In under 3 hours – immediately after I finished writing the last post – I managed to write a 3,295-word scene, all based on a stupid gag I had about two months ago and liked the idea of.

This is working.

I mean, yes, it’s one writing session, based on one idea that I liked enough to explore. But this is still fairly new for me; often I don’t explore these ideas in writing, because I will tell myself that, in order to get to that moment in the story, all of this other shit has to come first, and if I don’t do that other shit first then I can’t get to that one moment that I’m interested in writing, because that would be irresponsible.

Whereas right now my opinion has changed to: motherfucker, I am a writer. Not writing is irresponsible. Anything else is just excuses.

So it may not be of a suitable sample size for scientific validity, but I feel like I’m off to a good start. And it even gave me other ideas that I can use for fleshing out the wider story. Shit works out sometimes.


Just Jokes

Writer here, reporting live from Not Doing Any Writing Lately, Illinois.

I made a joke. That’s writing.

I have done a bit of writing, truth be told. I am not very excited about it – and no, excitement is not the point, writing is the point, blah blah blah – and my last writing session was the 4th, with 1916 words. Not bad for a day’s work, at least by my standards.

I’ve been thinking lately about the fact that, during Nanowrimo last year, I did not meet the 50k word goal for my multi-project project, yet full told that month – and still leaving out the most inane of my writing efforts – I racked up over 65k words. That’s quite a bit more than 50k words.

Most of them were easy to write, too. You know what else is easy? Apparently, anyway? Spending three hours yesterday rearranging my bedroom so that I would have more floorspace, which would in turn hopefully serve as incentive for me to get back into working out more regularly at home. I really like my new setup, and I’m considering making one final adjustment, if it turns out that it would be quite easy for me to get some hassle-free book storage space.

This is an old angst of mine: I find it so hard to just sit down and write on a regular basis, yet on a whim I can commit to shit like moving furniture around for several hours, or write notes for computer games I would one day like to make, or theorycraft some of my characters from my books as D&D classes, or complain about how I don’t get enough writing done on this blog, just because I have an itch to scratch. My capacity for doing work, quite strenuous work, for prolonged periods of time is not in question. It’s just a matter of application.

I’ve tried a few things over the years. I’ve tried hacking my brain to trick myself into writing – doesn’t work. I’ve tried setting timers and alarms and calendar reminders – none of those work. I’ve tried getting back to old projects I felt bad about leaving behind and always wanted the opportunity to make good on – no dice. I’ve even tried giving up on writing altogether, because a person’s life should be about more than one single thing. That did work, but not in the reverse psychology way; it just made me stop feeling so bad about the not-writing I was already always going to do.

But that Nanowrimo weigh-in still tempts me. It makes me feel good. Accomplishment is something I’m not used to feeling, not for things that I have an emotional stake in. I rarely apply myself to things that I actually care about, because I’m terrified of failing and embarrassing myself. Yes, I did try writing something I didn’t care about just for fun; that did also work, but it simultaneously did not work, because it took a year and a half and stopped being fun after the “half” part. And, well, I didn’t care about it.

But I know that if I can get myself over the finish line, if I can make myself finish a project, which I want to do this year, I will find it easier to convince myself, and commit myself, to do it again. And that is the end goal.

So after all the brain-hacks that haven’t worked, the schedules, alarms, emotional self-manipulation and attempted reverse psychology that has not gotten me to where I want to get to …

I remembered, the other day, how I first used to write.

I mean, I’ve written about that a few times by now, in that wistful, nostalgic way that people who are not content with their present circumstances often do, because clinging to the predictability of the past is much easier than embracing the uncertainty of the future. “I used to be spontaneous”. “I used to do this just for fun”. “I used to have original ideas”. Etc.

But something new came to me the other day, and it was quite alarming in its simplicity, and in how strikingly different it is to how I go about things now: I used to make jokes.

Yeah, there was a point to that. I didn’t just figure out the thematic resonance after I wrote that last sentence and then change the title of this post to make it seem like this was all planned out from the start I’m a writer everything I do is by design you wanna step bro –

Anyway; I used to get excited about my stories not because they were fully fleshed-out, in-depth plans with expansive lore and shit; I got excited about writing down jokes. My characters often started off as either deliverers or receivers of punchlines. My ideas were mostly taking a scenario and just turning it over in my head to amuse myself until something clicked, and generally it was something funny, because I was like 13. This stopped once I hit 16 or thereabouts and decided to become all Serious and shit, and humour gave way to painstaking pretentiousness, and it was all downhill from there.

