I’m calling it.

I already called it, last time, but there was still about a week to go at that point. Now there’s today and tomorrow, and ain’t nothing happening in either of those two cases.

I have finished Nanowrimo 2017 having written 16232 words out of 50000. And that’s fine.

What I think I’m going to do, though, is actually look at everything I’ve written during this month, even the stuff that “doesn’t count”. Just as an experiment. I feel that differentiating between writing that “counts” and writing that doesn’t is in some ways important; it’s a kind of accountability, distinguishing between the writing that gets you to where you’ve made plans to go, and the writing that gives you an excuse to circle the block one more time. But lately, I’m starting to think that this distinction has not always done me a lot of good. Because writing is writing, and if we’re just talking writing – if we’re just talking about how much I’ve done, regardless of what that “much” consists of, specifically – I think I’ve done quite a bit.

Let’s have a look.

  • Game Notes

Every now and then, I like to indulge in the making of games. Well, “making” is perhaps a strong word, but making notes and rules and mechanics for games that I would like to exist. Since I have recently given myself permission to write things that are not just books or essays, but also include things like screenplays and panel treatments, I’ve decided to include games in this new phase of my writing career as well.

Good thing too, because it amounts to (approximately) 26185 words.

I say approximately because there’s a lot of copy-and-pasting of words that have to do with categories of things – characters, abilities, etc. – that I have been working on and modifying over the course of this month. I went over them once briefly in each instance, and reduced my word-count in those documents by an approximate figure. Even so, I reckon that total number is somewhere closer to 24000 words – but that’s still 24k words, on top of my existing 16k words. Already, I’m at over 40k words written this month.

Off to a good start, then …

  • Experiments

There’s some stuff that I write just for myself, stuff that is not meant to be shared with anybody else. Nevertheless, these are earnest writing exercises, and I would normally count them, even if they’re only ever meant to be private. Another 5257 words there.

  • Book Planning

My most detested writing habit, the main reason why I even bother to differentiate between what writing “counts” and what doesn’t. But I’m going to count it now, because it takes time and energy and is, ultimately, in service of creating a story, even if it often does more harm than good. I’m also counting here because I want it to do good, so perhaps if I account for it, I will shift my attitude in that direction. Add another 5687 words.

That alone is more than 50k words written in November. Hah!

But I’m still not done.

I am not going to count my academic writing, because that’s writing I had to do – I’m only counting writing that I elected to do. That may change in the future, but for now I’m sticking to it. Also it would take forever to count.

So instead, let’s talk co-writing …

  • Co-writing project

I never counted this one towards my Nano goals because it was a co-writing venture, and I wanted to keep it separate from my own personal goals. Also, screenplays take up fewer words, generally speaking. But it’s all still writing that I did, so …

Make it another 2510 right there. That’s just the screenwriting itself, not the planning notes – mostly because I wrote those notes with my co-writing partner (who honestly did most of that writing anyway, as well as most of the writing that has been done full-stop on this project), and I am not prepared to try and figure out which words exactly were mine and which were hers right now. And again, I’m not the only one responsible for that writing, and it seems silly to try and extract my portion of it just to add towards this total (especially since it’s now past 52k words, yeeeeeeeeah boiiiiiiii)

And no, I’m still not done. There is one more category of writing that I must add to the tally, and I’m pretty sure you know what it is.

No, it’s not my revision notes for Tallulah, because I just don’t think it’s useful to count words written in the service of revision, because it’s not about the number of words produced, but the purpose of those words. And that’s something you can’t really measure quantitatively, or if you can I don’t know how.

No, the final category is …

  • Blogging

11994. Not including this post. Also not including drafts I wrote but didn’t complete this month.

My point is …

I’ve actually written way more than 50k words this month.

In fact, judging by this, it’s safe to say that I write way more than 50k words every month. And that’s something to think about as well.

Okay, let’s be all officious and shit with this; my grand total is: 67865, holy fuck have I written more than 50k words this month. And that’s cherry-picking, too. Hell, take away the game notes and that’s still just over 40k words. I didn’t do too badly at all.

And I think I’m going to use this as an exercise in rethinking my priorities in terms of what writing “counts” and what doesn’t. Yes, there is the point that all of this is being very generous to myself (I am totally updating my word-count to include it though because I’m an adult), and that part of the reason we count words is to identify progress on one specific project. But this Nano, it was about a bunch of projects anyway. It was about getting myself to write. And again, even without the game notes, I did a lot of writing this month. A lot of writing. And it was writing with a point.

