I have identified some Issues.
In my search for a story that feels like it’s “mine”, I often come up short. I have also had trouble identifying what it is, exactly, that is lacking. I have ideas that I like, but besides being anxious about possibly getting them wrong if I start writing them and then being somehow locked into that wrong direction because you can never change your mind about any decision you make ever, apparently … yes I need therapy why do you ask … I also just feel reluctant to invest in them. Like, they don’t feel worth my time. I can feel the failure before I even get started, and it’s not just low self-esteem. There is something in the premise itself that puts me off. And today, I feel like I’m one step closer to identifying what that something is.
This is due, in no small part, to going back to re-reading some of my older new stuff, ideas that I liked but didn’t stick with in terms of turning them into bigger projects – a sign, I think, that maybe a small, more focused project would have worked for me. One of them was Mark and Jessie, which I am still not done reading. I have finally gotten to the chapter where one of the major antagonists is introduced, and it’s taken so long to get to this point that it’s just frustrating to see it. But this is my perspective as the writer, not as a reader – I don’t think I really can have that perspective on my own work, but this stuck out to me as I was reading it. Why did it bother me so much? I can just shuffle that introduction around to have it come in earlier or something. It’s not a big deal if we’re talking revision, and with this project that is exactly what we’re talking.
The obvious answer was that, well, this is an important character who is meant to be pretty front-and-centre throughout the story, and they’re only showing up about at the start of the second third of this story. It feels like the focus is wrong. It feels like the pacing is wrong. It feels like this character actually doesn’t matter. Now to be fair, this is not a bad thing – this is a character I’m pretty ambivalent about the existence of to begin with, and not one I’m at all sure I will be keeping in subsequent versions of this book.
But what stuck with me was the fact that they were supposed to be relevant to the story all the way through, and instead here they are, making their first appearance – not even appearance; their first mention – 239 pages of the way through this 622 page book. And that’s when I realised what the problem was, and the problem I’ve been having with reading this manuscript since the beginning.
It means that I didn’t write what I set out to write.
I have been feeling really aimless with this read-through, not sure why I’m doing it, what I’m taking away from it – yeah, there are parts of it that I think are neat or interesting, but they’re not things that I actually necessarily think need to be in the story. They’re neat out of context, and that context has actually been lacking up to this point with my read-through. I haven’t had a context, a reason, to read this thing, except for the vague thought that, well, if you’re going to pick up an old project and try to revise it, it’s probably good to be somewhat familiar with it, and because it’s what I did with Tallulah when I was making revision notes.
But now, I have a context – I am reading this manuscript not to see “what works” or what I want to keep going forward. I am reading this manuscript to see where what I wrote diverges from what I wanted to write, from the vision that I had in mind.
And that changes everything, because now it’s about identifying my weaknesses as a big-picture writer, my ability to stick to my plans. The obvious issue with Mark and Jessie is that I had a vision, not a plan, and writing from a vision is writing from passion and conviction in the moment – it just so happened that this “moment” lasted for about a year and a half, judging by the “details” tab on the Word documents of the individual chapters. Mind you that’s slightly unreliable because the dates are screwed up by all of these files having been transferred from older computers and stuff – but it was at least a year, I’ll put it that way, I remember that much. A year-or-more-long passion project with no plan, no outline, no clearly-defined – or even vaguely-defined – plot-thread to follow, that has resulted in this chimeric monstrosity of a story that involves everything from fairytale creatures to genetically modified household pets with military application, and to be fair that doesn’t sound like a bad mash-up.
But it’s not what I was trying to write.
And that is the most disheartening thing about reading this manuscript: I know that it’s not what I wanted it to be – but it’s also proven to be the aspect of this project, as it currently stands, that has given me the most clarity and purpose to continuing this read-through. I’m not just reading it because I said I would, now: I have an agenda.
And it means I need to start taking better notes. I’m trying to find my story here, because while I know this isn’t what I wanted it to be, I also know that what I wanted was not a plan. It was not a robust enough foundation for me to begin writing from. I’m glad I wrote it anyway, don’t get me wrong, but I wish I had identified that this was a weakness in my approach all those years ago …
Almost exactly 12 years ago, actually.
