On The Side

God I love dichotomies.

Wait no I don’t so today – yesterday, whatever, fuck you midnight – I was listening to the Writing Excuses podcast and in one of the episodes – don’t ask me which one they’re all about 15 minutes long and there are 10 seasons and I binge podcasts so that potential memory never had a chance – they mentioned the problem that arises when you get frustrated with a story and you start another one in order to get away from it. The problem, which will probably come as no surprise to any writer ever, is that in creating this second project to distract yourself from the one pissing you off, you have given yourself an excuse, and a valid one, to never return to the story that drove you to it out of sheer frustration in the first place.

Their advice was to start this new project in a different genre, which may or may not be good advice, but what I took away from it, after going back and reading the last couple of posts I wrote (I’m pretty sure I’m my own biggest reader, thank god that doesn’t count in the site stats), was that this is actually another one of the huge problems with Realm of the Myth: it is the story that produce the most of these side-projects that I have ever tried to write.

And this brings me back to dichotomies. I have been thinking about RoTM in two halves. One half is the doomed project itself, too thin and too self-dating to ever have any kind of longevity. The other half is the other projects, which I saw as victims of RoTM, because in the end they just got absorbed into RoTM. Predator and prey. But what I now realise is that, actually, putting energy into these side-projects was probably the main reason – for a while at least – that RoTM has been not just stuck in development hell for almost its entire existence, but basically defined by it.

And the reason is because these side-projects were bad. Like, really bad. And the last post I wrote where I was all happy about re-housing my darlings woke me up to the fact that I’m basically falling into the same trap: setting myself up to never even try to make RoTM work by outsourcing my interesting ideas to other projects. I did that because I just sort of assumed that RoTM was a doomed project. But if that’s the case, then catharsis be damned, as a writer who is invested in making shit work I should have just given up altogether on RoTM and started working on those other things. The fact that I haven’t, to me, points to a very obvious fact: these other side-projects are just that – side-projects. They’re not stories in and of themselves; they’re counter-stories whose very structure telegraphs the existence of RoTM, and without RoTM they actually don’t make sense. They’re based on the concept of “RoTM is a pile of shit but this one idea is really cool what if it had a whole book devoted to it?” And it’s not like that hasn’t worked for other stories before, but here … no.

Essentially, for the next 34 days my mission is not just to “lean on” RoTM and see if it’s still standing at the end: it’s to discipline myself into treating it like the be-all and end-all of my storytelling, no matter how fucking infuriating it becomes. Because the side-projects killed it once before, drained my energy and my motivation to try to make it work, and if I do that again then there’s no point in this experiment at all.

And maybe there isn’t. But I want to find out.

Or as much as I can in the next 34 days anyway.

Also, it’s not like I’m against starting other projects. I mean it would be just as bad to stick with a story that you know you want to leave for dead as to start a million side-projects that will not only take your energy away from your “main” project but also never get the time and attention that they deserve because they are, in fact, side-projects that exist only to distract you from the one that spawned them. And the very fact that RoTM inspired the most distracting side-projects of any sotry I’ve ever taken a shot at is a sign that RoTM is not, perhaps, a highly rewarding story in and of itself. That is worth listening to. But just for this allotted space of time, I’m going to not listen and just see what comes of it.

In other words, I’m still going to kill darlings. I’m just not going to bring them back to life in other projects. Not until I know, as thoroughly as I can in a month and a few days, whether RoTM does in fact stand a chance at existing.

All while working on the next stage of my MA: complete overhaul! Well not complete, but overhaul, definitely. And reading Judith Butler, which any self-respecting media scholar would have done a lot sooner than I have. And watching Mockingjay P1, which may kill me, because dear fucking shit that film is the biggest waste of time money and talent that ever … ugh.

Anyway, new perspectives, always good.

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Cutting Room

So today I did some work, and it was productive and stuff, as work should be. My third-time’s-the-charm experiment with Realm of the Myth is … well, today was the first day, and considering that it’s actually been going pretty well.

