Hello and welcome to a creatively frustrated and mildly indulgent edition of Just Another struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
I know it’s only been a few short weeks since I lamented the very real, exceedingly likely possibility that I will not be participating in NaNoWriMo this year, but already I am starting think about scrambling something together. It’s not so much that I really want to exhaust and stress myself out for 30 days straight the third year running, it’s more that I just really miss being in the weeds of a writing project.
(No disrespect meant to my Short But Sweet Pillar-verse, of course, but there’s a reason I’m not presently drafting it as a novel, after all.)
Last week I thought I might be ready to try my hand a wildly different version of Border Towns, but after a bit of sleep and a maelstrom of brainstorming, I realized that though that reimagined draft may come to fruition one day, that day is nowhere near at hand. Border Towns, loathe though I may be to admit it, has to go back in the ground as a seed, just as it was 5 years ago when I first conceived of it.
But that itch it write, to create, to commiserate and celebrate with fellow writers about the pitfalls and successes, to pour out my mind and my heart and my soul onto the page, to edit and refine, to be a writer again, that never went away. It never goes away, as I’m sure many you can attest. And it’s all becoming a bit more than I can handle, frankly. I have reached a kind of critical mass where I either explode into a fit of unbridled creativity or I collapse in on myself like a dying star and give up completely on the dream of ever seeing my writing published.
The anxiety-brain, always: anything you write now would be forced and chaotic since it hasn’t had time to develop, therefore it would be a phenomenal waste of time to put any amount of energy into a new project, and you’re only going to hate it, and yourself, later, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
And the thing is, all of that might be true. Except the part about it being a waste of time. Because… what I’m doing now is already a waste of time. Waiting for the AHA moment that may never come is a waste of time. Procrastinating putting in real effort into developing myself as a writer by drafting new novels, even if they are destined for the trunk, is a waste of time. Writing, for a writer, could never be a waste of time.
So, I tempt fate. What’s the worst that could happen?
Yesterday I posted a poll to my Twitter: if I wanted to say screw it and start writing again, which new project should it be? It got exactly three votes. One for each of the suggestions. Cue the facepalming. But, this morning I made the decision for myself. I know which project I’m tackling next. I would say I’m hyped but I’m actually still pretty nervous. That anxiety-brain aint quiet. But I don’t care. I’ve made a decision and that, for me, is always one of the biggest hurdles.
Next week I’ll introduce the working title and concepts of the new project. This week, though, I’ve gotta figure out… what those are. Until next time friends, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Oop, almost forgot the Short But Sweet Prompt:
She was absolutely sure she would be weeping all night.
Hello and welcome to a post-hiatus, another-one-of-those edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Well, let’s get right into it yall. It’s no secret that, thanks to my lack of active project to work on plus the new content schedule for the blog, I’ve done a lot more reading than I’ve done writing of late. It should come as no surprise that this has been a great way to refill my creative well, and as such, I am starting to feel the itch to get back to writing. But this time, the itch has come with a difficult realization.
When I shelved Border Towns while I mulled a major revision, I was still sold on the concept and the core story arc. I was convinced that, though un-fantasyish in many ways, it was a fantasy story that I would want to read and if I wanted to read it, surely there would be others out there who would love it as well.
I started really devoting mental energy to developing that revision this week, and, as it so often happens, I got a bolt from the blue whilst lying in bed.
Border Towns, in its current conceptual form, is a bad book in which so little happens over the course of its 120k plus words it would laughable, if I wasn’t so horrified and embarrassed.
I touched on this 9 months ago when I ruminated if my fantasy was fantasy enough. Though my conclusion was in the negative, I was still enamored enough with my own story to believe that… it was still good enough to write anyway. I balked at the idea of adding elements that I had not originally planned on including.
Some significant distance has changed my mind on that, to say the least. Not only am I okay with changing the complexion of that original idea, I think it’s actually necessary if this novel ever wants to see the light of day. I can’t say I’m super thrilled about it, really, but the more and more I read, the more I have come to realize that my story idea, the one I have committed two drafts and a couple hundred thousand words (and countless untold hours not only writing, but brainstorming, worldbuilding, and obsessing over) just isn’t adequate as it stands today.
