New Year, New Start?

The January blog topic for WriYe is quite open to interpretation I feel. The prompt is:

“(Re)starting fresh, for a new year, new story or after a writing break.”

Now I am both late to this topic and perfectly on time. You see the new year is a boundary time, it’s where you can put the past in the rear-view and ‘start again’. Obviously you can do that at anytime but with the turn of a calendar, and potentially millions of other people doing the same thing, there is a certain weight to it. If 2022 didn’t go well, then that’s ok because 2023 is a fresh start! That kind of thinking.

I struggle with boundary times as they make me reflective. I get torn between the hope of the possibility that maybe the future will be better/different, and being depressed and hopeless over how the past hasn’t been what I wanted, and that another year has gone by and I’m still no closer to my dreams etc. So I guess essentially what I’m saying is the whole “new year, new start” thing is something I feel very keenly. If life is about chances, then I guess psychologically speaking a new year does feel like a new chance. Every year when I do my retrospective and then my plan, I say that I want the upcoming year to be different.

So why did I say I am both late and on time?

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WriYe 2022: Year in Review

This is December’s blog topic but honestly it’s something I would do anyway. Retrospectives are a bit of a thing for me. The prompt is simply to “sum up your year” so I will endeavour to break it down and not just ramble.

In January I did the usual goals post which can be found here – WriYe: Impossible Year.

I started that goal post by saying that in my review of 2021 I had put “that I really didn’t want to get to the end of the year and be disappointed again – but I was.” and that is the dream. Ultimately really that was the dream for this year when I get right down to it. What I said in that goal post was that I was really searching for some confidence, to have some hope again, to feel like I can actually do it.

So did I get that in the end?

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Some thoughts about consistency

I kept saying in my NaNo Retrospective post that I would continue the point in another post – mostly this one! Because I suppose ultimately I didn’t have much to say about this years NaNo on it’s own. I will cover a lot in context with my yearly wrap-up post, and I also knew I wanted to write this post which would talk about some of the problems (or are they problems?) that I experienced.

In life we are surrounded by habit trackers. I have an apple watch and I love that thing but the “three rings everyday” thing just isn’t realistic, at least not for me. I have a 4thewords account and there are other sites (750 words is one I think?) that encourage streaks of writing every single day. If you google about productivity it says instituting habits is a good method, as it takes the decision process out. You do the task because you are supposed to do the task and it’s automatic and requires less willpower. Daily habits are a good thing and they are supposed to help! But are they realistic?

I have struggled with consistency forever. It has been a problem and something I have wanted to work on and ‘fix’ for years. I feel like if I could conquer the consistency problem then I would be able to be on track and ‘win’ at what I need to do. How many times have I lamented about my lack of focus? Bemoaned having good days and “why can’t I do that all the time?” It’s misery making. I want it and it just doesn’t happen. But should it?

The ‘standard’ work week of Monday-Friday 9-5 has a lot wrong with it but it does leave the weekends. These are often not for relaxing but for other tasks but the tasks are different and for the purposes of my point that is enough. Even in the gruelling ‘standard’ 40 hour work week there is a mental break with the weekends from that kind of work at least. (I know a lot of people work Saturdays, or 7 days a week, or multiple jobs, and the 5 day a week 9-5 grind is no picnic anyway, that’s not what I am saying). Wait what was my point? Right my point is doing the same thing every single day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, might be like a nirvana goal but is that even healthy?

My dream life is to be creative for a living. To earn money through writing, maybe even through art (unlikely but hey that’s why it’s a dream). I remember with NaNo for the first couple of years I did the “midnight start” and it was exciting, it was like a party, and the whole ‘literary abandon’ thing of prepping your month, reducing other responsibilities to throw yourself into writing – that’s not reasonable longterm. I know as far as back 2012 I decided if I wanted to do this thing year round/with a view to being professional I had to stop treating NaNo like a special holiday and be more reasonable about it. No more midnight starts, life continues mostly as normal etc. And the thing with normal life is that shit happens.

Today I am writing blog posts because I am fighting against the blackness of depression that just wants me to curl up in a dark corner and disappear. I need a distraction so I don’t spend the day sobbing and feeling worse and worse, and I am trying to do something semi-productive rather than just video games. I have a metric-ton of writing I need to do to finish the draft by the end of the month. I have a lot of art I need to do for some deadlines around Christmas, but today it’s just not happening. I hate myself for that as I am then another day ‘behind’ and also it makes the streaks look sad.

