Good Reads

Well, it’s happened. I have finished reading the latest book series I picked up: the Kitty Norville series by Carrie Vaughn, which is 14 books long, or 15 if you count the collection of assorted short stories set in the Kittyverse, which I did in fact read. This makes it a tie for first place in terms of the longest book series I’ve ever read, alongside the still-ongoing Dresden Files series.

And now, I am faced with the prospect of having Nothing To Read – which is a lie, a blatant falsehood that shall condemn my eternal soul to the burning depths of hell for my audacity to commit such base treachery to legible script; but that’s how it feels. And why? Why does it feel that way, when I still have about a dozen books that I bought during my undergrad days and never got around to even looking at, when I still have Presents of Christmas Past sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for their cue to play out, when I still have the lovely birthday present gifted to me by my co-writing buddy about the Napoleonic Wars but with dragons?

It’s because I don’t know what I’m in for with any of them. It’s the unknown. In short, it is because I am not prepared.

Preparedness has been a real theme for me this year – specifically, not having it, and learning to deal with it, or alternatively learning how many ways I can screw myself over by not dealing with it healthily. But I think when the prospect of reading a goddamn book is enough to get my anxiety up, it’s not just a theme: it’s a neurotic comedy. Or tragedy, if you happen to be the main character, which in this case I do. Tragicomedy, perhaps, because it is kind of funny how histrionic my reactions are to the circumstances of my own existence.

And yes, before you ask, I absolutely blame Urban Fantasy for this weakness of readerly fortitude. Before Urban Fantasy – and specifically YA Urban Fantasy, because my YA kick led pretty much directly into my current UF kick – I could read pretty much anything. I didn’t, because if there’s anything else I’ve learnt about myself this year it’s that I suck at doing things that I want to do because they terrify me, like reading fucking books … sigh. You get the point. I had a less sensitive palette; I was able to ingest various and sundry literature and not worry too much about what I was going to get out of it – in fact I daresay that was part of the fun.

But then YA came along, and to memory every single one of the books I picked up to read I found eminently readable, even and perhaps Beautiful Creatures, a problematic book for which I wrote a problematic review, many moons ago, but I can unambiguously state that it was one of the most grotesquely engaging reads I have ever had the displeasure of enjoying. I would say that actually the YA books I read were often more challenging reads than most of the Urban Fantasy I’ve come across. I’m particularly thinking of Kendare Blake’s Anna Dressed in Blood (but not the sequel), Dia Reeves’s Bleeding Violet (which I wrote a review for and then deleted it because I was speeding way out of my lane), Margaret Mahy’s The Changeover (read before my YA kick, one of the few books I’m glad I was forced to read for university study), Cate Tiernan’s Sweep (I think it counts as Urban Fantasy?), and every single thing I have read by Holly Black. All of them tackle pretty complex issues and – as far as I can tell – handle them fairly maturely and respectfully (though again, I don’t really have the knowledge to comment on Bleeding Violet in that regard, as it deals with bipolar disorder), and all are written with skill. There were definitely others written with less skill and less, I dunno, quality? But they were all very readable, and I ended up reading some really powerful stories during that time.

When I made the jump to UF, it was mostly because I had read the first book in the Dresden Files series, been pretty skeeved out by a lot of it while simultaneously thoroughly entertained in a summer blockbuster kind of way, and decided I’d give it another chance. After reading several different authors in the genre, I can say two things.

1) The Dresden Files is not representative of the genre. It’s an odd duck. Anybody who says The Dresden Files is the gold standard of Urban Fantasy has no fucking idea what Urban Fantasy actually is – they’re extremely competent and engaging books, and I’d definitely recommend them (with a few reservations), but they are simply not representative of the genre. It’s sort of like if somebody says that Star Wars is the gold standard of science fiction – I certainly agree that it’s good, but if you know your sci-fi, you also know that Star Wars is very much an exception to the rule.

2) Urban Fantasy is, bar none, the easiest genre to read that I have ever come across. Part of that is, I have to say, a lack of surprises. I know exactly what I’m getting with Urban Fantasy: a tough-as-nails heroine with relatable quirks, such as a thing for bad boys and a serious martyr complex; alpha male creatures of the night who won’t take no for an answer because they know she really means yes please shoot me now; a dearth of supporting female characters who aren’t in some way antagonistic towards the heroine; a paranormal/supernatural kitchen sink; and most importantly – also the main reason for why The Dresden Files should not be considered representative of the genre – a primary focus on social politics, particularly with regards to gender, sexuality, and relationships, as well as different supernatural factions that tend to serve as metaphors for different cultures and ethnicities.

