Setting Limits

Finished making revision notes on chapter 8 of Tallulah – it is so far the most fruitful chapter in terms of giving me material for the upcoming revision proper, as well as ending on a really weird relic of the previous draft (the first draft) that used to make sense as a bad, distracting idea and now makes no sense because that bad, distracting idea is no longer part of the story. This is part of the fun of revision, and the payoff of leaving a book for a while before coming back to look at it: it’s like archaeology, digging up the past, only it’s your past, and it can be rather interesting going through the experience of genuinely not being able to remember where the pieces that you find used to go.

I also wrote out a plan for my vampire novel. Yes, I do have one of those; it took me a while to come up with an idea that actually interested me, but now that I have it I am very attached to it. It used to have a title, but I’m not sure if I can use it anymore – it is a perfect fucking title though so I am attached to it, but I am afraid it has become a Darling and must therefore be killed. But I wrote out the plan because, looking at my premise, it is centered on an experience, and set of experiences, that I have basically no knowledge of. It’s really exciting to me and I would read/watch the hell out of it if somebody else did it, but I want to be the one to do it – the problem is not feeling up to the task of keeping the promises that the premise inherently makes. I have this issue with Tallulah as well, and having worked on it, on and off, for 5 years has made it easier and clearer, but still hasn’t solved the problem. Starting from scratch with this new one – newish anyway; I’ve had the idea since about 2013 but never actually got around to trying to write it – is trying to climb up another hill right from the bottom. This is a book that needs research done to make it as rewarding of a read as I want it to be, and for me as a writer, the more I know about this particular topic – politics, in this case, specifically career politics – the more opportunities to make and keep promises that are interesting I will have. The trouble is, as it often is with new books that have a cool premise and not much else: where do I start?

So, I wrote out a plan. I tend to not like writing out plans, because it’s very easy for me to get fixated on the plan and then never move past the planning stage, turning it into an infinite, self-replenishing cycle of hypotheticals and what-ifs. But in this case it went well, and my uber-leet hack skills developed from writing my shitty YA werewolf novel came back to the fore. I also had more of a reason to write out a plan for this book than just “well I don’t actually have any motivation to write this so I’ll write a plan to avoid the anxiety of the blank page. I need to do research, but I need to know where to start with that as well. So in writing the plan, I limited the scope of the research I will need to do; I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know about these things, the things that are relevant to my book. It’s still a lot of stuff, but it has become a somewhat more manageable task. Limitations foster creativity, this is true – they also let you cut down big, amorphous tasks into smaller, more clearly-defined ones.

I think this is probably the best reason I’ve ever had for writing a plan, because the reason for writing the plan is also limited, rather than just being a generic, vague excuse that gets me out of doing any work. I mean I didn’t write anything more after making the plan, but part of that is because I’m not sure now whether to draft that plan, or write the draft based around it and then draft that. And I think it’s probably the latter. Yes, there are some plot-holes and continuity errors in the plan as it stands, but those are easy enough to fix without risking devolving into another procrastination loop. I could fix them and then get started with writing, even probably without a ton of research. I think “I need to do research first” can also be a procrastination tool – and, as I am now indeed a proud self-proclaimed hack, I’m supposed to say “who needs research”? And I think that’s probably the smart thing to do at this point, because getting things written is more important than writing them well … to begin with, of course. One day I will indeed do the research, but until then I have a new thing to try out, in my new quest to try out my different book ideas and find out which ones stick, and which ones don’t.

Another reason I wrote out this plan was so that I would have things to think about with this story. I tend to think up characters and then fantasise about scenes taking place around them, without necessarily thinking of how those scenes might fit into the story they’re supposed to be in. I used to think of nothing but how the scenes in my head were going to be part of the story I was going to tell; I got excited about that shit. I haven’t done it in such a long time. So my theory is that if I actually have a set list of scenes that I have decided are going to happen, if I limit and specify the number of scenes that need to be created, then I can get some of that inspiration and excitement back by actually having something in particular to think about. It seems strange to put it into words, to make a plan just to think about a thing, but if I don’t make the plan I won’t do the thinking. And I gotta do the thinking. I want to do the thinking. It will make me feel good and shit.

