Full Plan Ahead

Planning is occurring.

I have lamented multiple times the way in which I tend to use “planning” as a euphemism for “distract myself from commitment”. Seems counter-intuitive in a way, as if you set out to plan something then surely that’s an indication of commitment. But for writing at least, I find that planning is something that I do because I’m too anxious to actually start writing in earnest, afraid that once I start I’ll find that it’s not good enough, I’m not good enough of a storyteller, writer or human being to even attempt it, where’s the nearest bottomless ocean trench.

It’s different with a story I’ve already finished, though. Tallulah I’ve finished … I’m saying one and a half times, because the first/zero draft counts as one, but the manuscript I’m working from counts as about half because, while there is a ton of new writing in it (and tons more old writing cut out), most of the old writing – and old, scrapped continuity – is still there making a mess of things. But the point is that this is a book that I’ve already written, and have been in the process of writing over and over again for the last five years. Obviously “finished” is a contentious term for a manuscript that is still undergoing revisions, but my point is that I’m not trying to make something out of nothing with this project; I’m trying to make something new out of something old. And that’s all it takes to make my planning actually feel like planning, as opposed to procrastinating.

As for the plan itself … it’s getting there. It’s actually quite exciting, except for the prospect of all the new writing I’m going to have to do. But that’s just the prospect; the process itself will probably be fine, and perhaps even enjoyable. Though neither of those things are important right now. What’s important is that I tell this story again, better.

I had the plan of scrapping everything and just starting over from scratch, but I decided to give myself the opportunity to try and take what I had and put it together in a new way, and see if it looked like the story I needed to tell. And it’s actually kind of turning out that way. I’m finding it hard to keep myself from directing these plans back to the current structure of the plot, and that’s caused some frustration. I think I need to make a few different plans for the book as well, because there’s a huge problem with plot bloat – but at least it’s tied to certain characters, which means that at least my characters are, in fact, central to the plot, even if that plot is badly executed. I’m hoping to get one version with the problem character done (the plan I’m currently working on) and one without them (the next plan) just to see how they feel in comparison.

The very first, OG version of this story, when it was still in its conceptual infancy, I think is too removed from what I actually want to do now. At the same time, I’ve tried to cling to it and maintain it even as the story evolved and outgrew those humble beginnings, and the result is a story whose vision is incredibly compromised, contradictory, and impossible to see clearly. I think the story that I needed to tell is not the one that I need to tell now.

I am thinking probably too much, all in all.

But the planning is going well, because unlike my procrastinatory planning, this planning is clearing and ordering my thoughts in a useful and constructive manner. I’ve already drafted the plan once, and in committing to working on it as a process as opposed to trying to get it right in one go, I’ve found solutions to problems that I thought were going to kill my momentum dead.

And above all else, I do plan to get this done. This story will be told. It will be told as well as I can manage it. And it will be the story that needs to be told, rather than a bunch of ideas jammed together because I couldn’t make up my mind which ones to keep and which ones to keep for later.

I think the last time I was working this hard on Tallulah, I came to the conclusion that trying to rid myself of my bad writing habits – holding onto “darlings” instead of killing them, agonising over the perfect way to write a sentence, holding my story ransom to the demands of my censor – is futile. And also impossible – because now I realise that all of that is just an inevitable part of the writing process itself. You never “get rid” of those habits, because those habits are writing. And you “rid” yourself of those problems by writing more. By committing to the thing you’re writing until you reach the breaking-point and it’s impossible to continue without writing better than you have been – and then you do that. It’s like magic; you’ll just do it, if you stick with it, and the story – the good story – will seem to write itself.

Or that’s how it seems to happen with Tallulah. So I guess that’s a sign that I’m doing the right thing by sticking with it. Which already feels like the right thing to do.

I am here to write. I haven’t been here to write for a long time. But it’s good to be back.

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And Now …

I have finished reading through my manuscript of Tallulah.

I think I did not give myself enough credit yesterday; I can actually remember things pretty well. At least in the second half of the book. The second half of the book is definitely the tightest, though it is also often the most abrupt and unsatisfying in terms of tying up loose ends and tying the threads of the plot together effectively. A lot of key moments are rushed through and don’t have any sort of emotional payoff; the climax is kind of exciting but also comes right the fuck out of nowhere and doesn’t have nearly enough build-up and thus feels unjustified; the supporting characters need bigger roles …

In other words, there’s potential here.

