It’s time for some changes.
I did actually write out that idea from the other night, in the end, and while first drafts really should not be judged on whether or not the writer “got it right”, I have to say that it certainly felt like I got it pretty right.
And this, I think, was due to the fact that I was having major angst about it.
Not the angst itself, obviously, but the reflections that came out of it: I realised that a huge issue for me for the past few years has been an issue of voice as a writer – namely, I don’t know what mine is. I don’t come up with an idea and think to myself: “oh, I know how I would write that”. I don’t have a set style; I just have ideas, and then clunk around trying to articulate them. I guess this is all just conjecture, but I imagine having confidence in one’s voice is feeling certain about your use of language, secure in your own tropes and idiosyncrasies, having certain turns of phrase you fall back on. I imagine it’s like having a set of tools that you are very familiar with, so familiar that you don’t even have to think about which one to use. And maybe this is completely and utterly wrong, but that’s what I imagine it’s like, and it’s not like that for me. When I say that I don’t know what words to use, I think it’s more that I don’t know what words I would use. I don’t have my go-to phrases, I don’t feel like I have a particular way with words. I feel very blank as a writer, like a really lazy chameleon.
But I guess that’s also good in a way. More room to experiment. I definitely don’t want to get so set in a certain way of writing that it means I can’t branch out with my ideas – I just want my writing to read like it comes from me. And I don’t know what that writing looks like.
So, going forward, the word-count goal is remaining, but the purpose is changing. This isn’t just publishable words, the way it used to be – because honestly, if we’re going by that logic, then I actually haven’t written nearly as much as I’ve recorded.
Going forward, this is counting all the writing that I do that is designed to improve or build upon my skill as a writer. My craft, I suppose. Because I realise now that it’s something I care about quite a lot, and I want to invest in it more.
And I also know that I do have a voice as a writer, but it’s a first-draft voice. It doesn’t come across as confident, comfortable, stable – it’s all over the place, uses too many words and doesn’t really care what any of them are. And I do think that’s useful for first drafts. But part of my semi-breakdown the other day over my writing style was recognising that, actually, this method of writing I’ve been trying to perfect doesn’t quite work for me. I can’t just churn out a first draft in a month and not care what’s going on the page while I’m writing it. I definitely want to get faster at writing, and I know that the reason I’ve been trying to re-train myself to write this way is because I have a very bad habit of writing first chapters over and over and over again, until I’m so stuck on the start of a story that I don’t even care about writing the rest of it anymore. I think trying to not do that anymore was a good idea, and I think it’s been fairly successful, too. But with that said, having to wait until I’m finished with a first draft before I start acting like I give a damn about what it is that I’m writing while I’m writing it – that’s not me. As yesterday’s existential crisis proved to me, I like caring in the moment; I take energy from caring in the moment, and I think that’s something I need to look at as a potential strength of mine, rather than a weakness.
Also, all of those stop-and-start first chapters?
They were almost all the first chapter of Realm of the Myth.
It is entirely possible that this was a problem with the source material, rather than me as a writer, is what I’m saying. Although I still could have handled it better – by ditching it the first time I decided to ditch it, and not spending the next 17 years agonising over how I just couldn’t get it to work. That is also a writer skill I wish to develop.
This also leads me to a great segue in to my final point of today’s rant: planning. I need to figure out what the difference is between plans that work for me and plans that don’t. Obviously, Weekly Words is a plan that works pretty damn well. But in terms of writing projects … well, in the case of Mark and Jessie being written without a plan – it shows. It shows very painfully. It’s hard to read not just because of typical first-draft filler, but because it doesn’t seem to have a clear direction that it’s heading in. Nothing that’s happening feels important, none of it feels like it has a purpose – none of it feels like it’s leading up to anything.
