An endless cycle

About an hour and a half ago, I was settling in to write a big ranty post complaining about how there was all this shit I hadn’t gotten done that I’d said I was going to get done. In there would be some kind of resolution to get it done as soon as I’d finished said rant, but even the thought of that felt like another failure, an excuse on top of excuses removing me from the sense of obligation I have been trying to instill within myself.

So instead, I didn’t write it. I deleted it, and went and did the things that I was going to complain about not having done. Making a doctor’s appointment and writing, to be specific.

It feels a lot better than writing that post would have felt.

I mean the doctor’s appointment isn’t until next Monday, and the writing I’ve done is bad writing at a time when I’ve fallen out of touch with whatever magical, utopian psychology I was operating under while writing my shitty YA werewolf novel that let me embrace and even enjoy writing badly – but still. It got done.

And finally, it feels like I’ve started the year.

Not a moment too soon, either, because it’s my birthday tomorrow and I’m turning 30 and holy FUCK I’M GOING TO BE 30 YEARS OLD HOW DO YOU EVEN DO THAT WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL.

Like, I’m supposed to have a couple of kids as part of an unsatisfying marriage, secretly but predictably engaged in an office affair equal parts sordid and banal, trying to get a promotion so that I can use a bigger paycheck to compensate for my untenable desire to live a life that I actually choose to live rather than being forced to adhere to societal expectations just to pay rent and be accepted as a real person. That’s 30 to me. I’m pretty unimaginative when it comes to 30. Probably because that is nothing like what any part of my life had been like, let alone 30.

I mean I’m glad that isn’t going to be 30 for me, but at least it’s intelligible. What I’m doing right now … it just isn’t. It doesn’t feel real to me. Or maybe the better word is “official”. I don’t feel like an official human being; I haven’t quite filled out the form yet.

But hey, there’s opportunity in that, right? I can still be a real person without wedging myself into a cultural stereotype that, I mean fuck, just read that shit. I should be over the moon that that isn’t my life, that nothing up to this point has set me up to live anything remotely like that life.

Grass is always greener, I guess.

And anyway, I guess I am actually enjoying what I’m doing right now – now that I’ve started actually doing it. It’s been a shitty couple of days in particular. After trying to set up my alarm to wake me up super-early so that I could fulfill the spontaneous, romantic promise that I made to myself a couple of posts ago about writing for seven hours every morning, I actually ended up waking up around 1pm both today and yesterday. Which was very demoralising; and then my back went out, and it’s better today but still not great, and it’s happened twice in quick succession and it’s been 11 years with this fucking injury and, yeah, a shitty past couple of days overall.

Until just now. Because something as simple as making a phone call to take responsibitlity for my own well-being, and doing some writing for the sake of breaking out of a rut, can make such a ridiculously huge difference that it’s almost embarrassing. In fact, it is embarrassing, but only if I look at it from the outside. From the inside, I’m reaping the benefits of having gotten some momentum back, and everything before this point just doesn’t matter anymore.

And this is the perpetual cycle of life, I think: you complain about shit you haven’t gotten done and feel really down and hard on yourself, until you actually take steps to start getting it done, at which point it’s almost like you were never even upset about it to begin with. It’s pathetic, even despicable, from a certain moral vantage-point. But it also works. And while there will always be problems that take a little more effort to deal with – or a lot more, often more than you can manage on your own – there will also always be these little, niggling problems that always feel insurmountable because of how guilty you feel for not having confronted them, until you actually confront them, and all of that guilt and angst and shame just rolls off your back, like water off a duck’s wing.

It’s oil, you guys. Oil is the solution to all life’s problems.

And the thing that I wrote is bad, and I like it, and it’s so bad that I’ve left myself a note in the document itself to rewrite it as part of a conversation rather than an info-dump, and I’m actually looking forward to spending some time tonight or tomorrow making the last thousand words I wrote utterly redundant, because that’s also bad writing. And I’m excited about it.

In every endless cycle, there is always an upswing, and right now I’m in the middle of one.

