One Step Closer

(TW: suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety)

It’s been almost 3 weeks since I last made revision notes on Tallulah, and about a month since the last post I made here. I see the semblance of a pattern.

This chapter is one that I originally expected to cut completely, for its utter irrelevance to the story. Having gone back through it – I’m still not finished, and have given myself one hour a day to revise exactly so that I get used to doing it systematically rather than just on a whim – I have found that there’s actually so much key information about the characters and the overarching themes of the story that I’m very relieved I didn’t just write it off without even looking at it first. Not that I was planning to do that, but I feel like in another life I would have just scrapped it based on memory and started my revision using a manuscript that didn’t have it included and accounted for.

This book needs so much work before it’s ready to be submitted. I wanted to submit it at the end of this year, but I think I’m going to have to set my sights on maybe around this time next year – and, thinking a bit about it, that’s actually probably a better plan. Not so much because it gives me more time to revise (I certainly don’t want to over-revise, and a shorter deadline could help with that), but because from what I hear the end of the year is a really busy time for publishers and agents, being flooded with manuscripts. So if I wait for next year, after the rush, I might have a better chance of getting noticed and picked up. I’ll definitely need to do more research about this stuff along the way, too.

There is actually a reason I decided to go back to revision today. Chester Bennington, lead singer of Linkin Park, died on the 20th from suicide by hanging. That kicked me right in the guts. I know people like to talk shit on Linkin Park for being melodramatic, angst-ridden, and weirdly sanitised despite their subject matter, especially in their early songs. I got less and less involved with them as a band as I grew older and discovered other forms of emotional catharsis through music other than the anger of metal, but I had always been hugely emotionally invested in the band, even when I wasn’t a huge fan. I didn’t realise just how much I still cared about them until I heard the news, and I have no shame in telling you all that I am absolutely going to go out and buy those two albums of theirs that I didn’t really like. I’m a sentimental mushball and proud of it.

It hit me like no other celebrity death has – maybe Carrie Fisher. They were both such huge parts of my life, especially my childhood and adolescence, but I felt more familiar with Chester, just because I kept up with the band ever since they released “One Step Closer” and made me the happiest little angry kid on the planet, along with all the millions of other angry kids exactly like me. Carrie Fisher I knew as Princess Leia, and that was about it until quite recently. I definitely wish I’d kept up with her as well in hindsight.

But the point of all of this is that Chester’s death was a wake-up call to me. People talk about this sort of thing all the time, and there have been times when I’ve felt like I should have felt it but didn’t. Somebody famous and influential dies, and people get motivated to get their shit together. I hate that I’m getting motivation from somebody’s death, especially one as horrible as this. There’s something morbid about taking inspiration to live your life better just because somebody else’s has ended. But it’s because it’s pretty relevant to me. I lived with depression for a long time; I still get depressed every now and then. The bigger issue for me is social anxiety, but both of them come with a lot of feeling stuck and unable to do anything about it. I realised when the news broke that I needed to fucking move. I’ve known that doing things is the best solution to the problem of feeling stuck, yet I just consistently don’t take that solution because, well, I don’t feel like I can when I’m in a rut, which I usually am. Anxiety and depression are paralytics, and they’re hard to fight against.

But I have to. I have to get this shit done. I don’t even know what book I want to work on, if I even do, or what my other options would be, but goddammit I need to figure it out, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I actually do it. It’s basic logic; it’s nothing I didn’t already know. But that could have been me, and for all I know it still might be one day. I hope not, and I feel like I’m in a much better place than I have been for a long time, better enough that it is probably quite unlikely. But I also know that I have a history of suicidal thoughts, and that this sort of thing can come back sometimes. It’s just life. I’m not feeling grim about my prospects; I actually feel better about them than I ever have, however much of a slog this year has been in terms of motivation.

What I’m saying is that I have some now, and for the first time possibly ever I am determined to jump on it and make the most of it, turn it into a routine while I have the energy to support my initiative. I don’t know what I want to write, I don’t know if it’s anything I’m currently writing or if I need to find something else. So I’m going to write what I’ve got and see what comes of it. Every day. I have alarms on my clock set to remind me to revise, write, and even look at my CV throughout the week. I haven’t been using them, really, but I’m going to start. I have already started. I made some revision notes, and it turned out to be a very fruitful endeavour. But I need more than rewards. I need habits. I need to get into a whole bunch of new habits, and to stick to them as hard as possible, to keep going even when it’s not immediately rewarding because there’s a long game to play as well, a big picture that will make all the little, momentary frustrations worth it.

