Writing While Writing: A Chapter of Tallulah

Why the fuck not.

~~~

First of all: the chapter that I want to write is actually a chapter that I want to finish writing, and I have no idea where I put it so let the folder-hopping begin … I started it a few months ago and, while it was going resonably well, the fact that I didn’t have a clear plan for what was going to happen really tripped me up. I knew that I wanted “some awkward social stuff” to happen, but not what awkward social stuff, so I ended up killing my own momentum by writing and re-writing character interactions until I got frustrated that I wasn’t getting what I wanted and gave up.

What I realise now is that this is fine. Giving up is fine. Sometimes you just need to move on and do something else. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to actually write Tallulah, but I do know that there’s not much point in getting frustrated every time I have a setback, because I can’t really go beyond my own limits. That’s kind of the definition of the word “limit”, right? A point you cannot go beyond? You can only hope to expand them, and that takes time and practice, and right now I think I have what I need to do that.

Also, I think I have what I need to just get this shit done: do what I’ve been doing for my werewolf thing and just allow myself to write complete and utter derivative shit, so long as it will make things happen, create a sense of flow and progression, and keeps me writing. This is going to be hard, because I have a serious hang-up with Tallulah on making it good and feminist and progressive and all of these other things that, I mean, I do want. But right now what I need to prioritise is laying down a foundation that holds together as well as it possibly can.

So, I am deeply sorry Tallulah, but you are about to become the most incredibly offensive story ever written. Probably. Because you’re a story about a teenage girl, and most of the stories we have about those are horrible, so those horrible ideas will probably be the ones I default to while writing at breakneck pace to just get shit moving. I really, really hate this, but that’s what editing is for. I promise I will come back and make everything morally acceptable.

Later.

Hang on tight.

~~~

I’d forgotten just how satisfying it is to inflict pain and misery upon fictional characters who are entirely under my control.

Also this took me about three hours to get around to so, yeah, no speed-writing for me today.

It’s going pretty great, though. I’ve written 858 words, and found that most of the ones I’d already written were actually not too bad. I like how this chapter is going so far. Just needs a big old tweak at its current stopping-point so that I can bring it back around to fitting in with one of my favourite scenes and …

Well, there’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times: how much do I need that scene? And also isn’t it kind of not particularly well-executed? It’s supposed to set up a mystery, but I never quite felt like that happened properly, or maybe just that I never followed through with it properly; one of my beta readers told me it created a sense of suspense so I guess I should trust that at least one person thought it worked.

~~~

Well, here’s the moment of truth as it’s the scene I’m about to copy-past into the chapter. Up to 1762 new words, all of which I’m even fairly happy with. Not ashamed to admit I picked up a few neat ideas from reading The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black; it wasn’t what I was expecting from the first 100 pages, but I really liked how it was written. She does good characters, and she also writes them well. Definitely recommended.

And: I have a twist! For this chapter, not The Darkest Part of the Forest. The thing that established the maybe-possibly suspense-setting bit – I’m going to change it! And it’s going to have all sorts of huge repercussions for the story and I DON’T CARE!

Okay maybe I do care a bit; maybe I’ll just leave it out. I’m not entirely sure. I should probably decide.

Also: holy shit, making myself stop worrying about whether what I’m writing is “good” or not and instead just writing what I have in my head is actually making my writing better. It’s more … to the point. I just have stuff that I want to write, and then I write it. I didn’t think it would work for Tallulah in the same way it worked for my werewolf thing, but so far it seems like it works at least as well, and possibly even better because I have three and a half years of work to build on. Which I also didn’t think would work; I thought it would get in the way and distract me from my goal. But I guess my goal is to write the rest of this chapter as I had it planned out a few months ago anyway … guess that explains my clarity of mind …

Did I actually learn anything here, or did I just make myself stop procrastinating and start writing?

Well, no, I did learn something: the rest of this draft/revision/whatever is actually doable. That’s where I can put my werewolf lessons into practice and just write exactly what I have in mind, the “too fast to think” method, where anything goes so long as it gets me where I want to go. But what I’m also learning is that what I tend to default to isn’t necessarily as horrible and derivative and politically regressive as I’d feared. I mean maybe as this draft goes on it’ll get that way as I start running out of stuff I’d planned and start looking for ways to bridge gaps I’ll only know about once I get to them, but in the meantime this is honestly going pretty well. I’m kinda proud of this, to be honest. Yesterday I thought I was going to have to put Tallulah on the shelf until I’d “worked something out”, and now I’m finding that all I had to “work out” was that I already have what I need to get started again – and not only that, but to finish.

I think I can actually finish this story by the end of the year.

I’ve even got my wall-planner; I still haven’t marked it up, but I can take care of that easily enough. It’s not like I have a better idea of the story that I want to tell just yet. But I do have a better way of finding my way to it: using the most basic, uncomplicated ideas I possibly can. Because so far, it’s making what I thought I had to work with a lot better, a lot clearer, and a lot more coherent.

It’s just one chapter. It’s a chapter that I sorta had planned a few months ago at that. But for now, at least, this book I’ve been struggling to make work for the past two years is starting to feel like a story again.

~~~

5422 words later – a few hundred of which I did copy-and-paste from another chapter, because they were exactly what I needed …

It works.

It fucking works.

I can write this book. I can tell this story.

I can do this.

The past week has been nerve-wracking and breathless; I have often lamented my lack of free time, but this has proven to me that free time is the time that you spend the way you want to spend it, in the moment that you inhabit it, not some promised slot of freedom you will eventually reach just by waiting it out. Free time is created, not found. And I could have created a lot more if I’d fought my nerves and made myself do the things I’d felt like doing, when I felt like doing them.

But that’s fine. All lessons can be learnt, as many times as we need to. And what I learnt today is that this story isn’t done, isn’t too much for me too handle, isn’t a lost cause that I should just give up on. Will I keep writing it after today with the same verve and enthusiasm that I have right now? I have no way of telling. I made a pretty huge decision, changing a really key aspect of the plot because I just kinda felt like it, and because it was part of the original concept for the story. My hope is that it gets rid of any excuse I might have for defaulting back to the “superhero origin story” that my current revised manuscript turns into, or so I feel. I don’t want to tell a superhero origin story; I don’t want to tell a superhero story at all – not with this story anyway. I just want to tell this one. And for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel not only that I can, but that I will.