But Realm of the Myth, for all its 17 years of flaws, was the first and only draft of a novel that I have ever written using a plan, and I stuck to the plan. Yes, it turned out that once I finished it I was done with it, but again, that’s a problem with the source material, not the process I was using to write it. I’m almost tempted to go back and read it, just to see if it’s appreciably different to Mark and Jessie in terms of readability. Maybe it’s not. Maybe planning is not the answer …
But, there’s also the co-writing project. We have a plan for that; we concocted our plan before we even started writing. It took, like, a month of planning, maybe even two. And it was worth it. Even though we’re already making tweaks in anticipation of the revision process, it was worth having the plan to work from, and not just for the obvious reason of having to coordinate our storytelling efforts. It’s purpose. It’s getting the cool ideas down and making them attainable as goals. It’s giving ourselves things to look forward to.
And maybe that’s it. Having something to look forward to. Caring. I haven’t really cared about a lot of my story plans for the last … ever, honestly. Wolf Gang was so basic it didn’t need a plan; Tallulah definitely could have benefited from a plan, although it’s still in much better shape than Mark and Jessie, despite only being written 4 years after. But a lot of my plans are very … functional. They’re not fun. I don’t look at them and go: “yeah, can’t wait to write that”. They’re me trying to link events together in as practical a manner as possible, but practical only in the sense that it’s moving the story along the narrative track from point A to point B, and not only is that not motivating, it’s also not actually practical, because it’s not working. So what I want out of my plans going forward is motivation. If I’m going to plan something, it has to be a plan that I want to execute, heading towards a goal that I want to achieve, not just something that seems like it’d probably work if I did it.
Because this is my personal time and energy. I’m not getting paid for this shit, and nobody is waiting on me to finish. So it’s got to be for me.
And that is what Weekly Words is going to be here for, going forward – I still want to be writing a lot, but from here on out it’s about working on being a better writer, which absolutely includes actually making myself sit down and do some damn writing, the “functional” stuff – I still think it’s important – but it’s also writing exercises I might set myself just to experiment, to test my voice out on different material. Vocal exercises, I guess is what this metaphor is heading towards making me say.
Okay. That’s enough ranting for one day. There’s housekeeping stuff I want to do as well, format tweaks regarding Monthly Words in particular – calendar months are not neatly arranged into 4-week chunks, sadly, so it makes keeping track of my word-count over the months a tad annoying – but I’ll see how this Monthly Words goes. I like the big numbers at the end of each month for morale purposes, but maybe just shifting my expectations away from seeing my monthly word-count as a precise calculation and more just an indicator of general achievement will be enough.
In any case – I feel renewed in purpose. I have some old stuff to continue looking over, and some reflection on the origins of many of my writing habits to continue reflecting upon. I only just realised tonight, writing it out, that the entire reason I’m paranoid about my habit of lingering on first chapters and not progressing anywhere with projects is because of Realm of the Myth, and that’s gone now. Sadly, the same thing is happening with some new projects as well, so I’d better nip that in the bud – I will allow myself to edit on the fly, a bit. But I think it’s got to be editing past chapters while simultaneously writing new ones. I think that could work – it’s how I wrote my masters, and hey, that got written.
It feels like a plan is coming together. And I do love when that happens.
Again, normally I don’t write on my days off, but today has just been shit. One thing happened that threw me off and upset me, and the entire rest of the day was ruined because of it. Feeling pretty pathetic right about now.
It’s life stuff, stuff that I feel completely unprepared to face – I’ve been going on about being prepared lately, but it’s been in the context of things that I actually feel capable of being prepared for. This stuff, for whatever reason, is not included in that stuff category. Ask whoever developed my brain, and programmed it for maximum anxiety and depression sensitivity. Then shoot them. For me. I would appreciate it.
As a result of this one tiny thing that threw me entirely off my game, I have been feeling particular animosity towards my writing today, because where has it gotten me? Am I making a living as an author? Have I taken any realistic steps towards doing so? Have I entered any writing competitions, taken any writing classes, submitted pieces of writing to magazines or journals or even blogs? Nope. Of course not. Because it’s my writing, and only I get to judge my writing, because I wrote it. What does your fucking opinion matter? It’s just an opinion, everyone has one, so keep it the fuck to yourself. This is mine. You don’t get a say.
And being 31 years old living at home with less work experience than most people half my fucking age, I can see the benefits that I have reaped of living with this attitude for, I dunno, my entire life. It’s great.
