6512

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah no. Really no.

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

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

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

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

But those similarities got me thinking about … other things.

Like how Susan died.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It should be proof.

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

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

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

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

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

On a mission. I like the sound of that.

So sayeth the Ubermensch!

Advertisements

And then there were two

I had it. I had a freaking (sure I’ll re-impose my no–heavy-swearing rule why not) Nanowrimo novel all set and ready to go and then today, today I just had to go back through some of my older documents, which I kept because I go by the rule of never throwing anything writing-related away because you never know when it might come in handy, and I just had to be right about it didn’t I and so now I have another potential Nanowrimo novel.

And, I mean, there’s a solution to this that doesn’t include picking just one. I can just write both. I can either not bother with the actual Nanowrimo website and stuff, or I can do my ‘create your novel’ thing as ‘various’ and set a word-count goal that I want to reach spread out between these two, and however many more others I may come up with over the course of this month.

But I dunno. I feel that in a lot of ways this is a cop-out. I also feel in a lot of ways that this is a very elegant solution, but the cop-out feelings come from the fact that I am trying to get more disciplined about how and when and, most importantly, why I write, and I’ve been set on committing to one writing project – besides the co-writing project – in order to develop this discipline. It’s arbitrary, yes, but that’s part of why I think it will be a useful way to train myself to write my actual writing projects, instead of, for example, complaining about how hard it is to write my actual writing projects on this blog.

Which is certainly an authentic part of the “writing experience” that it would be disingenuous to exclude, but my point is that this solution feels like an easy way out, and I don’t know what I should do.

I feel that this project is particularly suited to Nanowrimo as well, because it’s probably going to be fairly short – somewhere around 50-60k words, I would imagine. And the shortness of it just makes it seem like the right choice, the correct choice for me to make here. To the exclusion of the other choice I’m thinking of making.

I guess, though, the only thing that matters in the end is that I’m getting some writing done.

And I’ve gotten some writing done. I wrote just over 1k words of this new project this morning and afternoon, and am aiming to do more as the day goes on.

And yeah, it is stupid to shoehorn yourself into an arbitrary box when there is no need for such a thing. A use for it? I mean yeah I do think there’s value in building discipline by doing things according to arbitrary limits – to a point – because it’s more about building the habit than the actual task itself in that case …

Except in this case it’s about both, and that’s just a wrongheaded way to go about it, I think, because this is what I want to do when I write. I want to do it because I care, and I want to be able to do it with total commitment. Or more accurately, I want to get used to doing it with total commitment …

Probably within the confines of an arbitrary time-limit. Which means lots of writing across lots of days as opposed to huge writing-dumps followed by days of inactivity. I think that’s the discipline I’m trying to develop here: consistency.

So … I guess I’m doing both.

Wow, that was easy.

Man, things really don’t change much around here, do they?

Okay a little about these projects, because otherwise this post really is pointless.

The first one I already mentioned: Urban Fantasy, set in New Zealand, aiming to engage with the various social and cultural issues of this odd little nation of mine. This has already proven to require a ton of research for me to feel like I’m a robust enough writer to do it justice, but it’s actually been a pretty fun experience, as opposed to off-putting or discouraging. And also, inevitably, a place for me to confront my own internal biases and prejudices as a writer that I recognise a lot of in the Urban Fantasy genre, which is worrying, and which I worry will not actually be addressed with sufficient critical capacity in my own writing – but at the same time, that’s kind of the appeal of this project, because I don’t have to think and can just get something written. And then fix it later, if it’s worth continuing with after that. I just need to get to the point where I’m excited about actually writing it more than anything else.

Which is where I’m kind of at with this second project: it’s about the Hero’s Journey, in a broad sense, and in a more specific sense it’s about looking at modern formulations of heroes and heroism, and how that mythic narrative and its various tropes intersect with sexism, racism, homophobia, fascism, ableism – you know, just something light and fluffy. I am actually aiming to make it pretty light and fluffy; I recently read Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, thought it was pandering and ham-fisted and relied on way too many stereotypes to be “authentically” feminist, and came away from it glad to have read it. This is something sort of in that vein; it’s not going to convince anyone who disagrees with my particular worldview to change their mind, and will honestly probably convince anyone who does agree with my particular worldview that I actually have no idea what the fuck (goodbye self-imposed swearing ban) I’m talking about – but it seems like it’ll be fun to write, and at the moment that’s all I’m looking for. It’s going to be “meta”. Because that’s original.

What an age we live in …

Speaking of things meta, I have recently finished Stranger Things 2 and have many, many thoughts. Mostly not actually about the show itself, but what it’s made me think about serial narrative in general. Spoilers ahead. I’ve actually done a bit of research for this rant, so get ready to be invited to click things.

Basically, Stranger Things 2 is Stranger Things only not as good, because it’s been done before, and better. Where season one very explicitly – and expertly – played on the audience’s nostalgia or just general fondness for the film aesthetic of ’70s and ’80s films (and the influence of E.T.The GooniesA Nightmare on Elm Street and Alien in particular), season two plays on the audience’s nostalgia for season one.

To be honest, I can’t even remember season one very well, and that was one of the more enjoyable media experiences that I had last year. I came away from it feeling satisfied, and simultaneously resolved to never watch it again. There is only so much intertextual stimulation one person can take. Though perhaps that’s why I actually feel somewhat compelled to watch season one again, because after season two my tolerance levels for nostalgiasploitation have recharged, because while season two not only rides but stretches out the coattails of season one in terms of plot, pacing and key elements of interest to viewers, it does not result in a nostalgic joy-bomb in the same way that season one does. In fact, it doesn’t feel nostalgic at all.

