This blog is an open and honest account of what it’s like to be an author, in the hope it helps others on the same journey feel less alone. I change my mind, I babble, and I occasionally over-share. Please ignore any advice I give (except the advice about ignoring the advice).
This is my new Method. But more on that in asec. First, I just finished reading this essay about ambition. I would recommend.
But back to the Method. I’ve been stuck on the third chapter of The Forest King for a while now, and I also know that the first two chapters need redone. So, rather than flail around in Chapter Three forever more, I decided to go back to the beginning, and revise/rewrite what I have so far. I removed the word count from Scrivener, and focused purely on the story. I also gave myself permission to veer away from my rough outline (pants), and to take the time to make the words nice as I go along (cycle). Hence, cyclepants. (For anyone not familiar with the term ‘cycling’, it’s basically revising as yougo).
I’ve been dancing with this method for a few years now, ever since I read Writing into the Dark by Dean Wesley Smith. I don’t agree with everything he says, but nevertheless the book struck a real chord with me. Ever since, I’ve suspected I’m a true pantser, even though I enjoy the process of outlining. (The problem comes when I try and translate that outline into a novel.) I pantsed the first 60 pages of Midnight Shrine, then got completely stuck. I wonder if it was because I wrote it longhand, meaning I couldn’t cycle back and correct the path of the story whenever I felt myself veering off track. I think for cyclepants to work, I need to work on the computer. BUT, I’ll always have my notebook nearby so I can ask myself questions about the characters and what they’re feeling at the time.
Obviously, it is with tongue planted firmly in cheek that I declare this my Method, because I know I have no Method. My brain refuses to accept one (for anything more than a fortnight) and all attempts at ‘finding my process’ have failed. So what I really should say is this is my new Method for writing this part of The Forest King. It feels right. My gut is telling me to do this. So I’m gonna do it.
Next week, maybe the week after, it will probably all change again.
Why do I keep switching to the present tense for The Forest King? It doesn’t work with the way the story is told. Yet every few sentences I catch myself slipping back into present.GAH!
(Seriously, just have to vent about this new WordPress editor again – it is the worst. The WORST.)
Anyway, I struggled with drafting today. My plan originally was to finish Chapter Two. I got a few hundred words in, then really started to toil. To avoid moving ahead, I reread earlier stuff and made tweaks here and there, which is when I realised that editing is moderately easier than drafting. As the old saying goes, you can’t edit a blank page.
So I decided to stuff the inner editor into a box, then put that box inside a bigger box, and then SMASH IT WITH A HAMMER!
The result? 1000 words of some real hairy drafting, but it’s all good, cos I can fix it later on. With Nano just around the corner, now’s the perfect time for me to get back into the habit of vomit-drafting. It’s funny, sometimes I feel like everything has to be perfect before I can move ahead, and other times I feel like I need to reach The End so I can see the whole story, and then go in and make big changes. And when I say funny I mean annoying.
In these dark and troubled times, I ask myself: how do we resist? Is the answer anger and aggression? Or is it understanding? But how do we understand people with so much hate in their hearts?
How can love and acceptance win when abuse, corruption and intolerance poison our species? And if we do choose to accept, does that mean we must accept everyone, including the sexists, rapists, homophobes, racists, abusers, cheaters, liars and money-grabbers?
In all this darkness, how do we bring out the light?
I don’t have the answer. But it’s something I’m thinking about every day. I want to believe the right way isn’t to fight fire with fire. I don’t want a ‘war’, because then there will be a perceived winner and loser, and people will do anything to avoid being on the losing side. I want to believe in peace and compassion, but right now, I have no idea how to successfully employ these ideals in the current toxic climate.
Anyway, that’s enough serious stuff for a moment. Back to writing stories:
Yesterday I finished the first chapter of The Forest King, and then immediately figured out what Chapter One should really look like (i.e. nothing like its current form). But, the cool thing is I was excited – which means my brain is here for the long haul. In a lot of recent projects, a realisation like this would have sent me into despair. This time around, however, I’m totally relaxed about doing lots of future drafts.
I’m not going to fix Chapter One now. Instead, I’m going to complete the full first draft, so I can see the entire story at once. Then, I’ll dive back and make all the major changes. Thanks to Scrivener, I can easily make all my editing notes alongside the manuscript. Oh Scrivener, where would I be without you?
I’m still struggling to maintain realistic expectations about how long it takes me to write a book. I said in my previous post that I wanted both Forest King and Midnight Shrine out by May 2019, but already I want to revise that to June. And even then…I’m prepared to push back if the books aren’t ready.
As for Midnight Shrine, I’m still in the brainstorming phase. Once I’m done with FK for the day, I turn my thoughts to MS. It’s a nice wee shift of gears. This multi-project thing is pretty fun. Should have done it a long timeago…
I had a GOOD DAY today! And I was knackered, and felt physically crappy, and the words took soooo long, but I still wrote 2000 words of The Forest King and brainstormed some big ideas about Midnight Shrine and I was super-dooper excited about both projects.