My goal today was just to take this one idea that I really liked and write down that I was not going to use it in Realm of the Myth, that it belonged somewhere else. Darlings don’t need to be killed all the time; a lot of the time they just belong somewhere else, or as the start of their own thing. This was one such instance, and once I did that I found that there were more of those ideas. A lot more. And the closer I got to the core of this story, the more I realised that not only is this a horrible, thin, shitty story, but it’s also more than one horrible, thin, shitty story. Which I already knew, but it’s one thing to know something and another thing entirely to find out that it’s actually true.

But this is good, because I’ve managed to assign some darlings to new homes, homes that I’m very happy for them to have, and I’m whittling down the mess to find the underlying pattern. I predict it’s going to be a case now of not only assigning ideas to different projects, but of splitting this project up into individual projects as well. And by the time I’m done, I think I’ll only have individual projects left, and nothing of Realm of the Myth will remain at all.

It’s kind of funny, actually, making this happen. I put so much time and hope into this thing, put it on a pedestal, imagined how it would one day be my magnum opus if only I could get it right, and now that I’m actually going through the trouble of killing/relocating darlings in order to try and find a story worth telling I’m finding that it’s other stories that are worth telling, not this one. Which makes sense. Because this is a story that I came up with when I was 14, starring characters based on me and my at-the-time best friend and our families and friends, where we could do magic, summon magical creatures to fight for us, and would have exciting adventures. It was a story I made up because I was fucking around. Which, when you’re 14, you should be doing. I don’t regret it. I just regret making more of it than it could sustain, and insisting on doing it for 15 years.

But even then, not really, because if it means I get to finally learn what it takes to take something seriously enough to give up on it, then it’s been worth it. 15 years – most people waste that much of their lives, probably, on something or other. At least this wasn’t a marriage or a business deal or a university degree. It was just some impulsive, heat-of-the-moment, wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if-this-happened self-indulgence.

And for that, it was pretty great. It shouldn’t be anything more than that. It doesn’t need to be.

And I don’t need it to be. Not anymore.

Still gonna spend the next 36 days playing around with it though because who knows what else might turn up. And because, so far, leaning in has been the most effective way of making myself realise that it’s time to finally give it up.

 

Darlingcide

There are darlings, of the “kill your” variety, that every writer has to deal with. That one hilarious scene that totally breaks the tone of the overall story; the super-interesting side-character with the intricate story who doesn’t contribute anything to the one they’re in; the extraneous worldbuilding that gets more attention than the story it’s supposed to support the telling of – it’s not all things in the story that need cutting; sometimes it’s things in the storytelling process, the writing rituals that we perform to get the job done.

Sometimes, though, the darling is the entire project.

Realm of the Myth, my sprawling postmodern high fantasy self-fanfic, is a story that I have had going for about 15 years now, on and off. I started when I was 14, and I was still 14 when, after writing the first and second chapters and having a lot of fun with them, I got to the third chapter and realised that I had absolutely nowhere to go with it. At 14 I was showing the kind of writing judgment that now, at almost 29, I would kill for. Then at 15 I had a brainwave and picked it up again, and for the next 12 years it was all I wanted to think about, to both its detriment and mine. I don’t know how many writers this happens to – young writers I imagine are most at risk of this happening – but it became one of those books that exists mostly in its notes, in fact almost entirely in its notes, and a few dozen attempts to write the first chapter. I have so many goddamn notes about this story; I basically have a Silmarillion‘s worth of world-building I could fall back on if I wanted to, but I hate that kind of story, and even back then I hated it, because outside of the notes I could rarely actually bring myself to write the actual story, because it really wasn’t a story. It was a world-building exercise that never ended.

And that pretty much sums up what became of the next 12 years. I sank too much time, too much thought and too much “what if” into it, and it took talking to another writer to convince me to finally kill it again. Upon killing it this second time I was rewarded with a burst bubble of creative juices, and I really wish I’d used them better than for the purposes I put them to: putting the story back together again – although I did hold out for a good 10 months or so – and giving it a third chance at life. I removed and swapped around a bunch of stuff, went back to the first time I tried to reboot it and picked out the one actually interesting and fun idea that came with it, and I tried to write it for Nanowrimo 2014. But it was too big, too unwieldy, still not even remotely suitable for using as a story for the fact that it needed to be too many other things. And so now I’m looking at killing it for a third and, hopefully, final time, because it has finally dawned on me that this entire story may, in fact, be a darling that really has it coming.