Writers are great at undermining themselves, particularly in terms of how productive they are, how much effort they’ve put in, how much of what they’ve done with their time is “productive” or “real writing”, etc. And there’s good reasons for that. But just in terms of writing itself, regardless of what project it’s in service of, I think it’s good to keep track of that every now and again, just to remind ourselves that, actually, we writers are very goddamn productive. As in we produce vast quantities of words – and as everyone who has ever given writing advice has said, more than once: at the end of the day, the only thing that matters, and the only thing that works, is actually sitting the fuck down and writing something.

And apparently, I have done that. A lot. Just this month.

So all in all, I think there are worse ways to end Nanowrimo.



Starting Today

  1. Always commit absolutely
  2. Always reserve the right to change your mind, at any time, for any reason, with no judgment
  3. Always keep everything you write

I said when I started this blog that I didn’t want it to be an advice blog – well, that’s only mostly true. There are three pieces of advice I will always give, always stress the invaluable importance of, because they’re the kind of advice that I need, and I know a lot of other people do as well. And I definitely need them right now.

I have not been following rules 1 and 2 for a very long time, and when I do that, I find that I very naturally fall into the “hypothetical writing” trap, where all my writing is “what if this happened” or “you know, I could do this“. And I even found a counter to it: turn it into a conversation instead of just a huge rant – but I haven’t been doing that, either. I’ve just let myself keep writing in the hypothetical, not committed, not torn myself away from my myriad distractions so that I can actually write effectively, and it’s taken its toll. I need to stop.

I wrote nothing (nothing that counted) yesterday and it didn’t feel good, but mind you not much of anything yesterday felt good, it was just kind of a shitty flat day where I wrote a bunch of crap that didn’t count because it was all hypothetical writing and let’s just say that this is why I am Starting Today. I am pulling out that old cliche because right now – starting today, in fact – it’s exactly what I need to get back on track.

So Starting Today, it’s all for real. No hypotheticals. Aaalll the stress of “getting it right” the first time, so that I have the perfect excuse to get back to actually following my own cardinal rules of writing. I tend to not write because of my stupid perfectionist streak that ruins everything in my life. One of the reasons I keep coming back to those three rules – and in particular the first two; the third one is easy enough to follow, though no less important – is because it seems to be a brain-hack of sorts, a way to trick my inner perfectionist into thinking it’s getting what it wants – which is to criticise, not to make things better – while at the same time completely undermining its efforts. Rule 1 – to commit absolutely – means that whatever it is I’m doing, I’m doing. I am writing that shit, I am sticking to the plan, I am doing it the way I said I would do it, even if it doesn’t work.

And this is vitally important, because Rule 2 – to reserve the right to change your mind at any time for any reason – means that when it doesn’t work, you can immediately fix it. Immediately. None of this “wait for revision” shit; you just get in there and make it work right now. Do these two things seem completely at odds with each other? Yes, they do. But it’s much less about taking those rules literally, as instructions, than it is about taking them on as mindsets. As attitudes. Doing most things in life is about your attitude when you attempt them. Thinking “I can’t do this because I’m not good enough for X and Y reasons” will get you nowhere in a hurry. Thinking “this is the plan and I’m sticking to the plan no matter what because it’s the plan” will give you drive, determination, a sense of purpose to your endeavour; and thinking “this is shit I can do better than this and I’m going to do it now” will give you a sense of mastery, of flair, of showing off how brilliant you are and basking in the afterglory. We human beings are complex, and we are capable of thinking and believing seemingly contradictory things simultaneously.

Might as well use it to our advantage.


Part of the commitment I’ve been feeling the lack of ties back to these two principles. I have been permitting myself to just take it easy, and I did need that. I’m going to keep needing that every now and again, because everyone needs a break, and in one form or another we take that break, whether it’s by doing sloppy work because you resent still having to do it, procrastinating until the last minute because you’re so used to working non-stop that you don’t know how to regulate your time in a healthy way, or having a nervous breakdown because you’ve pushed yourself too hard for too long, refusing to look at the reasons why you thought you had to prove that you could.

I might be projecting slightly here.

And that’s an area where my three rules don’t help me out, or not in an obvious way at least. I guess a fourth rule, which was birthed when I let – and made – myself watch Stranger Things last year because I realised I was distracting myself when I literally had nothing to distract myself from, and not even enjoying it. That rule doesn’t have a name yet, but it’s also about being conscientious – just not about work and work alone. I guess it’s Rule 1, just applied to recreation – if you’re not working, then you’re not fucking working. Enjoy it, because now that’s the plan. You aren’t allowed to work when you’re Not Working, so don’t even think about it.

