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?

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.)

1492

It’s been a while since I had a daily word-count to record. I could get used to it.

As the week has gone on, I have grown more and more inspired to write. It’s … familiar. It’s similar to how I used to feel about writing when I was a teenager, and a young teenager too, before the angst and hormones properly started to kick in. Gotta say, I don’t hate it.

It’s also reminiscent of my adolescent writing because I’m writing a couple of things at once, rather than forcing myself to focus on just one project. I’m interested in both of them, and I’m unsure about what I want to do with both of them, if they’re just temporary fancies or something I could actually see myself committing to. Normally this would be infuriating for me, because I’m so used to just thinking about projects like that instead of actually writing them. But I am actually writing them. I’m doing the thing I keep telling myself – and probably all of you, at one point or another – is best practice: to solve writing problems with writing, and if you’re unsure about a project, to write it and find out how it makes you feel. I haven’t done that for a very, very long time, and it’s a little embarrassing in an intellectual sense to think of just how long it’s been since I wrote because I had something that I wanted to write, how long it’s been since that was enough of a reason for me to do it.

In practice, though …

It just feels so good to be writing again, guys. I don’t really know what else to say. It’s awesome.

One of them is a new-ish idea, and I’m trying to keep it fairly new instead of using it as a new home for some abandoned ideas that I’m very fond of. I think I’m going to be able to do it. I’ve been trying to focus very hard on making sure that my stories all feel coherent, like every part of them feels like it belongs in that story and not just like a random cool thing that I threw in there because I had an idea and wanted to include it somewhere.

The only issue I have is that it’s such a new idea that most of what I’ve written so far is just exposition, setting up the world and the premise and the backstory – all telling, so far, and not a lot to show, because I honestly don’t know enough about this story yet to be comfortable with it. But I’m actually taking this as a good sign, not because it’s how I want this story to read when it’s finished, but because I’m allowing myself to write this badly just to get it written, prioritising writing itself over how good that writing is. I mean after I’m comfortable with all of this stuff, the info-dumping won’t be necessary anymore, because I’ll actually know what the hell I’m talking about.

So yeah, writing is actually happening. It feels good.

 

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.

The Way Back

Okay. It has not been that long since I last worked on Tallulah. It’s been, like, 2 years, tops. It has not been that long.

Also how the hell is it halfway through 2017 already that is just wrong.

I read through the second chapter; it’s one of the longer ones and it didn’t take too long to get through, even while making notes, and this bodes well, I feel. I did discover a whole bunch of stuff about this chapter since the last time I looked at it, and that tells me that taking time off was absolutely the right idea.

What I discovered was that I hate this stupid, pointless, confusing, reminding-me-of-how-half-assed-my-planning-was-for-this-book chapter – and it’s not even that it’s confusing. It’s not even that the characters’ motivations and opinions of each other are confusing, especially given what I know I wanted those motivations and opinions to be, because I apparently ended up writing them in order to convey the exact opposite of what that was.

It’s that it’s written so. Fucking. Badly.

And, like, I only wrote this chapter about …

Oh.

I wrote this almost 4 years ago.

Well, that explains a few things …

But it feels like it shouldn’t. It feels like I’ve been actively working on Tallulah for longer than this four-year gap suggests. This does not seem correct; I’m experiencing some serious fucking temporal dissonance here …

Because it feels like my writing style shouldn’t have changed this much during the past 4 years. I don’t feel like I’ve changed much during the past 4 years. But I suppose that isn’t true, now that I think about it.

I guess it’s just odd to think about the possibility that my writing style has changed while not ever actually thinking about it as even being a possibility. I can’t understand how this has happened, let alone how it happened without my even knowing about it.

And all of this leads to me thinking that, while taking a break from Tallulah to get some distance and perspective was a good idea, it might also have been a bad idea because now, looking it over with my 4-years-older eyes, I’m starting to think that Tallulah might actually be too old for me to write anymore. It might not be the book for me.

And yes, I am basing all of this on one chapter, because seriously you guys it is so fucking bad. It’s like an in-joke with myself; I introduce central characters as though the reader is supposed to already know who they are, probably because I went into writing that chapter after spending a whole year building up my own idea of them and how I want to protray them and how I want people to think about them … it’s just so gross. That’s the word I’m looking for here; the writing is yucky. It repulses me; it makes my skin crawl, like the meaty stench of a suppurating corpse. I hate the way this chapter is written. It’s just …

It’s just bad.

And on top of that: my fucking writing style has changed! Or my writing tastes, or writing instincts, or just whatever; I’ve changed, and it’s caught me by surprise. The only thing I feel certain about at the moment regarding this existential speed-bump is that I do feel the difference in my sensibilities. It still doesn’t make sense to me that there is a difference to begin with, but it’s definitely there. I never want to write that way again. I mean … man, was this all because I wrote an MA and a shitty YA werewolf novel in the intervening almost-4 years? Did it make that much of a difference? Or was it just taking a break letting me see what I’d actually written, which turned out differently from what I was trying to write at the time?

