Procrastination in Layers

chapter six

So, first off, hey guys!  Long time, no see, sorry about that.  January was filled with breakneck speed catch up after the holidays, followed by sickness riddled February, which is drying out into a hopefully sickness-free March.  Blogging was so far down on the totem pole of things I had energy for that it was less than a speck of dust.

But I’m semi-back now, so this space will be getting some new posts here and there.

Now, on to the updates.  The first draft is complete.  It is an ugly little thing I love and abhor with the same breath.  I struggled for an entire month with lung phlegm and a handful of chapters from a new character’s POV that, eventually, had to be done away with.  It went the way of the loogie, in other words.  Not because the chapters were bad (although, yes, they were bad) or because they were unnecessary, but because they just do not fit right now.  Like champagne and wine glasses at a table full of moonshine in mason jars, these chapters refused to work with the overall ambiance.  Sucks, yes, but they may be useful later in the next book somehow, so I’m not totally bummed about the discovery.

So, I am now on to editing everything else, which is my favorite part of the process anyway, but I am finding way more landmines I left for myself than I remember creating.  See, when I’m in the thick of creating I will go as far as an idea carries me, and if it stops being interesting I will stop, mid-sentence more often than not, and then throw in a note to my future editing self.

Mostly, these notes consist of bored now, moving on to something else, deal with this later.  Or, asdfghjkl omgwtfidk where I’m going with this, figure it out in editing.  And, the always lovely, HAHAHAHAHAHAH I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING IT SUCKS TO BE YOU READING THIS LATER.

It’s times like these that I really dislike my past writing self.  I can be such a whiny, thoughtless, self-centered procrastinator.  Why do I never think of my editing self with compassion or care?  Why must I create unnecessary tripwires that send editor-me face first into a mud pit?

The short answer is because writer-me thinks it’s funny.  Writer-me takes joy in being an utter brat.  Writer-me is often sleep deprived, under caffeinated, under inebriated, and stretched thin upstairs so the thought of being a prick, even to my future self, is enough to keep writer-me moving forward with the creation process.  Because creating is hard.  It hurts.  It takes more than it gives, leaving me wrung out and with the sense of having been hollowed.

And so procrastinating then leads to procrastinating now.  I’m working with chapter six and I really, really, with the fire of a billion suns, hate chapter six.  It’s a pivotal chapter.  It’s the first domino of a really bad choice that leads into the epic free fall of other bad decisions that lead to oh crap situations that make the rest of the book fun.  It’s necessary.  It’s needed.

And I want to set it on fire.  Or blast it into space.  Or throw it off the edge of a cliff and listen to it scream on the way down.

But I can’t bring myself to delete it.

So I went to a different page and wrote a blog post that I’ve been procrastinating for two months.

Oh, the irony and layers.

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NaNo Lessons: Character Voice

I’ve talked before about the challenge of writing the same character at different ages, but I had a difficult time with it this November.  The series I’m writing, Witches of Texas, is not a new story for me.  I’ve been writing the main characters since I was seventeen or eighteen.  They have evolved with me into adulthood, and their old stories tackled adult themes from a grown up perspective.  Their personalities were firm and established.  They came to me as thirty-somethings with chips on their shoulders and a wider knowledge of their world and how they related to it.

Then I had to decide to write their origins when they were teenagers and young adults.  Should be easy, right?

Yeah, no.

The biggest challenge has been their voice.  You see the world differently as a teen than you do at twenty-two and more different still at thirty-three.  I have to keep in mind how they end up, and then find out what makes them that way, all the while trying to keep a consistent thread in their voice that will bridge the gaps between those ages so they don’t seem to hop all over the place.

Yesterday I talked about writing through the garbage, and a lot of that garbage was failed attempts at finding their voices.  I wrote many scenes that completely threw their voices off, or made them so out of character it might as well have been a completely different story.  By the middle of the month frustrated didn’t even begin to describe my state of mind.

So I broke away from the story and wrote a scene with their older selves.  It was a stupid scene, just the main characters bickering with each other over a goat herd and a pile of nicknacks, but it brought back the rhythm I was missing in their origin story.  I figured out I was making everything too dark and the characters too reactive, I wasn’t allowing them enough agency to really say what they thought or to act in the way they wanted to.  It was me forcing them along with the shambles of the plot instead of following them.

So I started a new page and kept the plot in mind, but let them wander around screwing things up to make it happen.  Will I keep all of that for the final drafts?  No.  But the exercise of getting back into their natural voices reminded me how to write them.  It reminded me what these characters held in value, what their real motivations were, and what they sound like inside, and out, of their heads.

