Camp Nanowrimo 2016, pre-planning

God I am not prepared for this.

Just saw Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and while I had been morbidly anticipating what looked to be an utter trainwreck of a film ever since it was announced, I have to say that I actually really enjoyed it. Though not because it was good. It’s really not. And I’m not just trying to be all cynical and disavow the genuine pleasure it brought me, because it did; this film – as a story – hangs together by imaginary threads that belong to other stories. There are about three different stories going on, the most interesting and solid one of which is cut short halfway through the film and then the next, nowhere-near-as-good one starts, with some nagging cameo appearances by the third. I really need to start a film review blog or something because I have Things To Say about this movie. But the takeaway for me is that most of what I liked about this film was in the visuals and the ideas that they inspired. Because however I feel about some of Zack Snyder’s other works, you can’t say he doesn’t know good visuals. The visuals held this film together far better than it deserves when broken down into its constituent parts, and I imagine that if my brain had not crossed the “been awake for too long” threshold while watching this movie I would not have slipped into the blissful, hypnotic stupor that carried me through the bad half of the film and made me enjoy it, specifically because I was and am too tired to actually remember the film well enough to put it together in sequence in my head. When I have slept and regained that ability, I predict a ripping of this film into shreds while screaming “THAT’S NOT WONDER WOMAN” until my throat bleeds.

In the meantime, the takeaway here is that, in preparation for Camp Nanowrimo – well, I haven’t done the preparation that I wanted to. Nowhere near. I’ve been angsting about my thesis and angsting about procrastinating and just generally angsting all around. It’s a thing I do. This is your brain on anxiety, folks. But that’s how it is, and I don’t think it’s enough to stop me from getting something out of this month of focused writing. And after having seen Batman vs Superman, I shall be going into the first day of Camp Nanowrimo with this lesson in mind: generic is not the same as contrived.

Often the two overlap. The example of the Damsel in Distress exemplifies this (and Batman vs Superman certainly doesn’t shy away from it); it’s generic because it’s a cliche, and it’s contrived because, seriously, there are other more interesting ways to create dramatic tension in a story. The designated Damsel just has to be the one who ends up being in trouble, has to be utterly helpless and of some kind of value to whoever it is Distressing her to justify said Distressing, so on and so forth. It’s thin. Contrivance is something that, while it may have justification, does not have strong justification, and that can come either from within the story (such as whenever the badass Action Chick also ends up serving as the Damsel in Distress) or from a meta perspective (such as every significant female character in everything ever ending up serving as a Damsel in Distress yes there are exceptions see how many fingers you need to count them).

Another example of contrived: Lex Luthor in Batman vs Superman. His motivation for doing the things that he does is precisely “crazy people sure are crazy”, both perpetuating ugly stereotypes about mental illness and manifest evil being synonymous and making Lex the antagonist equivalent of a Deus ex Machina, because due to his being crazy, any kind of motivation he has is automatically granted a free pass, because even if it doesn’t make sense to us – that’s the point. He’s crazy. Justified in-world? Sure. Justified in terms of good storytelling? Not so much.

This is a good lesson for me to bear in mind, because I’m hoping to make Camp Nanowrimo my success story in terms of using the “write on the fly” method I had so much fun with while writing my super-cliche YA werewolf novel. It just wasn’t cliche enough, and while that’s opened up some very cool possibilities for its development into something resembling an actual story at some point in the possible future, I want to prove to myself – and the world – that I can in fact write a really formulaic story. Not because I’m going to try and make it formulaic, but because I’m going to try and write it fast.

Speed is the entire point; speed is fun, and speed is liberating in the sense that, if you prioritise speed above all else, then you have to allow yourself to be generic, iterative and – in some places – contrived. With my YA werewolf novel, the idea was that contrived was allowed so long as it was a predictable, cliche kind of contrived, a contrivance with authority – the Damsel in Distress, for instance, would have been fair game. And the reason that you end up being generic and iterative and contrived when you’re writing quickly is because you don’t have the time to come up with anything better. You need a story, and you need it now. The fun of trying this out for me is the liberation that comes with allowing myself to write even the most awful, trite, archaic cliches and stereotypes imaginable for the sake of holding the story together in a story-like shape, and to see how smoothly I can combine said cliches and stereotypes in the shortest amount of time.