And what does this mean for other “old” projects? Most of the stories I think about writing on a regular basis are ideas I’ve come up with in the past 4 years; most of them I also haven’t actually written any of, or much at least. I wonder if I would feel the same sense of dissonance about these projects if I did have them written, if I were to read them over again – would I find that they were no longer stories that I could tell?

And what about future projects? What’s the shelf-life on my story ideas? How long will it be between the moments of conception and expiry on any given premise I come up with?

And I suppose I could draw the clear and obvious distinction between writing style and ideas; they’re not the same thing. But having said that, the voice of a story kind of is the story. You could tell the story of Harry Potter in the style of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Finnegan’s Wake, or The God of Small Things, and it would be an entirely different story. How a story is told tells you something about where that story is coming from, its angle, its agenda – you don’t have to agree with it or take it as written, but you can see where it’s trying to come from at the very least. Like with Tomorrow When the War Began, which is written like a children’s book but has the content of something much more mature; that tells you that it’s about childhood innocence being lost. Maybe. Maybe it’s actually telling you that the “YA voice” hadn’t been created at the point at which it was written, or that the writer just didn’t quite know how to craft an authentic-seeming adolescent voice, I know I wrote my review about that book like 2 years ago or something but I still feel flashes of annoyance for it like spontaneous allergic reactions that just come out of the blue and assail me … the point is that every idea comes with its own voice pre-packaged; you can’t separate an idea from the voice that it’s pitched in. It’s part of the idea.

But you can change it, right? Why am I asking rhetorical questions to myself? Maybe I just like panicking because I’m seriously screwy in the head and should really get around to making that therapist appointment I’ve been meaning to make for the past 5 months?

Yes, you can … which opens up some options that I have only been toying with up until this point. But that’s stuff for me to think about in private, I think. With regards to Tallulah specifically, though – it’s safe. I’m still going to write it. I know now that it doesn’t suit my voice, and perhaps during writing it I will find that it’s just not going to work out because the voice that suits the story and the voice that suits me almost 4 years later are incompatible, but up until I run into that brick wall I will indeed be running.

It feels a bit humbling, honestly, to have this realisation. It forces me to concede that I haven’t actually learnt everything there is to know about writing a novel; I never had any good reason to think that to begin with, and didn’t think that I thought it to begin with anyway, but upon discovering these things today it’s clear that I did. And that’s fine. Learning is always a good thing, and the more I can learn about this thing that I keep doing with my time, the better. I assume. I suppose I can only assume, because it also occurs to me that I might never actually learn everything there is to know about writing a book. Infinite learning. Which means, by my standards, infinite good!

And it’s also quite comforting, honestly, coming back to this project that I haven’t worked on for over 2 years and finding that I’m still connected to it in this way. Tallulah has taught me so much about myself as a writer, as a person in general, and even after this hiatus it seems I can just jump right back in and have things be exactly the same, like meeting an old friend after a long absence, one you know so well that your friendship is like muscle memory. And it reminds me that I don’t have this kind of relationship with any of my other books.

I’d like to change that.

I’m not sure of the full ramifications of what I’ve been realising over the course of the past 3 hours since finally finishing my notes on this despicably awfully-written chapter, but I want to find out.

Old Bugs Can Still Bite

Ah, the joys of trying to write something that you have outgrown. Or have you? It’s always possible that you haven’t; it might just be that you’re not trying hard enough, not committing enough, lack the discipline, just need to find that spark of creativity that you once had but have lost to the ravages of time … the “what if” is what keeps you coming back, even though you know, in an objective, intellectual sense that you will never, ever get it done because 1) you haven’t done it yet despite having ample time, and 2) it’s been such a long time that the original idea no longer exists anymore, and if it did you would not even want to write it because you are now a totally different person.

But what if you could just find a way to tap back into that inspiration, that time, that taste? What if all you need to do is give in to that old indulgence; what if all you have to do is just let yourself be embarrassed for the sake of having fun?

What if?

Yeah, what? I don’t have the fucking answer; I’ve been trying to provide it for 16 years. But it still hasn’t stopped me from thinking, fantasising about and planning out this story in various forms for all that time. It’s an addiction. It’s a problem.

It’s a passion project.

My version of this “passion” project, as I’ve mentioned a few times by now, is called Realm of the Myth, a self-insert fanfiction about myself, mixed up with various formative media that I have consumed over the course of my life such as Harry PotterFinal FantasyThe MatrixPokemonThe Lord of the Rings, and, of course, Dragon Ball Z. I was 14 years old when I came up with this thing, and reading over this now I think that this is perhaps the most 14-year-old thing in the history of ever. 14-year-old so hard motherfuckers wanna fine me.

