I need to do some writing today

Got my second chapter for Masters to continue with, got my shitty YA werewolf novel to finish up, got another couple of novels I’d really love to make some headway with, a novel to kill for the third time and absorb the life force of to fuel my other writing – I’m busy. I’m just not actually doing any of the things I’m busy with.

Which is a shame, because I enjoy being busy. It’s frustrating to know that I enjoy being busy and then doing all sorts of things to prevent myself from getting caught up in and enjoying it. So today I need to actually do some of this stuff, start spending time instead of saving it, I’m sure I can think of a few more catchphrases if you give me a minute but no I just want, and need, to write.

Also to read. Just maybe not the stuff I bought; I need to read for research. I’m very invested in these two other novels I want to get started, and in order to write them as well as I’d like I need some material to work with. I need to learn about fencing, the reality of fighting with swords; I need to get more familiar with witch tropes and conventions and general literature; I need to learn how to write a decent sex scene – I need a lot of stuff to go right before I can write. And I want to do it. I hate having to fight myself to do the things I actually enjoy doing. Yay general self-loathing, depression and anxiety.

No. Not yay. Very not yay.

But it’s still fine because I’m going to write stuff today. And when I kill that novel for the third time I expect it to be a satisfactory charm. I need and want to move on from that. 15 years of effort can’t go nowhere, even if the object of that effort doesn’t. The object has become an obstacle and needs to be removed and, once it is, the effort will come flooding back out to me and I can do something else with it – that’s my hope anyway. I just need to find a way to get rid of it that feels real.

Anyway. Writing today.

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Nanowrimo 2015: You Can Do It

It’s been … a week.

What?

Seriously, I have no idea how this happened. A whole week since I last worked on my Nano project. I don’t know what to make of that. I mean it’s not surprising, given my track record for writing, but …

I mean is it just the weather? We’ve been having really shitty, soul-draining weather recently and, well, it’s kinda drained my soul in a really shitty way. As opposed to the non-shitty way. Apparently that’s a thing I’m implying.

So okay, I actually do know how this happened.

It’s because I feel like I’m failing.

It’s not just Nano: it’s my MA, it’s my social life, it’s my mental and emotional state, it’s the fact that I haven’t done my nightly workouts for the past three weeks because I’m pretty sure I’ve torn a ligament or something and I really don’t want to tear it any further – everything just kind of blows right now. In my head at least. I know it’s actually going okay in the external world; I did some work on my MA the other day and it was actually pretty clarifying, but that was after two weeks of doing NOTHING. If this month is my test to see if I can handle the pressures of my academic work at the same time as working on a novel, never mind all the other things one might conceivably do with a normal life, then it’s a test I’m not passing. I feel like my MA is broken beyond repair; I feel like I lack the discipline to write badly and that writing badly is not only an important discipline but should be a really fucking easy and achievable one as well which makes it even worse; I feel like the reason I’m so miserable yet apathetic is because I’m always in my head and have no outside perspectives to draw on or use to break my cycle of depressive inner monologuing …

It’s just a generally sucky time for me right now.

But I know what the answer is. There’s a void, a really dull, grey, beige, flat, flaccid, absolutely un-terrifying void that surrounds me when I’m Not Doing Anything, and I know that the only way to break out of it is to, like, Do Something. Anything, in fact. The only reason I don’t – I assume – is because I get stuck on the question of why I aren’t doing something when I know that’s the answer? Why do I wallow and procrastinate and feel guilty for not having the automatic response of “hey I’ll just fucking DO SOMETHING problem solved” when it is so goddamn easy to just do something?

The only answer I have is that it’s because I have a fucking mental illness, that I have experienced recurring depressive episodes for the past 16 years of my goddamn life, and it’s not actually easy for me to Just Do Something, even though it feels like it should be. I don’t know where that feeling comes from. There are so many instances I can point to of where I’ve trained myself to feel guilty for my inaction and lack of initiative – mostly having to do with what other people have told me – that there’s no one “where” from which this sense I have can have originated. It’s so many things, and they’re not all in my past. They all set me up to disbelieve in myself, over and over again, and it’s really obviously, transparently sick and maladaptive and wrong, and yet I just won’t believe it. I don’t know why I won’t believe it. No matter how many times I prove myself wrong, it just doesn’t stick. And that’s the reason, I think, that I don’t push myself to do things as often as would help: because I know I don’t believe it, and that means that it’s not worth doing.

It’s so …

I hate it.

I hate the thought that I’ll never get past it, and that I’ll never just have the drive to do things when I feel like shit that will break me out of my feeling-like-shit-ness. That it’ll always be an effort, that it’ll never come naturally to me.

But goddammit, it works. I know it works. I may not believe that it works, but I know that it has worked. Maybe that’s the specific thing my brain can’t seem to grasp, or just refuses to: trusting that since it’s worked every single fucking time I’ve done it, it will almost certainly work this time as well. I think I just sort of write off all the other times it’s worked and focus instead on how I’m feeling right now, when I’m not doing it, when I’m feeling like shit.