There are no surprises in Urban Fantasy, and this is ultimately the thing that is both the best about the genre, and the worst. It’s reliable, trustworthy – it’s safe. But that very sense of security and predictability that I get from Urban Fantasy is what has turned it into a crutch for me; it’s become too easy – and don’t get me wrong, I value that ease of access. But I am starting to feel that it has definitely gone too far, because it’s making me fucking afraid to pick up other genres.

And the reason I have come to this realisation is because, upon finishing the Kitty Norville series, I realised that I was out of Urban Fantasy that I actually wanted to read. I had backed myself into a corner; the seduction of how freaking effortless it’s been to read copious amounts of Urban Fantasy drove me there, and now I’m stuck trying to fight my way back out again, and it’s just … ludicrous. The only non-UF series I managed to read – and enjoy – was the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal. I definitely recommend that one, and wish I had written reviews of the series while I was reading. It was thought-provoking and imaginative, and it was easy to ready – and that, really, is the main thing for me. The books that I have available to me are just not as easy to read. I’m terrified of the sheer amount of effort it will take for me to invest in these books. Yes, terrified, I am not joking, I am a fucking wreck, have you ever read this blog before.

But.

Just as a couple of weeks ago I was simultaneously terrified and excited to tackle a bunch of daunting life-admin stuff, I am starting to feel the same way about stepping out of the Urban Fantasy world – and frankly, I think I desperately need to. I can’t remain this … pudgy, I think is a good term; I can’t be a pudgy reader, except in the literal sense because hey I eat too much. I need to get back in shape as a reader; I have allowed my reading muscles to atrophy through a steady diet of low-fibre literature, and the dilution of my psyche is the price I have paid for my hedonistic excess. How dare I enjoy myself by doing things that are fun and easy? I have learnt my lesson.

No but seriously, I think Urban Fantasy needs to be a sometimes-food. This is going to mean a lot of big changes in my library borrowing practices, though. Generally I get out 2-4 books at a time, because they’re UF and I just burn through them. I literally read all of the final Kitty Norville book last night, save the first chapter, which I had read the night before. But now, if I’m going to get serious about my literary diet, it’s going to have to be 1 book at a time, unless I find a series that I really get into. However, for now it’s all water-testing, and I know my own limits – too much choice is overwhelming, so 1 at a time to start off feels correct.

And, of course, I still have all of these books that I actually, like, own to read, too. So while I wait for my latest library order to come through (and yes, I literally ordered it just before I wrote the previous paragraph), I can go through some of those. I don’t have to wait for something new to come in; I have resources. I can rely on my own means to get where I want to go.

And who knows? Perhaps this whole food metaphor will carry over into my actual eating habits. But in the meantime – well, I’ve talked up YA a lot in this post, and frankly, I’m starting to miss it. There was a lot of not-great YA that I read, but the stuff that stood out really stood out, and I’m definitely in the mood for more of that. I think it’s time for the YA kick to kick back off where it …

The kick to kick off where it last …

I think it’s off for me to kick the where it the time …

Why am I a writer again?

So asketh the Ubermensch …

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Distressful

So after a stressful week, I was hoping for a more chilled out weekend. Yesterday had ups and downs. The ups – well, there was one up: finally getting myself, sometime in the evening, to finally kick back and just play some Rise of the Tomb Raider, which was very satisfyingly blobtastic The downs, on the other hand, included thinking I would be able to get some marking done only to find that I couldn’t access any of the assignments online (lecturer is working on a solution) and that fucking up my plan for the day, feeling unable to relax until around 6pm when I started playing Tomb Raider, which was a monumental effort that made me write a huge ranty post that has now been deleted about the suffering I experienced just trying to figure out why the hell it was so hard for me to relax; feeling sick after playing Tomb Raider for about 3 hours (actually kind of a good thing as I did want to do something else but was forcing myself to stick with the game, listen to your bodies readers); and generally just not knowing what the fuck to do with myself all day.

Today has been some more of the same, but with less guilt-sickness. Still couldn’t access the assignments, still had no clue what to do with myself – and then, I had an Idea. A really powerful idea that I really liked, thought about for a good half hour just concocting this story around it that felt organic and natural and powerful …

And I just can’t fucking write.

Like, yes, this is perfectionism speaking. But it’s more than that. I actually feel like I have lost the ability to write. I can put words on a page, but I can’t write. I can’t find my way to the word that make sense, the important words, the ones that tell the story of this idea in its particulars. I have my ideas visually; I think in terms of movies in my head. They say a picture is worth a thousand words – well, right now that seems particularly true for all the wrong reasons, because there are a thousand ways I could take one of those images and put it into words, but there aren’t a thousand right ways to do it. There’s a tone, a feeling, an aura if you will to this idea, to every idea, and the wrong words will fail to convey it. And it feels like all I have are wrong words.

The solution that I can think of is just to write and not care about how it turns out. Practical, aspirational in a utilitarian sense, a skill that I have been desperate to develop for the past couple of years.

