Yearly Words 2019

YEARLY TOTAL

Writing: 367,961

I’m not going to do much of a recap here; I haven’t read through all of my Weekly Words posts for 2019, and I think doing that is the only way I’ll get the kind of perspective that I’m craving, which will require some devotion of time that, at 1:42 AM, I don’t quite feel invested in committing to just now.

However.

All signs point to one overarching theme for my 2019, or at least one thing that I’m going to mention in this blog post: I need to have the means to extend my focus beyond my writing. Because writing is not enough.

It is, in and of itself, valuable and fulfilling and worth doing. But it is notsubstitute for everything else that I need. It’s not a substitute for socialising; it’s not a substitute for exercise; it’s not a substitute for R&R; it’s writing, and if I’ve learnt – or started to learn – one thing in 2019, it’s the importance of acknowledging things for what they are, rather than what they could be, or what I wish they would be. I like writing.

I hate just writing.

And my writing is going to suffer until I get some balance back.

Okay, one other thing that I learnt from 2019: I’m so fucking sick of myself and this has got to stop. There’s other shit going on in the world, and a lot of it is pretty interesting, even to me. I reckon it could be worth looking into.

Weekly Words initially started as a way for me to have some form of personal accountability for writing every day, to turn daily writing into a habit. If nothing else, I would at least be updating my Weekly Words blog post every day. Good in theory.

In practice?

Who the fuck cares about how much writing I didn’t do on X day? Or how exciting it was to break through writer’s block? Who wants to see this pattern repeat over and over and over again for SEVEN FUCKING YEARS? I honestly don’t know if any real-life people read this blog anymore, but I cannot blame any of the ones that I know at least used to for checking out. This blog is like a reality TV show about a mouse running in a wheel.

And okay, I care. I care about having a record of my experience as a writer, and that is the whole “thing” with this blog: writing about writing. Sometimes – very often in fact – there’s just fuck all going on; life is not a story, but if it was it would mostly be filler. Or my life at least, which does not make for good blog material.

But as I’ve realised, I don’t write for the sake of writing. I write for the sake of having a tool by which I can accomplish other things. I don’t revel in the construction and manipulation of language; I don’t particularly crave the tactile sensation of typing on a keyboard or writing on paper with a pen, pencil, or what-have-you. It’s a means to an end, and yes my joining the Mark Manson cult of Kantian pedantry means that this opinion makes me evil and shit but you know what, some things just aren’t that goddamn valuable to me and that’s how it is.

Writing is valuable to me because of what I get from doing it, not because I get to do writing.

And I’ve been trying to use it to get way too much, for way too long.

I guess, really, I don’t love writing for its own sake because it’s been so long since writing wasn’t this global substitute for literally everything else that one can do with one’s life; I treat it as a means to an end and, well, that is a bad thing. In this context. I think it’s fine to treat writing, and many other things, as means to ends instead of ends in and of themselves, depending on the context. But in mine, well, I think there’s room to appreciate writing for its own sake …

Or I can make room.

And, for the sake of my mental health, I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say that I need to.

I said that my 2020 New Year’s resolution was to tell a good story. It still is. But I think that telling this “good story” is going to involve me being able to look beyond myself to find it, and the same goes for this blog, and just myself in general. This is my blog, but that doesn’t mean it all has to – or should – be about me. Not least because I, like anyone else, am just not that fascinating all on my own.

But throw in some context, and maybe that’ll change. In fact I’m sure it will.

I gotta get some news in my life, man. I need to know what’s going on around me; I want to know. I want to participate.

And I think that Weekly Words might be over and done with.

I still like the idea of a monthly check-in, though, so I reckon I’ll keep that, and use that to tally up my writing efforts on this blog – I can keep my private records for the minutia. But going forward …

This is a writing blog. I want to make the most of that, expand on what that can mean, get to better understand what it does mean to me that I’m not admitting or embracing or considering. Writing is fascinating, as an art and as a field. And I’d like to be fascinated by it.

But you know what else is fascinating? Being part of a community. My interests span many different communities, and for reasons of anxiety or snobbishness or look fuck knows I really need to start going harder with this therapy stuff and get to the bottom of this, but my point is that I have steered clear of communities that could, potentially, be a great resource for me in many ways. I mean that’s what you’re supposed to do, right? Find people with whom you share a common interest and go from there? Might be something to it. Finally, I can share my D&D 5E ranger revisions with people who will understand the burning hatred that drives such an undertaking just as keenly as myself.

Also friendship and whatever.

