Archives: Stuff I Learn About Writing

This Is My Problem

Well, one of my problems. 

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.

Urgh. When will I learn?

Motivation

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.)

money gold GIF by Aardman Animations

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.  

star trek slapping GIF
My Story and I

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)

Currently Listening to: The Witcher III OST

Currently Playing: Horizon Zero Dawn

Still Loathing: This new effin’ WordPress editor

*famous last words

Writing Progress Sep 2018

I couldn’t come up with a more imaginative title. 

So, let’s see. Last time I checked in, I was writing 1000 words a day. In an unsurprising move, I’ve since ditched that approach (HA!) for the main reason that my story brain just doesn’t work that way. Yes, hitting a target every day is splendid for my sense of achievement, but for whatever bloody reason, my creative mind doesn’t build story bit by bit. It’s more of a dump-and-run kinda gal. 

First Realisation (that I’ve already had but, as anyone who’s read more than one post on this blog can say, I change my mind about my process around six times a week): My story brain likes to work in big chunks, with breaks in between. Therefore, I’m better suited to heavy drafting days with time off, rather than a steady trickle. I wish this weren’t the case. 

Using this approach, I’ve climbed to 36,000 words in Beauty and the Beast. Most of it is in my ‘Explorations’ folder, but hey, a word’s a word, right?

Nope. Because what I need are useable words – not words that take me down the wrong path.

Second Realisation (that I think is true but no doubt I’ll have the opposite ‘realisation’ in a week or so): I need to plan – and I mean really plan – before drafting. What I need to focus on is conflict. If I’ve worked out meaningful conflict, the scene practically writes itself. If I have crap conflict, I stumble, I procrastinate, and then I usually end up on the sofa watching Netflix and wondering if I’ll ever write anything decent ever again. 

I think, in the past, I’ve not planned enough. Like, I’ll sketch out a scene that gets characters from A to B, think it’s alright, then move on. But what I really need to do is dig far deeper than that. I need to check conflict and drama. I need to make sure motivations are sound. It’s a little like testing a theory or a new invention. I can’t settle for the first thing that appears to work; I’ve got to diligently test every component, and accept that the first attempts will fail under scrutiny. But it’s better to get it right in the early stages in order to save me from hellish days stuck at the computer where I know the story has gone wrong and therefore I’m wrong and therefore I suck and oh god please give me the gin.

So yeah. That’s where I’m at. I’m planning. I’m working on central conflicts, chucking out most of it and keeping a nugget here and there. I don’t know when I’ll add to the manuscript, and I don’t know if, when I get there, I’ll feel like the fun is gone because I know what happens. If that is the case, I don’t know if that’s just a downside to spending so much time making sure my story’s foundation is solid. 

But it’s cool. Everything’s totally fine.

no problem thumbs up GIF

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Totally fine.

star trek GIF

Stormy Seas

I’ve accepted that writing is never easy. Those little nuggets of inspiration? Yeah, hard to come by. And they’re rare. Unpredictable. Impossible to conjure or command. 

I’ve accepted – like, really, fully accepted – that writing is a grind. It’s a daily battle with the blank page. Often it feels like grim death. Occasionally it feels like a bliss so pure it brings tears to my eyes. 

So, I’ve been continuing my daily 1000 words, and I have to say, it’s been bloody brilliant. I always assumed that, when I started to break myself all those years ago, it was because of my new 1k-a-day habit. But now I’m thinking it wasn’t the target, but the increased pressure I was putting on myself. The 1k was a symptom, not the cause. I dunno for sure. But it could be true. 

Anyway, I’m around 12,000 words into my latest version of Beauty and the Beast (cannot believe I’m writing this!), and it’s starting to get hard, because now Nothing Is Happening, and my characters are empty, and my world is sparse, and I’ve got no clue what comes next. 

From recent experience, I know it’s around 10-20k where I quit and move onto something new. Well this time, I’m prepared. And this time, I believe in the project more than I’ve believed in anything since Night Mage. And this time, I’ve got my 1k to keep me steady. All I have to do is get 1000 words down, and then another, and another…until the story begins to appear and I can start chopping and moving stuff around. It might take 80 days, 90, 100+. It doesn’t matter. Because I know I’ll get there, so long as I cling to my daily 1k. 