 

82669

I have copy-and-pasted all of my shitty YA werewolf novel chapters into a single Word document, and that is the final total word-count. I do think I’m going to add in a little bit more, just because now that I have it all in one document it feels official and the fact that there is a rather jarring link missing in one of the chapters bothers me. But other than that …

I wrote another book.

I have been circling the drain of post-holiday procrastination since … well, since it became the post-holidays. I am very aware that I need to get some balls rolling, otherwise I’m going to remain stuck, and I can’t afford to do that for the sake of my mental health. So this is the first nudge towards getting something started.

And despite feeling like I’ve accomplished nothing, I have to concede that it is quite something. 82.6k words is nothing to sneeze at. I might have felt like I’d accomplished something if I still gave a rat’s ass about this obnoxious fucking book, but for my own well-being it’s probably good for me to learn to acknowledge the shit that I do get done, and 82.6k words is a lot of shit that’s gotten done.

I don’t think this story has much of a future; it’s probably classified as YA Urban Fantasy, and I have no idea what the publishing trends are like now (or ever) but I do remember hearing that YA was moving towards more “contemporary” material about a year ago. Also, it is really fucking shitty. But the next step is to read over it, add in the bits that are missing – possibly not in that order – and then, hopefully, find that I’m inspired to move on to work on something that I actually feel like doing. Something new. I have such a massive backlog of old stories, and with each new project I come up with and don’t follow through with that backlog grows larger. I don’t think it’s worth trying to work through my backlog before moving on, because if I do that I will never move on. It is absurd how many unfinished projects I have.

Not this one, though. It is almost done at worst, and finished at best. I’m going with the former, because seriously the way I left that chapter is unbearable to read, but it’s definitely not in the backlog category. I wish it could have been something else, or that I could have finished it in a more timely manner. But it’s momentum, I suppose – I just don’t feel like I have the right to claim it. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I just kind of don’t want to, because I haven’t wanted anything to do with this thing for a long time …

But, momentum it is, and momentum is what I need. For what? Well honestly it doesn’t matter; I just need it. But something new would be nice. I think I need to re-learn how to think, because my brain has just been sludge lately, which is not good for storytelling.

One step at a time.

Camp Nanowrimo 2016 Redux: 3506

I started today’s Camp Nano writing expecting that I would run out of steam after 800 words. 2705 words later, I’m fairly impressed with myself.

This chapter is coming together pretty well; it’s at a point where I could finish it and start the next one, but that really depends on whether I want to split the events I have yet to write into two chapters or keep them in a single chapter. Since it would go against my efforts to train myself out of editing as I go to go back and read over it to see if it ends at a natural stopping-point, I’ll have to try and intuit what the right thing to do is. But regardless, the point is that I am over 1k words ahead of schedule to win Camp Nano with my new and improved, way-reduced word count goal of 20k. And I’m even starting to kind of get back to the giddy excitement I had when I first started writing this thing.

But I think the main reason it feels different now is because this chapter is quite a different beast to the sorts of stories I’m used to borrowing tropes from. Nothing seems quite the right fit, at least nothing that has that “so bad it’s classic” feel to it. This chapter is actually reasonably original, or at least that’s how I feel about it right now. Time and wider reading will tell, obviously, but for the moment I’m pretty happy to break with tradition – if that is in fact what I am doing – and follow this to its own conclusion.

And even if it did take me until the final week of Camp Nano, it really is nice to be writing something that I actually enjoy writing.

Camp Nanowrimo 2016: 1915

Well, that worked. I could actually easily make it even less info-dumpy, but it’ll do for now. It might actually be a good thing to leave it this way so that I’ll have something fun to do when I come back to revise it.

The point is that, 1915 words later, I have my momentum back and I like where it’s taking me. I need to write an average of over 4k words per day to hit my word count goal of 60k, but I might readjust that to something closer to 40k, just so that I can actually get it done. Or even 30k, and make it a “part one” kinda deal, and finish the other 2 parts in the following months. I don’t know if I’ll want to write this book for that long though, so for now I’ll keep my word-count at what it is and just bite the bullet if I don’t win Camp Nano. The whole point here is to write quickly. Tonight I got my speed back, so now I just need volume to back it up and we’re in business.