But yeah – just like using writing as a means to too many ends has toxified my relationship to and perception of it, this blog has very much become a catch-all dumping ground for my brain, starved of appropriate and functional avenues for exploration and expression as it has been for so very, very long. And it’s time to start putting things right. This might mean starting more blogs; this might mean spending less time being a record-keeper for my own life. I’m definitely not stopping writing; I’ve just finished my re-readthrough of Bad Guys and have actually found it very insightful – I have a better idea of what the story needs from me, and also what it doesn’t need. And that’s going to be a long commitment, one that I’m willing to make now that I’ve accepted it for what it is: a process that I was a little, let’s say, optimistic to try and measure out in months. This might take a while – I’m counting on it. And I’m ready for it.

But there’s the rest of it all as well, everything else I need and have missed out on this past year, a lack that perhaps I feel more keenly for how much I’ve been pushing myself to find it. And that has no place on this blog.

It’s time to engage, spread out, dive in, and be willing to not keep track of every minute experiential detail for the sake of having the goddamn experience itself.

And once I get used to that, maybe my true love of writing will come back to me. But first, I think I need to be willing to let it go, for the chance that it’ll come back.

This plan is risky-sounding, but it’s something that I care about. I’ve been waiting, longing, hoping for a project to come along that I cared about enough to risk fucking it up for the chance of getting it right.

Perhaps I was the project all along.

Okay there’s no way I don’t enjoy writing for its own sake, even given how badly I’ve handled it over the years; I get to write cheesy shit like that whenever I want as a writer. Can’t put a price on that.

Happy New Year!

… also HOW THE FUCK DID I WRITE MORE THIS YEAR THAN LAST YEAR.

Complaining. I did a lot of complaining this year. That must be it.

Also I guess I did write an entire novel? But I wrote an entire 50% of a teleplay last year …

Look whatever I guess the moral of the story is that even when I suck at writing I’m fucking amazing at writing guess I’m just doomed to be a baller-ass writer for the rest of eternity I guess that’s okay …

 

Hmm. Hmmmmmm.

It’s been 13 months and my shitty YA werewolf novel still isn’t finished. But it does stand at 69k words, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.

More to the point for my sense of accomplishment, though, is the fact that it really hasn’t registered at all just how much work I got done with this thing. This completely impulsive, relatively shallow writing experiment that, while I’ve been “working on it” for 13 months, that’s really been 2 periods of intensive writing with huge, months-long gaps between them. Basically, I wrote 69k words in 3 months. And considering that I’ve been doing my Masters for all of that time …

I mean seriously, that’s a pretty fucking big achievement.

I am going to try and acknowledge it.

And also, given some rather exciting – and slightly terrifying – news that I got today (yesterday whatever fuck you am/pm threshold), I’m going to really try and believe in my capacity to multitask. To believe that I can do my MA, and write a novel, and do this other thing that I’m going to be doing that I will say more about when things are more finalised and official and shit … all at once.

The shitty YA werewolf thing – the reason I keep calling it that is because it is shit. It’s bad. It’s un-good. But the process of writing it has been awesome, even after the novelty wore off. It’s the process that I fell in love with, and as much as I’m on the edge of being very anxious about this new life-event stuff, it’s also an opportunity to dive head-first into another process, just this time a much more complicated and consequential one, because it doesn’t only affect me. This is an opportunity for me to push myself, to see how far I can take my dedication to process for the sake of process, and to really start to enjoy it. I think I will. I am just worried that I’ll hold myself back and lose momentum and … well, all the usual crap one thinks when one has anxiety.

But I’m still excited. I’m so excited that I’m considering going back to Tallulah, just because I want to get it written, I want it to work, I might be able to make it work idea-wise now – so all that’s left is the process. And if I’m going ham on process for the rest of the year – discipline, I guess, is the word I’m really looking for – then I would love it if Tallulah could benefit from it.

A lot could go wrong here, but that’s also kind of why I’m excited, because this is a chance to get it right instead. Put one on the map for my self-initiated anti-anxiety treatment. And to be honest, I have wanted for so, so long to just go really full-on with something challenging. Too long, maybe. But I guess so long as you get there eventually …

In the meantime, I’m going to try and start off with my current writing project and see if I want to stick with it – if not, welcome back Tallulah. And hell, maybe welcome back Tallulah regardless. Because I think I’ve got it as well worked-out as it will ever be without it turning into another ROTM, and much as I want to get it right, I also want to get it done. The process is what I’m going to take with me – at some point, I’m going to have to leave every single one of my stories behind. I’m going to have to be done with them. And I think I’m finally getting okay with the idea that Tallulah might not be as good as I fantasise about it being. It could just be done. And that would be brilliant in and of itself.

