So, if any of you read my last Cat’s Cradle entry “Writing During Covid-19” or follow me on the Legendary Novel Writing Challenge blog, you’ll already know that National Novel Writing Month did not go very well for me this year due to a variety of factors. However, I did finish with 40,000 words out of my 50,000 word count goal, and the majority of it did stay on topic. Many thanks to everyone who followed along with me, giving likes, comments, and encouragement!
Also, there was something kind of fun that I did want to share in the aftermath:
I work in a public library, and because of the pandemic, all of our programs are currently virtual. For November I ran a series of NaNo writing events on our Facebook page, and while I got almost no engagement on the posts, it was something that I did keep up with every day during the month. Our library Facebook page is changing soon, so I wanted to preserve those posts and their pictures here for posterity. (Note that “LTN” is an abbreviation for my library, so “LTNWrimos” refers to folks from my library who are participating.) All pictures that are not personal photographs came from either Pinterest or the National Novel Writing Month Pep Talks.
I’ve learned that I don’t do “intention” very well. Habit and convenience are extremely powerful and seductive forces. It’s easy to sacrifice long-term gains for short-term pleasures. As someone with an addictive personality who doesn’t handle discomfort well and struggles with self-discipline and depression, I feel pretty susceptible to these temptations. It seems like the bad habits, such eating too much sugar and compulsively checking Facebook, are the ones who gain a foothold. They sneak in and become difficult to dislodge, probably because they appear harmless and require little to no effort.
This year, I took a four-day vacation by myself to the beach. I decided to do a mini-digital detox by wearing a watch instead of keeping my phone with me and spend as much time outside as I could, as long as the weather held. I also planned to spend any rainy hours in a comfortable room continuing to write or read. But things didn’t go quite the way I’d planned. While the view of the ocean from the motel was lovely and the weather remained good, the room I was staying in was… well, not very pleasant. Musty-smelling, moldy, and so saturated with humidity that leaving anything outside a plastic bag meant it would be damp within a few minutes. On top of that, even though the motel technically had wi-fi (which I could get if I sat out on the balcony), I couldn’t get it in the room itself.
I was rather upset and frustrated at first, but I soon realized that this could be a blessing in disguise. A gross room with no wi-fi meant I had to stay outside during 90% of my visit. It forced me to be parsimonious with my time on the internet. If I was going to use it, it had to be for a specific purpose, not just random searching or mindless scrolling. Get on, get off, and save data for the GPS. On the beach, I discovered the joy of wearing a watch. You might wonder what the point of a watch is. I mean, you can just check your phone, right? But opening that phone also opens the temptation to “just check one thing” and before you know it, what was supposed to be a 2-minute check-in turns into a 2-hour deep-dive. A smartphone can do too much. A watch only tells time. That is it’s sole purpose. Using a watch instead of a smartphone and being cut off from the internet meant the number of distractions dropped to near zero. I literally had nothing to do except read, write, walk, and think.
Week 3 of National Novel Writing Month has begun, and, as always around this time, I’m feeling kind of wrung out with the entire enterprise. Buckling down and pounding out words for a rough draft isn’t exactly new for me. I can’t say that it’s always been easy, but it can be done. I know because I’ve done it before. I did it for (most of) Ravens and Roses, the first book in the Mariner Sequence. I did it for my Dark Crystal novel contest entry, “Search of the Sun-Child.” I did it for the fantasy / romance / steampunk / political intrigue hybrid that is Courting the Moon.
Remember a few weeks ago when I posted the entry entitled “Holding Pattern“? Yeah, that sensation of being trapped in creative doldrums lasted far, far longer than I anticipated or liked. It just didn’t make any sense. It’s summer time which means warmth and sunshine, I’m back on my antidepressants, and I finished a book. You’d think I’d be on Cloud Nine and working better than ever!
Instead, I puttered around with fan fiction and found myself increasingly dissatisfied with life, the universe, and everything. Sleeping too much, eating too much… low energy, low focus… It was more or less how I felt for eight years before finally getting professional help. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why.
Now I know: I wasn’t writing.
Weird, huh? I took a week off after finishing Courting the Moon to rest and recuperate. But that “break” from writing just got longer and longer. I fell out of the habit and my sense of self and well-being went with it. But I finally worked up the effort to get back into my old routine. I committed to the July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo and set my LeNoWriCha goal to “Easy” (a.k.a. 15,000 words.) Got up early this morning, went for a walk, had a cup of tea, and started writing the moment I got home.
July 1st and July 2nd it was a struggle to reach the minimum of 500 words each day. Today? Over 2000 words and still going. I went from having no synopsis for Courting the Moon to a nearly-complete first draft of it in three days. And the more I write, the more I want to write. The cycle feeds itself in eternal momentum and motivation. Even though I knew this intellectually, I think this is the first time that I felt it viscerally.
Granted, I know that not every writing day will be this good; I had an excellent convergence of energy, sunlight, and time. But, at least I’m working again. I have mental energy, focus, and drive. Heck, I spent last night folding up my clean bed-sheets and blankets to pack neatly away in my linen closet! That, like, has never happened. Ever.