I want to be the type of person that works hard on a consistent basis. I think for anybody every single day is a bad idea as rest is important. My ‘ideal’ is 6 days a week which hurts with those streaks because they are all designed for 7 – everyday. There is no give in them for bad days, for illness, for family events, for holidays, for doctors appointments etc.

I got my NaNo 50k by writing 18 of the 30 days. That wasn’t an even spread of words. Some days I got a few hundred, other days I got several thousand. It was as opposite to being consistent as you can get really – and yet in the end I had the same amount as someone who wrote the 1,667 every single day. I don’t like my approach because I always feel like I could (and should!) have done more but perhaps my approach exists because that was the limit of my capabilities. I did what I could, when I could, and the amount varied because of my mental state/outside factors. That’s life, that’s practical, that’s dare I say, reasonable?

I’m someone that is never really satisfied with what I have done. Even if I make my goal I feel I should I have done it better/faster etc. and a big part of that perpetual disappointment in myself is my lack of consistency. Despite everything I have said here, it’s like a habit – ha! – that I can’t unlearn. It feels like it’s necessary even though I have reasoned out that perhaps it’s not very compatible with reality. I’m not quite sure what the answer to that is. Logic brain says consistency might not be all that, but emotions say otherwise.

NaNoWriMo: The 2022 Retrospective

I know I should have written this post on the 1st really but hey it’s only the 5th so that’s not so bad right? A little bit indicative to be honest of how the month went. I have another post in the works dealing with the thorny issue of ‘consistency’ so I’m only going to touch on it here.

My goal for NaNo 2022 was to win (obviously) but I ideally wanted 75k/a complete first draft of my novel. Did I get it?

Well no.

I ended the month with 51,891 words, so it was a win in terms of the NaNo 50k and I did indeed make it before the end of the month (Friday 25th actually). Even if I had got the 75k that wouldn’t have been the complete draft as it looks like it will be my longest first draft ever at around 100k.

My dream goal of 10k on Day One wasn’t reached as I got 6,703 which was a semi-ok buffer for the 50k but inadequate for the higher goal which is perhaps why that flopped almost immediately.

I wrote on 18 days out of the month. I did a 15k/3 one weekend to catch-up and then get ahead a little. Hit 40k on the Sunday, and then the 50k the following Friday.

I didn’t take part at all last year. 2020 I was both more consistent and wrote a little more (nearly 67k) but that was fanfic. 2017-2019 didn’t really happen, 2016 was a high word count but a mixed mess. I have to go back to 2015 before I reach the last time I hit the NaNo 50k with an original draft. So from that POV the month was very much a success.

I remain disappointed that I am so far away from finishing the draft and December isn’t going well thus far (but more about that in another post).

The one last thing I said I would do is budget 3 hours to get my words in the morning, so I could do art in the afternoon. That did not happen ever. I never got the words I wanted in the morning, I often procrastinated so much I didn’t really start until after lunch. I tried to do sprints but it’s like there’s a switch in my brain. If it refuses to ‘turn on’ then I couldn’t start the sprint. Even if I did a sprint I then wasted so much time not starting again after the sprint ended. I did not make good use of my time. I did not focus how I would have liked. I despaired sometimes that I would sit there and get next to nothing one day, and then somehow that aforementioned ‘switch’ would be thrown in my brain and I would do 5k the next day. Why can’t I do that on demand? It’s so frustrating. But again more about that in another post.

I am trying to reframe things into positives. I got halfway into the draft – progress was made! But the fact that it wasn’t the level of progress that I wanted, and that the draft feels like the worst draft in the world, weighs heavily on me. I just perpetually disappoint myself.

BUT! I did win NaNo and it was with an original novel. So that is something.

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo

This is the WriYe blog topic for the month of November. I mean let’s face it as a writer November is one of the bigger events on our calendars so it’s a fitting topic. This isn’t about my NaNo exactly. I did a post with my plans, and I did a post talking about how it was going, and I will do another as a retrospective about how it went. This post isn’t any of that – this is about the event itself.

I first took part in 2007. I have a vague memory I might have heard about it before that but it didn’t register, so 2007 when I was 17 was when I got my start. It was a well established event by then and I do still feel a slight envy for people who were around at the beginning (I feel like I’m always late to every party). I don’t believe I have any rambles from that actual time to look back at what I actually thought, but I know what I remember of it now which is the lesson it taught me. I went into that NaNo with a story that had been evolving in my head for years and what I found was I had characters, and they had lives, but there was no actual plot to say ‘hey the story starts here’. I think I got about 20k and then gave up but it was useful due to that lesson learned.