So yeah. Excited. Doubtful, hesitant, but that’s to be expected at this point. Comes with the territory. And it doesn’t stop me from feeling excited …

Almost like being a teenager again, when I still cared about things, much as it pained me. Only in a good way this time, because I’m not actually a teenager. Silver linings.

… but I don’t *want* to.

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone.

It’s that time when many of us start thinking of resolutions to take forward into the new year. Sometimes we stick with them, most of the time we don’t, but it’s a fun little ritual nonetheless. I assume it’s fun at least, otherwise why the fuck does everybody try and pump themselves up to do it every year?

I do have some resolutions. One of them is to continue taking risks. I took some big risks this year and they all paid off in spades; I’m trying to get myself to be more open to risk-taking, not least for the fact that what I perceive as the threshold across which “riskiness” lies may not actually be accurate. It may be a lot further out than I think it is, and in fact I’m counting on it. But, of course, even if I do end up accidentally taking an actual risk – great! Learning to deal with risks and the inevitability of failure that comes with them is an important part of life; I haven’t gotten to that part of life yet, even at the dire age of 28, so I’d better get cracking.

Another: force myself to do things that I’d like to do. Sort of in the same vein as the first one, but something that I’ve learnt through writing my shitty YA werewolf Nano novel this year: it’s actually quite hard for me to follow my feelings without being hindered by my inner critic, but it’s something that I’m slowly loosening up about. My big rant last night about how I didn’t know what direction to go in with my novel really came down to the fact that there was no idea that really grabbed me, not even a cliche, problematic idea that I would secretly enjoy indulging in. Nothing. And when it comes to the first draft, nothing is always, always worse than bad. In fact nothing is as bad as it gets. Bad isn’t even bad, because the first draft is destined to turn into the second draft at some point, and even then that’s not where it ends; eventually it becomes the final draft, and that’s where you start worrying about good and bad, not before. Before that, it’s all just words, and words are all you need. And what I’ve learnt through writing this novel is that if I make myself write what I actually want to write, it works out pretty well. The problem I now face is that I actually don’t want anything, which is a new problem for me to face, but it’s a sign that at least I’ve progressed and am getting stuck further down the road than previously. This resolution doesn’t only concern writing, but writing is the safest example of it that I have to hand, so that’s where I’m going to start.

Yet another: seriously, keep on top of academic stuff. I had this huge resolution about not ever pulling an all-nighter again after the last one, and it looks like I’m setting myself for the third in as many months, and I don’t like it. It occurs to me that all the wisdom I’ve spouted over the years regarding how to get things done, at least in the academic world, is a pile of crap, and I might actually need outside help. Which is something I’ve actually never seriously considered. I guess I can file that away under “take more risks”. But more to the point is that, goddammit, I like academia. I enjoy academia. I really do. I love the feeling of finding a great piece of research and contemplating how it relates to my argument; I love finding an argument and grappling with it until we come to an intimate understanding of how to go forward together. Because, at the end of the day, it’s just another form of storytelling. And I want to remember how much I enjoy it. So my third resolution is less “keep on top of study workload” and more “allow myself to enjoy academia”. Because I’m allowed to enjoy it, even to the detriment of my creative writing projects. And that’s something I want to get used to the idea of.

Which brings me to the next resolution: seriously, remember that I’m not a Writer. I gave up that mantle last year and gained a whole world full of possibilities, and in the 12 months between then and now I’ve just filled it up again with Writing, and I don’t like it. All the other resolutions I’ve outlined above are really just ways to force that space to remain open so that I can fill it with other things, and even to let myself not write for extended periods of time, because I’m doing other stuff. Other stuff that I like. Because I do actually like to do things that aren’t writing. Or, rather, I’d like to try them out. I was exactly at this point last year when I had this big revelation, and I didn’t take advantage of it. Well, I’m going to take advantage of it. The day is long; the day is also hot because this is New Zealand and we’re getting to the beginning of Summer while the rest of the world is in the middle of Winter and also we don’t have an ozone layer, fun times for all. That is at least a small part of why I haven’t been as diligently working on my MA as I should have been.

Next up is probably the hardest one: make myself do things that I know I will regret not doing.

