Weekly Words 13-18/05/2018

14/05/18: 2636

I learnt a lot over the past couple of days, about myself, my creative inclinations and habits, and how I need to let myself use them instead of stifling them. It was a valuable learning experience.

What’s also a valuable learning experience is just sitting down and making yourself write, and finding that you can actually do it.

I was seriously considering not writing today, like I didn’t write yesterday. I am definitely going to draw up some new goals for Weekly Words that don’t involve a word-count; I want to be exploring and experimenting and testing things out, and that might involve things other than “real” writing – it might involve planning, of all things. It might involve me getting better at it.

But also writing, because writing is good, and while I went into today’s writing session with trepidation and not a little reluctance, by the time I was done I couldn’t even remember what I was so worked up about.

Oh right: character voice. One of the big things I discovered over my “detox” weekend was that the ideas of mine that I’ve made something of – some sort of manuscript or drafting attempt that doesn’t stop after a week of spontaneity-fueled enthusiasm – are character-driven pieces. Except for Wolf Gang, but that was never actually meant to be good to begin with. Everything else I’ve stuck with has characters that I love and adore, and what I’ve found recently – meaning the past few years – is how much angst I have around getting characters “right”. Even if I have whole scenes in mind, once I actually sit down to put it in writing, it all just starts to fall apart; I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, I completely lose grip of what drove me to write it in the first place, even though once I step away from the page the scene – and characters – return to me just as vividly as ever. It’s infuriating, feeling unable to match up the ideas in my head with the reality of how it translates through my writing of them.

Perhaps I need to treat it a bit more like transcribing than writing; I need to not “interpret” it, which I think I actually end up doing when I set out to Write. Mostly because interpretation is fun in its own regard, and not wrong – but it’s also muddying up perfectly good ideas and driving me away from them. So I think I’ll be working on that for the rest of this week/forever.

15/05/18: 3941

Well, today was a good start: I got up at 10:30 for one thing, which is about an hour earlier than I’ve been getting up for the past fortnight, so that was good; and immediately I felt like writing. Just my thoughts and feelings upon waking up, observing the place I was in, not to turn into anything else, just a sort of morning pages deal. Going to continue that. It’s a nice way to start off the day.

After that, I did a writing exercise; I had an idea, and I wrote it down, and while the idea was visual it felt like a direct translation – a transcription, even – when I put it down in words, so I’m calling that not just a success, but a precedent. My Weekly Words word-count is now going to include these sorts of writing exercise things, because while they are not directly connected to my projects, they are going towards honing my writing skills, and I do want to count that.

I did also write some more of my project that I’ve been finding hard to work on for the past couple of weeks, and it’s so much easier now. I think there really was a hump that I just had to write up to and get over, because last night and this afternoon it’s been smooth sailing, and I’ve been enjoying writing the different characters. I started off with a sort of omnipotent but snarky third-person narrator, and now I’m giving way to the characters and allowing them to colour the narration with their own voices. I guess I feel a bit more relaxed about it, now that I’ve written the difficult, kind of boring set-up stuff. It’s not going quite according to the plan that I had, but it’s getting written, I quite like what I’ve got, and there’s always revision. The point is that I am building something to revise, and I finally like what it is that I’m building.

I didn’t write on Sunday, except for some co-writing plotting with my friend and making “detox” notes, and I’m not going to count those here. But it does count. It helped tremendously, and I feel very confident that I’ll be writing for the rest of the week very happily indeed because of what I got done over the weekend. It’s a very nice feeling, looking forward to writing again, and writing lots of different kinds of things for different reasons.

More of this.

16/05/18: 28

Can’t write I’m busy writing other stuff that doesn’t count towards my weekly word-count goal.

Brainstorming, in particular terms. How can one measure brainstorming? I guess you just say you’re doing it. Maybe I could use a checkbox for that with Weekly Words, like have a bunch of “bonus objectives” that I can tick off every week, and brainstorming could be one of them.

… nah.

