Writer Is Fed Up, Overcomes Block

Lifeblogging, Process, Writing

[picture of the planner banner] 

I am out of patience with this trend of not getting any work done.

I wrote an okay YA SFF romance in 2016… and found myself completely unable to handle the overwhelming volume of revisions.

I set it aside to work on an erotic romance the next spring, as a low-stakes palette cleanser, but that one ended up with some Problematic elements, and I couldn’t even open the file without being suffocated with shame. After that, I couldn’t write anything. Feeling so awful, and guilty, and ashamed of something I’d really enjoyed writing was paralyzing. I carried my notebooks around, the edges of the pages getting dirty in my backpack without anything touching the inside. I barely even opened my files until this year.

I have had enough. This is ridiculous. Some of the stuff I wrote in that first draft was, ah, certainly Problematic, but it was not bad enough to justify putting myself on hold for two years.

I am cancelling feeling guilty about anything I write. It’s not helpful to anybody and it is extremely harmful to me.

To that end, I’ve put to myself a challenge.

So, to add context, I’ve made a lot of challenges for myself. I’ve failed most of them. I really, really want to do awesome stuff, so I try to do thinks like “Make a finished drawing every day using a dip pen (which I’ve never used before) for Inktober!” or “Use advent-calendar-style prompts to write a complete short story every day in the runup to your birthday!”

“Finished” is my downfall. “Complete” is a pipe dream. The very first day I do part of a drawing, part of a story, I’ve already failed my entire goal and am thus too discouraged to finish the challenge.

So uh… maybe don’t do that to myself, this time? Maybe construct a challenge with small goals, forgiving milestones, and catchup opportunities?

So I did.

Do you think 200,000 words before my next birthday is a reasonable goal? It comes out to about 550 words per day, which, if I remember my NaNoWriMo experiences correctly, is perfectly manageable.

(1667 is not, by the way. NaNoWriMo is grueling for me.)

It’d be neat if I finished something, but I’m not really focusing on that; small goals and all.
Instead, I’ve got twice-monthly check-ins and big-text Quarterly Goals that I get to fill in with pretty colors, and a nice space to put the titles of everything that I worked on.

(That part’s not really a piece of the challenge. I just really like lists.)

This week in writing is hard: Emily tries something new!

Jackie and April's Foster Home for Teenage Witches, Writing

You may have guessed, from my lack of posts recently, that I’ve been having trouble figuring out what to do.

It’s not just this blog—I’ve been struggling to figure out what to write, what to draw, everything. I’m an American, so as you can imagine my world is kind of falling apart around me right now, and every time I try to do something, I think, “How much of a difference is this going to make, in terms of putting the brakes on Nazi Germany: American Edition (now with a new primary target!)?” and the trouble is, most of what I was working on before 2016 was focused on queer representation in scifi/fantasy.

Frankly, queer representation got outpaced by immigrant protections and voting rights on the day of the world’s most mediocre inauguration. I was not prepared for this. I don’t know how to write engaging emotional rollercoasters about voting. I know how to write an engaging emotional roller coaster about immigration, but as a white person whose family moved here before there were immigration laws, I probably shouldn’t.

Thus, total stagnation of productivity.

Which I’ve had enough of.

So, new plan!

I’m writing a webcomic. It’s small-scale, it’s escapist, it’s got space for tackling difficult things but it’s set up to mostly be cute and soft and gentle, it contains witches, and it’s currently called Jackie and April’s Foster Home for Teenage Witches.

Premise: Witches are a lot of trouble, so there’s great need for foster homes willing to take them—and at April and Jackie’s house, there’s always room for one more.

I’m not entirely comfortable writing about the foster system, especially as, being sick of horrors, I’m 0% not interested in portraying how bad it can be, and I’m not sure if that’s dishonest or escapist. The trouble is, I want it set in modern-day America, so orphanages are right out, and I’m dead bored of boarding schools and summer camps. So I’m going with foster care unless something better appears.

Things that are definitely going to happen:

– A baby (in for a few days of respite care) gets into wild shenanigans and permanently transfigures the dog

– An introverted girl’s escapist daydreams open a portal for her… but the wrong person goes through it! She has to get the intruder out before all her secrets are discovered! Not to mention that there’s a monster in there somewhere, and this person doesn’t know the rules to avoid it.