And yes, this would, in fact, cover things like “getting an early start on revising that MA chapter so that I don’t end up destroying my immune system from lack of sleep once a month”. But also things like making that terrible pun or joke that pops into my head, as soon as it pops into my head. Things like saying what I mean, or doing what I mean, instead of writing it off as pointless. And doing things that I’m obliged to do. Having said that, I’ve got to get better at declining to be obliged to do certain things more often. But that’s a very specific sphere of things that I want to stop feeling like I have to do. There’s another specific sphere of things that I do have to do, and that I want to prove to myself – and others – that I can, in fact, reliably get them done.

I guess, really, this resolution is “become a person that people can depend on”. Where “people” includes me. I don’t think I trust myself as much as I can afford to, and as a result of that I end up keeping myself from doing or trying to do certain things, because I think I’ll just fuck it up. Like this final batch of chapters for my Nano novel, or the time it’ll take to revise my MA chapter before submitting it to my supervisor on the evening of the 5th (or morning of the 6th, but let’s be optimistic). I want to discover that I’m actually someone who is capable of getting that shit done. So I’d better start discovering.

I always feel the urge to do something profound and insightful for big anniversary or milestone posts, like New Year’s, Christmas, my birthday, anniversaries of this blog, that sort of thing. I always feel inadequate when I can’t manage it. But at the end of the day, much as I like having this blog around to vent into and share some writing experiences through, it’s just a blog. I’m not some internet mogul whose every word is pored over and analysed for depth and nuance; I’m a part of the vocal fandom of the internet, the “prosumer” that media studies scholars (of which I am one, which is weird to think about) are wont to champion. And so, at last, I come to the final resolution for the new year, the 6th resolution of 2016.

Make this blog the blog I want it to be.

I don’t know what that is, but I know that I’d like it to be more considered, less insular; I’d like to feel like I’m a part of something, rather than just sharing the space. A little romantic perhaps, but why the hell not? I spend most of my time on the internet and isolated, and as a result I end up making resolutions like these all the time: responses to my own habituated lack of engagement with the wider world. I want to be more conscientious, and I think that’s what I want this blog to be, too: conscientious. A considered, intentional effort. I mean I’ll still vent like an exhaust pipe, because I’m still me, but woven between those typical posts I’d like to start seeing something a bit cleaner, and a bit more like the welcoming ritual of the Hero’s Journey that I wax lyrical about every so often, and the fact that what I love about it is that it feels inclusive.

I guess overall, my resolution is to do things that make me feel included, and I think the first step there is to start being inclusive.

And yes, that does include my writing.

Of which I aim to do a lot of in the new year, and every year after that. But not only writing. I think I’m done with only writing; I’ve had more than enough of that for one lifetime, and one lifetime is all I’ve got.

Happy New Year, everyone.

 

All I Want for Christmas is Words

Specifically, I want words to be added to the sum total of words contained within my various word-consisting-of projects, such as my MA and my shitty YA werewolf novel/writing exercise/vaguely-defined narrative ritual. Probably not today, because today is Christmas and family stuff happens on Christmas. But the day after that, definitely. Especially since that’s going to be the day that I have 10 days left to finish revising my MA chapter, and by “finish” I mean the other thing.

I have gone for a good nine years just really relishing Christmas when it rolls around, and that’s starting to wear off. It feels like an omen of one chapter of my life ending and another beginning, one where something else makes me all nostalgic and pleasantly wistful – or where I move on from such things altogether and find other forms of emotional sustenance. Either way, I think creating habits that make me feel empowered and invigorated is going to be the best present I can hope for.

Whatever it is you’re celebrating around this time of year: go with love, peace and fulfillment, and thanks for reading.

Nanowrimo 2015: Last Friday Night (9566)

So after my big three-year anniversary non-event post, I sat down and did some writing. I was hesitant at first – I wanted to rework the scene with the twist that had made everything seem clear at the time but now felt “too clever”, and was planning to revert back to something super-generic and contrived.

I didn’t do that.

What I did do was go back and rewrite the entire fucking chapter, and then basically double the original word count.

Last Friday Night (yesterday) I wrote 9566 words in just over 5 hours. And it felt fucking awesome, because not only was I writing for 5 hours, but the writing worked.

And I did change the scene. I just didn’t change it the way I thought I wanted to.

I actually kept the twist, and just twisted it into a more conventional shape – one that more resembled a story. And it’s working. I’m still not finished with that chapter; I don’t think I’ll do any writing this weekend, just to ensure that I actually have a break, but all I really need to write is the ending, which is the end of the … I have no idea how many acts I have. I might nut that out over the weekend. Shouldn’t be hard.