But the problem with that is that I already care about this idea. I care about it quite a lot, actually, not so much for the idea itself but what it represents to me, as a writer and just as a person.

I miss caring.

Reading Mark and Jessie has been a revelation, and a really upsetting one upon reflection. It’s been all the things a first draft can and probably should be: bad, sluggish, overwrought, over-written, under-developed, flat, morally abhorrent … it’s shit. And it’s the necessary kind of shit, the shit that fertilises the grounds upon which better storytelling can be done. I’m working very hard right now to bear this in mind.

Because I’m reading this 622 page monstrosity, thinking about returning to it as a project to start revisions on, and I can’t see my ideas anywhere in this manuscript. I can see the vague, basic premise of a setting and plot, and I recognise the characters’ names. That’s it. But that’s all. I can’t understand how I let myself write 622 fucking pages of this thing that isn’t my story. That is the part that is so upsetting to me; when I read back over Tallulah for the first time, it was frustrating, dense, inconsistent, embarrassing – but at least it seemed somewhat similar to the idea, the original concept, the story-seed that inspired me to spend 7 months writing it to life. Whereas this thing … I just don’t get it. I do not get it at all.

So when it comes to this new idea, this one that I find myself caring about, I am terrified to start writing it for fear of not just fucking it up like any normal writer does during a first draft (something I’m also trying to convince myself is perfectly normal right now), but of that being proof that I lack the ability to write my ideas down the way I have them in my head, beyond the normal difficulties of translating imagery into text. I am afraid that I will start writing, and discover that I do not have this skill that I have been exercising for the past 18 years. And what this tells me …

Is that I need to see a therapist, for the love of god I need that sweet sweet therapy, fucking hell just chill the fuck out for a second dude.

Because this is ridiculous. I care about an idea for a story, not even a very clear or developed idea, just one that I care about, and it’s scaring me to care about it. If that doesn’t scream unresolved emotional issues, I don’t know what does. It’s not even a person that I’m afraid of caring about or something; it’s an idea, it’s my idea, and I can’t even just fucking enjoy it, I can’t let myself even interact with it for fear of discovering that I am somehow inimical to it.

The one good thing that happened yesterday – this morning, to be precise – is that all of that stress brought me really close to the wall. As in the one you hit your head against sometimes when you’re out of options, hoping to stir a few nascent brain-cells into action from the impact, never mind how many others you destroy in the meantime. And I think I need to hit that wall hard. I remember writing Tallulah and finding that hitting my head against the wall, over and over, actually was a really good way to figure out what I was doing wrong, and how to go about finding a solution for it. I feel like I’m close to that breakthrough here, writing about this ridiculous existential fear.

And anyway, I wrote this thing like a goddamn decade ago; all of my recent writing has been, like, awesome. Maybe I just need to not write for a week or something and go back and read over some of my stuff. I did want to keep reading over my older stuff and just never got around to it; I think maybe it’s time I read some of my newer stuff again, and just give myself a bit of a morale boost. Yes, Mark and Jessie is dogshit in its current written state, but I haven’t touched it since 2008.

And actually, that’s not entirely true; I did read back over some of my newer stuff, it’s kind of crap but it’s a hell of a lot better than Mark and Jessie.

I need more perspective. That’s what I need.

So sayeth the Ubermensch!

And right now, the Ubermensch is going to do some fucking writing, because it’s been too fucking long since I fucking cared about an idea of my own this much. Fuck this inane neurosis. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly, and if I’m destined to do it badly then hack powers fucking activate. Shit’s getting written tonight.

“Detox Day” 2/2

This was a very good, important idea.

I am going to need to think about this regarding Weekly Words. Obviously I really appreciate what Weekly Words has been doing for me, and I’d like to keep that up. But it’s clear to me that word-count alone is not what I need – or even want – to be focusing on right now. At least not for 10k words a week.

Part of that is because one of the conclusions I have come to over these two detox days is that I have a lot more than one kind of writing to do in order for my process to really work for me, and a lot of it is just being silly and having fun with my ideas. The other night, because it was about 4am and I wasn’t asleep because why would I be, I started coming up with stupid place names for the world in one of my projects, and iterated on the names for a good quarter of an hour just to make myself laugh. Now that seems kind of like “yeah, so what”, but I realised that not only did I do something that I enjoyed, but it also got me more invested in the project. And then I realised: this silly improvisational self-amusement is my natural mode; this is how I invest myself in my projects, the way I naturally express my enthusiasm, just throwing ideas around and workshopping them on the spot. And it’s something I’ve discouraged myself from doing, distracted myself from doing, for a very long time. I have internalised a lot of “writing advice” sort of logic regarding writing over the years, and I’m fairly sure I’ve made a lot of it up through a combination of only half paying attention to the actual advice I’ve been exposed to, and my own ingrained self-sabotaging habits that turn everything into an ever-escalating shame marathon. For all that I’ve written about having to make writing work for you and not pushing yourself to do things that just don’t work, it seems I have not been taking my own advice. I don’t let myself do things that I know work for me when I have some reason, however, flimsy, to think it’s “stupid” or “irrelevant”. It actually makes me pretty angry, seeing just how pointlessly pedantic I have gotten about my writing process over time, and how many opportunities I’ve missed because of these awful habits.

