One weird trick to get any task done

No okay seriously I keep seeing these fucking “one weird trick” articles at the bottom of other articles that I read; the fact that I see those articles at all may clue you in to the kind of shit I read on the internet, but that’s besides the point. “One weird trick to make women obsess over you” seems to be the most common, with two different versions showing up right next to each other at the end of the last article I was reading (about the Justice League movie; trash begets trash I guess). I mean, guys, “obsess” is a very broad term. I’m sure you can get any woman to obsess over you by shaking her hand with one of those buzzer things they used to use in movies to establish a throwaway comic relief character, or by never showering ever. This would work because it would make anybody obsess over you, regardless of sex or gender, because they would find you repugnant. “One weird trick to continue your already rampant objectification of women” doesn’t sell as well I guess. Small miracles?

Seriously though, getting shit done: you just fucking do it. I’ve been on this particular ride before, veering between two philosophical poles in an attempt to establish some kind of solid foundation upon which I can build a functional, reliable and predictable work ethic: finding motivation on the one hand, and ignoring it on the other. Right now, I’m on the other hand, because motivation is like any feeling: it comes and goes. But I, on the other hand, am always here. I may as well take advantage of it.

I don’t know what it says about me that I have adopted popular Twitch streamer and YouTuber Day[9] as my unofficial life guru, but he does give some pretty fucking solid advice when it comes to getting shit done, and the best part is that it lines up with stuff I already believe. “You just show up” is the condensed version of his personal philosophy for getting shit done, but you don’t really need the extended version to get the point. Come hell or high water, whether or not you are motivated to do so in the moment, you turn up to do the thing that you are supposed to be doing, whether that is a task set for you by an employer or something, or a goal that you have made for yourself. That way it becomes a habit, and as somebody who has lived with moderate anxiety and probably mild depression for the majority of my life, I can tell you first-hand that force of habit is the most powerful force in human existence. Habit makes us do things all the time that we would rather not, like clockwork. That’s not a bad thing; that’s a cheat code, if you approach it the right way. Turning a weakness into a strength is always a good move, so if like me you are somebody with deeply ingrained bad, unhealthy habits, the good news is that the power behind those habits can be yours and mine for the taking, enabling us to do whatever we want, whether in the moment we want to or not. It just takes practice.

This is the strategy that I’ve been trying to employ since last year, focusing in my case on regular exercise – and although I still feel like I’m not doing enough or not progressing as fast as I want, when I step back and look at it I see that, very clearly, I have established a new, enduring habit. I even took 3 months off between the end of last year and the start of this one, and that wasn’t enough to put me off. Yes, it did take me a whole year to get to a “fire and forget” point with this habit, but that’s a year I’ll never have to spend again trying to make it stick.

And technically, writing is already a habit that I have, an even longer-lasting habit than my bouts of anxious, depressive self-loathing, which is good to remember every now and then. Of course the two are linked as well, as one of the main ways I tried to escape/cope with my issues as a teenager was to channel it into writing, which changed the way that I wrote. With my shitty YA werewolf thing, I have started to test the strength of those habits, and it turns out they’re pretty strong – but not unbreakable. I want to have a habit of writing regularly and with an aim to entertain, myself primarily for now as I don’t actually have an audience (certainly not a paying one), which is part of a bigger habit that will have to include reading and thinking. The shitty YA werewolf novel has worked as well as it has because of my copying, stealing and appropriating ideas from other works just as a way to get it done – and have fun in the process, sure, but in the end the enjoyment that I get out of it and the ease with which this strategy allows me to throw a story together are just two sides of the same coin: the job gets done as a result. As for when I am not having fun? Like right now? Or for the past several months seriously how the hell did I let this stupid writing exercise drag on for a fucking year and a half?

Well, that brings me to habit-breaking again. I just put another dent in my habit of pathological procrastinating right now by finishing marking the second assignment for this paper I’m tutoring on; there are still a few late assignments, but there always are – mentally, I’m finished. I showed up and the job got done, and that means that I now get to be done. It feels good. True, I could have done it earlier in the day, but that’s nitpicking that I don’t need and isn’t going to actually help. If the aim is to make a habit of getting shit done, then things are looking good. I just made myself stop watching YouTube, forced myself to open up the assignments, and from there it was like rolling downhill. Not necessarily fun, but definitely easy – so long as you make a start. It is as simple, and as infuriating, as that: you just get started on the thing that you want to get done and, if you keep doing it, it will get done. No motivation, or even enjoyment, necessary.

Although I will concede that there is something about marking assignments that makes it particularly well-suited for this kind of strategy, treating motivation as completely optional. For one, it’s my fucking job and I have to do it, no matter how I feel about it. For another, I was never going to really “enjoy” marking to begin with, so that possibility is a moot point anyway – I do enjoy it at times, and it is satisfying to do, but it’s not like how it was with the shitty YA werewolf novel, the giddy high of appropriation and starting something new, though at the same time rekindling something I had thought I lost – an old habit, and a good one, the one I’m trying to bring back to replace my shitty writing habits that have largely taken over from it.

And that’s a bit different. And in my case also kind of counter-productive, because back in the day my habit was enjoyment. If I enjoyed writing, I would fucking write, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. That was the habit. In my current mode, that’s not a sustainable habit – or at least not one I’m interested in sustaining. I certainly do want to enjoy my creative writing, but I also want to fucking get it done – there’s writing, and then there’s the satisfaction of having completed a project, plus the new opportunities to develop that project once the zero draft is complete. I don’t get that without finishing; and I don’t finish without showing up.

