No Bad Die

So I’ve decided to put Tallulah down again.

It just wasn’t going anywhere good, and that frustrating thing happened where I could see solutions, but not think my way across the synaptic chasm between my current neural pathways and the potential new ones to be formed on the other side. Also, after chatting with my soon-to-be-known-as-Dr. best friend (congratulations again, dude!), I have realised that Tallulah is not the conventional story that I’ve been trying to mold it into – perhaps it should be, or perhaps not, but regardless it’s not what I’m in the right head-space to write just now. So whether it’s just for now or for good, I am doing something else for a while.

That something else is my previous passion project, Mark and Jessie’s Christmas. I have mentioned it a few times before: it was one of the first stories I came up with during the end of my friendship with Wickham that felt truly like it came from me, my tastes and ideas and values, rather than an attempt to win Wickham’s approval of my ideas. It’s probably good that all of that feels like a lifetime ago now, instead of the recent past. I’ve been waiting for this to happen. It’s sort of anticlimactic, but I suppose that’s also a good thing.

But yes, it’s about two kids who travel to the king of the elves in order to get presents because he’s sick of giving them out to people who don’t deserve them – which is more or less everyone, in his eyes. Said kids are very angsty, because this is a thing that I wrote, and along the way … well, stuff is supposed to happen, but what ends up happening is not that stuff, and that’s part of why I’m going back to it now. The other reason is because it is just a bit more conventional, and therefore seems like a good way for me to exercise these urges to tell a more conventional story than the prospect of returning to Tallulah offered me.

So I sat down to take some revision notes and make a broad summary of the story, chapter by chapter, that I could then use as a springboard from which a revision plan could launch.

And then I actually started reading it and was compelled to utter the sentence “no bad die” while swiping my hands at the intangible yet omnipresent threat to my very sanity that this decade-old manuscript presented me with.

It’s not great.

I really, really do want to look into livestreaming my writing one day, because I feel like getting to witness an author’s reactions to reading their own work could be quite entertaining. It’s such a personal thing, and weird in the way that while it is deeply personal, because all of these ideas and thoughts and decisions came directly from you, once it’s down in writing it’s also now this totally separate entity that you can interact with and not be accountable for anymore, while the entire interaction is emotionally fueled by the fact that you are totally accountable for it. It’s very existential, confronting your own writing, and something that I would love to see on camera.

But for now, I’ve put aside the revision notes to give myself the chance to just read and process and swipe at my computer screen some more, because I feel that I have received a few signs that this is a thing that needs to happen before any productive work can take place. It’s so bad, and it’s grossly fascinating because it’s not just a bad thing, but a bad thing that created. I think this means I’m a narcissist, but that’s only really surprising because there should be far more evidence of that for me to pick up on in my day-to-day life anyway.

But I think it’s also because, by exposing and identifying flaws in myself through my writing, I give myself the chance to correct those flaws. And that’s powerful. Not just that, but to do so in private, without having to worry about the judgment of others. I mean I’m telling you about it here, but not the specifics. And the specifics are the real issue.

Whereas the broad strokes of this story … I’m honestly finding those hard to find, because the little things seem to be so densely packed that each individual instance of god-awful writing pulls me in with an inexorably powerful gravitational field, forcing me to fixate on each of them in turn for far longer than it takes to read any one of them – though that is also less powerful of an urge now that I am no longer making revision notes. The other issue is that, so far, the key narrative beats that I’m expecting to see in each chapter are not there. It would be very convenient if they were, but it seems like important moments are going to take a little more effort to isolate and identify when I do eventually start making revision notes for this thing, because they seem to be spread out over the chapters in a sort of haphazard way.

Then again, I am only one and a half chapters into this thing, and already I have felt the need – and given in to it – to write this blog post in order to distract myself from the process of actually forcing myself to read this garbage of my own making. I can only hope that things will get better as the manuscript goes on; I have changed the page format from A4 to A5, to make it feel a bit more like a real book as I’m reading it. Upside: it’s kind of working.

Downside: the “real book” I’m reading is 622 pages long.

Well, if you’re going through hell, keep going …

Also this manuscript has a lot of ellipses and I fucking hate myself right now because it means I have to read them all …

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Just Read It

(Read it read it read it read it)

I have, after like 6 months, finally read past the halfway point with Tallulah. In fact I’m almost three quarters of the way through.

It’s so bad.