And, of course, Rule 2 still applies, or so I would think – it didn’t have to apply when I was watching Stranger Things, though, because I really enjoyed that show and am very glad, even grateful, that I made myself take the time to indulge myself in watching it.

So I guess maybe I’ve been a bit better about following these rules than I thought – just not with writing. I applied Rule 1 very hard to reading The Dresden Files this year, for instance, and other assorted Urban Fantasy pastries (I’m up to book 5 in the Kate Daniels series and have finally made myself begin the Anita Blake series), and did not let guilt stop me from said indulgence, and I genuinely feel that I’ve become a slightly better human being for it. So that’s good.

But I need to re-apply it to writing. And, I think, take something else away from this: when it’s not being applied to work, Rule 1 will very easily overrule Rule 2 if you let it, because if you’re doing shit you enjoy, you’re not going to want to change very much.

Or maybe I just need a Rule 4: take reasonable time off and have some fucking fun, dumbass. That seems much easier.

But I need the rules, whatever the number, because I actually am starting to miss writing. Yes, I did say recently that I hated writing, but sometimes you just need to say something, get it off your chest, and once you do it loses its power, because it’s no longer relevant. I said back when I discovered I was Not A Writer Anymore that I still wanted to act like I was a Writer, because it worked for getting writing done, and writing – rather than Writing – was something that I still wanted to do with my life. It still is. And I see now that one of the reasons it hasn’t been working so well for me is this lack of commitment, and lack of conscientiousness around my writing habits. I have some good ones. I committed to those good habits while I was working on Tallulah the first time, and again when I was working on the revision. It fought off the “hypothetical writing” trap. I haven’t been able to make myself do it for anything less “serious” than Tallulah yet, but I want to work out the trick to it. I think it’s just commitment.

So, coming back to Nanowrimo commitments – they’re still on. It just might not be 50k words by the end of the month, but it’ll be something. And more importantly, it will be something every day. Because what I’m starting to realise is that I’m actually much more disciplined than I think I am – not because my habits reflect it, but because what I miss right now is the discipline. Because that’s what commitment is: the foundation upon which discipline is based. Discipline, when I think of the word, is just what happens when you turn your commitment into a habit.

Which – I can hardly believe I’m saying this – I think I’ve actually done. Because I feel a distinct urge to get back to it. I’ve re-wired myself to want discipline – not so that I never fall off the wagon, but so that I notice when I do.

want to keep doing it. If that’s not a sign, I’m not a writer.

Which I guess I am.

But not because I have nothing else going on. Not anymore.

Speaking of which look forward to a totally off-topic Justice League rant coming up next time because sometimes when you get something off your chest you realise how much more you had left to say and boy do I have some Things To Say about this movie …



Doing is believing

Last night was pretty rough for me. Having anxiety involves a lot of lying awake in bed and ruminating over all of your moral shortcomings and mortal shames. Thankfully, at this point in my recovery – it’s odd to think of it as a recovery, but it is, an ongoing one – I wake up from those bad nights feeling cleansed and unburdened, and even with a few solutions to deal with the various grievances aired, vented and exorcised in the night.

One of these is writing. I have lamented so many times about letting opportunities to dive headlong into a writing project pass me by, about intentionally keeping myself from taking opportunities to enjoy writing because, I dunno, toxic habits die hard, and a particularly toxic one is the “but it’ll take effort” excuse. It’s not a rational excuse, which is why I keep making it. Mental illness will do that to you.

But no more. The Ubermensch has spoken!

Because this year, I’m going to finish my god-awful fucking YA werewolf novel, and then I’m going to go back to my Christmas story. I’m going to read over it and make notes, and I’m going to read over it again and make different notes, and then I’m going to discover that I have a plan and fucking execute it.

I’m going to do this because I do have good ideas, and they deserve to be worked on – but more than that, because this morning I’m feeling optimistic and life-affirming: because deserve to work on them. To have awesome ideas and stories to be responsible for developing. It’s a good feeling.

And it won’t get done unless I do it, so I’m going to make myself do it.

It’s the same obstacle as it always is: getting started is the hardest part. I still want to finish Tallulah as well, and it’s much closer to being completed than my Christmas story, but I want to get started on this Christmas story first because, well, I wrote it first, and it’s been way too long. I’m fed up with letting good stories go stagnant; I want to get into the habit of obsessive working when it comes to stories of mine that I really like, which I keep myself from doing these days.

Of course, while I’m reading this Christmas story I can also tinker with other books I’m writing. I need to get better at setting limits on my self-directed work; I started at the end of my MA, and I can see that it needs to continue going forward, as opposed to almost every other thing I’ve learnt or experienced as an academic that has pretty much fallen out of my head. My limit with this Christmas story is reading. Writing – that’s not even something I want to think about right now. Just reading. Getting out of the fantasy of writing something or how it’s going to be when it is eventually one day written, and focusing on the actual writing process, which is always more fun.

