Holy Christ I Hate This Book

I don’t know now, looking back, how I let myself live after having the gall to write this goddamn book. I don’t know why, in particular, these ideas convinced me that they were good enough to commit to written language, let alone show other people – for those who have been here since the beginning or checked the archives, I did in fact show off my chapters to a select few readers/friends as they were written. Never mind that I got almost universally positive feedback; it’s a bad idea, because you start writing for your readers instead of for yourself, and while that seems like a good thing in a way, it’s really not. You are the one making the offer; your readers are the ones who decide if they can or cannot refuse.

I can’t quite wrap my brain around what in the pulsating green fuck motivated me to make this particular offer. I mean … nothing’s fucking happening. At all. Oh sure, plenty of “character stuff”, lots of delicious, mouth-watering “relationship drama”, and once upon a time I got the biggest fucking hard-on for this shit, and I just do not understand it anymore. It’s that simple. I don’t get my own fucking book, my fucking passion project. I can’t understand why I ever wanted to write any of the words that I am currently reading.

I have no “in” to something I’ve already fucking written.

But, as per usual with anything having to do with reading your own writing, this is a valuable learning exercise. Yesterday it was just my taste in prose; now it’s my taste in details to linger over and emphasise by giving them privileged space on the page. It’s just so fucking juvenile; I don’t know how else to describe this writing other than some thesaurus-derived variant of immature. I can’t fucking believe that I wrote this; I can’t stand it.

And what I’m learning from this is that the focus of this story needs to change, and it needs to change very fucking hard.

I can remember what was motivating me at the time: I wanted this story, so unlike any other I had ever envisioned writing, let alone actually bothering to write, to be more character-focused and specifically to move away from my general focus on action. I had become sick of my continued infatuation with Dragon Ball Z for a little while by the time Tallulah came to mind, and was bothered by how much that one piece of media dominated my creative palette. Tallulah was more than just a breath of fresh air; it was almost like a new identity, because in writing it I became somebody I never thought I would or could ever be. Just to be the kind of person who would commit to writing a story like Tallulah changed everything I thought about myself, and as I stuck with it over the course of the next 3 years, I continued to change. And for the better, I will say.

But what I see now is that those changes for the better were not remotely matched by better writing, because fuck my knees with a King James Bible this is bad. Yesterday I thought it was just words that were the problem; today I see that it’s both words and the content of those words, the scenes they create, the events that they encapsulate and draw attention to. The story, in short, is what is bad, because it focuses on this inane fucking bullshit where nothing fucking happens. It’s 88k words worth of filler masquerading as a story.

How. How could I permit this. Somebody tell me.

I’ll tell me: I was distracted, obviously, by the sensation of doing something different, breaking out of my comfort zone and creating something that I never would have imagined I would even think to create. Which was a great idea, and I’m glad that I did it, but Jesus Christ could I have learnt to fucking write first? Or had any sort of grasp of the meaning of staying on-point? Or just understood what in the algae-coated fuck my story was even about? This tells me that my big revelation about what I needed to change about the end of this book isn’t just right; it’s not right enough. I need to change … like … everything. I need to write a new fucking book is what I fucking need.

I can’t believe I’m saying this and meaning it, but I hate Tallulah. I hate it so fucking hard.

I can’t believe it.

I wonder how much of this is tied to the fact that I did in fact spend almost 2 years writing one of the more pulptastic things I’ve ever been possessed to write. Dear god, I actually wrote that shitty YA werewolf novel. Like, that’s a thing that I did. It’s finally starting to sink in; took long enough … but it’s action-focused, it’s pulpy and fast-paced; the character stuff does matter but it’s also inconsistent and distracting because, as I’m discovering pretty hard right now, I have a really hard time staying on-point or clearly understanding and sticking to my vision for what a story is when I have that vision. Probably has something to do with the fact that it took 2 goddamn years to write; Tallulah, festering mound of refuse that it apparently is, only took around 7 months once I started writing it “properly”, which is to say according to a daily routine that I checked off on my wall-planner. And for all the filler, at least the focus was fairly clear.

Here’s the thing, though: Tallulah feels salvageable. It would be a lot of work, but it would eventually work if I committed to it. My shitty YA werewolf novel, on the other hand – it could, but I wouldn’t see the benefit to doing so, and I do with Tallulah. This wrong-headed focus on trivial bullshit that doesn’t matter, introducing things at weird, irrelevant times and putting the emphasis on seemingly significant things that either don’t go anywhere or are only significant if you can read my mind and know all the invisible backstory that I have for these characters and their motives – if I got rid of that and re-focused on stuff that actually mattered (or, rather, actually included things that mattered to be focused on in the first place), then certain aspects of the style I’m finding here could work. It’s just … misdirected, I guess. The hard part is going to be the rewriting. I’m foreseeing that I’m going to have to do a lot of it. I’m not looking forward to it.

Actually, I’m really not looking forward to it. When I decided that I was going to commit to getting Tallulah ready for submission to agents by the end of the year, I had not yet begun to re-read it. I feel like if I had done that first, I wouldn’t have made that commitment, because I don’t think that I have the energy or discipline to meet that goal. I can’t help but feel like I could put my efforts into something else more rewarding instead of trying to salvage this unreadable train wreck of a manuscript.

I’m starting to wonder if Tallulah was doomed to just be another writing exercise, in retrospect. Because in retrospect, it actually has some pretty important things in common with my shitty YA werewolf novel, which was always intended to be a writing exercise. Mainly, they both came about from me getting excited about trying out something that I never had before, something that seemed very out-of-the-ordinary for me to even do to begin with. The specifics – tone, theme, pace, etc. – are completely different. But that’s just semantics. The driving force behind both of them was that they were experiments. Things that I didn’t know if I could do, and that’s why I wanted to do them. And I did.

