Fiction about not writing fiction – Vol. 3

// – You can read Part 1 here, or Part 2 here. Or just dive right in, go for it! – //

Identity Crisis

Can I call myself a writer now? Am I a proper writer if I’ve never been published? Is it weird to tell people I’m a writer when I only have a blog post about my failed NaNoWriMo attempts to show for it?

These are the sorts of questions that all writers (or whoever) grapple with at some point in their life.

Eddie Mars was grappling with these very questions while he tried to update his Twitter bio.

“Writer, gamer, biscuit lover” 

He mashed the backspace button in embarrassment.

“Science fiction aFICTIONnado”

Stupid – backspace.

“Aspiring author. Fan of Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica. #MountainUnbeliever”

Aspiring – the word felt accurate, but flimsy. Insulting. He deleted the whole thing.

“Can’t think of what to say here, existential crisis, lol send help”

That was the most eloquent summary of his Twitter-self he had thought of all day.

‘Can you even call yourself aspiring if you’ve only written 200 words in the past month?’

Eddie froze. If he’d had hackles they’d have been raised. He had definitely heard it that time. ‘Hello?’ he called as loud as he could. One of his housemates called back, but they were too distant to have been the original culprit. ‘Who said that?’ he hissed. There was no verbal response, even when he repeated the question. He eyed the glass of wine that sat beside his laptop, and wondered if that was the culprit.

‘It’s not.’

Eddie grasped the edge of his desk and closed his eyes. His head started to spin slightly. ‘Ok…’ he said, unsure how else to respond to an unplaceable ghostly remark. It had to be a glitch in his perception, that was all. A product of alcohol, a creative mindset, and probably also something to do with the blue light in the computer. He threw an old used tissue into the wine glass to stop himself from drinking any more of it, and his eyes fell back on the empty Twitter bio box. The cursor was blinking at him, mocking him.

He closed his laptop and –

‘Well if you can’t even write a Twitter bio…’

‘Right!’ He wrenched the laptop open and hammered his password in. “Writer-ish”.

‘That’ll do!’ he snapped, to Twitter, to the empty air, and to himself. The only sound left in the room was Eddie’s own wheezing breath above the tired whir of his laptop. He strained his ears for any whisper. ‘I need to calm the fuck down,’ he told himself.

Still, despite their probable non-existence, the words had dug at something sore at the back of Eddie’s mind. Can you really call yourself aspiring…?

He jammed his headphones as far into his ears as they would go and stared at the laptop screen before him, blinkering his eyes with his hands. He was still on his empty Twitter feed. He’d read an article somewhere – about a dozen of them in fact – that said authors need to be social now, even if it is just online. Gone are the days of hermitage and creative isolation; no more recluses, no more Salingers or Pynchons. The marketplace is crowded; she with the most retweets wins.

Eddie knew, of course he knew, that you can’t promote a novel that doesn’t exist. But you can damn well promote yourself. And was that definitely a bad thing?

‘Fuck it.’ He switched to a more electronically aggressive Spotify playlist and went to WordPress.

‘What are you going to blog about that hasn’t been said a thousand -‘

‘Shut up shut up shut up!’

Writing is writing is writing, I suppose. I hope so, anyway. Maybe we should both get going now back to Word or Scivenger, or whatever you’re working with.

At least when I hit that ‘publish’ button I can call myself a writer again for a bit. A blog post gets you a week, I’d say. But the year I got from that short story is due to expire.

 

JJ.

Fiction about not writing fiction – Vol. 2

// – You can read part one here – //

Delusions of grandeur.

What keeps you going when you’re writing? What makes you spend your precious free time staring at a glaring white page, or agonising over whether to use a more descriptive verb than ‘he said’ this time?

Let me guess – you just have to write to get the words out? Or maybe you’ve wanted to do this since you were a teenager, and since you can’t really think of an alternative it just kind of stuck? Maybe you have a story that just needs to be told, or you’ve already told your story to several people and it would be weird if you didn’t actually write it now?

Eddie Mars had a way of reminding himself why he started writing. It helped him get through the day. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower and, as he does most days now, he talked to himself.

‘So Eddie, thanks for joining us,’ he muttered, safe in the assumption that if anyone was pressing their ear to the other side of the door they wouldn’t be able to hear his voice above the running water.

‘That’s no problem,’ Eddie responded back to himself.

‘So, I want to talk about your new book, Tale of the umm…  somethingsomething. So where did the idea come from?’

‘Well, Jonathan, it’s a funny story,’ Eddie said, rubbing conditioner into his hair. ‘I was lucky enough to get my first big break with Clarkesworld. They published a short story of mine, Neil Gaiman retweeted it, and, well’ he paused to smile, for effect, ‘it all just took off from there.’