– An ill-advised gardening spell brings very impolite invertebrates to the garden! How will Jackie and the girls solve this without hurting any of the innocent creatures? Not that Jackie thinks there’s anything wrong with salting the lot of them, but that would upset April, which is unacceptable.

And the best part is, it’s episodic, so if I mess something up, I can just move on and try something else.

It also barely exists at this point. I’m thinking it’ll be probably a year before I’ve got any actual pages? I want to finish at least two chapters before I post anything, and there’s a lot of research and planning involved in something like this. I’ve never written an ongoing comic! I’ve barely written a standalone! I have no idea what I’m doing!

End of the Writing Break

Process, Revision, Writing

That was a good experiment.

And now we are DONE.

In the end, the fiddle-around-with-random-stuff experiment was a colossal failure. Instead of being free to play and take risks, I ended up doing a grand total of nothing in the last three months. We’re chalking it up to a recovery period and refusing to feel bad about it.

Painful though it may be, I think my best bet here is to suffer through Draft 3 of the thing I was working on earlier this year. Writing it was a six-week whirlwind thrill ride and revising it has been torture. It’s a shamefully indulgent erotic drama that I love to pieces and the idea of people not liking it is paralyzing.

Which particularly sucks because, it’s an indulgent erotic drama, which means most people will not like it. This is a quality of niche genres.

Draft 3 is due by Halloween. It’s only 50,000 words, so that shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Right?

Writing Break

Process, Writing

I finished a novel a few weeks ago, and I’ve barely been able to write anything since.

It’s frustrating. I want to write, I’ve got dozens of stories waiting to get worked on, but I open one up and start typing and just immediately get bored.

Is this choice paralysis? Is this “I’m intimidating myself b/c I just finished a really solid second draft and now everything else looks like garbage”? Is this “I have real-life Things happening that are about to change my core themes in a pretty major way”? Is this just how I always feel at the beginning, and it’s been so long since I started something new that I forgot?

I don’t think it’s possible to figure it out. Most likely, all of these things are happening all at once, and I can’t really do anything about it.

I mean, I could just push through it. Lay down a wordcount goal, pick a story, and hammer out words until I’ve got more story. I’ve done that before. I ended up with word soup.

So, I don’t know.

I know you can’t wait for inspiration to come to you. It never will. That’s not how inspiration works. But I’ve tried writing without inspiration before, and… it kinda sucks? I don’t really want to.

I know I’ll get through this. I’m a writer; “not writing” is not an option. It’s really more a question of how to get through this faster.

I have a ghost of a plan. That plan consists entirely of consume as much media as humanly possible.

Fiction.

Non-fiction.

Fanfiction.

Cartoons.

Film.

Paintings.

Everything.

I don’t know where inspiration is hiding, but i’m going to find it and I’m going to catch it and I’m going to take it home.

And I’m not going to beat myself up about stagnant writing in the meantime.

I tried editing while writing and… it worked?

Driving Interest, Process, Writing

This is one of the most ubiquitous pieces of writing advice, but I’m starting to think it’s not entirely helpful. Not for all of us.

See, I have a really, really hard time with first drafts. I’ve scrapped almost all of the novels I’ve ever written, because by the time I’m done with the “first draft”, they’re such a mess I can’t fix them. Maybe 10% is actually usable. Maybe someone else could whip them into shape, but I can’t. It’s too much. It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. It’s discouraging, too, to look at something you thought was a coherent novel and see four or five different novels in there, and have to tease out which one you actually wanted to write, knowing full well that the re-write is just going to end with an entirely different set of unrelated books tangled together and you’re going to have to do it again and you don’t know if it’s possible to ever actually stick to one storyline all the way to the end.

Sticking to one thing is a problem for me, okay?

But I did something crazy recently. I started re-working an old piece this February, planning on a ~25,000 word piece with a very simple, single-thread plot that was driven entirely by angst.

