It’s still early

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Experiment: Life

I keep getting frustrated with myself.  Bogged down, feeling like a toddler, I DON’T WANNA!  Don’t wanna get up, or decide what productive thing to do, or wash dishes, or … or … or write, of course, because that’s there too.  Or worse, I want to write, but I don’t want to tear open the vein and feel what’s there.  Or I don’t want to keep banging my head against a wall.  I dunno.

I’m trying to rewrite my vampire story, and I’m stuck on this scene.  Do I just need to bang my head on it harder?  (That’s my default assumption, it may be faulty.)  Is it the wrong scene and I can’t see it because that’s always been the scene?  Or am I just writing the wrong story right now?  What’s the right story?  How would I know?

The other morning I woke up grumpy.  I was tired (I’m always tired when I wake up), and I was thinking of all the things I haven’t done, should’ve done, should I get up and wash dishes, should I help Ben with breakfast, should I should I?  Or worse, I should I should.  And some of the grumpy got turned outward on Ben, because that’s what happens.  So then I wonder, is there some psychological reason I’m grumpy?  I should do something to get un-grumpy, because I shouldn’t be judging myself.  So now I’m judging the judging.  o_O  Seriously, my brain.

I haven’t worked on the story in days, and I haven’t worked on anything else either.  Because my brain is judging and saying “You should be finishing this vampire story!” and instead of some other part of me saying very linearly, “But that’s the wrong story” or “But I’m coming at the story wrong” or anything so useful, I just don’t want to write, and I feel miserable and grumpy.  Because the part of me that can determine whether it’s the right story isn’t linear, so it doesn’t communicate in whole ideas like that.  It just gets grumpy.  Or stubborn, and some other part of my head gets grumpy.  (When I’m in it, I can’t always tell which part of my psyche is having which reactions.  And notice the part of my brain making that sentence thinks I should be able to tell, and is judging me for that.  Oh, the judgment how it swirls.)

Anyway, so I was telling Ben about my grumpy morning, which actually started with a grumpy evening the night before, after he went to bed, but it’s not much different from the grumpy morning so I didn’t bother telling you about it before, but I was telling him about the grumpy evening and the grumpy morning.  And he said*, “I guess I’m not surprised that you’re having tough emotions and doubts at this stage in your experiment.  It’s still early.  But I have no doubt that you’re going to succeed.”  And then he went away to do something else.

And I remembered I also have confidence that I’m going to succeed.  And I have confidence that it’s going to suck sometimes, because learning a new thing always sucks, and I’m learning a whole new way of living.  It always gets rough before you make a breakthrough.  I’ve been having a lot of rough, these past few weeks, interspersed with awesome.

And today I read this blog post by Amanda Palmer, who makes awesome music, who’s married to Neil Gaiman, who makes awesome books, in which she reviews his latest book and their marriage.  Two artists married to each other.  Two artists who had long solo careers of being creative in a particular way before getting married, and not always knowing how not to hurt each other while doing their own things.  And I’m so envious of them, because they know how to do their things already.  They’ve had years and years of making art for a living, in which to discover that they work best alone, or in short bursts or long bursts or intense obsessive** weeks of Making Art, or whatever.  And I’ve had one month, half of which was actually vacation.

It’s still early, yet.

——

* He didn’t actually say it like that.  I don’t remember his words.  But these words get me to the same feeling I had when he said his words, so they’ll do.

** This word is never spelled the way I think it should be: obssessive.  Or maybe obsssesssive.  If you’re going to be obsessive, you should have tons of extra esses.  I’m just sayin’.

My New Way of Life

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Experiment: Life

I’m starting an experiment§.  It’s a life-sized experiment to discover how Liza* lives best, instead of how a “normal person” lives best.  It’s an experiment, so I’m going to be tracking metrics and adjusting variables.  Since there’s only one of me, the comparison will be between weeks.  Also, it’s entirely subjective, being about me, and I reserve the right to change my metrics at any time.  🙂

My starting assumption is that I work best when I don’t constrain myself with restrictions and rules.  E.g. “I will exercise every day” or “I will write 500 words every day” or “I will be at work by 10am and work for 8+ hours” are all restrictions that I resent, and then I do the exact opposite (or sit in front of feeling miserable… see “eating my vegetables”, below).  I rebel against perfectly reasonable self-assigned rules, even just “I will go out for a walk today”.  :-/  In order to stop these constraints, I’ve decided to quit my day job**.