And that’s kind of the whole appeal of the show. Yes, you can point to the characters and the fact that people grew very attached to them over the course of season one, but that’s just what a decent show manages to do with its characters, and season one is certainly a decent show. But that’s not its wow-factor. Its wow-factor is the fact that it so effortlessly, artfully manages to splice together a billion different visual, musical and narrative references to ’70s and ’80s films, from the all-boys’ club with the one token girl who’s interesting and an outsider because she’s a girl, to the sleepy insular suburban town under scrutiny from heartless government officials, to the teenagers pursued by an inescapable monster while they explore their sexuality, to the lighting, the costuming, the writing, and the goddamn title sequence font. 

Season two’s supposed wow-factor is, as far as I can gather, the fact that, hey, it’s those characters and that world and aesthetic from season one that you loved so much because it reminded you of other things, only now it just reminds you of this thing that was entertaining because it reminded you of other things to begin with … etc. Season one was far from perfect. I’m pretty much on board with the criticisms that have been made with regard to the women characters (to be fair, I’m pretty much on board with both negative and positive criticism in that regard); I’m obviously on board with the idea that the most substantial part of the show is how powerful of a pastiche it is; I’m very much of a mind that however good and likeable the main cast is – and it is – the show leans a little too heavily on the era it most explicitly borrows from, and the mythic mode of storytelling employed in the first season is troubled by the same kinds of problems that pop up in films from the ’70s and ’80s (race, gender and sexuality is mainly what I’m thinking of in these terms). But it was at the very least novel, and I do think that, even if it had just been a sort of run-of-the-mill sci-fi drama in a contemporary setting as opposed to being a period piece, the chemistry and talent of the cast and the core themes of friendship and love overcoming boundaries of communication would have been solid enough that it would have made an emotional impact on audiences. It’s just that the main force of the impact that it did make is absolutely the result of its use of pastiche.

And the reason its pastiche is so powerful is because it draws on so many different sources. It’s not enough to just say “’80s Spielberg films and John Carpenter soundtracks”; it is such a wide-reaching pastiche that it’s amazing the tone is as consistent as it is. And yet it does present a coherent vision, and that is the beauty of the show as far as I’m concerned, not its content but its form – and as any good film student knows (I’m a film student, technically speaking), form is content. It is a magnificent achievement because it borrows from so many different influences, all worn on its sleeve, while simultaneously presenting them through a unified aesthetic strategy that blends them together into something at once familiar and novel – to borrow an often-used term from Gothic theory, the resemblance is uncanny.

The problem with season two is not that it deviates from this strategy; it’s that it applies it to the wrong source material – itself. And simply put, there is not enough there to draw on for the same kind of full-force impact made by the first season. It’s kind of like a bad DLC pack, letting you spend more time with the original game but at the cost of adding things to it that don’t need to be added, except for blatant fandom-pandering coughohheylookpeopleactuallycarethatBarbdiednowisn’tthatnicecough. It’s like Sherlock season 3, only if people actually liked Sherlock season 3. And I suppose there must be people who did – personally I only watched the first two episodes, decided I’d had enough of watching Stephen Moffat wanking and called it quits with that series entirely. I would watch a Stranger Things 3. But I would not expect much from it.

And I think that’s the biggest problem with ST2: it doesn’t raise the stakes. In fact in many ways it seems to actively seek to lower them, and it does this through self-cannibalisation, without seeming to care that there’s only so much of itself that it can eat before there’s nothing left. The evil scientist guy this time around has a conscience and is won over with pretty much zero conflict. The Demogorgon is replaced with a horde of smaller “Demodogs” that, we are led to believe, will eventually each become a fully-fledged Demogorgon, plus a Thing From Beyond that is a literal fucking Smoke Monster every time we see it, and we all know how well that turned out the first time. Will is once again the plot-catalyst and resident victim for the entire season; once again the boys are torn apart by the sudden appearance of a new girl in town; once again Nancy, Steve and Jonathan play love-triangle and oh god just I don’t even want to think about where that went, Nancy is not my favourite character by any means but she is a good character, if only they would write her well enough to match it. It’s just …

It’s that thing that happens to long-running series, where they run out of ideas and start regurgitating their old ones, becoming more and more inward-looking until it’s nothing but a self-congratulatory Ouroboros circle-jerk. The series that rests on its laurels and buys into its own hype, when the actual hype has faded due to a lack of innovation. Ross and Rachel, anyone? Anyone who is as old and irrelevant as I now feel for making that reference, at least?

The problem with ST2 is that it has done what other serial narratives at least take a few seasons, or books or movies or whatever, to do: it falls into the trap of mythologising itself, and in doing so loses the creative spark that made it so captivating to begin with. The MCU is in this phase right now; yes, Ragnarok was very entertaining, and I will certainly go and see Black Panther because 1) representation and 2) how the fuck is a blockbuster Hollywood film called Black Panther even getting made in this climate it needs all the support we can give it on that merit alone. But I don’t think anybody who isn’t a diehard fan with all the loyalty-based emotional blinders that accompany such fervor would argue that these movies are captivating. I don’t think, beyond Iron Man and The Avengers, that any of them have been, though some have certainly been better than others. My point is that it took a good few movies until this point of stagnation really hit home, and now the MCU is known for being a factory that pumps out adequate, unremarkable blockbusters twice a year. Stranger Things did that after only one season, and it’s very disappointing.