Eddie paused, and revelled in the giddy swoon his daydream produced. This feeling of expectation, and the drive to be someone who affected others through the simple act of stringing words together – this is how he knew he wanted to be a writer.

Eddie didn’t have time to write anything before work that day, and at lunch he opted to stretch his legs in the park rather than get a chapter in, but the conversation that morning had inspired a feeling of importance that lingered throughout the day. Pride in the intention, belief in the artistic value, and identity in the daydream; those are what make up a writer. Written words are simply physical evidence, we get around to them.

When he returned home he rushed up to his room, turned on his laptop, and sat himself in front of his mirror to practice his Hugo Award acceptance speech.

And I know what you’re thinking. Cart before the horse and all that. But you try working 9-5 in a job you don’t like, and come home and be ready to simply produce. Writing is time-consuming and difficult, and sometimes-

‘I read somewhere that Jack Kerouac wrote his novels during his lunch breaks.’

That voice again – Eddie kicked the mirror with a start and just caught it before it swung down on his head.

‘Hello?’ he asked, hands shaking as he replaced the mirror against the wall. ‘That’s not funny.’

There was no response, and Eddie was afraid to speak again. He looked at his own reflection and saw a pair of wide, watery eyes, irises ringing by too much white. He sat there for a few moments, sharing a moment of mutual confusion with his mirror-self, until enough time had passed to forget the immediacy of the voice and rationalise it again as an unfortunate collision of personality and environmental factors. The pipes are squeaking. The house is settling. I’ve drunk way too much coffee today.

‘I need to get to work,’ he thought to himself, finally sitting at the desk.

Truer words were never spoken. But really, I like to think that Jack Kerouac spent at least 90% of the time that he wasn’t writing or thinking about writing, thinking about being a writer. You can’t really call it your dream job unless you actually dream about it, right?

My mirror-self agrees.

JJ.

Fiction about not writing fiction.

Procrastination Station.

Are you struggling to get a single word on the page today? Have you been sitting in front of your laptop for the past two hours googling fan art of your favourite bi-monthly podcast or Netflix original series? How many times today have you muttered ‘I really actually work better at night anyway, this is pretty normal for me, just need to get all the distractions and weird impulses out of my system..’?

At least one time, I bet.

Eddie Mars is just like you: a victim of procrastination. He was handed a Golden Opportunity – a bank holiday weekend – and he woke up on Saturday morning absolutely determined to make the most of it. To be the fabulously productive writer he dreamed of being.

His aims were vague but ambitious. He wanted to get a few more chapters written in the old first draft. He was going to edit a thing he wrote a while ago, get it all polished up for publication, maybe try a few prompts or free-writing exercises to change things up a bit.

‘It shouldn’t take that long to edit the short story, really,’ Eddie said. That was several hours ago, in the murky unused depths of this morning. ‘But maybe I’ll just watch a quick episode of OITNB first.’

And now here he is. Still sitting at his desk three cafetieres of coffee later and the only thing he’s achieved today is a bad hand-drawn sketch of a character he hasn’t written a single thing about in days. He’s not even an artist – literally, no knowledge of how to draw – and the whole stupid attempt just made him feel worse about not doing the thing he is supposed to actually love and be sort of sometimes good at. Unfulfilled good intentions are becoming the norm for Eddie.

‘And you can’t even blame it on writer’s block, Eddie Mars.’ 

Eddie jumped so violently his knees hit the underside of his desk and sent his pencil rolling to the floor.

‘Wha-?’ He listened for the ghostly voice to repeat itself, knee throbbing and fingertips pricking with a confused rush of adrenaline. But all he could hear was the familiar tinkling of his ‘#amwriting’ Spotify playlist, and the damning sound of his own not-typing. He cautiously settled himself back into his seat and brushed off the disembodied criticism as too much caffeine and an overactive imagination.

‘But do you know…’ he mused, ‘I might have like, attention deficit or something.’

He knew he didn’t, but he typed it into google anyway.

Don’t be like Eddie. Get something done today. Have a glass of wine or go somewhere public maybe – a cafe or something, where people can see over your shoulder and judge you for coming to a cafe only to scroll on Facebook for half an hour. Or maybe write a blog post about yourself as a fictional third person instead, I don’t know, just get some words down.

(Or, y’know, just do it tomorrow instead. The world won’t end if you get nothing written today. Not even the fictional one you’re holding in your head.)

JJ.

Writerly Resolutions for 2015

Christmas is a time for sitting around and doing as little as possible, for as long as possible. Getting up at 2pm, not showering for days, binge-watching films and TV shows you never really wanted to watch – it’s the only time of the year when you have permission to do fuck all and no one can say anything to you.

But now the festive period is over. The tree must come down tomorrow, and we must all once again start doing something with our lives!

And so, it is time to make the dreaded New Year’s Resolutions.