I think, for all that I complain to myself about over-thinking, that my feeling-shit-ness actually has nothing to do with thinking. It’s just feeling. I just feel like shit; it doesn’t matter what kind of logic or reasoning I can throw at it, because clearly I have plenty of that. Clearly I understand that the solution is not only simple, but one that I have performed with perfect effectiveness multiple times. It is a repeatable, predictable experiment. It’s fucking science that in order to feel better all I have to do is make myself do something. And none of that entices me to believe it’s true.

And because all of this clear evidence isn’t enough to force me to believe it’s true, that the solution rests with me and is really fucking easy to get to, I feel even more worthless for not being able to even make this miniscule effort to employ a (so far) 100% effective solution to my recurring, predictable problem. Instead, apparently, what I’d rather do is mope and complain and feel shitty about not doing things.

Which I can very, very easily do.

But I’m not doing them, I’m so useless, blah blah blah FUCKING DO SOMETHING.

Nope, nothing.

Guys, depression fucking sucks. If you haven’t picked up on that so far, just take it from me: it fucking sucks. Depression combined with being pretty damn spoilt as a kid? I’m surprised I have the discipline to get out of bed AT ALL, let alone what it took to train myself to wake up in the MORNING.

But I did do that. And if I can do that, then I know, objectively, that I can train myself to do other shit as well.

Like write my fucking novel before the month is up, finish my MA chapter revision by the time it’s due – and let it suck if it sucks – and still get some fresh air and vitamin D by physically leaving my room.

Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you believe you can do it or not.

It just matters that you do it.

I have 20k words left before I win Nano, which is a little over 2k words a day from now until the end of November. Can I do it?

Yep.

See? Simple. I can do it. Fuck it, I wrote almost 10k words in just over 5 hours a week ago. I could finish Nanowrimo twice if I wanted to.

In fact …

Even if I didn’t want to.

And that’s the key. That’s the secret to discipline, and to believe that you can do something you don’t feel like you can do.

It’s realising that you can actually do things you don’t feel you’re capable of. You can do things in spite of your feelings about them. If what you’re worried about is whether you can get something done – you can. Whether you’re going to feel like it or not is a different question, and no less important. But it’s a different question.

Can I do it?

Yes.

So let’s do it.

And not just for one fucking month.

Update

Perhaps it’s because it’s currently 1:34 a.m. and I’m staying up because my mp3 player needs its playlists updated, but I’m going to try treating this blog like an Actual Writing Blog for a change. This is a progress report.

The last time I wrote Tallulah, the book I’m Supposed To Be Working On, was over 2 months ago.

The last time I wrote something (outside of thesis stuff, which I’m not counting) was exactly 1 week ago. I guess I did write stuff tonight/this morning, but it was going back through the most recent version of Tallulah chapter 2 and tidying up some of the writing. Nit-picking, in other words, and so no, I’m not going to count that as “writing”. But I am going to count it, because I’m not supposed to do that. I’m supposed to leave it alone until it’s all finished, and then go back over all of it and revise.

How did I get this way?

How did I become so simultaneously pedantic and impotent with my goals? DO THIS DO IT THIS WAY DO IT NOW OR YOU ARE A FAILURE *proceeds to avoid doing thing and thus avoiding failing doing it and becoming a failure*

It’s … it’s not ideal. I know what to do about it, I’ve been doing it on-and-off for years, it’s been getting very, very gradually better …

You know what the most telling part of all this is?

I actually don’t care that I’m not writing Tallulah. Like, I actually couldn’t care less about it. I don’t feel guilty. I come to this blog with these “updates” about nothing happening and going nowhere for the billionth time all prepared to either blast the blogophere with my own personal brand of self-loathing, or to defend myself from it. I come prepared for guilt. But honestly, I don’t have any. I have zero fucks to give. I don’t fucking care if this fucking book never gets fucking written.

And I’m starting to think, at 1:42 a.m. in the morning, that maybe I’ve got a point there. Maybe I started writing Tallulah for the wrong reasons – the wrong reasons to found a whole from-conception-to-publishing novel-writing process anyway.

I wrote Tallulah because it intrigued me that the idea had ever even occurred to me. It was, as I’ve said many times before, a story that I never imagined I would come up with. You know how there are things in the world that, when you come across them, your instant reaction is to go “that is so me”? Tallulah was like the exact opposite of that, and that’s what made it interesting. Throw in some existential gender-perspective writer angst, post-university euphoria and a year and a half free to do whatever the hell I wanted, and you have the conditions under which I wrote the first draft. It was a fantastic, amazing, life-changing process that I would never dream of dismissing as a waste of time, even if Tallulah never does see the light of day beyond its current, unfinished manuscript state. I learnt a hell of a lot from it, and yes, a lot of that had to do with coming to terms with a whole ton of unexamined attitudes I held on gender, and for that I will always be proud and grateful for the experience. I can take that forward into every other story I ever write.