Here’s the thing, though: maybe I haven’t tried hard enough. And I already know how this part goes, where I try really hard for way too long to fix what’s not even broken but just inherently wrong to begin with until I eventually come to the realisation that I’m having right now, which is that it’s a lost cause. But I don’t actually believe that right now. I would love to, I would love to be the guy who games the system and is all genre-savvy about the tropes of human existence by avoiding this obvious narrative pitfall, but I honestly think that I just haven’t tried hard enough to make it work, and specifically to look at all the millions of tiny darlings that are in this story and committing genocide upon them.

Although part of the reason for this is because, while I’ve never put it into words before now, I’ve always known that without those darlings there is absolutely nothing holding this story together and there will be nothing to salvage.

But maybe that’s wrong too.

I sound like the desperate partner in a toxic relationship who, after all the time and energy they’ve put into it and equally into not doing other things, just really needs to believe the investment is worth it. I do have a very fucking toxic relationship with this story. But thankfully it’s just a story. Or a non-story in this case, an anti-story that represents, in so many ways, all the things that I hate about high fantasy, and yet I’m doing them anyway. I’m doing the thing where I compromise storytelling for airtight system-building – the magic system has always been a problem in this story, and in none of my others, because only in this story have I felt accountable to some kind of collective critic who is out to get me, and that for some reason matters. I don’t know why it matters, actually. Sales, perhaps. The entire fandom of X genre that I’m writing for – this genre, apparently, whatever the fuck this genre is – will turn against me if I don’t get this particular detail right. And it’s not that I can’t or haven’t come up with good magic systems: it’s that it’s never enough. Nothing is ever enough for this story. And while that’s a red flag and a half, it’s also because, just looking at what this story has morphed into over the 15 years we’ve been together, it’s too much already. It’s too much of what it’s not, because so much of what it is is just what I wish it was.

Or, more simply and grammatically put: most of what I think of as being part of this “story” is the stuff that I haven’t written, that floats around in a nebulous mass of potential in my head and never touches down. No wonder there’s no pleasing this story, or its writer.

But the question remains. Is there a way? Can I save this story? Is there anything to save? And is it worth finding out?

Well, if I knew that I wouldn’t have bothered writing this thing. But having said that, in the time it’s taken me to write this post – all day – I have found the same thing that I’ve found upon trying to “prune” this story before: there’s enough here for about four or five separate stories if I want to take bits and pieces and separate them out. There is way, way the fuck too much material for one story, at least one story that I would ever want to tell. It’s a mess of conflicting ideas, angles, mythologies, characters, characterisation, continuity, philosophy … in trying to get to the “core” of this story and “narrow it down”, I think I’ll end up just breaking it apart.

Much like how I’ve been breaking it apart ever since that first reboot attempt; it got so frustrating, being tethered to this writing heap of time and energy investment, that even while I was still enjoying writing it for the most part I was siphoning off bits and pieces that didn’t quite feel central anymore and putting them in other, new projects, a lot of which I probably could have followed through with to completion. I don’t know that any of them were any good, but at least they could have existed. The issue was that, because I just wanted Realm of the Myth to work so badly, I ended up assimilating most of those other projects into it in the end, along with whatever parts of Realm of the Myth I had migrated over to them.

Wow, I haven’t thought about that in a long time. So many other projects, right down the drain.

God fucking damn I hate this fucking bloated, pretentious, aimless, vacuous, nebulous, time-wasting anti-story. It’s ruined so many things for me.

But I’m not writing my stupid werewolf YA thing that was supposed to teach me some shit about writing or whatever, so you know what? I may as well do this. I may as well use this opportunity to learn how to kill my darlings and just see what comes of it. I have done this before with this story and it hasn’t stuck. Well, the lesson now is to make it stick, to just parse it back to whatever basics I … like the most? If I can even remember them? It’s been 15 fucking years why am I doing this to myself?