In fact, it should be very enjoyable.

Because writing “out of order” is proving to be very useful. Now that I’ve got this chapter all but written and I know it’s a transition from act X into act Y, and because I know that said transition will work in a story, I now have an actually pretty clear path forward from here: I have to find a way to make my story work around it and, because I was aiming for a storytelling exercise rather than a story per se, this new boundary around my creative freedom actually gives me a lot of cool opportunities, and forces me to make some quick, decisive … uh … decisions.

Anyway I’m looking forward to it and I think I’ve set myself up for something really cool.

This isn’t the kind of thing I could have done withTallulah, for instance, and that’s because Tallulah was a story I was working out as I wrote it. It wasn’t meant to be a writing exercise that turned into a story; it was meant to be Profound and Meaningful and Authentic, and if you look closely you’ll notice how none of those words are “story”, and that’s why it didn’t work. Which is also why I couldn’t have written it out of order like this Nano project. I wasn’t happy with convention and going by the books; I had Something To Say with Tallulah – I just couldn’t decide what. So what I’m thinking is that unless I can get to the point with Tallulah where I’m no longer hung-up on my own literary pretensions, it won’t ever get written, regardless of whether or not I’m “officially” writing it or not. Can’t tell a story that’s not a story.

Which is what this shitty YA werewolf thing appears to be after all, and I like it. After much trepidation and doubt, it seems that it’s actually turning out to be exactly what I hoped it would be: an exercise in coherent storytelling that I not only don’t have to think too hard about to make work quite effectively, but that is getting done pretty fast because everything that has to happen to make it feel like a proper story is, by and large, incredibly predictable. As they say, this one basically writes itself.

But not tonight, because I have Interview with the Vampire to read, not just because I’m into vampires enough to acknowledge that Anne Rice is probably someone whose work I should have at least some familiarity with, but also because I’m into vampire enough that I’m going to write about them someday, and this counts as research.

In the meantime my word count for Nanowrimo stands at 30531, which is pretty fucking impressive, even though over half of that was already written. The point is that this novel is three-fifths of the way done if I stick to the Nanowrimo limit, and while I expect it to be a tad longer than 50k words will allow, you never know. We’ll see what tomorrow’s planning yields.

Tomorrow. Sleep now. Or internet.

Probably internet, let’s be honest.

Nanowrimo 2015: Three Years of Writing About Writing

It was actually yesterday that I hit my 3-year anniversary with this blog, and I fully intended to write something to commemorate it. Instead I went to see Spectre with my family and, I have to say, I really wish we would stop endorsing James Bond as a cultural product. When people talk about the Mary Sue, they’re talking about James Bond (and not, ironically, the actual character Mary Sue who was the trope-namer): he’s always right, he’s got people tripping over themselves to please him while being the biggest asshole the world has ever seen, and even if he does make legitimate mistakes the story will always give him an easy way to “redeem” himself. Never mind the Bond Girls. When are people going to get sick of this shit?

But in any case, it’s been three years of doing whatever it is that I do on this blog, and Nanowrimo 2015 has taught me a few things already. One: huge realisations that you have in the middle of writing really seriously are not as good as sticking to your plan, so that big twist I surprised myself with the other day is getting probably written out for something far more generic.

Two: huge realisations that you have in the middle of writing are probably good for something – just not necessarily this thing. That big twist was not a good idea, but what it represented was absolutely vital to the story, because it told me what the story was. I just implemented it awkwardly.

Three: having something to write about really fucking helps when you have a blog that’s about writing. I haven’t updated this blog every single day this month, but it’s certainly more than I was doing – and with more to actually write about – than the past few months. Maybe even the past year. A lot of what ends up going on this site is the odd book review punctuated with dozens of “so I know I should be writing but here’s how guilty I feel about not doing that instead” posts. And I really am sick of doing that. I don’t like updating this blog when there’s nothing to report – and yes, I still think that it’s important to acknowledge the loops you can get trapped in as a writer, because that’s part of the reality of it. But it still feels shitty to write about, like it compounds the existing problems of guilt and being unproductive by turning it into a status report that I feel compelled to apologise and self-help my way out of. I like having an objective to report on, and not only does it give me something to blog about, but it’s a chance for me to find ways to make opportunities to have things to blog about – and write about. Got nothing to write? Find something. Be active in your own search for meaning. So I want to internalise this lesson and take it forward with me for however long it is that I keep this blog around. I know I said at one point that after 500 posts I was going to quit, but that was when I was still writing Tallulah.