So I’m going back to the drawing board in an even bigger way than I thought. I don’t know if I’m excited. Resigned a little, I guess. Relieved, as always, to come to a decision. Daunted by task and doubtful of being equal to it. Hopeful that I’ve finally gotten over the hump that has held Border Towns back all this time.
This week’s Short But Sweet prompt (but for really real this time):
Damnation, such obsessed faith and flawed education!
This kind of reads dark, but I’m honestly not that down on myself or even Border Towns in general. I think this is the most clear eyed I’ve been about the subject. And without a timeline to hold myself to, I don’t feel panicked or rushed into making a decision I’m not comfortable with. I’m going to let my muse supply me with ideas as they come and actively brainstorm when she doesn’t. I’m gonna get it figured out, with the help of some good books and the knowledge that my struggles have all been had before, by people way more talented than me. They’ve been through it, and now so have I. And that gives me hope for the future of this stupid book.
Oops I got introspective again. Okay I’m really done now. Until next time, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hello and welcome to another fussy, self-indulgent edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
This week has been an ass-kicking for me at my day job, and so I find it to be something of a miracle that I’ve had any mental energy to do blog-stuff at all. That said, I’m gonna do a bit of whining in this post, so… consider yourself warned.
I got nothing.
We writers are no strangers to disappointment. Your dream agent responds to your query with a form rejection. You spend months on submission with no offers. Your self-pubbed title doesn’t return the numbers you had hoped. Being a writer of the handful-of-unfinished-ideas and-exactly-one-completed-first-draft-of-a-trunk-novel-and-that’s-about-it persuasion, my disappointments are a bit smaller in scope, but I feel them keenly all the same.
The thing getting me down of late has been the realization that I probably won’t be able to compete in NaNoWriMo this year.
I’m a planner, not just in writing but in every facet of my life. Every Monday morning, as soon as I get to my desk, I fill out the week’s events in my planner. I write in my schedule, I make a list of tasks, both work related and home related, I fill out a handy habit-tracker chart. Throughout the week I tick off the boxes of completed chores, and add new ones. I adjust my schedule as needed. I make little notes about my successes and failures. Even on my commute home, I’m organizing in my head what the first, second, and third things I need to do when I get there. I largely dislike surprises because a lot of my mental health is wrapped up in being prepared.
So believe me when I say, when it comes to NaNo, I can’t just wing it.
September is the month I typically spend brainstorming a NaNo project. My ideas usually need years of percolating before their ready to be developed, so when I choose one to blitz-write in November, it’s already somewhat matured.
This year, however, the fruit of my muse is woefully unripe, leaving me with three less than optimal choices.
Take another, exhausting crack at Border Towns. Spend September and October mentally working through the necessary revisions so I can dedicate my THIRD NOVEMBER IN A ROW to this WIP.
Un-repurpose the Pillar-verse, the setting I’ve been writing my Short But Sweet vignettes in, despite the fact that I know it’s a mess, I know it’s a trunk novel, and I’m having more fun with it in its current format.
Allow my “opus,” the novel I labored over for 10 years without ever getting beyond the 10k word mark, to resurface. I’ve matured a lot as a writer since I last took a crack at it and it could be fun. But I’ve already spent a decade of my life on it only for it to flop back into the depths of my brain.
Or. Just… forgo NaNo entirely. Spend this year percolating and brainstorming and be ready with a fresh project.
None of these choices feel great, honestly. And that’s disappointing to me. I enjoy NaNoWriMo. I mean, I hate it, but I enjoy it (much like writing in general). It succeeded two years running in actually getting me to put words on the page when I would otherwise procrastinate. I also like the feeling in the community in November. The rush, the exhaustion, the elation, the motivation. It would be a bummer to miss out on that because of poor timing with the tide of my creativity.
But, I also have to accept that it might be the right thing to do. It’s a disappointment, sure, but as far as disappointments go, it’s one I can live with.
This week’s Short But Sweet prompt:
Damnation, such obsessed faith and flawed education!