As for contrivance … the problem with Batman vs Superman is, as you might expect, the fact that it really isn’t allowed to be a film that stands on its own merit. It has to do so much other work that keeps it from being as solid as a story should be: it has to set up the stand-alone Wonder Woman movie, the eventual Justice League team-up, make sure that Clark and Bruce find some common ground instead of actually killing each other so that any of that can happen, all while – somehow – telling a story. And again, while I enjoyed it, the story it told was a visual one, not a narrative or plot-based one. And since writing books doesn’t have the benefit of pretty visuals to distract from a weak or contrived plot (and pretty language tends to just exacerbate the matter), I’ll have to make sure that whatever contrivances I do allow for serve to hold the story together, rather than justify it picking itself apart. There’s a difference between having the Damsel in Distress device set up the final conflict of the story and ending the story with a cliffhanger and no resolution at all, for the sake of dragging things out. The first one, while gross, at least can make a story cohesive (though probably not any story I’d want to read or write). The second one cannot. Ever. By its very nature, it is dividing a story into two parts when it should be one whole. And any justification for that is automatically a justification for a contrivance, and by extension is itself contrived.

That is the kind of contrivance I will have to avoid going into Camp Nanowrimo. I hate cliffhanger endings anyway, so hopefully I won’t have to worry too much about writing one by mistake somehow. But there are other ways to sabotage a story, by forcing in elements that, while they might be important for reasons beyond the story, hurt the story itself. The Marvel films have been heading that way for a while now, and Batman vs Superman is following in their footsteps. I sincerely hope that, should I ever be fortunate enough to get a publishing deal, it is not a contrivance I myself will have to play out, and for Camp Nanowrimo, fast and generic as I will hopefully be writing, guarding against contrivance and ensuring a coherent story is the discipline that I want to develop.

And also, I just need to write. I need to accomplish something creative. It’s been too long.

Now I just need to decide what to write. Hmm.

Writing is Good

This post is what it says on the tin: writing is awesome.

Also, for the foreseeable future, I will be re-instating my no-swearing policy on this blog. Not because I’m suddenly interested in being family-friendly, but because I’m interested in carefully considering what I want to say and how I want to say it. And sometimes that absolutely involves swearing, but if it doesn’t have to, well, I think I can explore those linguistic possibilities a lot more than I generally do.

I wrote some more connective tissue of my shitty YA werewolf story, and if I do decide to go ahead with the sequel for Camp Nanowrimo, I at least want this first draft to be finished first. In practical terms I should wait until I’ve also revised it, as there’s already a few standout elements that I want to emphasise differently than it currently stands. Also I just want the satisfaction of seeing this project through to completion. I think the original purpose of this project has been lost and would be better served with an entirely new project, and I have one in mind. But there’s still something I can get out of this project. I really like it in its own right, and even if I don’t submit it for publishing or whatever I would like to polish it up and give it the chops I think it has the potential to have as a story, rather than just a writing exercise.

And, I mean, I could submit it for publishing. You never know.

Gotta finish it first, though. Let’s see if I can’t recapture some of that hack-writer magic that made it so enjoyable the first time around.

True Gritty Realism

So Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is out in cinemas and, goddammit, I really want to see it. I have wanted to see it for trainwreck purposes for what feels like forever, and now I want to see it because it’s a thing that I can do with my time, and fuck knows I don’t do anything else with it.

But I already hate this film. I hate it because it’s dark and gritty and pretentious, and Wonder Woman does not belong in that kind of setting, and yet this is her cinematic debut and, when she gets her own film, it’ll be more of the same. I want to see a Wonder Woman film because I’m excited to see my favourite superhero finally getting her own goddamn film and because said film looks good, not because of a political impetus to support any scrap of representation she is able to get.

In short, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice makes me angry, and what I’ve been realising lately is that I am a very angry person.

