Update 04/08 -Wall of Mediocrity

This week has been a weird one for my writing. After several weeks of actual productivity I slammed into a wall composed of mediocrity. Specifically my mediocrity.

One of the problems of writing is that you often have to write about people doing things and experiencing things that you yourself have no knowledge of. That’s almost the whole point of both writing and reading.

Usually I can just project myself into my characters. I can ask myself “What if I…?” and when I can’t do that I can take someone I know as a template and say “What if they…?” But there are limits. Sometimes your characters get into a situation that is so removed from your reality that you might as well be trying to write in another language.

This week I have been trying to write a scene in which a man seduces a Goddess. A man that I’ve been setting up for a whole novel as a legendary seducer, a man of great charm. And this should be his greatest triumph. To sweet talk a Goddess of battle. And then I got to the scene and realised a few things.

I have no idea what constitutes seductive. When I want to charm someone I have to deploy a combination of cleavage and beer. Nobody has ever tried to seduce me and if they did I would excuse myself to the bathroom and then sneak out because if someone is trying to seduce me then it is definitely a set up of some kind. So I can’t ask myself what I would do or what would work on me.

I can’t rely on my wide experience of fiction because I don’t watch or read a lot of romance. I don’t have anything against it but it doesn’t do much for me. I’ve been trying to think of the seduction scenes from other genres of fiction but it’s hard to think of anything that’s not at least one out of creepy, abusive or really context specific.

In the end one of my other characters decided to save me by throwing himself on the plot in the way some people would throw themselves on a grenade. He did something epicly stupid and part of me is saying, “Oh, hun, no,” and part of me is steeping my fingers, leaning back in my chair and saying “Excellent, I’m going to make you regret that in the sequel.”

And after all that I’ve spent most of today wondering if can get away with cutting the entire scene out.

The other thing that happened this week was that I received the terrible news that I can never hope to be published because I don’t have the right education. Apparently if I don’t take courses in Journalism, Copywriting and Expository Prose then I cannot hope to stand out in the crapshoot that is querying. I’m not sure that’s true but then what would I know. I don’t even have a degree.

In all seriousness, I’d love to study writing properly but there are several problems with that. The biggest problem is that it’s not free to study and I am poor. There’s also the problem of my chronic ill-health. That means that I can’t just go out and earn the money to pay for study. Then there’s the problem that I only have so many spoons in a day and if I spend them all on studying then I’ll have to stop doing everything that isn’t studying.

I can’t believe that I was ever foolish enough to think that our society might be even slightly meritocratic.

And speaking of false meritocracy yes I am still salty about Boris fucking Johnson. I’ve spent my entire life feeling lazy and stupid and just not good enough. I have obsessed over every flaw and failure no matter how trivial. I have felt constantly unworthy. And now my country is run by a semi-sentient haystack in a badly fitting suit who is too fucking dense to pretend not to be a racist, entitled arsehole for ten minutes at a time.

But apparently that’s all ok because he knows all those fancy words and he’s promised to deliver Brexit. What a pity that he doesn’t seem to know how that’s going to work.

You realise, of course, that we are all fucked.

Advertisements

Sunday Update 21/07 – Productivity!

Last week I wrote about using an arbitrary deadline to power through and finish the FIGHT SCENE FROM HELL. I finished it as planned and sent it to my friend. That’s not the important bit. The important bit is that finishing the scene unlocked a whole bunch of other scenes allowing me to fix several continuity problems and change the order of earlier scenes.

Sometimes that’s the thing with creativity. Sometimes what you need is to try something different, sometimes you need a break, and sometimes what you need is an incentive to care less about quality and just finish the thing.

Finishing one thing allowed me to go back and care about the quality of the other things. Project Kindness isn’t finished but it’s a lot closer than it was two weeks ago. Of the seven parts I’ve divided it into, five are finished and polished, one will be finished tonight and the remaining one could be finished in the next couple of weeks. There are two or three scenes that need to be written or extensively rewritten and everything else just needs smoothed out and possibly reordered. Then it could actually be finished.