I am very glad that I decided to come back to it after all.

I might read it again, but for the most part I actually feel like I know what I need to do. I have a much clearer sense of the structure and what needs to change than I thought I would; and what is clear to me is that a lot of stuff needs to be thrown out and replaced. The stuff that happens at the end of the book feels like it needs to happen around about the middle instead; and once again, I am faced with the dilemma of designating antagonist duties. This has been the eternal struggle with this story, and a little while ago I thought I had a good solution. The right solution. But now it feels a bit thin. Mostly because the story itself feels a bit thin.

But I can take care of that, and I’m starting to see how – yes, it’s going to be a lot of work, but I think it’ll be worth it. It’s time to make a revision plan.

It’s been a while, but it is good to be back.

Just Read It

(Read it read it read it read it)

I have, after like 6 months, finally read past the halfway point with Tallulah. In fact I’m almost three quarters of the way through.

It’s so bad.

There’s this mentality of scarcity that I am used to having when thinking of storytelling, and particularly revision. I tend to think of cutting things out, tearing down all the writing that I’ve spent so long constructing only to build another different structure in the exact same place, losing whatever magic might have been in the original creation for the sake of “clarity” or “focus”. I know that stories are good when they only include what matters. But if they only include what matters, then they’re just utilitarian, by-the-numbers, bare-bones skeletons, not fully-realised stories.

That’s what I think, anyway. And I do mean that’s what I think; it’s not what I believe. I believe that the word “only” is what’s tripping me up here. If, instead, I was used to thinking that stories are good when everything that happens in them matters, it’s not about scarcity anymore. It’s about substance. It’s about how much of what happens in the story matters, rather than about how little needs to actually be there for the story to work. Which I think is a more useful way to think of things.

However, it’s also hard to think of it that way when my reading experience so far is very much defined by how little of what happens actually feels like it matters, and how much of it is utter filler garbage. There is so much pointless interpersonal drama that doesn’t really serve any purpose except to make it take longer to finish reading the fucking book; there is so much stuff that seems like it should matter to the plot, but is then either resolved too quickly or not at all, resulting in a feeling that the story doesn’t know what it is or wants to be. Sections of older and newer writing are spliced together without any regard for continuity between revisions, making the already clunky and distracted storytelling feel even more pointless. And yet somehow, for all of that sharp, jagged, traumatising contrast, it’s all just so … indistinct. Everything blurs together, because while so much of it stands out from everything else for all the wrong reasons, so little of it actually matters. It’s full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I am not happy with what I’ve written.

I guess this is what note-taking is for, eh?

Yeah, my plan to not make notes worked to get me started, and I do find that it’s easy for it to become a distraction from reading the manuscript itself – but at the same time, I need those notes, because there is no way I’m going to be able to remember this fucking thing when I’m finished with it. I mean I wrote this, and I’m having a hard time remembering it, immediately after reading it. I need to take notes of key plot points – or events that should be key plot points – so that I have something to build a second revision out of. I can’t rely on my memory for this one, because the way this manuscript reads seems scientifically optimised to disrupt the human memory process.

This is worse than my shitty YA werewolf novel. Which is awful, but not in terms of structure; it makes sense, even if what makes sense is repugnant. I wish I could say that Tallulah at least has better content, even if it’s not put together very well, but the thing is that with storytelling, in any media form, presentation and content are the same goddamn thing. This is obvious for me with Tallulah in its current state, because it’s presented so poorly that what it’s “about” is very difficult to identify or recognise. Which is because what is presented to you in a story, regardless of what the plot may ostensibly be, is what the story is about. If your plot is about two attractive young people getting to know each other in Vienna on a time-crunch, but what you present your audience with is nothing but descriptions of Viennese architecture, then your story is about Viennese architecture. If your plot is about a badass vampire slayer trying to solve a murder mystery, but what you present your audience with is a woman caught in a toxic power struggle between two domineering alpha males fighting over breeding privileges and the mystery gets solved off-page, then your story is about an abusive “love”-triangle. If your plot is about traumatised teenage soldiers who pilot giant robots to fight against an evil galactic empire, but what you present your audience with is endless scenes of uninteresting supporting characters bickering about space politics while drinking tea, then fuck you Gundam Wing I thought you were going to be cool when I was 16 and you betrayed me.