I’m also putting in forced breaks. That’s why I didn’t finish making revision notes on the chapter I was looking at today: my alarm went off and told me to stop, so I stopped. I need to get good at getting work done regardless of motivation, but the same goes for taking time for myself to just do whatever, including absolutely nothing. And from experience, arbitrary time constraints work pretty damn well for that.

I feel like I’ve taken a step today, towards the way I want my life to turn out. One step closer to something I’ve only ever fantasised about, occasionally following a burst of inspiration to move towards it for as long as the motivation lasts and giving up as soon as it gives out. No more. Motivation can kiss my ass. From here on, I’m here to work. I’m here to do better by myself.

So here’s to doing better. It would feel very wrong to link “One Step Closer” here, not just because I made the pun already. This song is one whose meaning has changed for me, and not just because of Chester’s death. I’m just in a different place now. Back when this first came out, I sort of dismissed it because it wasn’t the same tense, viscerally angry music that I loved LP for. Now that I come back to it, it’s basically a really corny, really earnest motivational track, and I am so happy to see it in this new light. I never thought I’d appreciate LP for being corny, but I really, really do. And I can only see it this way because I’m in a different place to when I was when I first came across it. Just like leaving Tallulah to sit for 2 years, I can see that part of my past with a new perspective, and see the path forward. And to walk it, you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

(There is always a burst of discussion around mental health awareness when a celebrity figure commits suicide, which is kind of insulting to me, because it reminds me that this is still kind of the only time the discussion enters into mainstream consciousness. The fact that this discussion is still so stigmatised is hugely symptomatic of why mental illness is so much more difficult for people to seek help for than other kinds of illness. So to anyone who needs someone to talk to – please talk to someone. It doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant or irrational of a reason you might think it is, and you probably do, if you’re anything like me. Treat it like a strange lump that suddenly turned up on your body: get it checked out, because it might be nothing, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Treat it as a practical, personal responsibility that you have, like paying rent. Look up hotlines you can call for free; look up options for counselling that you might be able to afford. If you have friends or family you know you can trust, take advantage of a shoulder to lean on. Look after yourselves. I’m not just putting my latest life-changing plan into action because I want to write more. I want to take care of myself, because for the longest time I just haven’t, and I’m only recently starting to learn how. I want to learn how to do it better, and the best way to do it is to, well, do it.)

More Like It

This evening I met up with a friend to do some writing. She had a whole bunch of brainwaves while we were discussing our respective current works-in-progress, and I was very happy for her and very excited to be there as she was having these flashes of inspiration – it even rubbed off on me enough that I forced myself to go back to Tallulah and make some more notes, after about a week of putting it off after the grueling slog through those past 2 chapters.

It got better this chapter, I have to admit. It was pretty much exactly the opposite experience that I had with the past 2 chapters, because I actually enjoyed this one quite a lot. But the things about it that worked – clear focus, decent enough pacing, lack of filler – brought into keen focus the stuff that wasn’t working in the earlier chapters, and makes me worry about what I’ll find going forward. There’s a part of me that wants to put Tallulah aside until I’m done with my UF kick, because I’ve got the bug and Tallulah is not a story that should be told in typical UF fashion: it’s not about action, it’s not supposed to be fast-paced, it’s not about witty banter, simmering sexual tension and/or domineering alpha males claiming women like insurance, and I am in the mood to write me some of that. Perhaps it would be best for the story, and myself, to instead get this out of my system so that I can come back to Tallulah sometime later down the road in the correct mindset to make it work.

Then again, after the chapter 2 rant I made a couple of weeks ago, I went and read over a re-imagined chapter 2 that I wrote back in 2015, just before I decided to take my hiatus, and I really liked it. It did everything that I wanted the current official chapter 2 to do: it was coherent, it felt like the things that were happening were happening for a good reason, it seemed like there wasn’t any distracting filler, and it felt like there was a clear focus in terms of where the story was going and what I, as a read, could expect to get out of it. All of which is part of the allure of these UF novels I’m currently addicted to, despite how many, many ideological tensions as I have with them. So perhaps this is actually the best time I could have picked to get back to work on Tallulah. 