2008 and I managed to scrape 50k with what was technically a complete draft and the lesson from this NaNo was a thrill of typing ‘The End’ really, of having written ‘a novel’. This really is what gave me the taste. Now I have recapped my history with NaNo multiple times and I am not going to go through every single year again.

The point I am trying to make is NaNo = experience. This was my 13th actual attempted November event (I have also done various Camps) and it’s still worth it to me. I remember visiting my Grandma in 2013 I think? And I said I was doing NaNo and it wasn’t going well and her response “haven’t you already done that?” and I was taken aback because my gut reaction said it all.

“NaNo isn’t something that can ever be ‘done’ and finished.”

Me

NaNo is very much a ‘get out what you put in’ and ‘take what you need from it’ type of event. Some years I have learned lessons about writing, getting a feel for what works and what doesn’t through practice. The old ‘learn by doing’ applies because unless we put the butt in chair no progress is going to be made. NaNo is ALL about that butt in chair. Other years I have learned lessons about how much I need to plan, or about project/time management. Some years I don’t necessarily learn anything but writing is a lonely gig, and in November a lot of writers come out of the woodwork. That community spirit is a magic all of it’s own, even if I don’t participate much. I haven’t done anything with my region, I haven’t been on the NaNo forums etc. but simply knowing it’s November helps throw the ‘I should be writing’ switch in my brain. I am terrible for focus and having even a slight external deadline is a good push.

It’s the latter that I got out of it this year. After so many events and so many words written, it could be argued I don’t ‘need’ NaNo anymore. I try and write year-round now, it’s not like NaNo is my ‘once a year sojourn to the land of words’. But I still resist the idea that it is unnecessary. I suppose I could say for me it’s become more of a bonus a lot of the time but that isn’t true for many other people.

What does NaNo say? “30 days of literary abandon” – it gives people a gift, permission to turn one day, into today, and write their story. I believe so much in the power of story. It might be naive but I think that by imagining a better world, we help to actually create one. NaNo has literacy programs, like for Young Writers, and they send materials into schools and I believe in that. Give children the gift of stories, and let their imagination grow.

I guess I could say I believe in the ethos behind NaNo. That’s my main thought on NaNo really, that it’s incredibly important due to the power of story. Allowing people that wouldn’t otherwise have their voice heard, to perhaps start a journey to creating something magical which could win hearts and minds, maybe even change the world. Yeah, I know, that’s perhaps unlikely but there was a quote on Leverage: Redemption. I won’t quote it word for word as it’s from the new episodes and #spoilers, but basically it boiled down to individuals can’t tackle the worlds biggest problems. I can’t fix global warming. But what people can do is help others, who can then help others themselves, and then in ten years a lot of steps down the road, people can look back and see that progress has been made and it started with that little thing they did – that one person they helped. We don’t know what seeds we are planting for the future, because that sort of stuff takes time, but those kids that NaNo opens up a world of ‘literary abandon’ too, those seeds could become something amazing.

NaNo is a struggle this year

I’ve done a couple of ‘NaNo diaries’ over in my WriYe progress thread. I am trying not to spam it too much and it’s Day Eleven, so I figured I could update here. Technically I am still on pace for the 50k. If I don’t write today then that will no longer be true but what I mean is I’m still in the vicinity of that 50k pace.

But it’s not what I wanted, nor what I planned.

I wanted to finish the draft this month and I wanted to do so by the 28th so I could spend the 29th playing Dragonflight on Launch Day. For a 75k/28 pace, I will be 12k behind if I don’t write today. So I am both sort of ‘on target’ and very far behind. That hit me a minute ago as it’s all a matter of perspective. Back in 2007 when I first tried NaNo I would have been thrilled to have been on pace for 50k. Now it’s not enough, I’m not satisfied with it.

Why is it a struggle?

My mental health is not good. It’s got worse over time and I don’t seem to be able to reverse that trend. I had hoped that moving into my own house would be something of a ‘magic bullet’ but while there is lots to love, it hasn’t aided my productivity how I’d hoped. I feel mentally exhausted, I keep crying, I just want to curl up in a corner. Symptoms of overwhelm I guess. I need the onslought to stop, but that includes my own mind. So simply taking myself to a quiet, dark space isn’t a cure – it’s simply more poison.

I was expressing my frustration that this was still a problem now everything in my life is so much better with the house. It was suggested I had perhaps overdone it. The whole moving rollercoaster took pretty much a year. For the month prior to moving I redecorated the entire house which involved long days, every single day. I was drawing on an empty tank and just kept going because I wanted it done, and I wanted to move.

