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.

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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.

I hereby commit to less Netflix.

Participant-2014-Web-Banner

I thought it would be a great idea to publicly commit to taking part in National Novel Writing Month this year. Now I have the expectations of my readers – all one of you! – resting heavy on my shoulders.

NaNoWhatOh? 

Everytime I tell my mother that I am taking part in NaNoWriMo she asks me what it is. NaNo is basically a personal challenge – the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month, and there are forums and word trackers available on the site to help motivate you and remind you every time you look just how much progress you have made.

I will one day fill that little word counter bar with the bluey greatness of my creativity!

Past failures.

This will be the third year I am taking part in NaNo. I can’t really remember much about the first year I did it because I forgot I was planning on taking part almost immediately. Last year I had a well-meaning stab, but I had extended essays due and a College Ball to run – excuses, I know! I logged 2246 words nonetheless, which I know is shit but will claim as a valiant effort.

Future glory!

The outline is almost finished, the novel has been added to NaNo’s website, and I have been going to the library after work every day (yes, even before dinner) to prepare for the gruelling road ahead. I’m thinking 2,000 a weekday and 2,500 over the weekend. Yeah. YEAH!

The project I’m working on this year is the exact same one I attempted last year, and the time before that, but with some awesome additions and much better planning. I don’t want to give away too much about the plot (that’s inner circle info right there) but it’s something I’ve been enthusiastically adding to for many years, and am finally at the point where I feel I can write it. I know I said that last year too, but last-year-self was talking shite.

Word count.

I’m going to pin my word count bar to the front page of this blog for all to see, and will try to update it frequently as I go. I would say I am going to create weekly update posts, but I’m way too flakey and busy for that, and instead maywrite one large self-evaluation at the end of the month.

If anyone else out there is NaNo-ing, leave a comment! Hell, you can even make me your writing buddy. I promise to be totally non-threatening. Progress-wise, anyway.

JJ.

The notebook. (No, not that one).

Part 1: the proper tools.

I have a novel idea (in both senses of the word, ha) and over the last few weeks I have set to work writing out plans, thinking out character arcs, and all the other things you are supposed to do before you can convert brain waves into Word documents. The plot for this novel has been knocking around inside my skull for about five years, and though there have been a few false starts before, I really feel like I’ve got the whole thing pinned down and ready to write now. So, itching to get some words out, the first thing I did was, of course, go to every stationary shop in town and stare at the notebooks.

I like to handwrite my drafts, you see – my laptop is too clunky to haul between home and work everyday and is filled with games and Netflix and other destroyers of concentration. From an artistic perspective, it also just feels more creative to write things by hand: the words just flow out a little easier, and it imbues one with a kind of wanky pretentiousness that makes all those infodumps and rogue passive verbs feel positively Shakespearean. So I thought I would celebrate the decision to try and get this novel down by swapping my tatty bits of file paper for a sleeker, spiral-bound solution.

What happened next will blow your mind!

I couldn’t find one I liked. It was a waste of time. However, when I got home later that night I noticed a little black leather bound notebook buried away on my bookshelf. I remembered then that this little book was given to me two years before on my birthday by a group of close friends; I had never written in it, wanting to save it for something special. It occurred to me that this little notebook could be the perfect thing to start writing my novel in – what words are more special than the first proper draft of the novel you’ve been working on since you were seventeen?

That’s when the doubt set in. This notebook is seriously nice – beautiful black leather on the outside, unruled ivory card on the inside, and my friends’ names wishing me well inside the front cover. Could I spoil it by scribbling in stories of witches and monsters? I mean, I am pretty good at making myself barrel straight a through something and leaving the word-cull til last, but my spelling is atrocious, I change my mind on character names all the time, and I never finish anything anyway. I’d only ruin it.

Part 2: the proper attitude.

All I can say to those thoughts are ‘fuck you’. I was essentially deciding that the words I want to write aren’t worth the paper they are written on. Mad at myself for being such a coward, I immediately broke out the fanciest pen I own and scrawled the words ‘Myths and Legends’ at the top of the first page. (This later proved to be a bad idea when the outline I intended to write of the novel’s internal mythology turned into an overall plot summary, but still).

If you don’t have any confidence in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to. Literally no one is ever going to notice or care that my fancy notebook is full of scribbles – if anyone does ever look at it, they will instead see that it is filled with something important to me: the elusive novel I have spent the last few years going on about.

The moral: always write in fancy notebooks.

I played a game recently called The Novelist. In the game you are asked to make a series of choices on the behalf of the game’s protagonist and his family, and what you choose affects how successful the novelist’s career and family life end up. At one point you are asked to choose whether to spend a bit of extra money you have on placing an advert for your novel in a magazine, or on a family-related matter; in my playthrough I chose the family, and my novelist wrote later in his little journal that his belief in himself was shaken. He took it as a vote of no-confidence in his writing.