Yesterday, I identified the biggest issue for me – besides distraction, which these two days have been good for countering as well – which was self-sabotage through shifting my own goalposts and making it impossible for me to meet my own standards, because they keep changing. Inconsistency. Today, I identified one of my biggest strengths: letting myself do things my way. And that means taking time to give myself the opportunity to do that, which is what these past two days have done for me. In fact, I got pretty much everything I wanted out of these past two days: I revisited some old projects, identified what I liked about them, what got me to work on them or what held me back from doing so, found that I was actually still quite interested in some of them even after not working on them for so long, and got back in touch with what was going on with me and what I feel most drawn to. A chance to check in with myself. I now know I need to do that far more often.

And all of this thanks to pen and paper. Never will I be without it again. So sayeth the Ubermensch!

“Detox Day” 1/2

It went pretty well, actually.

I did not end up turning off my laptop, sadly, but there are just not many places in the house where I can both focus and have all my stuff ready to hand. Also didn’t get any drawing done, which is a shame.

However, I got a lot of important stuff done, so I don’t think it was a huge failure or anything. In fact, I’d call it a very well-needed and long overdue step in the right direction, and one that I do think I can keep up going forward. This is what I want my “day on” to look like when I take it, and I do think I need to actually have a proper weekend for it, not just one day. Make my weekends a little bit of a workshop for recreation and soul-searching.

Because I like soul-searching. I used to do a lot more of it, in my teen years; true, I also had a lot of horribly toxic habits in my teen years and the amount of introspection I did only served to make them more malignant in a lot of cases, but I’m past a lot of that shit now, and this is less introspection than it is data-collection and analysis. I identified some really key things, most of which I already “knew” but, let me tell ya, it makes a difference to actually sit down and work through it on paper:

  • I gravitate towards ideas that put a twist on some kind of established status quo, whether that is an external status quo like the tropes of a genre, or an internal status quo like my own tastes
  • I get excited when an idea answers an unasked but obvious question (for instance, in UF: why the “masquerade”?), generally in a way that does not reinforce the status quo (it is kind of stupid, how about we just get rid of it) (it’s not an original concept but you get the idea)
  • I get discouraged when things don’t immediately look/feel the way I want them to (often not having done enough research to make the world/characters/situations feel “authentic”)
  • Restrictions are great but also suck (can foster creativity, but can also make it feel like I’m obligated to include certain things that just don’t matter to me for the sake of things “making sense”)
  • I am a huge perfectionist and it needs to stop

Those are the main ones I’m taking away from my results so far; this will be an ongoing process because I can tell I’m only scratching the surface. It’s also ended up killing several birds with one stone, because in doing this I’ve (obviously) gone back and revisited some of my old ideas, like I wanted to a week or two ago, and lo and behold I actually do want to go back to them – especially after seeing that my reasons for not following through with them are almost unbelievably inane and pedantic. Pedantry, it seems, is my Achilles’ Heel.

And there are patterns, and that’s great. I am interested in what works, but also really interested in what doesn’t work, and what doesn’t work for me seems to be the aforementioned lack of immediate gratification, but the perfectionism thing – it’s just so weird. Like, I’ll have the idea, and it’ll be a pretty clear idea, and then once I start thinking about doing it “for real” my parameters shift suddenly, and instead of it being about me doing this cool thing I thought of it’s about “getting it right”, not for me but for some other consideration that comes up only after I’ve started, which sucks all the life out of it.

Basically, I shift my own goalposts, and if you’ve ever had that done to you by somebody else you know how shitty that is, so imagine how shitty it is to discover that you’ve been doing it to yourself for years as well. Of all the things I’ve identified about my process today, this is probably the most significant: I sabotage myself, constantly, by shifting the goalpost in terms of what I am trying to get done.

There’s obvious merit to the idea of adapting your plans if you have new information that changes the context of those plans, but for me there really hasn’t been that. It’s just been my own bad, unhealthy, self-hating habits, not allowing myself to follow through in the ways that I want once I get started, basically giving myself false advertising. “Hey, here’s a cool idea you can work on!” “really? yay, let me devote time to doing it!” “great, now that you’re here you’re actually going to do this other thing, because really the first thing was stupid don’t you think it was stupid, and also made you a bad person?” “I mean, I don’t want to be a bad person, but that really makes me not want to do this anymore” “that’s okay, it just means you’ll be a failure for life and never accomplish anything because of your lack of discipline and deserve to die of shame!”

