writing recap 2018: w45

First full week of NaNoWriMo down. It is going much more smoothly and consistently this year than last year.

I’ve been putting in my slightly-above-2000 words per day and feel no qualms or apologies whatsoever about taking Sunday off. I used to feel weirdly guilty when I wasn’t writing more and more each day, but I’ve largely been able to let that go (there are occasional flare-ups of guilt where I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I’m working on it).

I’ve come to appreciate more how much the time I spend not writing contributes to my writing. Because when I’m not writing, I’m usually reading. Or walking. Or sewing. And I’m recognizing now that background brain processes are still thinking about my writing and working on little problems that my conscious brain was struggling with. So now, I don’t (usually) begrudge myself time off for baking or reading or doing something else (this doesn’t include Netflix binging (that does not look like the gerund of binge) because that is just a bottomless time suck for me — your mileage may vary (though I haven’t found anyone who binges Netflix productively) (how’s that for nested parentheses)).

As long as I get the words in of course. Butt in chair, and all that, as they say.

In other news, it’s almost cookie season, and I have some GRAND and possibly OVERAMBITIOUS plans.

Word count total: 20,780

writing recap 2018: w44

This week was rather eventful on the writing front.

I finished out my October flash fiction challenge. Overall, I felt like it was a success. Upon reflection, it helped me establish a few helpful patterns of thought and behavior. I learned to stop shooting down my own ideas and to follow them down their little paths instead. I got better at thinking through plot points and being a bit more agile instead of throwing up my hands and self-flagellating.

I’ve been using the technique of “meditating productively” (from Deep Work) — while I’m doing something that occupies me physically (dishes, vacuuming, walking, etc.), I’ve been deliberately focusing my attention on figuring out plot for whichever piece I’m working on. I mostly use this technique in the shower now. And by the end of the month, I didn’t have to redirect my attention nearly as much. I would just get in the shower, and my brain would think “Oh, I guess it’s time to spitball ideas about where this story is going,” and away we would go. This means that I have many podcasts that are still unlistened to, but a bunch of pieces of fiction that I think have potential. I’m more than happy with that trade off.

The other major writing event was the kick-off of NaNoWriMo, of course.

My mindset this year feels very different than last. Last year, I was full of nervous excited energy and not sure that I could write so many words in a month. This year, after some initial nerves, I’m feeling pretty calm and measured about it. I mean, once I decided I was going to do it (not try to do it). Once you just accept the truth of your success or failure, there’s no more agonizing. Like, ho hum, this is just part of my routine right now.

My plan is to write around 2000 words a day, while taking Sundays off and accounting for some lost days around Thanksgiving. I should still come in nicely at goal even with those allowances.

I still have doubts. The two loudest ones are “what if I’m not good enough to write this story yet?” and “what if I don’t have the endurance to stick with this story through the end?”. When the first comes up, I mostly shrug. How would I know if I’m “good enough” (whatever that means) to write this story if I don’t try to write the story? So although that doubt still sits with me, there’s not really anything I can do about it.

The second doubt is a slightly more interesting one. Because if you think of endurance/willpower/the-ability-to-do-deep-work as a muscle that needs exercising, then the only solution is to just do it (the Nike slogan applies everywhere).

But the deeper fear underlying both is that it’s going to be hard. That it won’t feel easy and simple all the time. That it’ll feel terrible and difficult and frustrating. And, well, yeah. I mean, it will. (That’s why one of my morning page daily “affirmation” things is “It’s supposed to be hard.”) And not only is that okay, but it’s expected, and I’m going to fucking do it anyway.

(Buckle up. I get a little rant-y from here.)

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writing recap 2018: w43

Started this week out pretty strong and then petered out towards the end when my face was overwhelmed by allergies. Spent Friday holed up on the couch sneezing repeatedly until my abs hurt. But! I regained control of all four Divine Beasts in BotW, so there’s that at least.

Stayed with the flash fiction thing still. Had at least two more pieces that I really like that will need some rewriting and polishing. I still have to figure out exactly what I’m going to do with all of these things and work out a timeline for, well, work.

I was telling Adam about some of the pieces that I liked (particularly from prompts numbers 23 and 24 this week) and found that many of them ended with either everyone dying or the world being destroyed or some kind of psychological horror. Not sure why that’s where my subconscious goes for these shorter pieces, but I’m rolling with it. (Some of it seems to be deeply rooted in women’s anger. Can’t imagine why…)

I still didn’t do as much NaNoPrep as needed to happen this week. It’s one of those things that I know that I need to do but that I’m dragging my feet on. Each day’s morning pages were a variation on cajoling, exhorting, or wheedling myself into just. doing. it. but even still. I even gave myself a pretty decent pep talk on Thursday, all to no avail. I know where the Resistance comes from. I know that it’s a marker of something that I should do.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

A little heavy, but you get the point.