I have been trying to write Realm of the Myth for around about 16 years now, in one form or another. I’ve “given up” on it at least 3 times during those 16 years, and most recently I supposedly gave up on it less than a month ago. It felt good for a few days. I reminded myself that it wasn’t real anymore, because I said so, and I enjoyed a brief period of creative bubble-bursting, spurring me on towards newer projects, stories that felt more relevant to me as I am now, and a sense of finally leaving this 16-year-old anchor stuck in the abyss where it can just rust into nothingness, and I won’t have to know about it.

And I’ve always known on some level that it was never going to work, though it has never stopped me. I probably should have taken the hint that this wasn’t going to work out when, even when I was 14 years old, I gave up on it as unwriteable because there was absolutely nothing interesting that could actually possibly happen in this clusterfuck of a creative cul-de-sac. But it’s like eating too much on your birthday; your stomach is full, but your mouth wants more, and in the moment the mouth almost always wins. I guess Realm of the Myth is something that my … mouth? … wants to write, even though my … fucking whatever; you get the point. I know it’s bad for me, but it doesn’t seem like it’s bad, because I still have the urge to write it.

Until a couple of nights ago, when I opened up a Word document and started making some notes about what keeps drawing me back to RoTM. It’s pretty basic fanfic stuff; the term “power fantasy” would be just as appropriate as “self-insert fantasy”, and I wrote out the list of things that kept drawing me back to this outdated, unworkable project, thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I just let myself enjoy these adolescent power trips once again, I might actually find enough enjoyment to finally write this fucking thing so that I can stop yo-yoing back and forth with it and get it the hell out of my system, once and for all.

But the exact opposite happened. The more I identified the things that I did still get out of RoTM, the more I realised that they actually didn’t do very much for me – in RoTM. It was the characters, interestingly enough, or perhaps not remotely interesting considering that they’re characters designed to fit a self-insert power fantasy fanfic about myself. I found myself yearning for other, better characters – newer characters. And that realisation brought an empty feeling with it, and while it was a bit of a downer, I thought that perhaps this was it, that I might finally be able to move on. That emptiness was the disconnect between who I was when I first came up with this story and felt the appeal of the ideas that I put into it, and who I am now, the tastes, standards and storytelling needs that have developed in the 16 years since then. It was the disconnect between me as an adolescent and me as an adult. It really put me off, but though it was sad, it also felt right.

At least, it did. But now I’ve flip-flopped; the adolescent void has sucked me into it. It is as though disturbing the corpse of this story has brought the old bug out of hiding, and it’s bitten me again.

Everybody has to learn sometime. But apparently, that time is not now for me.

I want to find a way to make this work, whether that’s by finding whatever flash of brilliance that I need to finally get this ball rolling, or by finding whatever resolve I need to drive a stake through this vampire’s heart once and for all. There’s the part of me, the rational part, the part that’s already experienced a “successful” giving-up-upon of this project, urging me to do it again, and do it properly, because I’ll save myself so much time and totally avoidable mental anguish. There’s also another part of me, the idealist, the perfectionist, the hoarder, that insists that there must be something here, since I keep on coming back to it even though I supposedly know better, which means that surely, if I can just clear my head, I will be able to find that something and make it work, at long last.

I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I mean, I made my list of things that I still liked about it, and even added up together they still didn’t amount to enough of a motive for me to try to tell this story again. But I do keep coming back to it. Is it just habit, or something more? How am I supposed to tell? Do I just live with this infuriating, first-world problems dilemma and accept the fact that my brain is far less efficient than I’d like it to be?

How do I squash this fucking bug?

I don’t know. All I know is that I’m stuck on this project, just like I’ve been stuck on it for the past 16 years – there’s not enough here to make me want to actually write it, but there’s too much there for me to want to give up on it. It’s disgusting. It’s unhealthy. It’s clutter. But there is something about that clutter that comforts me – and I guess that’s the main thing. This slightly panicky feeling of my younger self, panicky but eager and even optimistic – adventurous, in a sense – is seductive. And the prospect of not having to give up on this project is perhaps too seductive. It certainly is easy not to fight it, even if it doesn’t actually lead me anywhere.

But – perhaps it’s not for RoTM. Perhaps it’s just in response to my efforts to more clearly identify the parts of it that I like. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to give up on the parts of this project that don’t work, take the parts that do and give them a new home – or use them as the foundation of something entirely new.

I mean, that would certainly be the most mature option, where I get to finally move the fuck on from this fucking fan fiction about my fucking self. I’m so ashamed.

should be so ashamed.

Oh who am I kidding it’s awesome. Narcissist so hard …

You get the picture.