Oh, why can’t I bottle this feeling so I can have a little sip whenever it disappears? I guess all I can do is read this post and remember the good times.
Today I also mapped out a rough publishing schedule. I hope to have both books out by May 2019, but I’m also allowing myself to take longer if I need it. I think both these stories are more complex than anything I’ve tackled before, and they’re going to need a lot of work during revisions. I’m not going to rush either one. I just have to stay patient, and keep my head down.
Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. I only learned this from reading Chuck Wendig’s blog (I’m on a Chuck Wendig binge right now; should really read his Star Wars novels. Anyway…) and it got me wondering about the difference between the Block and Anxiety/Depression. I’ve experienced all three. I don’t think I’m depressed right now, but my baseline is probably so fucked that I can’t tell anymore what ‘normal’ feels like. I’ve been having weird physical symptoms like lack of hunger, weird sense of smell, spongy mouth, breathlessness, which could all mean anxiety or cancer or something else (those are the standard options). And, as I’ve publicly reported on this here blog, I’ve been having major issues with writing for what feels like years. Oh, actually, it has been years. Yay.
So here’s the tricky bit: how do I untangle the anxiety from genuine illness and writer’s block? How the flippin’ hell am I supposed to figure this out? Like, do I need to go easy on myself, or do I need to work harder? For me, the worst thing about mental illness is the lack of trust in my own judgement. It’s a bit like waking up in a strange world where you don’t know who you are, who to trust, or what you’re supposed to be doing. After dealing with my Fear earlier this year, I managed to haul myself out of the darkest doldrums of depression, and I hoped that my anxiety and Block would go away as a result. But nope, they’re still hanging around. I do feel a lot better – I’m much kinder to myself, and I can’t remember the last time I had a really Bad Day – but I still feel broken and unsure. Is this all part of the creative process? Is this why artists drink?
Bleh. If only I knew.
Anyway. Yesterday I mapped out broad strokes for each chapter of The Forest King, and today I’m going to begin the second draft of Chapter One. I’ve got my original draft to help me, but I doubt I’ll keep much. Maybe the odd line of description or a piece of snazzy dialogue. I’m aiming for longer chapters, closer to 6000 words than my usual 2000, so I’m giving myself until the weekend to get down a rough draft of Chapter One. For whatever reason, longer chapters feel right for this story.
My BIGGEST problem is this: I want writing to be simple. I’m not dumb enough to want it to be easy, but I want the process to be reliable and predictable. I want to write 1000 words a day and 100 days later have a first draft. I want to follow a nice editing to-do list that will lead me to a clean second draft. I want to make an outline and then write to that outline. Or I want to write into the dark, and have all the pieces magically fall into place. I want to write by hand and edit when I’m typing up. I want to brainstorm via dictation in the morning and then happily get words down in the afternoon. I want to find my process, my way of doing things. I want to find the perfect schedule, the perfect day. I want habit and routine and for everything to move along at a steady beat.
Except, I also don’t want that. I’m rebellious by nature. And stories are too. They refuse to act alike. They refuse to act consistently across their lifespans. They’re difficult, unpredictable contrarians. Just like my stupid brain.
So that’s my problem. I want control when creation is uncontrollable. I want routine and order when a deeper part of me prefers disorder and chaos.
My solution is I need to soak up the truths from this Chuck Wendig article and remind myself every bloody day that my process is an unknowable, mystical being and my inner chimp throws a major hissy fit whenever I tell it how to spend its day. I have to be present; I have to do things because I enjoy being busy. I have to do something that contributes to the creation of fiction, no matter what it is. I have to forget daily word counts and routines and all that crap. I have to stick with my qualitative approach to recording my progress, because it’s good for me. I have to stop freaking out about all that stuff that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how I do it; I just need to do it.
K. I had a break. I didn’t think about writing, apart from the odd thought that went along the lines of ‘I have no ideas I’m totally screwed’. Then I came back to my notebook and, just for fun, wrote ‘okay do I have any ideas at all?’ then listed four or five options. Looking at them, I realised that I was put off because they were all difficult, which was when I understood the real reasons behind my writer’s block: fear and expectation. These projects scare me because I don’t believe I can do them justice. Well, the only thing I can do is ignore that critical voice and get on with it.
To take pressure off a single project, I’m going to work on two at the same time (I said I’d do this back in August but never did). I’m going to work on The Forest King and Midnight Shrine. I have about 32,000 words of Forest King. It’s a skeleton. A prototype. The structure is pretty sound, but it all needs fleshed out.As for Midnight Shrine, I have 60 pages of exploration, and some ideas about a second draft. I need to go back to those revision notes and see how I feel about them now. I believe the 60 handwritten pages told me why I was writing the story, but didn’t tell me how exactly to tell it. In other words, those pages revealed the core of the story, but not the story itself.
