Old Bugs Can Still Bite

Ah, the joys of trying to write something that you have outgrown. Or have you? It’s always possible that you haven’t; it might just be that you’re not trying hard enough, not committing enough, lack the discipline, just need to find that spark of creativity that you once had but have lost to the ravages of time … the “what if” is what keeps you coming back, even though you know, in an objective, intellectual sense that you will never, ever get it done because 1) you haven’t done it yet despite having ample time, and 2) it’s been such a long time that the original idea no longer exists anymore, and if it did you would not even want to write it because you are now a totally different person.

But what if you could just find a way to tap back into that inspiration, that time, that taste? What if all you need to do is give in to that old indulgence; what if all you have to do is just let yourself be embarrassed for the sake of having fun?

What if?

Yeah, what? I don’t have the fucking answer; I’ve been trying to provide it for 16 years. But it still hasn’t stopped me from thinking, fantasising about and planning out this story in various forms for all that time. It’s an addiction. It’s a problem.

It’s a passion project.

My version of this “passion” project, as I’ve mentioned a few times by now, is called Realm of the Myth, a self-insert fanfiction about myself, mixed up with various formative media that I have consumed over the course of my life such as Harry PotterFinal FantasyThe MatrixPokemonThe Lord of the Rings, and, of course, Dragon Ball Z. I was 14 years old when I came up with this thing, and reading over this now I think that this is perhaps the most 14-year-old thing in the history of ever. 14-year-old so hard motherfuckers wanna fine me.

I have been trying to write Realm of the Myth for around about 16 years now, in one form or another. I’ve “given up” on it at least 3 times during those 16 years, and most recently I supposedly gave up on it less than a month ago. It felt good for a few days. I reminded myself that it wasn’t real anymore, because I said so, and I enjoyed a brief period of creative bubble-bursting, spurring me on towards newer projects, stories that felt more relevant to me as I am now, and a sense of finally leaving this 16-year-old anchor stuck in the abyss where it can just rust into nothingness, and I won’t have to know about it.

And I’ve always known on some level that it was never going to work, though it has never stopped me. I probably should have taken the hint that this wasn’t going to work out when, even when I was 14 years old, I gave up on it as unwriteable because there was absolutely nothing interesting that could actually possibly happen in this clusterfuck of a creative cul-de-sac. But it’s like eating too much on your birthday; your stomach is full, but your mouth wants more, and in the moment the mouth almost always wins. I guess Realm of the Myth is something that my … mouth? … wants to write, even though my … fucking whatever; you get the point. I know it’s bad for me, but it doesn’t seem like it’s bad, because I still have the urge to write it.

Until a couple of nights ago, when I opened up a Word document and started making some notes about what keeps drawing me back to RoTM. It’s pretty basic fanfic stuff; the term “power fantasy” would be just as appropriate as “self-insert fantasy”, and I wrote out the list of things that kept drawing me back to this outdated, unworkable project, thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I just let myself enjoy these adolescent power trips once again, I might actually find enough enjoyment to finally write this fucking thing so that I can stop yo-yoing back and forth with it and get it the hell out of my system, once and for all.

But the exact opposite happened. The more I identified the things that I did still get out of RoTM, the more I realised that they actually didn’t do very much for me – in RoTM. It was the characters, interestingly enough, or perhaps not remotely interesting considering that they’re characters designed to fit a self-insert power fantasy fanfic about myself. I found myself yearning for other, better characters – newer characters. And that realisation brought an empty feeling with it, and while it was a bit of a downer, I thought that perhaps this was it, that I might finally be able to move on. That emptiness was the disconnect between who I was when I first came up with this story and felt the appeal of the ideas that I put into it, and who I am now, the tastes, standards and storytelling needs that have developed in the 16 years since then. It was the disconnect between me as an adolescent and me as an adult. It really put me off, but though it was sad, it also felt right.

At least, it did. But now I’ve flip-flopped; the adolescent void has sucked me into it. It is as though disturbing the corpse of this story has brought the old bug out of hiding, and it’s bitten me again.

Everybody has to learn sometime. But apparently, that time is not now for me.

