“Detox Day” 2/2

This was a very good, important idea.

I am going to need to think about this regarding Weekly Words. Obviously I really appreciate what Weekly Words has been doing for me, and I’d like to keep that up. But it’s clear to me that word-count alone is not what I need – or even want – to be focusing on right now. At least not for 10k words a week.

Part of that is because one of the conclusions I have come to over these two detox days is that I have a lot more than one kind of writing to do in order for my process to really work for me, and a lot of it is just being silly and having fun with my ideas. The other night, because it was about 4am and I wasn’t asleep because why would I be, I started coming up with stupid place names for the world in one of my projects, and iterated on the names for a good quarter of an hour just to make myself laugh. Now that seems kind of like “yeah, so what”, but I realised that not only did I do something that I enjoyed, but it also got me more invested in the project. And then I realised: this silly improvisational self-amusement is my natural mode; this is how I invest myself in my projects, the way I naturally express my enthusiasm, just throwing ideas around and workshopping them on the spot. And it’s something I’ve discouraged myself from doing, distracted myself from doing, for a very long time. I have internalised a lot of “writing advice” sort of logic regarding writing over the years, and I’m fairly sure I’ve made a lot of it up through a combination of only half paying attention to the actual advice I’ve been exposed to, and my own ingrained self-sabotaging habits that turn everything into an ever-escalating shame marathon. For all that I’ve written about having to make writing work for you and not pushing yourself to do things that just don’t work, it seems I have not been taking my own advice. I don’t let myself do things that I know work for me when I have some reason, however, flimsy, to think it’s “stupid” or “irrelevant”. It actually makes me pretty angry, seeing just how pointlessly pedantic I have gotten about my writing process over time, and how many opportunities I’ve missed because of these awful habits.

Yesterday, I identified the biggest issue for me – besides distraction, which these two days have been good for countering as well – which was self-sabotage through shifting my own goalposts and making it impossible for me to meet my own standards, because they keep changing. Inconsistency. Today, I identified one of my biggest strengths: letting myself do things my way. And that means taking time to give myself the opportunity to do that, which is what these past two days have done for me. In fact, I got pretty much everything I wanted out of these past two days: I revisited some old projects, identified what I liked about them, what got me to work on them or what held me back from doing so, found that I was actually still quite interested in some of them even after not working on them for so long, and got back in touch with what was going on with me and what I feel most drawn to. A chance to check in with myself. I now know I need to do that far more often.

And all of this thanks to pen and paper. Never will I be without it again. So sayeth the Ubermensch!


Weekly Word 06-12/05/2018

06/05/18: 1202

A solid start to the week. After my big freakout about not having passion or whatever last time, I found that today it actually came fairly easily to me. Mostly through humour. I tend to write to make myself laugh, at the end of the day, whether the humour is dark or silly or, occasionally, clever, but the main point is that humour gets me through. It’s an old habit of mine, and definitely set the tone of a lot of my older projects, but now I realise it’s another tool that I have for getting myself to write when I don’t really feel like it.

I also miss doing it, even though as a coping mechanism it has definitely dominated the tone of certain projects to an undue extent, and just making myself laugh is not always going to be helpful as a result – but on the other hand, I feel like a lot of my more recent projects have gone too far in the other direction, being too serious one way or another. Seriousness is not a bad thing, but like humour, it can outstay its welcome. Unlike humour, I don’t really find that it motivates me, so I’m not quite sure why it’s become sort of my go-to tone when coming up with new projects.

Lots to think about, then, for the rest of the week – but regardless, writing is getting done, and as long as that is true, everything else is just gravy.

07/05/18: 2284

I’m still leaving writing later than I’d like in the day, but it is getting done, and I daresay I’m actually enjoying it once it gets going.

I’ve been very aware of the “hump” with my project, the point in the writing where, once you’ve passed it, things get much easier. There’s a lot of setup with this piece I’m writing right now, and putting off the main action is frustrating the part of me that demands instant gratification, which is a rather large part of me. But I stuck to my guns, forced myself to write through the stiffness that always comes with working on a new project that isn’t driven by passion, which was all of last week’s writing besides the co-writing project – and while it’s not getting easier, I’m starting to believe that it could, at least. And it’s getting to the point in this project where the setup portion ends, and the main action begins, which I think I will enjoy.