So that’s the state of things.I need to focus on my work rather than the fucking HELLSCAPE that is planet Earth right now. Will there ever be a day when we don’t treat women as nothing more than walking tits-and-wombs?
I’m taking a five-day break. For me, this is a very long time. But in this time, I don’t want to think about writing. Which will be impossible, of course, but I’ll do my best to not think about it for very long. I’m going to read lots of books and watch films and go for walks in the hills where the wind can blast away all the garbage in my brain. I’m going to drink lots of wine and pretend everything’s fine.
I’m blocked. I’m still bloody blocked. I’m a busted drain. A big sausage stuck in the machine.
I’ve been trying to write Beauty and the Beast for 15 months. In between attempts, I’ve dabbled in other projects, most notably Midnight Shrine, which got somewhere this summer, then petered out and died.
I’ve completely stalled again on B/B. The characters are static; they lack conflict. I don’t know if there’s enough meat on the original tale to fill a novel, and any other Plot I stuff in feels extraneous (like the backstory they added to the live action version). You know, I just don’t know if retelling fairy tales fits with my creative mind. I officially quit Beauty and the Beast a few months ago, but then I got sucked back in.
And here’s the real bugger: I feel like I have no other ideas to turn to. I feel empty and drained. I keep spinning my wheels, getting nowhere. I don’t know how many words I’ve written, but my guess is A Lot. And I have nothing to show for it. This has been a real problem since around February. I plugged the hole by taking a break and revising The Night Mage, and I thought all was rosy again. But I was wrong. Nae roses. Only thorns.
I’ve been stuck in this shit-show for SO LONG that I don’t know anymore if I’m quitting too easily, or if I’m writing the wrong thing. I don’t trust myself anymore. Am I putting too much pressure on the Idea? Do I just need to pick something and finish the fucker? I DO NOT KNOW!
Motivation is something every writer deals with. Some days, the motivation flows easy. But other days – let’s face it, most days – it can be hard to ignore distractions and actually get shit done. I envy those writers who say they have a burning desire, almost a compulsion, to create. Look, I love writing. Bloody love it. And I believe it’s the Thing I’m Meant To Do. But I don’t feel physically compelled to do it – not every day, anyway.
A common source of motivation, especially in the indie world, is to earn more money. To become one of those six-figure authors… But here’s the problem with me having a goal like ‘Earn X amount of money so I can buy Y’ – I don’t actually need money. I am in a position of SUPREME privilege. I have a roof over my head and food on the table. I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but I don’t have to fret about whether I can pay my energy bills, or feed myself. I have a husband in a stable occupation, and I believe that if I needed to find another job, I’d be able to*. I am very, VERY lucky, and I know it and appreciate it. Yeah, sure, I wish I could go on more holidays and live somewhere a bit nicer, but I know deep down that pursuing such materialistic goals is shallow and empty. And I don’t want to be like that. I have enough. I don’t need anymore. (Obviously, I don’t wish I were living in poverty so I’d have more drive. I imagine the constant stress would actually drain any desire I had to write.)
So, without ‘write more = more books = more cash’, sometimes I struggle to find motivation. I don’t have external deadlines, so I’m not letting a publisher down if I don’t finish on time. I don’t believe that my words change lives, and frankly, I don’t care if people read my stuff when I’m dead. I don’t want to be famous (seriously, that sounds the worst), and I don’t care if my name is known. All that sorta stuff just ain’t for me.
How do I motivate myself? Well, there’s ‘avoidance of guilt’, which isn’t very nice, and ‘just do it, you lazy mare’, which, also, is rather unpleasant. Buried deep inside is the Original Source – the old ‘love of story’ – which is fine when the story is chugging along nicely, but most of the time the story is slapping me in the face.
My latest approach has been to focus solely on the present moment. I actually enjoy getting stuff done – I think most people do, even if they don’t realise it. Work isn’t always bad and play isn’t always good, even though that’s what we’re taught. I like to be productive. I like to stay busy. Because if I tire myself out, then I can fully appreciate the moments of rest. Therefore my motivation is now ‘because I like doing stuff’. And I use it across my entire day. I use it to exercise, to do the dishes, to deal with other boring stuff… I put a task in my diary, complete that task, tick it off, then write a new one down. And I have to say, this method has been working wonders. It stops me (mostly) from procrastinating, and from thinking about the future. It forces me to focus on the current task, and on the satisfaction I get from completing it. Big picture stuff doesn’t matter; all that counts is the here and now.
Present moment. It’s a fine thing.
Current Writing Status: I wrote 5000 words today so I am Champion of the World
Currently Reading: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (holy moly this book is good)