Also that’s 5k words I wrote today; that’s pretty fucking great. I am kind of a total boss. Just sayin’.

I’m starting to get excited about everything else now: my masters, my other books, the possibility of finding a stable enough source of income to maybe move out of home by this time next year, after I’ve made more progress with my general anxiety – and I’m feeling like that anxiety is ebbing more and more as I continue to just trust that writing what I have in my mind is the right thing to write, and have it proven true every time. I learnt a lot about life in general through writing this book in its first and second years, and it seems that’s going to continue. I’m not complaining. If this is my year of risk-taking, then the risk I’m learning is worth taking is to trust my simplest ideas. It’s a discipline, and I want to get more disciplined. It’s productive, and I want to produce more of the work that I love doing.

And it’s not just helping me get my stories told; it’s helping me tell them better than I have for a very long time. Since I first started, really. Obviously I’ve learnt a hell of a lot since I first started, fifteen years ago, but I definitely had the cleanest, clearest, most convicted sense of my stories back then. And it’s starting to come back now, and even if this book falls through – which I hope it doesn’t, and it doesn’t feel like it will – that will be worth it all on its own.

Here’s to writing.

 

WWW: boys gone wild

I just re-ignited my guilty passion for YA novel-to-film adaptations by finally getting around to watching The Maze Runner. Throw into the mix a truly political-sensibilities-confusing werewolf movie with Jason Momoa called, originally enough, Wolveswritten and directed by David Hayter, of all people – and I’ve just had a really weird private renaissance: I want to write stories with male lead characters again.

I haven’t felt this way in, I dunno, a year? I’ve just started reading Tomorrow When The War Began, which I’ve heard is both an example of a male writer getting female characters right and an example of a male writer getting female characters wrong, but regardless is an example of a male writer writing almost exclusively lead female characters in all of his work, and I don’t think I want to be That Guy. Also, it’s been dawning on me over the past year or so that I really have written guys off as something of a stereotype, and as somebody who (supposedly) has faith in humanity and (definitely) does not condone stereotyping, I guess I should look into that.

And all of this has manifested itself in a desire to do something I haven’t done for a long, long time: to write something that won’t ever get finished.

This is not, technically, a thing that I’ve ever liked doing, but there are certain times when you see or read something that you just really want to blatantly copy, and so you set out to do it, and in the process of writing you end up info-dumping a lot just to keep yourself on-track but it bogs down the writing and slows the pace and in the end you can’t stand looking at it anymore. It’s something that I’ve stopped myself from doing for the past … possibly my entire adult life, actually. Well, my entire 20s. I stopped myself on the principle that energy spent on an unfinished project is wasted energy.

I now realise that this is absolute fucking bullshit.

Energy spent doing something you want to do is never wasted. Energy spent writing a story that you just so happen to never finish is also never wasted, because not only did you want to do it at the time, but at some point further down the line you might come back to it and realise that, actually, there’s some not-too-bad ideas in there that you could use somewhere else, or even the entire unfinished project. It gets the mind working, it sates your current urge to write that thing you want to write, and it sets you up in the long-run – it’s drafting. And drafting is always good.

So today I’m going to indulge in this old, familiar compulsion to write something that I kinda know isn’t going to “go anywhere” right now, but that maybe I’ll come back to and find is worth following through with later on down the track.

And I’m going to circumvent my need to justify shit I made up on the fly and write it into the thing I’m writing by writing it here instead, thus also writing a blog post on this writing blog that actually has something to do with writing. Let’s see how it turns out.

~~~

So, the first thing any good story needs is a premise.

Let’s start in the obvious place: the two movies that inspired me to write this post in the first place. We’ve got The Maze Runner, which is basically Lord of the Flies meets The Hunger Games only not as interesting as either (having not actually read Lord of the Flies I’m just giving it the benefit of the doubt here); and we’ve got Wolves, which is …

Not to devolve into a movie review, but Wolves simultaneously met and defied my expectations. I was expecting a really cheap, exploitative, hypermasculine power fantasy. What I got was an at least semi self-aware cheap, exploitative, hypermasculine power fantasy that honestly could have been far more sexist than I was expecting. There is a really weird sex scene that ends with both of the conventionally attractive teenage leads – who have chosen to get it on in a barn, literally rolling in the hay – turning into werewolves. We get all the expected camera panning over the woman’s naked body, and then suddenly she’s in this really cheesy full-body werewolf costume that is not even remotely sexy, and I have to admit that I at least appreciate the idea. It was a lot more subversive than what I was expecting.

But then there’s the straight-up exploitative stuff, like linking werewolves to rape culture and the big Alpha Wolf, played by Jason Momoa in a spectacularly too-good-for-this-film performance, having this backstory where he is the main dude’s father (which neither of them find out until halfway through the movie) through rape; but that’s subverted as well right at the end when he reveals that he told everybody he’d raped his lady-love in order to divert blame from her: her dad found out she was pregnant and threatened to kill her, so Jase offered himself up as bait to take the heat off her. I mean it doesn’t really make him any better of a person, as the plot of this movie basically revolves around trying to keep him from raping the lead female character because he wants a son, but there was some subversion, I guess? Maybe? Like not enough to redeem him but definitely interesting in terms of how the werewolf figure is used to explore gender roles and stereotypes?

But anyway enough of that: what does this give me in terms of a premise?

I could mush the two together. A bunch of adolescent/teenage boys who all happen to be werewolves are sent to a futuristic laboratory where they have to complete a series of tests for some reason?

Oh.

Oh my.

Oh I like this.

It’s horrible, and I really like it.

Without getting into too much detail – Vampire Academy meets Fight Club. 

Actually that crossover seems far more interesting than what I’m about to write but whatever.

Also that actually happens in VA I really should go back through that series and review it all the way through lots of interesting ideas there.