I just … I don’t know what I can do for Tallulah at this point. It’s become a burden, and it’s not getting any lighter. And I think that’s my fault – not like I intentionally sabotaged it or anything, but as in I have such horrible time-management habits that it was kind of inevitable that this would all eventually come crashing down around me. That I’d be unable to keep up with my own thoughts, unable to separate the wheat from the chaff and just have it all mixed up together in a bag that keeps growing until it’s impossible for me to hold, let alone dig through for the good stuff. That I’d lose control over this project, because I have exercised little to no control over myself since the first and only revision of a first draft I’ve ever completed, for Tallulah. I tried so hard, I got so far, but in the end, while it certainly matters, I don’t know if it’ll result in a finished story. I don’t even know if it can. It certainly doesn’t seem like it. I don’t seem to have the focus, inclination or skill to make it work.

I want to hate that, and I don’t. Maybe because it’s late and I just don’t have the energy to care; maybe because I’m used to sealing off my feelings so that I don’t drown in them when they come flooding in. I’m in a perpetual low-level rut, and have been that way ever since some traumatic event happened in my youth that made me stop trying. It’s pretty cliche, and I can’t even remember said traumatic event, but I assume there was one because it makes narrative sense and narrative explains everything, right?

What I actually want to write is the silly, under-developed shit I came up with right at the start, way back when I seriously (maybe put some quotations marks around “seriously” there we go) thought I was going to write a book every fucking year to come out between installments of Harry Potter. The ultra-iterative, self-insert power fantasy shit that I think ashamed of but feel, in the present moment, actually kind of ecstatic about. Or as ecstatic as I can be while actively suppressing every emotion trying desperately to register in my depression-blunted psyche.

Whatever the fuck I had when I was writing my shitty YA werewolf thing is well and truly fucking gone, and it sucks, because it was working. I looked back over my records (really want to keep better records as well) and I was writing that thing for a straight month. I was committed. And then I went to Malaysia and couldn’t pick up the momentum again. It was such a massive experience – and a worthwhile one – that I can’t regret it, but goddamn could I do with the drive I had between May and June.

And I know, as I’m writing this, what the lesson is: routine is important. It’s one of the most important lessons for people with depression or anxiety, and not one every one of us learns: you stick to your goddamn routine, because it will save you, keep you going, and actually lift you up and out of whatever hole you’re in, but only if you stick to it. And that’s the hard part, because depression and anxiety are kind of anti-doing-stuff disorders. That’s kind of precisely what they’re antithetical to, the getting done of things. I should have made no excuses and made myself write that fucking thing all the time I was in Malaysia, kept pace with my ideas, restricted my ideas so that they wouldn’t run ahead of me the whole time …

I don’t know if any of this is actually doable, but it’s what I think. Again, not really feeling much of anything, and that is the kicker. That is the pain, because if I felt something then I’d have a starting-point. I’d have some fucking clue as to what’s going on. But then again, feeling nothing is a pretty big goddamn clue when you have depression. It means I am in the grasp of a depressive episode and I need to do something to shake shit up real quick-like. And maybe if I succeed in doing that everything else will fall into place, and I’ll get my mojo back, realise that I actually can make Tallulah work, or that there’s something in particular that I am passionate about writing and then write that, or realise that I don’t give a flying fuck about writing right this second and would rather do something else and do that instead.

This is totally how you operate a writing blog, guys. Don’t look at me like that.

Shit ain’t happening tonight, regardless of what might happen later down the line, so I may as well go to bed. If I could find something that I enjoyed, I could just do that. And that’s the real issue with feeling absolutely nothing: how the fuck are you supposed to know what you enjoy? You can’t just think about X thing and go “oh yeah, I like that” except in a hypothetical, removed, objective sense, and that doesn’t help anything. I don’t need hypothetical enjoyment; I need something that fucking moves me. I don’t have that right now. I am worried.

There we go. I am worried. I feel something. Mission accomplished.

And now feeling sick so I will disclaim this entire post by saying it was a huge rant during a visitation of depression and that it doesn’t matter in the long run and everything will be better in the morning, because that’s what I need to hear right now.

That’s better.

And the fucking writing …

Fuck it. Author-avatar self-insert power-fantasy ahoy.

Motherfucker.

Whatever works

So today I was yet again not writing, while also not doing any of the readings I’ve been tasked with reading, and instead leveling up Archaeology on my Night Elf Hunter while listening to the very enjoyable Imaginary Worlds podcast. On the one hand, it gets me through the day. It’s coasty. It’s … it’s just easy and simple and anxiety-free. It’s a way for me to avoid a whole bunch of potentially upsetting chaos (read: everyday life).