I want to find a way to make this work, whether that’s by finding whatever flash of brilliance that I need to finally get this ball rolling, or by finding whatever resolve I need to drive a stake through this vampire’s heart once and for all. There’s the part of me, the rational part, the part that’s already experienced a “successful” giving-up-upon of this project, urging me to do it again, and do it properly, because I’ll save myself so much time and totally avoidable mental anguish. There’s also another part of me, the idealist, the perfectionist, the hoarder, that insists that there must be something here, since I keep on coming back to it even though I supposedly know better, which means that surely, if I can just clear my head, I will be able to find that something and make it work, at long last.

I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I mean, I made my list of things that I still liked about it, and even added up together they still didn’t amount to enough of a motive for me to try to tell this story again. But I do keep coming back to it. Is it just habit, or something more? How am I supposed to tell? Do I just live with this infuriating, first-world problems dilemma and accept the fact that my brain is far less efficient than I’d like it to be?

How do I squash this fucking bug?

I don’t know. All I know is that I’m stuck on this project, just like I’ve been stuck on it for the past 16 years – there’s not enough here to make me want to actually write it, but there’s too much there for me to want to give up on it. It’s disgusting. It’s unhealthy. It’s clutter. But there is something about that clutter that comforts me – and I guess that’s the main thing. This slightly panicky feeling of my younger self, panicky but eager and even optimistic – adventurous, in a sense – is seductive. And the prospect of not having to give up on this project is perhaps too seductive. It certainly is easy not to fight it, even if it doesn’t actually lead me anywhere.

But – perhaps it’s not for RoTM. Perhaps it’s just in response to my efforts to more clearly identify the parts of it that I like. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to give up on the parts of this project that don’t work, take the parts that do and give them a new home – or use them as the foundation of something entirely new.

I mean, that would certainly be the most mature option, where I get to finally move the fuck on from this fucking fan fiction about my fucking self. I’m so ashamed.

should be so ashamed.

Oh who am I kidding it’s awesome. Narcissist so hard …

You get the picture.

Two Years Well Spent

Yesterday, I met up with a friend of mine, and did some writing.

Is it 2012 again? This is a strange feeling. I … like this. I feel good about this thing that happened that I did.

Weird.

Not just writing; Writing. And by Writing, I really do mean that capital “W”; this was Writing in the purest sense of the word, where I spent the majority of the time reading in order to make notes, said notes intended to be minimal but quickly swelling into miniature rants about whatever trivial detail I inevitably fixated on every few paragraphs, and then completely switched to making notes about a new project that I had come up with on the spur of the moment.

It was awesome.

And the best part?

The thing I was Writing was Tallulah.

It was important to me – and still is – it was serious work that I wanted to get done, and I just couldn’t help it. I had to be a Writer.

It was glorious.

And it feels great to get back into the zone, which is not only where all the things happen, but where all the things happen. Work will get done; work will be put off. Procrastination will happen, get overcome and happen again. Progress will build momentum, and to celebrate said momentum every single distraction that could possibly take place will, in fact, take place.

It’s a thing of beauty. I have said, over and over again, that I am no longer a Writer. But that was then, and this is now, and I realise that either of those extremes is, well, too extreme. I am and am not a Writer, because while that’s not all I am, it’s definitely something that I am, and it is an all-consuming something – until it’s not.

It’s like that one cardinal rule of writing, the one that I have held to from the start of this blog and continue to hold after so many of my beliefs, habits and attitudes have been challenged and changed over the past five years: you have to commit absolutely to your plan, and you have to reserve the right to completely change your mind about it at a moment’s notice. It’s both. There is no middle-ground; there is no synthesis. It’s both, at once, all the time. And that, I now realise, is how I feel about being a writer – I am until I’m not, and I’m not until I am.

Also I’m really kind of excited about this random new project; it’s more werewolves, but because I’ve been reading all those urban fantasy books, this is a shitty urban fantasy werewolf novel, as opposed to my shitty YA werewolf novel, which technically was also urban fantasy but whatever. What I’m most excited about was simply how easily and quickly ideas for books came to mind almost the second I came up with the premise; there was almost nothing to think about. The only issue that, honestly, I will never write it because I don’t have the energy to put into it – whereas I’m starting to backtrack on my stance on my shitty YA werewolf novel, which might actually become a Thing now. It would be started over from scratch, my main character would either be pretty heavily altered or just removed altogether because he’s an insufferable piece of shit, and … I dunno. I think I might actually shift it a little more towards what I’ve heard referred to as “mid-grade” books, like young adult books – Animorphs comes to mind most readily, and Tomorrow When the War Began. Even though I wasn’t the biggest advocate of that second book, I did like the dynamic of having a relatively large cast of core characters who all go through the Inciting Incident together, as opposed to what generally happens in heroic narratives where it’s just one orphan farmboy who receives the Call to Adventure. I’m feeling an ensemble, in other words, and I think this werewolf thing could work really well in that regard. Much better than this random urban fantasy thing that I like thinking about and planning but feel absolutely no passion to actually write.

