God I hate this fucking dogshit manuscript.
But, my best friend told me to be kinder to my past self, and while I do enjoy the catharsis of hating on the awfulbad of the manuscript that is the current incarnation of Mark and Jessie’s Christmas, I figured she had a point – not just in terms of self-care, but also in terms of potentially getting more out of this readthrough than I might with a more negative attitude. So I gave it a go, and lo and behold I actually found a scene – a whole scene – that I would actually like to carry forward into whatever revision/reboot process I undertake as part of this project.
It’s also forcing me to get perspective: trying to remember the mindset I was in, my decision-making process all those years ago, is helping me not only to see the ideas presented in a more generous and thorough light, but also allowing me to see how far I’ve come since then … and, honestly, how much I still have left to learn. I’m all for accountability, and in this case being a snark-junkie is actually holding me back from being truly analytical and critical when it comes to this readthrough. So there you have it folks: kindness and generosity are actually essential components in a truly critical mindset.
Tallulah. The passion project of mine that I don’t hate to within an inch of my life.
It’s still pretty bad.
But, hey, generosity and all that; I’ve only read the first chapter – the first four pages – and I’m trying to read it as though I had picked up a book to read. So far it’s over-written in some places, which is distracting; the writing style is … technically it’s written fairly well, but it feels kind of disconnected, and the third-person perspective is weird for such an intimate narrative voice; and also I kind of don’t care about the main character, like, at all. There are also four characters introduced in these four pages, and it feels a bit like overload.
I hestitate to say that I’m happy with this first chapter – but I did write it seven years ago, after all. True, I did touch it up a bit when I did my first (and so far only, with any writing project of mine) revision pass, but I didn’t change very much about it, I don’t think. It’s just sort of a nothing chapter for the first half; there’s a dull introduction to Tallulah herself, a random and seemingly important but also incredibly brief introduction to another character, and then Tallulah’s parents. Tallulah’s parents are the catalyst for something to actually happen in the chapter, which makes me think, well, it should probably just start there.
What I’m saying is that it’s been, like, a year, maybe two since I looked at Tallulah, and already the feels are back in full force. I still care about this story; it still engages me and gets me to invest. I could put it down again, but I could also not. It’s not going anywhere is what I’m saying, and I’m happy to know that.
From reading an older work where my anxiety over being a 20-something-year-old male writer trying to tap into the psychology of a teenage girl, to being a 31-year-old male writing a bit of two different projects, one of which being a book 0.1 novella from the perspective of a teenage girl – today’s been an exercise in coming full-circle, writing-related-stuff-wise. I also did a little bit of work on my still-struggling-to-go-anywhere Suicide Squad-inspired project, but the bulk of those 2180 words (1706 of them, to be exact) went into my Wolf Gang prequel novella. I dare say, so far I’m quite proud of it. Mostly the fact that it’s getting written at all. When I went back and read Wolf Gang … last year? This year? Well it was recent anyway, and I remember thinking that the female lead really deserved to have her own story told, to see things from her point of view, and honestly the entire story should have been from her point of view. This novella is sort of a trial run of that potential revision of Wolf Gang, to see if I can create something I’m happy enough with to do more of. The point of Wolf Gang was to make things easy for myself, and a generic teenage male blank slate protagonist is about as easy as it gets, so in that sense I don’t regret the decision or even necessarily think it was the wrong one – but still. I do like to be a little more than as basic as possible sometimes. Only sometimes, mind you. But at the very least, I want to write this prequel novella; I want to get this character’s perspective put into writing. After all the shit I put her through in Wolf Gang, I figure I kind of owe her at least that much.
Writer feelings. Are there any feelings more existential?
I’ve started to find myself getting a bit more serious about my prospects of getting a manuscript ready to submit to agents by the end of this year, with the actual submission process starting probably around this time next year. And Wolf Gang, honestly, is the closest I’ve got to making that prospect into a reality by far. It needs the least work, it has the cleanest, tightest structure, and while it’s problematic as fuck and part of the reason I love it so much is because I have allowed myself to not analyse it critically up to this point, even then, that’s stuff that I can fix in revision.