On the other hand, I thought, I have the privilege, the absolutely fucking disgusting privilege of being able to sit in front of my computer all day playing computer games and listening to podcasts, and nothing else. Ostensibly this is not true; I am going to have to do a shitload of work for this Masters to work, and I am going to do that, because I always do my work. It’s not always been enough, and it’s certainly not always been on time, but I’m getting over that phase. What I’m not getting over – well, let me phrase that differently: what I’m not getting towards is a point where chilling and coasting and avoiding potential, hypothetical stressors that, from experience, I objectively know stress me out far more to imagine than to actually go through, is not enough for me, to a point where my staggeringly charmed life becomes a platform for me to do all of the mind-bogglingly awesome shit that I keep imagining that I want to do.

And that’s the question I now face: am I just imagining that I want to do these things? I have one big project in November that I’m looking forward to, but other than that …

Because another thing I was mulling over today was how I Became A Writer, which was that when I was 13 years old I really liked Harry Potter and decided that I could Do That Too, and didn’t think about the consequences that pursuing this lofty aspiration would have on my psyche, my attitude, my prospects, my general well-being – and, I mean, it’s not like that would be reasonable to expect any 13-year-old to consider with appropriate severity, so that’s not the issue. The issue is that I threw myself fully into something that I didn’t understand the consequences of because it was a fantasy that I had, and being young and responsibility-free I had the freedom to indulge in it. It ended up being something that I pursued for many reasons, including fantasies of fame, self-esteem and, for some reason, beating people in arguments (that’s a power fantasy that I keep coming back to and I think I should probably talk to somebody about it), and because it was What I Was Meant To Do. I had, completely without realising it, done what so many unfortunate idiots have done throughout history, and that is to craft myself an epic narrative that justified itself by merely existing. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I actually considered that this was unhealthy, and not until early this year that I realised that I am not, in fact, A Writer. I am a person, and I want to do all sorts of shit.

Or do I? Because if I imagined that I wanted to be a writer, only to find that I really just wanted to Be Up There with J.K. Rowling because she wrote books I really liked, if I latched onto this grand ambition that was so grand it covered up the very small, specific reason for having that ambition to begin with and got carried away with it to my massive detriment, then what else have I imagined that I want when I really want something else, something far simpler, smaller and – quite possibly – more attainable?

Or, because I have anxiety and overthink the fuck out of everything: what haven’t I imagined that I want? Do I actually want anything at all? Or are my so-called desires nothing more than fancies I distract myself with while waiting for the ever-looming smog of anxiety to pass, knowing full well that that’s not how it works?

It’s not a question of what I want. It’s a question of if I want at all, and if I can tell the difference between actual desire and the fantasy of it.

Do I actually want to write Tallulah?

Do I actually want to learn how to draw?

To play guitar?

To sing?

To be confident in myself?

To make a YouTube Channel?

To Come Out Of Myself?

How can I trust myself to know any of this shit?

And if I can’t – which is the angle I’m going for, in case you hadn’t picked up on that – then where the fuck does that leave me? Because regardless of what I want, in purely practical terms I cannot keep on doing this. One day I will be forced to pick up the years and years of slack I have let slip from my hands, and I will be completely unprepared for it, and be bitter and resentful about it and dig myself at least one hole to sit and mope in when the bubble inevitably breaks.

And I just think of all the times I try to talk myself into being passionate, try to give myself rousing pep talks about purpose and discipline and doing something really big with my life, or even something really small and manageable and practical, and allowing for all of my neuroses and anxiety and depressive states and just …

Does this actually work for anybody?

How do people actually want to do things at all?

Because I don’t think that I do.

And I start to think there’s something wrong with me, because it should be pretty fucking apparent that you do or do not want to do something.

And then I’m like “oh right I have a history of depression” and it turns out I’m right, there is something wrong with me. He puts a point on the board!

And so I’m thinking maybe I need to re-visit the idea of medication.

It’s very privileged of me to have the kind of revulsion that I do toward the idea of me taking medication. Other people? Sure, other people might actually need medication, but not me. I’m just dealing with a behavioural thing; the reason I haven’t gotten through it yet is due to a combination of having to peel away so many layers before I actually get to the real shit that’s affecting me – which is just bad luck – and habits of avoidance and procrastination and delegation built up over the past 18 years, which is also bad luck but I haven’t exactly helped things any.

Except that this utter inability to tell whether I actually want to do anything with myself sounds a lot like depression, and I thought, honestly thought that I was past that. I know I’m a hell of a lot better. I have actually wanted things in the past year or so, and felt it very keenly. And maybe the rest of it is just fear and residual low self-esteem, symptoms that linger even after the cause has long since resolved. Ghosts in the machine.

They do say that self-diagnosis is a bad idea. I’m starting to see why.

What I’m really getting at, since I know full well that all this talk about medication and depression and the question of how we know that we truly want anything is probably not something I can adequately process at 2:13 a.m., is that I already know that my trying to convince myself that I should be writing Tallulah since I have more than enough free time to do so, should be doing all of these things that I tell myself I want to do, never works. What I don’t know is why it doesn’t work. What I wonder is if it works for other people, and why I’m the odd one out. Or if I’m just using a bad strategy and need to be doing something else.

