writing recap 2018: w49

This week, mostly wrote some prelude stuff and little vignettes to get a better sense of the characters. Also spent a good amount of time just thinking about the story for my fairy tale project and re-outlining. Still have some more re-outlining to go, but I feel better about the project. My goal will be to have a full first draft done by the end of January.

Had lunch with my friend David, which was excellent. He helps to reorient me and also points out blindingly simple little things that don’t occur to me. Everyone needs a friend slash professional mentor who can do that. We’re going to do a little short fiction (stories from Inktober) exchange, so I have to make sure some of those are readable and more or less coherent in the next couple of days.

There’s a lot of social stuff happening this upcoming week, including my SIL Diana’s upcoming group gallery show! The dads-in-law are coming down to attend and to hang out, so that’ll be fun.

With all the stuff on the calendar, I kind of think that things will get accomplished in drips and drabs this month, with the furious writing in earnest mostly happening in January. I’m signed up for MRK’s Short Story Intensive in January (I think it’s sold out now, but you can wait list if you’re interested), and I am already nervicited about that.

writing recap 2018: w48

Short little update today, lovelies.

Won NaNo on Thursday, so took the weekend off. When it’s not November, I’m mostly taking the weekends off anyway, so this is more a return to routine than a new routine.

I feel more satisfied about winning NaNo this year than I did last year, but it still doesn’t feel like as big of a deal since I’ve been trying to put in daily writing anyway. Although I did accomplish a substantial amount on one large project instead of a bunch of little ones. I’m not done with the first draft yet — the story isn’t finished — so I’m going to continue on, doing roughly 2000 words daily, until it’s done.

I haven’t done the requisite re-outlining yet, so that’s a Monday thing.

Something about doing writing adjacent things instead of just putting the words down on the page feels at odds with the ethos of NaNo. It feels like losing momentum, like that work (as critical as it might be) doesn’t count somehow. Which is a terrible mindset to have about it, I know. I’ve been trying to tease this out in morning pages, and haven’t quite gotten to the core of it yet. There’s something there — about external motivation and incorrect goals — but I haven’t figured it out.

Because ultimately, I don’t need NaNo to build a writing routine. I’ve already done that. And I don’t need it to give myself permission to write or to let myself tackle a project. So when I’m doing NaNo, it’s almost like I’m disrupting my established workflow to have a bit of external structure. Because it’s still easier (and will probably always be easier) to have some external source tell me what I should be doing instead of having to figure it out for myself.

I don’t know. I have some more thinking to do about it yet.

Word count total: 56,731

writing (and life) recap 2018: w47

Survived round one of marathon family events season. Which, as a moniker, makes it sound rather dire (even for all that it is certainly true).

Thanksgiving shenanigans were good, better than expected even. This year, we went to go visit my family in Houston. Had waaaaaay too many huge meals, which surprised no one. The usual number of (or maybe slightly fewer, if I’m being optimistic) problematic things were said and called out. For Thanksgiving proper, we had an elaborate hot pot, which is our go to holiday meal. My mom and stepdad tend to go all out with it; they event built their own giant hot pot specific table. It’s fun and interactive and social. (Should’ve snapped a pic, but I’m bad at remembering things like that especially when confronted with tasty food.)

Got to see the brother and the stepsister and a lot of dog nieces (and one dog nephew). They were all happily spoiled by my mother who insists on feeding all dogs table scraps. Her own Maltese, named Proton, now eats mostly people food, and has terrible tableside begging habits because of it, to no one’s surprise at all. This has been a running conversation for duration of Proton’s entire life, and this year, I chose to be very ambivalent and vaguely amused about it, which was less stressful. I think partially it’s because the parties involved were more honest about their intentions — whereas previously, my mom made overtures about not wanting Proton to beg or was (seemingly) annoyed at her behavior, now she just fully embraces the fact that this is how she wants to raise her dog. Which makes the whole thing simpler because then I can let it go instead of watch advice that I was asked for go completely unheeded and then hear the same lamentations at each meal.

Everyone should be more honest about their intentions.

Writing was a little more difficult this week, but I got the words in. I wanted to make sure that I wrote while traveling because I didn’t want to feel too tied to location or supplies when trying to get work done. It would be totally like my jerkbrain to try to entice me away from being productive by telling me that I needed to be at my desk or I needed to have x, y, and z. So proving to myself that I can/should work away from home was important. It seems like such a minor thing when you say it (or write it) out loud (or on paper), but I think it’s helpful. It’s sort of like how last year’s NaNo, though I wasn’t totally happy with my end result, proved to me that I could do it.

And it’s not even that I’m proving to myself that I can do these discrete things, not really. It’s more proving to myself that I can hold myself accountable. That I can keep the promises I make to myself, which is essentially the only category of promise I have historically had no compunctions in breaking.

I am worried about a couple of plot points where I think things get a little weak. In those bits, my characters lack some agency and are reacting mostly to external stimulus instead of pushing the plot forward themselves, so I need to think about that. I’m solidly in the muddy, mushy middle, and it’s feeling messy, which makes my enthusiasm flag. (That was a lot of M’s. I should have said motivation, I suppose, to continue the trend.) What it tells me is that I need to outline to where I am and figure out where it breaks down, go back to where I was enthusiastic, and figure out a new way forward. That feels very daunting right now though…

Word count total: 42,460

writing recap 2018: w46

Had a dip in the middle of the week where my jerkbrain did the whole “what’s even the point, you’re terrible and this is terrible and everything is terrible.” And then I remembered there was a bonus Writing Excuses for NaNo that was published this week, so I took some time to listen to that. It was about writer’s block or things akin to writer’s block i.e. things that stop you from writing. Brandon Sanderson mentioned that sometimes when he had students come to him with problems making the words, it turned out the main problem was a confidence one — the words they were making were not as good as the words they wanted to make and it was discouraging.

That’s most definitely my problem.

I could be even more mad at my past self for making the decisions that I made and not making the decisions I knew I should have made, but then I’d still be here, but I would just be more mad. And that doesn’t really help anyone, does it?

So instead, I try to take a deep breath and just write through that feeling. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

I found myself highly dissatisfied with a bit of plot that happened when I wasn’t looking — it wasn’t part of the outline and I wasn’t sure what the point was, but the characters insisted that this needed to happen. I’m still skeptical, but we’re going to see where it goes. I have started to use my analog morning pages to brainstorm these things, and that has helped quite a bit.

Plus, I’m finally using my fountain pens and some of the very pretty inks I’ve collected but haven’t tried. (This year has very much been about “you don’t need anymore fountain pens or inks or notebooks until you use the ones you have!” Although I’m very much eyeing a stub nib fountain pen… NO. I DON’T NEED MORE PENS. But…) Right now I’m alternating J. Herbin’s Poussiere de Lune (Moon Dust purple, I mean, come on) and Diamine’s Dark Forest inks. They are gorgeous, and scrawling with them in my notebooks is one of my great pleasures in the morning.

Did a few extra words here and there to make a bit of a cushion for next week what with all the Thanksgiving travel and faaaaaaamily stuff. I think even if I only manage a thousand words a day or something like that while I’m in Houston, it’ll be okay. I should be able to find the time though. Should.

Now I’m off to prep for the early Thanksgiving meal we’re hosting here. Instead of turkey and whatnot, I’m making carnitas and we’re going to build tacos. Because I can. And because carnitas are delicious.

Word count total: 35,345

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.)

Continue reading

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.

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.)