It’s interesting – and frustrating – to work with characters you don’t really know very well. One of my main characters is already a walking cliche, the sensitive, thinks-he’s-been-scorned-but-really-hasn’t “nice guy”, while the other one is the supposed scorner, his former best friend and current crush – a girl, because when you write fast you keep things normative, or I do anyway – and at the moment she has precisely zero personality. That might be because she’s the info-dump character as well, at least for this chapter. Either way it bothers me, and while I know there’s plenty of time to fix things during the revision process it’s just … disheartening. I’d like to think I could expect a little more from myself, even in the first draft stage. But I guess if I’m being honest this story really is more about the concept than the characters, and I’ll just have to roll with it.

And at least it is rolling along, and it’s getting a little bit exciting. I’m hoping that this is a sign that I’ve forced myself over the hump and that from here on out, whatever my issues with this project are, momentum will not be one of them.

Camp Nanowrimo 2016: 1532

This was not my word-count for today; this is my word count between yesterday and today. But I have finished the first chapter, a chapter that I already know I’m not going to use in the final edit but, stuff it, it’s already written. And if I can write 3232 words per day from here on out, I will finish Camp Nano and meet my 60k-word count goal. Sounds doable. Maybe not probable, but certainly doable.

I think this chapter was one that I needed to write just to learn from it. It wasn’t what I wanted it to be, and it starts the story off in a direction that I’m not interested in continuing in. That doesn’t mean I should go back and edit it right now though, because I’ve got momentum going now and I don’t want to spend it on retcons. Instead, I just push ahead with what I’ve got and pretend it’s what I want it to be, because at the end of the day this is a speed trial, and the most important thing is momentum, not where it comes from. And it’s only the first chapter, and the things I’d need to change are pretty minimal to begin with. So all in all, this isn’t looking so bad.

It’s still not what I imagined it was going to be, and I’m wary of writing myself into a corner by not having more of a plan, or by not writing exactly what’s in my head. So I might just do that. I might just write out all the scenes that I do have and then hope that, at some point down the line, I can find a way to string them all together into a coherent story.

I’m still not loving it either, but this is the discipline experiment, so …

After this, I think I’m going to take a break from writing though. I need to explore some other avenues and see if something takes, because much as I love writing, it became a crutch for me a very long time ago and I’m definitely not weaned off it yet. I don’t really want to prevent myself from writing or anything, but I definitely use it as a sort of excuse to not try other things, which tends to be when I find writing the least enjoyable. And I wonder if that’s part of why Camp Nano just isn’t doing it for me, whether it’s less the project itself and more the fact that I’m just pushing myself to be writing again when I could be doing something else.

But it does feel good to have gotten over this hump, whatever I decide to do next. On with the show I guess.

Camp Nanowrimo 2016: 2730

That is how many words per day I need to write if I want to hit my revised word count of 60k. I am basing this off random guessing. I have no idea how long this book is going to be. And I’m also still struggling to get it off the ground. I think it’s because I’m getting hung up on things I don’t know – police procedure for missing persons reports, for instance. It just creates speed-bumps where I need a flat road to nitro-boost along until I reach the finish-line. Unless, of course, I do the thing I was intending to do and use those delicious cliches, tropes and conventions that never seem to die and will definitely never die until people stop using them altogether.

It’s always something.

So today, my task is to discover a way to make peace with cliches and then start churning them out like … something that can be churned out quickly. I’m already failing.

The thing with my YA werewolf novel for last years Nano was that, much as I was enjoying stuffing it full of cliches, I didn’t do it properly. I took too long deliberating over things that I should have answered with the most cliche, stock, trite conventions I could have conceived of, and if I’d just done that I might have actually finished it instead of dropping it three-quarters of the way through. I still do want to finish it, but my point is that this aversion to cliches is something I struggled with even while writing that novel, and that was supposed to be nothing but cliches for the sake of getting it done fast.