I know that it’s fueled by fear. In this case, some kind of fear of things being imperfect. Like if I try or care or let myself feel passionate about this project AND it doesn’t come exactly the way I want it to, then I will be so disappointed and also a failure and I should just go get lost in the woods. WHICH IS SO DUMB. DO YOU HEAR ME, JERKBRAIN? YOU ARE SO DUMB.

Because of course, it won’t come out exactly the way I want to. Hell, I don’t even know what that means or looks like because I haven’t done it yet. So how would I? But even more so, the first draft is going to be a bit of magic and a bit of garbage all rolled together. And I know that I’m going to have to rewrite and pick through the refuse to figure out which little gems to hoard. And the extra idiot thing is that if I JUST DO THIS PRE-WRITING STUFF, the first draft might have a little less garbage to get through to obtain the treasure.

But obviously, I HAVE TO DO THE THING IN THE FIRST PLACE. It’s a well-constructed ouroboros* of inaction (begrudging respect, jerkbrain, for your wily loops) — I’m afraid to do the thing that I need to do because it won’t be good enough (for what, who the fuck knows) so then I don’t do the thing. But I want to do the thing. But I’m afraid. And while I’m wallowing in the bog of ill defined fear and minor despair, Resistance is laughing all the way to the bank (how he makes money off of this, I’m not sure, but somehow he’s getting rich).

This is one of those times when I am totally self aware enough to see myself being counter-productive and I’m just slow-motion screaming in my head. Sometimes I just want to poke myself with a sharp stick.

Fucking jerkbrain.

*My computer wants to correct this to Borobudur, which led me down a brief, distracting Wikipedia hole.

putting together characters

Buckle up, friends. This is a long one. Mostly to help me remember/collect some tools I’ve found.

I find these tools for building character much more useful than things like “the character interview” — where you ask things about favorite colors or food or whatever — because really, who cares? Those things are just trivia. Just like your knowing that my favorite color is green or my favorite food is scallion pancakes* doesn’t mean that you actually understand anything about me.

Pieces of trivia don’t reveal character motivation and drive and desire and limitation,** which are the things you need to consider when figuring out what a character’s Problem is and what they’re Going to Do About It.

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writing recap 2018: w42

Oh man, I have been exhausted this week.

My writing progress was minimal. I kept up with morning pages and with my flash fiction challenge, but that was really it. My intention was to do NaNo prep stuff — get a story outline in place, do some character sketches, etc. — but I just didn’t have the bandwidth.

Diana and I put on the first ever Shenanicon this year, and it was a whirlwind six weeks of planning and phone calls and ordering and task lists and and and. But it was great. And, as far as I can tell, it seemed like it was a success. People enjoyed themselves, we got to meet some Bscotch fans and put faces to the Discord handles. It was basically an extended, somewhat-structured party for the fans.

But it did mean that anytime I tried to think about anything else this past week, I’d remember another checklist item that I needed to attend to. So… a little distracting. After yesterday, I’m basically all out of spoons and at the limits of my decision fatigue. I told Adam that I’m not going to make anymore decisions for the next week and I don’t want to think about any additional convention planning stuff until November is over.

And then we’ll start figuring out next year (there are rumblings but no promises)…

In any event. I went into a hole this week (thus no updates to the blog except for the prompts). I dragged myself out long enough to tap out this scatterbrained post, and now I’m going to go hole up again and keep recharging my introvert batteries. And then this upcoming week will be NaNo prepping in earnest.

(I was going back and forth on the whole semblance of anonymity thing. But after a little while, referring to people as A or D or other letters just got kind of annoying? Unnecessary? Also, three of my most oft visited family members’ names start with S, so that would be a whole thing. And then, after another moment of hemming and hawing, I thought fuck it and went with names. As I said, no more spoons.)

writing recap 2018: w41

This week was okay. Just generally middling. Did a good amount of work but didn’t do as much as I had originally wanted to. So much bullshit is happening right now in the world, especially because we’re looking at Nov 6 around the corner. It all feels even more dire and overwhelming and heartbreaking than usual. Putting my head down and getting creative work done is harder than usual. I know this isn’t a unique problem to me — we’re all working through this together. I had dinner with one of my sisters-in-law (she is a painter) on Friday, and we commiserated (over alcohol and delicious seafood).

Three of the flash fiction pieces I worked on this week don’t hold together as well as I’d like. The endings are a bit rushed and the arc isn’t clearly defined. Sometimes I know where I’m starting and know where I’m ending, but then I get lost along the way. I wind up on a convoluted path that doesn’t quite get to point B but maybe gets proximate to it. I think I need to do more explicit planning, really plot out the arc before I get started. Or, at least not get lazy when it comes to figuring out what comes next — just take a beat and think more about it instead of rambling along and hoping that I get there eventually.