I ended up with 40,000 words of solid novel with multiple plot threads and a very strong subplot that doesn’t really tie into the plot very much, but supports the theme so strongly that the entire story falls apart without it. When I hit 40k, I thought I’d gotten in over my head, but when I read it, it… actually made sense. Sure, it had weak spots, and some inconsistencies, and the conclusion was a total fabrication and needed serious support work, but it made sense. It was all the same story. Not five different ideas loosely wrapped around the same setting. Just one. After a beta read that kicked my ass, it bumped up to 50,000 words, and I’m pretty sure Draft 3 will be even longer.

I’ve never made it to Draft 3 before. I’ve never made it past Draft 1.

I did a lot of things differently on this one. For one, I didn’t force plot. I let the characters carry the story, and dropped plot twists on their heads when things got boring. For two, I added a whole lot of side characters, so that emotion could be carried through conversation instead of endless angsty monologues. For three, I went back and edited in the middle of the writing process.

What?? my writing teachers are all saying. You’re going to derail yourself! You’ll never move forward that way! You’ll get caught up in minutiae!

Yeah, well… I didn’t?

When I hit a character moment that completely contradicted the main character’s personality in the first half of the book, I went back and fixed the character’s personality immediately. Same events, but I took my cringing coward and turned him into a terrified but obstinate fool. It blew up my wordcount. He created conflict, instead of just getting pushed around by the plot, and entirely new scenes emerged to deal with the backlash. But the book didn’t get derailed. Once I was done fixing his “coward” scenes, I went right back to where I’d left off and kept going.

The setting started out with wagons. Halfway through, I decided cars would be cooler, and went back and eliminated all the wagons. Some characters gained dimension because of the kinds of cars they had, or whether or not they hired a driver. The story didn’t get derailed.

There was an attempted-seduction scene that started causing problems, because later on, some characterization happened that made it really clear that this attempted seduction? Can’t be attempted. If the MC attempted to seduce this person, sex would happen. And it was really, really important that it didn’t. Reworking that took a while. But I had to figure out what actually happened before I continued, because “doesn’t attempt seduction” isn’t good enough. I had to know what process he went through to decide not to. And yeah, it turned out really, really important later on. If I hadn’t known those motivations? That “later on” would have been an unfixable mess. Not to mention a total waste of time.

By the end of that 40,000 word first draft, I could have immediately sent it to my beta reader. No edits. I mean, he wouldn’t have been super impressed with me if I’d done that, but it would have been readable. I’ve never had that before.

New story! “Change Battery”

Freebies, Writing

There is grime under the espresso machines. There is milk on the walls, in the cupboards, smeared across the windows. The drains are clogged with Splenda packets and broken straws. We are too busy to clean. We have to be ready, if customers come.

I worked at Starbucks for a solid two years, and I tell you, that kind of work messes you up. You push yourself so hard in pursuit of someone else’s profits, suffer so much, but no matter what you do or how committed you are, no matter how much money you single-handedly bring in, the greatest reward you can ever hope for is a pat on the back. But if you don’t work your ass off and get milk in your hair and burn your hands making Americanos too fast, you lose your job, and best of luck getting a new one without a good reference.

I had a really, really bad day. I got fed up. I wrote this. I showed it to my whole store, and they laughed and groaned and said “yeah, this is about how it is,” and now I don’t work there anymore and can’t get fired for talking shit about my employer.

Profit is an unfeeling god. The siren is an eldritch horror. That part is 100% factually true.

Change Battery

Intro

And Summon the Lambs to Slaughter, Driving Interest, Lifeblogging, Neglect, No Solace, WIPs, Writing

I guess it’s time for an intro post, now that I’ve been on air for a while. Hello! I’ve been putting this off because I’m stone terrified! I’ve been a lurker for the entire fifteen years I’ve been on the internet, and having an actual presence is scary! Who knew! But, you know, I can’t lurk forever. I want to create something that will be remembered, and that’s not going to happen if I keep hiding.

I mean, to be honest, it’s probably not going to happen anyway, but there’s no reason to doom myself to that fate. I’m only twenty-seven, I’ve presumably got a long, long time to give this a shot.

To get basic information and history out of the way, I’m Emily, I was born with a black eye in Texas, moved to Oregon, grew up as The Weird Kid in a suburb with no sidewalks, went to high school in a warehouse, made the biggest mistake of my life (going to college while using the Bootstraps Method of Depression Treatment, do not recommend), and worked in food service until I got sick of smelling like milk. Now I’m in an office. It’s a living.

