Well, that’s unusual.
This week, I have not been working on my werewolf novel, or my Suicide Squad fix-fic-inspired dark fantasy satire parody, or my co-writing project, or any of the three completed manuscripts that I could be working on revising. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding them actively; it’s that I’ve been so consumed by the thing that I have been working on instead that it’s been difficult to get myself to even think about any of those projects.
So, what have I been writing?
A book review.
Book reviews are, for me, a strange enterprise. They’re for me, primarily – I mean this entire blog is primarily for me, but even more so are book reviews. They’re for me to vent, to analyse, to process my thoughts and feelings about what I’ve read and try to come to a satisfying conclusion for myself. It’s difficult because more than anything else I’ve done with this blog over the years, I feel the least certain about whether or not anybody else cares about my book reviews. I can’t imagine many people do; I know my friends who read my blog have been interested enough to start discussions about those books, and that’s been cool – but people I don’t know? Not that this blog is huge on “engagement” to begin with, because I have no idea how to do it without coming off as horrendously disingenuous, which I would be because yay social anxiety – but that’s just even more reason for me to feel unsure about whether or not it’s worth writing book reviews.
But I think that’s just because I have imported my mindset from my Tumblr days, where I would actually usually get most of my likes and whatnot from my film reviews, so I just got used to doing that for validation. It’s different with this blog, and I figure I just need to get with the program.
Which starts by counting this book review as a thing I’ve been writing, which I wasn’t even going to do until today.
And the reason I decided to count it is not because I feel, sincerely, that it “counts” towards the writing that I am counting, even though I am pretty sure by my own standards that it should. I am counting it because I just want to know, after all of my self-worth angst is laid out for me to get a clearer picture of, just how much writing is produced as a result of this process of self-inflicted emotional turmoil. How much effort, in terms of words written, actually goes into this enterprise that I have elected to invest myself in?
So far, it’s about the same as my writing ratio for the past few months.
It feels wrong, given how much more turbulent my mindset has been while working on this review, how much more intense and chaotic my feelings, how much self-doubt and second-guessing goes into this process. The word-count is deceptive – but it’s also eye-opening. All of this effort yields about the same result, words-wise, as the relatively comfortable process of working on things that I find less confrontational on the level of my self-esteem. Mindset is so important for writing, not necessarily because of how much writing you do, but because of how much work goes into producing the amount of writing that you actually get done on a regular basis.
I mean, that’s my thought. Although to be fair, those daily word-counts are a mathematical average, not the specific daily word-counts I accrued over the week up to this point. Who knows how much I’ve actually gotten done on a day-to-day basis. Maybe on days when I felt less stressed I did more writing; maybe I did more writing on those days. Maybe it wasn’t about stress, but what time I started writing, what my mindset was going into my session, that sort of thing.
Anyway: the book I’ve been trying to review/analyse/snark on is The Wereling by Stephen Cole. It’s the first of my pile of library-borrowed YA werewolf novels that I read through to completion, and I have some thoughts about it. Very few of them are charitable; but I will say that it was definitely valuable for me in terms of my own lycanthropic literary aspirations. It’s not the first one that I tried reading; Born at Midnight by C.C. Hunter was the first, and after I think three rather short chapters full of slut-shaming, sex-shaming and general holier-than-though misogyny and virtue fetishisation I gave up. It’s not even about a werewolf; there’s just a werewolf in the love-triangle. For all its faults, at least Wereling doesn’t have a love-triangle – not yet anyway. There are two more books to go, and while I actively dislike The Wereling, I am kind of morbidly fascinated to see how it turns out. I can’t imagine it will be particular pleasing.
Well, this was good. I feel motivated to get back to work on my writing that “counts” after this – and a little less disheartened about my choice to write stuff that I find a use for, even if nobody else does, and to let it “count”, too. I am here to write, after all. It shouldn’t matter too much what kind of writing it is.
I realised today that I’m actually putting quite a lot of effort into this werewolf project. I’ve borrowed library books to read examples of similar stories in the same genre/marketing niche; I’ve been consistently working on this project for the past month and a half or so; I keep pushing myself to continue working on it …
How did this happen?