However.

It has also gotten me to think about how other series also explicitly rely on creating a nostalgia for themselves in their respective audiences, even the ones that do well – in fact especially the ones that do well, because they make returning to that nostalgia with each new installment feel like a reward, rather than something to tolerate. Harry Potter, for example, had an explicit, built-in appeal based on readers getting to go back to Hogwarts and the wizarding world with each new story. But even if it’s not explicit, there is always the implicit appeal of returning to the world and characters of the story that all serial narratives attempt to instill in their audience. And I had never thought about it in such explicit terms until I watched ST2 and tried to identify why I was so disappointed with it, even though I will admit I enjoyed it fine while watching it.

Nostalgia is something we tend to think about in relation to people who can’t let go of the past, the “good old days”, old TV shows and music and movies and technology. We rarely think of it as something inherently related to anything contemporary, and just for this new perspective, I think my time spent with ST2 was well worth it. But as the second season of a promising if slightly too gimmicky and uncritical for my tastes show, it delivered more of what I already had, in worse condition, to increasingly diminishing returns. It’s lazy. That’s the simplest way to describe this season. But I’m glad I didn’t leave it at that.

There are some things best left alone, though, and ST2, to me, proves that – that it managed to be such a pure shot of nostalgia-crack in the first place is, in my eyes, reason enough to laud it and add it to the pantheon of pop culture phenomena. Like The Lord of the Rings, it was done perfectly the first time around, and the appeal of returning to it again does not mean creating a new way to do it beyond the ways already available. The originals will always be there (unless you’re Star Wars, thanks George Lucas), and that’s what the lure of nostalgia is reminding us of, not that we need an expansion of what causes it. Although thankfully after The Hobbit I think there’s no chance of the cinematic exploration of middle-earth being any more over-exploited than it already …

… has been …

Fuck.

OFF.

 

Nanobot

It’s that time again.

I have successfully “completed” Nanowrimo a grand total of once in the five or so years that I have known of its existence, and twice if you count Camp Nanowrimo, which you should because it’s exactly the same thing just in a different month and they didn’t want to dilute their branding with more month-specific acronyms I guess. I am aiming to complete it again this year – though I might not start my own project until after the 16th, when I’ve finished my marking.

Even if that is the case, though, I’m already sort of using it to get me into the groove of writing episodes of the co-writing project me and my friend are still working on – we’ve finally reached the actual writing portion, though there’s still some planning going on at the same time, and so far it’s been pretty good – early days yet, but definitely fun and productive. And exciting. And hard, but writing is always hard.

I will be adding to that workload with my personal project as soon as I either finish my marking or get into a really good groove that encompasses marking, the co-writing project and this one, and I’m shooting for the latter. This is a project that I considered using Nanowrimo to write … last year? But it was in a very different state back then; it was much darker, and much more cynical, and just a lot … shittier. Not as in worse, per se, but as in it was about shitty people doing shitty things and in the end the bad guy – who is also the protagonist and POV character – wins.

Whereas now …

have been reading a lot of Urban Fantasy lately.

I mean, it was inevitable. I wrote my shitty YA werewolf novel during my werewolf kick and while writing my MA about YA film adaptations. Now I’m on an Urban Fantasy kick and this story and setting just … fit. Plus, it’s set in New Zealand, which automatically makes it novel in the UF market, though “novel” does not necessarily mean “marketable” but fuck it it’s what I feel like working on.

And boy am I working on it. I’m planning and plotting and designing; it’s quite a conceptual overhaul, and the more I think about the possibilities with this project, the more I want to delve into it. This is one of those projects I talked about not feeling ready to try writing because of things like research and life experience and shit, but I’m trying to make myself see this as an opportunity to broaden my horizons, expand my knowledge, and take advantage of my natural curiosity to propel me to success with this endeavour. I mean, I binge-watched Stranger Things 2 last night, and then spent an hour and a half this morning surfing the internet to look for articles written about it so that I could develop my own response to it. Just because that was what I was interested in. If I can hit that sort of stride with this project, there’s nothing I can’t do.

There’s plenty of things I can’t do fine but this book won’t be one of them.

Besides, what’s a first draft unless it’s really shit? I can make unsubstantiated claims that expose my most base prejudices to stand in for facts and evidence to start with. To give myself some direction for my research efforts. Which is probably a good idea, because I really need to know specifically what I’m trying to research before I start on that, and really I’ll probably only know that once the first draft is done and all the ideas are there for me to comb through.

Which is also why I want to use Nanowrimo to write this: because I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this first draft. I want this first draft to be done by the time Nano ends, so that I can get to the research. And that requires me to have the capacity to make a really straightforward plan, whether that’s a plan that involves things like plot and key moments and all that typical stuff, or if it’s a plan to write with a particular goal and leave the technical shit out of it, as I did with my shitty YA werewolf novel.

I’m not sure I can do it that way, though. The werewolf book just clicked for me; the metaphors and themes and structure just seemed so obvious, whereas with this … it’s really not. I don’t have the same kind of intuitive sense for how to fit the tropes and generic structures together effectively. With the werewolf book, it was YA tropes, and again I was writing my MA on YA film adaptations. With this one, though, perhaps because it’s me rebooting and re-envisioning a much older idea of mine, or perhaps because I’m just not as familiar with UF as I am with YA, it just isn’t clicking for me in the same way. So I think I’m going to have to take a more methodical approach for this one.