Tallulah‘s plot is about the daughter of a selkie mother living in the wake of her traumatic departure and coming to terms with the reality of her family’s legacy and her place in it, but what I’m presenting my audience with is laboured, repetitive, pointless interpersonal drama that leads nowhere and does nothing to progress the story because nothing sticks, even though plenty of it seems like it should stick, sometimes intuitively so. I think that’s the hardest part of reading this, really: the missed potential, conservatively sprinkled in tiny chunks throughout a layer cake of portentous tripe. It just makes it so punishing to read.

But one of the first things I learnt about professional writers – and I can’t remember where I heard this – was that they could never read their own work. It wasn’t for them; it was for their readers, and once they had finished writing it, they moved on to the next thing. It sounded so unfulfilling to me, and part of my dream of being an author when I was 13 came part and parcel with a mission to prove this information wrong. I would be the writer who loved reading their own work; I would be the writer who told stories that I wanted to read, hear, see, whatever. I would tell the stories that were missing, the stories that I wanted told to me.

It only occurs to me now, struggling through this manuscript that makes me want to chew my face off just to break the monotony, that either this is a stupid idea, or I don’t fully understand it – or didn’t keep it in mind while I was writing this. Because while what I wrote felt good at the time, it didn’t really come from any place of need for that kind of story. That’s what’s missing here: hardly anything in this story feels necessary. And the kind of stories that I want to exist are the ones that I feel need to exist.

I wonder now if Tallulah ever was that story for me. Once I started working on it, it certainly felt necessary, but mostly because it was just exciting to be telling it in the first place, because it was so different to anything I ever thought I would try to write. And that’s still a kind of necessity for a writer, I feel, but not the kind of need that I want to fulfill through my stories. Maybe it was just another ambitious writing exercise.

Or maybe I do need to tell this story, for reasons that I could not have predicted when I started, and I need to adjust my storytelling philosophy.

But, at the end of the day, speculation is cheap. For now, I just need to read it.

Yes I will read it, you read that right. Read it all day and all through the night.

I’ll read it.

16232

I’m calling it.

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

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

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

Let’s have a look.

  • Game Notes

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

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

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

Off to a good start, then …

  • Experiments

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

  • Book Planning

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

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

But I’m still not done.

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

So instead, let’s talk co-writing …

  • Co-writing project

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

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

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

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

No, the final category is …

  • Blogging

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

My point is …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

67865.

Goddammit May

May, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the major characters in my book, Tallulah. About 50% of my internal commentary while reading, writing and generally considering the mere existence of Tallulah is taken up with repeating this phrase to myself. May is quite possibly my greatest creation, in many ways the character of whom I am most proud out of all the characters I have invented over the years, because she is an embodiment of weaponised angst and neurosis to a level I have never experienced in fiction before. I love her, because she is the purest incarnation of the part of my writer persona that wants nothing more than to inflict pain upon his characters and readers alike – fun pain, mind you, the kind that makes you wince and squirm and enjoy it; not pain out of malice, but because it’s just so validating to elicit an earnest emotional response out of people. Mind you, I don’t know if I’ve succeeded in that attempt – I just know that that’s the exact effect that she has on me.

I’ve missed this.

I am revising Tallulah again. I said I wasn’t going to make notes unless I felt the need to; I felt the need to tonight, so I made some. Either taking a few months off has changed my mindset with regards to revising this book, or I misjudged the extent to which note-making was interfering with my ability to commit to this revision. Whatever the case, I have fulfilled my solemn oath to myself to return to this revision endeavour and get it moving again, and re-acquainting myself with May and the squirm-inducing suffering she still inflicts upon my psyche, I’m glad that I did. But for the next revision, I might make myself a printed copy and print it on something smaller than A4 pages so that I can read it in bed rather than having to sit at my laptop. And make it feel more like a real, published book.