Throughout all this, I’ve been writing. My first novel made it a good four chapters before it was mercifully put down by The Great Hard Drive Crash of 2003. It was called How I Got My Horse and that tells you everything you need to know. By the time the crash happened, I was thirteen, and very, very ready to move on to plottier ventures.

I dove directly into anime fanfiction. This was way back in the day, when steamy stuff was called “lemons” and really steamy stuff was called “limes” and I probably shouldn’t have been reading any of it, let alone writing it, but a small collection of my Inu-Yasha fanfiction spent about two months on the internet in 2004 before I got a very kind, thoughtful piece of concrit and immediately (read: after crying all the water out of my body) obliterated all trace of it from existence. I vowed never to write fanfiction again. I was fourteen. I vowed a lot of things.

Fortuitously, that happened in October. I left fanfiction behind to write an epic romance about gay centaurs for Nanowrimo. The timing was terrible. I was ready to get serious, but I was going to Japan for two weeks right in the middle. I could do that, right? Write 25,000 words before November 8th, fly to Japan and have an amazing time, then come back and write 25,000 words in my remaining seven days? No problem. I didn’t tell anybody what I was doing. I barely planned anything before day one.

You guys. I  did it. Apparently I looked like a zombie and my mom was dead worried about me the whole time, but I wrote fifty-two thousand words of epic gay centaur romance in fourteen days. I’m still proud of that, to be honest. Not of the book. The book is unreadable. But I knew I’d get better, if I just kept doing it.

I wrote a few more novels. I did Nanowrimo a few more times. I wrote a whole heck of a lot of short stories. I got published in my college’s literary journal. I put my fanfiction back online. I started a blog. I wrote an intro post. Here we are.

So what do I actually write about? I’m kind of shy about this, because  frankly, being a SF/F melodrama and/or romance writer is extremely embarrassing.

Some examples:

The princess falls in love with the enemy… and their people’s conflict tears them apart, and they end up on opposite sides of the battlefield, swords in their hands, and no choices left.

The resident psychologist of a space-prison is forced to choose between performing questionably-ethical human experimentation, and walking out the airlock.

A depressed teenager moves into a new house, but the corner of her new room is already occupied… by the ghost of a suicide victim.

None of these are fit for public consumption yet, but this right here is the place to find out when they are.

They’re going to be delicious.

Starting from scratch

The World Ended Not With a Bang, But With a Vote, Writing

It’s been so long since I started a novel totally from scratch that I’m a little lost.

My usual process is to fuss for a few years without a plan, until the piece expands into something totally unrelated to its original iteration, and then buckle down and figure out what the core theme of all seven+ iterations up to now has been.

This is a great process! I love this process! By the end, I’ve got a dozen or so short stories that are so different from each other that only I know they were ever part of the same thing, and having extra material to work with is awesome.

However: it takes a long time.

Normally, that is fine. Most of my work is just emotional processing; there’s no Pertinent Event that starts it all; it remains relevant no matter how long it takes to finish.

This time, I’m emotionally processing a Pertinent Event. (If you’re wondering, I’m American, and it’s the obvious one.)

So I’ve got kind of a time limit on how long this is going to be relevant. Let’s say a year? Two years? Before everyone, including me, gets over-saturated and exhausted by this theme.

It usually takes me that long to pre-process.

So… uh… here we go? Wish me luck?

I have no idea what I’m doing.

 

Revision Nerves

And Summon the Lambs to Slaughter, Revision, Writing

I’ve got my novel open in one tab, white noise open in another, and I’m ready to revise this thing, I am, but I’m terrified that, no matter what I do, it’ll be flat and low-stakes and boring. The characters will be nobody. The pacing won’t work. My drama is slow and the information revelations are in the wrong places and the information revealed isn’t compelling anyway. I’ll have to revise this thing so hard that it’ll be unrecognizable–again–when I’m done.

Is this the story I want to tell?

What is the story I want to tell?

What I wanted to do when I started was… not this.

It’s missing so much. So many things are in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, doing… nothing. I’ve been working on it for so long. I love so many parts of it so, so much.

Facing the prospect that this whole thing might be nothing but a trash fire is heart-wrenching.