But as I was making my revision notes this evening, in a bit of a rush after realising that I had spent most of the day watching either YouTube for my latest Critical Role marathon or Gotham on Netflix with my family in the living room, I found my notes were distressingly similar to the ones I was making for the co-writing project, and even the snarkfest I’m committing to finishing for Mark and Jessie‘s revision notes.
And that bothers me – but it also tells me that, actually, I’m not quite ready to look at it and think about a Wolf Gangrevision.
And the main reason for this – and the clear solution – is because I am still writing this episode 0.1 novella for Wolf Gang, where the female lead is now just the lead, and this is in part a trial run to see if I could be confident enough to reboot Wolf Gang with her in the lead role …
And also a chance to try some new things out that I am thinking of adding into the story. Things that I think will make it a bit better, deeper, richer, somewhat less generic and derivative. Yes, the entire point of me writing Wolf Gang was to indulge my inner hack and allow myself to be as derivative as I felt I needed or wanted to be for the sake of just getting a damn book written; but I’ve always known that I wouldn’t be comfortable with actually publishing a story like that.
Except that now, I think that’s changing.
Which is all the more reason for me to wait before I start making any serious revision notes, because I need to process this new attitude of mine and try to think through the consequences of it. I care about what other authors choose to put out into the world, and I want to hold myself to the same standards – honestly I could probably be a bit less harsh all around, but that’s part of the balance that I think I need to find before committing to a revision.
But, in saying that – I want to get this done this year. And it’s already a quarter of the way through. I think I might just have a read-through and see how I feel about making tiny, minimalist, technical changes – checking for continuity, more or less, spelling errors, and maybe changing a few character names or tightening up awkward sentences/dialogue here and there, rather than trying to de-problematise the story. I think I’ll take this opportunity to see what I’ve actually got and think of how to work with it, and then see how I feel about that plan, once it’s made. And in the meantime, I have this prequel novella to experiment with all the new ideas and big changes that I’m thinking of implementing because I think (at the moment anyway) that they’d make the story better by their inclusion.
It sounds like a lot of work.
But I think I really, really want to do it.
My shitty YA werewolf book. Who would have thought?
(If you would have thought then congratulations you’re very smart shut up)
So that’s, what, 2k works per hour?
And this is when I’m not even that inspired, to be honest … maybe this is the secret to why all of those obnoxious prequel novellas exist to begin with?
I was agonising yesterday over the level of quality in the writing of this novella; specifically, I was agonising over my reliance on more than a few truly hackneyed gender cliches to drive the plot forward. “I’m a better writer than this,” I told myself. “I shouldn’t settle for this barrel-scraping, regressive garbage. I should be challenging myself to be the kind of writer I want other writers to aspire to be; I should be the change I want to see in this world.”
And then I remembered that the entire point of Wolf Gang is to just do what seems most obvious at the time, no matter how trite, and the idea that I ever thought that I wasn’t doing that with this novella became hysterically funny. Which I guess is better than being crushed under the weight of my own existential shame, which would have been the other option. Emotional coping skills for the win.
And in any case, if any of this ever makes it to publishing, there’s the whole revision thing to fix all of this – but, on that note, I also realise that it’s way easier to work with what you’ve already got rather than waiting until after you’ve written your book to try and fit in all the stuff you actually want. I have wanted to be a bit more intentional with my writing for a long time now, and I find it to be a struggle to really just sit and deliberate and make an effort to … well, make an effort. And I feel like that’s what I should be doing …
But on the other hand I wrote over four thousand words tonight, so fuck it. Hackneyed sexist cliches it is.
… no, not really. And the only way to combat that problem is for writers everywhere to make a concerted effort to stop leaning on them, even to subvert them and point out how bad they are – if they’re so fucking bad (and they are), then just stop fucking using them, and show writers – and readers – that there are other options out there. I was embarrassed to come out of Captain Marvel feeling like the scope of my imagination had broadened just from seeing a film starring a woman that didn’t have a love-interest in it, where she wasn’t wearing fetish gear half the time, and where her closest male friend was just that: a friend. They had some fun banter; they had great chemistry; and it wasn’t forced to be a romance.
And I shouldn’t feel like that was a breath of fresh air, but goddammit that’s exactly how it feels, and that is indicative of how badly we need to change things. I’d love to live in a world where, one day, I see a generation of people who grow up not even knowing that the cliche of the Damsel in Distress or the token girl/POC/gay best friend even exists, because they grow up on stories that are more imaginative than that, more inclusive, more … better. I want better stories, goddammit. And I want them now.