Well, it happened because I made it happen, and am continuing to make it happen, and I am forced to acknowledge that I am now committed to this shitty YA werewolf novel – and that makes me want to take it a bit more seriously. I mean, I really like werewolves. I am still enjoying writing this thing. It’s not what I thought I’d be working on; I thought I’d be done with my werewolf infatuation when I finally finished the original shitty YA werewolf novel almost two years ago. And yet here I am, working on a reboot that I actually care about, still considering doing a PhD focusing on werewolves and why I find them interesting in our current historical moment, and I wonder what this story might look like if I started thinking about it … seriously.
But honestly, I think that would hurt it.
Because I have a tendency to take my serious projects a bit too seriously. At the very least, I can’t give this project the same kind of “serious” treatment as I’m used to giving my other projects. I either need to just keep doing what I’m doing, not thinking too hard about it and just muddling my way through for fun and hoping it turns out well, or I need to find a new way of being serious, one that builds on what I like about a project and gets me excited to do it rather than leading me to think that there’s no way I could ever do it justice. I want my excitement for my projects to help them, not turn into over-thinking and perfectionism that makes me too nervous to even try writing them.
But most importantly, I think I just need to keep writing this thing, because I want to. I feel that’s probably enough of a plan for now.
And the book review is finished. It’s not very good, but it’s finished, and hey, as an aspiring author I should be able to accept that nothing I write will ever be perfect and I need to put it out into the world sometime, right? And that goes for 6k-word-long snarky, uncharitable book reviews written for my own pleasure/emotional venting purposes too, right?
Well, whether or not I publish it I’m still counting it, because it’s what I spent most of this week writing. And because it was valuable – it made me see part of my review-writing process and attitude that I find makes the end product suffer, and I’ve had some ideas about how to improve that in future. Because, I mean, I do run a blog. I like sharing my thoughts and opinions; I’d just like to be able to do it in a way that I’m happy with, rather than one where I never quite feel like I’ve made my point but do manage to be really harsh and pedantic.
Part of that is just time, though, the opportunity to write it all out, look at it, and then see what works and what doesn’t. Revision, in other words; and as with novels and essays, so too with book reviews. It’s so energy-consuming. The actual time I’ve spent on this review, trying to organise my thoughts and synthesise my arguments, is probably not that much more than the amount of time I’ve just been winging my way through my werewolf novel reboot. But it feels like it’s taken so much longer. Maybe that’s just the tunnel-vision speaking, which I always get when I’m grappling with my thoughts and trying to turn them into articulate sentences that link together coherently. It’s really hard, so hard that it’s discouraging to think that, after all this work I’ve done, there’s still so much left to do before it’s what I’ll be happy with it being.
I guess I think of book reviews in terms of online “critics”, who deliver their arguments through some mixture of irony, outrage, snark, sarcasm, and overall meanness. It’s certainly catchy. I certainly enjoy indulging in it in the moment. But afterwards, it’s still there for me to deal with – and I really just don’t want to. I think I need the opportunity to vent, but I’ll only be happy that I’ve got a decent analysis if I then take the time to think through my ventilations and get to the heart of the matter. When I’m able to do that, I always come up with a more concise way to make my point, which becomes more well-developed. I occasionally even change my mind.
All of which is a very roundabout and redundant way of saying that you should think before you speak, and especially before you hit “publish”, but it’s hard and I don’t wanna.
Except that I do wanna. That’s what all of this week’s words have taught me, so for that alone they were well worth writing, and absolutely count.
Weekly Total: 12439
I keep saying “that’s more like it” or something whenever I break 10k these days. But I don’t really try very hard to replicate it.
It certainly is cool, though.
And a lot of it came from this freaking Wereling book review, which I have found so exhausting and nerve-wracking, but I also know that I’ve only even started to get to the bottom of where I stand on it. As I was saying to my co-writing friend today, I find that there’s a point when I take on a difficult project where, if it’s too hard initially, my reaction is to bounce off it like a rubber ball off a hard surface. It’s too stressful, I need less stress in my life, I need to step away – makes sense, right? This is compounded by me wanting to be better about self-care, but it’s also definitely stemming from my long history of avoidant behaviour. I’ve realised lately, though, that what I actually want is to do the opposite: to keep at it, because however long it takes for me to break through the crust of my own disorganised thoughts, feelings and random spontaneous decisions, there is a point that I’m trying to make, there is a goal I’m reaching for. It’s just that reaching this goal requires me to persist, and that goes against years of ingrained habits.