As always, I know one sure answer: “just do it”. It always works. It has never not worked, in my entire fucking life, but the lesson also never sticks. And I know, objectively, that this is part of the lesson, part of what I have to learn: that I may never have that autopilot option available to me, considering how long it’s been and it still hasn’t gotten internalised, so if I want shit to go a certain way I have to make it happen, have to exert myself every single goddamn time and that’s just how it is, sometimes you get dealt a shitty hand, etc.

But then, I also haven’t really tried to make it a habit. And I know that works. I’m still doing my workouts in my room – far from nightly these days, but still a good 2-3 times a week on average, and compared to where I was last year I’d be lucky to get in 20 workouts in a 52-week period. I’m getting back into waking up in the actual morning as opposed to the afternoon, and I’m really liking what it does for my daily attitude and outlook. So maybe I do actually have to do that thing that so many writers advise other writers to do and literally write every single goddamn day. And when I say “write” I mean “add to the word-count of a specific writing project”. Because I do write every day, if you count texting and status updates. But I don’t want to count those. I want to count what we would all probably call Actual Work, and I want it to be regular and consistent and I want it to fucking go somewhere.

How do I know I want that?

Fuck it, maybe I don’t. Maybe I just tell myself that’s what I want, because that’s how I’ve learnt to try and motivate myself into having a purpose, because without a purpose, I have learnt to believe, I am depressed and miserable. Except I love not doing anything. I love boredom. I love quite moments to myself that consume more time than I can imagine. I also love getting so absorbed in some project that before I know it the day is over and I haven’t done a hundredth of what I have the energy to do.

I hate to say this, as an enlightened millennial, but I don’t think I can do this shit with videogames and social media in my life. Maybe I’m just imagining that, too.

But even if I am, so what? It’s all I’ve got anyway. What else am I supposed to go on?

The other alternative is that I simply don’t want to do any of these things, and that the reason I try to talk myself into wanting them is because I’m ashamed of who I am if I don’t want to Do Something With My Life. Because then I’m just some asshole living at home without a job and no social life and no desire to change any of it who is totally okay with it.

Okay not the social life part, but the rest of it. That’s not what a responsible adult looks like.

Jesus. Do I really imagine that I want to be a responsible adult? Is that really what my life goal has become? No wonder I can’t fucking talk myself into doing anything …

This all deserves more consideration, but for now: 200 words a day, starting tomorrow. I could say 2000. I could even say 1000. But I also want it to actually, y’know, happen.

200 words a day, starting tomorrow.

I really, really hope this works.

Why people plan

I realised today why it is that so much writing advice can be summed up in “have a plan and stick to it”: because the alternative – just winging it – doesn’t get you to where you want to be a lot of the time. Which is not to say that having a plan does either, but since a lot of that advice seems to come from writers who are disillusioned with the process of winging it, I can understand why they encourage others (and probably themselves) to do the exact opposite, because the grass is always greener on the other side etc.

Tallulah – I’ve had grand ideas about writing it for at least a week now, and nothing has come of it. I’m depressed about this whole student loan bullshit situation; I’m going to call Studylink tomorrow and inform them that they’ve fucked up and owe me a goddamn full-time contract, but who knows if that’ll get anything done. If not then I may just have to force myself to look for a job, and while that’s far from an unreasonable plan, anxiety don’t got no fucks to give about what’s reasonable and what’s not, and this whole situation is just making things worse. I’m sure I’m playing it up to some degree, but that is in part a coping mechanism; at least I can control how histrionic I get. Again, anxiety does not care for reason.

But Tallulah is suffering because of it, and as always, ALWAYS happens: when I don’t write, I feel worse. I just do. I feel bad when I’m not writing. And the reason Tallulah in particular makes me feel bad for not writing it is because what I learnt in my first draft is coming back with a vengeance: time spent writing does not equal progress made in the writing process. Perhaps another reason for why the writing advice I come across most often (or so it feels) is geared towards planning over pantsing: it’s organised.

I was thinking about this the other day, about how as much as the new ideas that I have for Tallulah are interesting to me and I really would like to see them in action, they are essentially no different to the first ideas that I had for the story, in the sense that they’re essentially filler. The core of the story has always been incredibly small and simple, and the other stuff has been little more than fancy trimming. I wrote out a brief plan for how Tallulah might go if I turned it into a series, and the first episode or whatever actually turned out to be very similar to the very first version of the story that I ever planned out – the specifics are different, but what they’re there for and how they shape the overall direction of the story are virtually the same. It’s kind of comforting in a way, because that first version of the story was so full of cliches that I’ve spent the following three and a half years trying to write a “counter” to it, and it’s contributed to how much of a slough it’s been to keep up with writing this book.