But ultimately, as I said a little while back, I really do feel like the main thing I want to do is just read, rather than write. I’m going to keep going with making revision notes with Tallulah – it’s mostly reading anyway, and I want to make a decision about this book. Because if I decide I am going to leave it for another little while, then I’ve got some options to explore if I want.

Or I’ll just continue to enjoy the most reading for pleasure I’ve done since my year-long YA kick a few years ago, and more reading than that entire year by several times already. I’ve branched out from the 2 series I was reading to start off with, and have gotten a bunch of first books of various different series out now to get a taste for what other fantastic beasts are lurking in the urban fantasy jungle. Thus far, I think Ilona Andrews is my new favourite, with her – or their, as I discovered, and I have to wonder if the co-authorship is what gives it a slightly more solid, well-realised feel than some of these other books so far – urban fantasy setting that is strikingly similar in premise to ideas I’ve had over the years. I’m not bitter that they did it before I did, though; it’s just inspired me to revisit that idea with some new vigour.

I may not have much motivation of my own to write these days, but more and more I’m finding that other people’s work is inspiring me, and I appreciate that a lot. It’s always nice to not have to just rely on your own steam to get things moving.

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.

Writing While Writing: A Chapter of Tallulah

Why the fuck not.

~~~

First of all: the chapter that I want to write is actually a chapter that I want to finish writing, and I have no idea where I put it so let the folder-hopping begin … I started it a few months ago and, while it was going resonably well, the fact that I didn’t have a clear plan for what was going to happen really tripped me up. I knew that I wanted “some awkward social stuff” to happen, but not what awkward social stuff, so I ended up killing my own momentum by writing and re-writing character interactions until I got frustrated that I wasn’t getting what I wanted and gave up.

What I realise now is that this is fine. Giving up is fine. Sometimes you just need to move on and do something else. And I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to actually write Tallulah, but I do know that there’s not much point in getting frustrated every time I have a setback, because I can’t really go beyond my own limits. That’s kind of the definition of the word “limit”, right? A point you cannot go beyond? You can only hope to expand them, and that takes time and practice, and right now I think I have what I need to do that.

Also, I think I have what I need to just get this shit done: do what I’ve been doing for my werewolf thing and just allow myself to write complete and utter derivative shit, so long as it will make things happen, create a sense of flow and progression, and keeps me writing. This is going to be hard, because I have a serious hang-up with Tallulah on making it good and feminist and progressive and all of these other things that, I mean, I do want. But right now what I need to prioritise is laying down a foundation that holds together as well as it possibly can.

So, I am deeply sorry Tallulah, but you are about to become the most incredibly offensive story ever written. Probably. Because you’re a story about a teenage girl, and most of the stories we have about those are horrible, so those horrible ideas will probably be the ones I default to while writing at breakneck pace to just get shit moving. I really, really hate this, but that’s what editing is for. I promise I will come back and make everything morally acceptable.

Later.

Hang on tight.

~~~

I’d forgotten just how satisfying it is to inflict pain and misery upon fictional characters who are entirely under my control.

Also this took me about three hours to get around to so, yeah, no speed-writing for me today.

It’s going pretty great, though. I’ve written 858 words, and found that most of the ones I’d already written were actually not too bad. I like how this chapter is going so far. Just needs a big old tweak at its current stopping-point so that I can bring it back around to fitting in with one of my favourite scenes and …