And goddammit, it’s been too long. The werewolf thing didn’t even feel like part of the writing process; I hate to say it but, as much fun as I’ve had writing it, I can’t even remember the fun times. But working on something over a long period of time like I did with Tallulah, or the Christmas story before it – that I remember. It feels awesome. And I like feeling awesome.

It feels awesome to be doing shit, and yesterday I realised, for what is surely at least the hundredth time by now, that the reason I’ve been feeling kinda “meh” not just recently but for what is now the majority of my entire life, is due to not doing shit. So I’m going to do some shit. Reading and writing, in particular. I have an actual book to read as well: Succubus on Top by Richelle Mead, which I think I may finally be in the correct mindset to read without getting pedantic about realism in this book about a fucking Succubus was the pun intended I’ll let you decide it’s going to be a good time.

And then all the Christmas books I bought myself last year and haven’t touched since they arrived. I have a goddamn Wonder Woman omnibus, the George Perez stuff when he rebooted her in 1987, which was when I was born, that explains a few things if you buy into superstition when it’s convenient to your self-narrative, which I totally do. I have Neil Gaiman’s latest collection of short stories: Trigger Warning, which I haven’t read partly because as somebody who understands the need for trigger warnings the title just feels very exploitative, but don’t judge a book by its exploitative title or whatever. I have Clariel by Garth Nix, which I tried to read when I got it and then couldn’t because I remembered that I fucking hate high fantasy, even when it’s Garth Nix apparently. I have The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, which I got because werewolves. I have Kindred by Octavia Butler, because for some reason I decided not to buy The Parable of the Sower on the day I made these purchases, but it’s Octavia Butler and I feel morally obligated to read one of her books. I might actually buy Parable today, or at least get it out from the library again. I have the first Dragonriders of Pern book by Anne McAffrey, and the first book in the Lioness Quartet by Tamora Pierce, and The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, because aside from Harry Potter and literally 4 other books in my entire life I have read zero high fantasy written by women and that shit needs to change.

Speaking of which, I also have the Earthsea Quartet to finish, which I’ve had since 2011. I finished the first 2 stories and liked them a hell of a lot, despite obvious problematic elements, particularly in the first one. Also the rest of the P.C. Hodgell omnibus I have; the first story was very enjoyable, and it’s high fantasy written by a woman and starring a woman, and it is the last high fantasy book I’ve read that I actually enjoyed because it was about character and story – episodic though that story might be, but I like episodic – set in a rich, well-developed world, rather than about a rich, well-developed world infested with sentient life-forms that the writer feels forced to spend some time on to fill a quota, which is what a lot of high fantasy feels like to me. I also have The Swan Maiden, which is a retelling of an old Irish fairytale – a really fucking depressing one, because Ireland – and the only thing I can remember about it is that I opened the exact middle of the book when I bought it from the library and read the phrase “he hefted her pale globe in his hand”. I’m not sure why this was a selling-point for me, but I did buy it, along with Grimm Tales by Phillip Pullman. I respect Phillip Pullman quite a lot, but really did not like The Amber Spyglass and find his writing style … well, it might work a lot better with fairytale retellings than it does with child psychology.

Man, I actually have a lot of shit I could be doing.

The Ubermensch approves!


One weird trick to get any task done

No okay seriously I keep seeing these fucking “one weird trick” articles at the bottom of other articles that I read; the fact that I see those articles at all may clue you in to the kind of shit I read on the internet, but that’s besides the point. “One weird trick to make women obsess over you” seems to be the most common, with two different versions showing up right next to each other at the end of the last article I was reading (about the Justice League movie; trash begets trash I guess). I mean, guys, “obsess” is a very broad term. I’m sure you can get any woman to obsess over you by shaking her hand with one of those buzzer things they used to use in movies to establish a throwaway comic relief character, or by never showering ever. This would work because it would make anybody obsess over you, regardless of sex or gender, because they would find you repugnant. “One weird trick to continue your already rampant objectification of women” doesn’t sell as well I guess. Small miracles?

Seriously though, getting shit done: you just fucking do it. I’ve been on this particular ride before, veering between two philosophical poles in an attempt to establish some kind of solid foundation upon which I can build a functional, reliable and predictable work ethic: finding motivation on the one hand, and ignoring it on the other. Right now, I’m on the other hand, because motivation is like any feeling: it comes and goes. But I, on the other hand, am always here. I may as well take advantage of it.