Or maybe… I’m just performing some Olympic level procrastinating and this is all my way of rationalizing it. So says the anxiety brain. In any case, thanks for joining my pity party. I’ll be back on Sunday with my answer to this week’s Short But Sweet prompt, and again on Tuesday with a Your Mileage May Vary review of N. K. Jemison’s Fifth Season (I’m at 63%, I think I can make it!). Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hello and welcome to another introspective, wakeup callish edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about my heretofore WIP (now trunked) Border Towns. If you’ve been with me on this journey since its inception, you might be familiar with my struggles with it (and subsequently a little bored of hearing about it). Well, strap in, because we’re taking another cruise through Border Towns.
About a year ago, I was approximately 8000 words into the second draft and I was stuck. No matter how many times I rewrote it, no matter how many ways I approached it, no matter how long I spent bashing my head against it, I could not get the inciting incident* right. I got distance from it, I came back to it. I told myself I was overthinking it and moved on from it. I came back to it. I stopped writing entirely. I came back to it.
Eventually I just scrapped the scene and wrote a hollowed out version of it just to get me through NaNo, but I was never quite satisfied. I told myself, and others, that I just couldn’t figure out why this scene was so difficult to write.
But… well, that was a lie. I’ve always known what was wrong with it. I just also thought I could force myself to make it work anyway.
The thing is, my main character, L, turned out to be a spitfire. She was spunky, she was decisive, she took absolutely no shit. I thought, as I wrote, hell yes this is a female character I want to read. The first version of that scene was no doubt its best iteration.
Then, I remembered that her inability to take charge and make hard choices was sort of the whole narrative thrust of the book. Getting the point where she would make a stand in the face of adversity was her entire character arc. If I let her be a spitfire now, what the hell would the rest of my story be about?
And the thing is, I’ve realized, is I should have just let myself… find out.
I’m a planner. I’ve expounded on that at length. I love outlining, and I love having my roadmap, and I absolutely fear the unknown. Despite that, I always thought that if presented with a case of the story taking on a mind of its own, I would let it. Yet here I was, resisting with all my might the idea that my character was going to be this way, from the beginning, whether I liked it or not. Would that change really have altered the trajectory of the story that much? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll never know now, because instead of letting L take the reins, I forced myself to remain inside the extremely rigid box of what was, in my own mind, canon.
Man, I was an idiot. But that’s what first novels are for, right? Making mistakes and, if you’re good enough, learning from them.
I find myself wondering now if Border Towns can be salvaged by starting fresh with this new perspective in mind. But, even if it can’t (after all, my struggles with Border Towns did not begin and end with L’s characterization), I’ve learned a valuable lesson I could have sworn I already knew.
On this winding, wandering, wild road trip I call writing, let the damned characters do the driving.
Mental Health Check-In: Last week turned out to be the perfect black hole for productivity. Busy day job, doctor appointments, birthdays, and my main hobby coming out with some attention grabbing things. The anxiety brain was loud as each day passed without any blog-work getting done, telling me I failed and this is why I will always fail, because I won’t prioritize writing, yadda yadda yadda. That said, one of the biggest hurdles I’ve overcome with my mental health this year, is knowing that no matter how many times I fail, I can always get up and try again. So here I am, back on track, and with a reminder to be kind to yourself. Thanks for reading.
This week’s Short But Sweet prompt:
And now the star is dreaming.
That’s all from me on this Thursday Words Day. As always (or as near to always as life allows) I’ll be back on Sunday with my answer to this week’s Short But Sweet Prompt, and watch this space Tuesday for my next installment of Why I DNF This Book. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hello and welcome to another rambling, existential, content-packed edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Today I’m going to unveil the NEW CONTENT that you can expect to see on the blog going forward, but before I get into that I first want to talk a little bit about what I hope to achieve with these additions and why I’m making the change in the first place.
When I started this blog – yikes, almost two years ago – I had two goals: the first was to establish a place where I could scream into the void about all the parts about writing a novel that weren’t sunshine and rainbows (okay, so like 90% of it). I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on that, even if the screaming has been sporadic. The second goal was to, maybe, possibly, hopefully, form friendships or a community of fellow writers who were like me: near to the very beginning of their author journeys, and having to fight tooth and nail for every tiny success.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the best at making connections. I’m shy, riddled with anxiety, and possessed of fluctuating mental health that often times means I’m a bit of a flake. So, that’s on me. With that said, I’m ready to make a change, not just to my own internal mindset and habits, but my exterior activities as well. So, while these additions to the blog were first conceived of with the goal of getting myself engaged in the writing community even when I’m between projects, the more I thought about it the more I realized that it can use this newfound desire for growth to forward along that original ambition, the one where I’m no longer just another struggling writer, but Just Another Struggling Writer.