But I want it done quickly in any event. Maybe I just need to change the way I’m approaching this project – its appeal is pretty much a combination of wanting to get back into my own writing and wanting Peace Talks to come out already, so going back to my hack roots and ripping some shit off doesn’t sound like a bad way to go …

But whatever. I can work that out. The point right now is that I have Intentions towards Nanowrimo, and I’m eager to get started. I’m not ready, and I don’t know what I need to do to be ready, but I am motivated to get to that point.

And I just want to know what it feels like to write a whole novel in a month. I want to know that I not only can do it, but have done it.

I rather like having ambition. It’s a new feeling. I could get used to it.

Call me a Necromancer

… coz I’m back from the dead, apparently. Has it seriously been 2 months since my last post? I’ve been having anxiety about not being able to write a good-enough new post almost daily, so I guess that feels the same as regular updates or something.

Anyway yeah hi peeps. Not a ton has happened since I made that Generic Blog Post. I mean, no, actually, tons of stuff has happened, but almost nothing related to writing, which is what this blog is supposedly about.

So what did happen so glad you asked let me tell you I saw Blade Runner 2049, and it was soooooo long. So long and not enough happened to warrant such a gratuitous volume of run-time. If they’d chopped about an hour off it, I would think back on it more fondly; as it is I don’t think I’ll be thinking about it much at all. The most interesting part of the film was Jo. No, I will not link any articles or anything to further expand upon this because 1) my opinion is the only one that matters and 2) I don’t need to spend any more time on this decidedly middling film than I’ve already paid money to do. I didn’t mind it while I was watching it, and now that I’m not, I have no desire to do so again. And no, I’m not a fan of the first one (mostly because I haven’t seen it, except for the ending).

I made myself re-watch season 5 of Teen Wolf, mostly because I was bored, but slightly because I remember being seriously underwhelmed by it and wanted to see if time might have changed my perspective. And to my surprise, the answer was yes. I actually kind of enjoyed it the second time around. It’s still definitely not my favourite season – that goes to seasons 1 and 3 – but this one did some things that I wish other seasons had done. Like giving Lydia anything to do, at all, ever. That was nice, when she wasn’t busy being subjected to her latest thinly-veiled-rape-metaphor sub-plot. Still waiting for season 6 to hit Netflix, and if it doesn’t … well, I don’t want to think about that.

I read a bunch of books, and decided to not read a bunch of other books. I can’t really argue that it’s because some of those books were more or less problematic than the others as the reason for this; I think it’s just because my tastes push me in certain directions. For instance, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson I gave up on after the first few pages of chapter 1, because it starts off with [spoilers] our hero being introduced as a wiseass troublemaker who has god-like powers and uses them to rescue a teenage slave girl from being kidnapped and raped by her owner and then setting fire to his house and killing him and all of his staff – and it all happens off-page, too. [end spoilers] It’s not enough that this is one of the laziest cliches to ever grace the page; it doesn’t even grace the fucking page. And then the first chapter is about some angsty thief girl with trust issues, and my god if I have to read one more male author’s angsty thief girl with trust issues in a high fantasy novel …

Then there’s Every Which Way but Dead by Kim Harrison, which I gave up on when [spoilers] Rachel agrees to go out with whatshisface the sexy-in-a-stalkery-way vampire who has been in her room without her knowledge and is picking out her clothes for their date and he’s so controlling and dominant and alpha and god fuck off just fuck off no more. [end spoilers] Both of these books evoked that response in me; and it’s a shame, because I quite liked the Rachel Morgan books up to that point, though they were a bit less … punchy, I guess, than I was hoping for. I like Ivy and Jenks, and I will probably go back to it at some stage – right now, though, I can’t take any more of that shit.

However, here’s where I lose any ability whatsoever to claim that these books were too “problematic” for me, because to wash the bad taste out of my mouth I read Changes by Jim Butcher in an evening and a morning. God I love that fucking series. Not because it’s morally better than either of the other two I’ve mentioned, but because it’s written to be read, and I fucking obliged. That book had [spoilers] Harry Dresden finding out that he’s Susan’s baby-daddy, and is only able to save said baby that he is the -daddy of – and destroy the Red Court of vampires, whom he more or less single-handedly instigated a worldwide war against in book 3 – is by killing Susan once she becomes a full vampire, as she was bitten by the former leader of the Red Court – also his fault – but fighting the curse by not drinking human blood … so not only did he betray Susan by not giving her enough information about the situation they were heading into in book 3 (a vampire ball where all the vampires want him dead), but he also uses her as a justifiable human sacrifice in order to save the world and also their daughter, and yes it’s sad and tragic and that’s the point but I don’t care that it’s the point because it’s a shitty trope and it’s not about Harry the character it’s about the fucking story and the fact that it didn’t have to use this fucking plot to begin with that is the fucking problem [end spoilers] and I fucking lapped that shit up and I am definitely reading the remaining 3 published books in the series because I am a disgusting hypocrite there I said it it’s all out in the open now come at me.

Except don’t actually come at me though because I don’t handle confrontation well. Please.

And on top of all of that …

I did actually start doing some writing.