It’s actually really gross, and I had no idea how gross it was, the way I’ve been treating myself all these years, until right now. So yes, today has been a good, valuable, health-improving day. In short, the lesson I have learnt is that I need to be aware of the way in which I kill my own momentum by insisting that what I do is dictated by some kind of arbitrary “need”, instead of the initial “want” that got me all excited to do it in the first place. And I need to stick with that “want”, commit to it, do right by it, in the hopes that, in time, my perfectionist goal-shifting inner demons will shrivel up and die from lack of sustenance – or that I’ll just get good at ignoring them.

And on that note, I have a few old projects that I want to start getting back to. As for drawing – that’s why I need a weekend, I have decided. I want a nice, cosy stretch of time to get all my shit done, and one day is not enough for that. A Weekend On. That sounds good. If it’s anything like today has been, it will be.

And it was enough of a detox to make me feel a lot better, rejuvenated and refreshed, even with the laptop. But I am looking forward to trying it without the laptop next weekend. It will be good.

So sayeth the Ubermensch! (yes, that is coming back)

6512

That is my current Nanowrimo word-count. I’m pretty pleased with it; and I’m even more pleased that it’s 1027 words more than it would have been if I hadn’t forced myself to do some writing just now. Which I did. And it felt good. The voice isn’t quite what I want it to be, but that’s just a distraction at this point; the first draft is just there to get written, not to be good, or even decent. It’s not about worth. It’s about existing. And now it exists 1027 words more than it would have if not for my following through with my resolution to write something every day during Nanowrimo.

Which I actually have managed to do, since starting on the 4th. The first two days were my Hero’s Journey Deconstruction/Metacritique projects; tonight – well, last night as of 6 minutes ago – was my NZ Urban Fantasy project. Like I say, the voice is off, because I want to go for that dry Kiwi humour that everyone seems to love so much and really doesn’t come naturally to me, further cementing my sense of being an outsider in my own country, not that I really mind. But the point is that it’s getting written.

What is not getting written is the weird flash of inspiration I had earlier today, which came to me in the form of the sentence: “an Urban Fantasy version of Garden State“. I had spent the previous night thinking of all the things I wished ST2 had done differently – including how the showrunners treated Sadie Sink, which makes me pretty fucking reluctant to watch season 3, TW for what might not be sexual coercion of a minor but sure seems a lot like it and for the love of god don’t read the comments – and came to the realisation that, actually, I have amazing ideas and deserve worldwide recognition for them. Then I thought of Garden State in a remotely positive light, and consequently felt that I may have to retract that praise.

I mean, it kind of already exists. It’s called The Magicians by Lev Grossman, which after reading 15 books of The Dresden Files I have finally realised is nothing special. I should go back and re-read those books, though, because after suffering through the bad aftertaste of The Magician’s Land it’s hard for me to remember that I actually liked the first two. Though upon reflection I’m not at all sure that I should have liked the first two.

Speaking of not liking things upon reflection – yes, I have read all currently-published The Dresden Files books, and yes, I have enjoyed them immensely (with one or two nearly-fatal exceptions), but after coming to the end of Skin Game I realised I needed to find something else to fill the void. I tried Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia, and gave up when I uncovered this gem: “It was strange to hear a black man shout a Confederate battle-cry. Hey, whatever worked” (138).

Yeah no. Really no.

Oh wait this is the guy who started the Sad Puppies bullshitREALLY no.

And that kind of leads into my point here: up until this sentence, I was happy to suspend my disbelief, my dread, my general sense that Larry Correia was not one of My People (it is really quite scary to me that I did not know about his being responsible for the Sad Puppies until I googled him just now). The pacing was night and speedy; the tone was very similar to the blockbuster tough-guy-telling-it-like-it-is vibe of The Dresden Files, and its treatment of women (or woman, I should say) was about on-par, if not actually a little better. Or maybe just different.

And then that line happened and I discovered that Larry Correia is a festering pile of regressive dogshit, and it made me reflect on my time with The Dresden Files, and …

I mean, here’s the thing. I know that I’ve been suspending my disbelief and critical faculties with the series. Deliberately. It’s part of the joy I take in reading it. It’s a fun series if you can get into it.

But those similarities got me thinking about … other things.

Like how Susan died.

Like Molly’s role in the series, namely the fact that her role in the series revolves entirely around her relationship to (and decade-long crush on) Harry.