Characters change over the course of their story, and their lives, but even the characters who go through a galactic amount of crap still have a recognizable thread from beginning to end.  Whether it’s cutting sarcasm, the drive to succeed, unkillable optimism, or a need to protector something else, parts of that survive their transformation.  I managed to find the bits that survive in my characters.

NaNo Lessons: Write that Garbage

Every first draft is a mess.  It’s a handful of diamonds covered in a ton of raw sewage and garbage.  It is imperfection and weirdness crossed with this expression: 

It sounds fine when you talk about writing garbage, or when you read about others talking about it.  But it doesn’t feel fine when you actually sit down and write it.  Even if it’s your 8th frickin’ year to do it.  I go through this every November, because outside of NaNo I fall into the unfortunate habit of editing as I write. Which slows production epically.  Yet I keep doing it because I can’t stand to have red squiggles underlining my words or the same word used three times in a single paragraph.

But NaNo demands you overlook those glaring blemishes to get on with the story.

And, you know, actually finish under a deadline.

It sucks, it’s hard, and it’s the best kind of motivation to just ignore what’s underfoot and keep going.

My head is full of garbage writing and garbage ideas and garbage scenes.  Thing is, I know that, and I get scared of letting it out because it’s, well, garbage.  I know I can do better.  I know I have done better, and I really don’t want anyone else to ever see this kind of blech.  That’s just the insecurities and ticks of doubt talking, though.  Once I push them out of the way and let the garbage flow forth, I trod through a lot of yuck, but I end up with some puddles of hey, that’s not so bad, I can work with that.

Writing is work, and it’s messy, but you can’t make it pretty and tight and awesome until you’ve sorted the parts of it that aren’t.  Most of writing is just holding your nose and diving in over and over.  Then there comes that threshold where you can either back off or keep going.  For me, that is the end of November.  I usually keep it up for a few days, maybe a couple weeks, but then I slip back into editing as a I go.

This time I’m working to consciously break that habit.  I came out of this NaNo with a lot of good material, but I still need to write at least 70% of new material for the book.  So I am not going to edit it until I get that 70% written.  What I have now is a seeping, saggy, soggy mess.  It’s a glaring eyesore and my fingers itch to beat out spelling mistakes and horrible writing.  But I’m going to keep going.  Even when I slip up and waste time editing last night’s passage, I’m going to stop, take a breath, and keep writing.

Because I’ve seen a glimpse of what treasures are hidden under the garbage prose and dialogue.  I want to see them in their entirety, and I can’t until I have the entire fetid bundle, complete, in my hands.  I just need to trust myself and my instincts to get me there.

Cheers.

NaNo Lessons: Self Discipline

Self discipline is something no one else can teach you.  You have to do it for yourself and find what works.  For me, it was a simple phrase: you messed up, let’s try again.

I have a day job.  Fortunately, it’s a day job I thoroughly enjoy, but it’s still challenging work and it does leave me drained at the end of the day.  When I get home, despite all the new ideas and scenes rattling around my brain, the only thing I want is food and Tumblr, in that order.   So I tell myself, just spend a little while on Tumblr, then go write.  You’ll have plenty of time to write.

Cue obnoxious, braying laughter, because five hours later I’m still on Tumblr.

I am a selectively competitive person, and NaNo is always included in that selection, so I had to figure out a game plan.  Social media, blogging, email, all those distractions and open tabs were too tempting.  I would check one or the other, just for a second, and lose thirty minutes.  When it happened in the morning before work, which was my prime writing window, I knew I had to make a change.

So, bye-bye internet.

I turned the wifi off.  I tossed the phone (gently) to the other side of the room.  I put on a music mix, and got down to business.

It was horrible.  Like being Tom Hanks on Castaway and fixing your own dental problems.  Like reaching for the bowl of chips and discovering you already ate the last one and didn’t realize.

In no way was this easy.  I turned the wifi on multiple times in a fit of childish stompy feet.  I justified it in every way possible.  Then I sighed, acknowledged what I was doing, and turned it off again.  I messed up, so I tried again.

And again.  And again.  And after a while I didn’t miss the internet.  I would even forget I hadn’t turned it off because I got straight to writing, bypassing go, not worrying about the $200.  It took time.  It took doing it over and over.   And it took being calm with myself, acknowledging that I didn’t meet my goal, but saying try again.  This is writing, not open heart surgery.  If you mess up, only fictional people may die, but they can be resurrected.  You can try again.  And again.

It’s become second nature to judge and taunt or belittle ourselves mercilessly when we make mistakes.  After all, that’s all we see when we look at social media or the news or the people around us.  It’s become “acceptable” and expected to kick people when they’re down, to expose their faux pas for all to see, and to rip them to shreds in a duel edged and misguided attempt to shame them into doing better while elevating ourselves as above them.  Then, when we screw up, we turn the same viciousness on ourselves and become depressed and angry when it doesn’t help us improve.