New Year, same sort of goals:

  • To submit a short story for publication somewhere;
  • For that short story to get published somewhere;
  • To complete the first draft of my novel.

Obviously the second one relies on someone else deciding that my work merits publication, but I thought that goal two might motivate me to hurry up and get goal one ticked off. No one’s going to publish a blank page, ha…

As for the novel writing, I have a huge chunk done (thank you NaNo) but keeping up the commitment of writing everyday will be difficult, especially after two weeks of sitting around at home doing nothing but eating and reading The Hunger Games (thank you Suzanne Collins).

The Hunger Games were really good by the way, I would recommend them. 

PS, goal number four:

  • Update blog more frequently and with things that are more substantial than the above.

I am sure you are glad to hear.

JJ.

5 things I learned doing NaNoWriMo 2014.

After many, many failed attempts over the past few years, and after many many hours spent in the library after work over the past month, I can finally say it…

I completed NaNoWriMo!

Winner-2014-Web-Banner

And I am very proud of myself, which I think I am allowed to be. I now have the first 50,000 words of my novel out on paper – 50,000 words that have been bouncing around my head for the last few years, finally written down. It is not the full novel, but it is a great start, and I am feeling seriously motivated to get it finished in the next year.

Now NaNo is over I am able to breathe a little and think about the whether or not this challenge has been beneficial. (‘It ended like two weeks ago,’ I hear you say. Well, I was celebrating. A lot. Too much). And so, here are five things I learned about myself during NaNoWriMo 2014:

1 – I can write 50,000 in a month!

This may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but it is a revelation. Since I have a full-time 9-5 finding the time and energy to write every day is difficult. My NaNo-ing schedule was thus: 2,000 words every weekday, 2,500 over the weekend (this was with the expectation that I would take one weekend day off). I mostly stuck to the schedule and achieved the daily quota by sitting in the library from 5pm-8pm and forcing myself through the words. I would usually get just over half way before the spirit of laziness and procrastination launched an attack on my brain and made it suddenly very important that I play a few rounds of Temple Run, but was able to struggle through to 2,000 most days.

It showed me that I always have time to write, and that I can get a huge amount done when I am able to concentrate.

2 – I could not write 50,000 every month.

Because it’s hard. And really tiring. And I had to skip a few social events to do it. Maybe every other month?

3 – When I don’t write, I get moody.

I am not sure if this was always the case or something that developed as a result of writing to a challenge, but if I came home from the library without my 2,000 words done, I could pretty much guarantee that I was going to be feeling miserable for the whole evening. At least, I would always realise this in hindsight, and it is easy to see the pattern now. This was particularly a problem for me in the final week when I fell majorly behind target. I was feeling ill that week, and the further behind I fell, the iller I felt, mostly because I would lay around feeling angry and sorry for myself. I fell so behind that I had to do the final 10,000 words on the last day.

I don’t know how to respond to this observation, other than to try and recognise when I am in a bad mood and not be so hard on myself. Or maybe I should write more. Or maybe both? I think both.

4 – Self-editing is a difficult habit to put aside.

And I didn’t realise I did it so much. When your aim is to get a certain number of words done that day, there is no time to just go back and change that one thing. That one thing will have to wait, because you have to write about 689 more things before you can stop for the day. There are whole sections of the 50,000 draft that I know will have to be changed – for example, one of the main characters completely changes name, age, and gender in the space of a few sentences. I’m going to have to go back and have another look at that bit. But there was no time for it in November.

It is, in a way though, quite liberating. You feel like you’re getting so much more done by ploughing on with it than you would have done if you kept stopping and going back. Save the red pen for later. You can’t edit a blank page, and all that.

5 – Deviation is fun.

Feeling bored? Writer’s block? There is no time for that shit in this business. What your brain needs is to be thrown into a lake of half-formed thoughts and ordered to swim. Waken up, brain.

At least that is how I overcame writer’s block. I created a new character and would divert to her storyline, which is still very much undecided, when my carefully crafted outline was holding me back. Injecting something new into the known was not only fun, but it helped give my mind a break from thinking over the characters and plot details it had been wrangling with for years. As a wise woman once said, ‘Let it go, let it go.’ This is useful, when there is no time for real breaks.

Bonus thing – NaNoWriMo is a good kickstarter, but I couldn’t do it every month.

And luckily no one is asking me to! But deadlines seem to be a good thing, so for 2015 I will be setting a few of my own to follow, and may well throw in a few mini NaNo-type weeks to keep up the momentum.

If you did NaNo this year, whether you succeeded or not, well done to you! Even just trying to commit to this sort of challenge is a good statement of trust in oneself. There are certainly drawbacks to NaNo (see references to mistake-riddled draft, above) but it adds a sense of pressure and consequence to your daily writing routine that is difficult to feel when you are unpublished and without anyone actually waiting to read the draft.

(Like me!)

JJ.