Like the fact that pretty much every woman who isn’t Karrin, Charity, or Harry’s geriatric landlady is characterised first and foremost in terms of their relationship to sex and sexuality, generally with regards to how Harry feels about it. Yeah, you can say “that’s because Harry’s a chauvinist it’s supposed to be a character flaw”, but it keeps happening and it’s gross. It doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be bad, because it is bad, and it is bad repeatedly, and that outweighs whatever intention is behind it because, spoilers, that “character flaw” never actually gets treated like one. (Though aside from Harry’s POV, the series does improve on its depiction of women, as I have stated previously.)

Like the fact that there is a First Nations character in the series who is affectionately referred to as “Injun Joe”. By people who respect him.

Like the fact that Thomas is overtly framed as a good guy.

Like the fact that Harry always, always finds a way to not be responsible for the catastrophic trail of damage he leaves behind him.

I was not unaware of these things; they just didn’t matter to me. And you know, I’m actually glad that they didn’t matter to me. I enjoyed myself. I’m grateful to this series, because goddamn I have not had that much fun reading a book series in, like, maybe ever.

But now that it’s actually been a couple of weeks since finishing that book, I think I’m done. I don’t actually want to suspend my critical faculties for the sake of fun anymore. Not when the parallels between it and the writing of a racist, homophobic, misogynist bigot are so very similar. That was the last straw.

And it’s kind of a shame. I have definitely learnt the value of suspending judgement for the sake of just having some fucking fun, and I don’t regret any of the time I spent with The Dresden Files. But I also feel justified in feeling that nothing I want to spend a great deal of time and emotional investment in should remind me so much of something I abhor and detest. Right? Not just me?

I’ll admit, I was enjoying MHI up until that one line, and it probably only convinced me to stop because, unlike The Dresden FilesMHI had not established enough of a rapport with me for me to give it the benefit of the doubt that it would make up for it, at least in terms of being broadly entertaining. But even if it had, I wouldn’t want to be entertained by it after that. And I figure that if I have this much of a problem with MHI, it would be a tad hypocritical of me to not also finally start getting my critic on with The Dresden Files.

Although to be fair at least The Dresden Files doesn’t try to redeem the fucking Confederacy. Perhaps I’m overreacting.

Ironically, I feel decidedly less stressed out in terms of being exposed as Problematic for writing my own UF novel. I think that’s definitely a good place to suspend critical thinking: your own writing. At least for the first draft. Bring it back for revisions, though. It could also be the fact that I’m just reminding myself that making myself write actually feels good. It’s a bodily reaction; I feel more relaxed, more energised – more intent. I feel ready and eager to progress. And just yesterday, I felt so stuck. I couldn’t have foreseen this; in fact I’ve never been able to look into my future and find myself caught up in the flow of writing. It’s a really hard emotion to recall. I think it’s because it’s not just an emotion; it’s a whole network of states of being, including emotion, but also thought, physical stamina, balance, location, and feeling your progress without being conscious of it.

It’s made me think about that shitty YA werewolf novel I finally finished this year. I did that. I got that shit done. And I got it done mostly while working on my MA. I’ve been trying so hard for so long to prove to myself that I have what it takes to write a book while fulfilling my academic obligations, or whatever other obligations that I had, and it dawned on me today that, actually, I have proven that. I’ve proven it – and just didn’t count it, for some reason. Maybe because it wasn’t a “serious” writing project of mine, never mind that I devoted one and a half years of my life to writing the first draft, the bulk of which was written while I was also working on my MA. I did it.

It should be proof.

And I realised, then, that it actually is proof. It doesn’t matter if I don’t believe in it; it’s still proof. Incontrovertible proof, in fact. I can write a full novel while working/studying. I have done it.

My job now is to start treating it like proof, and stop waiting to feel like I can do it – I’ve done it already, for fuck’s sake. What do I need to feel anything for?

Further support for my intentions to get myself used to doing things because I want to, rather than because I feel like doing them in the moment – or feel like I can do them. There’s more to it than that, and more to me. And it’s time for me to start acting like it.

Also I have read almost 50 books this year holy shit. I know that’s not a lot for some people, but that’s more books than I’ve read in some decades. And I’ve only had 3 of those.

I feel good. I knew that I would. I just didn’t feel like I would, but it seems like I’m slowly learning to put less stock in what I feel like I can or can’t do when I’m on a mission.

On a mission. I like the sound of that.

So sayeth the Ubermensch!

One Step Closer

(TW: suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety)

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I last made revision notes on Tallulah, and about a month since the last post I made here. I see the semblance of a pattern.

This chapter is one that I originally expected to cut completely, for its utter irrelevance to the story. Having gone back through it – I’m still not finished, and have given myself one hour a day to revise exactly so that I get used to doing it systematically rather than just on a whim – I have found that there’s actually so much key information about the characters and the overarching themes of the story that I’m very relieved I didn’t just write it off without even looking at it first. Not that I was planning to do that, but I feel like in another life I would have just scrapped it based on memory and started my revision using a manuscript that didn’t have it included and accounted for.