It’s not “real” writing, though. But it’s a way of approaching my projects that I’ve never thought of before: looking at them as something other than books. I mean in a practical sense, there’s a reason I’ve never done that: I’ve got ideas for videogames and comics and films and even plays that I’ve never bothered to work on, because I didn’t have the resources to “really” do any of those things. I mean, those things cost money, and I ain’t got none of that.

However – I don’t need money to write a script. I don’t need money to write an outline. I don’t need money to write stage directions.

And so I’m heading in that direction with some projects now, and it’s really opened me up creatively – for one, because I’m actually working on things now, but also because I’m thinking outside the box. It’s always been books with me, because I am a very literal-minded person when it comes right down to it, and also a perfectionist, and if I can’t do something exactly the way I want to be able to do it, historically I just don’t do it at all.

This all changed, though, when a friend and I started writing … well, it was a very intentionally-thinly-veiled Teen Wolf tribute/fanfic, with some Buffy and Shadowhunters and even Twilight thrown in, though it is slowly but surely starting to become its own thing now. Co-writing is fantastic, and one of the reasons it’s fantastic is because it gives you surplus creative energy. We started this project because we were stagnating with our other projects, and thought this would be a way to try and jump-start our creative energies – so I decided to try it out, bringing out one of my older projects – the second-oldest, in fact – and seeing if I could do something with it now that I was all recharged and stuff.

Not only did it work, but it worked in a couple of ways that I hadn’t expected. The first unexpected thing was that I realised that the endless documents of planning that I have historically done for projects that I initially feel very enthusiastic about and then burn-out hard on because of said planning documents – they actually serve another purpose, one that might actually get me to be more engaged with those projects instead of less. Part of what’s great about co-creating is that you have another person, or a few other people, to bounce ideas off, and they’re bouncing their ideas off you as well. You can’t do that by yourself, for obvious reasons – unless you’re a writer, in which case you can write to yourself. And having made this discovery, I now see an opportunity in my planning that was, until this revelation, little more than an unhealthy habit that I lamented being unable to kick.

The second revelation was that I realised that I wanted this project to not be a book, because so many of the core elements of it are so intrinsically visual – so I decided to make it a comic instead. No, I’m not happy with my current drawing ability, but I don’t need to be able to draw – I can write panel treatments. Instructions, in other words; the screenplay of comics. I can do that until the cows come home. So going forward with that project, that is the plan.

This was so inspiring that I started experimenting with other projects, and lo and behold it kept workingRealm of the Myth, my adolescent author-insert self-fanfic high fantasy project – that’s a videogame now, and it makes sense in a way that it never has before. Particularly the magic system. Everything about that story rests on the magic system, and I realised that, being a videogame, the lore only matters insofar as it justifies having mechanics that work. Or it does to me, anyway, and that’s all that matters because I’m the one writing the fucking thing. I could have the most convoluted, batshit magic system lore imaginable, and as long as the mechanics are sound it doesn’t matter. It’s been so liberating. And inspiring. I’m starting to believe that, one day, this story might actually get published, in one form or another. And whether or not it does, I believe I have finally found the appropriate medium to tell it with.

And then the unthinkable happened. I went back to another of my videogame projects, and found that writing stat sheets and names and abilities just wasn’t tangible enough. I needed something more immediate, more direct, to interact with.

So I started drawing. For context, I don’t think I’ve actually drawn anything intentional – scribbles and doodles don’t count, and I’ve barely done those either – since I was in my early 20’s.

And it blew my fucking mind. It’s all-consuming. I couldn’t stop thinking about what other cool shit I was going to try and draw for a few days; I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit now, but god it was good to hop back on.

And all of this progess is stuff that I’m staggering out and sort of hopping between, and that feels good. I feel like I’m going somewhere here, like progress is being made, or personal growth or some shit.

And it’s gotten me a bit more hyped for Nanowrimo, too. I’m not sure what I’m going to use it for, but I am sure that I do, in fact, want to use it for something. Maybe several things. It’ll have to be a sort of side-project, as at least the first half of November is going to be devoted to marking final assignments for the comics paper I’m marking for – oh right that also happened – but I like the idea of using it as a way to experiment with this panel treatment idea. Or even *gasp* finishing my revision notes for Tallulah.

Which I feel like I’m going to put back down after I make these notes, because holy crap it needs so much work. I also think I’ve put myself in a ridiculous position with it in other ways, certain creative decisions I’ve made, and I would at the very least need to seriously re-evaluate those decisions before I’m able to finish it in good conscience. But, hey, I’ve got other projects that I’m enthusiastic about now, and could easily transfer my efforts and energy into them. While also continuing to work on this not-a-fanfic-anymore co-writing project, because seriously it is astounding just how enjoyable it is to co-write something. I had forgotten.

 

I have not been this pumped about writing since … yeah, since 2015. My shitty YA werewolf thing was the last time I really wanted to write something until this co-writing thing, and now my own projects are getting a new lease on life because of it. But I think the thing I’m happiest about is that I’ve got energy for projects that aren’t just writing-related, which I’ve wanted for quite some time now. Ever since I had that whole I-am-not-a-writer epiphany that went absolutely nowhere. Well, maybe now it is.

I am looking forward to finding out.

Also to the next update to this blog being in slightly less time than two months from now.