Well, there’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times: how much do I need that scene? And also isn’t it kind of not particularly well-executed? It’s supposed to set up a mystery, but I never quite felt like that happened properly, or maybe just that I never followed through with it properly; one of my beta readers told me it created a sense of suspense so I guess I should trust that at least one person thought it worked.

~~~

Well, here’s the moment of truth as it’s the scene I’m about to copy-past into the chapter. Up to 1762 new words, all of which I’m even fairly happy with. Not ashamed to admit I picked up a few neat ideas from reading The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black; it wasn’t what I was expecting from the first 100 pages, but I really liked how it was written. She does good characters, and she also writes them well. Definitely recommended.

And: I have a twist! For this chapter, not The Darkest Part of the Forest. The thing that established the maybe-possibly suspense-setting bit – I’m going to change it! And it’s going to have all sorts of huge repercussions for the story and I DON’T CARE!

Okay maybe I do care a bit; maybe I’ll just leave it out. I’m not entirely sure. I should probably decide.

Also: holy shit, making myself stop worrying about whether what I’m writing is “good” or not and instead just writing what I have in my head is actually making my writing better. It’s more … to the point. I just have stuff that I want to write, and then I write it. I didn’t think it would work for Tallulah in the same way it worked for my werewolf thing, but so far it seems like it works at least as well, and possibly even better because I have three and a half years of work to build on. Which I also didn’t think would work; I thought it would get in the way and distract me from my goal. But I guess my goal is to write the rest of this chapter as I had it planned out a few months ago anyway … guess that explains my clarity of mind …

Did I actually learn anything here, or did I just make myself stop procrastinating and start writing?

Well, no, I did learn something: the rest of this draft/revision/whatever is actually doable. That’s where I can put my werewolf lessons into practice and just write exactly what I have in mind, the “too fast to think” method, where anything goes so long as it gets me where I want to go. But what I’m also learning is that what I tend to default to isn’t necessarily as horrible and derivative and politically regressive as I’d feared. I mean maybe as this draft goes on it’ll get that way as I start running out of stuff I’d planned and start looking for ways to bridge gaps I’ll only know about once I get to them, but in the meantime this is honestly going pretty well. I’m kinda proud of this, to be honest. Yesterday I thought I was going to have to put Tallulah on the shelf until I’d “worked something out”, and now I’m finding that all I had to “work out” was that I already have what I need to get started again – and not only that, but to finish.

I think I can actually finish this story by the end of the year.

I’ve even got my wall-planner; I still haven’t marked it up, but I can take care of that easily enough. It’s not like I have a better idea of the story that I want to tell just yet. But I do have a better way of finding my way to it: using the most basic, uncomplicated ideas I possibly can. Because so far, it’s making what I thought I had to work with a lot better, a lot clearer, and a lot more coherent.

It’s just one chapter. It’s a chapter that I sorta had planned a few months ago at that. But for now, at least, this book I’ve been struggling to make work for the past two years is starting to feel like a story again.

~~~

5422 words later – a few hundred of which I did copy-and-paste from another chapter, because they were exactly what I needed …

It works.

It fucking works.

I can write this book. I can tell this story.

I can do this.

The past week has been nerve-wracking and breathless; I have often lamented my lack of free time, but this has proven to me that free time is the time that you spend the way you want to spend it, in the moment that you inhabit it, not some promised slot of freedom you will eventually reach just by waiting it out. Free time is created, not found. And I could have created a lot more if I’d fought my nerves and made myself do the things I’d felt like doing, when I felt like doing them.

But that’s fine. All lessons can be learnt, as many times as we need to. And what I learnt today is that this story isn’t done, isn’t too much for me too handle, isn’t a lost cause that I should just give up on. Will I keep writing it after today with the same verve and enthusiasm that I have right now? I have no way of telling. I made a pretty huge decision, changing a really key aspect of the plot because I just kinda felt like it, and because it was part of the original concept for the story. My hope is that it gets rid of any excuse I might have for defaulting back to the “superhero origin story” that my current revised manuscript turns into, or so I feel. I don’t want to tell a superhero origin story; I don’t want to tell a superhero story at all – not with this story anyway. I just want to tell this one. And for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel not only that I can, but that I will.

Also that’s 5k words I wrote today; that’s pretty fucking great. I am kind of a total boss. Just sayin’.

I’m starting to get excited about everything else now: my masters, my other books, the possibility of finding a stable enough source of income to maybe move out of home by this time next year, after I’ve made more progress with my general anxiety – and I’m feeling like that anxiety is ebbing more and more as I continue to just trust that writing what I have in my mind is the right thing to write, and have it proven true every time. I learnt a lot about life in general through writing this book in its first and second years, and it seems that’s going to continue. I’m not complaining. If this is my year of risk-taking, then the risk I’m learning is worth taking is to trust my simplest ideas. It’s a discipline, and I want to get more disciplined. It’s productive, and I want to produce more of the work that I love doing.