This book needs so much work before it’s ready to be submitted. I wanted to submit it at the end of this year, but I think I’m going to have to set my sights on maybe around this time next year – and, thinking a bit about it, that’s actually probably a better plan. Not so much because it gives me more time to revise (I certainly don’t want to over-revise, and a shorter deadline could help with that), but because from what I hear the end of the year is a really busy time for publishers and agents, being flooded with manuscripts. So if I wait for next year, after the rush, I might have a better chance of getting noticed and picked up. I’ll definitely need to do more research about this stuff along the way, too.

There is actually a reason I decided to go back to revision today. Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died on the 20th from suicide by hanging. That kicked me right in the guts. I know people like to talk shit on Linkin Park for being melodramatic, angst-ridden, and weirdly sanitised despite their subject matter, especially in their early songs. I got less and less involved with them as a band as I grew older and discovered other forms of emotional catharsis through music other than the anger of metal, but I had always been hugely emotionally invested in the band, even when I wasn’t a huge fan. I didn’t realise just how much I still cared about them until I heard the news, and I have no shame in telling you all that I am absolutely going to go out and buy those two albums of theirs that I didn’t really like. I’m a sentimental mushball and proud of it.

It hit me like no other celebrity death has – maybe Carrie Fisher. They were both such huge parts of my life, especially my childhood and adolescence, but I felt more familiar with Chester, just because I kept up with the band ever since they released “One Step Closer” and made me the happiest little angry kid on the planet, along with all the millions of other angry kids exactly like me. Carrie Fisher I knew as Princess Leia, and that was about it until quite recently. I definitely wish I’d kept up with her as well in hindsight.

But the point of all of this is that Chester’s death was a wake-up call to me. People talk about this sort of thing all the time, and there have been times when I’ve felt like I should have felt it but didn’t. Somebody famous and influential dies, and people get motivated to get their shit together. I hate that I’m getting motivation from somebody’s death, especially one as horrible as this. There’s something morbid about taking inspiration to live your life better just because somebody else’s has ended. But it’s because it’s pretty relevant to me. I lived with depression for a long time; I still get depressed every now and then. The bigger issue for me is social anxiety, but both of them come with a lot of feeling stuck and unable to do anything about it. I realised when the news broke that I needed to fucking move. I’ve known that doing things is the best solution to the problem of feeling stuck, yet I just consistently don’t take that solution because, well, I don’t feel like I can when I’m in a rut, which I usually am. Anxiety and depression are paralytics, and they’re hard to fight against.

But I have to. I have to get this shit done. I don’t even know what book I want to work on, if I even do, or what my other options would be, but goddammit I need to figure it out, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I actually do it. It’s basic logic; it’s nothing I didn’t already know. But that could have been me, and for all I know it still might be one day. I hope not, and I feel like I’m in a much better place than I have been for a long time, better enough that it is probably quite unlikely. But I also know that I have a history of suicidal thoughts, and that this sort of thing can come back sometimes. It’s just life. I’m not feeling grim about my prospects; I actually feel better about them than I ever have, however much of a slog this year has been in terms of motivation.

What I’m saying is that I have some now, and for the first time possibly ever I am determined to jump on it and make the most of it, turn it into a routine while I have the energy to support my initiative. I don’t know what I want to write, I don’t know if it’s anything I’m currently writing or if I need to find something else. So I’m going to write what I’ve got and see what comes of it. Every day. I have alarms on my clock set to remind me to revise, write, and even look at my CV throughout the week. I haven’t been using them, really, but I’m going to start. I have already started. I made some revision notes, and it turned out to be a very fruitful endeavour. But I need more than rewards. I need habits. I need to get into a whole bunch of new habits, and to stick to them as hard as possible, to keep going even when it’s not immediately rewarding because there’s a long game to play as well, a big picture that will make all the little, momentary frustrations worth it.

I’m also putting in forced breaks. That’s why I didn’t finish making revision notes on the chapter I was looking at today: my alarm went off and told me to stop, so I stopped. I need to get good at getting work done regardless of motivation, but the same goes for taking time for myself to just do whatever, including absolutely nothing. And from experience, arbitrary time constraints work pretty damn well for that.

I feel like I’ve taken a step today, towards the way I want my life to turn out. One step closer to something I’ve only ever fantasised about, occasionally following a burst of inspiration to move towards it for as long as the motivation lasts and giving up as soon as it gives out. No more. Motivation can kiss my ass. From here on, I’m here to work. I’m here to do better by myself.