I like a good introduction; I like procedure in stories, and I like it well-executed. I just don’t like writing it myself, when I want to jump straight to the action, but as I learnt in writing Wolf Gang, while jumping ahead to the interesting stuff can certainly work, it comes with its own drawbacks, because instead of working through the tough stuff that leads to the interesting stuff, which becomes a kind of reward, it’s skipping straight to the reward and then expecting yourself to go back to the boring crap you didn’t want to do in the first place, which is part of why that god-awful manuscript took me a year and a half to write instead of six months, tops. I have to learn this skill, the skill of writing without passion to get to the stuff that I’m passionate about, because I know that, when it’s all said and done, I will be glad that I did the “boring” stuff. It’s not even boring, just boring to write. And, of course, revision fixes everything if it is boring …

And that, more than anything, is what I want to get used to: getting to the revision process, getting to the point where I can fix things that need to be fixed. I don’t just have to get used to letting myself write badly; I have to get used to letting myself write boringly, which is a hell of a lot harder.

But I’m getting there. It’s getting there.

And I’m still writing my own stuff.

08/05/18: 26

Tuesdays return to their state of being unproductive this week, but hey, got something written.

This has to end, though. I felt so crap today, stressing out about having Youthline this evening, even though I had a good 6 hours beforehand – and would have had more if I had woken up earlier – and as a result spent the day trying to distract myself from this sense of impending doom, procrastinating like a champ, and generally not getting a ton of stuff important to me anywhere near done.

But I think this can become a good thing in retrospect. I mean today sucked, but it’s been an opportunity for me to pull together a few things I’ve been motivated to do in my life recently. One is to “write like shit” better – the whole thing of wanting to get to the revision process quickly so that I can make the thing that I wrote into the thing that I want to have written. The other is to make myself do things that I actually want to do – when I want to do them. I have fretted about not doing this for years; after tonight’s Youthline session I realise that this ties in with pretty much every neurosis I have, the fear of missing out or having already missed out that has dominated most of my life up to this point, and it’s time to put a positive spin on it and turn this frustration into a pro-active initiative.

Also figuring out what I actually want to do, which is where I get stuck again. But putting wheels in motion and all that. I want to get this thing I’m writing to get finished this week. That’s my goal. Sort of like the 10k-words-per-week goal; it’s an ideal, but one that I want to put in the effort to meet, even though not meeting it isn’t the end of the world. This thing that I’m writing – I’m enjoying it in retrospect, but I want to be writing something that I actually look forward to working on, not something that I have to force myself to work on. I mean I want to be able to do both, and so far I feel I’m doing a decent job of proving that I have that capacity, but I still think it’s worth chasing the dream.

10/05/18: 1497

It’s still hard to write my own stuff, but it is also still getting written.

I just really do want to write something else.

And you know, I think that could still be this project. I think my attitude is a big factor here; I’m insisting that this project be a certain way, and I think that’s ruining a lot of it for me. I’m trying to prescribe my writing to myself, instead of looking for ways to enjoy it.

At least until I start writing. It always gets easier once I start, but getting started is so difficult. Basic writer problems, I know, but I can’t help but compare this to the co-writing project – met up with my friend tonight to discuss the final two episodes, which was very motivating – which, ever since I started Weekly Words, has been easy to just sit down and put words into, and think that there must be a way for me to get that with my own personal projects.

So this Saturday, and a bit on Sunday, I’m going to be trying a bit of a mental detox and puzzle-solving session, where the puzzle is my brain. I have a lot of things that I try to make myself like or prioritise because they seem good for some reason, and I have gotten so used to doing it that I’ve kind of forgotten how to tell when I actually like something, especially writing-wise. So, in line with my mission to figure out what the fuck I actually want to do with my life, which writing is a part of, Saturday is a Day On. Pen and paper, because it’s harder to file away and forget all about than a digital document. I’m going to do drawing, y’all. I’m going to free-write some shit, take some of these ideas that I think are neat and just see where I naturally go with them before I start turning them into plans and agendas, because I think I’m really missing that immediacy in my writing, and life in general. I’m going to reflect on my life and shit, try to remember what was going on when I came up with the ideas and stories that really resonated with me, and see if there’s some common thread, something I can replicate. And also look at what was going on when I was most enjoying my writing. I think that I know, a lot of the time, but the answer is always too simplistic and hand-wavey. “I was a kid so everything was better/easier”. “I was doing it for self-therapy”. “I was on a sugar high”. Etc.