And it’s not just helping me get my stories told; it’s helping me tell them better than I have for a very long time. Since I first started, really. Obviously I’ve learnt a hell of a lot since I first started, fifteen years ago, but I definitely had the cleanest, clearest, most convicted sense of my stories back then. And it’s starting to come back now, and even if this book falls through – which I hope it doesn’t, and it doesn’t feel like it will – that will be worth it all on its own.

Here’s to writing.

 

Sharing is (s)caring (the crap out of me)

I am about to post an excerpt of my book on the internet.

*curls into fetal position*

I’ve spent about 2 hours writing this post, and as usually happens, I have found through the process of writing it that what I really want to say is something totally different to what I started off with. For instance, this post started off with me going back through my archives to see all of the lessons and experiences I’d recorded from my experience of writing a novel, trying to find some inspiration to get me started revising Tallulah today. Along the way I found that, honestly, I didn’t want the inspiration. I didn’t want to write Tallulah at all. But then I realised that there was a reason for it besides burnout: I didn’t like where I was going with my revision.

There are a few reasons for this, all of which I only got clear on through writing about them – using writing to solve your writing problems really, really does work guys – such as:

  • Breaking from the revision plan I’d made by getting distracted with the idea of making this new revision more “light-hearted” and “humourous”
  • Realising that I’d distracted myself not just from my revision plan, but the reason I made that plan in the first place
  • Realising that it all came down to what I set up with the first chapter, and the fact that even after revising it to emphasise the most important part, only now realising just how incredibly important that important part is

I also found that, since I am paranoid about spoilers, a lot of the things I’ve written on this blog aren’t actually very helpful to me in terms of learning from my past mistakes and realisations, because there are only vague indications of what any of them are in reference to.

So fuck it. Let’s give some spoilers. I hope you guys get something out of it – I’m still very much in the stages of writing and re-writing, even after three years, so I hope you’re not expecting the most dazzling prose you’ve ever read in your life, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually shared any of my book with anybody outside of my circle of friends and family. And it is, as I have realised today, the most important part of my story, one that I wish I’d realised three years ago. But that’s learning for you. And for me, this blog can be more than just a place I go to vent; it can also be a place I return to to learn from my past. Which means that I need to record it, instead of just allude to it. Maybe that’s not a great idea for a blog because it’s public and therefore vulnerable to exploitation – but at the same time, it being public is part of what makes it appealing: I am writing this blog for myself, yes, but not only for myself. And if I want to put my stories out into the world, and given that my last post was all about how I want to share my stories more and feel less insular in the way that I tell stories, I guess I could do worse than to test-drive the experience and get a feel for what it’s like to actually put my work out there.

Here is the (current) first chapter, in its entirety, of my novel-in-progress: Tallulah. (And if anybody tries to steal it: I have it written down – I have this entire story written down, and have had it written down for over two years – which means it is copyrighted to me. My paranoia is assuaged, or as assuaged as it will ever be.)

CHAPTER START

Tallulah heard two voices raised in contest as she came down the stairs, stopping one step from the bottom to hear. One was her father Jacob’s; the other belonged to a woman.

She knew that woman’s voice. Her heart started to sink and her stomach to clench. It couldn’t be anyone else. But maybe …

‘… pop up whenever you feel like it; she doesn’t want to see you!’ Jacob sounded angrier than she could ever remember.

‘I’m not here to wait out your tantrums, Jacob. I’m here to see Tallulah. If she –’

‘You are not talking to her, Sinead. Leave.’

A pause. Tallulah thought of switching her phone to silent, just in case it rang and gave her away.

‘Tallulah and I need to talk; she deserves to –’

‘You have nothing, your fucking nerve – you get back in your goddamn car and run the fuck away, that’s what you’re good at! Not talking! Not listening! Not explaining a goddamn thing, or holding up your end of –’

‘Don’t. You. Dare talk to me about not listening. Or not explaining. I fucking explained myself to you, for all the good it did me. I’m not here to pick up that load again, not for you; I’m not here for you, I’m here to see her! It has nothing to do with you!’

By this point, Tallulah had retreated back up the stairs as quietly as possible. Once she reached the landing she slowly, silently turned the doorknob to her room, slowly and silently shut it behind her, and sat down on her bed to wait out the argument.

But she couldn’t help peering out the window that sat over her bed, down to the gravel driveway where a pristine red Mini was parked. Sinead must have been making decent money.