Four: I think I’m still writing Tallulah.

I can’t fucking quit it. I’m definitely happy not writing it right now, because it was going nowhere and really getting me down. But doing Nanowrimo has recharged my batteries, and having an entirely different project to focus on is giving me all sorts of answers to sticky questions I had with Tallulah that, until now, I had no satisfactory answers to. So maybe after Nanowrimo. Or after the thing I write after Nanowrimo. But I can’t make myself stick to this resolution of giving up entirely on it and treating it as a dead project; I’m not taking it seriously, and I may as well admit it. I may as well listen to what I’m telling myself. There’s something in there that I absolutely love and want to make work, and while it’s definitely time for a real break, it’s not time to write it off completely.

That or I just lack conviction or whatever look I’m not in the mood for an existential crisis okay get off my back

So – yeah. I always wish these anniversary posts were a bit more profound, but I have nothing profound to say today. I didn’t really have anything profound to say yesterday, either.

I do have some things to write, though, and they’re all going better than they were this time last year. And that’s definitely worth commemorating.

Please accept my third thank-you for sticking with me, whether you’re new to the blog or have been here since the beginning. I do want to find a new tagline, since “writing about writing” isn’t exactly unique. But then again, the tagline isn’t the point. The writing is the point.

Guess I’ll go do that, then.

Nanowrimo 2015: 1473

Words per day to finish on time: 1979.

At this rate I will finish on: March 18, 2016.

Well, it’s nice to have statistics that update themselves. It means I can make them change however I want.

I wrote more of my shitty YA werewolf thing and HOLY FUCK IT ACTUALLY SORT OF FEELS LIKE A STORY NOW

I surprised myself with a little twist today. This scene I’ve been writing, probably the most crucially important plot-point in the story, had been going one particular way. I had an end goal, I had really thin justifications for why that end goal was what it was, and I was going to stick to it. After all, I was here to write something generic and predictable, right? Why bother trying to make it good? I just want it to feel like a story, and the kind of story I was interested in telling was a shitty generic one with lots of predictable contrivance. Nothing wrong with that.

But then I realised that doing this wouldn’t just shake things up: it would shake things up by making the story better.

I can’t tell you exactly what I did, but I can use an example from another story. In this case, I will use the example of City of Bones, and specifically the issue of Clary being the main character when Jace is the one who actually, like, does stuff.

Consider what City of Bones would have been like if Clary had been the one who did the things instead. If instead of watching the fight between Valentine, Jace and Luke at the end of the book, she’d actually participated; if instead of just being dragged from Plot Point A to B by the Shadowhunters, she’d come up with ideas on what to do next on her own and, because she’s the main character, the plot and supporting cast followed her lead. But you can’t do that, because conventionally speaking YA heroines remain seated while their boyfriends stand, and that’s How It’s Done.

It’s a contrivance.

Obviously it’s not just a contrivance; it’s a contrivance that is bound-up in cultural perceptions and expectations of women and girls that make it appear valid and normal and not anything to think about, really, because that’s just the way things are. But really pay attention to that story, if you ever have the desire to read it, and consider that Clary isn’t just the POV character; she’s the heroine. She’s the Special. She’s the one around whom the entire plot revolves; and it does. She is important to the plot, because she is important to Valentine’s plans, just like Harry is important to the plot in Harry Potter because he is instrumental to Voldemort’s plans. Gosh, I wonder why that parallel works so well, end obligatory joke about Cassandra Clare and HP fanfic. Clary should be the one driving the action, not driven there by her Draco in Leather Pants chaperone. It would make the story feel more like a story and less like a fantasy.

Now, if Cassandra Clare set out to tell a fantasy rather than a story, there’s no issue with that. I have issues with stories that are blatant fantasies, which is why I couldn’t get past chapter 3 or 4 of Hounded by Kevin Hearne; using Irish goddesses as fuck-buddy cameos does not sit well with me, especially with a lead protagonist as self-satisfied and wanky as the Iron Druid. But it at least had a lead character who did the things rather than having somebody do them for him; it was the other elements that put me off the story as a whole. It’s not something that makes a story good; it’s something that makes a story feel like a story, in the same way that having a good rhythm and catchy tune makes a song feel like a song rather than a messy noise.

The thing is that, with City of Bones, it would have been seen as subversive to have Clary do the things in a lot of ways – not remotely interesting or progressive ways, but it would have challenged ingrained gender stereotypes about what main characters can and cannot do – not just that, but do and do not do – in the stories that we tell. It would have been subversive, yes, but it would also have made for a story that, ironically, felt more like a traditional story. Because in traditional stories, the main character is the one who does the things.

