The writing blahs

I’m in that place where I’m starting to get feedback on the novel I sent to beta readers but not all of it so I can’t start fixing the problems and it gives me the writer blahs. You know, where you feel like you can’t do anything right and will never be able to fix the novel, the story, the blog post, so why even try? That’s where I am and it’s terrible.

But…

I have some methods to trick myself out of this feeling and the one I’m resorting to today (and probably the rest of the week) is index cards that I’ve written affirmations, quotes, and things I’ve learned and want to remember. I have a stack of about 50 that I’ve compiled over the last 10 years and I read them to myself (sometimes more than once, often out loud). This way, past me, who was in a better place, has a chance to boost my mood, remind me of how ridiculously stubborn I am, or kick me in the butt. Here are a few examples that have helped today:

Not writing is not an option.

When I feel stuck what am I telling myself?

The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing —Henry Ford

Failure is part of the game. Get up and try again —Barbara Stanley

Writers steer by wonder desire — Heather Sellers

I am tenacious in achieving my goals.

As long as I’m facing the right direction it doesn’t matter the size of my steps —Erica Jong

How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you’re willing to give up being a caterpillar —Trina Paulus

Advertisements

Having a nemesis

Or

Comparisonitis

And Writer’s block

I don’t have a nemesis. I do have writer’s block regularly and I have a whole introductory post about why I want to post regularly about getting out of writer’s block, but I had a bad case of it this week and didn’t actually finish that introductory post. But here I am, writing, so I’m out of it again (tentatively), and I need to write about having a nemesis.

There’s this person. Let’s call them Pollyanna (why I don’t agree with Pollyanna’s bad reputation is another post, completely outside the scope of this one, and let’s stick with her reputation as someone who is unwarrantedly optimistic). Pollyanna is in one of the online author groups I’m in. They post a lot (I never post). They ask for advice (I’m so bad at asking for advice in public. One on one is ok.). They are very determined, or at least appear so (my determination wavers like my short-lived experiments with playing the violin).

Today, Pollyanna posted that they had found the answer. I had already answered this question, several months ago, and read Pollyanna’s book, which was available to purchase. I gave Pollyanna some additional unsolicited feedback (sometimes I can’t help myself. I don’t know if this is righteousness or an overdeveloped need to help other people.) to the effect that the question they were asking wasn’t their problem. Their problem was they needed to work on the craft of writing. (The writing was very bad. I know I’m a snob about writing, but really, it was. Very. Bad.)

Pollyanna did not listen to my advice. That’s ok, advice is like birdseed. Some actually gets eaten by birds and that’s great. Some gets eaten by squirrels and hey, that’s ok. Some dies (sorry, birdseed) and some grows into weeds (I don’t actually know if that’s true, don’t yell at me if birdseed doesn’t become weeds, I like the idea and I like weeds. No, I don’t have a lawn, but if I did it would be weeds so insects and butterflies could live in it.). Anyway, never mind about the birdseed. Back to today.

Lots of people were helpful and supportive in the online group. It’s a great group. Pollyanna answered some follow-up questions. I read them (masochism isn’t pretty). I learned that Pollyanna had published several more books (I haven’t) and was advertising them (I’m scared of advertising and have talked myself out of it until I have more books) and SELLING 1-5 of these terribly written books per day (I am not selling that many books a day). And I realized something. The difference between me and Pollyanna was that they were still going, full steam ahead, and I had gotten stuck. I hate being stuck.

I also kind of hate Pollyanna and their unwarranted optimism and confidence all out of proportion to their ability. And competitiveness (I am very competitive) and jealousy (I swear I’m not really a terrible person but being a writer means wearing your insides as your outsides and that’s why it’s so damn hard sometimes) and comparisonitis (I CAN do what Pollyanna is doing, I’m just not doing it and that’s why more people are reading their terrible books than are reading my wonderful books, I just have to write them) kicked me in the competition organ (I think mine is at the base of my throat), so, kicked me in the throat and here I am. Writing. Thank god and Pollyanna. My nemesis. Today.

