Back to the Pack

My shitty YA werewolf novel is 844 words longer, and I think I’m finally on the home stretch.

It’s a sobering thought, the prospect of not having my MA to work on after the end of October. I need to be finished by then. I will be finished by then, in fact, because I literally don’t have the time to drag it out beyond that point. At the moment, I am taking this to be a blessing in disguise, because holy crap I could use a break.

Also because it’s something I don’t have to worry about; in fact, it’s something I can look forward to, and use as leverage to get myself to think about other stuff. Nanowrimo for one, but also … well, everything. I might stop with a Master’s and just do other shit for the rest of my life. I might continue with a PhD and keep teaching – I honestly do like teaching, quite a lot – now having slowly and begrudgingly come to the realisation that I can actually juggle academia and novel-writing at the same time. But the main point is that, come the end of October, I will have sooo much free time. My contract runs until the 30th of November, but most of that is going to be marking (which definitely is time-consuming, but does not require me to leave the house), not actually teaching, and definitely not thesis-writing. I’m going to be done with it, for better or worse, and onto the next thing.

At the moment, the “next thing” is also the last thing: the aforementioned shitty YA werewolf novel. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it once I’m finished – do I try and get it published? Do I self-pub just for the satisfaction? Do I post it up here for free, or maybe on Wattpad or something, more as an example of how this incredibly belaboured writing exercise of mine ended up turning out, for the other writers out there who might be curious? (And anyone else, of course.)

Well, gotta finish it first, and I think now that I’ve started eating into these last two, awkward-feeling chapters I’m just going to keep on eating until they’re gone. It’s a good feeling. A comforting feeling.

I’m going to be done. That’s a good feeling.

Note-Taking

There is nothing quite like revision.

Right now, I’m reading over the 3rd chapter of my MA and leaving myself comments in the margins. Constructive criticism is something I value and try to promote to others, which is why I make an effort to put it into practice while giving myself feedback. For instance, I have found a couple of passages where my argument is not quite as explicit and direct as it could be; I have some really good theory I’m using to back up my examples from the film I’m talking about – The Maze Runner – and in these instances, I’m just not taking advantage of that theory as much as I could. I have therefore left myself some helpful reminders, such as “I could make this example stronger by using it earlier in the chapter when I introduce the film”, “this point feels peripheral now, I should evaluate whether it still makes sense”, and “STOP TALKING AROUND THE POINT THIS IS YOUR FUCKING ARGUMENT SO JUST FUCKING SAY IT AAAAAAAAAAA“.

I’m not even kidding.

And the thing is: it’s fun. Revision is fun too, but it’s also a real slog sometimes, so you need to take opportunities to entertain yourself. If that means screaming at yourself in the most un-constructive language you have literacy in, then so be it. The important thing is that you get through it, because the work ain’t gonna do itself, and whatever it takes for you to get it done – well, what happens in revision stays in revision.

Which is also why you revise more than once, unless you can afford not to care. When I revised Tallulah, it was a huge counter-swing in terms of what I’d done with the story already, trying to take it in as different of a direction as I could manage because everything looks awful in retrospect. Ironically, a few of the really weak parts of the story only stood out to me once I’d made these massive changes but ignored those parts, and that’s the other reason to revise more than once, something I have yet to accomplish with Tallulah. But my MA is going to have at least 2 revisions, and because I’m up against a deadline with it this means that I can’t actually afford to make huge changes. I have to discipline my writing and make sure that I take full advantage of the material I have to work with, making certain points stronger and de-emphasising others while still ensuring that it retains a sense of coherence.

It’s the deadline that does it, I’m finding, which makes perfect sense – and also makes sense as to why I still haven’t finished Tallulah or my shitty YA werewolf novel. I don’t have to. I can take my time to perfect them, nitpick over every single little detail and then every single detail I add in to satisfy the original nitpicks; there’s nothing materially preventing me from doing that. But with this MA, there is. And that’s a necessary thing for any writer: at some point you have to stop – or be stopped. Because without that, your story doesn’t end, and the thing about stories is that, one way or another, they have to end.

I’m getting an appreciation of what I have to do with Tallulah through just making these notes on my MA: I’m going to have to accept that I can’t change too much of it, that it’s flawed, doesn’t live up to the promises it makes and despite all of this, this is the material I’m going to have to work with, and make work as a functioning story. Which is why it’s not going to be the story I want it to be.

And the other reason this is what I know I’m going to have to do is because, obviously, I don’t have to do that at all. I can wait. I don’t have a deadline; as I’ve said before, I ain’t getting paid for my writing, so I may as well do it the way I want to do it. But as time goes on, the way I want to write is changing. I want to write in such a way that means I complete stories, that I finish with them and move on to other ones. I have so many stories that I’ve come up with in a moment of inspiration, even had that moment last for far longer than a moment, more than enough time for me to take a crack at that story while still feeling enthusiastic about it, and just never done anything other than indulge in the thoughts and feelings evoked by that inspiration. I’ve had so many stories that had their moment to shine, and I refused to help them do it. I think that might be why I have so much difficulty coming up with new stories these days – some kind of karmic backdraft, punishing me for not embracing the creativity I had at the moment that I had it. I say that only half-jokingly; whenever I think of going back to those stories and trying them out again, the spark is just gone, dead – I had the chance, and blew it. There’s no reason I can’t go back and pick them up, of course, but that feeling of deadness, of lost opportunity – I think there’s something valuable to learn there. Namely, to follow inspiration when it strikes. Take the risk. Defy perfectionism and worrying about what people will think, and give yourself the opportunity to see what you think when you’re done. Take the opportunity to start, so that you’ll find out what happens when you finish.