17/05/18: 3153

Started getting back to writing a … well, not new per se, but newer project that I’ve had in mind for a little while and wanted to explore more fully. Felt good. Also felt frustrating, because it wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I got it done and feel like I’ve got some groundwork covered.

Then came back later this evening and did even more; the original word-count was 1203. It’s all exposition, and I’ve decided that the best way for me to work off the frustration of it “not being what I want it to be” is to take what I’ve written and turn it into a scene – make it character dialogue and/or action, showing rather than (just) telling. There has to be some telling when you’re making shit up, laying out rules of a fictional world and how it works, but it’s always better when characters are involved and it feels like the world not only makes mechanical sense, but feels lived-in.

As good of a foundation as this has been, it does still feel like, at least in the moment, I haven’t gotten a lot done by doing any of these writing exercises – I guess they don’t have to, either, but it is a feeling that I sense needs a counter-balance to it that isn’t just waiting things out. For that reason alone (although there are others), I really do want to go back and read over some of my old drafts, things that I’ve actually finished, especially the couple that I’ve identified as projects I’d like to continue with. Writing new stuff is all well and good, and in this case particularly good because wow it is hard to write this new thing, my ideas are so thin at the moment and I really hate that feeling. It’s good, I know, to just be getting down the ideas that I do have, no matter their quality, but it still pains me to do it when they’re this under-developed. So, to balance that out, I need to do some reconnecting with some of my better-developed stuff. And take notes. As I found over my “detox” weekend, just taking down my reactions to my own work and ideas really helps me clarify my thoughts and feelings about them, in a way I don’t get if I just go back and browse through them. I am already missing the clarity that came from the weekend and want to get it back again, probably to the detriment of focusing on the here and now, just the usual existential crap of a disorganised mind.

But anyway, got writing done. Gonna make another big push with this new/revisited project tomorrow. Feeling kind of excited about it, even. Always a nice feeling.

18/05/18: 1534

Not as big of a push word-count-wise as I was hoping for, but in terms of what I actually got done – well, I got both some plot-development and character-development done in those 1.5k words, and that’s worth a lot to me, especially with a new project.

New-ish. I threw some hooks in; the characters themselves I’ve always found a bit awkward to work with because they’re just kind of dull as cardboard, but now there’s some intrigue, and it ties in with the plot, and it just feels … promising. I did enough today, I’ll say that happily.

As for this week …

13-18/05/2018: 11292

I’m back in business, y’all.

And all of that for my own projects. Yes, lots of it is brainstorming, but it’s brainstorming that counts, because it’s serving two purposes: it’s developing my ideas, and it’s helping me to practice exposition. And turning that exposition into something more interesting.

Also proper writing; I’ve been working on two personal projects this week, and while one of them is in the brainstorming stage, the other one – the one I was writing last week and the week before, to varying degrees of success – I’m trying to do less thinking about. But I might do more of this … “active planning”, I guess, where the brainstorming is the writing, or is there to be turned into proper writing in a more direct way.

As in, tonight, I took the big world-building info-dump thing I wrote last night and turned it into a scene between the two main characters that also ended up exploring their relationship to each other and tying into the main plot – which I was making up on the spot as I wrote, and it was working and gelling and just … it was fun. It was satisfying. And most importantly, it made me want to keep doing it after today.

Which is going to be a little awkward, but also maybe quite good, when I take the weekend off to do other things. There’s a piece of writing advice that says to always stop when you’re in the middle of your flow, so that you want to come back and do it the next day, instead of using up all of your motivation in one sitting. That can backfire pretty hard if you just lose motivation because you cut off your own momentum, but I think my idea of taking two days off after five consecutive days of writing – and writing quite a bit, on the whole – plays to the strengths of that strategy. Besides, I do want time to decompress, to focus on doing other things without worrying about having a quota to fill, so that I can 1) do other shit, and 2) look forward to being able to fill the quota when I get back to it. Which I did not think would ever be a thing that I would want, but even just taking Saturdays off for Weekly Words has proven to me that it is, indeed, a thing.

