Tuesday, 7 November 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017, Day 7: Some Random Thoughts

I seem to have reached the point in the month where it's easier to write the story than to think of anything to say about what I'm doing. There's only so many times you can say 'wrote more words today' before you just can't face it again. *scrolls back* Um... four times, apparently. I can probably do better than that.

So, thoughts after a week of NaNoWriMo:

1. "You just sort of do it" is still the only way I can describe how pantsing a novel works. I could go on about mental pictures of what a novel should look like and the need to have some kind of deep understanding of how stories and storytelling work, but it doesn't matter, because you don't need to consciously think about those things while writing. It's general writer knowledge, not pantsing-specific knowledge. So basically I can't explain what I'm doing and I think I need to be okay with that.

2. Screen brightness makes a huge difference to how well I can write -- to the point where I basically can't write at all on my desktop, and can only write on my laptop if I run it on battery (which lowers the brightness beyond the plugged-in minimum.

3. If this is the kind of character I want to write right now, it totally makes sense that none of the older projects I was looking at in October were 'the one'. The things I need have changed too much for me to easily slip back into an old story.

So, that's my first week done. Onwards! or something.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017, Day 2: Tough Questions

The for/against thing seems to be battering against me constantly. NaNo is a great way to establish a writing habit. NaNo is a terrible way to establish a writing habit. NaNo will help me write my first draft. The first draft won't be worth looking at. It all ties into my own self-sabotage, too. I'm pretty sure I can write 50k this month. Six out of seven of my previous NaNoWriMo attempts tell me that.

But, seven out of seven of my previous NaNoWriMo attempts tell me that the likelihood of me ever doing anything with this story again is slim to none. I'll get something written, sure. It's just that by the end of the month I'll almost certainly hate it too much to ever be able to do anything with it. NaNoWriMo has proven multiple times that it can produce words, but it's also proven multiple times that it produces words I don't like

So, my choice is this:

  1. Keep living with the gloomy knowledge that I could have written and didn't (my state for most of this year)
  2. Write something for NaNo and face the strong possibility that I'm going to feel worse about my writing afterwards.
I want a third option. I want there to be a way to get myself writing regularly, but also writing things I can enjoy and go on with. I don't know how to do that, so today when I sit down to start talking myself into writing, I'll be wondering if I'm helping myself or making things worse.

NaNoWriMo 2017, Day 1: Why am I even here?

This is probably just another stage of writing-related negativity. I find myself looking at my progress for today (1855 words) and thinking, "I could have done that any time. I should have been doing this already."

I don't know how to respond to that other than to just remind myself that I'm doing it now. That should be enough. I should be able to celebrate 1855 words as an achievement, not attack myself for not having done it yesterday and the day before. I'm doing it now. And, I'm putting this quote from Daniel José Older's 2016 pep talk somewhere right in my eye-line as I'm sitting at the computer:

"Writing begins with forgiveness. Let go of the shame about how long it’s been since you last wrote, the clenching fear that you’re not a good enough writer, the doubts over whether or not you can get it done. Sure, the nagging demons will come creeping back, but set them aside anyway, and then set them aside again when they do. Concoct a hot beverage, play a beautiful song, look inward, and then begin."

I have my coffee, I have a couple of Ne Obliviscaris albums to listen to, and I have a story waiting to be continued. Inwards and upwards? That sounds weird and vaguely unpleasant. But, yes. Today I need to forgive myself for the past and set aside my demons. Today I've written. Tomorrow, I'll write again. That's enough for now.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

NaNoWriMo Soundtrack, part I: 'Urn' by Ne Obliviscaris

I was going to do a single 'my NaNo soundtrack post, but I've decided I like it better this way. Every few days, I'll introduce a new album that's inspiring me this November.

So, first up is a new release by one of my favourite bands, extreme progressive metal band Ne Obliviscaris. I don't know if that's the right subgenre description. Close enough?