It’s a sign.
So sayeth the Ubermensch!
… anyway – the point is, while it’s not what I wanted, what I did want was not particularly well-define. I had a premise for the plot, which I still love, and I had a feeling. And I realised today that I need more for a story to feel like “mine”.
What this boils down to, for me, is that when I have my premise, the story and the characters and the world, all of these supposedly separate elements, have to feel like different aspects of the same whole for me. I used to want to write big books, long sagas; I used to start by planning to write X number of books, and then try to think up ideas to fill that quota. I can see now that this approach is leaking over into my more recent idea-generation process, where I’ll have what I call a “premise”, but it’s actually a setting, or a world-building feature, or something that is only one part of what, I now believe, a proper premise needs, which I then try to fill with the other features that this idea-seed did not come with – and it hasn’t been working. I realise that the reason I have been having issues coming up with ideas that feel like “mine” is because so many of the premises I am working with are not complete. So that is what I need to work on.
And also probably why the co-writing project has been going so well for the past almost-a-year, on top of all the other reasons it’s been going well. It’s a complete premise, and it fucking works. Also why Wolf Gang got written, which the other night I … realised? Seems like a long time coming, but yeah, I realised the other night that, fuck, I wrote that garbage zero draft, I put those ideas down in writing. I did that.
And I do want more of that feeling – only this time, with ideas I actually give a shit about.
So, on top of all of my other ambitions writing-wise, I am actually going to spend some time de-tangling my latest project, all of which have that quota-filling aspect to them, me trying to jam together new and old ideas to make something whole. Not a bad practice, on paper, but in practice it has not been helping me at all. I’ve blocked the progress of some really cool ideas that I’ve been really passionate about by doing that, and while it may be too late to salvage my momentum, I want to give it a try. I owe it to those ideas, and to myself, to give it a try.
God I’ve been off these past couple of weeks, writing-wise.
I am just starting to realise how much shit I need to take care of this year – in fact, before the year is out – and I’m not going to lie, this and last week have suffered in terms of not just writing, but general life shit, as a result. I am losing focus on the things that I want to do and need to do; I am procrastinating and self-distracting to a very large degree; I am panicking, leaning on my back foot, excavating large portions of the sandbank so that I have multiple options for a head-hiding-spot – I’m not in a great space right now.
Which is fucking annoying, because on the other hand, I’m kind of excited by how much super-important shit I need to take care of. I’m a little bit hype about it, truth be told, which is strange and alien to me and perhaps that’s part of why I’m going so far off the rails. But I need to focus my efforts on those tasks. I need to think not of the tasks themselves, but how to do them, because if I think about the tasks themselves I’m going to freak out and not get any of it done.
And writing is not one of those things.
I was considering taking last week off, during the final sprint of the last round of marking, and while on the one hand I am kind of sad that I didn’t decided to do that, I am also glad that I have continued to force myself to continue writing every day. It does feel like I’ve fallen off the wagon, and I am disappointed in the level of commitment I am showing to writing – and other things – in general right now, but by the same token I have to acknowledge that, at the very least, in this week’s downward spiral of anti-productivity, I have still forced myself to write, and it got done. Not a lot, but it got done. And that’s a good thing, one that I can build on.
Which I really need to, because holy shit I have things to do. I’ve got a scene to finish for the co-writing project; I’ve got a psychologist to set up an appointment with; I’ve got morning walks to get back into the habit of because all of last month was, relatively speaking, a wash in that regard; I have writing projects to de-tangle and rationalise; I have Mark and Jessie to read and reflect upon with regards to my vision and passion for the project versus what I actually have written to work with; I have Youthline classes starting up again this week that will run from now through to November; I have asked my masters supervisor if I can have a chat with him about potential PhD topics; I have voice-developing exercises that I don’t want to do but have fantasies of making myself do for my own good; I have books to read about writing that I am really apprehensive about for some reason it feels like a big commitment; I have to figure out how to do self-care properly and without resorting to games and youtube all the time because it’s fine some of the time but gets really out of hand really easily; I have to figure out what the hell I’m going to do for money from December onwards …
Basically, I am going through my own personal Ragnarok right now, and I am not handling it as well as I would like to. But, at the same time, I do feel this weird, seemingly irrational excitement, and it’s not the challenge or anything like that; it’s the prospect of being able to give myself evidence of my ability to handle my shit.