My response was that even if that was true – I’ve lived here nearly two months now, so shouldn’t I be over it? It took a few weeks for the pain in my joints to wear off, but it eventually did, so there has been recovery time. To blame my current state on the past doesn’t seem right but I guess it wasn’t just the past month, or even the past year. My mental health has been steadily getting worse for more than a decade. While the triggers for the chronic stress are no longer present, or have changed, over that time, my brain is still ‘trained’ if you like, to have those ingrained negative thought patterns. I don’t quite know how to fix that.

Why am I making this post? What am I hoping to achieve?

Well it’s not simply to complain. I’m trying so hard to reframe how I see things. I didn’t fail, I had a learning experience etc. So I thought perhaps as I’m struggling to write my current novel I should remind myself of past successes. Now, I’m not good at calling anything a success because the second I reach a goal, I am moving onto the next one. There’s always more to do. But NaNo is a first draft, so let’s just think about completed first drafts – not about how bad they were, or how much work they need, just the fact that they exist. They were complete drafts of stories that I typed ‘The End’ on.

Faithless
Perfidy
Perfidy (Rewrite)
Singularity
Fault Lines
Divided
Justified
Fall of Camelot
Carbon Scars

Obviously that list isn’t complete in terms of work. Perfidy only got drafted beginning to end twice, but I have pieces of at least three other attempts at that draft. I started a redraft of Fault Lines (calling it Shadow Play) but only made it halfway through. I have half a draft of Reckoning (aka book three). I have the start of Blood on the Board I was trying to write as a luddite project this year. Then of course there’s the mountain of fanfics, and a fair few of those were novel-length. They also exist. They are also complete stories.

So at the very least I can say on 9 separate occasions I have written a draft of an original novel that was 50k+ from beginning to end. I have done that. Therefore I can do it again.

Now I may not finish my draft this month how I would like. I may have to finish it off next month instead. I need to understand that’s ok. NaNo is a 50k/30 challenge. Yes I can give myself an additional challenge if I’d like but think about Day One. Par was 1,667, for my 75k/28 it was 2,679. I set myself a daily goal of 3k, and for Day One I said 5k as a buffer, and secretly I wanted 10k. I ended up with 6,703. That was a success by any measure but because I didn’t hit the dream 10k I was disappointed.

It’s quite probable that my misery stems from the fact that I don’t believe I can catch up and that my ‘dream goal’ of 75k by the 28th isn’t possible. So in typical self-sabotage I’m now struggling to do anything. I can’t stop dreaming, I can’t stop wanting more, but I’m hoping that by putting it in black and white here ^^ I can maybe start to get it through my thick skull that progress has been made.

NaNoWriMo: Another Second Chance

There are many good things about the NaNo redesign that launched a few years back now. What I dislike about it is that it is much harder to see at a glance my years done/won for November. There used to be circles on the profile with the year, blue for sign-ups and purple I think for wins. I have to work it out for myself now, which isn’t hard as I can remember, but I really liked that little visual cue.

Anyway, I am starting with a history lesson because – What is Phase Two? That was what I called my WriYe progress thread this year, as the theme of the year was ’transition’. Last December I hoped very much that I would be moving house, and my living situation would improve. It was a rollercoaster ride, and there were times it seemed that wouldn’t happen, but I am finally here. I moved into my new house September 13th and I am pinching myself daily that I get to live here, that this can be my life. It feels like such a positive thing, and an opportunity to build the future of my dreams. I know, I know, that is a lot of pressure to put on myself and that is counter-productive but I do want it, so I am trying to practice self-compassion/forgiveness and remember…

“The steps you take don’t have to be big: they just need to take you in the right direction.”

Jemma Simmons, Agents of Shield

So NaNo history! For this post I’m going to ignore Camps but there have been a lot of those.

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Let’s talk Preptober

I meant to do a series of blog posts during this month. I did not write a single one and now Preptober is pretty much over. I didn’t even announce on this blog how I was planning – ha! – to tackle Preptober. I did write quite a long ‘update’ post on my WriYe progress thread though. That basically went over the summer months that I had lost to moving house. I looked at my goals for the year, and how I was approaching things, decided what was serving me and what wasn’t. Stuff like that.

The upshot was I gave Preptober the theme not just of writing preparation, but also of a search for writing confidence.

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Horror and Scary Stories

The WriYe blog topic this October/Halloween month is ”Your thoughts on horror/gore/scary stories?” and I thought about skipping this month as my thoughts are short – I hate those kinds of stories.