Most writing exercises are really just a set of constraints.  The constraints suggest ideas I wouldn’t have thought of if I were just facing a blank page with no constraints.  On weekends when I don’t have any goals and I can do absolutely anything, I often dive into the first interesting thing that presents itself and don’t come out for hours… regardless of whether it was an activity that was actually worth those hours.  NOT the most productive thing.  Putting those two experiences together, my theory is that I’ll give myself constraints within which to structure my life.  Not rules for me to rebel against, but constraints that expand my options in the direction I want to focus my energy.

Examples of constraints I would like to try out:

  • Don’t push myself if I don’t feel like it.  On the other hand, do check in periodically to see if I feel like doing something other than what I’m doing now.
  • Have one day a week planned for running errands — I can run errands on other days, and I don’t have to run them on that day, but it’s an anchor point for thinking about errands.
  • Have one day a week planned for thinking about food.  I can make food on any day, and I don’t have to make food on the scheduled day, but it’s an anchor point for thinking about food.
  • Have one day a week planned for thinking about cleaning.  I hope to do a bit of housecleaning every day, say 20 minutes.  So on days when I don’t feel like cleaning at all, I can think of one small thing to do.  And on days when I don’t mind cleaning, I can think of bigger things to do.
  • Every day, think about my stor(y|ies).  Sit for at least five minutes in front of {the story | a notebook | a keyboard} and write a stream of consciousness.  If it turns into hours of writing, yay!  If it doesn’t, then I can do something else instead.  -> Note: My goal is to spend at least 4 hours writing every day.  But I want them to be fun and energetic hours, not miserable hours where I feel like I’m forcing myself to eat my vegetables***, and you will sit here until they’re all done, young lady† .  So if that means I spend at least 5 minutes hating the peas, then I know today is a pea-hating day and I should do something else fun and/or productive, guilt-free.

This is really the crux of my plan for myself.  The least valuable thing I do to myself is make myself feel guilty.  When I feel guilty, like I OUGHT to be eating those peas, then I can’t make myself do anything else that would be more fun or more useful.  All I can do is mind-numbing things that help me avoid the guilt, like watching TV or reading a fun book or playing a video game.  Creativity goes right out the window.  So, I’m not going to allow myself to feel guilty about deciding not to do the things I don’t want to do.  I’m going to trust that it’s a short term not-want-to, and that wanting-to will come back eventually.  And if I never do want to do that thing, then why on earth should I have it on my list††?  If it’s so important, can I hire someone else to do it for me?

The foundation of the crux of the plan††† is trust in myself.  Trust myself to know what I need to do now, and trust myself to do everything in the right time.  Trust myself to have the creativity I need when I need it.  And trust, always, that “This Too Shall Pass”.

I have a lot more thoughts about trust, productivity, creativity, and how Self works.  I’m sure I’ll share them as I go along.

 

——

§ …in about a month.  I’ve just given my two week notice, and then I’m taking two weeks off.  So Experiment: Life will start on April 29!

* Yes, this experiment relies on me referring to myself in the third person.  …  Why are you looking at me like that?

** This means I will have no income.  Eeek!  This is a whole nother subject, but suffice it to say that I have enough savings to live on for a while, and I have faith that through my experimentation I’m going to find ways to earn money doing things I want to do.  And if I don’t… I will go straight back to having a day job.  This is an experiment, and I am aware that it could fail entirely.  I’m trying not to run on self-delusion.  🙂

*** FYI, I’m going to use this as a metaphor a lot for things I don’t want to do.  Short-handed to “eating my peas”, even though I like peas a lot.  The context is that when I was little, I could sit for hours (it felt like hours, though I imagine it wasn’t more than 30 minutes) in front of my vegetables at dinner time, refusing to eat them (because I didn’t like them as much when I was little) and being told I had to, and eating just one slow bite at a time.  I’m not even sure how often this happened… it could’ve been once, for all I know.  My memory is pretty spotty.  But I do have a memory of this happening, and it perfectly resonates with how I feel when I’m sitting in front of some task I absolutely do NOT want to do, but have to because it’s expected.  At work, usually.