~~~

I just named my main character in this story about werewolves Tanner Wilde and I want to shoot myself.

~~~

Oh god, it’s happening already: exposition about nothing.

Does this ever happen to you? It must. It must happen to all writers. I’ve come full-circle: I used to believe that I was the only writer who ever had trouble staying on-track, and now I’d be mortally offended if there was even one single writer in existence who didn’t.

A common piece of writing advice is to start your book right in the middle of the action and then explain things later. You want that “hook”, the catchy bit of writing that draws the reader in and keeps them wanting more – sort of the counterpart to the cliffhanger ending, I guess.

Guess what common piece of writing advice I’m definitely not following?

Instead I’m taking this time to make my main character exposit on what it Really Means to be a teenager, something I find obnoxious whenever I read it and yet have, for some reason, elected to do myself.

Maybe I’ll just write “And then all the werewolves came and things got interesting” and go from there. Enough of this “character development” bullshit; this ain’t The Catcher in the Rye.

I hate that book so much.

~~~

Tanner Wilde’s friends are Troy and Deacon, because those are names that teenage boys can have. I understand teenage boys. I was one once, so you can’t argue with me. Teenage boys totally express themselves by comparing their stereotypical high school drama to adult drama with an air of mystery and awe. That’s all they do, actually. Bet you didn’t know that. But I do. Because I’m a writer.

I’m really feeling my age while writing this and I don’t like it. But I do prefer it to actually being a teenager, because holy fuck that was terrible. I’ll take a lack of authentic characterisation over a never-ending loop of self-loathing any day.

~~~

Troy and Deacon are now gone and therefore never existed to embarrass me by being the one responsible for creating them because this is a first draft and I am a writer.

~~~

Ah, un-examined misogyny. The cornerstone of heteronormative male identity.

When writing something on the spur of the moment, I often run into a dilemma with characterisation: I’ll often have an idea about how I can give my character a flaw, and run with it, and really like it. But then I’ll get really paranoid about being judged on what I’ve just written, and then immediately write some kind of disavowal as an extension of their characterisation. What ends up happening is that not only did I not trust myself to remember that, yes, this problematic character trait is meant to be problematic, but I also just killed any opportunity for character development further down the line. And I’m starting to think that this is probably a huge reason for why a lot of these spur-of-the-moment story ideas I follow through with never get written as full novels: because I don’t leave myself anywhere to go.

Here I’m already setting myself up for what could end up being a disaster: misogyny is a cornerstone of heteronormative male identity, and by setting up my main character to have it as a character flaw, I’m trusting myself to be knowledgeable enough about it in a moral sense that I’m capable of writing it well, as opposed to just making it even more offensive by the end of his character-arc. It’s a big ask, statistically and historically speaking. I probably wouldn’t trust another male writer if I heard them give this as a pitch. And on that logic, I’m not sure if I’m correct to trust myself. I think I am, but I’m me. I have a slight bias in that regard.

I guess if I ever do end up turning this into a novel, or incorporating it into one, I’ll find out.

~~~

Holy shit this potential first chapter actually has an arc in it, it’s so … refreshing. I rarely manage that. This is progress. Progress is good!

This was what worked about writing my other derivative YA thing: having a little mini-plot within each chapter, and once I ran out of those mini-plots I stopped writing it. This project will likely be the same, but for the moment I’m actually growing more interested in writing it the more I actually write it. I mean …

I might actually consider turning this one-off project into a full-blown novel attempt. It’s pretty enjoyable so far, and I can always flesh out the ideas a little more as I go along.

And hooooooooooooooly shit I just put a fucking love-triangle in this thing I am so ready to be a YA author so proud of myself for having overcome my compulsion to subvert every trope I come across and found the strength to play it straight for the sake of story well done Jason you magnificent normative bastard you

~~~

And hooooooooooooly shit I just came up with an entire plot I love it it’s so cliche it’s amazing

I mean okay maybe not an entire plot but enough to make an entire plot out of, key points and stuff. I’m on a roll!

I actually really hope I keep my enthusiasm for this project; it would be so fun to actually follow through with this and get it done super-fast. A mini Nanowrimo kinda thing; I can see this being a pretty short story, not even 80k words, and because it’s so simple … the possibilities!

~~~

FUCK BRAIN NO DON’T MAKE THIS INTERESTING IT’S SO CLICHE IT’S SO PURE DON’T MAKE IT INTERESTING

I think …

I think I managed to avoid it. I think I’m still a hack. I think so. But that was close. Too close …

~~~

After spending like an hour perusing a Goodreads list of werewolf books, I have discerned one thing: even though I’m not being remotely original, I am still bucking the trend. I’ll take it: results without effort are always welcome.

I have to say, I think werewolves are really interesting. When my PhD-writing friend finally gets some free time, the two of us are going to start co-writing a book about werewolves that I am really looking forward to. I just don’t think people trust werewolves to carry a premise on their own; they’re always seen as the cheap knockoff vampire, which we’ve build up to be this subject of endless fascination and mystery – not least because instead of turning into hairy man-beasts to reveal their “true nature” they’re sexy in a very creepy way all the time – and I think that’s just shallow.

Having said that, I don’t necessarily disagree that werewolves aren’t quite interesting enough to carry a whole story on their own, given the stories that currently exist about them. They’re either a kinky sex fantasy with even more consent issues than their blood-sucking rivals, or a very obvious allegory for masculinity – or, in the case of Ginger Snaps, which I am about to watch for the first time, going through puberty as a cisgender teenage girl. And there’s the whole turning-into-a-hairy-man-beast thing as well.

I think that last one is really what keeps werewolves from being quite as appealing as vampires; vampires can be sexy and horrifying all at once because they look like people, by and large. Werewolves are, at best, human-passing, and while there are plenty of narrative opportunities with the werewolf forced-transformation premise, it doesn’t do much for them in terms of sex appeal.

Hopefully.

I write that sentence and already know I’m wrong, and it makes me sad.

Also I just realised I named the two stereotypical douche bag jock characters James and Kirk IT’S NOT INTENTIONAL I SERIOUSLY ONLY NOTICED JUST NOW THIS IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE COMMENTARY

~~~

Nooooooooo I’m having interesting ideas and thoughts of ways to make it interesting and now I can’t stop …

But I think I should focus on writing this thing properly, rather than dividing my attention between this blog, Goodreads lists and also writing. Today has been a success though, because I felt like writing and then actually followed through with it, and it feels great. More of this please. This works well.

Writing While Writing: “livestream” highlights

So I’m going to try and read through my manuscript tonight so that I just get it off my plate. I’m not going to make notes, and since it’s only about as long as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets it should only take me a couple of hours. However, I will be “livestreaming” my hilarious reactions to my manuscript when something comes up.

And when I say “livestreaming”, I mean writing a blog post that will be published after the fact with no sense of spontaneity whatsoever. It’s not quite Writing While Writing, but it’s close enough.

Let’s rock.