 

No, okay, you know why? You know why I haven’t killed this fucker for good already, despite knowing that I should?

It’s because about a month ago, I told myself I’d killed it. It didn’t stick. Just like telling myself that I’d killed Tallulah didn’t stick. And that second example I’m happy about because Tallulah still has a lot of potential, but while Realm of the Myth has potential as well (apart from that title, way to go 14-year-old me), so much of that potential has already been spent on wasted endeavours. It’s kind of my answer to the Star Wars prequels: it’s the fastidious, precious, perfectionist project that can never be done right because that means it’d have to end. I needed RoTM to cope with a lot of shit in my life, and most of that shit is now either irrelevant or stuff that I seriously need to let go of and make irrelevant.

So basically I need to make the decision stick. And maybe the way to do that is actually to lean into it really hard, give it this final chance, and … well, give it the chance. Give myself the chance. Maybe something will come together. And maybe it will finally, at long last, collapse under its own weight and never get up again, and I will be able to move on and believe that it’s really happened.

So this month – what’s left of it – and next month, I’m going to be going hard as a motherfucker on Realm of the Myth. Everything else barring my MA goes on hold (I say that like it’s not on hold already this is actually an increase in my productivity) as I lean in and see how long it takes until something cracks. And maybe it won’t. Maybe it will actually finally start fucking working. Who knows, right? I’ve gotten it to almost work so many times. I just hate the idea of giving up just before I would have figured out a way to get it to finally work.

But I also know that that’s how these things suck you in. “Just one last try.” Sure it is.

Well, my compromise is the next … 37 days. Including today. And if that’s too long, then fuck it, it’s not worth the hassle trying to reach some kind of cathartic resolution to my prolonged escapade with this bullshit story. I’ll just have to accept that the only conclusion to this episode in my life is an anticlimax, and move the fuck on.

But not for another 37 days. Better make the most of them.

The last last time

I was going to write here that this, this would be the absolute really for serious last time EVER that I would pull an all-nighter to get something finished by a deadline. I was going to emphatically state this, inscribe it into the mythology of the universe and force myself to adhere to the formula henceforth and forevermore.

The thing is, I already did that. I did it last time I had a submission deadline that I’d left too late to get a good headstart on.

And the time before that.

And the time before that.

And I’m pretty damn sure the time before that, too.

And yet, here I am again, and I have finally learnt a valuable lesson: stop saying shit is the last time. Just stop.

But not because it doesn’t work, because sometimes it does. Stop because it doesn’t matter.

Yeah, sometimes you need that little moral push, the put-my-foot-down moment that makes things concrete and gives you a measure against which you can hold yourself accountable, and that’s good. But this hasn’t worked for me. I’ve tried it so many times, and just as many times it hasn’t worked. Putting my foot down when it comes to my bad academic habits just doesn’t seem to be a thing that I have the capacity to do. It’s disappointing, let me tell you. But if that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.

And yes, it sucks to think that this chapter is going to be half-formed and shitty and turn the next several hours into an agonizing, sleep-deprived mess. It’s frustrating to know that I already learnt all the reasons why an all-nighter sucks ass the last time I pulled an all-nighter, not to mention every single all-nighter before that, and yet it still hasn’t been enough to motivate me to avoid this one. It makes me feel useless and weak and like I have no control over myself, like I’m a failure and I’ll never stop being a failure, because despite all the things that should be enough motivation for me to change my ways, I still haven’t.

So I think, therefore, the problem is that these things that I think should be enough …

They just aren’t.

I need something else, and I know what it is. It’s to keep going.

“This is the last time” implies a stopping-point, a new chapter, or episode, or full-on franchise reboot. It implies starting over. But even if it hasn’t been a particularly smooth journey, I’ve come a long goddamn way already. Why the fuck would I want to start over? I’ve put all of this work into it, and the thing is that, even if only incrementally, it is getting smoother. It is evening out. This isn’t like my ridiculous, overblown, over-thought, under-written, 15-year-old self-fanfic passion project that, for the third time, I really need to extinguish from existence. That doesn’t need to start over, though: that just needs to die and, this time, not fucking come back. I’ve already tried restarting and rebooting that, dozens of times, and it still doesn’t work. Just like every time I insist on saying to myself “never again” every time I’m staring down the barrel of another all-nighter, it doesn’t stick. Because starting all over again is bullshit. Just quit.