Which is, I guess, why I really still have this blog: to make notes, and make them public in case they prove useful to anyone else. Though having said that, this blog is hardly all about that. I wish it was. A little clarity of purpose never hurt anyone, especially a blog.

But, then again, sometimes you need those really ‘constructive’ blog posts just to keep the thing going, too. Or I do anyway. How real bloggers do that whole ‘consistency’ shit I’ll never know.

 

 

Belaboured Fruits

I have written the first draft of an MA and almost a full novel in the space of 13 months.

I was made aware that this was, in fact, something that I had done when I went out to dinner with a friend. It still hasn’t sunk in; I still don’t feel like “that guy”, the guy who can Do Everything At Once without breaking a sweat. I still see myself as the WOW-playing procrastination champion of the world, where the world is my bedroom and it may as well be to me because I hardly ever leave it; I don’t Get Things Done. But apparently this self-deprecating perception I have of myself is, if not wrong, at least incomplete. Because while I certainly do play WOW and procrastinate, apparently I have also written the first draft of an MA and almost a full novel in the space of 13 months.

That’s … I should be appreciating that fact more.

A lot more.

I hate these kinds of revelations. They come with the kinds of angst that #firstworldproblems are made of, such as “the only reason I’m doing an MA is because I just don’t know what to do with my life and have no sense of purpose, is there anyone in the whole world more pathetic than me, yeah I didn’t think so either”.

In order to be doing an MA you need pretty fucking good grades; you get pretty fucking good grades by demonstrating a pretty fucking good understanding of relevant knowledge within your field of study; and you demonstrate a pretty fucking good understanding of relevant knowledge in your field by DOING WORK.

Also, you need to BE AT UNIVERSITY.

I study – and now also teach – at a WORLD-RANKED UNIVERSITY where I have DONE ENOUGH WORK to warrant my doing a FUCKING MASTERS DEGREE, as well as having written almost TWO ENTIRE FUCKING NOVELS OVER THE COURSE OF MY STUDIES TO THIS POINT, and I LITERALLY DON’T BELIEVE IT. What is WRONG WITH MY BRAIN.

No but I know what’s wrong with my brain, and that’s the really frustrating part for me. I’m hard-wired to focus exclusively on the negative, to the point where recognition of positive experiences instantly evaporates upon making contact with my cerebral cortex, the data fried by the energy it takes to create synaptic links that would, in a less poorly-constructed cerebrum, create a memory. Not only can I not remember positive things that I’ve done or that have happened to me, but I over-remember bad things, which are sometimes events that I actually have reason to feel shitty about, but are also equally random self-hating mind-rants that have no basis in reality yet still manage to take memorisation priority over actual events in my life.

Basically, not only am I super fucking privileged, but I’m also so psychologically damaged that I can’t even enjoy the fun stuff that comes with it. I can, however, feel guilty about it and continue to hate myself, thus perpetuating the problem that I am currently facing, so that’s something.

But no! The Ubermensch does not fall prey to such petty things as basic psychology and brain patterns. The Ubermensch will Ubercome!

That sounds wrong! I mean like overcome, because “uber” means “over”! I think!

The Ubermensch has spoken!

So what I’m going to do in order to drill out this mental plaque that is preventing me from feeling like the badass I apparently am: finish that fucking shitty YA werewolf novel, because goddammit it has long outlived its usefulness as a fun, frivolous writing exercise and it’s time for me to get with the times – the project has changed, and I need to change with it. I will give it a second purpose: to be the second novel I’ve finished in the past 3 years. Obviously this isn’t counting revisions – but, on the note of completing novels …

November isn’t too far away.

It’s kind of scary how fast this year has gone by. I think the same thing every year, but this one seems to have been especially brief.

I don’t want to still be writing this shitty YA werewolf novel come Nanowrimo.

I want something new to work on. And I think that something new is only going to come to me once I have put this shitty YA werewolf novel to bed. I might do a brief revision, but this isn’t going to be a Serious Project, because it was never meant to be. Although having said that, it has taught me a lot just by virtue of it taking so damn long to write. The obvious lesson, which I learnt very early on, is that novelty wears off really fast, and that this kind of writing exercise is awesome if you can get it done quickly. The second lesson comes from the fact that, despite allowing myself to use whatever ideas worked, no matter how problematic or cliche (which are often virtually synonymous), so long as it made the story “feel like a story” … half the time I have spent writing this novel has been putting off these last 2 chapters, because they suck. They don’t even have the twistedly seductive allure of being problematic-yet-effective-from-a-formalist-perspective storytelling; they’re flat and dull and just fucking blow. The lesson is that “cliche” is not, in fact, a synonym for “easy” when it comes to writing, and I’m glad I learnt it. As Jim Carrey once said, you can still fail at something you hate, so you may as well try to succeed at something you love. He also said that vaccines cause autism, or probably has since he’s an anti-vaxxer, goddammit Jim why.

Anyway. I gotta do this just to put more evidence on the board; my plan of gauging my personal achievements/progress in my self-project on a week-by-week basis rather than moment-by-moment is actually kinda working as well, so this seems like a good next point to put on the board. I sometimes wonder what this blog would be like if it wasn’t for my mental health, or lack thereof, colouring my attempts to get shit done. And my conclusion is that I would really rather like to find out.

Here goes.