Not enough to write them as a zero draft, but hey, baby steps.
Fridays are free, and I have been using my free Friday to scuttle back and forth across the adhesive strands of the interweb, collecting the residual information left to clutter those silken highways and backroads on my … feet? What is metaphors even?
Anyway, I know now even less about the distinction between High and Epic Fantasy than I used to. I decided to do some research today because 1) I was bored and 2) fuck getting things done amirite? Basically, after a couple of hours of research that inevitably led to other topics of research because I’m not not going to clink on links, I have come to the conclusion that the rest of the world is just as confused as I am.
The source of this confusion has also led to some clarity for me. It’s the fact that, between the three blog posts I came across discussing the distinction, I discovered a range of different stances and possible opinions that got me to thinking. In particular, the first blog’s description of Swords and Sorcery as “heroic fantasy’s pulpy cousin” helped me realise that my lack of hardcore world-building and magic-system-creation for my Suicide Squad totally-not-a-fixfic project is, in fact, a Swords and Sorcery novel, and I’m actually doing it right by making it pulpy as fuck – if anything, it needs to be even more pulpier, and I realise now that I am very much about that. As for the whole High/Epic thing, what makes sense to me is treating them as two different measurements, with High as a measurement of how much “fantasy stuff” is included – magic, classical fantasy “races” and creatures, a secondary world setting, etc. – that can range from High to Low; and with Epic as a measurement of the scope of the story, and while I’m not sure what the other end of the scale would be called – Intimate? I kinda like the sound of Intimate Fantasy, or maybe Subtle Fantasy – I think it still works well. I doubt that this is an original idea of how to categorise fiction genres that I’m having here, but hey, it’s a way to spend an afternoon.
I also saw, while perusing Goodreads as part of my I-was-totally-doing-research internet surfing, that there is such a thing as a reading challenge for the year, which made me curious about how many books I’ve actually read. This year, so far, I’ve read 8, which is, what, 2.3 per month? Last year I read 29, which is a bit more than one book a fortnight. In 2017, though, I read 55, which is a bit more than one book a week. I wondered what the cause of this discrepancy was, until I saw that a large portion of the books that I read in 2017 belonged to part of a series. I was reading The Dresden Files, the Iron Druid Chronicles, the Kate Daniels series, the Dark Swan series, and getting into a bunch of other ones – 2017 was the year I discovered Urban Fantasy, and dove in headfirst. 2018 was the year after I discovered Urban Fantasy, and realised that, actually, I could use a bit of variety, but didn’t want to admit it to myself because that would mean I would have to commit to putting in effort while searching for books to read and, like, consider what it is that I want to read.
Maybe even do research.
Which I kinda did. I still want to read more werewolf books, for instance, though now it’s more for general interest and less because I want to steal ideas for Wolf Gang. I think the werewolf lore of Wolf Gang is basic as fuck and, while one day I would like to stretch myself a bit in that regard, today is not that day. But I can always start by seeing how other writers have played with the legend; so far I haven’t seen a take on lycanthropy that’s made me go “oh yes, that, that’s the one I like” – it’s all pretty boring. And often incredibly sexist, too, so that doesn’t help.
I should really do some writing, shouldn’t I?
Well, I don’t know if it’s quite pulpy enough, but then again I am starting to think that I may need to do some research into just what the term “pulpy” means to begin with.
In any case, this is the most of my Suicide Squad so-not-a-fixfic project that I’ve written in a very long time. Also eerily close to my writing total yesterday – just 20 words shy; and this time it was a full … chapter? Episode? Scene? A completed sequence, let’s say. I don’t know if it’s going to end up being canon, but it gave me a chance to try out one of my characters who I am very fond of, and very unsure about my ability to write properly – in fact, it was very much the same kind of experiment that my Wolf Gang novella is, right down to trying out a different lead character – also female.