And again, that small, simple core of a story is the only thing that’s remained consistently appealing to me. I do think that returning to at least some of the original ideas that I had is a good idea, particularly the way that the supernatural elements are integrated. Gets me further away from falling into the “superhero origin story” I so dread, the one that my current revision of Tallulah very much does fall into, and that at the very least is something I want to keep.

But what’s dawned on me today is that while, on the one hand, I am finally coming around to taking a chill pill (haven’t heard that one in a while) and getting comfortable with the idea that this really is a very small and simple story, on the other hand it means that the past three and a half years worth of effort has essentially been for nothing. Yes, I learnt a lot from the writing process, and yes, better late than never, but that’s also three and a half years I’ll never get back. And while I understand the appeal of the idea of a plan, I have to wonder how much advice that touts the value of planning over pantsing is primarily borne out of frustration like mine, as opposed to plans actually working.

Now as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve done plans in the past, and yes, they have worked. The very first draft of a novel I ever wrote was meticulously planned-out, and it got written. Sure, almost as soon as it was finished I decided that I wasn’t happy with it, but that’s a problem with the story itself rather than the process I used to write the first draft. Planning does work. But I haven’t been able to recreate that success to date. A lot of that probably has to do with getting habituated to prioritising university obligations over my self-directed creative writing projects – which is fine, but facts are facts, and the fact may well be that I simply don’t have the mental bandwidth to do both.

The other thing is that despite how depressed I’m feeling about the two biggest parts of my life – writing and study – I do think I’ve reached a new place in my writing and in my general outlook on life (and yes, that includes study) that is very positive and generative. I am moping about not having found my way back to “thinking in story” ever since that glorious little burst of story-focused fantasising-about-my-unwritten-books I had two months ago, during my werewolf kick, but I know it’s possible, and it has to do with thinking of my story as a limited thing, rather than a sandbox of potential. I’m getting better at it, and it’s more satisfying because it’s limited; it means that not everything I could ever possibly hope for will make it into the final product, and it forces me to commit to actual choices rather than flop around in unending fields of what-if. Yet another reason why planning seems like a good idea, and this time I have no snide comments to make about it. Limitations are good; they foster creativity, and if they work for you, they help you get shit done. No, you can’t have all of these things because they won’t all fucking fit; you can have some stuff, and you’d better choose which ones you actually want, because you only have 80k words to work with.

In fact maybe that’s what I’ll do; maybe I’ll go back to imposing a word-limit on myself. It did work for the first draft, even if part of why it worked was because I eventually did away with it altogether, which was, at the time, the very best decision I could have made. But now I need a narrowing of my range of options; I need the frustration to push up against and filter myself through; and I want that feeling of disappointment at not being able to fulfill every single fantasy that I have in one single story. I really do, because it suddenly makes a story feel real to me. And above all, that is what I need in order to get started again.

Which means that, rather than plans not working for me, it may just be a matter of finding a new way to make those plans. And what I actually think it might well be is that my plans need to be in my head rather than down in words. If I put it in words, then I may as well not write them out as a story. And if I find it easy to remember because I actually like it, rather than because I wrote it down somewhere – also because I’m forced to remember rather than outsourcing that task to putting it down in writing, which also probably contributes to my lack of commitment now that I think about it – then that’s probably a good sign.

It’s about getting a sense of the finite nature of the story. That, I think, is the ultimate benefit of planning, when it works: it forces you to accept that you aren’t going to be able to fit every single fucking thing you could ever dream up into one project. A while a go, I made a post lamenting the way that writing digitally feels like writing in pencil, and I wanted a way to feel like I was writing in ink instead, that my decisions actually meant something and I had to deal with the consequences of them, because it would make me better at getting focused. This is the same thing. The finite nature of a story is what rescues you from the infinite abyss of “what if”. Keep notes, jot down all your thousand and one brilliant ideas; map the abyss. Do that. There’s no reason not to. But it’s not a story. A story only includes so many details, only offers so many options, and that’s what makes it a story. That’s what I want so badly to get back in touch with, and what I think planning over pantsing is going to do for me if I can make it work.

So tomorrow onwards is a big deal for me. I wrote another post ages ago about how I wanted to think of my books in writing rather than in imagery, and this focus on finite story-space within which to satisfy my storytelling urges ties into that as well; thinking in images is intuitively boundless to me, but thinking in words is very, very finite. It’s imagining in ink. It’s getting intimate with specifics and rejecting the grand tapestry of “what if”, and finding that you actually love it. That’s what I want to get back to. And I think I can.

Just gotta … y’know … do it.

 

Mood swing

In my excitement over starting work on an actual real-life second draft of my novel, I realised that part of what I was excited about was a distinct change in the story’s atmosphere. After not just the “skeleton draft” I did last year but also the following 8-9 months of internalised stewing over story elements in my head, detached from the written reality of the manuscript, it became obvious that what excitement I had was for a story that was strikingly different to the one I’d written, that I had progressed more in fantasy and speculation about my story than in writing it, and that this imagined pre-story had become my locus of enthusiasm.

