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.
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!
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 aword, 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.
I’m 16,000 words into Beauty and the Beast. It’s equally fun and difficult and daunting.
Yesterday I mapped out the two main threads, coming up with the primary scenes. Then I stuck them in Scrivener and sort of left it at that. Today, writing my 1k, I didn’t want to write any of them. Now, I don’t know if that’s because they’re ‘planned’, so the fun has been sapped, or if it’s because I haven’t envisioned them fully yet, so they’re still half-done. I’m not sure whether to keep hopping around out of order, or to try and cobble together a rough skeleton and write along those bones.
I guess the only thing I can do is to stick to my 1k, and plan the next day’s 1k every day, and just…see what happens. See where my brain wants to go. It’s frightening to have no plan. And it’s also frightening to know that my creative mind gets freaked out by plans and runs away and hides in a dark cave. Why does sitting down and typing stories have to be so bloody scary?
Talking about scary, I went to see BlacKkKlansman last night. Wow. What a film. It manages to be powerful, tense, deeply moving and upsetting, but also really funny. I came out of the cinema feeling numb and a bit helpless (and was kinda shocked to see so many folk smiling and talking. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that the ending is…impactful). Anyway, it’s a brilliant film. I wish it wasn’t still relevant in this so-called Modern Age, but sadly it is. Go see it.
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.
Urgh. WordPress have forced this new, unnecessarily complicated editor on me and I’m all confused. (I’m easily confused. I’m technologically stunted.)
But apart from that, something even stranger has happened.
On Saturday I was listening to Wolf Totem, by James Horner, and an idea hit me out of the blue: a complete story idea, with characters, world, and a general gist of the character arcs. Like, the kind of vivid idea I had when I cooked up The Night Mage.
And this new idea…it was for Beauty and the Beast.
(Cue me gasping in disbelief.)
Beauty and the Beast? Seriously? I thought I’d beaten that thing to a pulp. But no…it seems there’s a determined wee bugger in my brain that wants to write that story after all.
So, I’m not abandoning Midnight Shrine. No way. But I am going to play with this Beauty and the Beast idea on the side, and see what happens.
I’m sitting here listening to The Last Jedi soundtrack and bawling my eyes out. (It’s cool, I’m in an empty house.) I love that film more than any other. And I love Rey more than words can describe.
Seriously though I’m gonna have to reapply my eyeliner before I go out again.
Anyway, back to business. I have had, somewhat miraculously, an awesome day.
In fact, miracles had nothing to do with it…
It began when I pulled out a notebook of mine from 2013 (pre messed-up) and read through my old to-do lists (riveting morning, eh?). Anyway, these to-do lists proved to be very illuminating, because I saw that I made a list each day of the scenes I wanted to map/write/edit, the characters I had to think about, research I had to do, elements I had to weave through the book… Basically, there was no talk of page or word counts, or first draft this, second draft that. I mean, I knew my approach used to be far more organic, but I didn’t realise, until seeing it right before me, just how messy my natural process is.
Well, after reading it, I felt connected to that old me, and I immediately made a to-do list for the day.
And then I got to work. And the writing felt awesome. And I felt in control of the book, and daunted by the project, but in a really good way. I removed my word count from Scrivener and have had no urge to look.
It sounds so simple and obvious, but having a to-do list that operates only in terms of story (no cold word counts here) makes such a difference to my attitude. It’s kinda hard to explain…but all I know is I’m not giving up my to-do list ever again.
I’m hoping this puts an end to the last fortnight of funky mood. I’m ready to feel good again.