 

I’m giving myself until Tuesday to write fiction because post-novel funk is a real thing and I’m going to Hong Kong this weekend for Melon 2019, Aliens on the Galactic Silk Road, and how COOL is that!? It’s also my first real writer’s event since I moved to Bangkok almost four years ago.

Because accountability is also important in fighting writer’s block, here are the other things that got me to this point today and that I will write about: morning pages, cognitive behavioral therapy tools, community, whining, acknowledging post-novel funk and inspirational index cards.

Sum up

So…it’s been a while since I posted regularly here isn’t? 2017 was not a great year. 2018 was kind of tough too. Don’t get me wrong, there were some good times, but I didn’t have too much extra energy for blogging. But 2019 will be the 10 year anniversary of this blog, so I thought I’d try to resuscitate it by trying something new.

Since I’m dipping my toes in this self publishing thing I thought I’d post about some of the things I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made. They’ll probably be short. Hopefully they will be of interest to someone besides myself.

Here’s hoping 2019 is a much better year.

I just looked at my blog stats, and since people seem to still be reading my posts about gender, poetry and books, I’ll try to keep doing those things too. 😉

The Difference between Procrastinating and Waiting

It’s taken me this long, 10+ years since I started writing again, to mostly be able to tell the difference between procrastinating and waiting.

Procrastinating is when I have something to write, but it feels too hard, or I’m being lazy, or I just can’t get started (because writing is scary, yo!).

Waiting is when things need time to come together in my mind, thought A colliding with thought T; the idea for a scene that’s not quite right yet because I’m looking at it wrong or because it’s default, it’s boring, it needs to be turned on its head or twisted 30 or 125 degrees before it’s right for what I’m working on; or it’s something I’ve got wrong and until I figure out what it is and go back and fix it, I can’t go forward.

The things I do when I’m procrastinating look very, very similar to what I’m doing when I’m waiting, but the internal feeling is very different. If I’m procrastinating there’s an edge of irritation, of impatience, directed at myself, that I’m not writing and I should be writing. It might take a bit for me to notice, acknowledge and act on it, but it’s there.

When I’m waiting, I have to wait. I can’t rush it. I can’t force it. I can coax it, by feeding the garden inside me where my writing comes from, by reading fiction and non-fiction and watching TV (sometimes really great fiction and TV, sometimes really bad fiction and TV), exercising, hanging out with friends. Whatever fills the well.

Sometimes I still get it wrong. Sometimes I’m procrastinating when I think I’m waiting, and vice versa. But slightly more often than not, I’m finally figuring it out.

State of the Writer

Hello! I haven’t been around here much.

I was struggling with my WIP that I’ve been working on, on and off for the last two years. I have a full plot arc for the main characters but the subplot involving a third character just hasn’t been gelling into anything. A few weeks ago, Tam challenged me to write a short story with a writing prompt of strange place names and I wrote the big climax for my WIP in a fit of inspiration. I thought maybe that would get the rest of it going too, but instead I wrote the short story, which turned out to be a chapter of a book I wrote the opening chapter for two years ago.

Since then I haven’t been able to stop writing the shiny new YA biopunk* science fantasy thingy that I started. Words have been coming like they haven’t been coming for months. 1000, 2000 even 3000 at a time, when I’ve been lucky to get 100 lately.

*Apparently this is a thing, but it’s not the thing I mean. I’m thinking more how Kameron Hurley talks about her God’s War books as bugpunk.

I think I’ve been working on the wrong thing. Or the shiny new project has been sitting in the back of my brain for long enough that I’m ready to write it. And the WIP, which I made a lot of progress on before grinding to a halt (like my first car, which leaked oil like a severed artery until it ran out, seized up and blew smoke all over the highway) needs to sit in the back of my brain.