The biggest marker of change was with the main, titular character, Tallulah. I first wrote her as a character who was, at the time, refreshingly free from the bonds of authorial self-insertion that had impinged my efforts to articulate a main character in any story I attempted to write who felt authentic, true to themselves instead of my experience. As time went by and I read what I’d actually written, the clearer it became to me that I had no idea what I had based that hopeful assumption upon, because Tallulah, it turned out, was so infuriatingly similar to me that it disrupted the logic of the story, of her story. But as I wrote the skeleton draft, read over it again (and again; this last time was the third read-through and I’m now on the fourth) and let these impressions intermingle with my idealistic fantasy of a story and a character that I had “gotten out of the way of”, the more optimistic I became of realising that story – a story that came from me, but was not about me.

Now that conceit of being able to “get out of the way” of your story – depending on how you approach storytelling, your mileage will vary. I see it as a deception, though not in the generic sense of deception being a bad thing; I see it as a means of using a combination of attitude and superstition in order to produce a desired effect, namely that of being able to tell a story that is not recognisably a thinly-veiled self-insert power fantasy. I think it’s a good deception, insofar as it is deployed as a means to a worthy end, and is as far as I can tell a means that will not hurt anybody.

But what I’m starting to realise now is that, actually, trying to take yourself out of your story should never be the point to begin with. It’s like trying to take your genetic code out of your biological child: you can’t do it. And because you can’t do it … it’s not that you can’t worry about it, and it’s not even that it’s wrong to worry about it (especially if we’re actually talking about biological children because there’s hereditary issues to take into account), but in the end no change can be affected along those lines. You’re stuck with it, like it or not.

It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, having bits of yourself stuck in your story, painfully, embarrassingly obvious as they may be to you, the one telling the story. For one thing: it could be that nobody else notices. For another: the “you” in your story is where your voice comes from.

And most importantly: you are not unique. These things that remind you of yourself whenever you read through your manuscript and make you cringe and wince and write angry ranty comments in the margins – they’re not unique to you. Statistically speaking anyway. They are uniquely yours, in the sense that nobody can have your experience of X, but they are also very much not uniquely yours in the sense that perhaps anybody can have an experience of X.

For me (slight spoiler), it’s depression. Obviously I can only talk about my personal experience of depression, and I would never presume to talk about it from a position of objective authority on the matter of depression in general; it affects everybody differently. But this is what I’ve learnt from it: in the wake of Robin William’s untimely death and the flood of personal stories published in memorial that dealt with each writer’s personal experience of depression, it has become clear to me that I actually don’t have depression anymore. Or just that it’s been in remission for an incredibly long time. That was a realisation that had been creeping up on me for a few years, now that I think about it, and the response around this tragedy has had a positive effect in that people have felt moved to speak out on an issue that is still criminally misunderstood and left in the silent margins of public discourse – and that perhaps I’m not the only one who has come to understand their relationship to this disease a little better through that speaking out.

Depression was written into the fabric of Tallulah from the start, from the pacing to the prose to the plot. This new, revolutionary version of the story I’m so excited to start writing is much more mobile, empowered, and yearning for something to grasp and use and experience. I couldn’t have thought of that story while I was in the doldrums of depression, which is a grey, leaden blanket that leeches not only your energy but your sense of time, until there is only the past and the future, and each is never-changing.

Or so I thought.

What I realise now is that, actually, yes, I could have thought of that story while I had depression, because while depression certainly affects your thoughts – it is a mental illness after all – it does not destroy them. It does not kill your mind; it sedates it, cruelly and relentlessly, and what makes it so terrible is that you know that’s not all that’s in you, that at one point there was something else, positivity and verve and vigour, but that it’s past – that apathy is the new normal. But it is a new normal. There was another one. And for that reason, there is always hope, even if frustratingly distant and out of reach, like seeing a meadow from behind prison bars as you carry out a life sentence. It’s still there. You are still there. Your mood changes, your habits change, your priorities change. But you are still there.

And at the same time, no, you’re not. You’re entirely different. The first real breakthrough I had, after parting ways with my at-the-time-best-friend at age 20, I felt like I had “come back”; the “before” version of me had suddenly returned and it was like nothing had changed. And that’s because nothing had changed. That me had stopped developing at a certain point, and I picked up from where I left off. Over time there was a convergence as the past and present mes grafted together, and that was someone new as well, and yet exactly the same.

My point is that just because your mood changes, it doesn’t mean you change. And I guess I’m really talking about your history, and your storytelling. Just because you’re okay now doesn’t mean you weren’t not okay before; just because you’re not okay now doesn’t mean you weren’t okay before. And just because you’re one or the other right now doesn’t mean you can’t imagine the other. I’ve spent a strangely long time implicitly believing that was the case, and looking at the shift in mood in my story, I finally comprehend a really embarrassingly obvious fact, which is that just because a life or a story is happy, it doesn’t mean there is no sadness in it. Or anger, or regret, or confusion, or apathy – just because something is happy doesn’t mean that it’s all it is. And I really would have hoped that I could have understood that before now.

