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.