I can’t work under that kind of negativity.  I refuse to.  For too long I did that to myself and to others and it did nothing but make me feel like dirt.  It took years to come out of that.  I love myself, I love my imperfections, and I screw up.  I’m human, but my mistakes do not define me or my writing.  So I just acknowledge that I fell short, that I need to dust off my knees, and try again.

And that was not meant to turn into some kind of inspirational rant, but whatever.  Sometimes those happen, too.  The main point is, NaNo helped guide me back into self discipline.  Making a new habit, especially a productive one, takes time.  Takes vigilance.  But more than that, it takes guts to look at yourself with compassion and say, hey, you fell short.  Let’s try again.

Cheers.

 

NaNo Lessons: The Crazy Ideas

Wild.  Hair brained.  Weird.  Fantastic.  What the hell are you drinking and can you stop.  You know what kind of ideas I’m talking about.  They’re the ones that creep into your head while you’re trying to write something else.  Something more professional.  Something that actually, you know, makes sense.  These ideas come to us when our brains are too constricted by boundaries that mean well, but aren’t always necessary.

If you’re like me, or any other writer, you get doubts.  You write something off the wall and think, no one is gonna get this, or this is taking it too far.  Those little doubts nibble their way in through the skin and bed down like ticks that turn into wire that turn into fences and before you realize it, they are restricting your craft and imagination.

Well, get out the tweezers and the cigarette lighter, because it’s time to pull those ticks out and kill them dead.

Starting NaNo I had a PLAN.  An outline, one that was logical and cool and had just the right amount of surprises, or so I thought.  Within a week of writing to that outline my brain rebelled.  I got so b o r e d.  Well, okay, I thought.  Let me just scrap it and see what happens.

“Time travel!” my brain screamed.

“Um.”

“And orphans.  And a wagon train.  And throw in that freak lightning storm with the teenage thunderbird.”

“I don’t think–”

“DO IT.”

I rebelled against my brain for a while.  I waffled and poked at the bloated carcass of my outline, all the while falling behind in my word count.  I was so damn invested in that outline, even though I knew and posted that outlines are changeable.  Still.  It bugged me.  I wanted to stick to a plan, to write the right way for once.

And that’s when it hit me.  I had doubt ticks, a rash of them, stuck in me.

Doubt ticks are invasive little critters.  They crawl in the cracks left by insecurity and make a home for themselves.  I wanted to be “professional”.  I wanted to write to a logical formula.

I was trying to write like someone else.

I am a messy person.  A messy writer.  My life and mind is chaos and I don’t make logic leaps, I make intuitive leaps.  More often than not, if I trust those intuitive leaps, I end up being right.  That is me, that is how I work, but I still admire people who are neat and organized and can churn things out with a formula.  But there is a big difference between admiring someone else’s methods and holding them up as The Way I Should Write.

Pulling doubt ticks out is hard.  Setting them on fire is satisfying.  I wrote the weird time travel wagon train with orphans and the angsty teenage thunderbird.  It made no sense for the overall story and will, probably, never see the light of day.  But you know what?  It was FUN.  It was ME.  And getting the idea out on paper put it in the light where I could see all the ways it wouldn’t work, and the smaller pieces that did.

Plus, once that crazy idea was out, it was like clearing the blockage in a stopped up sink.  My writing sessions went smoother.  Ideas –some crazy, some not– flowed through.  Writing through the crazy opened up the other parts of my brain that made the intuitive leaps and produced material that will end up in the final version.

And, through it all, I got a better handle on what my story is really about.

New Short Story!

So, remember how I mentioned I have two new short stories I was going to put up?  Well, the first is ready!

Kill the Writer

“Choices, left in our incompetent hands, lead to thought, lead to opinion, lead to clash of opinions, lead to art.”

In a world run by the Formula, a rigid system that dictates every part of life, picking up a pen is a death sentence–

It’s also revolutionary.

This short story is available on Gumroad here.  Kill the Writer is free, so when you go to purchase you can enter 0.00 in the box (or a higher amount if you’re so inclined, and I appreciate that!) and click ‘I want this!’

Kill the Writer is a bundle that comes in PDF, Mobi, and ePub versions for your convenience.  It will also be available on Amazon within the next few days.

Cheers!

Coming in from the cold

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A lull in the storm. Not pictured: Howling, 50mph winds from the bowels of Hades with cutting, razor teeth, and crazy drivers.

