s what really matters in the long run.

Now for my other thing.

I am no closer to figuring out what to do with my shitty YA werewolf novel, but at least I feel less constipated about it. I feel like I am nearing the answer. I’m just not sure what I need to do in order to get to it.

But I am thinking that it might be the fact that I’m trying to condense half a book’s worth of material into three chapters that’s got me so stuck, because these chapters I’m gearing up to write are all focused around introducing and fleshing out the werewolf stuff. If I were writing a “real” book then I’d hopefully do this a lot more smoothly, incorporating the exposition into the story rather than setting aside a whole chunk of the story to explain it. But this is YA. You’ve got to wear you Harry Potter influences on your sleeve. That’s all. It’s definitely not because I’m a hack or anything. I mean, I have a blog about writing. This blog. What kind of a hack would write about their hacky writing and pass it off as some kind of insightful public journal?

In any case, the chapters I’m working towards are very … well, they need to take a lot of pressure and spread it out. At least according to the plan I currently have, and honestly I don’t know why all of a sudden that plan, which I’ve complained about a few times already, is now my template for the remainder of this story that I can’t possibly deviate from. I think it’s the fact that the rest of the story doesn’t support what I actually want to write, which is much quicker, to-the-point and doesn’t stuff around introducing and establishing the supporting cast, how the Special World works for our newbie lead protagonist, all that jazz. I’m suddenly in the mood for something a hell of a lot less YA and a hell of a lot more An American Werewolf in London. Which is a very strange film indeed, and I’m also not sure why I’m suddenly interested in evoking it in this Nano novel that, up until now, has played out pretty much exactly like you’d imagine a stereotypical YA urban fantasy  with a male lead might. Which is the entire point.

And if that’s the entire point, then I am obliged to do some info-dump world-building. It’s kind of mandatory. It’s just not what I want to do, so …

Maybe I’ll just go look at that plan again and see what I get out of it.

But regardless: I got some shit done today, and that’s definitely a good way to kick off the new year.