~~~

  • So I’m reading a hard-copy, and instead of turning the page I almost tried to scroll down with my mouse wheel. Good start.
  • Useful note-taking is essential. Case in point: “Amphibious line-break! Put in asterisk”.
  • Sorry, that was “ambiguous” line-break. Not as interesting.
  • Oh lampshading. My favourite writerly habit. Apparently.
  • Tallulah steps into her bedroom and puts down her backpack, worded as “divesting herself of her baggage”, haha sure you did honey nothing bad will happen in the next 120 pages
  • Fed up with flat dialogue? Have your main character make incoherent animal noises, spell them out phonetically and put them in quotation marks instead
  • It’s always fun discovering all the instances of sexual innuendo that have made their way into your prose that you legitimately did not intend to put in there oh god it’s happening again
  • “Nineteen steps. Nineteen feet. If each step was a foot, and it was probably more than that.” Lesson: when trying to measure vague distances, have a POV character do it for you and just make them as incompetent as you are so you can explain it away as “exploring the character”
  • Crowd-sourcing time: is it “soy sauce” or “soya sauce”? WordPress says “soy sauce” but over two decades of calling it “soya sauce” says “soya sauce”
  • Wow, dad character, you are not helping in making this conversation less tense
  • You go Tallulah, standing up for your new friend after spending the last two chapters being really selfish and patronising towards her. Character development this good obviously doesn’t need an explanation, otherwise I would have written one into the story
  • Whenever you encounter symptoms of huge plot-holes in your manuscript, especially if those plot-holes have been there from the very beginning, your best bet is to completely ignore them. I mean have you seen some of the shit that gets accepted for publishing? If anything you should leave them in, so that the editors will pick up on that instead of those side-characters you’re really attached to but know serve absolutely no purpose in telling the story. Gotta think three moves ahead
  • Also if you ever have the opportunity to make something happen in your book, don’t
  • Just hint at it so that your readers know that you could have done something; it’s important to remind them of your absolute power, and part of that is refusing to use it at any point in the storytelling process
  • Also make sure to keep your characters thoughts and feelings really indecipherable; that way when you have to reread the entire thing from start to finish you will have the experience of reading something for the first time and wondering what the fuck is going on
  • Yeah you’re not creepy at all designated creepy character well played very subtle
  • Now, this is very important: if you are a man writing a Strong Female Character, make sure that you have them be really aggressive and violent whenever faced with people who are not to their liking, especially if those people are men. Violence is never unwarranted if it’s a woman doing it to a man, and feminists will admire you for understanding this basic tenet of their ideology. Give yourself a cookie for totally subverting gender stereotypes and breaking the patriarchy, and make sure you use this as an example of how “not all men are like that” in the future
  • Actual comment on a paragraph: “WAOW”
  • Cheap jokes at the expense of the religious community are totes hilarious when told by your designated edgy non-conformist character this is very important
  • Banter doesn’t count as filler so use lots of it
  • If you foreshadow something that will happen later on in your story, you could follow through – or, alternatively, you could not only not follow through, but lampshade the fact that you’re not following through so that your readers know how self-aware and clever you are
  • Who’s a clever writer
  • I am
  • If you’re writing within the YA paranormal genre make sure you completely copy and paste a scene from Twilight into your book so that people take you seriously
  • Make sure that your Strong Female Characters are only capable of expressing their wit, anger, self-deprecation and interests through sexual innuendo in order for them to be as realistic as possible
  • All of your female characters should be Strong by the way otherwise you’re a misogyny
  • You must have lots of symbolism for the key themes of your book otherwise your readers won’t know how they’re supposed to think or feel when things happen
  • When your protagonists do creepy things, just remember that they’re the protagonists and everything that they do is automatically morally right
  • Actual comment: “OH MY GOD SHUT UP”
  • Make sure to have your Strong Female Character wear strange clothes in order to show off how unique and quirky and alternative they are, unlike all the other girls
  • When you’re speed-reading your own story because you don’t care what’s happening, that’s a sign that you need to try harder to enjoy it, not a sign that it’s shit
  • When you feel a physical sensation of displeasure upon re-reading something you wrote because you were speed-reading it because you don’t care what’s happening, that’s a sign that you just aren’t committed enough to finding every single thing in  your story that you might theoretically be able to find a use for later regardless of context, not a sign that it’s shit
  • Actual comment: “DIE”
  • Remember that plot you used to have? No? Good. Now when you rewrite your entire novel from scratch you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything
  • Characters discussing food doesn’t count as filler so use lots of it
  • Remind yourself of this fact by leaving yourself enthusiastic comments such as: “HOW FUCKING INTRIGUING”
  • Oh designated comic relief character. You are actually kind of funny
  • “She wondered if that was normal, and how she should feel about it based on whether or not it was, which she didn’t know.” Actual comment: “>.<“
  • (Seriously though I like that sentence)
  • Randomly end a paragraph with a comma instead of a full stop, dash or ellipsis in order to fully simulate and demonstrate awareness of authentic speech patterns because you’re such a clever writer yes you are
  • If you forget the events of two chapters ago in your own story while writing, just turn it into part of the story by making your characters have trouble remembering those exact same events
  • Actual comment: “DON’T CARE”
  • Actual comment: “WHERE ARE YOU KEEPING THE STORY”
  • Actual comment: “SHUT UP”
  • Actual comment: “FUUUUUUCK SO BORING”
  • When you find your scathing comments on your story more interesting than the actual story, that’s a sign that you lack discipline and are unable to objectively look at your own work, not a sign that it’s shit
  • Somebody might have been angry, but they also might not be. I’m so pleased we spent a page and a half discussing this, and I’m sure it will be come central to the plot at some point in the future
  • That was a joke. It is vital to maintain a sense of humour while rereading your piece of shit manuscript in order to see how you should try to fix it
  • For example, I have thus far concluded that soaking my manuscript in gasoline and then setting it on fire would lend some much-needed cohesion to the narrative
  • Be sure to have your characters who fall into the Youth demographic not only text each other, but that said texts are written in txt-speek for maximum authenticity
  • It’s better to have too many commas than not enough
  • But let’s be honest you can never have too many commas
  • If you’re really worried you can throw in some semicolons to spice things up
  • Actual comment: “Does anything in this chapter matter???”

~~~

And on that enlightening note, I conclude this session of “livestream” highlights. I didn’t get through the whole book; I’ve gotten to just over a third of the way through, but to memory I’ve also gotten through the majority of the filler chapters so that’s something.

What’s depressing is that, even though nothing was happening, I wasn’t at all frustrated while reading some of those filler chapters. This is either a sign that something works about them, or that I’ve become desensitized to meandering bullshit after reading nothing but YA novels for the past nine months. I remember reading Rebel Belle and getting excited that there was, wait for it, an actual story where stuff happened. I was ready to write a glowing review for this book until I remembered that having a story where things happen should be the bare minimum, not some Olympian achievement of human ingenuity.

I mean I did enjoy Rebel Belle; it’s set in the Deep South but manages to avoid being quite as hideously racist as Beautiful Creatures. I may write a review about it one day.

For now though – got my first Honours seminar in the afternoon, so I’d better get some sleep. Or resting-in-bed at least. I may even end up reading more of my manuscript if I can’t sleep. It’s a win-win situation.

And I know that was very snarky and self-deprecating, but honestly this is going well. It feels good, like the right thing to do, just reading it without making notes, so I guess I’ll just keep doing it until it doesn’t feel right anymore.

(I feel very brazen attaching the “humour” tag to this post by the way) (what if somebody finds out I’m not funny) (then it’d just be lying and you’re not supposed to lie)

Must … have … fun …

When I learnt that the right to happiness was built into the American Constitution as an actual piece of legislation, my reaction can only be described in words that would violate my self-imposed ‘no extreme expletives’ rule for this blog. It just seems so horrible, making happiness a legal requirement, so artificial and displaced. It suggests that there is other stuff in the world, perhaps set out by this same constitution, that makes happiness such a risky thing to bank on that you need a legal assertion of your right to it. It reeks of hidden contradictions in whatever system or frame of mind bore it out.

Of course, not being American or having ever lived in America or really studied the constitution, I wouldn’t have the first clue about any of that, but I do know that over the past few days I’ve really been forcing the issue with regards to my writing, and just my state of mind in general – that I must be enjoying myself, that I must find fulfillment in the narrow selection of tasks that I also must accomplish. A lot of musting going on.

And it’s like … chill, dude. It’s okay for things to be a bit sub-par every now and again. It’s okay to not be okay.

It also makes me a lot less likely to do any of these ‘must-do’ tasks, because then the pressure to get it ‘right’ mounts up and the consequences for getting it wrong become hypothetically astronomical. So I try and talk myself back down again – it doesn’t really matter, you can just do something else, all of this pressure is just because you’re being neurotic and have unresolved emotional baggage …

Which is just as bad, right? Because the thing is that these things I want to do, I actually want to do; I don’t want them to be ‘sorta-maybe important’, because they are important. What I need is not to have their importance diminished with contradictory coping strategies: what I need is a way to get myself to a point where I’m willing to let these things be un-fun for a bit while I get the ball rolling, and to stop thinking about it, actually. I can’t figure out what I’m holding myself back from here, and it’s frustrating. But more frustrating is being able to recognise the way I’m thinking and all the bad habit memories that this thought-process is attached to, the thinking ahead to scenarios of failure and shame that make out to be inevitable consequences of me even trying to start.

And, I guess, that’s a sign that I really do need to ‘just do it’, because as long as these kinds of thoughts keep coming up, those habits are still alive and kicking, and I don’t like that. I don’t like them being alive and/or kicking. I want them gone, and the only way out is through.

I do want to do these things, and I do feel that the stakes are high. I also feel that they’re not as enjoyable or fulfilling as they have been in the past, and as a result I feel a bit trapped by committing to them, because I feel that they won’t be enough even when I do get stuck in. And I can tell myself ‘so what if it’s not enough?’, and it’s a good point, and it helps, but …

Always a ‘but’. That’s the problem.

It’s all just assumptions and impressions. They just keep coming up. It just doesn’t stop.

The only way out is through.