There’s this mentality of scarcity that I am used to having when thinking of storytelling, and particularly revision. I tend to think of cutting things out, tearing down all the writing that I’ve spent so long constructing only to build another different structure in the exact same place, losing whatever magic might have been in the original creation for the sake of “clarity” or “focus”. I know that stories are good when they only include what matters. But if they only include what matters, then they’re just utilitarian, by-the-numbers, bare-bones skeletons, not fully-realised stories.

That’s what I think, anyway. And I do mean that’s what I think; it’s not what I believe. I believe that the word “only” is what’s tripping me up here. If, instead, I was used to thinking that stories are good when everything that happens in them matters, it’s not about scarcity anymore. It’s about substance. It’s about how much of what happens in the story matters, rather than about how little needs to actually be there for the story to work. Which I think is a more useful way to think of things.

However, it’s also hard to think of it that way when my reading experience so far is very much defined by how little of what happens actually feels like it matters, and how much of it is utter filler garbage. There is so much pointless interpersonal drama that doesn’t really serve any purpose except to make it take longer to finish reading the fucking book; there is so much stuff that seems like it should matter to the plot, but is then either resolved too quickly or not at all, resulting in a feeling that the story doesn’t know what it is or wants to be. Sections of older and newer writing are spliced together without any regard for continuity between revisions, making the already clunky and distracted storytelling feel even more pointless. And yet somehow, for all of that sharp, jagged, traumatising contrast, it’s all just so … indistinct. Everything blurs together, because while so much of it stands out from everything else for all the wrong reasons, so little of it actually matters. It’s full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

I am not happy with what I’ve written.

I guess this is what note-taking is for, eh?

Yeah, my plan to not make notes worked to get me started, and I do find that it’s easy for it to become a distraction from reading the manuscript itself – but at the same time, I need those notes, because there is no way I’m going to be able to remember this fucking thing when I’m finished with it. I mean I wrote this, and I’m having a hard time remembering it, immediately after reading it. I need to take notes of key plot points – or events that should be key plot points – so that I have something to build a second revision out of. I can’t rely on my memory for this one, because the way this manuscript reads seems scientifically optimised to disrupt the human memory process.

This is worse than my shitty YA werewolf novel. Which is awful, but not in terms of structure; it makes sense, even if what makes sense is repugnant. I wish I could say that Tallulah at least has better content, even if it’s not put together very well, but the thing is that with storytelling, in any media form, presentation and content are the same goddamn thing. This is obvious for me with Tallulah in its current state, because it’s presented so poorly that what it’s “about” is very difficult to identify or recognise. Which is because what is presented to you in a story, regardless of what the plot may ostensibly be, is what the story is about. If your plot is about two attractive young people getting to know each other in Vienna on a time-crunch, but what you present your audience with is nothing but descriptions of Viennese architecture, then your story is about Viennese architecture. If your plot is about a badass vampire slayer trying to solve a murder mystery, but what you present your audience with is a woman caught in a toxic power struggle between two domineering alpha males fighting over breeding privileges and the mystery gets solved off-page, then your story is about an abusive “love”-triangle. If your plot is about traumatised teenage soldiers who pilot giant robots to fight against an evil galactic empire, but what you present your audience with is endless scenes of uninteresting supporting characters bickering about space politics while drinking tea, then fuck you Gundam Wing I thought you were going to be cool when I was 16 and you betrayed me.

Tallulah‘s plot is about the daughter of a selkie mother living in the wake of her traumatic departure and coming to terms with the reality of her family’s legacy and her place in it, but what I’m presenting my audience with is laboured, repetitive, pointless interpersonal drama that leads nowhere and does nothing to progress the story because nothing sticks, even though plenty of it seems like it should stick, sometimes intuitively so. I think that’s the hardest part of reading this, really: the missed potential, conservatively sprinkled in tiny chunks throughout a layer cake of portentous tripe. It just makes it so punishing to read.

But one of the first things I learnt about professional writers – and I can’t remember where I heard this – was that they could never read their own work. It wasn’t for them; it was for their readers, and once they had finished writing it, they moved on to the next thing. It sounded so unfulfilling to me, and part of my dream of being an author when I was 13 came part and parcel with a mission to prove this information wrong. I would be the writer who loved reading their own work; I would be the writer who told stories that I wanted to read, hear, see, whatever. I would tell the stories that were missing, the stories that I wanted told to me.