My part of Texas is currently experiencing epic blizzard conditions at the moment, and I have to tell you, all that snow?  Entirely unwelcome here.  It can go take a hike in some other state, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to.  So I am going to sit here in my bed, my little dog warming my feet, and pretend Jared Padalecki is going to come in with cups of hot cider and keep me company.

*drools*

Anyway, with the weather and time off for the holiday, I’ve had some more time to write, and I can finally update the blog!  I didn’t forget about it, but the holidays are the worst time for me to do anything here with all the preparations and coming down off my NaNo high.  Now that I’m pretty much snowed in for the next couple days, I will be lining up posts to breathe some life back into the site.  😀

First up, my writing projects:

I am knee deep in work for my NaNo novel, the next Witches of Texas book.  It’s coming along nicely.  I took a break from revising and writing to do some brainstorming and plan out what I want to keep or cut.  The result is cutting a lot of what I wrote during the first part of NaNo, but I’m happy with that.  Most of that was crap and did not jive with the overall story at all.  The writing I produced near the end of November actually had good merit, so I’m parsing that away from the rest and building around it.

I wrote short stories!  Two of them so far.  One takes place within the Witches of Texas universe, the other does not.  I’ll be posting them after another round of editing, so be on the lookout.  I have plans for a couple more shorts; additional news on them when they are underway.

Second up, my NaNo reports:

This NaNo was a great one.  Hands down, I had fun, I learned (and re-learned) some important writing lessons, and I churned out some good material at the end.  Some of the things I learned were:

  • Outlines change.  You can maybe keep 10% of an outline by the time you’re done writing.  And that’s okay.
  • You need to test out all your ideas.  Yes, even the wacky time travel one where they end up babysitting a passel of kids while traveling wagon-train style through the wilderness.  (Yes, I really did write that in November.)
  • Self-discipline is hard, but oh, so worth it.  Turning off the internet greatly aids the process.
  • It takes writing a ton of garbage before you can find your character’s true voice.  Even a character you’ve known and written for a long time.
  • Throwing everything and the kitchen sink at your characters’ heads might feel too over the top, but it keeps the writing interesting and the writer interested in continuing.  Excessiveness can be fixed in editing, but lack of excitement can kill the story before it’s ever finished.

I’ll expand more on those in the coming days.  Suffice to say, this NaNo was productive and educational, and I’m happy with what I wrote.

Now it’s off to make some breakfast and finish editing those short stories.  Doesn’t look like Jared Padalecki will be stopping by anytime soon with that cider.  Ah, well.  A girl can dream.

Cheers!

NaNoWriMo: Day 30

NaNo-2015-Winner-Banner

You can’t see me right now, but I’m smiling sleepily and blowing my nose.  Another NaNoWriMo has come to an end.  I’ve clocked in at 50,642 this year.  The novel is by no means done, which means I’ll be continuing into December to finish my first draft, but I’ll expand more on that later with a proper blog post about the things I learned this NaNo, the challenges I encountered, and why I owe, like, half of my entire word count to Shinedown’s new album.

Until then, I think I’m going to get some much deserved sleep.

Cheers, y’all.

NaNoWriMo Day 13

NaNo day 13

So, you’ve probably noticed I stopped posting after day 6.  This has been that week.  That week comes at different times during every November.  It’s something that cannot be avoided or remedied, only lived through.  Mine started with getting sick, so I wasn’t able to get sufficient word count in.  Then my dog got hurt and I’ve been up most nights with her.  Then we were short staffed at work, and so on and so forth.

That week always happens.  There’s a time where things, inevitably, go wrong all at once and the outside world demands your attention and energy.  I’ve been so exhausted after every day that all I can do is fire off a couple hundred words, queue up Netflix, and eat before trying to sleep.

So, from one NaNo vet, just remember, it’s okay.  Things go wrong.  You fall behind.  You will not always make your word count goal.  That doesn’t mean you should just give up, just cut yourself some slack for being human.

As it stands tonight, I’m about 5,000 words behind.  Not as bad as I feared, because I’ve had some of those weeks in previous years that left me 10, 15, even 20,000 words behind.  Even those were okay in the end.  I worked until I could make them up once the week was over and I could breathe.

And that’s the secret to remember.  Just breathe.  Your story is inside you and is not going away anytime soon.  Breathe.  You can always make up your word count later, just take a look and find some time when it’s calmed down.  Breathe.

November is not the only time you have to write this story.  And winning NaNo is not the stick by which to measure your worth as a writer.

Just breathe.

My week has come to an end.  Friday is here with now until midnight for me to make up what I lack and get on with the story.  My story is going to be just fine, and so am I.  And so are you.

Just breathe.