† I don’t think anyone in my family ever said that or called me “young lady”, but it sounds right for the story.  :o)

††  Note that I’m not talking about things like doing my taxes.  I’m aware that I do have to do them eventually, regardless of how I feel.  But I also know that I don’t really mind doing my taxes, or paying bills, or any of that.  Sometimes I have the right headspace to think about money, and sometimes I don’t.  When I don’t, I shouldn’t be doing my taxes.  When I do, I don’t mind doing my taxes.  So do understand, I’m not talking about never doing the required things ever.  I’m talking about doing them when I have the mental capacity for it, and not when I don’t.

††† Am I taking this metaphor too far?

Meta Blog Post

My notebook - entry from Jan 13, 2013

I’ve noticed that I like my writing voice better when I’m talking to myself, pondering to myself, stream of consciousness (though it usually is in complete sentences… cuz I’m funny like that).  Why is that?  I’m more authentic with myself.  I also don’t have to fill in as much back-story, cuz I already know the background, so it’s a faster, more immediate train of thought.  (“Wait for me!” she shouted, running after the train.)  Also, I have more random asides and quips, because I’m amusing myself.  🙂  Sometimes they’re inside jokes, where you really had to be there on that one day in the 10th grade when…

And then, do I edit my train-of-thought stream-of-consciousness blurbs after I’ve reached the end?  If I edit inline, then I’m clearly too self-conscious and not really talking to myself (cuz duh, I don’t need to censor when *I’m* the audience, cuz I’ll be hearing all the extra crap whether I edit or not).  But what about afterwards?  When I realize that I looped around back to repeat something I’ve already said, and why on earth would you care about all the meanderings and thoughts I’ve been having?

Also, that means that once the moment has passed, once I don’t feel the need to tell myself the story, then I won’t be able to recapture it for you, either.  But then, if I don’t feel the need to tell myself the story, maybe that means I don’t need to tell you, either.  (And who is “you” in this sentence?  Is it me, because I’m writing to myself?  Or is it the imaginary audience out there who probably isn’t reading this post anyway?  Woah, my head is spinning.)

I want to post more.  (I hate reading blog posts from inconsistent bloggers [like myself] who post saying “I want to blog more!  But here’s my excuse why I haven’t… or here’s my plan for doing better!”, when really you could just SKIP the post saying “I’m gonna blog more” and instead just start blogging more.  Duh.)  But anyway, I do want to post more.  I also know that this is pretty low on my list of priorities.  (Given my previous parenthetical, where is this paragraph going?  I think I had a point when I started it, but I got distracted by my own aside, and now I don’t remember what the next sentence should be.  Oh right…)  It’s an effort to write up a blog post, and disappointing to reread it and realize I sound lame, or I’m not telling an interesting story after all, and so I should just scrap it as not worth* the ones and zeroes it’s printed on.  (And I’m still doing that lame thing I hate from others: sharing my lack of self-confidence.  Sigh.)  But the point is that when I’m writing to myself in my notebook, or on paper, then I like my voice just fine.  Maybe I read it differently when it’s only to myself?  Maybe I write it differently?  Nah, I’ve lost the voice, now I’m telling YOU instead of telling myself.  My self has already moved on to another subject, which is the point of my footnote… so I’ll just leave you with the footnote:

——

* I mistyped “worth” as another word that’s like “wrote“: wroth.  It’s the verb of “wrath”, I think.  “She was wroth with him.”  Could just say “angry at”, but “wroth” sounds cool.  And it’s just one letter off from “wrote”… which is the only thing they have in common.  🙂

NaNoWriMo 2011 trails off with a fizzle

I’m not conceding defeat, exactly, because that would imply that I’m a failure, and I don’t believe that.  But… I took on a task, and real life came along and bit me.