A lot of people seem to have this same problem: having a lot of shit that they’re angry about, but being afraid to express it. Obviously this is a self-sabotaging cycle, and the trap I’ve found is how logical it is to be angry about shit that’s happened in your life, whether to you or somebody else. For instance, this movie. It’s logical to be angry at the fact that Wonder Woman is appearing for the first time in film as the Token Chick, logical to be angry that she’s being presented as another soulless, joyless, personality-less Strong Female Character, so on and so forth. It makes sense. But it doesn’t help. It doesn’t do anything for me. In fact, a lot of this anger is something I do to myself. I’m not a Scientologist, so I don’t believe that we choose how to feel. But I am a human being, so I know for a fact that we do choose how to utilise our feelings when we get them. Obviously there is a worldwide problem with emotional intelligence; we don’t get any kind of good, solid, reliable grounding in how to healthily deal with out feelings, and any kind of emotional intelligence we do develop seems to be mostly by chance, and that makes it very harsh to blame people for “working themselves up”, because seriously, who knows better? Yet that is what tends to happen. Especially if you don’t have an outlet. If you don’t have an outlet, then what’s your option? Just choose to not be angry? Or hurt? Or lonely? Feelings don’t come out of a vacuum. Feelings are a response. Something has to happen to trigger a feeling; they’re like any other part of our body in that regard. And yes, we can get ourselves to feel certain things by manipulating circumstances to that end, but that’s still creating a situation that we will then respond to. My point is that our feelings are not our decision. But how we handle them is. And while I certainly don’t think I have enough answers as to how I should healthily handle my own feelings – hence this rant – I do know that I have one outlet that, at least sometimes, does work.

Writing.

I’ve heard this same advice in both academic and fiction writing, because in the end the only difference between the two is who you’re trying to please and how: if you write about what makes you angry, you will write something powerful. And as it happens, while I do want to continue my shitty YA werewolf thing as a writing exercise – I want outlets for giddy happiness as well, after all – I need something that benefits from my anger, and I need the benefit of being able to express my anger.

And this would be the Christmas-themed story that I’ve had sitting on the backburner for 8 years. A first draft is done, and I have wanted to get it published for a very long time; this is definitely one of my favourite projects. And what makes it one of my favourites is that it was a therapeutic project for me, where I poured hopes, dreams and, yes, anger into. A lot of anger. Not even necessarily my own anger (though there was plenty of that), but anger in general is a huge theme in the story. Most of that has to do with memories of being a child and the kinds of obstacles I would run up against because of being a child and being treated as a child by the wider world. There’s a very long history of Christmas-themed stories that centre around hard-done-by children, and while that wasn’t a conscious decision that I made, it certainly gives the story a sense of, I dunno, “classic” status that also make me fond of it. So I’ve started re-reading it.

Long story short: I’m 2 pages in and I can’t fucking stand it, because it turns out that what my anger and passion drove me to write was a grimdark fairytale.

Like, I can’t remember the last time I read something this … tryhard. It’s painful. It’s embarrassing. It’s embarrassing because not only can I tell from how it’s written that it’s trying to be deep and meaningful and probe the essential truths of human emotional existence; I fucking wrote it, so I know that it was meant to be deep and meaningful and probe the essential truths of human emotional existence. And it just … it was less about telling a story, in my mind, than it was an attempt to re-create reality. Part of this is because, being a hermetic recluse, other people aren’t exactly my area of expertise. 8 years down the track, the essential truths of human emotional existence are less of a mystery to me, but not by much. This is because, 8 years down the track, I am no longer actively closing myself off from all human contact (just most human contact). So there’s a lot more than just a cathartic release of anger in this draft; it’s everything. And the result is fucking unreadable.

So maybe I need a new project. Same story, but maybe this draft actually needs to just be banished to the ether, and I’ll be better off starting again from scratch. The issue, though, is that I’ve tried that before and it hasn’t worked. But those time were not these times; I was in a very different place, had different things going on, and different things that I wanted to get out of this project. Maybe it’s been long enough that a fresh start is actually possible now.

Just as long as it doesn’t end up grimdark again. There is no situation in this day and age where that is even remotely acceptable anymore.

The magic of Michael Cera

Holy crap I wrote something that wasn’t my thesis today.

I also wrote a LOT of thesis today. The deadlines are getting tighter, and my brain is not prepared. But I aim to get prepared, and it’s probably going to be stressful as hell and I’ll run myself into the ground trying to cope and it will be the worst thing I’ve ever experienced, and then as soon as it’s over I’ll conveniently forget all the trauma I went through just to finish by the deadline.

Why the hell did I think an MA was a good idea?

But anyway, during my “nap” between writing at 1am and getting back to writing at 8am I had a weird dream about an indie arthouse film, and as soon as I woke up, Michael Cera appeared in it, my post-dream haze carrying my thoughts through to a little scene that was more or less scripted-out. And that scene is what I just wrote. No, it did not turn out the way I wanted it to, but that happens when you try to write something that was only ever vaguely planned-out to begin with and only do one pass. I might come back to it later on and revise it into shape, or I might not. But Michael Cera is in it, and I like the idea of trying to write appropriate dialogue for Michael Cera, so that could be fun.