While I know that my momentum will be interrupted by things like work, cats, and trips to the bathroom, I will try to retain this routine for as long as I can. If you have a routine, you can move forward, even on the days when you don’t feel like writing.
On the day before Valentine’s Day, take a moment to reflect on your relationship with your writing. If you’ve written for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that there are good days and bad days. There are days when you love your novel, your short story, your screenplay, your work, both in general and specific to the project at hand. Everything falls into place, almost effortlessly, and you ride a tide of euphoria and bliss. Those are the days when you can’t imagine being anything other than a writer.
Then there are days, often many long, hard, dark days, where you hate your work. You hate the process. You feel the plot is generic, the characters lifeless, the words boring, and the entire enterprise both fruitless and trite. Every writer dreads such days, and all too often those days overshadow all of the good. At those times, you feel like a failure, like you are wasting your time, your life, chipping away at some impossible dream. Those are the days when you feel it would be better to be anything except a writer.
I’m here to tell you that those feelings are normal. It’s normal to go through these emotional somersaults. It’s normal to have periods of fierce pride and joy countered by times of terror and self-doubt. Sometimes all it takes is a day or two away from the desk to walk, dance, read, and get reacquainted with the spark that set us on this artistic journey in the first place. But no matter how you feel, you must come back. You must return to the desk, to the paper and pen, to the screen and keyboard. No relationship is without its difficulties and low points, especially not one as fraught with intimacy as the one between a writer and their work. Remember that no night, no shadow, and no storm lasts forever.
“Terry [Pratchett] was many things, but he was not a jolly old elf. I think each of us tends to take something and use that as the place where you begin making your art. If you’re going to make good art, it’s likely that you’re going to go to the place where things are dark, and use that to shine light into your life and, if you’re doing it right, into other people’s lives as well. For Terry, it was always anger. There was a deep rage in him that allowed him to create. For me, it tends to be sorrow or loneliness or confusion.”
The pat answer that I’ve often seen given by writers, either in person or via books of advice, is that their art comes from joy or curiosity or wonder or passion. The emotions referenced are often positive or at least neutral. This seems to be the more socially acceptable answer. It’s a little more unusual, even slightly morbid, to hear someone say that their art, regardless of the tone of the end product, stems from a darker source. Usually we think that your emotional state should match the emotions evoked by your creation. I mean, really, would you have guessed that the hilarious absurdity of Discworld stemmed from a man’s rage? It certainly surprised me.
That surprise made me stop and reflect on what emotional core drives my own creativity. While all emotions are necessary to craft a convincing piece of fiction, I was curious to know what the wellspring consisted of. Did my writing come from joy, sorrow, anger, loneliness, despair, amusement, fear, cynicism, or some other emotional core? Was this consistent or did it vary from project to project?
I’ve turned the question over in my mind, and as I trace down the central emotional motivation for characters in my various works-in-progress, I think that the answer might be fear. The main characters in Ravens and Roses, All’s Fair, Astral Rain, Rinamathair, Jewel and the Skyrunners, Moon’s Fire/Moon’s Water… almost all of them are all driven by fear of something. For many of them this fear is about losing something or someone, and almost all of them are in denial about it. Some of them manifest this by being shy and adverse to risk while others become bold and abrasive in an attempt to hide what they see as a weakness. A good portion of their narrative journey is spent recognizing that fear, admitting it to themselves or to others, and then working to overcome it. Some succeed; others don’t, at least not completely.
I don’t generally share the same specific fears as my characters, but the sensation is the same. Even though I prefer to write while feeling happy or content rather than angry or depressed, the underlying motivation is fear. It’s a little weird, since I’ve never run into anything truly dangerous in my life so far. But the sensation, be it a small, niggling sense of unease or full-blown panic, is always there. And as I think about what Neil Gaiman said in these two articles, I think that might be my fuel, the part that gives the stories and characters I create that little extra push into realism. The soul-spark that makes them come alive. Because fear, like anger or loneliness, is a universal human emotion.
Lately, I’ve done a lot of complaining about not having enough time, or feeling like my time is not my own. That I am subsumed by other responsibilities and then do not utilize what free time I do have to its fullest capacity. It’s an old song, one that I think every writer or artist sings throughout their lives. It is rare to find an artist who is happy with the amount of time they spend on their art. It always seems to be too much, which leads to burnout, or too little, which leads to intense frustration and despair.
But I’m not going to talk about that today. You already know about that particular current, so let’s appreciate the scenery for a while. Let’s look up and see where the river is flowing. Because despite all of the moaning and groaning about set-backs, I’m surprised to find that, right now, I’m actually pretty happy with myself.
There’s a text I got from my onii-san after I told him that I hadn’t won the Dark Crystal Author Quest contest back in 2013. I hadn’t honestly expected to win, but I didn’t even make it into the top five. It was discouraging to receive no tangible reward after putting in so much intense work for so long. But David reminded me of something important: Continue reading “Reflections of Contentment”→