I just hope it’s not for another two years, but I begin to detect a pattern. Two years here, two years there. I fight against it. I don’t want to be a slow writer. I don’t want to wait and flounder around wondering what I should be writing and not writing, which makes my unhappy and cranky. On the other hand, I love the feeling of flow, of the knowing what should be next, without having to strain so much for it. My subconscious has obviously been doing the work while I went about life.

And this one feels different (what a joke, each novel I’ve written or attempted to write has felt different), like it’s less of a rough draft than it usually is, with more of the details there. With maybe, dare I say it? slightly better writing than I usually have at this point in the process.

Everyone says don’t compare yourself to other writers. It’s hard not to when it seems publishing is speeding up exponentially and writers are writing two books (or four) a year (though not necessarily publishing them). But I’d have to say don’t compare yourself to yourself either. Just because the last book was hard doesn’t mean this one will be. Just because the last book was easy doesn’t mean this one will be. And maybe I was reaching too far beyond my capabilities with that WIP and I have to wait to grow into it (which isn’t a bad thing). Sherwood Smith told me once she is still waiting to grow into a story she wants to write and she’s been writing for decades.

Meanwhile, I’ll just chant my litany of other writers who have said they are slow: Franny Billingsley, Libba Bray, or um, that’s the end of my list. Who else has said they’re slow?

And a question: Anyone have a favorite scene from a book or movie where one character threatened another? It’s for the shiny WIP. I’m trying to figure out how I want a scene to go.

Learning to Write, Again

I’ve heard it said ‘You don’t learn to write; you learn to write each novel.’

I’ve written out of order and re-ordered scenes. I’ve written chronologically. I’ve cut out important secondary characters. I’ve cut the last 30,000 words and rewritten the end; I’ve cut the first 10,000 and rewritten the beginning. I’ve written longhand and on a computer; revised longhand and on a computer.

This is the first time I will change the names of one or both of the main characters when I’ve already written the entire story arc. It’s the first time I’ve decided that I don’t have enough POV scenes of a third character and I’m writing an entire story line to layer in on top of what I’ve already written. It’s the first time I’ve thought so analytically about what that story line has to be, rather than going on instinct and subconscious promptings. It’s the first time I’ve thought, “I want to mess with people’s heads with this one.” It’s the first time I’ve been so ambitious. It’s the first time I’ve really doubted I could do this, that I had the skills to do this—that sounds like I never doubted I could write a novel or never doubted my writing skills. That’s not true. But this is the first time I’ve known the kind of emotional impact I want to achieve and doubted that I could do it. With previous novels I wanted to tell a fun story. I want to do that now, but I want to give the reader a specific taste in their mouths, a flavor of emotion, when they close the book and I don’t have a map for that.

I’ve struggled with this book since its beginning, just a flash of a scene during NANO in 2011 when the book I had set out to write fell flat and short and I doodled to meet the word count to “win.” A boy and a girl, jumping into a canal and breathing water, scared, worried, awed. I was awed that I could write anything at all, after a year of death and worry and a marriage that felt like it was on the rocks and money worries and illness and no writing at all, at all.

It took a long time to figure out what it was about, to figure out the world, to figure out who the characters were and stop them from randomly murdering people I didn’t want them to murder. After Viable Paradise I couldn’t work on it at all, with too much new stuff crammed into my head to think about and work through. I took a six-month break. I rewrote an older MS that I still loved. I came back to the twins book (almost everyone in the MS is a twin—why not? I get to make the rules and it’s a cool idea) and it’s not as bad as I thought. Well, parts of it are soul suckingly awful. But other parts are kind of amazing and I think, “I wrote that??”

So I’m making color-coded index cards and re-arranging them (even though I’m using Scrivener which has color-coded index cards that can be re-arranged) and sometimes just holding them and thinking and procrastinating and panting after a much better shinier idea that will just be so much easier than this…And I’m learning to write this novel.