I set out to write 50,000 new words on THE LAST FAIRY GODMOTHER this month, and I haven’t broken 15,000†.  Being the second-to-last day of the month, I’m not going to try to pretend that I could manage all that before the end of tomorrow.

I’ve concluded several things from this experiment:

  • I can write a lot when I don’t care if it makes sense.
  • I actually prefer it to make sense, even though it’s “just” NaNoWriMo.
  • While I started out with characters and a plot, I missed out on the critical VILLAIN element.  I finally figured out the villain (and also what he does that personally affects my main characters!), but not until the third week, by which time I’d fallen seriously behind.
  • Scheduling something, even something wonderful and fun, that takes up a whole weekend plus two weekday evenings during NaNoWriMo is tantamount to NaNoSuicide.  Especially when I still have my day job, and therefore had no weekend to recover from the week and the fun weekend, and still wanted to be able to keep writing.  I lost over a week recovering from that.
  • Inertia is really helpful, so a disruption in the inertia drags me to a screeching halt, and then it takes me weeks to care enough to speed up again.
  • When trying to avoid writing, I knit beautiful things*.  😀
  • When trying to avoid writing, I make great progress resolving story issues in other stories that are not my main focus.  (Yesterday I realized I could fix two flaws in my vampire story, and I came up with four scenes for a short story version of my first [winning] NaNo story from 2006 about the invention and QA testing of the transporter**.)

Other wins for the month:

  • I bought a ton of yarn on sale on Saturday.  Including enough to make my Staghorn Sweater.  As soon as I finish making my vest (see beautiful things, above), I’ll start on the sweater.  Woohoo!
  • I haven’t died.
  • I got to see or talk to most of my favorite people over the Thanksgiving long weekend.
  • There might even be some others, but I’ve already forgotten them.  :-/

So, I think my plan is to finish polishing my vampire story, and then decide whether I want to start back in on LFG or write the four scenes for my transporter story.  Or maybe even try to figure out what the later scenes of the transporter story might be…  Hmm.

 

——

† Which brings me to 35,000 total!

* And of course I haven’t remembered to take any pictures of it, so no, you cannot see it.  Sorry.

** I can’t remember if it had a title.  It was wonderful and funny.  I still have the novel somewhere, but it is not worth resurrecting in any way shape or form, with the possible exception of the first scene, which was full of fabulous.  I seem to have only documented it on the internet on Nov. 1 of that year, here: http://booklizard.livejournal.com/2006/11/01/

What I want writing to be, and what writing is

I want writing to be about starting at the beginning and writing through until I find the end.  When it goes like that I think, “See, I was right, that’s what writing is like!”  When it doesn’t go like that I think, “Aaahh, I’m failling*!”

I’ve been writing my fairy story since the beginning of this year.  I’ve written somewhere between 15 and 20k words in this story.  (It is destined to be a novel, unless I suddenly discover that Lo, there isn’t really a plot where I expected there would be a plot**.)  And partway through the summer I realized I couldn’t keep writing the scene that I was trying to write, so I skipped ahead a little.  I mean a little, like I skipped over a boring bit that you wouldn’t have wanted to read anyway.  And then I was stuck.  So I backed up and tried again, this time trying not to skip ahead at all.  I have learned, in my years of writing stories, that when I’m stuck it’s usually because there’s something wrong with the story as I’ve written it so far, not because I’m inherently lazy, nor even because the story is inherently flawed.  And so if I can find the right question to ask, I can figure out what went wrong and fix it, and then the story will go merrily along on its way.  So I backed up a little, and rewrote.  And the newer version read better than the older version.  And then I got stuck, again.  I could’ve pushed on, but I know that pushing is a good way to get a bad story that’ll have to be rewritten.  So in July or August, I ripped back*** to a scene I’d written in May (oh, how that hurt), and noticed several plot holes.  Whew, that’s been the problem all along! thought I, and happily got back to writing.