Also – I do actually want to continue working on Tallulah, now that I’ve finally picked it up again after 2 years. I made not very much progress the other day, but it was a start, and a start is all I need to get going. I think the best way to go about this is to not think, at all, about what comes next. I’m just going to make a chapter-by-chapter breakdown, because that’s what I’m currently doing – and then, we’ll see.

Either way, I do think that I needed those 2 years for other things. Something wasn’t working, and now – well, something is. I don’t know what; I don’t think it’s the thing I was hoping would start working when I decided to take the break initially, but it’s enough. I’ll take it.

And I’ve also realised that, if I’m going to make mistakes and learn from them, I would actually rather do it with things that I care about, instead of “safe” options – Tallulah is something that I care about a lot, and part of the initial reasoning behind writing my shitty YA werewolf novel was the idea that I could use it as my “test” book, the one I’d actually shop around and go through the process of finding an agent, writing query letters, all that stuff. But it’s not the thing that I care about, and if everything does go well, it’s not the kind of work I want to be known for – not at first, anyway. I’m honestly not sure that Tallulah is that work either, but I do care more about it, and out of the two projects it is the one that I would most like to be published. I could fail with either of them, and it would be kind of heartbreaking either way. But if I succeeded, there’s only one of them that I really want to make that journey with. So I’m going to give that my best shot.

And the next time I decide to take a 2 year break from something I really care about, I at least know that I can have a lot of fun doing something that I don’t really care about in the interim, which I might end up caring about after all. I feel that’s a valuable lesson.

2 years well spent indeed.

Options

I finished reading my shitty YA werewolf novel last night, and have come to a pretty solid conclusion: no way in the hell am I ever, ever going to try and make something out of this thing.

It began life as a glorious writing exercise passion project, and that is how it should end its life as well. Especially having read it. There’s so much that’s set up and then never paid off, so many unfulfilled promises, and it’s not like they’re even good promises to begin with but it just hurts. The ridiculous awfulness of those first early chapters was pretty great, and throughout the manuscript there’s a few moments here and there that I legitimately think have potential to be part of something actually pretty decent. But once I got to the chapters that I wrote during Nanowrimo 2015 – the ones I skipped ahead to write instead of slogging through the info-dump chapters I didn’t feel like writing at the time – it all just kind of descends into garbage.

And it’s salvageable. I just don’t want to salvage it. Not for any reason, really, other than that I simply don’t want to. I mean specifically it’s because the central conflict is so weak and ever-shifting, the central relationship between the main character and his best friend so indecisive and self-contradictory, that it is both very simple to fix and incredibly annoying to fix. It’s a lot of pedantic busy-work, hopping between chapters and trying to match up two different continuities so that it all gels together. If I actually gave a shit about this thing, it would be easy enough.

But I really, really don’t – other than as what it currently is, which is a testament to a year and a half of my life being spent in the pursuit of starting and finishing a book, proof that even after the passion is gone, I can get the work done (and in this case, done better than when the passion was actually there). It’s proof that if I just write, no matter how I feel about that writing at the time of writing it, I can actually produce something pretty decent.

Having said that I don’t want to salvage this thing – there are some ideas that I’m actually pretty into, lore and shit that I came up with for this world that I’m a little bit sad to let go of. Not that it was particularly good lore, but still, I did put some time and energy into it. I liked how it all fit together. I liked the overarching plot that I had for the next 4 books, and I’m also kind of sad to let that go.

On the other hand, now that this is done and dusted, I now have the opportunity to write the original idea that I had for this werewolf passion project, which was very different to this – the core premise (werewolves) was the same, and the broad plot points were as well, but it was a very different story. Most notably it was not a YA story. I’m honestly not sure I’m cut out for YA. But maybe that’s something for revisions to take care of.

On the other other hand … I did what I set out to do. The book is finished; the writing exercise is completed. I think it’s time, at last, to get back to business. I needed this reprieve from serious work, and a more frivolous counterweight to my MA, and it served both of those purposes well for a long time.