I don’t know what it says about me that I have adopted popular Twitch streamer and YouTuber Day[9] as my unofficial life guru, but he does give some pretty fucking solid advice when it comes to getting shit done, and the best part is that it lines up with stuff I already believe. “You just show up” is the condensed version of his personal philosophy for getting shit done, but you don’t really need the extended version to get the point. Come hell or high water, whether or not you are motivated to do so in the moment, you turn up to do the thing that you are supposed to be doing, whether that is a task set for you by an employer or something, or a goal that you have made for yourself. That way it becomes a habit, and as somebody who has lived with moderate anxiety and probably mild depression for the majority of my life, I can tell you first-hand that force of habit is the most powerful force in human existence. Habit makes us do things all the time that we would rather not, like clockwork. That’s not a bad thing; that’s a cheat code, if you approach it the right way. Turning a weakness into a strength is always a good move, so if like me you are somebody with deeply ingrained bad, unhealthy habits, the good news is that the power behind those habits can be yours and mine for the taking, enabling us to do whatever we want, whether in the moment we want to or not. It just takes practice.

This is the strategy that I’ve been trying to employ since last year, focusing in my case on regular exercise – and although I still feel like I’m not doing enough or not progressing as fast as I want, when I step back and look at it I see that, very clearly, I have established a new, enduring habit. I even took 3 months off between the end of last year and the start of this one, and that wasn’t enough to put me off. Yes, it did take me a whole year to get to a “fire and forget” point with this habit, but that’s a year I’ll never have to spend again trying to make it stick.

And technically, writing is already a habit that I have, an even longer-lasting habit than my bouts of anxious, depressive self-loathing, which is good to remember every now and then. Of course the two are linked as well, as one of the main ways I tried to escape/cope with my issues as a teenager was to channel it into writing, which changed the way that I wrote. With my shitty YA werewolf thing, I have started to test the strength of those habits, and it turns out they’re pretty strong – but not unbreakable. I want to have a habit of writing regularly and with an aim to entertain, myself primarily for now as I don’t actually have an audience (certainly not a paying one), which is part of a bigger habit that will have to include reading and thinking. The shitty YA werewolf novel has worked as well as it has because of my copying, stealing and appropriating ideas from other works just as a way to get it done – and have fun in the process, sure, but in the end the enjoyment that I get out of it and the ease with which this strategy allows me to throw a story together are just two sides of the same coin: the job gets done as a result. As for when I am not having fun? Like right now? Or for the past several months seriously how the hell did I let this stupid writing exercise drag on for a fucking year and a half?

Well, that brings me to habit-breaking again. I just put another dent in my habit of pathological procrastinating right now by finishing marking the second assignment for this paper I’m tutoring on; there are still a few late assignments, but there always are – mentally, I’m finished. I showed up and the job got done, and that means that I now get to be done. It feels good. True, I could have done it earlier in the day, but that’s nitpicking that I don’t need and isn’t going to actually help. If the aim is to make a habit of getting shit done, then things are looking good. I just made myself stop watching YouTube, forced myself to open up the assignments, and from there it was like rolling downhill. Not necessarily fun, but definitely easy – so long as you make a start. It is as simple, and as infuriating, as that: you just get started on the thing that you want to get done and, if you keep doing it, it will get done. No motivation, or even enjoyment, necessary.

Although I will concede that there is something about marking assignments that makes it particularly well-suited for this kind of strategy, treating motivation as completely optional. For one, it’s my fucking job and I have to do it, no matter how I feel about it. For another, I was never going to really “enjoy” marking to begin with, so that possibility is a moot point anyway – I do enjoy it at times, and it is satisfying to do, but it’s not like how it was with the shitty YA werewolf novel, the giddy high of appropriation and starting something new, though at the same time rekindling something I had thought I lost – an old habit, and a good one, the one I’m trying to bring back to replace my shitty writing habits that have largely taken over from it.

And that’s a bit different. And in my case also kind of counter-productive, because back in the day my habit was enjoyment. If I enjoyed writing, I would fucking write, and if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. That was the habit. In my current mode, that’s not a sustainable habit – or at least not one I’m interested in sustaining. I certainly do want to enjoy my creative writing, but I also want to fucking get it done – there’s writing, and then there’s the satisfaction of having completed a project, plus the new opportunities to develop that project once the zero draft is complete. I don’t get that without finishing; and I don’t finish without showing up.