Saturday is about specifics, because I think the main reason why I find so many of my issues so difficult to deal with is not being specific about what it is that’s going on. I generalise, a lot, so I’m taking this opportunity to get better at that, to pin down exactly what works, what doesn’t, and why, as best as I can.

And that, hopefully, will put me on the path to doing things that I actually want to do, instead of things that distract me from not knowing what those things are.

As well as things that I need to do. But that’s another self-project, and will be blogged about another time.

11/05/18: 578

The font seems to have changed in the WordPress post-drafting window. Weird.

But that’s it for me this week. Looking forward to tomorrow, when I am going to attempt a detox-style day and try to work out what the hell it is that I actually want. Or maybe just take a detox day in general. That might sort things out pretty well for me, because my current routine is and has been for a long time now a string of distracting habits, and I have the suspicion that this is the underlying problem I’m facing in most areas of my life that I am facing problems in I am an English major I know how to construct sentences I got First Class Honours don’t step pleb.

I also really do need to work out a way to measure my non-word-count-related writing progress, even if it’s not on this blog, because so much important work is done regarding writing a thing into being that does not involve the words that it is made up of. But one thing at a time, and the more I think about it, the more I realise that this detox has been a long time coming.

Until next week.

Weekly Total: 5587

Back on track

I made a personal blog a couple of days ago, both to make up for signing off Tumblr and hopefully not returning until I have recovered my critical thinking faculties, and because this blog is not supposed to be about my personal life. It’s supposed to be about me writing. Now that the pressure’s off: let the Writing About Writing resume!

The last concerted effort I made to continue work on Tallulah was to try writing a “draft made of chapter summaries”. I did four such summaries and ran into a brick wall, and I’m putting that down to just not really wanting to write any more summaries. It wasn’t because I’d already written a whole draft and then revised that draft and turning to summaries just feels insignificant; that didn’t occur to me. It was just that I had the ideas in mind that I was comfortable with already, and putting them down in writing didn’t do much to spark any new ideas or light up the old ones, nothing that pushed me forward. I won’t say it didn’t work; I’ll say I found out how it works to write a draft made of chapter summaries, and the result – for this book anyway – is that it tells me where I’m stuck.

I’m stuck because I already know what I want to happen, and have just not been letting myself write that version of events.

A big part of it is that I’ve already written a lot of that story. The revision that I wrote off completely either late last year or early this year – I’m thinking it’s actually more useful than I gave it credit for; even though it swung in the exact opposite direction that I wanted to go in when I first envisioned this story, there’s a lot there that I like. The ideas at least, not so much their execution.

For instance: one of the main issues with the story was that it was divided between two plots, each belonging to a different secondary character, and each plot/character neatly split the story in half, leaving one of them feeling like their potential was wasted and making the other seem like a distraction because they came in right when things with the other character were heating up.

It’s easy enough to say that this second character needed to be introduced earlier; it would solve a lot of problems, but it might also solve a lot of problems to get rid of them altogether. Same for the other character. At least that has been the dichotomy I’ve been working with for the past two years. But now I’m starting to feel more optimistic about the idea of simply de-emphasising both of their roles, because in the end this story is called Tallulah, not A Bunch Of Characters. Although I am totally reserving the right to use that name for a story at a later date.

The urge that I had to make the story less down and more humourous is still there, but when I first had it it meant changing a whole lot of events. I tried putting it into practice by writing a new Chapter 1 and after 7 iterations it still wasn’t working, so I think the answer is not that I need to change individual events as much as I want to change the overall tone of the story. Just adding in or re-wording little things, little asides in the dialogue and narration; to build on what’s already there rather than uprooting vast tracts of narrative land to replace them with something completely new and untested.

I have a lot more faith in that revision now than I did three months ago; I have faith that it can actually help get me back on track, despite it being the result of my going off track. I got tunnel-vision and made it work in the way I could see it working; now I can see it working differently. And this is good, because it means there’s a whole heap of writing that I don’t have to do. I don’t have to start over from scratch after all. I can just change things in a different way.

So this is pretty great. And since I read that manuscript 3 or 4 times last year I can still remember it pretty well; I may not even have to read it again. I’m sure I will anyway, just to be thorough, but if I need that time for study – which I probably do – then I can probably work from memory and draft up another chapter summary plan, shifting events around and changing emphasis and things.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, huge empty spaces to be filled in and filler to be excavated. It’s not going to be easy getting stuck back in and overhauling the things that need to be overhauled; some of it does need to be changed and uprooted, and I don’t know what goes in its place yet. So this isn’t going to be an easy task by any means. But it does feel doable now. It feels like it’s moved out of the purely hypothetical realm and into the realm of potential. I can do this. Maybe not fast, but I can do it.