When I first started the draft, I wrote linearly, as I usually do. But since getting stuck – maybe around 8k? – I’ve jumped around, hopping to any scene that comes into my head. Sometimes I almost panic, wondering if I’m making a massive mess, but then I calm myself down and remind myself to trust the process, trust my creative mind, and trust the steady beat of 1000 words every day. (Seriously every day – even days when I’m ill or hungover or really can’t be arsed. Only when I’m away on holiday, which is hardly ever, do I get to take a break.)

So, right now I’m a firm convert of a daily writing target (oh, if old me could see me now!) and I’m approaching murky waters BUT I’ve got my oar and a wobbly compass and I’m sailing forth, into the unknown.

disney how far i'll go GIF by Moana

Resist the Urge

Last night I told myself I’d have a few heavy writing days to get my word count up and push through the 20/30k mark for the first time in aaaages. 

In other words, after only a week or so, I’m  trying to push harder. Well, this morning as I sat at my desk, I realised that if I pushed for say, 6k, I’d probably fall short, or if I did hit the target, I’d be burned for tomorrow. And the words would probably be crap. And I’d start wondering why I can’t write 6k every day…

I’m not going down that road. 1k a day is a perfectly good target. I think I was pushing for more because I’m not far enough into the manuscript to start editing, so I’m a bit lost as to what to do in the afternoon. But, I can world-build. In fact, I can focus on pure world-building for the first half of the manuscript, and then in the second half, I should have enough material to know where the story is roughly heading, and so I can begin editing. 

So. Yeah. My morning has already been packed with contradictions, which is pretty standard, to be honest. Now, I’m going to write one thousand words and spend the rest of the day musing the characters, building the world, and thinking about tomorrow’s thousand.

Another day, another talk to reassure myself that I am heading in the right direction and haven’t completely lost it.

 season 1 episode 3 hbo westworld evan rachel wood GIF

Okay, Maybe…

So, I’ve kinda been writing 1000 words a day. I don’t know how it started or why I thought it was a good idea, given the last few months have seen me move away from word counts on the basis they mess up my mental health. 

BUT, here’s A Thing – if I don’t write every day, my days can get a little unstructured, and if I don’t have a firm target, I can be too hard on myself and not know when I’ve done ‘enough’. 

But if I write 1000 words every day, I create something new every day, and I have a simple finish line, and I also have bags of time to do the proper writing – the editing, the musing, the staring into space with my mouth hanging open. 

So yeah, maybe I need a daily word count. Or maybe I don’t. It’s obvious I don’t actually know what I really need and maybe what I need changes on a weekly, if not daily, basis, and I used to be angry and embarrassed because I was so unpredictable, but fuck it, I’m an artist; I’m supposed to be a trainwreck. Guess I just have to live with it. 

frustrated season 4 GIF by Mozart In The Jungle

Resistance is Futile

Star Trek Picard GIF

Last couple of days, I’ve been doubting myself. I’ve considered quitting this book and writing something new. I’ve been thinking ‘oh, what if I wrote a series? Series are marketable’, or ‘oh, what about vampires? People LOVE to read about vampires’.

You know what this is? It’s bloody RESISTANCE. It’s my brain, once again, dodging the hard work and trying to convince me that another book will be easier. 

It makes sense: I’m in a sticky spot in my novel. I’ve got my 60 pages of exploration, and now I’m struggling to proceed. I’ve got character backstories, a tighter grip on the world, and a general idea about where it’s going. But I don’t have an outline, or any experience to guide me through a second long-hand draft.

Crucially, I also don’t have recent experience of finishing a new manuscript. Barring a novella, the last first draft I took to completion was THE flippin’ NIGHT MAGE, which I wrote in the arse-end of 2016. Somehow, thanks to my own bloody genius, I’ve managed to give myself finishphobia*.

Thankfully, this time around, I’ve caught myself quickly, identifying the stupid critical voice for what it is: an imposter for my lovely, imaginative creative voice. So, I swear, I WILL finish this book. No matter how long it takes. No matter how hard it gets. The damn thing will be completed. And if it’s a pile of crap then, actually, it doesn’t matter, because right now the most important thing I need to do is finish a book. Any book. I’ve got to cure this phobia.