Generic Blog Post

For the past month-ish, I have had a number of phone alarms that I’ve set up to try and get myself to do shit I’ve Always Meant To Do. These alarms have titles to go along with them, advertising their ostensible purpose. For instance, on Thursdays and Saturdays I have my 1 p.m. “Be A Responsible Adult” alarm, made specifically to make me look for jobs and consider the state of my CV with a mind to update where necessary. I have my “Walkies” alarm at 3 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; I have my “Revision, Bitch” alarm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. I have “Writing” every day of the week at 4 p.m.

I also have corresponding alarms telling me to stop doing these things, except for “Walkies”, which has its own built-in stopping-point. Occasionally these alarms go off and annoy other people in the house when I’m not there to turn them off. As a result, these are now calendar notifications instead of alarms, and will blip once like a text notification instead of playing the god-awful pre-packaged phone jingle that I can’t seem to change or customise in any way for five minutes straight, and again every five minutes until I finally arrive to turn it off.

They have not been effective.

Okay, they have been partially effective, or perhaps I should say selectively effective. “Walkies” is probably the one that works the best, which, hey, is something to be pleased with. Exercise is hard. “Writing” not so much. “Revision, Bitch” – I’ll leave that up to your imagination, because it’s probably more impressive than the reality has been. “Be A Responsible Adult” is the one where I finally started to think “maybe the reason I’ve only set this alarm up for 2 seemingly unrelated days per week is because I want to make it as easy as possible to dismiss such a repulsive notion and I’m intentionally sabotaging my efforts to make it happen because I don’t want to put effort into making it happen because I’m not a responsible adult”.

What has happened, though, is that I’ve continued coming around to newer ideas for things that I’d want to write, and yesterday while writing some outlines I hit upon an obvious problem, and a solution to the problem at the same time. The problem, as I’ve lamented before, is that whenever I plan out a story, I lose interest in it. Whenever I start devoting entire folds full of Word documents containing my plans and outlines for a story, I find that while I have ideas, I have no passion for making them come to life on the page, no desire for the story that these ideas supposedly constitute to be told. I was about to get very frustrated with myself for not having a better way of doing things, because while I knew that planning things out tended to kill my passion for those very things, I also needed a way to organise enough of my ideas so that I had a clear focus that I could refer back to if I got stuck or lost.

And then, the obvious solution came to me.

Don’t write a plan just to have a plan. Write a plan when you have a plan.

I tend to write outlines based on the idea that, if I want to be responsible about whatever story I’m writing, I need to have it planned out in advance so that I can be precise and exact and deliberate with what I’m writing. I don’t know where I got this idea, only that a lot of guilt and shame is involved in knowing that it’s not the way I operate. But the problem with that, as I now know, is that it’s not making an outline; it’s brainstorming. An outline is for when you’ve already had the brainstorm. And my brainstorms, when I recognised them for what they were, had no passion in them. I had somehow cut out the part in my creative process where the excitement of discovery and new ideas happen and gone straight to the part where I write it all down so that I don’t forget it, or so that if I do forget it I have a way to remember. And that’s the part that I want to get back.

The way to get it back, I think, is to just let myself think. To put ideas together in my head until they get interesting, and then write that down. Writing as safety netting, in a sense, rather than writing as an instruction manual – which makes sense with a new story in particular, because how can you write an instruction manual when you don’t even know what you need the instructions for yet?

So at the moment I’m just trying to let myself think, to be patient, and wait until I have something worth writing about before I get going. I am confident that this will work, but it also means that I have to be a bit more willing to drop everything and write down cool ideas when they come to me – and also to, like, write the fucking story. Which is maybe a little while down the road, because I haven’t had the cool idea that I want yet.

Also because I have a couple of full drafts of books that I do feel a responsibility to explore further, but that’s another consideration.

I’ve also been reading, though I have to confess that it got harder when I found that other people had borrowed the books that I wanted to borrow before I could, and had to put actual effort into thinking of what I’d like to read instead. It’s been good, in the sense that I’ve had to expand my horizons beyond The Dresden Files – not that I don’t enjoy that series quite a lot, but I definitely don’t want to only read that series, however easy it would be to do exactly that – and even got around to finishing up the Rebel Belle YA series that I started back in … 2014? It was right around the end of my YA kick, one of the last ones I read (and one of the main reasons my YA kick ended). I liked the premise, the lead character, and the generally light, energetic tone of the first book in particular, but when I finished the second book (not as interesting, and definitely not as memorable) the third had yet to be published, and I kind of forgot about it. The reason it ended my YA kick, by the way, is because I was so excited at how this book had things like pacing, things actually happening, characters who I was supposed to like that I did actually like – which all sounds good, until I realised that what was so refreshing about the book was that it was basically written competently, and so much of the other YA stuff I’d been reading was not. That killed the passion pretty effectively, and I haven’t gone back to YA since.

Until now. I finally got my hands on Lady Renegades, and while neither of the sequels are quite as engaging or exciting as the first book, I was happy to see what happened to Harper and the resolution of the plot. It’s the kind of ending that I wouldn’t expect to like, generally, but I like Harper quite a lot, and the fact that she ended the series happy was enough for me.

I also got around to reading The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which I’m trying to write a review of that may or may not ever get finished. I liked it, and it took me a while to get into it. I realised halfway through that it was a pretty perfect anti-Twilight, deconstructing a lot of the problematic tropes (but not all of them) inherent in that series, but mostly what it reminded me of was The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is one of my favourite books. It has a humane balance of sadness and hope that has a strong family resemblance to Tombs, no matter how much like an overt Twilight deconstruction it is on the surface. It’s all about the emotional and thematic core to me, and both Coldtown and Tombs use metaphor in similar ways, and similarly powerful. I recommend it.

