Setting Limits

Finished making revision notes on chapter 8 of Tallulah – it is so far the most fruitful chapter in terms of giving me material for the upcoming revision proper, as well as ending on a really weird relic of the previous draft (the first draft) that used to make sense as a bad, distracting idea and now makes no sense because that bad, distracting idea is no longer part of the story. This is part of the fun of revision, and the payoff of leaving a book for a while before coming back to look at it: it’s like archaeology, digging up the past, only it’s your past, and it can be rather interesting going through the experience of genuinely not being able to remember where the pieces that you find used to go.

I also wrote out a plan for my vampire novel. Yes, I do have one of those; it took me a while to come up with an idea that actually interested me, but now that I have it I am very attached to it. It used to have a title, but I’m not sure if I can use it anymore – it is a perfect fucking title though so I am attached to it, but I am afraid it has become a Darling and must therefore be killed. But I wrote out the plan because, looking at my premise, it is centered on an experience, and set of experiences, that I have basically no knowledge of. It’s really exciting to me and I would read/watch the hell out of it if somebody else did it, but I want to be the one to do it – the problem is not feeling up to the task of keeping the promises that the premise inherently makes. I have this issue with Tallulah as well, and having worked on it, on and off, for 5 years has made it easier and clearer, but still hasn’t solved the problem. Starting from scratch with this new one – newish anyway; I’ve had the idea since about 2013 but never actually got around to trying to write it – is trying to climb up another hill right from the bottom. This is a book that needs research done to make it as rewarding of a read as I want it to be, and for me as a writer, the more I know about this particular topic – politics, in this case, specifically career politics – the more opportunities to make and keep promises that are interesting I will have. The trouble is, as it often is with new books that have a cool premise and not much else: where do I start?

So, I wrote out a plan. I tend to not like writing out plans, because it’s very easy for me to get fixated on the plan and then never move past the planning stage, turning it into an infinite, self-replenishing cycle of hypotheticals and what-ifs. But in this case it went well, and my uber-leet hack skills developed from writing my shitty YA werewolf novel came back to the fore. I also had more of a reason to write out a plan for this book than just “well I don’t actually have any motivation to write this so I’ll write a plan to avoid the anxiety of the blank page. I need to do research, but I need to know where to start with that as well. So in writing the plan, I limited the scope of the research I will need to do; I don’t need to know everything, I just need to know about these things, the things that are relevant to my book. It’s still a lot of stuff, but it has become a somewhat more manageable task. Limitations foster creativity, this is true – they also let you cut down big, amorphous tasks into smaller, more clearly-defined ones.

I think this is probably the best reason I’ve ever had for writing a plan, because the reason for writing the plan is also limited, rather than just being a generic, vague excuse that gets me out of doing any work. I mean I didn’t write anything more after making the plan, but part of that is because I’m not sure now whether to draft that plan, or write the draft based around it and then draft that. And I think it’s probably the latter. Yes, there are some plot-holes and continuity errors in the plan as it stands, but those are easy enough to fix without risking devolving into another procrastination loop. I could fix them and then get started with writing, even probably without a ton of research. I think “I need to do research first” can also be a procrastination tool – and, as I am now indeed a proud self-proclaimed hack, I’m supposed to say “who needs research”? And I think that’s probably the smart thing to do at this point, because getting things written is more important than writing them well … to begin with, of course. One day I will indeed do the research, but until then I have a new thing to try out, in my new quest to try out my different book ideas and find out which ones stick, and which ones don’t.

Another reason I wrote out this plan was so that I would have things to think about with this story. I tend to think up characters and then fantasise about scenes taking place around them, without necessarily thinking of how those scenes might fit into the story they’re supposed to be in. I used to think of nothing but how the scenes in my head were going to be part of the story I was going to tell; I got excited about that shit. I haven’t done it in such a long time. So my theory is that if I actually have a set list of scenes that I have decided are going to happen, if I limit and specify the number of scenes that need to be created, then I can get some of that inspiration and excitement back by actually having something in particular to think about. It seems strange to put it into words, to make a plan just to think about a thing, but if I don’t make the plan I won’t do the thinking. And I gotta do the thinking. I want to do the thinking. It will make me feel good and shit.

Making this plan today felt productive, and making a plan for a book has not felt this productive for … 7 years? No, wow; 12 years. The first and only full draft of Realm of the Myth I ever wrote was also the only draft that I planned out beforehand, and it worked. I stuck to that plan. And it needed it. My shitty YA werewolf novel did not need a plan, because the point was to make a story up on the fly, and it worked out about as well as it possibly could have. But that story did, and this one does too. This isn’t something to hack my way through; this has to be more deliberate.