But in the end, it was a distraction from the work I’ve been putting off for 2 years now: finishing Tallulah. I was going insane trying to wrap my head around the second revision; I think now is at least a good time to test the water and see if I’ve had enough time away from it to come back with a fresh perspective. I have a solution to the biggest plot issue I’ve been having with Tallulah from day 1 as well, and I would really like to put that into action.

It’s just that it’s so much work. It was enough work to put me off for 2 years, to start an entirely new book just to take my mind off it. I’m kind of dreading starting it up again.

So, actually, maybe I could just go and fix a couple of typos in this shitty YA werewolf thing first.

And I guess, really, those continuity errors wouldn’t be too hard to sort out. A day’s work, maybe, once I have a solid idea of which continuity I actually want to pursue.

And I guess I could add in a couple of scenes that feel like they’re missing. I mean there is potential here. It could be something relatively solid. It would just take time. And if there’s one thing I definitely have these days, it’s time.

So maybe I’ll do that. Maybe I’ll just touch it up a bit, and then get started on Tallulah again.

In fact, why the rush? I wanted something to submit for publishing by the end of this year, but it doesn’t have to be Tallulah, does it? I mean maybe I can put Tallulah off for another year, get this thing out the door and then use the time to polish Tallulah to the standard I’ve always wanted it to meet.

And hey, maybe I’ll start another new book too. I mean, you can never have too many things going on at once creatively, right? Hell, maybe Tallulah was just a writing exercise too, I mean the entire reason I was motivated to write it was because it was unlike anything I’d ever written or even thought about writing before; that’s weird enough to count as a writing project instead of an actual book project in retrospect, right?

I don’t actually have to go back and get started on the third draft that I don’t know where to start with, right?

Right. I can just write about werewolves some more. Werewolves today, werewolves tomorrow; werewolves forever.

I DON’T WANNA WRITE A THIRD FUCKING DRAFT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IT’S SO FUCKING HARD IT’S LIKE I’VE FIXED ALL THE BIG OBVIOUS PROBLEMS AND NOW IT’S ALL TINY SUBTLE PROBLEMS THAT ARE HARD TO IDENTIFY AND FIND SOLUTIONS TO AND JUST ALL THE OTHER THINGS I COULD BE DOING WITH MY TIME I CAN’T FUCKING TAKE IT I CAN’T GO BACK THERE DON’T MAKE ME GO BACK THERE PLEASE DON’T MAKE ME

So Bright, So Beautiful

So I’ve decided to continue reading over my shitty YA werewolf novel manuscript. The description holds. Oh boy, does it hold.

But because of the order in which I wrote the chapters, two of the earlier ones are also two of the newest ones, and the change in tone and style shows quite strongly – the writing is better, the focus is clearer, and while I wrote these chapters in a real creative slump when I had no particular passion left for this project, these are, so far anyway, the best chapters in the book.

Especially the one I’m reading now, the Diagon Alley chapter, if you like, where our hero learns about the new world he’s stumbled into. It makes me really proud of this festering mound of refuse I have shat out of my brain, because it reads almost exactly like every other bad YA paranormal novel I’ve ever read …

Because I’m rooting for the bad guy.

And it’s exactly the same as actual published books I’ve read; this is of publishable quality, in that sense, and yes that is a real moral concern. But it’s also genuinely beautiful to behold, and for the first time makes me really feel proud of what I’ve accomplished here. In particular, I adore the fact that the bad guy, who is supposed to come across as domineering, arrogant and bullying, instead comes across as completely in the right for doing everything he’s done up to this point. Specifically, everything he’s done that has upset the main character, who is a whinging little shitstain that I want to see run over by a car and smeared across the highway like a tub of paint. Sure, the bad guy could probably do with some honest feedback about some of his behaviour, but all in all he’s not the one coming off as the problem. And that includes him shooting the main character with a gun at point-blank range.

I am that fucking good.

It’s awful; it’s despicable; and it’s the best fucking thing I’ve ever done in my life. I am so, so happy. I can’t even.

I might actually consider revising this book and, like, doing something with it, turning it into an actual writing project instead of just a writing exercise that got way out of hand. There’s something here. Passionless though I may have been during the second half of the time it took me to finish this thing, I think my writing might actually have improved because of it. And that seems like a valuable lesson that I shall strive to actually remember for future reference.

In the meantime, back to reading. I genuinely hope that it gets worse from here.