Currently I am reading, and probably not finishing, The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher, seeing as at the time I was looking at about a month of waiting before I could continue the Dresden Files series. This is a high fantasy novel about airships, a “steampunk” setting that makes me roll my eyes at the idea that what people will classify as “steampunk” has any sort of coherence to it – it’s just non-electricity-based technology, and even that’s not quite true – and while I do like the setting and find Butcher’s pacing and structure a refreshing change from the usual flavourless drivel that I’ve come to expect from the genre … I have to say, there’s something about how odious high fantasy can be that actually makes sense for the genre. The fact that it does linger on the details, rather than surging from one scene to the next in the way that your typical UA novel will, gives the genre a feeling of weighty consideration. This can often become an oppressive weight, and the purple prose that often accompanies such consideration is tiresome to say the least, but it made me realise that there are actually things about the genre that I at least expect to see in a book belonging to it, even if I don’t actually like them in practice a lot of the time. I want a slightly slower burn; I want something a little less dynamic and more deliberate. The Hero and the Crown probably falls on the opposite side of that balance for me; where Butcher’s book is a little too fast-paced where it should be steadier and more considerate of the steps its taking, McKinley’s book took me several months to read the first half of. As I said in my review, I’m very glad that I did finish it, but I definitely like my books, whatever the genre or pace, to make it a little more appetising of a prospect to me as a reader.

The Aeronaut’s Windlass also suffers from what seems like poor characterisation, with at least one chapter all about one character trying to suss out another that offers us not so much character insight as incomplete character backstory. The POV character for the chapter starts off suspicious, and ends the chapter suspicious for exactly the same reasons. The chapter, in other words, does nothing, and in a book that’s already really fucking long – over 600 pages, and I’m not even halfway through yet while the book is due back tomorrow – while it may seem counterintuitive, you cannot afford to have filler. Filler in a short book is bad enough, because there’s so little of it to begin with. Filler in a long book is bad for a different reason: it’s a real effort to commit to reading a long book to begin with, and being rewarded for your efforts with stuff like this just feels like a slap in the face.

There’s other stuff, too, like most of the characters reading like authorial mouthpieces, and when there are several main characters – so far there are seven – that shit gets obnoxious really quickly. The reason they sound like authorial mouthpieces is not because of what their political stances are and I think that’s what Jim Butcher believes or anything like that. It’s because they’re all so fucking reasonable, and they’re reasonable in the same way. It’s kind of like how all of Joss Whedon’s characters sound the same, except at least with Joss Whedon you generally have different actors playing these characters who can differentiate them, even with similar dialogue, whereas in a book you’ve just got writing, and it’s the same writing for every character. I don’t have a problem with characters being reasonable – in fact a lot of the time I wish characters in books I read were more reasonable – but it does feel in places like this is an effort by Butcher to counter that common critique of fiction in general, and it’s ended up causing a different problem altogether. It’s not even that they’re so reasonable that all the potential issues and conflicts in the story are overcome just by talking; it’s just that they are reasonable in the same kind of way, using the same kind of deductive, procedural dialogue to spell things out, and it’s really freaking annoying. I’m not sure I want to read another 350+ pages of it, is what I’m saying, and it’s a shame, because the setting is really quite awesome. I like airships; I like the idea of humanity living in floating cities (we haven’t been told why yet, and it’s not really important to me to find out). I like the technology, and I like the way that explanations of the technology and its history are pretty much entirely left out in favour of just showing it off. It’s not even like I hate the characters, at least on paper. But it is just a bit too samey for me. If I had the book for a few more days, I think I would definitely finish it just to see what happens, but I’m also not exactly brokenhearted that I have to return it tomorrow.

The one thing I will say for it is that, while this may not seem like particularly high praise, at least it got written. As a writer, that’s probably the highest praise – and most infuriating – that I can give, because writing is fucking hard. I made a decision a while ago to take the “just do it” approach, which was the inspiration for setting my alarms and shit. It hasn’t worked. It has never worked. That’s not to say that it won’t, one day, but it is to say that as of yet it isn’t working, and the long history of it not working makes it all the more difficult for me to keep trying to get it to stick.

I do think, though, that perhaps my approach needs to change. Rather than just writing for writing’s sake, perhaps I would do better devoting myself to the completion of projects, whether that involves writing, reading, talking, thinking, whatever. I do think some sort of regular writing every day or every set number of days per week is a good idea, but I do have these manuscripts that await my attention, and in the meantime, while I’m excited at the prospect of waiting for new ideas to inspire me, I don’t have any right now. I don’t really have anything new to write. So perhaps the best thing I can do is to instead work on the stuff I’ve already started writing, and see what I can do with that.

And keep reading, too. New ideas need somewhere to come from.

Setting Limits

Finished making revision notes on chapter 8 of Tallulah – it is so far the most fruitful chapter in terms of giving me material for the upcoming revision proper, as well as ending on a really weird relic of the previous draft (the first draft) that used to make sense as a bad, distracting idea and now makes no sense because that bad, distracting idea is no longer part of the story. This is part of the fun of revision, and the payoff of leaving a book for a while before coming back to look at it: it’s like archaeology, digging up the past, only it’s your past, and it can be rather interesting going through the experience of genuinely not being able to remember where the pieces that you find used to go.