What was she doing here?

The fight rose up above the floorboards. Sinead’s voice was bitter.

‘How do you do it, Jacob? How the fuck do you do it?’

‘I remember. I make some fucking effort. Do you not remember the last time you were here or something? Did you not hear what she said to you? No, what I had to say to you for her? Because of how you made her feel? Do you remember that? That she couldn’t even fucking tell you –’

‘YES I REMEMBER!’

‘And you’re still standing here, talking about how you’re here for her? You’re a real piece of work, Sinead; that’s some impressive self-delusion.’

Swallowing, Tallulah looked up above the red Mini and the gravel driveway, above the grassy lip of the cliff that her house sat at the top of, out over the doglegged wooden walkway that led down to the beach, the huge, twisted logs of driftwood that lay on the shore, glittering under the white sun of the clear morning sky. A comforting chill rippled through her at the sight. She couldn’t hear the waves rustling ashore, but she could feel a pull like the ebb and flow of the tide, and without noticing her body began to gently rock back and forth.

‘I’m not playing around: come near my house or my child again, and you will regret it.’

     ‘She’s my child, too!’

‘FOR THE LAST SEVEN YEARS SHE’S BEEN MY CHILD; YOU LEFT HER HERE TO BE MY CHILD; YOU LEFT HER HERE ALONE WITH ME, RAN OFF WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT ABOUT HER, ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN YOURSELF AND YOUR GODDAMN PITY-PARTY, SO NOW YOU CAN FUCKING DEAL WITH IT! GET OUT!’

Another pause.

The sound of gravel crunching underfoot drew her gaze back to the driveway, and now she knew what was coming: if she kept looking she would see Sinead for the first time in seven years, and Sinead might look up and see her, too. But there was still time to look away, or lie down flat on the bed and just let her go, unseen and unseeing –

Her hair was still long and thick and wavy, the same as Tallulah’s, though brown rather than black. Her skin had darkened; she’d been living her new life somewhere in the sun, and with sudden, unexpected anger Tallulah felt a tiny electric snap against her stomach like a shock of static electricity, a split-second before Sinead spun on the spot and looked right up at her, as though she’d known her daughter had been watching.

Tallulah’s breath caught in her throat, and the explosion of warmth behind her eyes mortified her. She was trapped; Sinead had seen her.

A terrific crash rent the air as the barbed head of Jacob’s whaling harpoon slammed down onto the bonnet of the Mini; both Tallulah and Sinead jumped in shock, and then as Jacob advanced with a furious roar Sinead somehow snatched the wooden shaft of the harpoon just behind the head, tugged it out of Jacob’s hands and tossed it over the roof of her car, over the lip of the cliff to clatter to a stop on the wooden walkway.

Tallulah was breathing again now, shallow and fast, watching as Sinead got into her car and reversed out of the driveway, Jacob frozen in place, probably stunned by Sinead’s burst of strength that Tallulah couldn’t account for, couldn’t think about right now; she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her jumper and slid off her bed, crossing her room to the far window that looked out over the top of the driveway that led out to the road, which wound down a hill between a row of trees planted at the edge of a meadow on the left, and another row of shorter trees on the other side that led down to the beach.

She watched the red Mini as Sinead spun it around and pulled forward onto the road, down the hill and out of sight. She remained at the window staring after her mother, even though by now she had completely disappeared.

 

CHAPTER END

Okay seriously did I just publish the first chapter of my unfinished book on the internet what the hell is wrong with me what have I done can I have a time-turner or something I am freaking the fuck out omigodomigodomigod AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

… so yeah, that’s the first chapter. Reading it now, it’s obvious how important that scene is, and it’s becoming obvious where it could take this story, which is something I owe it to myself to explore. Maybe it is actually time to completely start over from scratch – barring this chapter – and accept the fact that all the writing and planning I’ve done for the past three years may only ever amount to a lesson in what not to do – for this story. On the other hand, it may be that in exploring where this story needs to go and forgoing my attempts to recycle as much of my manuscript as possible, I’ll find new and better ways to do exactly that. It’s not like I’m deleting anything. Never delete anything. That is one lesson about writing I have managed to remember and live by ever since I learnt it, some fifteen years ago.