I think. I’ve been wrong about that before.

The weird thing about looking back on your own writing is that it’s one part ‘this is brilliant, what genius wrote this’, one part ‘this is trash, what idiot wrote this’, and one part ‘this makes no sense, what the hell was I thinking,’. Or that’s how it feels. If I were capable of being truly objective it would probably be mostly fairly competent, some absolute rubbish and all the continuity problems associated with making shit up as you go along.

Going back over the old stuff is a little like collaborating with myself. Sometimes I just have to have faith that old me knew what she was doing when she laid down this plot and picked those characters and wrote that dialogue. And sometimes she clearly didn’t and I have to clean it up or delete it and come up with something better.

I’m so close to the end of this thing but I have absolutely no idea if it’s any good. I can point at individual lines and say that they’re good, sometimes even whole scenes, but when it comes to the plot or the premise or the character arcs I just can’t tell any more. I’m too close to it.

That’s why it’s so hard to finish stuff. And why it’s so hard to show stuff to people. Both of those steps involve confronting the painful truth that your stuff may not be any good while at the same time requiring you to believe that it’s good enough to finish and show to people.

Sunday Update 23/06 – A dose of the sads

This week I finally got round to posting that Spoiler Club thing that I’ve been talking about. I think it’s good but it feels pointless. Everything is feeling pointless at the moment because I have a dose of the sads.

If I can be honest for a moment what I actually have is a flare up of my clinical depression which is not currently being actively treated because my local GP surgery seems to be paranoid about people wanting pills for everything. But I’m going to call it a dose of the sads because clinically diagnosed but untreated depression is the sort of thing that worries people, including me.

There’s no particular reason for this dose of the sads. There usually isn’t. It sometimes feels like something triggered it but I don’t think that’s what’s happening. My life is no more awful than it was last week but this week it’s harder to pretend that I don’t care.

Suddenly it’s hard to justify the amount of effort that goes into writing, both my novels and this blog, given how few people are ever going to see them. I know it’s hard to tell from the outside but I am actually trying to write well. And if you’re genuinely making the effort then bad writing is just as hard as good writing. In terms of the amount of enjoyment that I’ve created for the amount of effort involved my writing is not a good investment. I’m working really hard for something that will offer moderate enjoyment to maybe a dozen people. It doesn’t seem worth the trouble.

Of course the problem with the sads is that they make it feel like nothing is worth the trouble, up to and including breathing. Also, objectively, I put a lot of work into my writing and get virtually nothing back. It isn’t worth it but what else am I going to do with my time? I’m stuck here. I have to fill the unforgiving minute with something even if it’s just displacement activity to keep me from thinking about death.

Anyway, now that I’ve thoroughly depressed everyone including myself I’m looking for suggestions for the next installment of Spoiler Club. If you can think of something currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Shudder that I could take to pieces and reassemble then let me know in the comments.

Sunday Update 16/06 – Medical fun

I had hoped to have the first Spoiler Club post up this week but I was stopped mid-flow by a Fibromyalgia flare up. I was suddenly hit with muscle cramps around my left shoulder that had me typing one handed (see my apology for more details). The whole week has been almost entirely taken up with medical shenanigans.

I finally had the appointment with my doctor that I made in part to talk about my ADHD and maybe try to get some treatment. My doctor hasn’t heard of executive dysfunction/executive function disorder but wants me to come back with a list of the symptoms that make me think that I have ADHD. This is going to be fun, and by fun I mean fucking torture. Not only will I have to focus on all the stuff that makes my life miserable but I’ll have to translate it into language which will make sense to a GP who probably doesn’t know much about ADHD.

For the people at home keeping up with my toe situation (see here) I’ve got my second prescription for antibiotics and I have heard back about my referral to a podiatrist. I don’t have an appointment to see one yet but I do have an appointment for a podiatrist to phone me to assess if I need to see one. In July. I will find out if I can actually make the appointment I was told to make for 3 days ago in two and a half weeks.