~~~

Here’s the plan:

Tallulah is getting revised today. Just the second chapter. I did a big rewrite with the first chapter, and I’m leaving it, because honestly I can’t be bothered going back to de-write it. The second chapter is a vacuum, so that needs to be sorted out.

My plan is to insert the additional information that I want to have happen into the chapter as inelegantly a manner as I can possibly think of, in order to start getting focused on structure over pretty writing. So I’m actually not going to change anything that’s already written in that chapter.

What I’m going to do is insert lines, paragraphs, whatever, in bold font, just right smack-dab in the middle of whatever’s happening, and then do some track changes stuff to smooth out the transition a bit. And if there is no good place to insert this new stuff, I’ll put it in a bad place. The point is to get it in there. This pass is not going to be for readability, but to produce the messy internal organs that will serve as the foundation for that readability when I do the third draft; the structure needs to get done. And I do have a plan for that structure.

Oh good, I actually do; here it is …

No, I don’t like it, but it’s what I’ve got.

MAYBE I NEED TO READ THE DRAFT AGAIN THAT WILL BE ENJOYABLE EXPENDITURE OF TIME AND ENERGY

Maybe I do actually just need a break from this book. It’s going against all of my life plans and stuff, but maybe it’s what I need. I’m just scrambling for something to help me out here, to get me started again.