And now I need to see what I can learn from this chapter, from what it’s telling me, and what I was telling myself by rewriting it to look like this in the first place. This chapter was originally much longer, and to its detriment: a bunch of other stuff happened before this fight, and what I realised late last year was that it all just got in the way. I still wanted to use it – I still do – but not here. This is the start of everything that is to come, and it needs to be as clean and as focused as it possibly can be, nothing but the essentials. And I don’t think this will be how this chapter looks by the time I’m ready to submit for publishing. But there was a reason I cut out the stuff that happened before this dramatic reunion; there was a reason that I decided to open my story with this particular event, and I forgot that I ever realised it. Well, I remember now, and am much more motivated to actually follow through with this whole revision thing.

By the way: not looking for feedback on this chapter, as the entire book is very much still in-progress. But feel free to leave comments, as always. I may share more excerpts in future. This is an experiment, and in a way this was the safest chapter to share online as it really doesn’t give very much away in terms of what happens in the rest of the story. I might also put out the call to any of you who want to be beta readers when the time comes. All things to consider.

And now, having taken a risk in my year of risk-taking and feeling very uncertain yet, honestly, quite excited …

Time for some revision? I guess?

SERIOUSLY THOUGH I AM FREAKING THE FUCK OUT NOWWHAT HAVE I DONE

Flippy the flippy to the flip flip flop ‘n’ it don’t stop

So the other day I did a bit of world-building for that Nanowrimo project I managed to write a chapter and a half of before the month was up. It’s not a traditional high fantasy setting, but it’s high fantasy enough to warrant some detailed world-building, and it put me in a good mood. Not just a good mood actually; it put me in a fantastic mood. I’m used to thinking of my stories in very general, non-specific ways, which is to say I imagine them kind of like live-action DBZ fight scenes: there’s a nondescript landscape that may as well just be a flat plane, and then lots of hyperkinetic, utterly unrealistic combat, because DBZ will rot your brain never watch it seriously go read Dante’s Inferno instead just not Paradiso because Beatrice is preachy as hell it’s so patronising anyway so I actually made myself sit down (well, I was already sitting down, because that’s more or less my natural state), focus on what I wanted to happen and make it particular instead of general. Having just seen the second The Force Awakens trailer and being inspired by the bit where the Tie Fighter is shooting things in that hangar bay, I ended up designing a “stage” where one of the big fights in my story was going to take place, and ended up spending the entire day building it up, which extended into the task of plotting out to the rest of the city and involved looking at a lot of pictures of water bridges and Venice. I’m well on my way to working out the economic and political system of the area; it’s like I’m becoming an actual fantasy writer, the very thing I swore I would never become.

But regardless of whether I’ve truly turned to the Dark Side or not, the point is that this exercise in intentionality through world-building really started something; I felt vibrant, alive, motivated and excited at the prospect of this world and this story, and not least because the world-building even got me to thinking about the magic system, the part of this particular story that I’ve been twiddling my thumbs over and refusing to decide anything about for 14 years. I wanted this year to be the year of taking risks; now I’m adding specificity to that list. A whole two things that I want this year to be about. That’s twice as ambitious as it was before, so well done me!

Which brings me to the novel I’m “currently writing”, Tallulah. I looked at it tonight and just thought: “where’s the story? What’s supposed to be happening here? Why?” And then closed the document in despair, because that specificity, that intentionality was nowhere to be found in the plan I’d laid out for it or what I’d written of it.

Tallulah … it was always going to be an experiment, in my mind. It was a premise like nothing I’d ever come up with before or thought I would ever come up with, and for that reason I approached writing it with an experimental mindset. Which I think was probably a decent decision. Not the only one, but a decent one. The issue was that I didn’t think my voice suited it, and then when I finished writing the first draft I didn’t like what my voice had done to it. It wasn’t the story I had expected it to be, and yes I’ve talked about this a hundred times before, moving on – right now, I’m frustrated because I realise that I’ve never actually thought about Tallulah with the same level of intention that I summoned up for that bit of world-building on a book I’m not even writing, and which has inspired me in dozens of tiny ways since doing it. It makes me think that I might actually be better served by putting Tallulah on the back-burner and writing something else – yes it means a longer wait until I send something for publishing, but it also means doing something enjoyable and specific instead of wrangling generalities.