Or keep going.

So I’m going to keep going. Is this the last all-nighter I’ll ever pull? I don’t fucking know; I can’t fucking know. I don’t know how life is going to turn out, what compromises I’m going to have to make with my schedule, and on the flipside I do know that I’m still struggling with a fuckton of anxiety and self-loathing, sprinkled with the odd depressive episode, so insisting that I have some kind of moral obligation to maintain a flawless time-keeping schedule is masochistic at best. In fact it actually directly feeds into and perpetuates the kinds of negative, toxic things that I tell myself over and over again, the same kinds of things that get me into the all-nighter situation to begin with, the “but I don’t know where to start”, the “but I can’t write it well in this amount of time”, the “but it’s too late now anyway I left it too long I’m such an idiot why don’t I ever learn”. It’s two sides of the same coin, not some kind of counter-balance, when I drill myself for not getting it right.

And it goes without saying that there will also probably be more of that in my future. But it is getting better. Incrementally, the shit is subsiding, and my pace is picking up. Maybe not this time. Maybe not the time after this time. Maybe not even the time after that. But at some point, it will even out.

If I keep going. And only if I keep going.

So let’s write this fucker.

 

 

I thought seven was the most powerful magical number

So J.K. Rowling has announced that her The Cursed Child play, co-written with a couple of other people, is going to be released as a two-part book series.

I spent about half an hour writing this huge, rambling post about how all good stories have to end, how it’s unhealthy to treat any one single thing as the be-all-and-end-all to your satisfaction and fulfillment in life, even something as profoundly formative as Harry Potter has been to hundreds of millions of people around the world, including myself. How no amount of sequels, prequels or spinoffs can ever fill the void we all feel, the yearning for more, because that yearning for more isn’t actually a yearning for more of the same – it’s the signal we give ourselves that, yes, we need more, but it’s because we’ve been spending so much time in this single, narrow space trying to convince ourselves that it is the entire world. It’s because we know, deep down, that there is more to life than any one thing, no matter how wonderful, and that we will be much more fulfilled by branching out and finding them – and probably appreciate this one thing all the more for it when we eventually return to it.

And then I actually read the goddamn article and it informed me that this is not actually a book, but a published script of the play.

Which is actually kind of cool. I definitely prefer that to another book. I mean yes this is a book, but I mean a book-book.

Because Harry Potter is FINISHED. It finished, it was supposed to finish, it finished well, and it’s fucking DONE. The last thing I want is for my favourite story to grow thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. That’s the main reason I am not even remotely excited for the Fantastic Creatures and Where to Find Them films (as well as the fact that they’re being directed by David Yates, who is my second-least favourite director of the HP films): it’s not giving me more of what I want. What I want is more of the feeling of inclusion, of wanting to be included, and I don’t think I can ever get that from Harry Potter again – at least not like this. The closest I can get is to go back to the original seven books and revisit them that way, but it will never be the same. I’ll need to find something else. And that is a good thing.

I mean I’m still going to read this thing but yeah the Wizarding World has had enough of a monopoly over my creative life, time for some new prospects.

 

All-Nighters Round 2

God Fucking Dammit.

I had over a month, over a month to write this fucking MA chapter and yet somehow I now only have 4 days. 4 fucking days. And about 2 days ago, I had 10 days. What the fuck is going on.

Well, it’s not all bad in the sense that broadly speaking I know what my argument is, I’m sure I can pick out a few choice scenes here and there to meet my needs, and the actual chapter-writing itself probably won’t take a very long time. But still. I actually did get a headstart on this chapter, the way I keep trying to get myself to do, and yet here we are again, again.

Again.

