Down but not defeated

I always have a rough time near the end of the year. I don’t know why. I suppose because I’m goal-oriented and inevitably I have not met my (loftly, often ridiculous) targets for myself.  This year the things I failed to achieve were Grown Up Life related: family, house, stability, career happiness. I am most frustrated with myself for being upset over the lack of those things because I’ve always felt I’d given up on them in my twenties. But for some reason about midway through this year they became, mentally, a Big Deal.

What the heck does that have to do with writing?  Well, long story short I got really low in the past week and I did nothing useful, other than force myself to keep social appointments (which was good, getting out of the house and seeing friends actually does cheer me, introverted or not), and I totally missed part 4 of the Chuck Wendig 200 Words at a Time challenge.  But it’s pretty typical for me to come out of these funks determined to Do Something, and throughout the funk I’ve had a Red Box short story struggling to come together in my head, so now I’m determined to write it.

I’m also determined to do something for Part 5 of the challenge, especially because writing endings is really difficult for me.  Practice is good.

I’ve also come out of the funk being a bit fired up about a post I saw on Tumblr.  It was a writer’s response to an Ask about what to do about writer’s block.  The writer in question suggested first that the person asking must not be a writer if they’re writer’s blocked; and then suggested, simply, that the answer was to write.  That wasn’t the part that really bugged me, though. It was the responses, including one very vehement one, about how much that writer’s blocked person was NOT a writer because clearly they were sitting around waiting to be Inspired and not actively trying to write; True Writers wrote compulsively all the time because that is the defining characteristic of a Writer, after all.

First, writer’s block, at least as I’ve understood it and according to the definition on Wikipedia, does not mean you are not trying to write. In fact you are probably trying really damn hard, and/or, too hard–you’ve basically psyched yourself out.  You may well be putting down words.  But (if you’re like me, who considers themselves to have been blocked for the better part of 3 years) most likely every word you put down feels like death, feels wrong and ugly and makes you feel worse.  Every idea you have dies in the cradle; at no point do you find that sweet spot where you break through and ride the story out.  Yes, as this person adamantly insisted, writing is indeed a craft that must be sought out and pursued and worked for. This person asking about how to break out of their writer’s block never suggested it wasn’t. As I see it, they were actually asking for help with that craft–asking for techniques to work around a problem they could not sort out.  If a person building a desk can’t figure out how to hammer nails in properly, you don’t tell them “just keep hammering, you’re clearly not hammering enough.”  You try to figure out if they’re swinging the hammer wrong or not holding the nails properly. 

My writer’s block has a very clear source: lack of confidence. At some point, I lost my faith in my writing skills. This is a gigantic problem for a writer, believe me.  You can’t revise if you don’t trust yourself and your writing instincts.  Telling me to “keep writing” is next to worthless, because I’ve definitely been writing. I’ve just hated everything I’ve produced, been halfway to furious with the results and been cowardly and hesitant when revising.  Nothing has the passion and assertiveness I had 3 years ago, and I can tell.  And the more I feel that way, the more difficult it is to get even a sentence out.  The block gets bigger and I’ve yet to find a way around it.

So before folks get up in arms about those sincerely asking what to do about writer’s block, let me suggest that probably most of us who are blocked aren’t waiting for “magic feathers” and “inspiration” with our thumbs up our asses.  Probably many of us are fighting through and desperate for someone to suggest techniques that might help us find a different approach or techniques to help figure out how to restore our lost confidence.  If you have never suffered through a period of time where your doubt and fear and insecurity cripples your very ability to put down a sentence, lucky for you. But please don’t suggest that suffering from this mental malady means I’m not a writer. I do write. I am a writer.  I’m just really at a disadvantage, right now, and could use a hand up instead of anger and accusations. 

The sitting on one’s hands shall continue!

Every Monday a group of friends and I sit down to write for an hour. This past Monday I was worried I couldn’t write, so one of my friends suggested a challenge–to write about a character cooking–and I agreed. Instead of writing about cooking though, I ended up writing a scene that could follow where I’d last left off in the novel.

Which is a long-winded way of saying clearly my brain would still like to work on the novel.

It’s funny. While I was writing the scene I was fighting myself the whole way through. I finally stopped when that fight just got to be too much and I just hated the last bit of what I’d written. I’m so mad I’ve suddenly allowed that demon of self-doubt back in the door when I’d been pretty good about holding it off for so much of the book. I suspect Sue has the right of it, that I’m afraid of the ending. I also think I’m just plain tired–from writing so much so fast for such a long period of time (for me), from shenanigans at work, from a sudden bout of insomnia and blues.

Speaking of the day job, I really wish I could skip it, some times. Yesterday morning I had this amazing nightmare (hm, should those words really go together) which made me want to write a little scene or short story so badly. I wanted to, but I had to go to work. And then I tried to hold it all day, but by the end of the day it was all tatters. It’s still lurking and lurching around the back of my mind, but now I don’t know that I can do it justice. It was so fresh, and well, terrifying.