So here’s to doing better. It would feel very wrong to link “One Step Closer” here, not just because I made the pun already. This song is one whose meaning has changed for me, and not just because of Chester’s death. I’m just in a different place now. Back when this first came out, I sort of dismissed it because it wasn’t the same tense, viscerally angry music that I loved LP for. Now that I come back to it, it’s basically a really corny, really earnest motivational track, and I am so happy to see it in this new light. I never thought I’d appreciate LP for being corny, but I really, really do. And I can only see it this way because I’m in a different place to when I was when I first came across it. Just like leaving Tallulah to sit for 2 years, I can see that part of my past with a new perspective, and see the path forward. And to walk it, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(There is always a burst of discussion around mental health awareness when a celebrity figure commits suicide, which is kind of insulting to me, because it reminds me that this is still kind of the only time the discussion enters into mainstream consciousness. The fact that this discussion is still so stigmatised is hugely symptomatic of why mental illness is so much more difficult for people to seek help for than other kinds of illness. So to anyone who needs someone to talk to – please talk to someone. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant or irrational of a reason you might think it is, and you probably do, if you’re anything like me. Treat it like a strange lump that suddenly turned up on your body: get it checked out, because it might be nothing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Treat it as a practical, personal responsibility that you have, like paying rent. Look up hotlines you can call for free; look up options for counselling that you might be able to afford. If you have friends or family you know you can trust, take advantage of a shoulder to lean on. Look after yourselves. I’m not just putting my latest life-changing plan into action because I want to write more. I want to take care of myself, because for the longest time I just haven’t, and I’m only recently starting to learn how. I want to learn how to do it better, and the best way to do it is to, well, do it.)

Libraria

I don’t think I’ve used my local library this much in over 20 years. I also haven’t read this many books in quick succession in over 20 years. I definitely don’t feel like a kid again, partly given the kind of books I’m reading these days, but still, not complaining. I thought maybe university had ruined recreational reading for me, but apparently all I needed was to discover the world of pulpy paperback novels. Also probably to not be at university while reading them. That probably helps.

I’ve finished reading 7 Dresden Files novels at this point, and thanks to other people existing in the world and borrowing the books that I want to read I can’t actually continue with the series for probably another month or so. It’s pretty frustrating. And now, anxiety-inducing, because I have to read *deep breath* other books in order to fill the time. I’m sticking with Urban Fantasy just to make sure I don’t pop a vein or something.

I need help.

And also I only picked up 3 books, and I’ve put in requests for the next parts in these series already so that, with any luck, I’ll have more books to pick up by the time I’m done with them. Gonna give that Iron Druid book another chance; I hated it the first time I tried reading it (also there was a pubic hair on one of the pages, which I found pretty fitting given the rest of the content of said pages), but having seen just how much problematic content I am able to stomach perhaps I’ll have a different reaction the second time around.

It’s so … weird. I’ve never read books in this manner before; I’m binge-reading, and while it’s amazingly fun it’s also kind of … unsatisfying. It’s like a constant stream of snacks that can’t ever make you sick, but I can definitely imagine myself getting sick of them, and fairly quickly. The little bits and pieces I’ve read online about this genre is that you can encounter some pretty lethal burnout, mostly concerning the kinds of leads that tend to crop up again and again: tough, no-nonsense, leather-pants-wearing badasses who snark at everyone they meet and never quite seem to find a challenge that actually, like, challenges them. I think I may indeed get tired of that pretty quick.

But we’ll see. For now it’s enjoyable, and I do think writing something in this genre is something I’m interested in trying out in the fairly near future.

I haven’t worked on Tallulah since the last time I wrote about working on it. I think I need to set an alarm for myself or something. I think if I can just get past this second chapter – it’s always been a difficult one to deal with, for whatever reason – the note-making process will get easier. I think the issue is that this chapter is just boring as hell, which it probably shouldn’t be, seeing as it’s where we get the Inciting Incident – or it was, anyway. Now that I’m re-evaluating what this story is about and what I feel needs to be focused on for this second revision, this chapter is starting to seem really superfluous, maybe better-suited to being chopped up and having its various parts distributed across other chapters …

But, that’s easy to say before I’ve actually finished making notes, and I’m going to make an effort to stop making these kinds of blanket predictions/assumptions about the conclusions I’m going to come to for work I haven’t even done yet. It’s a very weird habit of mine, one I’m fairly sure is born out of years and years of acclimation to utter boredom and stir-craziness. I should probably stop it.

And the books are helping in that regard. They annoy me, so much, but they’re so freaking fun to read. Kind of like Game of Thrones; the show itself is not what I’d call fantastic, especially in the more recent seasons, but by Frigg is it fun to watch. It’s got a killer hook, and these books have that as well. Maybe if I turn my brain on a little more I’ll be able to work out what it is. This power must be mine. So sayeth the Ubermensch!

In the morning, though. I doubt I’m going to get to sleep anytime soon – another thing I need to work on – but at the very least I can stop staring at my gigantic glowing plasma screen that has given me these weird involuntary facial tics for the past month.