Because I'm bad at reviews, have a list of five somewhat random list of things about Ne Obliviscaris:
  1. They have the best violin in metal.
  2. One of the vocalists looks exactly like the main character from my 2016 NaNo project.
  3. The lyrics are good poetry as well as being great to listen to.
  4. The last two tracks on this album are 50% of the inspiration for the title of this year's NaNo... which I didn't name 'Haunting perfections of the mirrored void' only because that's awkwardly long as a filename.
  5. This is the 'two male vocalists' duet I've been wishing for pretty much ever since I found out about death/extreme vocals.
Seriously, this album is amazing. It's everything you could possibly want in a follow-up to 'Citadel'. I'll be listening to both albums a fair bit this coming month. Basically, for my taste Ne Obliviscaris is very close to the complete musical, literary, and aesthetic package. Not that there's anything I don't like about it, but... well, I guess my heart was already taken. We'll get to that another day.

Anyway, go listen to this album!

Sunday, 29 October 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017: (Probably) My Daily Process

It's almost time for NaNoWriMo. So far in the lead-up to this year's events I've:

  1. Tried to plan an ambitious rewrite.
  2. Considered starting a new story but keeping the old one in my mind as I do it.
  3. Decided I probably should just write a whole new story to remind myself I can do it.
It's only the 30th, so I still have time to change my mind at least once more. I have something in mind for that 'whole new story', though, so I might be settled now.
So, onto the finer details. I don't know if I've talked about this before, but this is more or less my daily process:

First, clear away any clutter on my desk. I have quite a small desk at the moment, so I have to pack away one task to make room for a new one. It turns out this is also a good way to shift my mind from one thing to another. Handy bonus!

Second, set up all my writing stuff. I need pens, paper to write on, and my current project's Zim wiki open on the computer screen. If I'm going to use the typewriter, I also need to set it up and check over everything to make sure it's working.

Third, pick some writing music. I'll do a post about that later, probably.

Then, it's time to start writing. In spite of all the preparation and stuff, there's nothing special here. I just open the file or grab a blank sheet of paper and dive into it. The last sentence from yesterday is the clue to the first sentence of today, and the first sentence leads naturally into the second, and so on.

Usually, I'll write for about 30 minutes and get somewhere around 500 words. If I'm feeling gloomy, I'll cut down to 15 minutes, and if I get into the zone I'll forget to check the clock and end up doing just about my entire wordcount in one session.

Then... well, rinse and repeat until I get to 1667 words. Most of the time, that's enough.
Occasionally, I have to get away from the computer. I haven't worked out how to use a typewriter in bed, so this tends to mean pen and paper. This is also the perfect late-night option for keeping the noise down or for enjoying the silence.

So anyway, that's how I write. I think.

I guess NaNo is going to be all about testing my process and trying out new stuff. Should be fine, right?

Friday, 27 October 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017: And here's where the second thoughts kick in...

I had forgotten — allowed myself to forget, maybe — that by the standards of the NaNoWriMo forum I do everything wrong. If I offer advice or support to someone, the next few posts will be contradictions targeted directly at me. If I ask a question, all responses will be phrased in terms of 'you've done everything wrong up to now, but you can save yourself by following my advice'.

This is... honestly, probably all in my head. It's me being oversensitive or something. It's the community assuming every question has 'I need to throw my entire process out the window' at its core. That much, I've observed from reading threads I have nothing to do with.
So, I end up in this position: I sort of want to do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, but I think trying to get involved at all is only going to hurt me. I'm not naturally a confident writer and being part of a community that can be relied on to criticise every part of my process will give the voices of doubt and uncertainty that much more strength.

The thing is, the NaNoWriMo community is supposed to be the best part, not the worst. It's supposed to be supporting and caring, and most of the time I can tell myself that all the criticism and correction is well-meaning. When it's directed at me, though, I can't shrug it off. I start to question myself instead.