On a previous season of Writing Excuses (I think maybe season 10), Brandon Sanderson mentioned that one of the plotting technique he uses is working backwards from the payoff moment. He figures out his big reveal/climax, and then asks what happens right before that, and then before that, and so forth until he gets to where he’s going to start. I’m going to try that this next week. Maybe between planning forwards and planning backwards, I’ll figure out the middle.

NaNoWriMo is coming up pretty soon. That’s the other thing I’ve started thinking about. Instead of starting a brand new project, I’m going to add 50k words to That Fairytale Thing that I’ve been working on. So for this upcoming week, I’m going to start in on an outline.

What are y’all working on this week? Anyone doing NaNoWriMo?

writing recap 2018: w40

Week one of the flash fiction inktober thing down!

I’ve found this week very productive, despite the tempting distraction that is a brand new copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and an egregiously huge TV. Building in the flash fiction bit to my morning has allowed me to feel more playful and experimental in my writing again, which was something I had been missing during my more recent Large Project slog.

Some days were certainly easier than others, but each day brought with it a new little idea. Most of them I was happy to just visit the once, but there are a couple in there that I want to polish and hoard and maybe expand.

Since each piece is so short, it’s given me an opportunity to look at the finished first drafts and pick out the problems I have a tendency to repeat — it’s much more obvious when you have several drafts to look at than when you are in the midst of the one big one. I’ve gotten some perspective too on what made a couple of my other larger projects not work so well. So now, I can be a little more deliberate in how I piece things together, and I can direct my attention more consciously to my weak points.

All in all, educational so far. I do need to come up with a plan for what I’m going to do with all these first drafts at the end of the month though…


And now, a rant.

For some reason, I’ve seen an excess of articles this past week once again espousing writing “rules” in that particularly prescriptive hard-and-fast tone of voice that I find grating. This week I’ve seen a confluence of attacks, once again, on adverbs. And sometimes even adjectives.

On the one hand, I get it. All things are now STATED with AUTHORITY because qualifiers make you weak. Even though dealing in absolutes obliterates all nuance (that every aspect of everything has). That includes the unnecessarily harsh prohibition against using adverbs. (Use even one, and — egads! — you will become a Bad Writer™!)

And again, I get it. Mostly, when this rule is repetitively bandied about, it’s frequently about annoyingly using adverbs excessively and gratuitously. I get it.

But it’s said in this way, this looking-down-my-nose-at-your-ly-suffix way that makes me want to… I don’t know, glare at a houseplant (Sorry, houseplant. It’s not your fault.).

When it comes down to it, the writers that I most admire and wish to emulate are not afraid of or averse to using adjectives and adverbs. Those things are, as with any of the other aspects of language, merely tools. The writing that I like uses these tools and wields them skillfully and with great intention.

Here is Ursula K. Le Guin’s more moderate perspective on adjectives and adverbs:

Adjectives and adverbs are rich and good and nourishing. They add color, life, immediacy. They cause obesity in prose only when used lazily or overused.

I recommend to all storytellers a watchful attitude and a thoughtful, careful choice of adjectives and adverbs, because the bakery shop of English is rich beyond belief, and narrative prose, particularly if it’s going a long distance, needs more muscle than fat.

– Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft

And maybe, this more measured take on it is what people mean. But it’s not what they say.

(Incidentally, if you haven’t read Steering the Craft, I highly recommend it. It is a small, powerful book that can be revisited over and over again.)

writing recap 2018: w39

This past week was generally better, both in terms of process and writing. Through a combination of reflection and tips from Deep Work, I’ve settled on a new daily framework that seems to work for me. As with everything else, it’ll need to be tested a bit more, but I have found it very helpful in organizing and providing structure to my day.

This week, I roughed out two additional flash fiction pieces — codenames “the hair thing” and “something something chess.” (Literally that is what the Word docs are called. I am bad at coming up with titles. I’ve read many short stories this year with amazing titles. How do?) Both need significant rewriting, but the first drafts exist now where they didn’t before, so that’s something. I also added several thousand words to a fairytale project. This was the thing that started as a short story last week but is quickly becoming something else altogether – I think maybe it wants to be a novel? It doesn’t really like labels…

As I’m working on these shorter pieces, I’m struck by how much better/lighter/happier I’ve been. I don’t know how much of this is leaving behind that other novel project, in which I was finding less and less joy, and how much of this is stumbling upon this new project, which is much more in line with things I read and have always wanted to write. Or, I guess, how much of it is related to process.

I’m a bit antsy and nervous about tomorrow since it’s the first day of Inktober and thus the first day of my Flash Fiction Inktober Mash-up challenge. But that’s okay. I just have to remind myself to focus on the process and not the product.