It only occurs to me now, struggling through this manuscript that makes me want to chew my face off just to break the monotony, that either this is a stupid idea, or I don’t fully understand it – or didn’t keep it in mind while I was writing this. Because while what I wrote felt good at the time, it didn’t really come from any place of need for that kind of story. That’s what’s missing here: hardly anything in this story feels necessary. And the kind of stories that I want to exist are the ones that I feel need to exist.

I wonder now if Tallulah ever was that story for me. Once I started working on it, it certainly felt necessary, but mostly because it was just exciting to be telling it in the first place, because it was so different to anything I ever thought I would try to write. And that’s still a kind of necessity for a writer, I feel, but not the kind of need that I want to fulfill through my stories. Maybe it was just another ambitious writing exercise.

Or maybe I do need to tell this story, for reasons that I could not have predicted when I started, and I need to adjust my storytelling philosophy.

But, at the end of the day, speculation is cheap. For now, I just need to read it.

Yes I will read it, you read that right. Read it all day and all through the night.

I’ll read it.

So Bright, So Beautiful

So I’ve decided to continue reading over my shitty YA werewolf novel manuscript. The description holds. Oh boy, does it hold.

But because of the order in which I wrote the chapters, two of the earlier ones are also two of the newest ones, and the change in tone and style shows quite strongly – the writing is better, the focus is clearer, and while I wrote these chapters in a real creative slump when I had no particular passion left for this project, these are, so far anyway, the best chapters in the book.

Especially the one I’m reading now, the Diagon Alley chapter, if you like, where our hero learns about the new world he’s stumbled into. It makes me really proud of this festering mound of refuse I have shat out of my brain, because it reads almost exactly like every other bad YA paranormal novel I’ve ever read …

Because I’m rooting for the bad guy.

And it’s exactly the same as actual published books I’ve read; this is of publishable quality, in that sense, and yes that is a real moral concern. But it’s also genuinely beautiful to behold, and for the first time makes me really feel proud of what I’ve accomplished here. In particular, I adore the fact that the bad guy, who is supposed to come across as domineering, arrogant and bullying, instead comes across as completely in the right for doing everything he’s done up to this point. Specifically, everything he’s done that has upset the main character, who is a whinging little shitstain that I want to see run over by a car and smeared across the highway like a tub of paint. Sure, the bad guy could probably do with some honest feedback about some of his behaviour, but all in all he’s not the one coming off as the problem. And that includes him shooting the main character with a gun at point-blank range.

I am that fucking good.

It’s awful; it’s despicable; and it’s the best fucking thing I’ve ever done in my life. I am so, so happy. I can’t even.

I might actually consider revising this book and, like, doing something with it, turning it into an actual writing project instead of just a writing exercise that got way out of hand. There’s something here. Passionless though I may have been during the second half of the time it took me to finish this thing, I think my writing might actually have improved because of it. And that seems like a valuable lesson that I shall strive to actually remember for future reference.

In the meantime, back to reading. I genuinely hope that it gets worse from here.

 

4116

All right. Got some shit done.

That word-count is spread across 2 different books, both of which I have the intention of finishing, but one of which is much closer to completion than the other. The shitty YA werewolf novel, to be exact; that was 908 words out of that total. The other thing I was writing is also shit, in case you were wondering. Probably even more shit than the shitty YA werewolf novel, if I think about it. Or maybe just equally shitty in a different way.

It’s been interesting today, actually, just absorbing how very bad a lot of my writing is. And by “a lot” I literally mean “these two specific books out of the 50+ I have lying around the place”. Not as in the language, but the stories, the framing, the shit I let my characters get away with and make excuses for on their behalf. It struck me today in the second project I did some writing on that despite the fact that it’s a project intended to be a bunch of stupid, giddy fun, it’s not something that I would ever actually enjoy reading. I think part of that is obviously just down to the fact that it’s a first draft and first drafts are too full of shit to judge the quality of a story by to begin with, but there’s also the fact that I just don’t think when I’m writing. I don’t like it. I want to think when I’m writing, and I feel like at one point or another I did actually know how to do that. I want to get back to that.

I suppose it could also be because I’m breaking the rule of writing that says NEVER FUCKING LOOK AT WHAT YOU’RE WRITING UNTIL YOU’RE FINISHED FUCKING WRITING, which exists for exactly this reason – because if you get so disheartened that you stop writing altogether, that’s worse than any problematic prose you could ever commit to the page. I’m not sure that I agree with that rule, but there’s enough merit that I’m willing to at least go along with part of it.