But it was jokes that started it. Not like dialogue jokes, but situations that were funny. Comedy, I guess, rather than jokes. And obviously not every story should be comedic, but it got me to thinking.

There’s a piece of writing advice that I have solidly ignored over the years, and only after remembering this early writing habit of mine did I remember it at all: you don’t have to write things in order. Hell, you don’t even need to write with a plan in mind. You can just write whatever it is you have in your head at the moment, and not worry about things lining up, continuity, etc. I have ignored this advice because while at a surface level I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with this strategy, at my core I think it’s for losers who don’t have enough vision for their stories to be worth a damn even if they do get written, and it is deeply offensive to me.

I think it might just be the strategy I’ve been looking for this whole time.

Because when I get an idea that I’m passionate about, I tend to get to work on it. I moved all the furniture in my room yesterday, only to find that most of it was good where it was to begin with, and put it back. And I didn’t feel frustrated that I’d wasted time; I felt satisfied to be doing something that I was invested in. I think I see the huge problem with my writing strategy now: I keep trying to make myself commit to huge projects that have massive scope, require tons of oversight and forward-planning on my behalf to “get it right”, and at the end of the day it’s just too much pressure. It’s like what the prospect of doing readings for uni used to be back in undergrad: even getting started was too much stress because of how much there would be to do from that point on. It was not manageable. Obviously it was, because I got it done, but in my head it wasn’t, and that’s always the hardest obstacle to overcome.

I have made a habit out of planning for the long-term, and it’s resulted in most of my projects stalling before they even start, because holy shit I have to plan how much shit out before I even start writing? I have to clearly memorise and stick to how much information in order for this story to go the way I want it to go? I have been sabotaging myself for years, and I’ve never known exactly how or why until right now.

The reason none of my initiatives for making myself write have worked, by and large, is because they are completely antithetical to the way I intuitively do things. I have not managed to learn a new way to do things, and until right now I had forgotten my old way of doing things – the way that worked.

So I figure it’s time to try this out, and see if it works.

From today, no more fucking plans before writing. Plans will happen, that’s life, and that’s not a bad thing, but I’m making it my mission to start writing because I have an idea that tickles me, and only because I have such an idea. I have thought for a while that just writing what you have in your head, whatever it is, is probably an effective way to get shit done, if you can let yourself do it. This is an extension of that: I’m going to wait for a scene. I said jokes earlier, but in broad terms they were scenes; they just happened to be comedic scenes. I am going to write in scenes, because I think in scenes, not in long stretches of narrative content.

And if at the end of writing it all out it doesn’t all add up? Well, that’s what fucking revision is for: you can fix anything with enough revision. Also, what will “the end” of this process be? I’m imagining that after writing a few disconnected scenes I’ll start to get a sense of continuity; that’ll be when the planning starts – after I start writing. Which is hard to manage, particularly with regards to continuity, but again: you can fix anything with enough revision. This may not be an easy process, but I think it will get my stories told, as opposed to what I’ve been doing up until this point, which has been far less productive than I would like. I just need to outrun my own brain. How hard can that be? I barely use it for anything.

God, I’m getting excited just thinking about how I’m going to write scenes that I’ll be excited to write. How sad is that?

Well, considering I’m excited about it, maybe not that sad.




Happy New Year everyone. Though for me it’s been a day already, since I live in NZ, but I figure if I pander to the norms of the largest demographic possible I’ll get more readers. That’s how this works, right? Pandering?

Making new year’s resolutions is a very lazy habit of mine. I’m pretty sure it’s a very lazy habit of many people. The new year rolls around, you make resolutions for it, rinse and repeat. It’s not even about getting them done; it’s about participating in the ritual, having something to complain to your friends and family about, a shared experience that keeps your identity socially relevant through your opting into it.

Brand new year, same old cynicism. What do I need resolutions for?