As for Nanowrimo – you know what? I got something out of it. I don’t need to finish this year. I also can’t be fucked finishing this year, but that’s not the point. It got me moving again, and I’m grateful enough for that that I feel satisfied to not try and work myself up to go on a writing sprint. Then again, I have finished marking and have nothing left to do for the rest of the year except revision …

And reading. Lots of reading. I have taken the opportunity to punctuate my continuing-with-increasingly-diminishing-returns Urban Fantasy kick with a detour into Historical Fantasy Fiction, with Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series, this being the fourth book in the series, Valour and Vanity. This series belongs to a genre and tone I would quite comfortably say is “not really my thing”, and is also a series I will quite happily count among my very favourites. And it is rather a breath of fresh air after the grittiness and holier-than-thou sanctimony that pervades a fair portion of Urban Fantasy. It’s part of the charm, but a part that can very quickly become grating. I highly recommend it to anybody who – actually, I just highly recommend it, full-stop. It’s not my thing, and I really like it, so I encourage you to give it a go, whatever your readerly inclinations.

But I am glad that I made this decision to just read Tallulah without having to feel obligated to make notes, even though I’ve ended up doing it anyway. These are some of the more fully-developed characters that I have, characters I’ve spent years with not just in my head, but on the page. I’m familiar with these characters in ways I’m not with characters that I’ve had for longer, far longer in some cases. I still think of Tallulah as being a new story of mine, even though the initial concept was something I came up with in 2010 and I didn’t actually start writing it until 2012. I guess it’s a testament to how much your relationship with a story changes once you’ve actually written it, when you have something … literal to work with, something actual, instead of abstractions and hypotheticals sustained by however much memory you can devote to them. These characters exist beyond my imagination now, and that makes the relationship different. I see these characters and think of how much still need to change for this story to work, but it’s no longer a matter of just changing my mind; I have to physically delve into their inner workings and rearrange them. I am actually transforming them into something that they were not before every time I decide something has to change, rather than just thinking a different set of thoughts about them, because they are no longer just my thoughts. It’s more … consequential.

I had forgotten there was this much gravity in writing.

I’ve missed it. I’m glad I came back to it.

Starting Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Might as well use it to our advantage.

 

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

I might be projecting slightly here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which I guess I am.

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

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

 

 

Returning

Once again: “Well, that didn’t happen.”

I saw Justice League, it was about as good as I thought it could have been, pretty thin but enjoyable.

The notable thing for me, and I’m sure a lot of other people because I’m a narcissist, was the change in tone. It’s corny in some places. It’s not ham-fisted in a good way; it’s genuinely awkward because it’s just kind of flat. The whole film is pretty flat, to be honest, but far from irredeemable. And I did enjoy it. Not as good as The Avengers, but I don’t think anybody dared hope for that.

Maybe Age of Ultron.

I didn’t like Age of Ultron.

But what I did like was the theme – or what I thought was the theme at least. It’s a stark change from the previous two DC films helmed by Snyder, which are gritty (ineffectual) deconstructions of the Superman mythos, how “unrelatable” he is because he, I dunno, has a fucking conscience and cares about humanity, like most decent people, but unlike them has the power to do something to actually help humanity where it counts. It’s about the greater good and the banality of hope and the fact that justice and goodness are for little kids or whatever. I don’t mind taking the more heavy-handed elements of superhero narratives to task in general, but Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman were wanktacular to a degree that even the Nolan Batman films didn’t reach.

This film does a complete 180 on all of that. It’s about hope. It’s about goodness. It’s about truth, justice, and – actually – the American Way. I can’t help but read into this, and the timing is interesting. Bruce Wayne has been set up as kind of a deconstruction of the post-Frank Miller characterisation, with his hardass, reactionary, and pretty damn trigger-happy ethic being taken to task. As for Superman – I won’t spoil anything, but I will say that at a time when America (and subsequently the world) is going through a very dark time where a reactionary man is the leader of the free world, the message of hope and how to find it in this film seems very pointed.

That’s not to say that the film is good. Again, it’s pretty flat, and while the themes are potentially interesting, they’re really not developed very much. In fact that about sums up the whole film: potential for greatness that is never realised. But I will say that at least DC is now proving that it can make its villains just as unremarkable as those churned out by Marvel. This Steppenwolf was not born to be wild.

This totally relates to my writing, hang on.

The other day, I realised that one of the main ways I’ve developed bad writing habits is by writing about my stories instead of just writing the stories themselves. The word I came up with was “hypothetically”. I wrote – and thought – about my stories “hypothetically”. Because a hypothetical doesn’t require any commitment.