Guess I’m writing my book again.

Here and back again

It’s nice taking a proper break from my WIP. Meaning simply that I’m allowing myself to not have urges to work on it in any capacity, and instead direct my writing energies to other things. So far I’ve resurrected my fantasy epic for the umpteenth time, or at least the magic system, and it’s in a state that I like. It’s happened before and lead nowhere as far as the story was concerned, but if nothing else I’ve got a magic system that I’m happy with; it feels sufficiently pseudo-scientific lore-wise to feel rather at home with things like Phrenology and the study of Humours, or maybe one level ‘up’, and I like the feel of that. I like the idea of an explanation for something real yet mysterious that doesn’t quite add up if you question it thoroughly enough, an underdeveloped yet zealously perpetuated truth. Fits what I’m going for.

My big toes hurt from all the walking I’ve been doing. Not the toes themselves, but the ‘knuckles’ where they join with my feet. I didn’t go for a walk today, but although I’d like to go 5 days a week, I’m wondering if it’s worth waiting another day in this case for my joints to recover, or if that would just de-condition them to the strain and it would better to just power through and let them deal with it. But the point is that I’m walking a lot; the shortest walk I’ve been on so far has been 50 minutes, and most of them have been between 70 and 80 minutes, which I’m pretty happy about.

I went to this amazing play with a friend tonight in which there was a lot of audience participation, and I volunteered to get up and, literally, finish the play. I had the option to take the script home with me as a token of what I’d accomplished (the play was very meta, of which I thoroughly approve), but I didn’t, and now thinking about it that was almost certainly part of the point; the whole thing was a bit of a social experiment, and now I’m kicking myself for not taking the script – not because it would have meant that I ‘beat’ the play or whatever (although I do wonder if I rejected taking the script home as a subconscious act of defiance against what I perceived to be an implicit expectation that I would follow all instructions that the play gave me, seriously this thing was really meta), but just because it would have been an awesome memento. Plus a handy reference for certain arguments I might end up making, because it raised a lot of really interesting questions about why we do the things we do, how little reasoning we actually need to do them – or how much complicated reasoning goes into doing really unreasonable, quite simple things.

My friend asked me how it was with not writing Tallulah, and she brought up some points about the peripheral characters who I really like, and it was really good to get an outside opinion on them – specifically, the fact that she didn’t quite get why they were even in the story to begin with, and asked me to justify it to her, which was rather amusing but also, I realised, very reasonable; and it reminded me of my position as a writer relative to my prospective audience: I’ve spent over a year with this story and these characters, and it’s had that much time to settle and grow in my mind and my feelings – anybody else coming to it for the first time has absolutely none of that history with it, and that’s something I could stand to bear in mind when I do get back to drafting.

I’ve also been wondering just how rough my Crappy First Draft is, how much stake I ‘should’ be putting in what’s there and how free I ‘should’ feel to totally change it up. And, predictably enough, I have concluded that just it depends on what kind of story I’m trying to tell. Which is not a very instructional answer, but I like that. In theory, anyway. It doesn’t help me decide what to do about it; but I’m not meant to be thinking about that anyway.

Not that I’m stopping myself if the thoughts do come up, and they do, because I may as well use this opportunity to think over what I’ve got from a more distant perspective. I’ve thought of bringing in the peripheral characters and giving them much bigger roles, and making the story more of an ensemble piece; I’ve thought about getting rid of them altogether, or at least only keeping the ones who actually ‘do’ something and removing anybody who is unrelated to the plot. I have considered splitting the story in half, but the way I’ve thought of doing it so far makes it feel very disjointed, and if I’m not going to split it that way then I may as well keep it as one book. But then I might not be able to do that, so the question still stands – I don’t want to split it, and I don’t want to write the story with the idea that it’s going to be split up; I don’t want to have to consider that until I’m forced to choose between that and not getting published. Right now I don’t even have the option of being published, so therefore I feel I should take the opportunity to do whatever I want while it lasts.