Making this plan today felt productive, and making a plan for a book has not felt this productive for … 7 years? No, wow; 12 years. The first and only full draft of Realm of the Myth I ever wrote was also the only draft that I planned out beforehand, and it worked. I stuck to that plan. And it needed it. My shitty YA werewolf novel did not need a plan, because the point was to make a story up on the fly, and it worked out about as well as it possibly could have. But that story did, and this one does too. This isn’t something to hack my way through; this has to be more deliberate.

Although that doesn’t mean I can’t use my hack skills in other ways. It might not be a seat-of-the-pants, run-with-the-first-idea-that-comes-to-mind sprint, but the ideas themselves don’t have to be super original – again, to begin with. I’m trying to make myself more comfortable doing things this way, because writing at all is more important than writing well. So long as it’s written well before you submit it to an agent, everything up to that point just needs to be written, period. And I really, really want this thing to be written. I love this idea.

And hey, vampires. The last and only time I really did vampires, it was a weird kind of ripoff of Discworld. Also about 12 years ago. I never thought I’d write about vampires, perhaps because I came of age at a point in history where vampires were the most over-saturated and reviled form of Gothic monster in existence, so having an idea of how to explore what it means to be a vampire in a new way is very exciting to me.

And no, I’m not going to tell you about it. It’s not even written yet, and honestly while we do live in the age of self-promotion and over-disclosure, I’m still not comfortable with sharing my ideas online before I’ve had a chance to actually write them out in book form. It feels like they’ll be safer that way, though for all I know it would actually protect my intellectual property better if I just wrote out the premise here, published it online. I’m not sure how it all works.

I guess I should do some research?

One Step Closer

(TW: suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety)

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I last made revision notes on Tallulah, and about a month since the last post I made here. I see the semblance of a pattern.

This chapter is one that I originally expected to cut completely, for its utter irrelevance to the story. Having gone back through it – I’m still not finished, and have given myself one hour a day to revise exactly so that I get used to doing it systematically rather than just on a whim – I have found that there’s actually so much key information about the characters and the overarching themes of the story that I’m very relieved I didn’t just write it off without even looking at it first. Not that I was planning to do that, but I feel like in another life I would have just scrapped it based on memory and started my revision using a manuscript that didn’t have it included and accounted for.

This book needs so much work before it’s ready to be submitted. I wanted to submit it at the end of this year, but I think I’m going to have to set my sights on maybe around this time next year – and, thinking a bit about it, that’s actually probably a better plan. Not so much because it gives me more time to revise (I certainly don’t want to over-revise, and a shorter deadline could help with that), but because from what I hear the end of the year is a really busy time for publishers and agents, being flooded with manuscripts. So if I wait for next year, after the rush, I might have a better chance of getting noticed and picked up. I’ll definitely need to do more research about this stuff along the way, too.

There is actually a reason I decided to go back to revision today. Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died on the 20th from suicide by hanging. That kicked me right in the guts. I know people like to talk shit on Linkin Park for being melodramatic, angst-ridden, and weirdly sanitised despite their subject matter, especially in their early songs. I got less and less involved with them as a band as I grew older and discovered other forms of emotional catharsis through music other than the anger of metal, but I had always been hugely emotionally invested in the band, even when I wasn’t a huge fan. I didn’t realise just how much I still cared about them until I heard the news, and I have no shame in telling you all that I am absolutely going to go out and buy those two albums of theirs that I didn’t really like. I’m a sentimental mushball and proud of it.

It hit me like no other celebrity death has – maybe Carrie Fisher. They were both such huge parts of my life, especially my childhood and adolescence, but I felt more familiar with Chester, just because I kept up with the band ever since they released “One Step Closer” and made me the happiest little angry kid on the planet, along with all the millions of other angry kids exactly like me. Carrie Fisher I knew as Princess Leia, and that was about it until quite recently. I definitely wish I’d kept up with her as well in hindsight.