I resent the fact that, for this part of the story, I can’t find anything to steal for my shitty YA werewolf novel. I’m coming up blank; and surely there has to be something. Having said that I did have a brainwave the other day, or maybe today – it’s been a long day; on top of finishing marking my sister and I also trimmed the hedges, a long-overdue project (she did all the trimming; I held the ladder) – but on the whole this section of the project has been difficult to deal with precisely because the process I was using to get it done just stopped working when it got to writing these two final chapters. I only managed to force my way through the one I just finished by showing up, over and over again, over the span of 2 months. I would like a higher turnaround than that; to be fair I do have a ton of other things that I’m working on as well, though – but that’s all the more reason to throw motivation to the wind as a productivity strategy, and stick with “just show up”. The more shit I get done, the more shit I can get done. And how do we get shit done?

By showing up and fucking doing it.

I am all written-out for the night, but tomorrow I will attack this final chapter with a purely utilitarian fervour, minus the fact that the one idea that I do have for it is one that I actually like quite a bit. There’s also the pesky issue of finding little bits of this story that could lend themselves to something much more substantial; I was hoping for pulp, and there’s all sorts of stuff that could lend itself to pulp, don’t get me wrong – but still. It’s tempting, and temptation is always an obstacle.

One that I will deal with tomorrow, when I will show up and get shit done – until then, though, I reserve the right to remain exactly where I am. When you’re done, you should be able to enjoy it.


Follow your interests, they tell you.

Not bad advice.

I’m not going to talk about what interests I’ve been following lately, but they’ve been resulting in a lot of writing getting done, and that’s what matters to me. This is the kind of writing that I tell myself doesn’t “count”, but when I’ve written this much of it, it fucking counts.

And it should count the rest of the time, too.

The thing with this project – one I’ve been working on, on and off, for almost 2 years now – is that it’s not one I ever pushed myself to finish; it exists mostly so that I can just write it whenever the mood strikes me, and today – and for the past few days, actually – the mood has struck hard. It’s the kind of writing that doesn’t “count” because it’s not something I’d ever want to publish or show to anybody; it’s just for me.

But it should still count, because a) it’s writing, and b) the more writing I do, the better I get at it …

And the more I write things that I actually enjoy writing, the more I remember that, actually, I do enjoy writing. I just don’t always enjoy writing what I’m telling myself I should be writing, and I think it’s about time I started learning that lesson.

Werewolf thing – fuck it. For now anyway. It’s just not doing it for me. And even if I’m never going to publish this particular story, it might still come in handy later down the line. I might be able to use parts of it somewhere else. But right now, having it just for me is absolutely what I want, and probably part of why I’m enjoying it so much.

I used to want to be a writer for a career. I think now I want to learn how to write for a hobby. Because if the past few days are any indication, it’s a fucking awesome hobby.

Wasted or Spent

It’s interesting that those two words can be kind of interchangeable. When you’re exhausted, for example: using either of those two words means the exact same thing. When it comes to your time, however, the meaning shifts; Wasted time is time not used “properly”, whereas Spent time has been employed with efficiency, productivity, responsibility.

Either way, it’s gone.

Last night, I used my time in bed not sleeping. It was my own decision; I thought this morning that it might have been the sertraline – I have gone back up to a full tablet per day – but now I’m pretty sure that it was all just me. I had reasons for staying up, so I did.

Said reasons I will not go into, but it involves something that I wrote before I went to bed. I was so invested in it that I couldn’t put it down, even after I turned off my computer and the lights. Was the night wasted, or spent? Well I got about 3 hours sleep, and only after around 8 am, but I woke up feeling pretty awesome. Then today I went for an unusually brisk walk, forcing myself to push on when I was ready to give up and finding that, actually, I wanted to keep going after all, and when I got back home I was fucking wasted. Or spent. I still did some bicycle crunches, push-ups and one of the exercises my physio gave me to do for my knee. I was well and truly wasted/spent by then. In fact I’d say wasted specifically, because it connotes a more intense state or effect. I was wasted.

And it felt like the most productive thing I’ve done in a very long time.

I have been feeling weird every since I started taking sertraline. I’ve been feeling kind of empty today. Insatiable. It’s not that I’m hungry – and I’m actively trying to watch what I eat this year – it’s more that there’s so many things that I haven’t done, or tried to do, and the wasted potential is eating me up from the inside.

Spent potential? I guess it is; I spent it on avoidance, panic, anxiety. Not by choice with those second two. The decision to not do something is still a decision. I have spent my life avoiding things so that I don’t run up against the wall of my anxiety. That’s something I’ve done. It’s why I keep doing it. If I’d wasted my life, then I wouldn’t do anything at all. I’d be dead or something.

Right now, I’m trying to write. It’s not happening, because nothing feels quite satisfying. Is this time being wasted, or spent? What on?