In any case, I did get some writing done, quite a lot in fact, and at the end of the day that really is all that matters. I can always fix it in revisions.

Proposals

Time for another draft touch-up! This one is from back in January, but is relevant to my current struggle to keep my impulses under control concerning my current WIP novel.

~~~

As part of the application for a paper I want to take on broadcast writing, I have to submit two ideas for a short film. I spent about two hours doing that yesterday and I’ve grown quite attached to them.

Both of them involve a focus on gender dynamics, something that fascinates me to no end, and I couldn’t help but imagine how it might go if I ended up filming them, hiring an actress and feeling really insecure about the lines I’d have given her to read, and then one day during filming she gets really into it and improvs something a billion times more true and to-the-point than I was even capable of doing, and then realised, hang on, I just thought of it myself so that means …

And of course that got me to wondering just what I am capable of, if what I imagined this hypothetical actress improvising was any ‘truer’ than what I might have written to begin with, the extent to which my limits of getting into somebody else’s head are self-imposed – all the existential chaos that makes being a writer so much fun, and so much effort.

And for the rest of the day I felt really … not angry, but the catharsis that comes from getting it out in the open. I really liked it.

And I like the proposals I made, to the point where even if I don’t get into this paper I will still probably take them and do something with them.

Characters are really interesting. They’re more interesting when you’re a writer, I feel, when you’re the one creating the character than when you’re witnessing their story as an audience, because you know and don’t know what they mean, where they come from, and that self-imposed barrier to entry into a different perspective really starts to rear its head as you grapple with all of the meanings and intentions vested in the creation and trajectory of these fictive selves. I got to the point a little while ago where all of the issues with Tallulah that have to do with its titular character are issues of justification for her actions and worldview – namely, that a lot of how she looks at the world comes from my own life experience, but it doesn’t make sense for her because her life experience is totally different to mine. And that wasn’t something that I caught onto until almost two years into the telling of the story.

Which is why you have to read your own stuff, and read it a lot. I’ve slipped in and out of the modes of conjecture and speculating many times during the drafting of Tallulah, and the vast majority of the potential ideas for where the story could go just end up meaning next to nothing when I go back and read it over again, because conjecture and speculation is not the same as analysis and planning. You can only make a plan when you have information to hand, or at least a good plan. Thus I propose that, in order to be a good and constantly-improving writer, not only must you read a lot, but you must read your own stuff a lot. Because that’s something that you can actually make better.

~~~

Having said that – eight months ago – I know that if I read my manuscript again I’m liable to find it very difficult to care about what’s actually happening.

I think that may be why I’m so compelled to take the first 50% or so and then run with it in an entirely different direction toward a new second half: it’ll be new, it’ll be something that I’m not expecting. I seriously just want some fucking novelty at this point, and I’m worried that if I follow this heedless urge I’ll end up ruining my progress.

Well, no, not really. As long as I keep everything saved – really the worst that could happen is I learn that it’s the wrong thing to do, and lament having spent however long it took me to come to that realisation to … come to that realisation.

Yes.

Well.

I wonder if I should do it.

I try not to use the word “should”, because it’s incredibly contingent, and right now my “should” is contingent on pretty much nothing at all. I don’t have a plan I’m supposed to be sticking to; I have no fucking idea what the best way for me to write this novel is, if there is a best way for me to write it that I’m just unaware of, which I rather doubt – so “should” is utterly irrelevant.

What if I do do it? That’s a better question.

If I do it, I’ll be dealing with the exact same issues I had when I was drafting it the first time: trying to motivate myself to write, trying to keep control of what it is that I write when I do get around to it, trying to keep from going off in all sorts of spontaneous directions in the torrent of flowing ideas that grows stronger the more I write … I know all that.

That’s going to be bad.

So no. What I need is a clear plan of how I want this story to play out.

And in order to create that plan …

I dunno. I need something really simple, really straightforward. Like … maybe do chapter summaries again, only this time make a point of noting down what I wish was happening in the parts where I wish something else were happening.

Hmm. Wishes actually seem like the way to go. I need to make a list of wishes, and then set about fulfilling them.

Okay. I like that idea. The next phase of writing my novel is going to be wish-fulfillment.

I do think I’ll have to read it again.

Better get ready for that.