What if the reason I haven't written much this year is that there's something terribly wrong with my process? Do I need to throw it all out the window and try something new? According to NaNoWriMo, the answers would be 'yes, that's the reason' and 'yes, you definitely should change your process'. Bit by bit I internalise this idea that everything I'm doing is wrong, and without even setting out to do it I start trying to change things.

Changing things according to advice and self-doubt only leads one place: straight into the Brick Wall of 'I Give Up'. According to the community, this is because I'm not trying hard enough. If I really set my mind to the task of learning and implementing this new process — whatever it is — I'd be fine. And, I'm never fine. I only become fine when I escape from all the well-meaning but ultimately destructive advice and go back to what I know has worked in the past.

I usually don't get to this point until about mid-November, when the negative thoughts about how badly I've followed all the advice becomes overwhelming. To sit here before NaNo has even started and realise the community will poison me is a strange feeling. I'm not sure where to go from here.

So, this is what has worked for me in the past:

  1. Before starting, I need a title (so I can name files something) and a genre (which is automatic, because I always know I want it to be SFF). Nice but not necessary: a named character and a vision of where this character is sittng when the story starts.
  2. Have a significant starting date (usually 1st of the month), a clear ending date, and a daily and overall wordcount goal.
  3. While writing, maintain consistent progress: write every day, keep hitting the daily goal.
It's that simple, and that hard. This November, if I write anything at all, this is what would work. I just have to convince myself to stick with it, because that's the real problem I have with writing: not that my process is wrong, but that I need to work harder at actually following it.

NaNoWriMo 2017: A Pantser's Journey

This year, I had... well, not exactly a plan, but a clear intention. I wanted to escape from my 'big' project of the last year or so, and I wanted to do it by reviving an old, incomplete story. I spent a week or so reading old stories and picked out a likely candidate. This was in the first week of October. Then, as writers often do, I settled down to plan out exactly what I was going to do.

Two weeks later, I realised I'd actually been using study to procrastinate from planning my novel. Yes, you read that correctly: I avoided planning my novel by studying. That was about the point where the Self-Doubt Monster re-entered my life. If I had so little enthusiasm for what I was going to write that I'd rather work on an essay about 19th century French realist authors, something must be seriously wrong. Maybe I was never really meant to be a writer, and it was time to put all this silliness behind me and... and that's where I stopped, because the nice people at NaNoWriMo invited us all to think about what would be our biggest obstacle this November.

Answer: Basically, me. I am in my way. My biggest obstacle to overcome in NaNoWriMo or any other writing is my inclination towards self-sabotage. Given the slightest opening, I know I'll be able to talk myself out of writing and probably even persuade myself I shouldn't have started in the first place. I'll convince myself I haven't got time right now, or that I shouldn't write until after I've finished today's study tasks, or that now that I've missed a couple of days there's no point continuing, or that I've made a terrible mistake 10k ago and there's no way to continue without finding and rectifying that mistake... and it goes on.

And, that's what I'd been doing all this month. By deciding to plan this novel, I'd given myself a platform for talking myself out of writing it.

So, I asked myself this: when has sitting down and planning things out ever gotten me out of trouble with something writing-related?
Answer: essay writing. There, I have notes and plans and a nice tidy skeleton to follow, and things tend to work out best if I stick to them.

Everything else, though, I just sort of throw a bunch of stuff onto a page and then repeat that until I get something that looks more or less like the expected product. I'm aware of structure as I do it, but only in the most general sense. Anything more creative than an academic essay is written and rewritten by feel, not by lists and outlines.

So, this is what I'm going to do in November. No plans, no outlines, no list of instructions for rewriting an old draft. I'll have the old story in my head, but mainly I just want to make a story-shaped space in my life and then set myself the task of filling that space.

I have a plan. My plan is to write like hell until I reach the 50k goal, and then keep going until I get to the end of the story. If the pants fit, write by the seat of them!

I'll figure the rest out later.