But the point of all of this is that Chester’s death was a wake-up call to me. People talk about this sort of thing all the time, and there have been times when I’ve felt like I should have felt it but didn’t. Somebody famous and influential dies, and people get motivated to get their shit together. I hate that I’m getting motivation from somebody’s death, especially one as horrible as this. There’s something morbid about taking inspiration to live your life better just because somebody else’s has ended. But it’s because it’s pretty relevant to me. I lived with depression for a long time; I still get depressed every now and then. The bigger issue for me is social anxiety, but both of them come with a lot of feeling stuck and unable to do anything about it. I realised when the news broke that I needed to fucking move. I’ve known that doing things is the best solution to the problem of feeling stuck, yet I just consistently don’t take that solution because, well, I don’t feel like I can when I’m in a rut, which I usually am. Anxiety and depression are paralytics, and they’re hard to fight against.

But I have to. I have to get this shit done. I don’t even know what book I want to work on, if I even do, or what my other options would be, but goddammit I need to figure it out, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I actually do it. It’s basic logic; it’s nothing I didn’t already know. But that could have been me, and for all I know it still might be one day. I hope not, and I feel like I’m in a much better place than I have been for a long time, better enough that it is probably quite unlikely. But I also know that I have a history of suicidal thoughts, and that this sort of thing can come back sometimes. It’s just life. I’m not feeling grim about my prospects; I actually feel better about them than I ever have, however much of a slog this year has been in terms of motivation.

What I’m saying is that I have some now, and for the first time possibly ever I am determined to jump on it and make the most of it, turn it into a routine while I have the energy to support my initiative. I don’t know what I want to write, I don’t know if it’s anything I’m currently writing or if I need to find something else. So I’m going to write what I’ve got and see what comes of it. Every day. I have alarms on my clock set to remind me to revise, write, and even look at my CV throughout the week. I haven’t been using them, really, but I’m going to start. I have already started. I made some revision notes, and it turned out to be a very fruitful endeavour. But I need more than rewards. I need habits. I need to get into a whole bunch of new habits, and to stick to them as hard as possible, to keep going even when it’s not immediately rewarding because there’s a long game to play as well, a big picture that will make all the little, momentary frustrations worth it.

I’m also putting in forced breaks. That’s why I didn’t finish making revision notes on the chapter I was looking at today: my alarm went off and told me to stop, so I stopped. I need to get good at getting work done regardless of motivation, but the same goes for taking time for myself to just do whatever, including absolutely nothing. And from experience, arbitrary time constraints work pretty damn well for that.

I feel like I’ve taken a step today, towards the way I want my life to turn out. One step closer to something I’ve only ever fantasised about, occasionally following a burst of inspiration to move towards it for as long as the motivation lasts and giving up as soon as it gives out. No more. Motivation can kiss my ass. From here on, I’m here to work. I’m here to do better by myself.

So here’s to doing better. It would feel very wrong to link “One Step Closer” here, not just because I made the pun already. This song is one whose meaning has changed for me, and not just because of Chester’s death. I’m just in a different place now. Back when this first came out, I sort of dismissed it because it wasn’t the same tense, viscerally angry music that I loved LP for. Now that I come back to it, it’s basically a really corny, really earnest motivational track, and I am so happy to see it in this new light. I never thought I’d appreciate LP for being corny, but I really, really do. And I can only see it this way because I’m in a different place to when I was when I first came across it. Just like leaving Tallulah to sit for 2 years, I can see that part of my past with a new perspective, and see the path forward. And to walk it, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(There is always a burst of discussion around mental health awareness when a celebrity figure commits suicide, which is kind of insulting to me, because it reminds me that this is still kind of the only time the discussion enters into mainstream consciousness. The fact that this discussion is still so stigmatised is hugely symptomatic of why mental illness is so much more difficult for people to seek help for than other kinds of illness. So to anyone who needs someone to talk to – please talk to someone. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant or irrational of a reason you might think it is, and you probably do, if you’re anything like me. Treat it like a strange lump that suddenly turned up on your body: get it checked out, because it might be nothing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Treat it as a practical, personal responsibility that you have, like paying rent. Look up hotlines you can call for free; look up options for counselling that you might be able to afford. If you have friends or family you know you can trust, take advantage of a shoulder to lean on. Look after yourselves. I’m not just putting my latest life-changing plan into action because I want to write more. I want to take care of myself, because for the longest time I just haven’t, and I’m only recently starting to learn how. I want to learn how to do it better, and the best way to do it is to, well, do it.)