I’m sensing a trend. A while ago, not long after finishing the zero draft of Tallulah, I couldn’t not have a female protagonist for my stories. I think Wolf Gang tipped the balance in the opposite direction as I embraced my inner normative hack – but, even though I’d need to read over it to know for sure, I’m fairly certain that what I’ve written this week definitely still falls into the “hack” category. And for these particular projects, I feel that it’s … I hesitate to say “fine”, because as I ranted about earlier in this post I think I have a moral duty to offer a solution to the trite, cliched, outdated storytelling conventions that our culture still perpetuates en mass, though it is slowly continuing to shift in a healthier direction. But if not “fine”, then “good enough for a zero draft to get off the ground”, and right now that’s all I’m after. Continuing from last year, I just want to get good at getting shit written, so that I can look back over it and decided what to do next, and see what needs fixing and improving. I just don’t want to fall back on this as an excuse, and I can see that potentially happening. Constant vigilance, as a wise fictional man once said. Well, more than once. Fat lot of good it did him, actually, now that I think about it …
Gotham is a bad show.
It’s a bad show that, over the past few days, I have co-binged-watched most of with my sister, with other family members popping in and out during the process. We’re halfway through season 3 of 4 right now, and … well, it was never great to begin with, but the cracks are showing now.
I’ve been hemming and hawing about writing tired cliche garbage this week, my “moral duty” as a storyteller to do better, set the example that I want myself and others to follow, that sort of thing, while also insisting that, no matter how shit it is, you must write your book. You must put it down in writing, and do away with any consideration of how problematic it might or might not be. You can always fix it in revision.
But I think of Gotham, which has a pretty great premise: what was Bruce Wayne’s life like before he became Batman? Never mind that this was covered in Batman Begins in 2006; true, the show focuses more on Gordon’s origins (they make no fucking sense in terms of showing how he becomes the Gordon we all know and love, though to be fair there are a few versions of Gordon to pick from), but even that’s interesting – and, of course, the rogues gallery … it’s a good premise. It could be so interesting and eye-opening and revelatory.
And it’s the most generic, predictable, cliched pulp you could not bother expending brain cells imagining, because that would take too much effort. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the only remotely original-esque idea is one particular ship (and even then, just google “fandom” and learn a thing).
It’s making me think harder about my decisions as a writer, and the binary I’ve shifted between the two poles of over the years. One is the approach where I really try and put the thought in, the planning, the consideration and earnest attempt to do something original and creative and interesting. I have three main examples of this. The first, of course, is my high fantasy author-insert self-fanfic Realm of the Myth, which I spent 17 years trying to make work and, even today, still can’t quite let go of on the off-chance I might somehow randomly happen upon the version of my life where I get it to work, and exists more in notes and rants than novel format (and that’s after I wrote a full zero draft). The second is Mark and Jessie, where I really, earnestly cared, truly felt like I had a compelling and original premise, and what I ended up with was a mix of banal filler and more hackneyed cliche than I’m capable of nowadays when I’m trying to be cliche. The third is Tallulah, which worked the best out of my attempts, to the point where I even made one pass of revisions on it – and what’s happening with that now? I don’t know how to fix it; I don’t know how to turn it into a story that feels like a story without just telling an entirely new story, and at that point … well, it’s an entirely new story. So right now, it’s looking like I just flat-out failed. I’m still going to look at the manuscript again and take my revision notes, so this isn’t me giving up, but this is me looking at how things currently stand. And it’s not looking great.
On the other hand, I have the projects that I just picked the closest ideas and ran with them, regardless of what they were. This is honestly the one that I’ve spent most of my writing hobby life practicing, and it’s probably worked the best, except for the fact that I get burnt out really fast. These ideas just don’t turn into anything most of the time; I realise now that perhaps that’s something I should have learnt to expect and just accept long ago, to just take down ideas and see if maybe they’ll work somewhere else in the future, rather than agonising over the stories that could have been. But the fact remains that, in terms of getting full manuscripts written, this isn’t the way that works for me … except for Wolf Gang. That shit came together like no writing project I’ve ever undertaken ever has. My Mortal Instruments totally-not-a-ripoff project, the precursor to Wolf Gang, went really well for about six months, but at the end of that period I had 4 chapters to show for it and no sense that I was capable of continuing. I still hope to do something with it some day. But Wolf Gang went the distance, and I’m still interested in doing something with it …
But the question now is what, exactly, that might be. Because this was written with the strategy of “this will never be published ever so it doesn’t even matter” – and it worked. But now it’s morphing into “how can I redeem this garbagefest so that it’s suitable for human consumption”, and the more I look at it, the more I see that the only way to do that is to tell a completely different story.