Ultimately, I hope that one day this blog will stop being “the lamentations of yet another person struggling to write a novel” and start being a rallying point, a safe haven, a creative sounding board for those of us who just can’t do this thing alone. More than anything, I hope you join me on that journey.
So, without further ado, behold the new content schedule for Just Another Struggling Writer.
Tuesdays: Your Mileage May Vary or Reasons I DNF This Book.
Guilty confession #1: I am not a great reader. I am slow, easily distracted, and tend to put off reading for other leisure activities, a bad habit I am desperately trying to correct.
Guilty confession #2: I am also really discerning when I read. Actually, that’s too charitable a word. I am fucking picky. I don’t even know why. All I know is most books tend to turn me off by the second act, and even the ones I end up binge-reading to the end don’t really stay with me. Doesn’t mean they’re not good, of course. Just that… well, I’m evidently really hard to please. Sorry.
So, in an effort to broaden my library (and maybe figure out whatever the hell my taste in books is), on alternating Tuesdays I will post book reviews of different persuasions.
The first, Your Mileage May Vary, will cover books that I read to the end, loved or hated. Take these reviews with a grain of salt; because I’m thinly read I honestly haven’t the faintest clue how to write a “proper” book review. Most of the time, I imagine, I’ll probably just be word vomiting my thoughts and feelings without direction or structure. Please look forward to it.
In Reasons I DNF This Book I will dive into specific moments that turned me off of a novel. Whether it’s due to my inner editor not shutting up and letting me enjoy something, or a protagonist I just don’t get along with, or a cringey awkward moment that forces me to put it aside until the second hand embarrassment subsides, these posts will explore what makes a picky reader (me) so damn picky.
Thursdays: Your Regular Weekly Blog Post
Thursdays you can expect to remain pretty much the same, with random topics and thoughts on the struggle that is being a writer. In the past I talked about the progress of my manuscript, and revelations I was having along the way, but now that I am (at least for the moment) project-free, the discussion might trend more toward current issues in the book world. This is the least “content” like of my three planned weekly posts, and mostly will just be a continuing chronicle of my experience in the writing community. One thing I do plan to do every week is include a one-sentence writing prompt for….
Sundays: Short But Sweet Sunday, flash fiction or vignettes
Well, I couldn’t go this whole time without doing a little bit of fiction writing. Can’t let these razor sharp skills get rusty, can I? Now where did I put that sarcasm font? Anyway, at the end of my weekly Thursday posts I will include a one-sentence prompt, and on Sunday I will post my answer to that prompt. All pieces will be less than 1000 words and I intend to limit them all to the same setting and group of characters, which I am tentatively calling the Pillar-verse. The Pillar-verse was once an old fantasy novel idea of mine that was undoubtedly destined for the trunk, and though I still think it is too unfocused a concept to be drafted and revised, I would still like to share it in some way. (Hell, maybe if I dabble in it often enough I’ll get that spark I need to actually write the damn thing.) But going beyond that, I hope that others might eventually partake in Short But Sweet with their own takes on the prompt.
In addition to the extra content, I also will be doing a bit of site maintenance, including adding a page for writerly resources. Most of these will trend toward fantasy writing, since… that’s what I do and all, but hopefully writers of any persuasion will find them useful. Be on the lookout for those updates in the next day or two.
One last thing before I go. That’s right, OUR VERY FIRST SHORT BUT SWEET PROMPT. A reminder: the goal is to write some flash fiction or a vignette, less than 1000 words, and post it Sunday for all to enjoy. It can take place in a world you already created, or it can be something entirely new. If you decide to participate, please feel free to tag #shortbutsweetsunday on Twitter, or even just drop the link to your own post in a comment here. However you get it out there, the goal is just to boost your creativity with some extracurricular words. Hope to see lots of great pieces on Sunday!
This week’s prompt: It was fall, the season of knowledge, but nobody knew that.