It’s also good to have the feeling of writing because I have an idea that I want to play with again. I have not had that feeling for a long time. My shitty YA werewolf thing – which I think I will be finishing after all, and perhaps writing the sequel to for Camp Nanowrimo – was different, because it wasn’t so much an idea or a scene as a concept for an entire writing process, which just so happened to stem from how obsessed I was with werewolves at the time. And that was really fun as well. But having little ideas, isolated concepts, scenes, fragments of dialogue that might lead to something else but equally might go absolutely nowhere – that’s the kind of stuff I haven’t let myself work with for a very long time, and it’s been too long. I need to get started again, to get re-acquainted with my ideas and my creativity as it comes to me. I need to get used to using my creative energy when it comes to me, instead of trying to put it off until the opportune moment arises, because it never really does. There’s always something getting in the way, some other obligation or thing I could be doing instead, and that never ends and will never end. I just have to get used to making time to do my creative stuff, and eventually it will turn into a habit that I don’t have to turn on. I have to take affirmative action against the habit of slumping and procrastinating that I have built up over the years, and the great thing about it is that the only way to do it is to get shit done. Which is perfect specifically because the entire reason I want to break these habits in the first place is to get said shit done. The means are the ends. Win-win.

In the meantime, I need to sleep and then go see my supervisor and then come back home and do more of this. Making time for this stuff, so that I don’t feel like I’m missing out, so that I don’t have so much reason to procrastinate on doing other things that I am actually obligated to do.

Why can’t life just be simple?

 

Lack of Progress Report 9,002

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I’ve been gripped with the burning desire to play a ton of World of Warcraft for the past 2 weeks, my general lack of time-management skills or my ongoing battle with intense social anxiety (I lied I do know it’s all of these things), but things have not been going too well on the “getting shit done” front of late. I finally forced myself to watch Mockingjay Part 1 yesterday for my thesis, and I now know that 1) films I find really unappealing when I think about them are not always that bad when I actually watch them, especially if I have a theoretical angle to analyse them from, and 2) unpleasant business should be done as early in the day as possible so that you can end on at least one high note.

So starting tomorrow I am going to be devoting my mornings and early afternoons to Getting Shit Done. I tend to work out in the evenings; that will now be moved to the afternoon or perhaps morning. I will lunge at top speed into brain-seizure-inducing academic research as soon as I wake up. And then probably at 2 or 3 PM I will stop all of that and just chill.

Except I won’t “just chill” because I also have books to write.

And I’m not just going to focus on one, oh no! I’m going to continue with my plan to work through Realm of the Myth and also complete my shitty YA werewolf novel, this time making it as truly shitty as I possibly can instead of trying to make it “work” because it’s a first draft and also “making it work” was not my original plan and I have no idea how that suddenly became my priority but it’s been holding me up and I just need to get it done.

I’m also going to go back and start rereading the first draft of the Christmas-themed novel I was working on before I started writing Tallulah, because it’s a story that means a lot to me and that deserves to be told, and also because I have finally gotten around to accepting that if there are things that I genuinely feel passionate about I should try and make them happen if I can, and let’s be honest I at least have the time to try and make it work. Using mornings and afternoons for doing serious work frees me up, leaves me a few hours of pre-evening time to indulge in, and will hopefully encourage me to take advantage of this abundance of free time where I don’t feel guilty for not having done anything that day.

I don’t know how well Camp Nanowrimo is suited to revising a novel because word-count really isn’t a helpful metric, but given that the Christmas novel is around 180k words it could probably do with some downsizing, and it might end up being a rewrite. I guess I’ll know once I start rereading it. If a rewrite seems the best option, then it will be a rewrite. Otherwise …

Well, in any case, I haven’t been doing anything for a while and that’s why I haven’t updated, though I’m sure if you’ve been following me for a while you’re pretty used to this pattern. I wonder how predictable it is, like maybe if it happens during certain parts of the year or something. But this is the plan going forward, and I know that I can do it, and I want to do it, so I’d better get started.

I want every resolution to work. They tend not to last. And I’m pretty tired of that.