Just do the chapter … just do it …

~~~

First awkward bold-font insert accomplished. My god that’s jarring to read, or even look at. The styles don’t match at all. Maybe I should just write this thing in first-person, or commit to a less subjective third-person narrative voice. I feel even less like I know what I’m doing than I did a moment ago.

I don’t know how helpful this is going to be when I come back to it for draft 3, even if it’ll be helpful at all, because I’m starting to feel like I should actually be writing an entirely new story, from the bottom-up, just because of the effort it would take to bring this one back into line with my vision for it. The awkwardness of trying to let this story be what it’s become while also trying to add in new things to make it feel more like I want it to feel is … awkward. It feels incredibly uncomfortable. It feels like a futile exercise now that I’ve started, even more so than it did in my head. Like trying to jam two entirely different stories together on the same page. Never mind the writing style; it’s just the content itself. It feels wrong. It feels like I’m doing this all wrong. Like I’ve failed before I’ve even begun.

GOOD.

This is learning. It is jamming two different stories together. That is not a good thing. It feels bad, and it feels pointless.

So let’s not do that then.

What it is doing right is now giving me an idea of how I would direct my re-write, whether that’s over the existing first-draft text or in an entirely new clean set of documents. Which is … exactly what I wanted it to do, because this is about laying down pipe, not turning on the water.

Again: this is good.

The question now is whether I immediately follow up this awkwardness with some rewriting or whether I let it sit. I guess, though, since I’m already doing Track Changes, I can just delete – or insert – huge lumps of text and come back to it later and see how it feels.

I do really still feel like I ought to be writing Tallulah over from scratch. I just don’t have the energy. But I might not ever have the energy and still need to do it, so energy can’t be my main concern. I have to shift that priority to something else. Necessity I guess. I can work with no energy.

And the thing is that there is already structure here, structure enough for me to work with and want to work with. Something to build on.

Well … I’ll finish working over this chapter and see how it feels. But I’ve gotten started again, and that’s what matters.

Co-optimal

So.

Because I am a Writer, and writers are nutjobs, I have decided to let Tallulah tell me what’s what, in as literal a manner as possible. I have intentionally switched on a voice in my head, and am now listening to its feedback on my decisions.

Turns out Tallulah and I work pretty well together.

This is her project. I’m doing it for her, on her behalf, bringing my skills to the table to help mediate her experiences and turn them into a story. I guess it’s a bit like trying to direct a piece somebody else has written, to try and strike a balance between representing their voice and making sure that the audience is satisfied by way of recognisable and familiar narrative conventions.

I am on a serious trip right now.

And it’s partly because I’m over-tired, but it’s actually working kind of really well right now.

Because why not separate the biographical and the narrative into two distinct sides, and then let them go at it? Only in this situation, instead of a fight, it’s a collaboration! I’m the people-pleaser here, the editor from the publishing house I guess, the interviewing journalist, and Tallulah is my subject, the one with the experiences that I so want to tell as a story. Her story.

It’s like when I went on that two-day bender with the Original version of the story – if I hadn’t committed so fully to it, I wouldn’t have gotten what I got out of it. Commitment, people. If you’re gonna do something, commit to it. Give it a chance to work, the best chance that you can.

She’s in there. She’s got her own voice, her own agenda … she is her own person, stored up here, in my brain, and I’m finally ready to listen.

Let the madness begin.

~~~

First of all: a ‘solution’ to a tricky chapter. It’s always been a tricky chapter, but now I’ve realised how it can not only be a fitting chapter but an essential chapter, and I don’t want to let it go. Tallulah wanted it in there, with a few changes, and then I had my mind blown by following through with certain ideas that it brought forth and now I’m champing at the bit to get it down.

I think this is the key: finding the desire to make something work, to take some aspect and, problematic or not, liking it so much that there is no alternative but to find a way to make it work. To find that drive for telling, for showing, for putting this out there into the world and in other people’s way. In an un-obnoxious way.

But I mean stories can be a little obnoxious, and intrusive. Mostly people like it when stories intrude.

So long as they’re good ones.

And if not, well, then they die.

~~~

Tallulah has a lot of thoughts to share. It’s very clarifying. It’s stuff I already knew – obviously – but hearing her say it is I’M NOT CRAZY ALL RIGHT I’M JUST DOING WHAT WORKS YOU CAN’T JUDGE ME YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT WE SHARE IS BEAUTIFUL

All of these themes, these situations that I couldn’t quite find the words into, she’s giving to me straight.

And that’s something else – I’m acting as a translator here. She has the experiences. I can’t tell her what her own experiences are. I’ve got to get them for her. So my words, my articulation of those experiences, is always going to be – at first anyway, while I’m listening – that of somebody getting the information first-hand, not the actual experience. That’s her position. She can say things about it that I can’t, because she understands it in a way that I don’t. It has affected her in a way that I can understand, but have not experienced from her perspective, and never will. Then, once I get it, I can copy her words down to make them shareable.

~~~

This has basically turned into a full-on interview … and it’s worked out pretty great. I have all of this inside information that I just didn’t before – or I did, but I’d just seen it and played around with it; I never heard her take on it. I never asked.

Partly because I didn’t want to act like a crazy person.

But in another sense, I’m just acting.

This is basically just role-play.

Maybe that’s why it’s working so well.

I think … the more seriously you can take your project, whatever it is, and the more effectively you can apply your imagination to it, the better you’ll be able to do it. Like me talking to Tallulah here. She speaks so fast that I can’t even make out the words, because, like, it’s all going on in my head anyway. I like the idea that this is what telepathy feels like – no words, just the meanings. Just the message.

I’m getting all of that clarity that I wanted for my characters as well, so that’s good.

~~~

Interview over, and I feel like I’ve just now begun to actually understand what this story is actually about – and why.

I am incredibly tired. I’m not just saying this to try and excuse my little diversion into psychosis; I was trying to tell my dad about what I did today and it all felt like it happened yesterday. I’m that tired. And I probably wouldn’t have let myself do this if I wasn’t so tired, so uninhibited.

I’m glad that I did; this was so clarifying. I remember now that I wanted to do those character interviews, but I didn’t mean it so literally. Perhaps I should have.

Well, it worked out anyway, and that’s all that matters.

How about you folks? Ever gone over the edge and trusted some strange, half-sleeping psychological exercise like this to find a way deeper into one of your stories? Ever interviewed your characters? Role-played your way through a scene? Felt like a crazy person for doing any of the above?

Gotten enough sleep?

Me either. Well, I mean a few times, but most definitely exceptions that prove the rule.

Let’s see how tonight goes. I’m out. More planning at some point tomorrow.

Draft 2 Planning pt3

I survived not only getting up at 8am but actually possibly not even sleeping the night before; my lecture was thought-provoking and linked up beautifully with most of the other papers I’m taking, and I even made some headway with a particularly difficult reading that is now actually becoming rather enjoyable. Not as much study as I could have done, but it’s getting there, which is pretty much how everything about my return to studenthood can be summed up. It’s getting there.

And it’s after 6pm over here, which means it’s time to write while writing, and plan the everloving lasagne (my former favourite food, now a close second) out of this second draft.