I don’t know that I can come up with the answer. But I do know that words matter. It’s why I write. It’s why I get frustrated with my writing, because the words often aren’t what I want them to be. It’s why I love writing, because words make things matter, no matter what they are.

Words are too powerful to be taken for granted.

So when you’re thinking that you’re wasting your time, try to think of how you’ve been spending it instead. It might change a few things for the better.

For Old Times’ Sake

Today, as I was going for a walk in order to try and continue the fitness kickstart I began yesterday – itself kickstarted by needing to counteract the horrible body-weird caused by my first ever anti-anxiety medication – something dawned on me. I have so many old stories I’m trying to tell, and hardly any new ones.

Most of the books I try to push myself to work on are ideas that I came up with half a lifetime ago. Realm of the Myth is the most obvious one, because while it’s not my oldest story it’s definitely the oldest one that I’ve consistently tried to bring to realisation. My mind is still playing with it, loath to let it out of its grasp, like a videogame you’ve lost interest in but feel like there’s so much potential enjoyment you never got out of it – or that there just aren’t any other options, and it’s this or nothing.

And all the other stories are old, too. Tallulah, my ripoff of The Mortal Instruments and my shitty YA werewolf thing are the most recent, and aside from Tallulah they’re just very … well, I mean, it’s right there. One of them is a ripoff of a series that uses material from a Harry Potter fanfic (and a plagiarism-heavy fanfic at that). There are a couple of ideas I came up with while I was at uni, but I’ve been at uni for 8 years now.

So what dawned on me today was that most of the stories I’m trying to make myself work on are stories that I came up with when I was a different person. I wonder if that’s why they’re not working. And I also felt, for the first time possibly ever, that in continuing to hold onto these ideas and trying to bring them to the life I wish I’d been able to give them when I came up with them, I’m holding myself back from having new ideas. Maybe better ones. But regardless, ideas that come from me as I am now.

I think a big part of this is because I don’t like who I am now – or, rather, because I have such an ingrained habit of trying to disavow myself. Growing up with depression, anxiety and general self-loathing has fantastic synergy with nostalgia, and my nostalgia goggles are pretty damn powerful. I’ve learnt that I’m a worthless piece of shit of a human being, and anything I can do to escape that reality is something I should invest in. The thing is, though, that I don’t really believe that anymore. It’s taken a while, and it’s an ongoing process, but it’s definitely happening. I’m moving on. And I’m starting to want my storytelling to move with me.

The other thing I thought while on my walk was how much of an escape my stories are. Not just the stories themselves, but the fantasy of what my life would be like after writing them. Being a well-known, well-regarded author, doing panels at Comic-Con, rubbing shoulders with my favourite celebrities – I just looked at all of that today and, while I’ve never seriously thought that any of this would happen to me, today it occurred to me that serious or not, it’s what I’ve been spending most of my time and energy on thinking about since I was in my mid-teens. The impact I would have on the wider world.

I was thinking about escaping.

And I looked over my life while I was thinking this, and there is so much that I want to escape from. Unresolved conflicts that I have not even started to try and resolve, confront or even acknowledge in some cases. Awkward tensions that cannot be solved painlessly or cleanly, tensions that could force something to break so badly that it could never be repaired. Things that I just don’t know what to do about, what the right thing to do is or where I’d even begin to look for the answer. Which is why I hate thinking about them. And whether or not I did it consciously, at the end of the day escaping into my World-Famous Author daydreams has allowed me to ignore it.

It makes sense that this started happening when I was a teenager, because my teen years were the time in my life when I had the most shit to deal with that I wanted to escape from. My friendship with Wickham that made me feel dense, repulsive and invisible; real tragedies happening to people my age that I couldn’t do anything to help them with; my seeming inability to form any kind of meaningful connection to other human beings unless they were as lonely as I was – daydreams or not, I could not escape from this reality. University was the escape, which is funny in a way because it was also where I got my biggest reality-checks. But also, in a sense, where I started to do that horrible, stereotypical adult thing where you get stuck in your ways and cling to convenient beliefs that erase the parts of reality that you don’t want to think about. And I didn’t want to think about myself.

University tends to be where people go to discover themselves, or so all the stories say. For me, it was where I finally had the chance to cover myself up. So I did. A lot. I would probably say that my undergraduate life was my most impressive act of storytelling ever, because I’ve managed to almost convince myself that I’m not certain things, that I fit comfortably into certain, well-established categories that other people invest in as well, and invested in before I even knew they existed. I found out what other people’s beliefs and attitudes were and used those ideas to plug the ugly, gaping holes in my own identity; I didn’t have to believe in them. I just had to use them to make other people believe them about me. I just had to make it look like I fitted in.