The thing is, I feel like I can do it, so the fact that I am not doing it has been really contributing to how kind of unfocused and antsy and self-distracting I’ve been over the past few days. I think it’s a sign. I am craving this experience of being fucking competent at doing shit.
So I should give myself that experience.
And writing – I don’t want to think about it. I’m not giving up on it, but I’m just not going to worry about it. As I’ve said once or twice before: I can always write 1 word a day. I have in fact done that before. But this other stuff is just more important, and it’s as simple as that. I can write any time, but this stuff, not so much. It’s kind of a now or never thing. I would really love to be able to load up an older save-file of my life right about now, to stop things from getting this out of hand to begin with – but, time only moves one way, and like it or not we all move along with it. I’ll just have to try and use it to my advantage.
And the thing is, when everything else is going well, the writing ends up going well too. Without me having to think about it.
That is the plan for this week.
It’s always too late, goddammit.
But that’s fine. Learning things that you need to know too late – in this case, it’s just too late to put into practice for this week for writing. Writing is easy to make up for …
Or, in this case, not make up for, because this week I needed to be not writing, and I did not realise that until today. I needed to be reading.
And here’s the thing: I actually did a bit of writing, yesterday, that I have been wanting to make a start on for a while now, one of those new projects that I’m too anxious and self-conscious to make a start on because I don’t want to “get it wrong”. So there’s been some good stuff going on.
But what I realised tonight, sitting down and trying to make myself focus on writing, is that I wanted to read Mark and Jessie, not write, and all this week I have been agonising over when I would fit in my writing for the day and what I would write with it. I have said that I feel “aimless” with my writing, searching for an idea that feels like “mine” – but I’ve already got that project. It’s Mark and Jessie. And the issue with that is the fact that it’s already been written, so measuring my progress with the project with Weekly Words is … I mean, I can’t. End of story. Weekly Words is not set up for that.
And that’s okay, too.
What I realise now, too late to be ideal but definitely not too late to be useful, is that I should have addressed this issue way earlier, because it’s seriously not a big deal. All I had to do, honestly, is say that this week, I might not write at all, because I have this other important thing to focus on – which is still “writing”, in the sense that it is all in the service of getting to the end of a writing project. It’s just not putting words down on the page. I guess I could measure in terms of pages read or something – actually a very obvious solution – but it still doesn’t work for Weekly Words. Weekly Words is really here for me to have a way to motivate myself to power through writing, rather than keeping track of a writing project, which only really needs a consistent word-count schedule until the first draft is done. Once you move into the revision phase of things, words written per insert-time-measurement-here just doesn’t mean anything, unless you’re completely starting over from scratch or something – in which case it’s not part of the revision process anyway.
You get what I mean.
This week, I was very invested in my stories, but writing was not the best way for me to engage with them and follow through with that investment. But because I have this commitment to Weekly Words, I spent all of this week obsessed with fitting in writing so that I would be “onto it” and “responsible” and, of course, a “good writer”. This week, what has been an overwhelmingly positive and useful tool in my life turned into another way to facilitate one of my oldest bad writing habits: getting bogged down in guilt and negative self-talk, and judging my self-worth pretty much solely based on whether I did any writing that day.
I have completely lost perspective this week, in fact these past two weeks, where my writing is concerned, and it’s affected everything else.
But that’s fine.
Next week, while Weekly Words will continue as per normal, and while I still have a commitment to write every day, that daily writing commitment will be 1 word. No less, for sure, but no more either. If I do more then that then that’s fantastic and excellent and it’s not my priority right now. I’d like it to be. I’d like to be excited about writing right now. But, yeah, when I say I have other shit I need to do, in future I need to actually not just acknowledge that but act on it, manage my time around it. I need to get used to my own tells, I guess. Get those brain-hacks rolling.
Weekly Total: 1602
I wrote this week. I should have worried about it less, but I’m glad that I at least did it.
But next week, I want to be glad that I did what I needed to do, whether that involves any writing or not.