Seriously I am the biggest wuss in the world. I can’t take jump scares of any kind. I get unnerved really easily and once I am freaked out, I am scared for days. Every noise, every shadow, feels like a threat. I close my eyes and I imagine things that scare me are right there, that they are on me. I have nightmares about that.

So yeah I have to steer clear of all kinds of horror and scary stories – or do I?

The Mummy. I didn’t watch this movie or the beloved sequel The Mummy Returns for YEARS because they were listed as ’horror’. I have no idea why. I was more scared of Casper the friendly ghost than I was of either of those movies. They weren’t scary in the slightest. I absolutely adore them and bought the DVDs so I could rewatch them as much as I wanted. I could write an essay on how good those two Mummy movies were but I digress. My point I am making is – is it possible that horror and scary don’t equal the same thing?

Horror and gore aren’t the same. I mean let’s face it CSI could get very gory and I have seen a lot of that. I have never liked the bugs and usually close my eyes to that (I have a bug phobia) but the blood etc. is no trouble.

Maybe it comes down to tone? The Librarians did a ’haunted house’ episode and that had spooky/horror elements but I wasn’t scared. Stargate did a ’horror’ episode called ’The Tomb’ which again didn’t scare me. I think there was supposed to be a pulse-pounding fear of the ’evil among us’ but the vibe wasn’t scary. There was an episode of Dark Matter which had zombies and we see one of them gnawing on a leg I think? And to be honest I found it more funny than scary. How it was shot, or the music, or something, just meant yeah it was ’horror’ but not scary.

I also think that experience plays a role. I think when I was 18 if I had watched The Mummy I would have been really freaked out. Growing up I didn’t watch any fantasy/sci-fi really. I saw a few things and they mostly scared me. We watched Jurassic Park at school and I jumped so hard that I pulled tendons in my arm. I did the same thing with the Chamber of Secrets movie and the giant snake. (Side note: I really do hate snakes. There are a few things that do still bother me a lot, and snakes are one of them. I absolutely can’t take them in any form. If I see a snake or I think about one I am jumpy for days picturing that there’s one lurking going to get me.)

But yeah I am a lot less bothered by ’creepy’ special effects these days. I’m not phased by monsters because I have seen a bunch now and it’s no big deal. So maybe that makes some horror ok, but if it’s intended to be scary then it’s a big no-no. I am very jumpy at the best of times (seriously any unexpected noise and it’s instant panic attack). Same with gore, blood etc. no trouble but animals (bugs, snakes and the like)? And that’s a big nope. Maybe in the end that means horror is what horrifies the individual. Hmm, that’s a thought.

Turns out I had something to say after all 🙂

There is always more to learn

In the Librarians TV show Flynn Carsen says that. The character is a life-long student who loves to learn and while I don’t have the patience for that most of the time, I do appreciate the ethos. I want more than anything to feel confident I guess, and I try not to confuse that with being ’done’. It would be nice to be done, to say I am good, but I do know that there is always more to learn.

The WriYe blog topic asks what are my favourite books, courses, or websites that I like to grow as a writer. What has helped me the most?

I have to be honest I accumulate courses a bit like art supplies. I think it’s because I am always hoping for that ’magic bullet’ that will make me feel like I am good enough. This does lead to a lot of dead-end paths when I do eventually look at courses and realise that they aren’t all I hoped they would be. I always read the description, and I look at reviews, and I sign up with hope in my heart. Clearly the courses work for some people but they don’t always work for me. Whether that’s a problem with how the material is delivered, or that I am not at a place in my writing process where it’s helpful, I don’t know.

This is a very appropriate blog topic as this month, (October as it happens, I know this was September’s blog topic), I have been looking at my dozen or so accumulated courses and trying to gain the confidence from them that I sorely need. When I started at the beginning of the month I envisaged being the ’perfect’ student and going through the various courses systematically. Very quickly I realised that wasn’t actually going to help me. There are parts of courses I may return to in the future but as this ’prep for first draft in NaNo’ process, it just wasn’t right now.

I first started actively trying to ’improve my craft’ back in 2009 or thereabouts. Back then I stumbled across Holly Lisle. I am not sure how as I don’t remember but over the subsequent decade I have bought most of their courses. I have to be honest, not many of them really hit the spot with me. Some of them might yet come into their own so I am not bashing anything, just being honest. I think as the internet has grown there is a lot more out there these days, so I am interested to see what other people recommend. For now…

What do I recommend?

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