Resolutions should be reserved for shit you actually intend to get done, in my opinion. Though there is certainly something to be said for the catharsis of saying your wishes out loud, and being around other people when they do the same. I’m not against the idea of new year’s resolutions as a form of social bonding. It’s just that I can’t take it seriously as anything but that. New year’s resolutions don’t work because they’re not meant. They may be felt, but that’s not the same thing. Anyone can feel a thing, and we should certainly express our feelings.  It’s a way to check in, see what’s changed in our and other people’s priorities. Not everything has to or should be a plan. Sometimes you just need to say something to let it go.

But I take this probably a little too seriously. When I make a new year’s resolution, I make it in order to try and trick my brain into committing to things that I think are too difficult or unpleasant in the short-term for me to trust myself with committing to, even though the long-term effects are things that I really want. I make new year’s resolutions because there are specific things that I want to accomplish; it’s all or nothing for me with new year’s resolutions. They mean something to me.

Or they did. Because this new year, I came to the strange and liberating realisation that, actually, I am already resolved, and resolved to do something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. There’s no point in me making new year’s resolutions, because I’ve already got old ones that I’m invested in. And I figure that’s a good place to be.

The resolution is also pretty exciting for me, because it kind of took me by surprise. This year, I am going to write a book.

Because every year that I don’t write a book, a book that I really care about writing, is a year that I’m holding myself back for no discernable reason. And the madness has to end. I am a fortunate, privileged individual who actually has the time to write novels, and by and large I do not do this. I guess it’s a matter of not appreciating what you have until it’s gone – I’ve been through that with university, so I’ve already been through this song and dance. But what’s different now is that I did actually write a book while I was studying full-time, and doing my masters no less, which involves writing a book. I in fact wrote two books simultaneously in 2016. I have proof that I can get this thing done, and a lot more besides.

And I’ve also found that I want to write one of my books. My shitty YA werewolf novel – I’m glad I wrote it, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine. And honestly, that’s part of what was so great about it. It read like somebody else’s work, and it was empowering to know that I could slot myself into the greater machine of Writing, that something I produced could so easily fit into an existing ecosystem that I am not a part of: published books. It reads like other books I’ve read, and knowing that I have the ability to produce a book that reads like other books that exist in the world has been transformative.

And it’s time to move the fuck on from that, because holy shit I do not want that to be the rest of my writing career.

It may still be a part of it, but this pre-made new year’s resolution of mine is driving me towards something that feels more like me, my style, my values, my prose. Something a bit more idiosyncratic. I’m not satisfied with the idea of producing more things for practice – and that’s what my shitty YA werewolf novel was: practice. Valuable practice. I am considering, once again, revising it (continuity touch-ups, not trying to make it good, because that would sort of be beside the point), and I am certainly not against future similar exercises.

But what has struck me about this newest burst of motivation to write is that, while every burst of motivation feels new, for the first time this one feels like the latest in a long chain of repeating events – part of a pattern. Which is why this isn’t a new year’s resolution, and has killed my desire to make any: because when you have something already going on that you’re invested in, you don’t need anything else. Making new year’s resolutions has always been a way for me to try and fill a void, but right now I’m feeling … full. Filled.

I have discovered the meaning of a word today through direct experience. That’s always interesting.

What’s even better is that I’ve actually been using this motivation to, like, write. I can already feel that the book I’ve been working on for the past few days is one that, ultimately, is not important enough to me to actually invest in very heavily; there are stories that I think would be cool to work on, and there are stories that I need to tell. This is one of the former. I am in search of one of the latter, though if I keep reading Mark and Jessie’s Christmas I hope I will find it there. I hope I can find it in one of my existing projects. Though by the same token, in saying that, I am already excited at the prospect that it might have to be something entirely new.

But it will be a book, and it will feel like it comes from me, and it will be written this year. Fully revised and ready to submit to publishers? No idea. Not important. Just written, in full, ready to move on to the next stage, whether that is revision or a whole new project. It’s quite startling to discover that I am, in fact, resolved to do this. It’s refreshing. It’s … heartening.