I’m seeing how this affects my more “serious” writing, too. This werewolf novel could be a “serious” project of mine, and yesterday I thought I needed to redefine what a “serious” project looks like for me. Now, though, I think it’s just that I haven’t been serious about a project for a really long time. I don’t know how to make myself serious about a project either, how to get myself to the place where I’m excited to try things out and see how they go. Maybe it just eventually comes with commitment; maybe it doesn’t come all the time. And I already know for a fact that my mood doesn’t affect how well I write. But it’s not just about the writing; it’s about my thought process, my ideas, the way that I think while I’m writing. For the longest time it’s felt so hard to even find ideas that feel appropriate to what I’m writing, to the point where I’ve tried to train myself to adopt the “write now edit later” approach that so many authors swear by. I know that it does “work”, as in “you get something written”, if you stick to it. But it still just feels … wrong. Like I’m settling for something that no amount of revision will fix without completely changing things – like I’m cutting myself off short before I even try to reach for better ideas, more ambitious attempts.
And more fun, too.
These werewolf books are opening my eyes to something: most of the werewolves I’ve encountered in literature just aren’t fun. The lore is sometimes cool, but being a werewolf just never feels like an appealing prospect. I’m not so much talking about it from a character perspective, because different characters feel differently about their own lycanthropy (or that of others). I’m talking about, as a reader (and writer), I don’t see the appeal. It’s not something I want to imitate, or even play around with, on my own time. There’s a focus on pack dynamics and hierarchy – and often sexual politics – that is often interesting, but is also often really unpleasant to deal with. It’s a fascinating example of how these topics can be explored through allegory and metaphor, and the fact that I find it hard to deal with honestly is part of the appeal – but beyond it being different to the kinds of stories I generally gravitate to, werewolf literature just doesn’t feel like it’s for me, in the same way that Fantastic Beasts isn’t for me, even though it seems like it should be.
But in a way, that’s heartening – it means that, at the very least, I’m probably not running the risk of stealing anyone else’s ideas. Not that taking inspiration from the ideas of others is something that I think is wrong or bad; I’ve said multiple times that “ripping shit off” is not just fun but vital to the creative process, and I stand by that. But it means that, in the world of YA werewolf novels, shitty or otherwise, I might actually have something new, or at least novel, to offer.
If my plan is to make this werewolf novel a publishing option … and to be honest, much as I love werewolves, I don’t think this is the vehicle I’d use if I did want to introduce my own strain of lycanthropy into the canon. I’d want something a lot more original than “teenager becomes a werewolf and has to deal with it”. I’m sure that might be part of it, but right now it’s the only part.
And maybe that’s why I’m finding it hard to be excited about this story – it’s just not that exciting. But that’s fine. I think if I haven’t already come up with my own take on werewolves after spending the past two years being pretty infatuated with them, then it’s not a problem that I need to worry about solving.
Although there is also the fact that I have not one, but two co-writing projects that involve werewolves. Besides the one I’ve been co-writing all of this year (for which we’ve come up with some very cool werewolf lore that I am very proud of, mostly the awesome idea of my co-author), I have another one with my best friend that, while we haven’t worked on at all since coming up with the concept, we are pretty excited about. I don’t know if we’ll ever work on it, but the fact that I have two other werewolf-related story commitments makes it that much harder for me to think of a unique take on the subject. Then again, they are both co-authored ideas, so I am still free to come up with an idea that’s all my own.
In any case, this week was a good week for writing, even if it felt like a slog for most of it. It’s gotten me looking forward to next week’s writing … which is my last chance to hit those Nano numbers on my word-count for this month, too. I doubt I’m going to really make the attempt to hit 50k words; that would be, like 30k words at least this week, which is 6k words per day. I could do it, but the words wouldn’t matter. And I’m realising more and more that I need the words to matter when I write them, and that that’s okay. Even if it takes a little longer than “right now” to get there. And I’m looking forward to exploring that.
If there’s anything that I ought to have learnt from Weekly Words by now, it is that it’s all about commitment, and ow important it is to be able to look back at where you’ve come from. It makes the path ahead that much more exciting to start walking.