Sadly this Saturday is not really going to be “off”; I have a Youthline thing from 10-4, which is sure to be intense and hopefully very rewarding, like the last one was, and I’m kind of dreading it because if there’s a point in this course where I realise I shouldn’t be here, this is probably going to be it, but also kind of looking forward to it because, conversely, if there’s a point where I finally feel certain that I’ve made the right choice in continuing with Youthline, this is also probably going to be it.

And then after 4 I’m free, but still, it’s not going to be much of a weekend. And also, I realise, according to my new plan, today should have been part of my “weekend”.

Oh well. Next week. Fridays and Saturdays off, and I’ll keep the optional day off during my week as well, though the way things are going I highly doubt it’ll get a lot of use. I think as long as I can keep my weekends sufficiently full of doing things that I actually want to do while simultaneously denying myself the opportunity to write (though writing down awesome ideas that I have in moments of inspiration is still allowed), that’s a balance I can maintain.

I think. Next week can be the trial run. Just gotta remember to do it. And I think, given the past week, that I can. This way of brainstorming that fulfills a second role as being the “zero draft” of scenes for books I want to work on – I had the idea, a while back, to write summaries of my potential novels and treat them as the “zero draft”, rather than as a plan that was separate to the “real” writing that I’d have to do to make the novel, like, exist. Brainstorms that can also serve as future word-count. That’s a keeper, I think.

And with it, I think I’ve found a new way to motivate myself to work on my own projects. Which is the eternal struggle with writing. So that’s cool.

And now I’m going to try to ignore my nerves and get some sleep. Until next week.

As in I’ll post something next week, not I’ll sleep until next week. Though I wouldn’t complain …

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No seriously I love being a writer don’t give me that look

I should go back through this blog and make a running tally of every time I say something to the effect of “I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing”. Since I feel that way a lot, I’m going to assume it’s an  essential part of being a successful writer.

For the past 5-ish months I’ve been working on these “character maps” for my novel. My thought-process there was that, in the same way that writing out chapter summaries in chronological order and then rearranging them to base a revision on worked for taking me from the draft to the first revision, mapping out the arcs of each of the supporting characters could clarify structural matters – when certain key moments take place in the story, consistency of characterisation, seeing where the dead weight lies, etc. – and take me from the first revision to the second. Sounds great, right?

Well it’s taken me 5 freaking months and I’m still not done. Now to be fair, that is in no small part due to the terrible, soul-crushing semester I’ve had at uni; grades are pretty great on the whole but in terms of actually being a student it’s been terrible. However, that’s no the whole story: it’s just a lot of heavy lifting to carry this plan out at all, and looking back over the notes I’ve made it looks like way too much work put in for way too little reward. So I think at this point the healthiest thing to do, both for myself on the whole and with regards to my novel-revision specifically, is to just call it what it is – a fiasco – and rip it out at the roots, kill this toxic progress before it continues any farther, and start over again now that I’ve got a bit of free time to play with (and if I’m not accepted into Honours, it may be the last batch of free time I ever have before being drafted into the world of office-jobs and flipping burgers) (or, depending on how committed to my post-adolescent anti-establishment attitude I am, living on the street).

My revision plan needs revision. It’s brainstorming time.