No, it’s not fucking great, but at least I have a bit of perspective now, seven and a half hours after the inciting incident.
For instance: writing doesn’t have to be how I make a living. That idea was naive and uninformed, and honestly not remotely serious. I just wanted to write because I wanted to write. I wanted to write books for friends and family to read in between Harry Potter installments. That’s the entire reason I got started. I had a fucking market cornered and everything; I was onto it when I was 13, dude, naive and uninformed or not.
But still, it wasn’t a commercial market, and I wasn’t submitting anything for publishing. These would have been printed out using either my friend’s printer or, I dunno, I would have worked out that I could go to some stationery store and get it done there; that was the extent of my ambition. I did want to be published, because I thought it would be cool to be published at 13, and when Christopher Paolini came out with Eragon – which I still haven’t read – that was the first hint I got that something wasn’t quite connecting between what I said I wanted and what I was doing about achieving it. But before then, it never bothered me. It was less a literal mission statement and more of a general sense of purpose: I was writing so that I could be read, accounted for, impact others in some way, not so that I could pay bills or feel a sense of financial independence. Because I was 13.
Also because writing is an unstable career choice I should have gone to med school well too late now guess I’d better find a nice patch of pavement to get real familiar with in the coming years …
Even to this day, thinking about making a living as an author, of having that be my job, I can’t actually imagine what it would look like, how it would feel, what kind of life that would actually be to live. It’s not real to me. How could it be? And tonight I’m wondering, not for the first time – why should it be?
Weekly Words was started in part so that I could make this year into a project, setting myself up to try and realise this dream. But now that I think about it, I don’t know if it’s something I’d even want if I got it. Maybe self-publishing is actually exactly what I need to be aiming for, the same goal that I had at 13, because honestly my aspirations have not actually evolved since I made that on-the-spot decision to Be A Writer at 13. I want people to see my work, read it, and have a reaction. And I have done a whole lot of nothing in terms of achieving even that simple goal.
At the beginning of this year, I had my epic wake-up call, and I really wish I was still in that headspace, because I was taking things very seriously. I had plans. I had goals. I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity that this year would afford me in terms of actually having the time to focus on my writing, and see what I could make of it, and it’s so fucking hard. My own writing is so hard to do; my own ideas feel like shit, I don’t give a fuck about any of them, how the fuck did I think this was ever going to work.
It’s been one of those days.
But I think perhaps the solution is pretty simple.
I just need to write something that I want to share.
That was what got me started, but for so long now it’s just been about my ideas, my process, this insular little bubble containing my private workshop. I found that showing people my first drafts with Tallulah was not a good move in the long run, because it made me want to write to please my readers, rather than to please myself. And at the end of the day, it’s my story. But at the same time, storytelling is meant to be an interactive process, as far as I’m concerned. And I miss that aspect of my own process. I think that’s probably why the co-writing project has gone so well, and for me personally definitely the reason I’ve stuck with it for so long: it’s nice to have somebody to share ideas with, especially story ideas. It makes the ideas matter. And I think that is what’s been missing from my ideas lately, the reason they haven’t been doing it for me. I don’t want to just write for myself.
Or by myself.
I think I’m onto something here. Not a bad resolution to a garbage-ass mental health day.
Wow, I was in kind of a dark place yesterday, wasn’t I …
Today was much better, thankfully, and I am right back to being as unrealistic and short-sighted in my approach to life in general as ever. Ignorance is bliss, folks, don’t forget it. Or at least an effective short-term coping skill, and right now I need some of that.
I wasn’t going to write today, but I started at 11:59 am and finished an hour and a half later, with almost 2k words to show for it, and you know what? I’m calling that a win. A big win. Because this week I’m still feeling a little destabilised. It’s a better week than last week, and my marking access has finally been restored – I even got right back into marking today, and it was easier than it was last week! – but I took most of today to just play some games and recover emotionally from yesterday’s existential clusterfuck, and I needed that.