I felt powerless as a teenager. But I have never felt as spineless as I do now, as an adult.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I did find some things to like about myself, things that I didn’t want to cover up or disguise. And one of those things I found last year: the fact that I love to borrow ideas and make up stories about them. Hence the shitty YA werewolf novel. But that’s also something old about me; and hey, it’s a good old thing. I’m happy to have been reacquainted with it.

But today, I just thought how much of a shame it is that I’ve spent all of this time trying to escape my present, simultaneously looking with longing to the past and into the future with fear and resentment. All time I could have been spending just living in my own goddamn reality.

And I wondered – and I still wonder – what kind of stories I would want to tell if I was doing that instead.

The witch novel I tried to write for Camp Nano was another new story, but it’s also a much older kind of story, the kind of story I would have expected to think up when I was in the Dark Ages. For me, that was between 16 and 18. 19 sucked pretty bad too and 20 was no walk in the park, but 16-18 stands out in my memory as the worst time of my life. It was also where I had the most determined stories. They were dark, but they were battles I was trying to fight. They made me angry, because they felt important. I had to fight. I had to do something.

The witch novel is like that, only the fight’s gone out of me. I have no stakes in that battle anymore. I can’t. Because I’m not a teenager anymore, and my problems are different. Not as different as conventional wisdom might suggest, but different enough. And I realised a couple of days ago, meeting up with a friend for coffee, that almost every single story I have is not just old, but is also about children or teenagers. I have almost no stories about people my age.

I wanted to escape my teen years; I’ve spent so much of my adult life having achieved that escape. And now I want to find my way back.

I want to be done with these old ideas. They’re great. I’m not saying I want to take all the work I’ve done on them up to this point and destroy it. I’m saying I want to move on. I need to. Because there is no going back; there is no Old Me about to resurface. I found it, once: I found myself again after breaking up with Wickham, and it set a precedent. At the time it was liberating and healing and like having a loved one come back from the dead. But after that I kept comparing my happiness to that moment, and nothing has ever matched up. And I think that’s part of why I cling to the past so much: because that moment of absolute happiness and relief only exists in my past. I have wanted so badly to find the secret to feeling that way again. I have thought that if I couldn’t do it, then I would never be able to be fully, totally honest with myself, to express myself truthfully or even understand myself. But maybe if I had been able to let that fantasy go, I would have found that I didn’t need to try in the first place.

My 20s have been … turbulent. My teenage years were far more unpleasant to live through, but at least they were consistent. Being an adult has been the most confusing thing that’s ever happened to me; no wonder I keep looking for the certainty of nostalgia. But I think 9 years is more than enough time to sacrifice in vain pursuits. I want some new material. And I think I’m only going to get that by letting some of the old material go. Maybe all of it.

There’s that saying about how if you love something you have to let it go, and if it comes back to you then you know … something. It’ll work out or whatever. The thing is, I don’t even love the ideas I’m holding on to. I’m just afraid about what will happen if I let them go. Because without these stories, and without the fantasies about what my life could be like because of them, there’s just a void. I’d have to come up with all new ideas to take their place, to feel whole again.

Unless, of course, it’s not about trying to find something to take their place at all. Maybe what I really need is just some new places.

There doesn’t have to be a void at all. Just a past.

It can suck to have a past. All sorts of unresolved crap is in there, things it’s so easy to wish you’d found a way to solve. Things you can convince yourself you can find the solution to now, if you just keep the issue alive for long enough. But it means you have to keep the issue alive. You have to stretch it out, pull it out of the past with you so that you can keep holding onto it.

But you can’t have a past without a future – or vice versa.

And what I’m finding out about adulthood is that it’s all future. Being a teenager ends. But being an adult? That’s it. Once it starts, it goes on forever. I’m not one to put much stake in the pseudo-spiritual cultural superstition we have around certain age categories, but I am a sucker for narratives. And what I’m finding about being an adult is that there is no fucking narrative, even if you want one. It’s scary.

And it’s an opportunity.

One that I really need to take.

I don’t know what to do now. Hold a funeral for my old ideas? Just try and let myself drift away from them naturally and painlessly? Make a big announcement about it to try and make it stick, or try and let it happen organically and keep it to myself so that it’s not forced?

I don’t know. Maybe that’s not the point. Maybe knowing what I want is enough. The stuff I don’t want … maybe I can just leave it alone.

Well, I do know what I want. I want to move on.

All any story needs is a beginning that makes you want to know how the rest turns out.