Also this week I found out that you can fry gnocchi and I feel like I want to tell everyone. They’re so much better fried than boiled and although frying takes a little longer it’s still less than 20 minutes for the total cooking time including heating the pan up.

I haven’t done much writing this week. Partly because of Fibromyalgia, partly because of the multiple appointments that tired me out and partly because I am trash and I’ve spent my free time playing computer games.

I have to admit that I’m feeling kind of hopeless about my writing. Not because I think it’s bad but because I can’t imagine how anyone is ever going to read it. And also because this fight scene is making me want to buy actual swords and actually stab someone (not really).

See you all in a couple of days for the first Spoiler Club post, hopefully.

Fibro apology

There should be a cool new post going up here. I was really enjoying writing the inaugural Spoiler Club but my Fibromyalgia flared up and it’s gone for my left shoulder. That shoulder is one of my body’s weak links and I’m reduced to typing one handed.

I can’t do justice to the post I wanted to write at the moment. It will have to wait for another day. A day when both my arms are working and I don’t feel like I’ve got a knife sticking out of my shoulder blade.

That means you will all have to wait too and I’m sorry about that,

Sunday Update 02/06

This was going to be a post about The Mummy (the recent one which is currently on Netflix). I was going to do an in depth look at the plot structure and talk about how I think some of the story telling decisions lead to it being less successful than expected and potentially putting the kibosh on Universal’s proposed “Dark Universe”.

Then I got distracted by thinking about some of the writing difficulties I’ve had this week and how I probably needed to talk about that instead. I also realised that If I put off talking about The Mummy it gives anyone who’s interested the chance to watch it themselves and see if they agree with me.

So that’s your homework. Watch The Mummy (the 2017 one with Tom Cruise not the 1999 one with Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz, or the 1959 one with Christopher Lee, or the 1932  one with Boris Karloff).

This week I have actually done some writing and some writing adjacent activity and I’ve been dealing with a couple of recurrent problems. One is a technical writing problem, well a bunch of problems really. The other is an extremely on brand confidence/panic problem.

Let’s talk about the technical problems. I’ve been back at the rewrites of the big fight scene at the end of Project Kindness. It’s not the only thing stopping me from finishing Project Kindness but it is the main thing. Normally I’d count fight scene amongst the things I’m good at but this one is a special case. I’m unsure about how to handle almost everything about it.

The first problem, which I’ve mentioned before, is that it’s a super important scene. There’s a lot of story stuff that has to come together at the same time.

The second problem is how many of the cast are present. There’s three people participating in the fight and a bunch of people watching. One of the participants and four of the spectators have been PoV (point of view) characters in previous scenes and the spectators have stuff that they need to be doing during the fight. That means that I need to manage multiple PoVs within the scene. There’s nothing stopping me breaking it down into smaller scenes but i don’t have much else going on so it’s hard to cut from the fight to another scene elsewhere and then back to the fight with a different PoV which is how I prefer to switch PoV. And since I’m switching PoV I need to work out which characters to focus on.

The third problem is that I’ve made so many attempts to write this scene that I keep getting lost. Did I actually write that bit or did I only think about writing it? Which of these four slightly different versions of this bit is the best?

The fourth problem is the knowledge base problem. I know what butterfly swords look like but I can’t rely on my readers knowing that. How much detail do they need in order to know what’s going on and at what point does all the detail become overwhelming? Am I introducing some of this stuff too late? Should I go back and add additional fight scenes earlier on so that I’m not dumping a bunch of exposition this late in the story?

The non-technical problem I’ve had is with a piece of commissioned writing. It’s a guest blog that I haven’t talked about much because I didn’t want to jinx it. It’s been finished for 3 days now but I’ve been having trouble letting go and sending it in. At first I thought the problem was that it was too long and didn’t have a good title but gradually it became clear that the real problem is my twin fears of rejection and fucking up. I’m scared that it’s no good, or that it’s not what they want, or that they just won’t like it. I’m scared that I’ve written it so badly that they won’t even tell me to rewrite it.