Well, I honestly think I’ve yakked enough for one post. I’ll be back on Sunday with my answer to this week’s Short But Sweet prompt, and again on Tuesday for the first Your Mileage May Vary review, where I plan to discuss City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty. Until then, as always, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hello and welcome to another sporadic, possibly over-sharing, edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer.
Where to start. How about with a general question/wonderment.
Wow, what the fuck 2020?
It’s no secret that I can’t write when I’m depressed. I’ve tried and I can’t. So, as you might imagine, this year has been more a less a vacuous wasteland for me. Between working in-office through the pandemic (I’ve never been less enthused to be considered “essential”), tryna home school my kids while working full time (fucking pay teachers ALL the money), losing a beloved family member without being able to travel to see them before their passing (thanks COVID), and just the general shittiness of the times we are living through, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my creativity went to the grocery store for milk and never came back.
(Which is not to say I haven’t been writing at all. In May I started journaling to help cope with *waves hands frantically* all of this, and I have been tenderly nurturing the seeds of an epic, EPIC fantasy idea I had a while ago. But the second draft of my former WIP… It’s dead. I realized mid-way through that the middle part of the story needed MAJOR revisions and, well, I decided that in this moment, in this year of everything being on fire, I wasn’t equal to it. Which is a shame, because I think it really does have potential, and maybe one day I’ll fish it out of the trunk and actually put in the labor to make it readable, but… not today. Not right now.)
Which leaves me adrift. No word count goal to strive for, no concrete project to feverishly outline (again and again and again). Just some vague nuggets to develop as the moon of my creativity waxes and wanes. It’s in moments like these that I wonder if I even count as a writer anymore. Hell, it’s taken me the better part of a day to write these some 350 words of this blog (so far). Why should I be allowed to call myself a writer when I’m not writing anything?
On and off since March or so I’ve told myself that I can’t force my creative well to refill itself when I’m depressed (and that’s true), therefore I’m better off waiting for my brain chemistry to sort itself out and then blitzing on projects while I have the chance. But… with the world in such a state as it is, it’s getting harder and harder to not be depressed. With each passing day, missing my mom who I can’t visit because she’s immunocompromised and my kids are in daycare (hot beds of germs at the best of times), or wishing my partner and I could do something normal like have a date night outside of the house, or crying because I can’t give my soon-to-be-8 year old daughter big birthday party, I feel my goal of being a professional writer slipping farther and farther away.
Some days, I’m so worn down from it all, that… I’m okay with that.
And those are the times that suck the most, because I don’t want to be okay with that. I don’t want to be someone who gives up on my dream.
So, to avoid that dark future where there is no writing but plenty of antipathy, I have to make a change. I can’t just sit around anymore waiting for the good ole muse to saunter her temperamental ass home. If the ideas aren’t flaring up on their own, then I need to be the one to stoke the fire.
All of that to say, you might be hearing a lot more from me coming up. I have some ideas on how to keep myself engaged with the writing community and my own creative impulses even when times are tough or I don’t have an actual project to be working on. I want to do more book reviews, writing prompts, or even flash fiction. I want to grow not just as a writer, but as a, dare I say it, content creator.
I might fail. I have many times in the past. This blog is proof positive enough that I struggle with habit forming and my writing goals are the first on the altar when times get tough. But that’s the other thing about me, ever am I willing to try.
So that’s all from me this week. Next week I hope to be back with an update on some changes and additions I’d like to make to the blog. I hope you’ll tune in. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Here’s the only thing I will say about the last two months: my family and I, while safe and employed, have had a stressful spring for many of the same reasons as… well, the rest of the world. For me, during this time of uncertainty, self-care was spending my leisure time not writing.
But I feel almost ready to create again, as evidenced by the return of an epic fantasy idea I had put in the percolator over a year ago. I thought for sure that it wouldn’t be ready for development for at least a few more years, but it kept pestering me all these long weeks whilst I was doing my best to keep my brainspace engaged elsewhere. So, I figured since I wasn’t quite ready to dive back into my actual WIP (I still haven’t given up on Border Towns honestly), why not indulge my worst impulse:
Okay, I’m actually really bad at worldbuilding. I find the process to be kind of tedious and my best ideas tend to come when I’m mid-draft. But… unlike most of my other project ideas, this Epic Fantasy will not make it to draft without doing a lot of heavy lifting beforehand. I know this. That’s why I left it alone in the back of my mind as a seed, hoping the ideas would flower in my subconscious on their own.