And perhaps that’s where I should leave both of them. Perhaps this is me realising that, actually, I’ve been done with Tallulah from the moment I decided to take my hiatus. I can’t help but wonder if that would be for the best.

But I also can’t help but wonder what it would be like to continue as planned. I mean, I’ve been through rough patches with this book before. Lots of them. None of them were quite as off-putting as this one, but then I’ve had a whole 4 years of changing tastes to go through between then and now. I probably should have anticipated that I wouldn’t like what I found when I eventually came back to this fetid swamp of un-killed Darlings. That’s what the problem is, I think. Last time I read it, I remember thinking that there was still way too much filler – this is just compounding on that observation; it’s nothing but filler so far.

Maybe it gets better in later chapters. Maybe I just have to include something in my notes about, I dunno, how I feel about the chapter, or what I wish was happening instead, or some other way of recording the changes I feel need to be made or pointing out the problems that I have with the chapters. I’m not sure if those belong with my notes or not. I really don’t know what to do when it comes to revision, even though I’ve done it once already.

Promises, maybe. It does seem like a good thing to focus on, having finally gotten around to listening to the Writing Excuses podcast: identifying what promises I’m making to the reader, and then identifying where I keep and break those promises. I remember telling a friend, sometime during the hiatus, that the thing I was most concerned with about Tallulah was that I wasn’t keeping my promises. Now I think I just need to identify what those promises are, and whether or not I keep them – or want to keep them. Seems like a decent way to go.

God I hate this book – but I’m not giving up on it yet. Not until I know for sure why I hate it, and what I could do to change that, if anything. I want to be able to make an informed decision about this book, one way or another. I feel like I owe it that much, at least.

And also, seeing as I do kinda still like the idea of writing for a living, I suppose I had better get used to the idea that I might not always be totally head-over-heels in love with everything I ever write, and that I might have to put in a bit of effort – or more than a bit – to make it work in the long-run.

Commitment. Tallulah taught me a lot about that. Time to see if I learnt anything.

Five Tips of Successful Phosphoric Acids

Where have I heard this one before: “the solution to writing Tallulah is to make it a really small, simple story, really almost more of a short story than a novel”?

I mean if I were more motivated I would go through all 450+ posts I’ve published over the course of this blog’s lifetime, find every instance of me saying that or some close variation thereof, and post links to them here, because holy shit do I repeat myself on this primary social media platform of mine.

But you know what? Repetition is how we learn. I’ve complained about not learning lessons the first time around and how infuriating that is; the fact that I keep “re-learning” those lessons is less a failure to learn and more a trend of getting better at learning X thing. You can’t learn something without doing it a lot.

So, since I commit to the plan of simplifying Tallulah into a simpler, smaller story A LOT

This is the plan. This is the only plan. Write it, exactly as it is in my head regardless of whether that is “good” or not, as the simple, small, kind of incidental story that it is, and that is the story. Embellishments are just that: embellishments, and at the minute the working version of Tallulah is a series of embellishments that drag out and distract from the heart of the story. In other words, all that filler I thought I took out during the revision was … I mean it was a good lesson in cutting filler from a first draft, but the lesson was that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. The whole thing is filler, except for the first chapter and the last … five? Like … yeah. The story I’m trying to tell is all in those chapters, and even then, because they were written to fit in with the rest of the story I’d written around them, it doesn’t work on its own.

Buuut it might be a decent place to start. Just strike those flints together and see what colour the sparks are.

That’s the analogy I’m looking for. Exactly. Shush.

Although maybe it’s just busywork, like my “character map” idea turned out to be. Like a lot of my “plans” end up being. But, I mean, it’s writing that I’ve done and will, in all likelihood, end up reusing in some capacity anyway, so …

My plan is basically to take what I’ve got in these chapters and see how much is compatible with the pared-down re-visioning of Tallulah that I’ve got in mind now, the “small and simple” version of the story that is really more of a scene than a story. And that’s fine. That’s what this story is; that’s what it’s going to be. The other characters and interesting filler I put in it can exist elsewhere; I do like them, they do work, but they’re getting in the way in this particular story.

This seems doable. This seems in the vein of my new philosophy, which I’ve definitely learnt and then forgotten and am now in need of re-learning, of writing a) exactly the stuff that’s in my head, exactly as it is in my head, b) allowing those ideas to be iterative, predictable, redundant and all manner of “bad” without censoring myself, c) not embellishing those ideas so that I can fucking write them down without distracting and derailing myself – in short, it’s about honesty, with an emphasis for making up for my rampant, toxic perfectionism. And in all honesty, Tallulah might not have a market in what I consider to be its “true form”. It might just be a short piece that I write for myself. And that’s fine. If that’s what it is, then that’s what it is, and to try and turn it into something else would be … well, not what I want to do. I never quite realised just how much of my attitude towards writing Tallulah has been based on the assumption that I was writing for the “young adult market”, but it’s completely true. And, obviously, it hasn’t worked like I wanted. It’s been a distraction based on an ill-defined end goal: I have no fucking idea what the “young adult market” actually is, let alone how to write to spec for it. I have been operating on the logic of thinking up obstacles to overcome without considering whether they’re actually relevant to what I’m attempting in any way. And also just getting really down about writing in general. Now there’s some turnaround. Now I think I’m onto something. And I’ve thought it before and it’s come to nothing, but goddammit, this can work. This can be a thing that works. I can make it work.

Just gotta … do that.

Yup.