 

~~~

Okay. Chapter summaries worked once; will they work again? I don’t think so, simply because the revision I’m working with right now is the product of putting that plan into action in the first place. I’ve already gotten the desired result out of that plan: a more coherent narrative structure. There is definitely room for improvement, but just looking at where chapters come in and what happens in them and shuffling it around isn’t going to be enough this time. I need different information.

The information I need is the role that each event plays (as well as where it happens in the story, so I’ll need to remember to include chapter tags or something, thank Thor I’m using Scrivener). I need to know, specifically, which roles are vital to the story and which are not.

So do I just stick to what I’m doing, but maybe start over and make it as to-the-point as humanly possible? The only thing I don’t like about that is the loss of nuance that comes with looking at character interactions purely as tools used to tell a story; yes that’s certainly their most important function, but conveying a plot is not the same as telling a story.

On the other hand, all of that nuance is taking up a lot of space, and honestly a lot of it is less nuance than internal monologue – through the filter of third-person narration. Good writing can bring nuance out of the barest-boned of plots, and that’s how you get a good story. Pick your battles and all that.

I mean this story was never meant to be about plot to begin with, but it’s gotten that way. It was a supernatural character-study with very (intentionally) blurred lines between metaphor and literality with regards to the supernatural aspects.

So … actually start over again from scratch and write an entirely different story that’s closer to the original idea that I had? Because that wasn’t a story; it was a story-seed. That has nowhere to go, really.  It’s done. It’s finished. I could write it, but I don’t think it would be rewarding.

But okay. I have a list of chapter summaries still sitting around that should – should – adhere to the current structure of the edit I’m working with; and I have three, almost four, character-maps already written, unwieldy and overblown as they may be. Is there anything that I can do with that, instead of rushing off to start from nothing and work my way up? Again?

I guess the problem with these character-maps isn’t that they’re bloated, per se; it’s that they’re bloated by design. They weren’t meant to generate concise instructions for what to do next; they were meant to act as a response to the character-arcs as I read through them, indulging my censor so that the next time around it would have nothing to say. And when I say that’s what they were “meant” to do, I mean it was a process that was structured in such a way to suggest that that was what they were meant for, and would have been if I had thought about it a little harder or whatever. In any case, that is the use that I can get out of them, and actually identifying that kind of makes me want to finish them – not to use them as useful notes, but to use them as a repository of first impressions. And then I can do the more concise work later without over-thinking it; and if I want to come back to them and delve through them for ideas on where to go next, they’ll be right there waiting for me.

Okay. That sounds like a good idea – read these character arcs in the same way as I’d read through the entire manuscript and make notes in the same way as well: as a first reaction. That way I’ll still be focusing on the character-arcs, which I do think is a good idea to get started on now even if I don’t end up making it my primary focus for whatever form the next revision plan takes, without the pressure of having to use these notes for something once they’re done.

And since that’s very non-committal, I do want to make much more efficient, analytical character-maps as well. Character summaries I guess, collections of key points with each character and an overarching sense of the role they play in the story.

Most importantly, and because I didn’t do it the first time: I need to account for Tallulah as a character. I think I noticed that she wasn’t really “doing” anything in this story – her story – about a year ago, and one of the good things that has come from doing these character-maps has been seeing that, yeah, that’s kinda true.

Ideally I want to be able see each of these character-arcs as a story in and of itself that serves the primary purpose of helping the main story-arc to progress, which is Tallulah’s arc. I don’t mean like all of these characters get their own completely stand-alone, completely satisfying plot within the bigger plot, because it’s not their story, but I do want their roles to be concise, clear and vital. I am totally happy to have their stories “compromised” a bit in order to better keep the focus on Tallulah – they are all figments of my imagination in the end after all – but for the sake of solid storytelling there must be clarity, there must be solidarity, there must be internal consistency, and most importantly there must be closure. It doesn’t matter if it’s shitty, disappointing closure; it just has to be closure.

That sounds like a mission statement for the story rather than a plan for revision, but still. That’s what I want.

Okay. I have a plan.

~~~

So, the new plan is:

  1. Identify what it is that Tallulah needs from each of the supporting characters, and in doing so also conveniently end up writing a summary of her own character arc, like a boss
  2. Relying mostly on memory and then looking at the list of chapter summaries that gave me the structure for this current edit of the manuscript, pick out key character moments and build (hopefully very concise) plots out of them
  3. Compare what Tallulah needs to what Tallulah gets from the other characters
  4. Use this comparison to make a plan for the next revision
  5. Do the next revision
  6. Win

And before I do that I’ll finish the current iteration of the character-map plan that I’ve got going, simply so that I’ve got a general idea of what I’m working with, and I may end up ditching it after all and that’s fine.

Cool. We’re in business. I now have something productive to do with what will hopefully be a month-long-ish break between semesters.