But I’m glad I also made myself write, and the ease with which I find myself continuing to commit to the co-writing project suggests to me that something in my huge life-upturning rant last night was on the money. Making a living out of writing – that can remain a fantasy that I’m not particularly realistic about, because why the hell not? There are so many published authors who can’t make their living from writing – but they’re still published, people still buy their books. So for me, that’s the part I want to focus on going forward. I just want my work out there, and I want it to be work that I’m proud of. As for making a living – well, I do have a kind of neat PhD topic I could look into pursuing, become one of those fabled rockstar academics, and bemoan the state of modern America like it’s going out of style. Not that you need a PhD to find problems with modern America …
But yes, today was a step back towards emotional equilibrium. And that’s all I wanted.
This week is almost over, thank fuck. Not that it’s been a bad week; it’s been an average week with one shitty day and a few big personal revelations. I need a comprehensive life-plan, and that’s going into my weekly and monthly goals initiative.
As for writing – yeah, this month has been pretty shit all around in terms of productivity on my part. But I think it’s good that I’ve had this month – the first 3 were pretty good, after all, and reflecting back on everything I’ve had to deal with this month I’m happy enough with what I’ve managed to get done. No, this round of marking was not the identify-forging, habit-refining inferno I hoped it would be, but it has taught me that I need my down-time, I need to respect and appreciate my need for it, and I need to organise myself better so that I can take advantage of it when I have it, and get my shit done in a way that I can cope with healthily the rest of the time.
It’s also the last week I’ll be marking, if everything continues to go well – this week has been miles better in terms of marking than the first 2, and I’ve learnt some valuable lessons about how to do it better in the future.
This sounds like a wrap-up for the week, and honestly it kind of is. I might just do some writing tomorrow and not write about it, unless something noteworthy happens – I am seriously out of energy, and I think I need to put my lessons into practice for next week and participate in some hardcore fucking R&R. I also didn’t realise how much energy Youthline was taking out of me until I didn’t have it this week, and seriously it feels like I gained a whole extra day, even though it’s only four hours a week full told. I’m looking forward to it starting up again, but at the same time I am grateful as hell for this reprieve.
Next week, I might actually take a week off Weekly Words just to recover. I might still do some writing, but not with the goal of recording it or having something to blog about. I need to chill out. It will be bad for me not to. But we’ll see – maybe by the time next week rolls around, I’ll actually feel really energised and have tons of things to report writing-wise.
For now, I’m just thankful that the end is in sight.
That did not go as intended but.
The marking is over. The other shit that I have to do is over.
For the rest of the year, I get to write.
And also panic about having no plan for basic survival beyond next year, but hey, one thing at a time.
I feel very good right now, because I am free to do other things than what I have been doing lately. I know that I did not get the experience that I hoped for with this round of marking; my habits did not get better or stronger, and I did not come away from this round of marking feeling more confident, empowered, or capable.
But I think that’s because I’m in the moment right now, just basking in the relief of knowing that I don’t have to do anything anymore. And I think I can afford to do that for a bit. But I am also definitely going to do some reflectioning over the weekend, and put into perspective what I did get out of this rather stressful past couple of weeks. I know I had a whole bunch of life-changing revelations that didn’t really end up changing a hell of a lot, but such is stress for those who do not know how to handle it I guess. At least I did some writing every day, even if it was just to rant morbidly on this blog.
No point standing on ceremony; I did better than last week, so that’s something. This week’s grand total is:
Weekly Total: 2250
And, in fact, I have some plans, and they involve writing.
First of all, of course, I will continue the slog of reading Mark and Jessie, though I am starting to think that I need to skim-read it much more than I need to in-depth analyse it.
Second of all, I have one project in particular that I had a whole bunch of energy for a couple of years back, when I was really big into Critical Role (still pretty big into it), but it never took off like I wanted it to. I have identified a potential issue with my ability to plan stories: the plans work when I am planning stuff that I want to write, rather than trying to make it “work”. So, that’s the idea here: plan for fun, and work out the logistics in revision. Mostly, I just want to move past the point of writing and re-writing the first chapter over and over again. I need that.