However, I know it’s not enough by now. Motivation to write is part of a pattern; and the pattern is that it comes and goes. I am trying to make something of it now while it lasts, but it occurred to me the other day that I tend to use motivation – as I’m sure most people do – as a set of instructions. “Do this now.” They’re not complex instructions, but we follow them with desperate hope, perhaps especially as writers. What we do is so difficult, the sheer amount of mental and temporal labour that goes into writing so tremendous for the results we get, that motivation is too good to pass up when it comes – and so despairing when it inevitably goes away again. And if we’re like most people, which in recent years I am coming to realise that I am, we get comfortable with this stupid, unproductive pattern of waiting for motivation to write when we don’t have it, and not using it effectively when we do. We await instructions, because making ourselves do the thing is too hard, too heartbreaking. We give ourselves over to an external agency, divest ourselves of responsibility, and end up feeling guilty and frustrated when we look back at ourselves and see how little we’ve managed to accomplish compared to what we set out to do.

Kind of like a new year’s resolution.

What I have come to think about motivation – and I wish I’d thought about this quite a few years ago – is that treating it like a divine edict is not helpful. But motivation itself can be helpful. It’s just that, rather than following it, we are best served by applying it. Motivation should not be seen as instructions.

It should be seen as a tool.

It should be seen like rain to a farmer, clear skies to a sailor, some other third thing that follows the same theme of a transitory yet predictable and necessary resource: motivation comes and goes, but it will always come and go. It will leave, and it also will come back. It is predictable. It is even reliable.

But it can’t do the job for us. And that’s what I’ve needed to understand for a long time: motivation has been the panacea for all of my productivity issues, my troubles in achieving my goals, no matter how noble and good-in-and-of-themselves those goals might be. I have always thought that having motivation would make me do it when I could not bring myself to do it without it.

The thing is, it never really has. I’ve felt motivation so many times, and so often I just end up sitting on it, not using it after longing for it for so long, not being swept up in it and unable to resist its great and terrible power to get shit done, using me as a vessel through which it may enact its grand design. It has happened a few times, though that’s less motivation than inspiration. I think those of us who feel inspiration are spoiled by the experience; we won’t settle for anything less than complete and total rapture. But I realise that those times, when I was so caught up in what I was doing that it didn’t even occur to me how hard it was or to take a break from it – I wasn’t waiting for inspiration. I stumbled upon it. I found it.

I found it after I started doing something I wanted to do.

And then, it was a tool. I didn’t think about it that way; I don’t think it’s really helpful to think about it that way – not necessary, because it just works when it happens. But the point is that I’ve never found it by waiting for it. Every now and then I will be seized by a seemingly random burst of inspiration or motivation, as I seem to be now. I’m grateful for it, and plan to keep using it. But no longer to follow it, because I need to be the one to take the lead in my projects, if I ever hope to get them done. I have come to the conclusion, long overdue, that motivation and inspiration are fabulous tools to be used while they are available for use. But they are not guides. They are not permission. They are not agents. We, the writers, are the only agents at work here; we give ourselves permission – or withhold it, for whatever harebrained, sensitive reasons we have for doing so. Mostly it’s for the reason that we don’t have inspiration, but that very despair is a trap. We find inspiration not by seeking it, but by applying ourselves to our craft – and then, like moths to light, it instead comes to seek us. We enter the dungeon, and a friendly NPC manifests at the entrance to give us a quest. We use the force, and lightsabers fly into our waiting hands.

We start writing, and inspiration comes to help us continue.

I’m not feeling the inspiration for this book. I feel motivation to write a book, and one of my own design, my quirks and limits and biases. But it’s not this one. That’s fine, though. I have plenty. And I can make plenty more. In fact I hope to do that. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to know what else I can come up with, what kinds of stories I will create that are not the same few projects I keep coming back to in half-hearted attempts to find meaning for myself in them. Perhaps it’s time to find out.

But it’s definitely time to write, because it’s always been time to write. So my new year’s resolution is to hold fast to my resolve, the same resolve I’ve had since I was 13 years old and didn’t really understand what it meant, the same resolve that has evolved and crystalised over the years as I have come to know it more intimately and openly. It is just one thing that I want to do with my life, no longer the only thing.

But I do want to do it. And so I shall.

Happy New Year everyone. May you bring yourself into it with everything you want, and may you find therein everything you need.