I suspect that it’s a kind of impostor syndrome. And also an entirely rational scepticism about the possibility of anything ever going well for me. Historically things have not gone well for me. I fail at things a lot. Succeeding at things is almost worse because then I have to do more things and when those additional thing fail it’s even more painful.

I’d love to say that I’ve got some sort of insight on how to deal with this problem but I don’t. I just forced myself to hit send on an email and now I’m writing this blog post as displacement activity so that I don’t drive myself crazy with panic.

Sunday Update 19/05: A wild plan appears

This week the update is going to be a bit different. I think it’s time to take stock of what I’ve written, what I’m writing and what I’m going to write in an effort to sort out my priorities and make some kind of a plan. But first a mini report on stuff from last week. Behold my mighty bullet points.

  • No I haven’t made a doctor’s appointment yet.
  • Yes I still plan to make an appointment.
  • My new compression wraps have still not arrived.
  • If they don’t arrive by Wednesday I will chase them up (always assuming I can manage to make the phone call).
  • We are no longer super broke.
  • We are still saving for a new computer.

And now on to the writing stocktake.

Singularity

This is the finished novel that got this|—| close to finding a publisher following the XPONorth pitch a couple of years ago. Or maybe not. I got asked for a full but by the time the full was done the publisher had decided to focus on other genres.

Singularity is in that Occult Mystery/Supernatural Detective/Contemporary Urban Fantasy subgenre that nobody can agree on a name for. It’s hard to query agents when you can’t tell if they want to represent the kind of book you have. When the agency page says Magical Realism does it mean actual magical realism or does it mean a story in a realistic modern setting with added magic?

I haven’t given up on Singularity but I’m not currently querying it. I’ve had no real feedback on it since the XPONorth pitch so I don’t know if the problem is the novel, or the query letter, or if I just haven’t put it in front of enough agents. My plan is to return to it once I’ve finished the current work in progress and see if some time away from it makes it easier to work out what the problem is.

Project Kindness.

The current work in progress. A novel of sexy spies and Celtic gods. Still in the subgenre with no name but hopefully easier to describe to an agent. I’m most of the way through the current re-write. I hope to be able to stick it in front of my beta readers by the end of the summer.

I’m at the stage of rewriting where I just want the thing to be done. I suspect that if I really pushed I could have it done by this time next week. I’m just not sure that I have the spoons for that.

At the moment I’m wrestling with the final fight scene. This is the third time I’ve been through this scene (this rewrite is the third draft) and it is not getting any easier. Perhaps that’s a sign that the novel is structurally sound? A lot of threads need to tie up in this one scene. It’s like placing the keystone of an arch.

If I get it wrong the whole thing will fall apart but only because I’ve built it so that all the narrative forces channel into that one stone holding it in place and achieving equilibrium.

It doesn’t help that it’s a martial arts fight between three skilled fighters with a crowd of people watching, some dialogue on the side, and multiple weapon changes. It’s one of those scenes that will be great if they ever make a movie but is pain in the arse to create from words alone.

My plan with Project Kindness is to get this draft finished as soon as possible, put it together into a single usable, sharable file, stick it in front of my beta readers and then focus on other stuff.

Project Academy

This is the YA (young adult) magical high school/conspiratorial secret history novel that I wrote the first draft of during NaNoWriMo last year. It’s currently a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster. About three quarters first draft (some rough, some pretty clean) and one quarter detailed outline.

It’s not ready to show to people and it needs a lot of work. I still intend to finish it but I’m not sure when I’m going to be doing that. I suppose it depends on how long it takes to finish Project Kindness, how much work Singularity needs, and how much prep Project Locke requires.

Project Locke

My “brilliant” idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel.

This is in the really early stages. So far all I have is two pages of notes. I have a pretty clear idea of the central characters and I have a plan for the plot but the setting is still really hazy. It’s like my mind’s eye can’t focus on it. I know what the texture and colours are but I can’t see any of the fine detail.

I know it won’t be set in the past or the present so that leaves the future or an alternative present. At the moment it’s feeling like about 100 years into a future that’s recovering from decades of war and a slow apocalypse. But I could feel differently about it tomorrow.