I feel the way I felt before I really committed to Tallulah; I was definitely committed to writing it when I started, but once the schedule came into effect that was a real test of my resolve, and happily it only seemed to make it stronger. I can actually feel the temporal disconnect between now and then, in terms of how I used to spend my time as a writer, which was making notes on stories and ideas for stories without actually telling them as stories. It’s strangely addictive – not because it’s particularly satisfying, but because it’s so regulative, so reassuring, so easy to accomplish. To tell instead of show, in a sense.

It’s not something I’d like to slip back into at the expense of telling stories, is what I’m getting at. But I am actually enjoying this lower-level stuff. Something non-committal and therapeutic. A comfortable way to stretch myself without requiring a huge amount of emotional or temporal investment. Which is actually ideal, as I don’t want to have my energy for Tallulah diverted – just to put in a break. Something to test the connections, lose the dead or dying ones, and build a new foundation of the ones that survive and reconnect. Repurposing an old habit to new effect. That’s the idea, anyway. And it seems to be working.

I’ve always said taking a break was a good idea. Now actually doing it and finding it to be true – well, it’s quite humbling. As well as validating. It’s nice to know that I was on to something, that my intuition was correct.

But there’s no substitute for experience. So once again guys, and this time with anecdotal evidence to back me up: it’s good to take a break sometimes. It’s good to take care of yourself.

Keep it simple

Ah well, I guess I was due for a slip-up. No work done today – not draft-work anyway. I did sort out some adult stuff. Ish. As in looking up tax codes and other interesting things of a similar nature. Tomorrow gonna find out the student loan things I need to find out in order to plan for a future in academic study, apply for this really easy-looking job that requires only manual labour for a few hours every few days per week that I am probably ridiculously overqualified for but that might actually hurt my chances of getting it but hey won’t know until you try right, and yes, look back over the beta feedback again and work out how I want to collate that information while I look back over it. It’s all been given to me in different formats and styles, some easier to summarise and put into list form than others, so this is going to require a little more shifting of gears than the draft read-through I just did, more of an obstacle course than a marathon. Though in keeping with that analogy, it should also not take quite so long.

Something kind of nice that I realised while reading through my draft this second time is that I realised that the story – and indeed all of my stories – are pretty simple and straightforward. That’s not saying that the plot is simple and straightforward; it’s to say that the core idea that drives the plot is really easy to get a handle on, and then the rest is presentation. Which matters, obviously. But it’s just kind of a relief to get to this point. I think it’s just that, particularly with ROTM, which I might possibly be resurrecting just because of this revelation, I’ve had a habit of getting caught up in the little details – just as I did with those synopses of Tallulah – and ended up losing sight of the bigger picture, which, ironically enough, is actually not that big at all. The things that drive me to want to tell the stories that I want to tell are almost always pretty small, really basic concepts that don’t require a whole lot of complexity to explore, and then running with it and seeing just how far I can take it is where the fun comes in – it’s just that now I have an increased capacity to remain focused on that initial driving concept and not get bogged-down in the little details. I get excited by simple concepts presented richly when it comes to stories; I’m fine with stories that are more or less just a platform for presenting some kind of mind-bending philosophical query, and I can appreciate stories that are more plot-driven than anything and are almost nothing but the details in terms of substance, just for the effort that goes into making them, but that’s definitely not my jam, so to speak. I think it’s why I like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings so much, why texts like Pan’s Labyrinth, The Old Kingdom Trilogy and Cowboy Bebop really do it for me – any story where I don’t have to think very hard to ‘get’ it, but I do still have to use my brain to engage with the ways in which it’s presented, is what really excites me, both as a writer and a reader. And that’s really become clear to me since re-reading Tallulah over the course of a mere three days.

I mean it could just be that, because I was reading so fast, I had to focus on big-picture stuff and I got a real sense of the core themes as a result (which also means I managed to at least somewhat present that core concept throughout the draft, so that’s pretty heartening as well), and thus sacrificed a broader engagement with the ideas presented in the manuscript – but even if that’s the case, it’s still a welcome change of pace, new territory for me. I feel that this year – particularly the past week – has been another good one for learning and growing as a writer, and that influences all the other spheres of my life as well. I’m liking the new perspective, and I really want to take it for a spin, go back and revisit some of my older works (especially the ones that I’ve written a decent amount of in story form, such as the two other first drafts I’ve written of stories), and see what I can glean from the experience through this new filter.

Basically I just feel like Doing Stuff. And I haven’t felt like that in a long time. So yeah. Things are looking good.

And this draft is one of them, not to mention the source of all of this newfound good-feeling-ness, so I’d better keep up the love on that front.