Although that doesn’t mean I can’t use my hack skills in other ways. It might not be a seat-of-the-pants, run-with-the-first-idea-that-comes-to-mind sprint, but the ideas themselves don’t have to be super original – again, to begin with. I’m trying to make myself more comfortable doing things this way, because writing at all is more important than writing well. So long as it’s written well before you submit it to an agent, everything up to that point just needs to be written, period. And I really, really want this thing to be written. I love this idea.

And hey, vampires. The last and only time I really did vampires, it was a weird kind of ripoff of Discworld. Also about 12 years ago. I never thought I’d write about vampires, perhaps because I came of age at a point in history where vampires were the most over-saturated and reviled form of Gothic monster in existence, so having an idea of how to explore what it means to be a vampire in a new way is very exciting to me.

And no, I’m not going to tell you about it. It’s not even written yet, and honestly while we do live in the age of self-promotion and over-disclosure, I’m still not comfortable with sharing my ideas online before I’ve had a chance to actually write them out in book form. It feels like they’ll be safer that way, though for all I know it would actually protect my intellectual property better if I just wrote out the premise here, published it online. I’m not sure how it all works.

I guess I should do some research?

Academia

So, the plan to wake up ‘early’ (I’d set my alarm for 10:30am) did not quite play out, but I did go in to  uni and do some research on my topic, enough to get some notes and non-academic resources out of it. I set 5 days aside to get this thing done, but now I don’t think I’ll need them – 3 or 4 seems more likely as long as I’m actually doing the work, and today was a decent start. Could have been better, but first attempts generally go that way. I’m confident that I’ve got enough momentum to carry me through here. My goal for today is to come up with a research question, as we’re meant to come up with our own, and then tomorrow just find a ton of academic resources to build an argument with.

I also got the first of my 3 YA novels from The Book Depository, which is the first Vampire Academy book, so I’ll probably start on that tonight after I come up with my research question. Or, alternatively, I’ll start on it after I’m done with all of this assignment stuff. Passion for my YA project having drained away, the upshot has turned out to be getting much more excited about Tallulah again, which is, I would say, a win, not merely a balancing-out of circumstances. I’m starting to see possibilities, exciting new directions that build on what I’ve got going with this revision, and I want to see how they look once this revision is done, so wanting to get this revision done is obviously very serendipitous.

It really is funny how you’ve got to spend time to make time. Yesterday at around this time I was fretting about how little time I had to do anything; this evening I’m pretty confident that I can get three things done – formulate an essay question, revise a chapter and then either draft a bit of my YA WIP or read a bit of Vampire Academy. Since the movie’s coming out soonish I’m certainly interested to know what all the fuss is about, and of course join the book-purist bandwagon. (Also I’m seeing a movie tonight. So possibly 4 things will get done. Not bad.)

And it’s also research. I have all of these assumptions about what YA ‘is’, but I’ve only seen a few examples of it – high-profile examples that have been turned into movies, for the most part. I loved the trope-heavy nature of the City of Bones film, and that was definitely the biggest influence on Mortal Foil/Foiled/what’s in a name I’ll think it up later, but I have started to really feel the restriction of only taking influence from one source, even if that source itself took inspiration from several other things. So I’m looking forward to expanding my perceptions of what YA means.

Or alternatively all three of these novels will follow a really similar formula and I’ll learn nothing new. We’ll see.

The other thing that I’m looking forward to is the fact that all of these books are written by women; about 90% of my bookshelf is devoted to male authors, and aside from anything else it would be nice to start moving towards balancing that out a bit. But mostly, as I’m all about gender stuff, it’s always interesting to see how men and women write differently – and similarly. Growing up with a lot of male authors undoubtedly shaped my writer’s voice a certain way as a writer, so there’s also the prospect of expanding my influences in that regard.

As an exercise, last night I copied a page from that JG Ballard book I’m still crawling through just to see how the style felt to write. I think it’s got to be more than one page to get a real sense for how and why a different writer chooses their words and structures their sentences, pacing and whatnot, but it’s a really interesting exercise nonetheless, cloning somebody else’s voice into your writing history. I will definitely do it again, and would advice any other writers out there to give it a try. And now I’ll probably go try and construct an essay question before I get too tired.

It’s good to be doing things again.