The nice thing about this project is that it’s not linked to anything I’ve worked on before. That’s what I promised myself for this year’s NaNoWrMo. I’ve decided that I need to diversify my writing to give myself the best chance of writing something that someone will actually want.

The big problem with this project is that it’s shiny and new and I want to think about it all the time and fill in all the holes and start writing it NOW! That’s not because it’s any better than anything else it’s just because it’s new so I haven’t had the chance to fuck it up yet. I can’t allow myself to be seduced by the new idea. I have to finish the other stuff first.

Assorted other projects

These are the things which I am currently not working on but which I will probably come back to at some point.

Project Cecil – faux true crime novel. An experiment in writing something grounded in the here and now. No plans for this currently but I might well come back to it at some point.

Generic Fantasy Novel – yes that is actually the name of the novel. It’s a comic fantasy novel that needs a lot for work because it’s heavy on jokes and far too light on plot. This is one I do want to come back to but I don’t know when.

The Dune Sea – A series of novels/RPG setting that I did a lot of work on and probably deserves to be resurrected in some form. There’s a lot of good stuff in there I’m just not sure what to do with it.

Underneath – the sequel to Singularity. I can’t do anything with this until I decide what I’m doing with Singularity.

Project Dingo – the same setting as Singularity and Project Kindness. I hope to get back to work on it but I need to either sell or self publish one of the others first before it’s worth the effort.

When I lay everything out like this it seems like a lot of stuff. No wonder I’m having difficulty fitting it into a plan. Particularly when I have so many days when I can’t do much. This whole plan thing is a bigger job than I thought.

Sunday Update 12/05

This week has been worrying. I’ve only left the house twice and I’ve spent a lot of time in bed. I even had to cancel a visit from a friend. I did manage to make it out to a medical appointment so now I’m looking forward to some new compression wraps.

I’m worried that I seem to have so little energy. It’s pathetic, even by my standards. I probably need to see my doctor but that means actually phoning for an appointment and I am super bad at that. Let’s see how many weeks it takes me to actually make that phone call.

We’ve been super broke this week. It’s down to poor planning on my part mostly. It’s been particularly frustrating because we do have money but it’s all savings put aside to buy a replacement computer for my other half. Being an adult and doing the right and sensible thing is such a pain in the arse sometimes.

One thing that went right this week is that I managed to actually write some of the thing that I’ve been trying to write for months. It’s not complete but the part of it that I just could not write is done and the rest is mostly adding in the research that I did weeks ago.

I haven’t added much to my novel in progress but I do now have a kind of deadline. I’ve had a brilliant (well it seems brilliant now but give it time) idea for this year’s NaNoWriMo novel. Every year I like to start a new novel in November and I was planning to write something completely different from everything I’ve written before. Now I’ve had an idea that fits that plan but will need some prep before November. That means that I really need to get the current work in progress done and ready to query by October at the very latest.

All of which means that I need to find a new working title so I can talk about the new novel. In the tradition of naming things as Projects I name this thing Project Locke. It’s too early to say much about it because I have some characters and I know how to find the plot but I don’t have a setting yet. It’s going to take a lot of work.

Sunday Update 21/04

Another week of achieving very little because I have had no spoons. I’ve had trouble getting out of bed every day, I’ve had three days out of seven when I was dependant on painkillers to get anything done and every time I clean the toilet I’m wiped out for the rest of the day.

I can’t tell if I’m still recovering from my trip round Falkland Palace and my journey to Dunfermline for a Mammogram or if it’s something else. Ah the old question – is it hormones, mental illness, or just the latest way for my body to fuck me over? do worry that it’s a sign of some kind of descent into depression.

I’m particularly worried because I have a thing that I need to write and I’m not writing it. I’ve done the research, I know what I want to say, I have the skills to say it and I’ve even sat down at the keyboard and started typing but the thing still isn’t written. Every time I start typing it feels like the ideas just run out of my ears while my attention is focused on the screen. If I can’t write then what is the point of me?

So did I spend the entire week procrastinating? Let’s find out.