In September I went on a (non-writing) vacation for two weeks, and when I came back I couldn’t remember why this story was supposed to be interesting, and ugh who wrote this rat’s nest, and why am I supposed to care about these characters?  What crystallized for me was that there were too many complications.  Yes, I need to have complications to keep the story going forward.  But if I can’t keep track of all of them, then my reader will have no hope.  So I simplified.  I pulled out an event that happened in the third scene and I made sure I knew, in each scene, what each person should primarily be reacting too.  If they’re not, then it’s a problem.  These things gave me a lot of clarity, and I am not rewriting.  I wrote down what I want to change, and I can see how those changes move forward into the “now” of my story so that I can pick up from “now” and keep writing.  I won’t waste time on rewriting that I could spend on writing new words.  The first draft will not be coherent from beginning to end, but coherence can wait until the second draft.

In order to make these decisions, to see what needs changing, I needed two things.  First was distance away from the story.  Second was the recognition that writing is a process of figuring out what the story is—and also what the story isn’t.  Just because I don’t always know what the story is doesn’t mean I’m failing.  Or falling.

It means I’m writing.

——

* Not merely a typo, but also “failing” and “falling” smooshed together into one word that should already exist.  I’m shocked I didn’t think of it sooner.

** It feels a lot like Columbus sailing and sailing and sailing, and then falling off the end of the Earth because, Lo, there really isn’t more Earth in that direction.  Luckily for all of us, there really was more Earth and he didn’t fall off.  But there are no guarantees for my story.  Mathy philosopher types like Euripedes^ have been positing for centuries that there is more story, but they could be wrong.

^ Was it Euripedes?  Who’s the guy from Egypt who calculated the circumference of the Earth to within 5% accuracy based on the fact that a pole in the ground had more shadow at noon than a similar pole 200 miles south?  That’s the guy I’m thinking of.  Except really I’m thinking of the metaphorical guy, who’s actually just one of the voices in my head, telling me that it has mathematically computed that there must be more story, and its circumference is about the size of a novel.  And other voices are pointing out that this mathy guy hasn’t really proven he’s not just pulling numbers out of his hat, so don’t trust him too much.  I’m trying to be neutral in this debate until I have evidence one way or another.

*** That’s a knitting metaphor, right there.  I’ve ripped back rows in knitting often enough, too.  I hate doing it more than once on a project—and again I think I must be failing—but sometimes it’s just part of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.  But in knitting there is no second draft.  (And if your second sleeve looks better than the first?  Then your sweater will look funny.  :-/)

Desire, Blockage***, Motion

I have this desire to write more.  I want to tell the world funny rambly stories about my life and whatever catches my attention, because—ooh, shiny!—I’m entertained by totally random things, and I firmly believe there exist people who will find my entertainment entertaining.  (Yeah, I can’t decide if I created that sentence on purpose or not.)

I don’t want to write about my day job.  It’s not relevant, and I have a tendency to drift into snarky rather than funny, which is inappropriate if I want to remain a respected employee.  I don’t want to be inappropriate, and I don’t actually want to be snarky more often than is necessary to entertain the people who find me entertaining.

I’ve noticed that I can tell tragic stories about my own mental processes in a funny way, and I can tell boring stories in a funny way (though they may still be boring).  And I can tell perfectly straight* stories in a perfectly straight way, though I usually bore myself halfway through and have to stop and write something random.

I have a desire to learn how to NOTICE good blog-post subjects, so that I can write about them.  I also have a desire to learn how to WRITE those posts, quickly enough that I’ll click “post” before losing the energy behind them such that I suddenly decide they’re actually dumb and no one cares.  I know no one ought to care, but I’m hoping that the people out there who find me entertaining will care even when the subjects are dumb.

So, what steps should I take to make those two DESIRES become MOTION**?  (Feedback encouraged…)

——

* Straight=non-funny, straight!=hetero, in this context.

** And when will I stop with the random YELLING for emphasis?

*** Does this sound as gross to anyone else as to me?  :-/  I can’t think of a better word, though, so I’m not changing it.  And yeah, I totally added this FIRST^ footnote last.

^ And I’m still yelling.  Sorry, I’ll try to get over it for next time.

priorities

I’ve been thinking about what’s important to me lately.  It’s become absolutely clear that I don’t have enough energy to do all the things I want to do or should do.  It’s frustrating.