But here we are.
So, how does someone who doesn’t know how to worldbuild worldbuild?
I started with Azgaar’s Fantasy Map Generator. I plugged in some few parameters I felt certain I wanted and clicked new map. Then I clicked it again. And again. And again. You get the idea. After about two hours of playing with the settings and saving a few images that I liked, I generated a map that immediately spoke to me. An island off to the west of the main continent was controlled by two major nations. The borders made it look like the larger was a monster that was eating the smaller.
It fit perfectly with a conflict that would serve as one of the POV character’s arcs. I knew this map would be the perfect springboard. I took a long hard look at the map as a whole and wrote down any idea that came to me. That day was the most I’d felt creative since my state shut down in March.
A few days later, I was sitting at my desk at my day job when I realized THIS CERTAIN THING would be the perfect theme or at least a cool bit of flavor to tie my story around. Again, I pulled out my notebook and furiously scribbled notes.
Not long after that I was looking at a wikipedia page of cryptids and read about one I’d never heard of. Then A BOLT OF LIGHTNING. The lore inspired me to create an entire humanoid race based on it. And then… why not do another based on this other one? And another? Once more I made sure I preserved my ideas for posterity in my trusty notebook.
Now here’s a cold hard truth: 90% of these ideas will never get used. Either they are blatant rip offs of other media, they don’t jive with each other or the story I’m trying to tell, or they just flat out suck. But that’s okay. For every bad idea that I write down I’m allowing myself to explore an avenue of thought I hadn’t before, and though it may eventually get rejected, it might open up new lines of thinking. In this way I can generate new ideas in the same way I do when I am drafting.
This epic fantasy, which I have code named Minor Arcana, still has a long ass way to go before I’m ready to outline. I mean… probably a year or more of worldbuilding and percolating. But for the first time I’m actually enjoying this process. Without the (admittedly, entirely internal) pressure of actually getting started on the writing to weigh on me, I can take my time to develop crap ideas and not feel like a total failure about them.
That’s all from me this week. As, I’m sure, we all are, I am still adjusting to the “new normal” around here, so while I can’t promise weekly blog posts I can say that I will try.
Until next time, friends. May your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Well, my New Year’s Resolution to blog every week is officially dead. Lasted longer than I thought. RIP 1/1/2020 – 2/6/2020.
But enough of that, I’m back after a month long mental health break and ready to make an ass of myself by talking about something I have very little knowledge of.
Sometimes, when I’m laboring away over my WIP, but even more often when I’m reading, I wonder if maybe I should have been an editor, rather than a writer.
My writing “career” is young, and largely shaped thus far by fanfiction, but last year I learned how much I enjoy the editing part of writing (and I say that doubting my own understanding of the term “editing”). My favoritest favorite part? Brutal, merciless cuts.
I adore crossing out entire sentences. I love circling paragraphs and jotting in the margins “Is this necessary?” Though I haven’t gotten to this point in revision yet, I already have a handful of scenes in mind that are destined for the axe. And I’m excited.
This mindset, perhaps to my detriment, doesn’t go away when I’m not writing, however. In fact, it seems even more pronounced when I’m consuming other media. I’m going to give you an example.
Warning! Hot takes incoming!
In November, in the throes of NaNoWriMo, I, like many other nerds across the country, sat down after work on a Tuesday evening and watched the premiere episode of Disney’s new Star Wars TV show, the Mandalorian. Spoiler… warning?
About 30 minutes into the episode I remember saying to my partner, “I’m assuming ‘The Asset’ is interesting and important, because otherwise why would I care about this show?”
Turns out, I was right. Baby Yoda, and the conflict it created in the narrative, was what made the show worth watching. Not the titular Mandalorian (at least not him by himself). So, though I found 99% of episode one to be kinda (read: really) dry, I sat down the following Friday for episode two.
Friends. Fellow Star Wars fans. I’m sorry. I hate to be the one to tell you this.
Episode two was a complete waste of time. 30 minutes of pure, unadulterated filler. Filler content. In the second episode. Of an eight episode series.