Procrastination Watch

Ok so I didn’t write the essay that I wanted to write but I did write and edit a fair bit of my novel and even managed to fix a scene that was dragging a whole chapter down. I’m fairly pleased with the novel’s progress this week.

I finally got round to watching John Wick 2. Shut up, it counts. I write action scenes and that means I have to read and watch them. I also started listening to the Espionage podcast which is important research for the spy novel I’m currently working on.

I’ve been reading up on Functional Disorders. A friend sent me a copy of New Scientist Magazine with a lengthy article about them. These are medical disorders where a person is definitely experiencing genuine symptoms but the symptoms are being caused by the mind rather than the body. It’s one of those things that demonstrates just how wiggly the line between body and mind is. It’s important to note that Functional Disorders are different from Factitious Disorders (when the patient is consciously faking the symptoms) and that just because someone’s illness is hard to diagnose and treat and sounds kind of weird it doesn’t mean that it’s either Functional or Factitious.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with all this research. Maybe nothing. Maybe a lot. I certainly have both opinions and ideas but I’m not ready to share them because they are bound to piss off both patient groups and doctors.

Will I write the thing? Will I express my dangerous opinions? Will my novel ever be finished Will I find any more spoons? You’ll just have to come back next Sunday to find out. 


If you’re disapointed at how not entertaining this post has been why not check out one of my older posts. Here’s a link to one about relationships and farting. And if you want to cheer me up you can buy me a coffee with Ko-fi.

Sunday Update 24/03

This week I have been struggling to get stuff done and for once it’s not because of my innate procrastination. It’s because my Fibromyalgia has been particularly irritating. I’ve been in even more pain than usual and muscle spasms have made my left arm pretty useless. It’s been incredibly annoying. Nevertheless I have managed to get some work done.

I’ve been staring down the barrel of my big fight scene for several weeks but now that I’ve got to it I’ve discovered that I’ve got much more already written than I thought. There’s still a lot of editing and some rewriting to deal with the change in cast but I might be closer to the end of this draft than I thought.

The downside to all this is that the work that I do have ahead of me is much more finicky. It’s much more about working out who is standing where and who knows what and who can see whom. Some of it is the kind of thing that you just don’t think about while you’re on the first draft. Exactly how do you draw butterfly swords? And how do you describe how you draw butterfly swords. I know what I mean by a reverse grip and thus a reverse grip draw but is that what it’s actually called?

The other thing I’m working on with this novel is the transitions of one scene to the next. I’ve found myself spending ages just staring at scrivener trying to work out if I really need to add another couple of sentences to this scene. Should I break it here and move to other characters or just go straight on with these characters? How much time should I skip? Should I attempt to follow them on this long walk from one scene to the next?

I’ve also been focusing on better ways to track my writing practice. I decided that I needed a spreadsheet to track how many words I write and how much time I spend on useful reading or on editing. However this means that I have to face how terribly I now am at using spreadsheets. Way back in the day, back when computer skills were still quite rare, I used to be ok at using spreadsheets. It was part of my job back when I worked in a lab. But I’m out of practice and technology has moved on and I had to download one that sort of does some of what I want. I think I need to do a course.

This week I’ve also been contemplating the many ways in which I am really quite bad at the internet. I’m ok for someone who was an adult before the World Wide Web was a thing but compared to the younger generations I’m terrible. I don’t really engage with it properly. I think it’s partly because I don’t like being judged and that’s not a great trait to bring to online spaces.

I belong to a lot of craft based Facebook groups but I almost never post on them. I’ve just never got into the habit of documenting the things that I make. Most of what I make never gets photographed. Even when I remember to photograph things I often don’t post the photographs and when I do post them I usually just post the photograph and the fact that I just made this thing. I don’t do the helpful thing of including links to the materials or the pattern.

With crochet in particular I often adapt patterns or create my own but I don’t document the process so not only can I not pay that back to the crochet community but if I want to make the thing again I have to start again from scratch.

I’m not sure how to be less crap at this. All suggestions gratefully received.