So, I figured I should make a comprehensive list of what’s important to me (in no particular order):

  • My sanity
  • Having enough money to have food and clothing (i.e. my job)
  • My family & friends
  • My writing
  • Other creative pursuits
  • Becoming a better person

Honestly, “other creative pursuits” could probably drop to the bottom of this list, except when it relates to “my sanity”.

I’d be happy to drop “my job” off the list, except that I’d just have to replace it with some other source of money and/or food and clothing–which would probably take just as much time and energy as the job, so I might as well just stick with the job.

I struggle with “my family and friends”.  None of my family and friends gets to see me as often as they would like.  So, I think it ends up lower on the list than it ought–and so it definitely can’t fall off the list.

I think it’s pretty clear around here that “my writing” is a priority for me–but at the same time, it’s not as high on the list as it would need to be in order for me to become a professional writer.  I don’t write every day.  Sometimes I don’t even write every week.  *shame-face*  Maybe I’m just a hobbyist.  Since it’s one of the things I define myself by, I’d hate to relegate it to “hobby” forever, but … is it more important than the food & clothing that come with having a job?  Is it more important than my friends and family?  Is it more important than my sanity?

This is really the crux of my dilemma.  I put quite a lot of stock in “my sanity”.  I “need” 8-9 hours of sleep every night.  I “need” down-time, in which I’m not harassing myself about what I “ought” to be doing.  And when I get home, and the idea of figuring out how to switch my brain into thinking about something different–like, my current novel–is just so painful, I can’t even fathom it.  So I lie on the couch with a book, or a movie.  And then I get absorbed into the movie, or the book, and I don’t ever switch back into brain-functioning mode.

I wonder if setting a timer for myself might help.  Read for 30 minutes, then go pick up the notebook and stare at it with a pen in my hand for at least 30 minutes.  If the pen happens to scratch symbols onto the page, all the better.  I think that’s called BIC*.  When the 30 minutes are done, if I want to go back to the book or the movie, then I may.  Hmm…

This doesn’t resolve how to have time (and energy) for all those other things.  Like, learning to be a better person.  Spending time corresponding with the people who are interested in corresponding with me.  Knitting that hat I told Ben I’d make him for Christmas….

* I may have to remove the piles of paper from all around my office in order for this to work^.  And I seriously need a comfortable desk chair.

^ You say I’m procrastinating?  Who, moi?

Getting the scene right

Why is it that every scene I write seems to require at least two versions to be even remotely close to what it should be?  The first scene in this second draft was fabulous coming out of my pen, really fun when I read through it again, and then fell flat when I came back to it a week later.  Fortunately, I figured out how I can step up the creepy factor (dude, it’s a vampire story, it needs to start out at least a little creepy), so that’ll take a serious revision.  (Not until after I finish this whole draft, however.  I’m not rewriting whole scenes until I hit The End [again].)

My current scene has taken one and a half passes, and I’ve just realized I’ll need another.  The first pass was half done, and then I couldn’t quite figure out what to put next, so I stopped writing and went away for a few days.  Driving home one day, I figured out that if I rearrange it like so, and have the conversation go like this, then it’ll flow better, and I can get where I need to go.  So I wrote it out yesterday, and it was ok, there was a sort of banter between the two characters in the scene–banter much like that I have with my friends, except I think it isn’t as much fun when you’re reading about other people.  But it wasn’t right, it didn’t make me feel jazzed.  This morning I set my brain on it and realized that there’s too much of the MC saying, “I want X”, and me (the author) responding, “Ok, here ya go!”  Bah*.

Which means that either I can’t give the MC what she’s asking for (not without an extra big thorn) … or she doesn’t want what I’m going to give her.  I think I have an idea of how to rearrange it so she isn’t getting what she wants, as such, but … I’m not sure it’s all that conflictive**.  I want her to end this scene in a particular place, having seen a particular thing, but I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to make that conflicted yet***.