The more I thought about what I had seen over the course of two episodes, the more dissatisfied I felt. TV is one of my favorite mediums, and Star Wars is a franchise I genuinely love and enjoy (though I wouldn’t pass standard gatekeeping tests), but this series was falling well short of my expectations.
All around me, however, I heard nothing but praise. My (long suffering and supportive partner) even brushed off my criticism as coming in the midst of NaNo and therefore I was in full on critique mode and couldn’t just enjoy things for what they were.
And, well, maybe there is some truth to that. I couldn’t stop thinking about what I would have done. What I would have cut, or changed, or moved around to make those first few episodes tighter and, in my opinion, more compelling. But, that inclination didn’t start with the Mandalorian.
A month before, while on a whirlwind weekend vacation out of state for a family wedding, I inhaled a novel that had been in my TBR pile for months. When I say inhaled, I mean I finished at 4AM the day after I started it. Then I set my kindle aside. Laid my head down. And thought to myself, “I wouldn’t have included [certain chapters from secondary character’s POV]. They really slowed down the pace.”
Honestly, it was kind of annoying. It was a good book, good enough that I didn’t bother to put it down even after a long day of air travel and visiting with my in-laws. And yet, I couldn’t just… let it be a good a book. I couldn’t leave it at that.
It’s part of the reason, I’ve realized, that I struggle so much to finish books. It’s not that they’re not good. Because, objectively, they absolutely are. It’s that I can’t turn off the part of my brain that lets me just enjoy things for what they are. It’s always “this sentence doesn’t flow” or “that word isn’t right here” or “the plot is hindered by this sequence.”
Without really knowing what an editor does, I sometimes wonder… if that is what I was meant to do. Maybe that part of me unable to let media go without critique, something that genuinely frustrates me, is actually a calling that I’ve never understood or heeded.
Or, maybe, I’m just a picky ass reader for no real reason.
All I can do is just try to let go when reading, or watching tv, or playing video games, and hope that my inherent inclination to pick things apart will come in useful when its time to turn my eyes on my own work.
This post was literally a month in the making. 2020 has not been treating me kindly and February especially was taxing on my mental health. Thanks to all my lovely friends and followers who are with me on this journey. I hope to be back next week to talk about the decision I made this week to take a break from my WIP.
Until then, my your writing be plenty and your struggles be few.
Hey! Fellow white writers! Just a reminder! Diversity is good! Write characters that don’t look like you! It’s healthy! But! Don’t! Write! BIPOC’s! Stories! Just! Don’t!
Also, don’t try to prettify human suffering. Just a thought.
Anyway, those of you who are still here, welcome to another week in the life of a struggling writer. This struggling writer, anyway. And, lord, has it been a struggle. As it turns out, deciding mid-draft that your WIP needs a major developmental revision is not something that can be taken care of in a week. My mental pendulum keeps swinging from “excited and energized” to “I’m a terrible writer, all my ideas are laughably banal, and I’m just going to give up on this whole writing thing in general, don’t at me.”
I’m caught between the idea that my creative well is running dry and I need to take a break and refill it, and the little voice in my head that continually reminds me I took all of December off, I’ve barely done anything creative this month, I keep making excuses not to write.
I’m gonna figure it out. Eventually. I’m gonna strike a balance, and this will get written. Maybe even in my lifetime.
Anyway, one of the things I’m definitely going to have to figure out if I am going to get this book done is how to stop writing so damned thin.
I imagine many writers might say that writing thin is a good problem to have, and I believe that is true for a lot of people. For me, however, it’s a bane. As I’ve mentioned before, I started writing when I was 11, and though I started in original fiction by 13 I had been roped into the magical world of fanfiction. Now, my path is my path, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I learned more than you’d think about craft, but one thing I left behind in those years was the ability to describe literally anything.
I relied on the fact that any readers would already be familiar with the characters and setting, and almost everything I wrote was entirely based on interactions. Conversations, conflict, sex. It was easy.
Now I’m kicking myself, because I find myself falling into that pattern even now that I know I have to set the stage myself.
I just did a read through of my second draft. One of the things I realized is that a major character has only ever been described (once) as “tall.” That’s it. That’s all you know about her. Another character, equally important, hasn’t been physically described at all. Most of my cast are little more than floating, talking heads.