~~~

So. Hindsight is 20/20, and what’s becoming apparent to me is that, while I love drama, I don’t like ‘drama’. Or, to be more specific, I like working with dramatic dynamics and writing dramatic scenes, but I don’t like the tropes of ‘drama’, specifically when it comes to characters fighting or falling out – when I think of the word ‘drama’ in that context it brings to mind big emotional outbursts that end in tears over something clear-cut and moralistic, whereby characters’ emotions are used to transmit the author’s agenda, or agendas. Moralistic melodrama, I suppose. Not my thing.

However, to be fair, I’m rather overstating how much I don’t like the clearer kinds of interpersonal disputes that characters end up getting into, and I think it’s just because where I left off last night was at a point where one of the things I’d decided to change was to add in was a big dramatic emotional moralistic scene.

I do like emotions, however, and I like ambiguity, and there is nothing as upsetting as an honest emotional reaction to something confusing and unclear that is in and of itself confused and unclarified. A literal outburst, rather than an argument packaged in tears and/or heightened sound levels.

Put simply: I like fights where the people in them don’t necessarily know whether they did the right thing or not by holding up their side of the equation, sometimes even as the fight is taking place. Or, at least, I like the idea of having one at this part of the story, rather than what I’ve currently got in its place, which is much more straightforward and … story-ish. Just … generic. It feels lazy of me, I guess, like I can do better, and as such I don’t much like it.

I’m trying to think clearly about why I don’t like it now, though, before I make a definitive decision. One reason is just that it is rather generic in the way in which it is dramatic. But it does something that I wanted to find a way into doing a little more clearly, which was to give Tallulah actual character flaws. It really is dawning on me that I’m still finding it hard to commit to giving her these things that I have, repeatedly, criticised other main characters in other people’s stories for not having enough of to feel well-rounded or believable enough for me to want to care about or invest in them as ‘serious’ characters; and it kind of comes back to what I mean when I say I don’t like ‘drama’: the idea of ‘character flaws’ comes, to me, with as much of moral agenda and simplistic narrative presentation as the emotionally-charged arguments and pleas I’m so used to seeing and reading that are used to convey conflict. It’s not like they can’t work or be effective, and that’s another reason I’m trying to really think about why I don’t like my inclusion of such a scene, because it may well be that it does actually fit, but at the end of the day I just don’t like it, for whatever reason, and I may as well roll with that – I am trying to tell the story that I want to tell, after all.

And that is the other part of why I don’t like it, really: it’s just not a very Tallulah thing to do. I wanted – and still want – this draft to be where I really start letting her voice come through more, and if it doesn’t feel like something she’d do, or like it’s something that belongs in this story about her, then it doesn’t belong there. To be fair I was rather tired when I left off last night, more than I realised, so it’s fine – it was a useful bookmark to have, if nothing else.

As with the kinds of character conflicts I’m interested in, I’m interested in character flaws that do not feel like they’re just there to ‘balance out’ a character as a sort of utilitarian function of their existence; I like character flaws that are subjective within the story – people do all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons, and we don’t just have ‘bad parts’ that crop up in order to ‘balance us out’. Personality flaws are things that we and other people read into our habits and temperament, not objective facts about us, and as such it is entirely possible that some people won’t see the same flaws in the same person – what one person takes for a flaw another may take for a strength, or simply not notice at all, perhaps more affected by some other aspect of what they are able to discern of that person’s personality.

I like character flaws that are not objectively or universally regarded as flaws through the way that the story is told and the characters are presented within it. I think that’s what I’m trying to say. And as such, I like fights where the sides are likewise not objectively sorted into ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ within the narrative framework of the story itself, whatever the characters may think or feel about it.

And I do like the other kind as well, really – it just depends how and why they’re used, and the nature of the story being told.  I don’t like it in this part of this story, and neither does Tallulah.

And that’s really all that matters. Well, that makes things simple then …

~~~

Well, I just made ANOTHER huge change.

It addresses an issue that I’ve had from day one, but one that I haven’t really seriously considered until now. It needs to be addressed. I may as well tackle it head-on.

It doesn’t feel like it quite fits the tone of the story is the only thing, and it also feels like bad pacing considering the events that come before it to bring it up like this at this point in the story, but to do it any later also feels like bad pacing – can both be true? Perhaps … then on top of that, introducing this new element kind of necessitates bringing in another story element earlier, much earlier, than I’d like, which is essentially the lead-in to the climax of the story – I’m sure I don’t have to do this, but that’s what it feels like right now. So I’m a bit stuck. I will write the rest of this plan as though I’m keeping it, though, and see how it turns out. Who knows? It might just work. Learn by doing.

~~~

Now it’s getting into no-man’s land a bit, and that’s exciting. I’ve cut out 5 chapters. Six if I count that chapter that I split into two parts as two separate chapters, which given the way they were written doesn’t quite work but whatever.

In fact a lot of the chapters I’ve ‘cut out’ I’ve just packed into other chapters – which is part of what I wanted to do anyway, for some parts, but some of these chapters feel a bit long, like they could be split. But that can be something to worry about later.