So, what’s the takeaway? Split the difference between these two writing strategies – putting in effort vs being a hack – and what do I get?
Nothing. There is no difference. Whether I try my hardest to do something creative and original or I give in to my inner hack and generations of iterative laziness, the result is the same. Try to do something original and it won’t happen; try to do something iterative and I’ll hate it.
And this is 19 years of my life. Since I was 13 years old, I have wanted to be a published author; I have wanted to tell and share stories, engaging stories that make people feel something real, whether it’s just a fun thrill or something more subtle and confronting. 18 years, and this is the best I can do. I can’t win. So what do I do?
I think, honestly, I realise that I have only just begun to realise what it means to be a writer.
And yes, it’s taken 19 years, and yes, that is a very long time that in an ideal world would have been much shorter. That’s not what I get, though. I get 19 years of learning not so much the hard way, just the slow way. And that’s so much worse. That could be a source of despair and doubt and hopelessness, and if I was thinking this instead of writing it, perhaps it would be. This is prime shame-trip material right here.
I thinks it means that I don’t even know the level of effort it takes to actually make a story come to life in the way that I want it to. I think no matter what my strategy is, it’s going to take that level of effort to tell the story I mean to tell in the way that I mean to tell it – and that my plans might change, or even fall apart, over the course of that process, and that every story might be a different one. I think it means that I don’t know shit about being a writer.
And I think it means that I have to just keep writing, and see what happens, and learn something from it.
Yes, Mark and Jessie is disappointing as fuck to me right now; but I wrote it over a decade ago, and I’ve written two zero draft novel manuscripts and a fucking master’s thesis since then. It’s just possible that if I made the attempt again now, things would come out a bit better.
Yes, Wolf Gang is problematic as hell and I wouldn’t want to endorse the author if it was a book that I read; I’d honestly probably hate it about as much as the Wereling series (still deliberating over whether or not I think I can compose a level-headed review of that series). But it came out pretty much exactly the way that I envisioned it – and this was a story that was supposed to be a month-long writing exercise, and ended up taking over a year and half to complete. From start to finish, my vision for the story remained virtually unchanged (because it was basic as fuck, yes, but still), and long after it stopped being fun and it felt pointless to even bother trying to finish, I succeeded in realising it. And reading it back over now, I can’t tell the difference between the parts that were a hellish drudgery to force myself through, and which parts were written in a state of giddy euphoria. The quality is probably the most consistent of any story I have ever written. For what it is, it works.
What this tells me is that, regardless of how much I have yet to learn, if I do in fact want to get my stories told, I am on the right track.
And that if I want to keep learning, I need to get my shit written.
Today’s focus, as it is every Sunday, was the co-writing project. I think I’ll put some extra time aside this week to do a bit of catching up, though, because I’ve been stuck on episode 1 for over a month and I really do want to get through it all.
But even if I haven’t gotten through that many pages so far (relatively speaking at least), I’ve been having some good ideas, and also seeing what already works. My fellow co-author and I have been enjoying a few good brainstorms for the revision to follow every Sunday, which helps to keep up momentum even if the progress isn’t quite as fast as I’d ideally like … but ideals are just ideals. They don’t have to come to fruition for things to be going well, and I think they’re going pretty well.
Now, this total is including the word-count of this blog post, but in terms of project-writing it’s still a very validating 11962 words written this week.
Which proves, once again, that the one tried-and-true method of getting writing done is to get writing done. There isn’t a secret; there’s writing, and there’s not-writing. I think I’ve finally started believing that taking a break from writing is fine and healthy and, most importantly, very normal, and because of that I’m more able to enjoy and appreciate my periods of good writing. This week has been one of those periods. The Wolf Gang novella is proving very easy and enjoyable to write (and I’m almost done, unless I decide to expand on it, which I think I will at the moment, so no I’m not almost done never mind); my Suicide Squad-inspired project is continuing to clarify in my mind after only 13 months of not getting the fuck anywhere; I’m feeling like I’m gaining a deeper understanding of what good storytelling is … it’s just sort of coming together right now. Feels good.
And feels like a good way to wrap up the week.