But this still leaves me with the question: Why can’t I ever write the right scene on the first try?  Why is it always that right after, or the next day, or several weeks later I realize “Oh, this would be so much better if …”

Or maybe the more important question: Am I going to reach a point where I stop thinking of the better versions, and can just call it finished?  I really don’t want to write a third version of this story from scratch.  :-/  (Barring another change of MC, I’m not going to.  It’ll just be heavy revision.  But still.)  And I’m tired of  knowing that the story as-written is quite different from how it will be in the next draft, so I can’t go back and read the way it’s going to be.

*sigh*

* Kicking puppies.  I’m supposed to be kicking puppies.  That’s my job.

** It is too a word.  See? en.wiktionary.org/wiki/conflictive

*** Which is why I’m not rewriting the scene until the end.  For now, it suits me to know that I have a better version in mind (described in my notebook, where I won’t forget it), which I can write later.  So if I come up with an even better variation, that’ll get added to the pile of notes, and I’ll only have to rewrite (again) once.

Bad lessons my brain teaches me

My brain is determined to teach me bad lessons about my body.

Last night, I had a caffeinated beverage at about 7.  I don’t usually, but I decided to risk it cuz I’ve been pretty tired lately, and I was at my writing group.  So, I didn’t end up leaving until after 11, and then had an hour-long drive home.  I put on some nice classical music* and set to pondering stories, both my own and those of my friends.  By the time I reached 92, I’d completely reworked the (new) beginning of my story so that it will be much more dramatical.  It was a totally visual experience, I could see all of the scenes that need to happen.  Once I can see them, they’re usually right–though my ability to transcribe them onto paper is often imperfect.  Then I had to pay attention to driving, because it was nearly midnight and very foggy and 92 is twisty.  When I got home I scribbled for another hour, completely wide awake and buzzing, totally jazzed about making my vampire more creepy and my MC’s problems more troubling.  (And I may have figured out a theme.)

Finally I went to bed, and as I tried to fall asleep, I figured out what will make the climactic scene with the new MC unique from the last version–and more powerful, I think**.

So apparently being tired and drinking caffeine when I should be winding at the end of the day is the right way to get breakthroughs.  Just as I’ve been fearing.  That needs a warning label with it: WARNING: USE DRASTIC MEASURES ONLY WHEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY, AS IT CAN CAUSE SLEEPINESS, POOR PERFORMANCE AT WORK, AND ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES TO CONCLUDE YOU ARE IRRESPONSIBLE OR DON’T LOVE THEM.  Or maybe it needs indications. USE ONLY AS DIRECTED. USE ONLY AS MUCH AS NECESSARY.  DO NOT USE MORE THAN ONCE EVERY 6 HOURS, AS IT CAN LEAD TO INTERNAL BLEEDING AND HALLUCINATIONS.  DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY [sic] WHILE USING DRASTIC MEASURES LIKE SLEEP DEP AND STARVATION TO INDUCE CREATIVITY.

Yeah.  Or as Ben said when I described the effect this morning–“Oh, you’re an artist.”  :-/

* Ax, Stoltzman, Ma : Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart : Trios for Piano, Clarinet, & Cello, which is currently one of my favorites.

** One of the nice things about not sharing the first draft^ with anyone is that no one will be able to gainsay me about whether the second draft is actually better than the first.  They’ll have to take it on its own merits.  🙂

^ Or at least the ending of the first draft–I realize I did share a lot of the beginning with my writing group.  Fortunately, when I shared the new beginning with the group last night (not the one I re-envisioned while driving home, the first version of the new beginning with the new MC), everyone agreed the MC has a personality.  Yay for small victories!  Yay for main characters who aren’t wet blankets!

Commitment vs. Realizing I’m Writing the Wrong Story

Is it giving up if I decide that this story that I’m telling isn’t the one I set out to write, and isn’t one that I want to write–at least not right now?