I also wrote out a plan for my vampire novel. Yes, I do have one of those; it took me a while to come up with an idea that actually interested me, but now that I have it I am very attached to it. It used to have a title, but I’m not sure if I can use it anymore – it is a perfect fucking title though so I am attached to it, but I am afraid it has become a Darling and must therefore be killed. But I wrote out the plan because, looking at my premise, it is centered on an experience, and set of experiences, that I have basically no knowledge of. It’s really exciting to me and I would read/watch the hell out of it if somebody else did it, but I want to be the one to do it – the problem is not feeling up to the task of keeping the promises that the premise inherently makes. I have this issue with Tallulah as well, and having worked on it, on and off, for 5 years has made it easier and clearer, but still hasn’t solved the problem. Starting from scratch with this new one – newish anyway; I’ve had the idea since about 2013 but never actually got around to trying to write it – is trying to climb up another hill right from the bottom. This is a book that needs research done to make it as rewarding of a read as I want it to be, and for me as a writer, the more I know about this particular topic – politics, in this case, specifically career politics – the more opportunities to make and keep promises that are interesting I will have. The trouble is, as it often is with new books that have a cool premise and not much else: where do I start?

So, I wrote out a plan. I tend to not like writing out plans, because it’s very easy for me to get fixated on the plan and then never move past the planning stage, turning it into an infinite, self-replenishing cycle of hypotheticals and what-ifs. But in this case it went well, and my uber-leet hack skills developed from writing my shitty YA werewolf novel came back to the fore. I also had more of a reason to write out a plan for this book than just “well I don’t actually have any motivation to write this so I’ll write a plan to avoid the anxiety of the blank page. I need to do research, but I need to know where to start with that as well. So in writing the plan, I limited the scope of the research I will need to do; I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know about these things, the things that are relevant to my book. It’s still a lot of stuff, but it has become a somewhat more manageable task. Limitations foster creativity, this is true – they also let you cut down big, amorphous tasks into smaller, more clearly-defined ones.

I think this is probably the best reason I’ve ever had for writing a plan, because the reason for writing the plan is also limited, rather than just being a generic, vague excuse that gets me out of doing any work. I mean I didn’t write anything more after making the plan, but part of that is because I’m not sure now whether to draft that plan, or write the draft based around it and then draft that. And I think it’s probably the latter. Yes, there are some plot-holes and continuity errors in the plan as it stands, but those are easy enough to fix without risking devolving into another procrastination loop. I could fix them and then get started with writing, even probably without a ton of research. I think “I need to do research first” can also be a procrastination tool – and, as I am now indeed a proud self-proclaimed hack, I’m supposed to say “who needs research”? And I think that’s probably the smart thing to do at this point, because getting things written is more important than writing them well … to begin with, of course. One day I will indeed do the research, but until then I have a new thing to try out, in my new quest to try out my different book ideas and find out which ones stick, and which ones don’t.

Another reason I wrote out this plan was so that I would have things to think about with this story. I tend to think up characters and then fantasise about scenes taking place around them, without necessarily thinking of how those scenes might fit into the story they’re supposed to be in. I used to think of nothing but how the scenes in my head were going to be part of the story I was going to tell; I got excited about that shit. I haven’t done it in such a long time. So my theory is that if I actually have a set list of scenes that I have decided are going to happen, if I limit and specify the number of scenes that need to be created, then I can get some of that inspiration and excitement back by actually having something in particular to think about. It seems strange to put it into words, to make a plan just to think about a thing, but if I don’t make the plan I won’t do the thinking. And I gotta do the thinking. I want to do the thinking. It will make me feel good and shit.

Making this plan today felt productive, and making a plan for a book has not felt this productive for … 7 years? No, wow; 12 years. The first and only full draft of Realm of the Myth I ever wrote was also the only draft that I planned out beforehand, and it worked. I stuck to that plan. And it needed it. My shitty YA werewolf novel did not need a plan, because the point was to make a story up on the fly, and it worked out about as well as it possibly could have. But that story did, and this one does too. This isn’t something to hack my way through; this has to be more deliberate.

Although that doesn’t mean I can’t use my hack skills in other ways. It might not be a seat-of-the-pants, run-with-the-first-idea-that-comes-to-mind sprint, but the ideas themselves don’t have to be super original – again, to begin with. I’m trying to make myself more comfortable doing things this way, because writing at all is more important than writing well. So long as it’s written well before you submit it to an agent, everything up to that point just needs to be written, period. And I really, really want this thing to be written. I love this idea.

And hey, vampires. The last and only time I really did vampires, it was a weird kind of ripoff of Discworld. Also about 12 years ago. I never thought I’d write about vampires, perhaps because I came of age at a point in history where vampires were the most over-saturated and reviled form of Gothic monster in existence, so having an idea of how to explore what it means to be a vampire in a new way is very exciting to me.

And no, I’m not going to tell you about it. It’s not even written yet, and honestly while we do live in the age of self-promotion and over-disclosure, I’m still not comfortable with sharing my ideas online before I’ve had a chance to actually write them out in book form. It feels like they’ll be safer that way, though for all I know it would actually protect my intellectual property better if I just wrote out the premise here, published it online. I’m not sure how it all works.

I guess I should do some research?

One Step Closer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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