 

*Yes I made that one up. 

Want More, Do Less

A realisation:

It’s better to stop writing when I want to do more, rather than push myself until the well is dry. That way, I approach the next session eager to continue. And as all writers know, starting is the hardest bit. 

It seems counterintuitive, but the key to doing more is to do a bit less than I can manage. I should be itching to carry on, not drained and out of ideas. 

End of realisation.

Current WIP: 18 pages. 

Fear

Nazgul. These dudes always scared the crap out of me. It was the idea of always being hunted, always being chased… I remember watching Fellowship for the first time (seriously the day my life changed) and being utterly terrified throughout as old memories stirred up (I started LOTR when I was a bit too young and stopped at the Prancing Pony). 

On a related note, I’m at 33 miles in my Walk to Mordor challenge, which means I encountered my first Black Rider yesterday. Think I might run today… Get them off my tail. 

Yesterday was an important day for Fear; not only did I brush past one of those scary mofos, but I also had a major breakthrough in understanding my own fear. I decoupled, at long last, the childhood survival-mode Fear from the adult me. Childhood Fear (which I picture living on the back of my neck at the base of my brain) was formed at a time when I was alone, afraid and unsure of my surroundings and relationships with others. It is terrified of failure for reasons that are no longer relevant. It’s terrified of dependency, not knowing that I need never be dependent again. I’m an adult now, and I can look after myself and my Childhood Fear. If we fall, I will catch us – no need for anyone else. 

This is relevant to writing because my Fear had latched onto writing, wrongly assuming that writing was associated with survival. It believed that if I fail at writing, we will Fail, and therefore have to rely on other people – people we can’t trust, or rely on to be kind and gentle and unconditionally loving. When in reality, my goal of becoming a successful writer is a privileged, top-of-the-pyramid dream, akin to attempting to become an astronaut or leader of a country. If it happens, awesome; if it doesn’t, well, it was a lofty goal to begin with, and I’ll learn to enjoy another path. But my Childhood Fear didn’t know the difference, therefore wreaking havoc on my mental health and leaving me in an almost-permanent state of stress, anxiety, fear and panic. It left me feeling like a child. 

But now I’ve cut the connection. I recognise the base Fear, and appreciate its role and the good things it’s given me (hey there, creativity, autonomy and tenacity!), and I’ve also gently removed its fingers from issues it’s not concerned with. If I don’t make it as a writer, then that’ll suck, but I’ll survive. I’ll find a way to make the most of life through other means. I’m an adult, and now it is my choice whether I rely on others or not. Childhood Fear can relax knowing I’m in charge, not other people, and that I have its back always. Unconditionally.

I can’t tell you how liberating this is. 

(But now, I must flee the Black Riders. Engage, Childhood Fear – you’re on!)

Walking to Mordor

No, not a euphemism for mental illness; I’m genuinely walking to Mordor. And back. Wanna walk it too? Scroll down to the bottom of this post.

I’ve decided that walking is going to be my exercise of choice because a) I like it, b) I have time to do it, c) I can take my dictaphone and Muse. Also, fresh air is supposed to be good for humans. Or so I’ve heard.

Anyway, I’ve been preoccupied with walking the last few days, so I’ve not been getting heaps of work done. I did outline two books yesterday, but that’s the most I’ve done this week. I have, however, figured out a way to track my productivity without being too tracky. Instead of counting time, pages or words, I’m simply rating myself out of four. 

My Scientific Ratings

1 – I did a wee bit of work

2 – I did a decent bit of work

3 – I did a big bit of work

4 – I did a bloody awesome amount of work and now I’ve sprouted rainbow wings

There are no official guidelines; I’m simply using my intuition. Using quantitative data with regards to writing MESSES ME UP. It’s cool for something like miles walked to Mordor, because you add to it every single day and you know you’re on the right track. But writing doesn’t work like that. It’s not as simple as putting your foot out the door and then one after the other. It’s back and forward, right, left, up and down, all over the bloody place. So, flying unicorns it is.