But whatever. Now’s good enough.

And now, after two thirds of a year struggling to make progress, I’m gonna write this fucking second draft.

Voices (Goodbye Robin Williams)

You ever try to imitate your favourite comedian?

It’s fucking terrifying. I may have a different perspective on this to other people, because whenever the thought of doing an impression of a comedian came to mind when I was a kid (which happened a lot, probably because among kids humour is one of the highest forms of social currency) – well, that was it; I never just thought of telling their jokes in my own way. It had to be a full-blown imitation. And with somebody as distinct and as powerful in their voice as Robin Williams, trying to take on such an embodiment of dedication and discipline and faith in yourself for an attention-hungry, nervous pre-teen was like trying to run naked through a supermarket.

I say pre-teen because that’s when Robin Williams was the most prominent in my life. Talking about influences can be difficult because a lot of the time when people want to know about somebody’s influences they mean “who are you trying to copy”, more or less. Which is fine. There’s nothing wrong with imitation; it’s how we learn how to do everything. I can’t say that Robin Williams was an “influence” on me as far as artistic style is concerned, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a huge part of my creative environment, specifically before the age of about 11. His presence was an influence more than his style; he’s never somebody I’d ever try to imitate, though in a lot of ways it’s because, like many people, it’s intimidating to try and copy somebody you find hilariously funny. Not only is it obvious that you’re copying them, but with somebody like Robin Williams you’re likely to come off as a cheap imitation and never quite capture what it is about them that engages people. Because of the embarrassment factor involved there, I may never know if, had I been more confident, I would have wanted to imitate him to begin with.

But especially with comedians, you’re not so much engaged with the content of their humour but the fact that they’re the ones delivering it. I think that’s why I always jumped to the conclusion of having to do a full-blown impression when I considered how it would be for me to try and tell X comedian’s joke: the joke and the joker were one and the same in my mind. There’s something about humour specifically that intensifies the awareness of a performer’s unique voice. I think it’s because comedians have to make themselves distinct in order to stand out, because humour is somebody that everybody does in their day-to-day life and much of it is very iterative, so when they succeed it’s like they’ve invented something that the world has never seen before. I am terrified of imitating somebody I find truly funny and failing, but I think that misses the point of inspiration. It’s not about aping a performance; it’s about understanding yourself. It’s about finding your voice.

And trusting it.

Robin Williams trusted his voice, and through it had the opportunity – which he took, many times – to move so many people so deeply, and for people of my generation to define vast territories of our childhoods. Looking at his body of work now and looking at the direction that my own stories are taking, there are actually more similarities there than with most of the artists that I would cite as “actual” inspirations to my work, even though none of my ideas trace back to anything I know Robin Williams for. But beyond all of that, his presence itself was an inspiration for me, a huge part of the foundation of who I knew myself to be growing up. I remember how transformative it was when I saw him in Good Will Hunting for the first time and my concept of the man who played Genie completely changed. Only later did I look back and realise that every one of his roles had more than just comedy to it. He was incredibly talented, and could direct his incredible, almost overwhelming energy into anything. I most definitely found that inspirational.

Also he and my dad had some of the same taste in loud shirts. It’s uncanny.

I never knew that Robin Williams suffered from depression, as I did, but it makes too much sense now, seeing his face and being able to pinpoint why exactly he always looks like he’s holding something in. It’s the shitty reality of living with depression that, if you don’t talk about it – and too many people feel unable to talk about it – it’s hard for others to pick up on it, others who might desperately want to help you if you’re ever in trouble. They see you holding something in, or you see somebody else holding something in and after a while, if it never comes out into the open, if you or they don’t say anything about it, it just becomes normal. It is terrible to live with depression and feel something’s wrong, but not realising it isn’t normal to feel it’s wrong. It’s been said before, will be said again, and is certainly being said now in light of this sad news but depression is a silent killer that can only be stopped by speaking up, by trusting your voice to save you. So to anybody reading this, if you think you or somebody you know might have depression or something like it, or any kind of mental illness, or is just going through a rough patch, I dearly hope you can and will find somebody to confide in, somebody to help. There are hotlines and websites and self-help books; there are sometimes friends and family, doctors and counselors, depending on what resources you have to hand. Just please, please don’t risk yourself out of pride or shame. You are worth more than that. You are worth being certain. You are worth getting better.

I will miss Robin Williams more deeply as time goes on, I imagine. My life was filled with his voice, and only now that he’s gone am I starting to realise just how much of my life it filled.

So goodbye, Robin Williams, and thank you for sharing your voice. I will remember it. And I will try to trust mine to serve both myself and others as you did yours.

Rest in peace.