I resent the fact that, for this part of the story, I can’t find anything to steal for my shitty YA werewolf novel. I’m coming up blank; and surely there has to be something. Having said that I did have a brainwave the other day, or maybe today – it’s been a long day; on top of finishing marking my sister and I also trimmed the hedges, a long-overdue project (she did all the trimming; I held the ladder) – but on the whole this section of the project has been difficult to deal with precisely because the process I was using to get it done just stopped working when it got to writing these two final chapters. I only managed to force my way through the one I just finished by showing up, over and over again, over the span of 2 months. I would like a higher turnaround than that; to be fair I do have a ton of other things that I’m working on as well, though – but that’s all the more reason to throw motivation to the wind as a productivity strategy, and stick with “just show up”. The more shit I get done, the more shit I can get done. And how do we get shit done?

By showing up and fucking doing it.

I am all written-out for the night, but tomorrow I will attack this final chapter with a purely utilitarian fervour, minus the fact that the one idea that I do have for it is one that I actually like quite a bit. There’s also the pesky issue of finding little bits of this story that could lend themselves to something much more substantial; I was hoping for pulp, and there’s all sorts of stuff that could lend itself to pulp, don’t get me wrong – but still. It’s tempting, and temptation is always an obstacle.

One that I will deal with tomorrow, when I will show up and get shit done – until then, though, I reserve the right to remain exactly where I am. When you’re done, you should be able to enjoy it.

7584/one down, one to go

Holy shit you guys. Holy. Shit.

This next chapter is probably the most difficult, because a lot of stuff that I can’t defensively write my way out of needs to happen. It’s a bad habit of mine while writing first drafts; I tend to get to points where certain things need to happen to build tension, specifically things that don’t go the main character’s way, and upon getting to them I find some way to worm them out of it. I did that with Tallulah in the first draft, and ended up having to change a whole ton of stuff just during that first draft to course-correct myself. I am worried about doing the same thing here; I just hate putting my characters through uncomfortable, sometimes humiliating experiences, partly because I draw on my own experiences for inspiration. In fact that’s probably the entire reason why. I’m starting to see how “mary sue” characters get written: the writers get to a point where something terrible yet character-defining is about to happen, and then write something else entirely just to avoid having to put their precious character through such horror and trauma.

That’s probably not how it happens; also I want to start a campaign to change the term “Mary Sue” to “James Bond”, because that is the actual problem people are talking about a lot of the time – but I digress. I’m just really anxious about getting this next chapter right.

So it’s time to fall back on cliches. I already know how the chapter ends; I wrote it ages ago and it works. But the build-up to that scene needs to happen in a very specific way, and I’ve been too petrified of the emotional baggage I’ll have to wade through in order to get there to make those specific decisions that I need to. But with the power of “doing the most obvious thing”, surely I can overcome this existential crisis and not only write a compellingly predictable chapter to tie everything together, but also avoid mildly triggering myself in the process.

But hey – 7.5k words written in one sitting is not fucking bad for now. So for now, I’ll just be very goddamn pleased with myself, I think.

1254

My shitty YA werewolf novel is 1254 words longer than it was yesterday, and hopefully will be as many words as it needs to be to be finished before November rolls around. At least I will be getting paid until the end of November, which means I will have a fully-funded Nanowrimo this year, which I’m going to go ahead and say is a good thing.

I’ve been watching Critical Role pretty fanatically for the past couple of weeks, and it’s gotten me in the mood to return to my brief but rather wonderful 2 years of being semi-obsessed with D&D, not least for the fact that it was a fantastic way to develop my storytelling skills in a particular way. Combined with my inexplicable desire to return to High Fantasy a few months ago, and given that I’ve written about 4k words of my Critical Role-inspired book already, it seems like an intuitive fit for Nanowrimo, though because it’s High Fantasy I think I’ll be writing a hell of a lot more than 80k words. I also have a lot of finer points to work out, and that’s where D&D skills come in handy, because D&D is all about planning. Meticulous planning, at that, because the only way you actually get to play D&D is if somebody – the Dungeon Master – plans out a scenario for players to dice-roll their way through. It’s the Dungeon Master skillset that I found most useful for my writing; the character-building stuff never seemed quite as helpful to me, but after watching Critical Role that’s changed. Mostly because there are many times during that game where I would have loved to have been a player and provided some kind of resistance to certain decisions that were made. The beautiful thing about D&D is that, like any group endeavour, there is always a dynamic between the people involved. And that in particular works well for storytelling. I think watching other people play D&D (and it doesn’t hurt that, in this case, the players are all high-profile voice actors) is maybe even more useful than playing it yourself for a sense of that dynamic, purely because you get to stand back from it all and take it in from a distance, like you would with a group of characters you had made up yourself.

It’s been pretty generative is I guess is what I’m trying to say here, and while I know that my momentum for this project could very easily and quickly wear out, for the moment at least I am still excited at the prospect of working within a set of limits and rules that I’m pretty familiar with. Kind of an extension of the shitty YA werewolf thing in that sense; this would be mostly an exercise in good storytelling, as opposed to necessarily telling a good story – although I have to admit, I have a few ideas that I’m pretty proud of. But I’m still putting the plot and the party together, so it’s all very much up in the air at this stage. We’ll see how things stand come November.

In the meantime, I have been almost-done with this werewolf project for far too long. It’s time to get across that fucking finish line.