It’s that kind of “subversion” that I surprised myself with today, the kind that is actually far less progressive than it seems on the surface because, when you look at it closely, it’s actually incredibly traditional. It’s just that certain traditions have a gender-wall around them. And when it comes to storytelling, those walls need to be torn down.

I wasn’t trying to be subversive; I was trying to get at the core of my story. And I succeeded. I still think this story is the most normative thing I’ve written or tried to write or thought of writing since I was a teenager, but maybe not as normative as all that.

Anyway I’m feeling good, and even good-er after updating my Nanowrimo word-count to include the stuff I’d written earlier this year, taking my current total up to 23497.

Also taking my “words written today” count up to 22445, and my daily average to 3356. At this rate I will finish on November 15, 2015.

Guys, I’m on a roll. I’ve got the stats to prove it.

Nanowrimo 2015: Day Twone

Yesterday, I made the brave decision to pick a project that’s been sitting on the back burner for a very long time. It’s very ambitious, a story that requires a lot of clear and critical thinking on my behalf: at its best it is a biting social satire that interrogates the toxicity that is bound up in male and masculine identity, particularly the issue of male entitlement. I wasn’t sure that I had the chops to pull it off, but I thought: fuck it. You only live once, and if I keep waiting until I’m ready to tell this story I might never get it written.

I created my novel.

I went to sleep.

I woke up this morning thinking “um NO” and replaced it with my shitty YA werewolf project yaaayyyyy

… no but seriously I am really looking forward to diving back into my werewolf project. It’s the most invigorating thing I’ve written in years, and I’m including Tallulah in that. Tallulah needed too much consideration from me, a level of consideration that, while I may be able to conjure up in an academic context, I find it much harder to do when writing creatively. When writing creatively, it only seems to get done if I have the perfect blend of appropriation and copycat tactics with just enough of a slant to make it seem like a creative twist.

And already I’ve run into a problem: partly because I’m “cheating” with this werewolf story because I’ve already written over 20k words for it, I am no longer In The Zone with it. I’ve known this for a long time, certainly since I tried to pick it back up a month or so ago and the excitement and vigor was nowhere to be found for me to pick up again with it. And even the prospect of a looming 30th of November end-date hasn’t given me the sense of urgency I was hoping to lean on for support and mind-clearing duty. I’m not sure if I feel too comfortable or just utterly resigned to failure – perhaps both – but I’m not off to the best start with my return to this write-as-fast-as-you-can experiment.

Then again, Nanowrimo is about getting something written, yes, but it’s also a chance to explore how you write. If a time-limit isn’t giving me urgency, then perhaps I can do something else to get myself back in the zone. And thankfully I have a precedent with this particular project: it’s the first novel I’ve written out-of-sequence. About a third of the 20k words that exist happen much further on in the story than the rest, and while I may not be able to write as fast as I can think, I can at least write scenes in the order that I think of them, rather than forcing myself to write from start to finish and inevitably ending up with a lot of filler. I don’t want filler. I’ll have filler regardless, I expect, but the less I have to cut out later the better. And also my experiment relies on having zero filler, because my experiment is one of seeing how coherent of a story I can tell with the least amount of consideration and maximum writing speed possible. So if I don’t have an idea, I shouldn’t try to discover one – I should let the story write itself. Or, in other words, the ideas I want to have, ideally, are really predictable and generic ones that seem obvious to me because I understand narrative convention. This is really a test of how much I’ve learnt about storytelling in the past 28 years, and I have high expectations of myself in that regard. Maybe too high, but hey, reach for the stars and all that.

Fingers crossed. The point is not to try and be generic; the point is to try and not stop myself from being generic. It’s to say yes to the most obvious thing, even if the most obvious thing is incredibly offensive. Because that’s something I can deal with later – if there even is a later. I may never touch this story again after November 30th. But I don’t want to think about that, either. I just want to think about the story.

But most of all, I want to tell it, as fast and as spontaneously as possible. I want to force myself into tough decisions that need to be made quickly, to corner myself and break out of it with a “oh well obviously X stereotypical plot event has to happen because That’s How Stories Work”. That’s what I really desperately want. I really do think I’m putting too much pressure on myself.

But I also want the pressure. Because it fucking works. And this is the perfect excuse to see just how far I can push it.