This is why I use my fancy notebook now. It is a vote of confidence in myself, and in my ability; something every writer, artist, poet, dancer, or anyone else who is attempting to create something needs to have before they can expect anyone else to believe in them too.

In the wise words of Journey, don’t stop believing.

*Much applause and emotional scenes from the audience*

JJ.

Edit 13th Nov: As of today I have filled that notebook from cover to cover with my scribblings, and moved on to an equally beautiful and special new one. Who would have thoughts that notebooks could give you such feels?

Writing to get the bugs out.

When I first started this blog, I set myself a few writing-based goals. The first of those goals was ‘to write one short story every fortnight’.

Progress so far: I totally forgot I was going to do that, and so haven’t, even though it seems like it would be a really good idea.

Now observe, as I masterfully construct my excuses!

I had revision and final exams, which I think are pretty good reasons to put personal and creative writing aside for a bit. After that I embarked on a new schedule made up of equal parts sleep, Netflix, socialising, and job-hunting – activities which had also been forsaken in the run-up to finals. Now I have found myself some employment and a place to live, I can finally turn my attention to my true ambition:

I will write all the words!!

Although I haven’t kept up with my targets, I have been writing since I set that initial goal for myself : I’ve written two fairly long but incomplete SF shorts, and one much longer, completed slash fic (I was really bored, and why not?). The slash fic is actually the best thing I’ve written in a while, and not just because… y’know, sex!! but because of actual proper quality of writing (if I do say so myself).

My idea notebook has not been neglected, though, and has been dutifully filled with every scrap and whisper of creative thought that my mind has created.

There is a point to this post.

I did learn one thing during this period of inactivity – writing is a very powerful tool for emotional expression. Duh, I hear you say, but let me elaborate.

Recently I have had a few stressful nights – pacing room, muttering to self, tearing hair out, that sort of night – and found myself ill-equipped to deal with the bad emotions. You see, I am usually very good at dealing with stress: I would say that the word stress is not in my vocabulary if I hadn’t already used it a few times. However, my methods for dealing with stress are not the most constructive, and so I have been trying some new techniques recently. These new techniques are nothing more elaborate than actually feeling my feelings rather than suppressing them, but it means a whole lot of alien emotions for me!

Hence, stress.

Writing your feels.

When the pacing stops and the boiling pot of emotional soup has cooled a bit, I have found myself getting the urge to write – more accurately, I have found myself getting the urge to articulate and explore the bad emotions via keyboard bashing. So I sat down and allowed myself to be completely honest and write unfiltered, with no consideration of audience and no expectation of sanity.

The result scared the shit out of me. I produced some of the sickest (in all senses of the word) writing that I have ever produced. Articulating my thoughts showed me how desperately confused and scary they were. I found myself being incredibly scathing towards anyone whose face dared to flicker behind my eyes while I was busy venting; I found myself being especially scathing about myself.

It was the first time in a long time that I wrote with ease and with true passion; even if the emotion was negative, the writing was electric. Maybe it was because the scraps I wrote were definitely going to remain private, or because there was no need to consider plot or editing, but those words were honest and frightening.

Much catharsis.

I am probably sounding quite melodramatic, but it was like that thing that people sometimes do on TV when they tell someone to respond to a question quickly without thinking in the hopes of getting a truthful response. I think that little trick is complete bullshite, but writing without any of the pressures of audience or quality produced the mythical response that quipping sitcom folk seek.

How does this relate to writing short stories or longer bits with the intention of sharing? Well I personally feel a similar release when drafting stories on paper with pen before typing – it allows the mind to say what it wants with no little red squiggles or autocorrect to put you off. When you’re typing you can edit as you go. When you’re writing in pen you have to just let it all spill out unless you want a confusing mass of lines crossing your page (which can, in themselves, actually be quite satisfying). No one is going to read the first draft of a story when it’s scribbled at the back of a notebook, so there is no need to filter. Just get it down.

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is that I feel like I have found a way of writing that allows me to be totally honest and just get to the point of what I want to say (you couldn’t have used it when writing this post? I hear you ask). I feel like the staleness that sometimes comes with committing yourself to a writing project has been shaken off. Maybe I was just putting too much pressure on myself before, but sometimes hitting that flow is difficult, and turning off the critical part of your mind is impossible. It took me a while to find a way to stop quivering in front of my screen, thinking Oh God, what will my yet-to-exist audience think?; now I have learned how to just grab a pen and scribble, and not be afraid of the consequences.

There may be some reading this thinking that it’s all very obvious and that I’m over-thinking, and to that I say fuck off! Over-thinking is natural, even necessary in writing! But so is letting go and just writing without placing any expectations on yourself.

Is creating art more about letting go or over-thinking? Are both processes mutually exclusive? These are the questions we must ask of ourselves. Or maybe we shouldn’t.

JJ.