Maybe the other issue is that I’m just not quite sure which cliches apply here. Perhaps I thought I had a better grasp on witch cliches than I do. I mean I know some of them, but stringing them together into the shape of a story is proving difficult. I could try and skip ahead to something more interesting and then come back and write the beginning later, but then again I tried that with my werewolf novel and I still haven’t finished it. Also I still don’t have a good enough grasp of the direction of this story to know where I’d even skip ahead to. I definitely have a lot of work to do.

Although having said that I’ve written 800-ish new words today, so at least I’ve got some momentum on my side. I suppose I’ll just have to keep going and hope that, at some point, it gets easier.

That or I’ll just start again and make it super-cliche right from the get-go, just to set a precedent. Right now it’s not exactly original, but it’s also not flowing quite as smoothly as a well-oiled generic plot would either. I dunno.

I don’t know a lot of things, but I’ve still gotta do this one. I’ll regret it if I don’t try. And for now that’s motivation enough.

Nanowrimo 2016: 3510/501 posts

So apparently that last post was my 500th. Last year I made some kind of statement that I was going to retire this blog at 500 posts. Well, new year, new rules. And the new rules say that I prefer having this blog to not having it.

Also I finally got started writing my Camp Nano project and I’m 3510 words in, so that’s pretty good.

Also since I suck at these milestone posts I’m actually not even going to bother acknowledging it any further and just talk about why this project, despite my initial reservations, has turned out already to be a great idea.

I mean, it’s awful. I have been watching Girls with my best friend over the past few months and let’s just say that it’s been pretty revelatory about narratives of good vs bad relationships, love and consent. It’s a fantastic show, and in writing my 3510 words last night, setting up a pretty unproblematic narrative (not in the sense of it not being problematic, but in the sense of it presenting itself without any reflexivity or critical awareness) I spotted a lot of the kinds of narrative elements that the show explicitly interrogates. Depressing? Yeah, a little. It’s a first draft so I’m trying not to get too bummed about how awful it is, but it’s always frustrating to recognise yourself falling into traps that you’re supposedly super-aware of the rest of the time. Nothing I haven’t gone through before, and definitely nothing I haven’t tormented myself with before while I was writing Tallulah.

The difference here, though, is that those kinds of issues basically constitute the entire premise of the story. What I wrote last night was not quite the juxtaposition-based satire I had intended, in fact it was much more in the vein of something like, I don’t know, The Dresden Files. Talks a lot of self-awareness, walks a lot of not anything remotely like that. And while I enjoyed Storm Front for its (mostly) snappy pacing, tight use of Chekov’s assorted props and the main character’s stoic tough guy exterior hiding a neurotic core, where it fell flat for me was the unproblematic reuse of really tired and distasteful gender roles, which the main character definitely fell into as well. And so far, this project is looking set to do most if not all of those exact same things.

But, yes, first drafts are supposed to be bad for precisely this reason: they expose the obvious, glaring problems and make you aware of them so that you can fix them during the magical process of revision, where unlike real life you get to go back and make it so that your horrible mistakes literally never happened, and unlike time-travel you undoing the problems that inspired you to undo them does not create a paradox where, because those problems no longer exist, you were never motivated to fix them: you just fix them. It’s great.

The other reason that this project was a really good idea is because this is one my oldest projects; I think I originally came up with this premise about twelve years ago (which goes some way to explaining some of the gender-related issues I’m running into now), and I haven’t tried to resurrect a project that old in a very long time. There are some fun ideas that, in writing them out, I might discover are not quite as fun as I had imagined – or open up the way for better, more fun ideas – or that they actually have stood the test of time. Either way, it feels good to be giving an old project a new chance at actually getting written, because back when this story originally came into being was the biggest period of my writing life of coughing up story idea after story idea and then never going anywhere with any of them. It’ll be interesting to see if this one has any legs to stand on, if it can sustain an entire novel. And while I don’t think I’ll be too upset if the answer is “no”, I do think that starting to work through my backlog and put them through their paces could be a very good thing for me. Some of my older ideas I’ve really wanted to dust off and try to make work, not in some new rebooted version but exactly how I envisioned them at the time, and see what happens.

Also I have calculated that if I write as much as I did yesterday every day this month I can get an 80k-word first draft done with this project, which is probably the most exciting thing about this entire enterprise for me at the moment. So, here goes.