For now, though, sleep. When I wake up I know exactly what scene I want to write, exactly how it’ll pan out, because That’s How Stories Work. I hope I enjoy it.

Either way, at least I’ve got something to blog about again.

Cross-disciplinary action

It turns out that I actually grossly underestimate myself, because according to my thesis supervisor my thesis is going really well.

This assessment comes after meeting with him today to discuss the revised chapter breakdown I sent to him – we also inevitably discussed a lot more than that, and he reckons I’ve got a really solid, original angle to approach this topic from and that I’ll probably be ready to start writing the actual thesis thing by October.

Interestingly, I agree with him.

I was expecting to sort of nod and laugh and agree and then walk away in a cold sweat of terror at being expected to start writing a thesis in three weeks, but the truth is that I actually think his assessment is accurate to my ability to perform. I can do it.

And I think it’s because part of my not taking study as seriously as I probably should is that I think it’s going to be harder than it actually is.

I mean who knows; in three weeks time I may discover that I’m just as inadequate as I think I am and that I have no business being anywhere within ten miles of a university, let alone Masters level study, but I don’t think that’s true. I think I’m actually prepared for this.

What I also think is that this thesis is going so well that I need to find a way to apply whatever’s working in this process to my other writing process: my novel-writing process.

This thesis goes against everything I do when I write creatively. I have a fucking chapter breakdown. I don’t even have a rough plan – that I like – that I’m using for Tallulah. I have plenty of notes, but they’re the note equivalent of a motorway pileup; I don’t know where it started, certain notes only make sense if you take them in the context of older notes that I have completely forgotten I ever wrote and therefore am not assuming are in play, and all I know is that it is a pileup and I’m stuck in the middle of it.

No wonder I don’t want to write it.

The other thing is that trying to apply “whatever it is that’s working” in my thesis to my novels is a really big, broad, vague statement. And I mean honestly, what’s working with my thesis is that I have a supervisor who I am accountable to for my work, or lack thereof. I can’t really translate that into my writing process.

Or can I?

Is the answer obvious enough yet?

It’s yes. Yes I can.

I need a proper wall-planner. That’s the first step. That’s going to be my “supervisor” for whatever novel-writing project to embark upon.

I also need a plan. A plan can change, but in order for that change to be meaningful I need to practice what I used to preach back in the early days of this blog: be able to both commit entirely to a plan and reserve the right to completely change my mind at any time. Because that is what’s working with this thesis. However the other thing that’s working is having somebody to bounce ideas off. I can’t really do that by myself, no matter how committed-yet-changeable I am, regardless of how wall-planner-y my wall planner is.

What I can do, though, is read a lot of stuff that seems similar to what I’m writing, and just read a lot about writing in general.

I can learn craft.

hate the idea of learning craft.

But I also love it, and I think at the very least it’s a kind of sounding-board. I love narrative structure and conventions and all the rest of it, so it actually makes a lot of sense. And I’ll disagree with tons of it anyway so I probably won’t become a mindless sheep just by finding out what Robert McKee has to say about the Hero’s Journey. I probably won’t have my entire identity replaced by a line-toeing brain slug just by learning craft.

And, of course, I can invest in something like Nanowrimo, or a writing community, if I want people to bounce ideas off and talk shop with.

The answer to my issue, the way to apply what’s working with my thesis-writing to my novel-writing, is to take it seriously. To invest, rather than theorise and assume. To treat it as something I’m living through rather than something I could or could not “do”, as if it’s in some “doing things” space that I can choose to visit or not visit. The answer is to treat it as the material that I am constructed from.

This year I came to the life-changing conclusion that I’m not a Writer. I still maintain that.

But I can still act like one.

And the thing is, I can take what’s working about my thesis and apply it to anything I want to do, from finally starting my YouTube channel to my exercise and diet to drawing or playing guitar or singing every day. I just need to approach it as something I’m living, rather than something I’m just interacting with. Because you don’t get the motivation to do things, sometimes, until after you start doing them.

So, in short, my plan is this:

  • Get a better wall-planner and find a place to actually put it so that I can actually use it to keep me on track
  • Read books in my field (genre is probably not going to work out); read books on craft (such as finishing Joseph Campbell)
  • Make a chapter breakdown (which actually did work for my first revision of Tallulah go figure)
  • Seek out other writers
  • After recovering from my anxiety-induced coma, talk shop with said other writers

I sense I’m still waffling on those last two, but the first three seem doable.

Who ever said an Arts degree wouldn’t give you any life skills?

Let’s see this through.