What I found while I was watching Justice League was that, for the first time in years, I was comparing the story to my own. I was comparing these ideas to my own. It was not a hypothetical comparison. It was direct, literal, felt consequential. And I realised that I really, really want my ideas to get out into the world.

I haven’t felt like that in a long time.

The “fun phase” – well, it’s been fun. That shitty YA werewolf novel was incredibly enjoyable to write for the first half, and I don’t begrudge the shitty second half, though I do think it could have been so easily avoided. But that wasn’t a story I ever wanted to share with the world. I just wanted to write it to prove something to myself. And I did. Not in the way I’d hoped, but all the same, I proved to myself that I can write a whole story without thinking very much about it and have it feel like a story, and that I could do it while meeting other, time-intensive obligations, such as completing my MA.

What I didn’t realise was that it also shifted my storytelling priorities. I haven’t felt the importance of any of my ideas pretty much since I started writing that project, because it wasn’t about the ideas being important. It was about getting something written. I think I definitely needed that shift in perspective, because I had forgotten how to have fun with writing. But in giving up my super-serious, eternally-suffering perfectionist artist douche bag habits (or fighting valiantly against them at least), I also lost that spark of vitality that drove my writing. Nothing was important to me anymore. I let myself rip things off, and that’s a good thing to do – but it also led to me only looking to rip things off, and losing the thread of my own creative urges. I lost what made my writing personal. It had become, in a different way, hypothetical again.

Until, for some reason, tonight, while I was watching this decidedly mediocre film, and thinking not so much “I could do that, but better”, and more “this is a story that has been put out into the world for people to experience. And it’s not as good as one of mine.”

That’s not arrogance. That’s conviction.

Saying that is probably arrogance, though, but you can’t win them all.

And this isn’t about truth. This is about belief. I truly believe that my ideas are worth the effort, and I’d forgotten that – I have not cared about that for about a year and a half. But it’s back now.

And the idea I was thinking of?

Tallulah.

Goddammit, I love Tallulah. I miss it. I want to be done with it. I think I’ve dragged it out for too long and it’s doomed to be less than everything I want it to be, but fuck it, it’s there, it’s real, and I need to finish it, to let it go. To move on. I have never moved on from one of my stories. That’s so weird. I’ve drifted away from concepts, but I’ve never gotten to a point where I could be finished, because I’ve never finished.

Well, except for the shitty YA werewolf novel, sure, but that was more of a writing exercise.

No. You know what? It counts. I wrote it, I finished writing it, and I move on. I want to know what that feels like for something I actually care about.

Whatever I was doing with this last round of revision notes – it wasn’t working. Last time a revision attempt took this long for me, I gave up on it, and that turned out to be the correct decision. I didn’t let myself give up on this one, and I think that’s what’s driven me away from it. But I can’t leave it.

So I’m just going to read it. I’m going to read it until I don’t need notes to think about everything that needs to change. I’m going to read it until I’m so familiar with it that it feels claustrophobic, and then I’m going to read it again. I don’t need notes. Or, rather, I need to not make notes right now. I will probably go back to them eventually. But right now, I just need to know the story. I think also a problem with the notes I was trying to make was the inclusion of ways to fix what was wrong, and while that’s obviously a useful thing to do in a lot of ways, I was making the notes in order to make changes – which is ostensibly what revision is. But it also distracted me from the story itself, and I think that’s a big part of why I got so disheartened. I got so caught up in what it wasn’t, what I didn’t want to wait for it to be, that I didn’t pay enough attention to what it was. If I do that, I think the obvious solutions will come to me, and I may not even need to make notes at all.

I’m not saying I will not allow myself to make notes; I’m saying I’m going to wait until I have a compelling reason to make them, rather than looking for excuses to make them and distract me from the story as it is.

I’m saying that it’s time to finish this. It’s been too long already, but I can’t give up on it. It’s too important to me. It’s the story I want to commit to, because I am already committed. I’ve just been distracted.

If nothing else, I can say that Justice League made me appreciate my own ideas more. It really is not a spectacular movie. But it does some things quite well.

Just not as good as I can do them – but enough talk.

Time to write.