HOW THE FUCK DOES so I know that a big part of this issue was the fact that I have selected the film adaptation of Ender’s Game to write about for this chapter, and I dreaded watching that movie so much that I put it off for about 2 weeks too long. Moral of the story being to either pick texts that I’m not going to avoid like the plague to write about, or find some way to force myself to engage with them in a timely manner so that I don’t end up in bullshit situations like this.

hate this. I wanted a nice, comfortable flow from one chapter to the next, no all-nighters ever again, sensible time-management, getting an early start on the next piece of work …

I mean I guess I still did that. And I can feel myself learning, physically feel it, like a change in the weather that you only feel through the texture of your skin and the balance of your hormones rather than in the atmosphere around you. I can feel myself caught up in the Flow, as psychologists and game theorists both call it. It is happening. It is working. It’s just not quite there yet.

Thus, for the next four nights, including tonight: all-nighter city. I assume I’ll be going straight on to revisions for this chapter after I hand it in, I fucking hope I’m going straight into revisions because I’ll almost certainly need them, and just … fuck this fucking thesis. Fuck it. I have been getting all excited at the prospect of doing a PhD but if it’s just going to be 4 more years of this shit?

And the thing is, when I’m in the zone, when I’m all engaged and shit, I love this work. I love the intellectual stimulation and all that good stuff; I love wrestling with concepts and ideas and pinning them down in the shape of a solid argument. But I’m not giving myself the opportunity to enjoy it. I keep putting it off. I have to not only grapple with the theories and arguments and possible counter-arguments but also the toxic self-sabotaging habits I’ve built up over half a lifetime of anxiety, guilt and self-loathing. It’s kind of amazing I’ve got this far, in a way. I want more time with this chapter. 4 days can’t do it justice. There are so many cool things I want to think about the information I have to play with, and there just isn’t time, and goddammit there could have been enough time. That’s the most infuriating part. That’s always the most infuriating part.

But the one very, very good thing about this whole experience is the back-to-back deadlines, for an entire year. Like, yeah, right now it sucks ass to be stuck in a corner of my own making, but overall this is exactly the kind of environment I need to learn the skills I need to learn if I want to write for a living, academically or otherwise. Finished the thing? Great job; on to the next one. Finished that thing? Then you can pick up another one now. On and on and on, and basically at some point the habit will break, the bottom will fall out and I will be forced to get my shit together. As much as this very moment sucks, and sucks hard, overall this is possibly the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life as a writer, and as a student.

I mean this is the fantasy every depressive, anxious, dysfunctional person who is aware of their dysfunctionality dreams of: being forced to change. I gave up on that fantasy ages ago because it kept not happening, but now it is happening. And I don’t have time for the fantasy anymore. It just is.

And this chapter isn’t going to write itself.

 

I need to do some writing today

Got my second chapter for Masters to continue with, got my shitty YA werewolf novel to finish up, got another couple of novels I’d really love to make some headway with, a novel to kill for the third time and absorb the life force of to fuel my other writing – I’m busy. I’m just not actually doing any of the things I’m busy with.

Which is a shame, because I enjoy being busy. It’s frustrating to know that I enjoy being busy and then doing all sorts of things to prevent myself from getting caught up in and enjoying it. So today I need to actually do some of this stuff, start spending time instead of saving it, I’m sure I can think of a few more catchphrases if you give me a minute but no I just want, and need, to write.

Also to read. Just maybe not the stuff I bought; I need to read for research. I’m very invested in these two other novels I want to get started, and in order to write them as well as I’d like I need some material to work with. I need to learn about fencing, the reality of fighting with swords; I need to get more familiar with witch tropes and conventions and general literature; I need to learn how to write a decent sex scene – I need a lot of stuff to go right before I can write. And I want to do it. I hate having to fight myself to do the things I actually enjoy doing. Yay general self-loathing, depression and anxiety.

No. Not yay. Very not yay.

But it’s still fine because I’m going to write stuff today. And when I kill that novel for the third time I expect it to be a satisfactory charm. I need and want to move on from that. 15 years of effort can’t go nowhere, even if the object of that effort doesn’t. The object has become an obstacle and needs to be removed and, once it is, the effort will come flooding back out to me and I can do something else with it – that’s my hope anyway. I just need to find a way to get rid of it that feels real.

Anyway. Writing today.