Don’t get me started on worldbuilding. Again. I hate it. I mean, I love it, but, actually, I hate it. I have a perfect image in my head of what my world is, but when it comes to the text of the novel I don’t feel compelled in any way to describe it. “What purpose would mentioning the scenery of the countryside serve?” I ask myself. “Does my made up historical context really have any bearing on this scene?” or “Why slow down the pace and ruin the tension just to remind the reader there is a fully fleshed out world beyond this conversation?”
Most of that is thanks to a piece of writing advice I took and surgically grafted onto my heart, and that is: good storytelling is often about good secret keeping. Don’t give away what you can hold onto until the moment is right. And that is the philosophy I have carried into my fantasy stories: don’t info dump when you can sprinkle in the details as needed.
And, honestly, I still think that is really sound advice, but, in rereading this second draft, I think I may have lost sight of what is too much to hold back. The draft reads like I’m being greedy with my world, or that I’ve forgotten that the readers don’t know what I know. I rush from plot point to plot point without adding critical context, because I already know the background of X and Y characters’ relationship with each other, or where A and B locations are on the map.
At DFWCon I had the chance to sit down with an agent and kind of talk shop (I wasn’t ready to pitch yet, obviously, but I still wanted to get some insight). We got into a discussion about word counts for debut authors, and after hearing that I had just finished a first draft, he asked my word count. 105k, I told him. That’s really good for a debut fantasy, he said. Right in the butter zone. I wish I could have been pleased about that, but I knew, deep in my bones, that the only reason I kept it that low was because the draft wasn’t really complete. I had left so many details on the floor, details that would be inexcusable to leave out of a polished manuscript.
Going into draft 3, I know this is something I’m going to have to be serious about fixing. I need to learn how to take my time and properly build a world that readers will want to crawl into. I need to figure out how the keep the flow going without leaving important information out in the cold. I’ve got to teach myself that it’s okay to do those things, even if it means a 300k word draft.
Because that’s what revision is for.
That’s all from me this week. I hope you enjoyed Captain Kirk coming along for the ride with us. Next week I hope to discuss The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang, which I’ve been reading this month. Which means I need to close up and get it finished. Until then, may your writing be plenty and your struggles be few!
Alright, I know I said I was going to talk about writing thin this week, but a curious thing happened to me last night almost the moment I laid my head down to sleep.
I’ve been trying to dive back into my draft since the start of the new year, mostly by going back and transcribing the words I didn’t get around to during NaNo. The very first scene, I thought, was really stellar work, even for a rough draft, and got me excited to once again be working on this project. Sadly, that fervor was short lived as I reached part of the manuscript I was less enthused about.
Which made no sense. This particular plot arc was literally the womb from which this story sprung in the first place. Back when this WIP was just a handful of notes that I jotted down in my purse notebook my very first week at my current job, this series of scenes was all I had.
But it’s been close to five years since those first jolts of inspiration, and the idea has evolved since then. This plot thread had not.
You’ve got to cut it, me said to me, my eyes still adjusting to the dark. It doesn’t fit anymore. It’s contrived, and, worse, it’s boring. You can deliver the same pertinent plot details much better if you just let it go.
Honestly, it felt like a weight was coming off me.
Because, the thing is, I’ve secretly known what dark me was saying all along. Even in the first draft, this particular sequence felt shoehorned in, like I was staying precious to it just because it was where my journey with this novel started. I wouldn’t call it a “darling,” because I actually kind of hated it. It bogged down the middle of the story and was unfun to write (I can only imagine how it would be to read).
So, despite the fact that I now had a gaping hole in my outline that needed to be filled and a lot of my now 60,000 word, half-finished MS would have to be entirely rewritten, I felt so much better about what I hope the end result of this project will be.
Then today, I got up and tried to do some brainstorming about how to fix it, came up with exactly two things (jack and sh…ugar), felt entirely dumb and uncreative, and spent a lot of time moping about it all.
That’s all from me this week! Maybe next week I’ll talk about my problems with writing thin. Or maybe I’ll talk about how perhaps I should have been an editor because I love cutting things. Or maybe I’ll have yet another new WIP crisis to share. Who knows? Not me! Unfortunately, though I’m a plotter in writing, life has to be pantsed.