The other option, of course, is to keep working on Tallulah and just make myself get particular with it. And actually …

Actually, that’s not the problem. The problem is that the particulars just aren’t very compelling.

Basically I’m at the point, again, where I’m thinking that starting Tallulah over completely from scratch would be a really good idea.

How many times is that now? Three? Four? The reason I find it hard to move forward with Tallulah is because I feel like the right thing to do for the integrity of the story is to do a full reboot, but I’ve already put so much time and energy into it that I want to be able to use whatever I can that I already have that will save me extra effort.

But I suppose the truth is that it doesn’t matter how much time or effort I can theoretically save by recycling pre-existing elements if I’m not going to write. Because then all the planning in the world isn’t going to get it any closer to publication.

So I have some things to think about. I may be back to taking a break from writing. I thought I was ready to start again – and maybe I was, back when I said that. But this semester – like all semesters – has just killed my momentum stone-dead. Whatever inspiration I once had is now in tatters, and it’s so frustrating because it was there, it was real, it was happening, and then I fucked it up through habitually self-sabotaging time management and procrastination.

I don’t know what to do now. I know what I enjoy, which is continuing with the bit of world-building I started a couple of days ago. I enjoy the thought of getting back into the slipstream of writing flat-out. I think that, come tomorrow, I’ll probably feel less defeatist about this whole situation and be in a better mood to try and get going again. Specificity has worked for me once, why not again? Why not see if I can apply it to the rest of this semester, not just with study but with writing and reading and exercise and all the other things I want to see if I can fit in at the same time?

But that’s for tomorrow and onwards. Right now I just feel stuck and wheezy. I definitely think I’ve lost my Night Owl aptitude. It’s the diurnal life for me, it seems.

Well, that’s okay. Since the shitty mood is more or less guaranteed to vanish come morning, I can take away the fact that I am resolved to be more intentional and specific in how I think about my books. I need to know what happens, in its particulars, so that I feel excited to write it. Generalities are fine for daydreams, but this is serious business now. Shit just got real.

If I don’t end up doing some Tallulah revision tomorrow, I guess I’ll come blog about that. It’s good to have a plan.

Holy crap it worked: Tallulah’s Progress P4/My 401st Post

I’ve made 400 posts on this blog – and now, 401. Hard to believe. There’s a part of me that really hopes I can finish this blog with 500 posts exactly, and part of me that thus worries I’ll somehow sabotage my writing process in order to make it fit that quota. I doubt very much that it will happen. But it would be a nice coincidence. Once again, thanks for reading guys.

I went back and re-wrote that chapter, up to the point I’d rewritten the other night, and it felt so much better. It felt at least close to the way I wanted it to feel, a bit snarkier, a bit more self-deprecating, but also a bit more robust and energised. And I think the dark parts (you bet my book starts off with the dark stuff) are more … pointy. Prickly. Kinda like when you accidentally stab yourself on a thorn while picking a rose. Rose-picking is something people do nowadays, right? That metaphor has relevance?

The dark parts have more of an effect, is what I mean. And it’s not all dark, some of it is just awkward or confrontational, but it all benefits in the same way. My one worry is that I glossed over a dark part instead of approaching it head-on, but I also really didn’t know what I was going to write so, all things considered, I’m very pleased with this first attempt to re-imagine Tallulah.

Now to write the rest of the book, haaa …

But I’m getting a bit excited again. This new tone opens up certain possibilities that I hadn’t considered until now; some of them go against my mission statement of pursuing the original version of Tallulah that I felt I copped out of exploring in my first draft, but being excited about something doesn’t mean you have to act on it. It can just serve as a source of excitement to be used for something else. Autonomy is a wonderful thing.

And also, my “mission statement” wasn’t to literally go back and try to turn the very first formulation of Tallulah as a story into a fully-fledged story, because it’d be a pretty shit story. It was to do away with the “superhero origin story” vibe that was starting to dominate the manuscript, while at the same time not being implemented well enough to make for a well-told superhero origin story. And I’m confident that I’m going to accomplish that. Things feel more solid and consolidated with this story than they have in a long time, maybe ever.

This is a completely new stage in my writing process with Tallulah, not just extending the stuff I’ve been doing and trying to do up to this point. This feels like the start of something good. I’m looking forward to the rest of it.