And third of all – I had big plans for what I was going to do with myself this round of marking, and those things did not happen. But I also had big plans for what I was going to do with myself after marking finished, and those are the things I’m going to be focusing on this next week on, with some tempering from the past week’s experiences. I’m glad this is happening at the end of the month, feels like a good old-fashioned the-best-ending-is-a-new-beginning sort of situation. I’m down with those.
The plan going forward is to apply these two fundamental principles to everything that I do and plan for:
- Have a list of priorities to meet
- Take time out to recharge
And that’s it.
Though I feel that’s underselling the significance of this initiative a bit: these are the two things that I am historically the worst at out of all the things that I could potentially be graded on regarding my performance. I suck at meeting priorities once I set them (if I ever set them, definitely part of the problem), and I suck at self-care. And I think it’s because it’s just me handling these things – nobody else cares, so why should I care?
But I should care, and I think if I stop to think about it I do care – so, that is my strategy for making these two things happen: stopping, and thinking.
My “detox weekend” was life-changing, and ever since I have been trying to recapture the clarity of purpose and perspective that I found while committing to those two days of reflection – not just passively reminiscing, but actually taking stock of what I’ve been doing with myself up to this point, and why.
Weekly Words has been great for perspective – at the end of every month. I’m going to lean on it a bit harder for more timely perspective updates, but it’s still not enough. I know, as everyone in this day and age knows, that most of the things that we do with our time are distractions; social media is the popular culprit here, but I’m going to just say that it’s anything to which we have ease of access with no emotional commitment necessary. If you don’t have to commit, you don’t have to care, but then what I find is that not having to care often means that I don’t care – and as I discovered last week, I want to care. I want to care really badly.
I failed at my Ubermenschian goals of crafting a powerful, virile identity of an unstoppable one-man labour force during this last round of marking, but I know that there’s a lot to reflect on regardless – maybe in the moment it was too much for me, and maybe my goal-setting has not evolved that much from when I was 13 and more or less just doing it because it felt good to do in the moment, plus I had no idea what the fuck it even meant so it was just what it meant to me. And that’s fine – but I want something more, I dunno, consequential now. All of these things I’ve identified in myself over the past month or two – wanting to care, wanting to commit, wanting to get my shit done instead of just thinking about it, wanting to have a more structured routine – it feels like I’ve failed at doing them. But, stopping and thinking about it now – that’s just a problem in attitude. It’s the same problem that I have with approaching new writing projects, or even just writing projects in general: I always look at them in terms of “getting it done”.
When really, what I want is to get starting doing them.
Because when you’re done, you’re done, and some things are definitely good to be done with. 17-year-old passion projects that never seem to really get off the ground, for one. But I think I’m starting to understand now that it can’t be about that, and the words that we use do matter – even if they’re the words “I’m going to be an author”, uttered at age 13 when it doesn’t actually “matter” to you what it means, in a literal sense. It’s still shaped the person that I’ve become, entirely, and I honestly don’t like that.
But it’s what I’ve got to work with – and I can work towards other things, too. I had that revelation for the first time at age 24, that I didn’t have to be a writer, despite pushing myself and judging myself based on whether or not I felt like a writer up to that point. And I was right.
It’s just that now, I feel like I have laid some of the groundwork that I need to actually follow through with that, while also accounting for the fact that, as evidence by spending the next 7 years continuing to write, I actually like writing. I just don’t like it as much as I should, or could, and while some of that is because, to this day, I still lean on it way too heavily to find a sense of meaning for the entire scope of my existence, the rest of it is because I haven’t taken it that seriously.
I need a balance of 1) committing to my writing, and 2) committing to doing other shit that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with writing. I want to have a revision of Mark and Jessie done by December 24th this year. But I also want to have more to show for this year than only having a revision of a book done – because I think I can do more, and more than that, I need to do more. Writing is important to me, but going forward I need to make room for other things that can also be important to me, that I haven’t been acknowledging or even recognising up to this point.
So, basically, this is the end of the second act where the protagonist gets their shit together and begins the arduous task of taking the consequences of their actions and turning them into a lesson for overcoming the final narrative obstacle. In this case, my obsession with Being A Writer. And as I’ve felt for the past several years, that’s not something that I want anymore.
But I do want to write, and I want to write well.
So, let’s do that.