Also, someone please explain to me why the most horrifying monsters in my dreams seem to be these skinned/naked wolf-dog creatures? 🙂

Monster on my shoulder

There’s a monster on my shoulder. It’s been with me a long, long time. It’s a mutt of a monster, part pride, part insecurity. It whispers mean, undermining things into my ear and convinces me constantly that everything I do is worthless, uninspired, something to be ashamed of. But I think I must love my monster, or want to hide behind it, or something, because I can’t seem to get rid of it.

#

Over the weekend my sister and I were chatting, and she was telling me about her troubles, and I just had to wince with how much we struggled with the same issues. Her troubles are not precisely mine, of course, but the root causes are the same — lack of confidence, perfectionism and a helping of self-sabotage. I can see how our shared upbringing encouraged some of these things, but it makes me sad that neither of us have fully managed to overcome them. For her, it induces creative paralysis or a complete lack of desire to create. For me, I keep creating, but I constantly feel like I’m an idiot, flinging myself at a brick wall and not seeing that I’m never going to break it down. I’m always fighting the voice that says “why bother” and “you suck anyway.” That little voice has warped various teachings into “if you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”

To which I say: screw you voice. I’m doing it anyway.

Slowly, slowly, I’m fighting through the shame of putting out something that isn’t the best thing anyone anywhere and anywhen has ever read. That sometimes isn’t even to my (horribly, impossibly high) standards. Part of that is learning that most people don’t seem to give a crap if every sentence is a shining jewel among sentences or not; if they like the story, or they like the characters, they’ll forgive a lot. That’s not an excuse to be lazy or sloppy–heaven forbid!!–but it is an excuse to stop being frozen by fussing and fussing over three words. Part of it is accepting that there will always be someone who will hate the story, who will think it’s not good, who will laugh at it, criticize it, mock it, belittle it and… I can’t do a single thing about it. And there’s no point worrying about it in advance. It may hurt when it happens, but if it gave me pleasure to make the story in the first place, well–all I can do is try to learn what, if anything, I did technically wrong, and try to improve. And it may well be that it’s simply not the right audience. That does happen.

Anyway, maybe eventually I’ll be “good enough” to make myself happy. But in the meantime I just have to keep working, and writing, and trying to get better, because that’s the only way to actually get anywhere.

Writing in my sketchbooks, drawing in my notebooks

The Empire of Hunger characters: Idrich, Anli, Bajyer, Taiver, and Ellius

So I’ve been a bit stumped on the writing front lately, after getting to around 15000 words in The Empire of Hunger. Rewrote a scene about four times only to roll back to the first version for now… It’s tough to push on knowing there are little problems here and there. Revising something this long is really something I’m going to have to get used to.

But in the meantime, I had an idea for a header for the site. so I went ahead and made it! I love doodling in my notebooks–and then when I was sick, I was writing in my sketchbooks–and thought it’d be fun to do something doodle-like for my header. It might be nice to handwrite my title too… Hmmmm.

For some reason I prefer doing cartoony style drawings for these characters. Like with little dot-eyes. I guess because they look pretty specific in my head, and it’s hard for me to draw them correctly. Then again, in the text they are drawn with verbal “broad strokes” too, so maybe it all works out. I just don’t like to spell appearances out too much, since I know you’ll imagine something different anyway.

Artifact

Well, curses.

I was trying to write a scene where MC enters the apartment of a person who doesn’t really exist, and slowly, realizes what’s bothering him is the lack of personal touches. It’s been “window dressed” to look like people live there, but only on a quick glance.

But, this is a future culture where you can carry your personal everything on a small set tucked behind your ear. Maybe you have one backup stack or major system with all your entertainment/correspondence/etc but the majority of what you own is digital, intangible. So I can’t say that he misses the books, the movies, the letters, the unpaid bills. Of of that is digital. So what would be left? I assume a culture like that would be largely clutter free–maybe? And if so… what personal touches could he miss? The obvious stuff–pictures on the wall, stuff in the drawers like clothes or jewelry, I feel like someone faking the place would have noticed and covered.

Sadly I’m a cluttery person; I have boxes full of stupid things I keep as memories. But there is no requirement that all people would have that kind of thing. (Main character himself lives in a very sparse place, with a bed and chair and that’s about it.) Are there things which you might not think of right away which, no matter how neat you are, would indicate it’s a home and not a hotel? Clothes in the cleaning queue? Trash in the recycler? Or would all that be so automated it’d go right away? Hmmmm….

I guess I could just have it be something relatively obvious like the clothes are all newish and nothing looks used, but that seems so very obvious. Then again, he starts to wonder when he sees the kitchen cupboards are largely empty–though at first he writes this off as simply the person being someone who simply eats out all the time.

Must ponder.

Writing through the bumps

Had really rough weekend, and all my best-laid plans to tackle the novel fell to the roadside. I could kick myself, but what good would that do? In the meantime, last week I did finally finish a short story I was severely writer’s-blocked on. Once again I find that sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to why one day I can’t focus, and one day I suddenly let loose 2000 words in a sitting.

The story I finished is a free story for the project I’m working on with Die Booth, Re-Vamp, so I’ll share the link once it’s up. I still need a title, though.

You know, I often either start out with a title and use it as an anchor through the time I’m writing, or I have no title by the time I’m done and then I never know what to call the darn thing.