Also, I just ran into an issue with the huge change I made, in that it cancels out a rather major part of the story and Tallulah’s character-development. Or, rather, I’ll have to work very hard to keep it in. Which I can do. I like a challenge. But it’s at this point that I have to start thinking about what I’m trying to keep in because it’s already in there and I’m used to having it there and I’m just rather attached to it, and what actually helps to tell the story and move it forward.

~~~

So, having taken some notes, like a good writer and non-hypocrite, I have a solution to the huge change I came up with – as in I have a plan for how to work it in.

It is very different to both my current manuscript and the vision of this story that I had in my head, as well as the characters, but it makes a really random part of the story actually make sense and actually feels like it sustains and builds on the tone of the story that I currently have written, and the characters as well. Pros and cons. It’s a perfectly valid option, but it is a LOT of new stuff to manage. Perhaps I’ll write it out in terms of how many chapters I think it’s going to take and see how I go …

Nope, didn’t do it. But I do think I’ll have to write out a version for this new take on things as well as a version sticking closer to what I’ve had planned, to see them in a longer, more structured form. I guess it also depends how much I value the image of Tallulah in my head vs what I’ve learnt about her from writing her, and working out how much from each contributes to who she is.

All right. Two new documents … gonna follow this through …

~~~

Probably a good place to stop for the night. Well, for this post anyway. I’ll probably keep writing, starting with the HUGE CHANGE option and following that through to conclusion, but that seems like about all I’m going to need to process via this blog …

~~~

Nope! Totally stumbled upon an implication for the story that I’d never even considered, and it’s HUGE! WHY IS EVERYTHING SO HUGE!

Anyway, that need sorting out – more notes! It actually turns out that this too solves a persistent issue I’ve been having with this story; this is turning out to be a very generative night indeed!

There is one big concern, and it has to do with Tallulah’s voice again; this new version of events cuts off the momentum of her agency pretty hard, and her increased agency was an idea for this second draft – although I don’t know if I’ll actually call it a draft, might do what my mother does and call it a revision as that’s what it’s feeling like more so than a draft – that had me really motivated to do it. Although agency does not equal momentum; a frustrated protagonist, with energy but nowhere to direct it but inwards, can be a very good thing indeed. And that does actually feel very much like Tallulah.

And I’ll end it there.

~~~

Good work for the night! And now to go get dinner, at 10pm. I love being a writer.

Draft 2 Planning pt2

I had a plan for what I was going to do today, but I decided not to, and I’ve been feeling the aftershocks ever since. I did get the stuff done, but that feeling of unfinished business was unwilling to leave. I think it’s just that I finally started feeling like a university student again, worrying about making the people who are grading me happy with my work, and that my work is good enough.

I hate that feeling.

I mean I can’t know what ‘good enough’ is according to other people anyway, and I want to keep this focused on me, my parameters – to just get it done and move on, and not try and burrow into it and take up residence for the winter. I want to treat this as an activity, not a political manoeuvre (that’s how we spell “maneuver” in NZ, for those who don’t live here); I picked these papers because they were a way for me to pursue some of my interests, and that’s the level of investment I want to put into it.

This does mean that I’m starting to push up against the dreaded Wall of Denial, or it feels like it anyway – trying to feel honestly, this stress, this aim to please, is what is ‘honestly’ going on with me. But at the same time, just because it’s honest doesn’t mean it’s healthy or helpful. It means that I’ve got a reason for it, but it doesn’t mean the reason’s good.

Gotta trust myself to stay the course here; another part of it is simply that I haven’t gotten all the work done that I wanted to. But I’ve still got three days before the week is really up. It’s just a matter of followthrough. And I can do that.

Speaking of which: I left off at a critical juncture with Draft 2 planning last night, so it’s time to pick it back up. I found a solution to my roadblock, so I guess I’ll start there.

~~~

For those of you who are familiar with Final Fantasy X, I have this pipe-dream of retelling it as a graphic novel, one day when I’m an amazing illustrator and somehow get permission from Square Enix to do this thing. It’s fanfiction essentially, but the images of how I’d draw it kind of get me pumped. Also I’m taking a paper on comics this semester, so I guess that might be why I ended up thinking of it.

But being a fanfiction/revision of an existing narrative, I’m taking certain liberties with it, and because the thing’s so bloody long I thought that it would be best to divide it up into episodes, and I spent about an hour last night, unable to sleep, trying to find natural stopping-points. There are actually a lot, and that’s good. It’s one of the skills you can get from doing a revision/fanfic/any kind of re-telling of an existing story, becoming aware of where these points are. And this turned out to be the solution for me as well with this road-block; there was a random-feeling ending to one of my chapters that I wasn’t sure whether to keep or not, and then suddenly, looking at this obstacle and thinking of how to work around it, I thought I’d change the beginning of the chapter to be the end of a discarded draft of a different chapter, and as it so happens that discarded beginning and the random ending work together to make a very sound-feeling chapter, because they link up. All I have to do is link them up throughout the body of the chapter as well – which should be pretty easy – and suddenly what were once three disparate elements now feel like they’ve never been anything but a cohesive whole.

ALWAYS KEEP EVERYTHING.

ahem.

~~~

The solutions keep rolling in; this is looking quite different to my other plans up to this point, but I think that’s a good thing. And I mean I can always change it if I want. It feels pretty solid, though.

I’m trying to go with the image of what this story could be in my head while writing this plan, and to catch myself out when I start getting hung up on how things currently are in the manuscript. I’m also not sure quite how self-contained I want each chapter to feel – I do like me an episodic format, but I also like chapters that work more as thematically-connected scenes without that self-contained feeling. Again, I can change it later – I’m just worried I’m getting a bit trigger-happy with the ideas here without being able to see them through to conclusion.

Oh well. It’s worked well enough for me so far I guess.

~~~

Now in really seriously uncharted territory with this plan. I changed a thing because it feels like the right thing to do, and now I’m stuck. But I’m rolling with it. This may actually give me an excuse to add in a couple of scenes I have kicking around in my head that didn’t fit before.

But I do think this is a good stopping-point for the night – lots of possible directions to go in.

Getting there. I’m almost at what is currently the halfway-point of my manuscript, only I’ve shaved off four or five chapters with this plan. There are quite a few chapters that really just don’t do anything, and it’s rather astonishing seeing how true that is by doing this and just working kind of from memory of what happens, and working with the idea of what I want to happen.

I’ve also left out some things that I really like, so I’ll think about how to get them back in – tomorrow! For now, I must sleep, or at least rest, before waking up long before every ingrained habit in me is even remotely happy about, the same time I had planned to wake up this morning. 8am.

If I make it, I’ll see y’all on the otherside for more draft planning.