I started this story with the question: Why would a group of people (monsters, particularly) choose to remain enslaved?  And then I thought of my monster-soldiers, and Fen in particular–and then I wanted someone for contrast, someone who was enslaved but trying to escape.  Not literal slavery, but genetic slavery–I mean, she’s the daughter of the Lord of the Land, the Pater Familias*, absolute head of the household, who has the right to decide anything for anyone in the family (or in his land), up to and including ordering execution without justification.  Absolute power, over his daughter Allie, his soldier-slaves, and everyone else.  But in the society I created, this became all about arranged marriage, and how much it would suck for this one character.  To remain true to that society, Allie couldn’t become badass, at least not immediately and without extraordinarily unlikely things happening, and I want her to be badass.  I wanted her to be witty and capable, not angsty, choosing and acting.  But I’m giving her an impossible decision: accept the arranged marriage to this horrible guy, or run away and leave her younger sister to the same fate.  Or have her sister run away too, and have the whole land, their whole family, be overrun and brutally killed.  This is a dark, hard situation.  The time between the beginning of the story and the point at which she could become badass was too long, and I was getting too frustrated by her lack of action.  She’s not in a situation to have actions to make.  And the situation I started out putting her in was to be struggling against was her enslavement, not the future husband, not the attacking monster-army.  Those were incidental and extra–yet they would have to be central to the story for it to make sense.  So what story am I trying to tell?  I still want to tell that original story.

And do I really want to write a story about a woman being raped?  That was effectively where I was leading, and if she managed to escape it, it would be too pat.

So I got stuck at about 3000 words.**

And then I wrote a scene that was really dark, even darker than I’d been managing, which would’ve totally shortened the story, getting us straight into the dark and scary.  And dude, I write funny.  I’m most interesting when I’m funny.  Can I maintain a dark and scary tone?  Can I maintain a dark and scary tone while telling a story that isn’t the one I was trying to write?

I don’t think I’m just copping out… but I do feel like I’m copping out.

Last night I realized I could write a different part of the history of this world–unfortunately, also dark and dismal–this one in a place where I can just create badass women without feeling like I’m being untrue to historical accuracy or to the society I’ve established.  I know the ending of this story–it leads directly into the world of Allie & Fen–but I don’t know the beginning or the middle, and I don’t know who is involved.  I don’t know what happens, but I know where they end up.  I don’t think I’ve ever begun a story already knowing the ending.

I don’t even have any characters yet, or societies, or settings, and I haven’t really decided if it’s sci fi or fantasy.  Right now I’m leaning towards sci fi, because it feels more exciting with that tone, and anything that excites me is more likely to lead to an exciting story.  🙂

How I feel today: “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people” -T. Mann — quoted by Laura Anne Gilman (http://twitter.com/LAGilman/status/9394628190)

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* This is a Latin phrase from Ancient Rome^.  Wikipedia says this:

The pater familias (plural: patres familias) was the head of a Roman family. The term is Latin for “father of the family” or the “owner of the family estate”. The form is irregular and archaic in Latin, preserving the old genitive ending in -as (see Latin declension). The pater familias was always a Roman citizen.

Roman law and tradition (mos maiorum) established the power of the pater familias within the community of his own extended familia. He held legal privilege over the property of the familia, and varying levels of authority over his dependents: these included his wife and children, certain other relatives through blood or adoption, clients, freedmen and slaves. The same mos maiorum moderated his authority and determined his responsibilities to his own familia and to the broader community. He had a duty to father and raise healthy children as future citizens of Rome, to maintain the moral propriety and well-being of his household, to honour his clan and ancestral gods and to dutifully participate – and if possible, serve – in Rome’s political, religious and social life. In effect, the pater familias was expected to be a good citizen. In theory at least, he held powers of life and death over every member of his extended familia through ancient right but in practice, the extreme form of this right was seldom exercised. It was eventually limited by law.

My Pater Familias seldom uses his powers of death, either, but … he could.  And marriage?  Marriage is definitely controlled by him.  Usually arranged for political reasons, which was true for powerful men throughout much of European history and many (most?) other cultures in this world, too.

^ Studying Latin and history extensively give me all kinds of useful concepts to draw on.  Some more depressing than others…

** “So” implies causation, and I don’t know that this is actually the cause.  Here is the root of my concern.  Did I get stuck because I’m telling the wrong story, or did I get stuck because it’s hard and I don’t want to work this hard?  Or worse, did I get stuck because I committed to finishing this story, and committing makes me not want to work on the story anymore?