Still Alive, Still UPBEAT

So I finally quit my soul-sucking job as a grant writer. I didn’t last very long (six months), but I got tired of applying to jobs in the meantime and waiting to hear back before I put in my two weeks. Luckily I have good friends, supportive parents, and a very stable girlfriend. I’ve taken a significant pay cut but now I’m working for a bookstore and life is slightly less heavy.

Untitled by jamieswang on Flickr.

Untitled by jamieswang on Flickr.

Mostly every day is still a struggle between problems with self-worth and anxiety. I’ve found that working in retail helps twofold (kinda) because I’m on my feet all day and I’m mostly smiling at customers all day, which convinces my brain to think, “Hey, we must be happy!” It’s nice to be working in a more open environment, surrounded by things in which I’m interested, as well as to be working with more amiable coworkers and managers.

Still, the struggle to remain UPBEAT continues. It’s been about two years since I started my novel and I am still struggling on the precipice of the 50% mark. About a quarter of the time I wonder if this project is still worth the struggle when I could just as easily take up something new. Another quarter of the time the apathy takes over and I distract myself with reading and crocheting and all the shiny new TV shows Netflix has to offer. The rest of the time is taken up by Real World concerns and the slog through the actual writing, novel or otherwise. (Shameless plug: I am still regularly writing on media representation and diversity for OKPotato and we should all be proud!)

So, here are some great distractions for the rest of you also struggling to write!:

  • Anything by Helen Oyeyemi. I’ve seen her name on Tumblr for a while, so I picked up Mr. Fox and White is for Witching and added them to my To Be Read pile. I’ve only gotten around to both recently and they are fantastic. The former is about an author’s muse confronting the author’s penchant for killing off his female characters. Together they rewrite fairy tales, transforming the real world into Mr. Fox’s stories. The latter novel is a challenge well-worth it, a Shirley Jackson-esque gothic house horror mixed in with racial politics. Oyeyemi’s other books include Boy Snow Bird (a twist on Snow White) and The Icarus Girl (a horror story with Nigerian mythology).

    3

  • I recently spent some much-needed and precious alone time with my girlfriend and we made the mistake of deciding on my Netflix DVD queue to help us bond. We watched South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook’s first English-language film, Stoker (2013). We knew it was a psychological thriller going in and we were excited to see Nicole Kidman angrily acting opposite Mia Wasikowska but we also had no idea about any of the plot points.

    The movie follows 18-year old India (Wasikowska) following the death of her father. Her grieving mother (Kidman) accepts support from her long-absent younger brother-in-law, Charlie (a very creepy Matthew Goode), who immediately moves into the house and begins to approach India as a kindred soul. (SPOILER ALERT) Basically this turns into the incestuous serial killer romance I never knew I wanted or needed, complete with piano orgasms, hunting metaphors, and lots of dramatic dysfunctional family yelling.

  • Lastly, if you’re as stressed as I am, I highly suggest crocheting and heading over to my friend Jojo-gurumi‘s page for some really cute, fairly simple patterns.

Got any more distractions for me or words of wisdom to keep me from going astray, readers? Let me know in the comments. As always, check Chebk and I out at OKPotato for book reviews, writing tips, and discussions of diversity in books, movies, and more!

Advertisements

There and Back Again: A Blogger’s Tale

At 4’5″ I still qualify for some hobbit-related licenses. Also, can I just say: There was a kind of tragic, but arrogant victory in leaving my NaNo 2014 fail up for so long, wasn’t there?

Well, I’m back! — but I have not been idle. I have been working tirelessly with Chebk to kick our shared blog, OKPotato, into gear, where we focus on media representation and diversity in stories. Please, also check out the guest blog I did for Cynthia Griffin on self-editing, (which I hope to be expanding on here very soon). Books have been read and weird short stories have been written but I have admittedly been neglecting this blog and…my novel.


I have no idea what I am doing with my life besides wanting to be a published writer. Paradoxically this has been keeping me from writing because what if I fail? I know, in my head, that the trying is more important that the not trying, but these past few months have been an uphill battle.

Still, I’m back in the saddle and I have a really good support system cheering me on. Chebk and I are doing a daily blogging challenge for January, so you can see some of my writing there. I will also be updating weekly to biweekly here starting with a truly embarrassing anecdote-based blog Chebk has been pushing under the guise of a human interest piece, so look forward to that, friends.

For now, happy belated new year, and let’s get this party re-started.

NaNoWriMo: Day 11, 12, & 13

Writing every day shouldn’t be this hard and yet here I am: at a wall. Right back where I started.

Back to 90s/00s X-Files computer scenes because I found this one waiting around to be used in my NaNo folder.

Back to 90s/00s X-Files computer scenes because I found this one waiting around to be used in my NaNo folder.

It is way too easy for me to get distracted when I am stuck for new ideas or a decent scene transition. About 90% of the time I know what I should do to get past the hard parts (100% of the time that answer is just write it and fix it later), but I usually like to pretend the other 10% actually exists and I am an insufficient writer and person.

Things I have done in the past few days to avoid writing:
-Watched “Galaxy Quest” for the first time with the justification that Netflix could take it off any day now, which is a clear and blatant lie. (Side note: It was great and I had all the feelings.)
-Attended a farewell party for a military friend who is just going to be back from Alaska in two months anyway. I usually avoid these social gatherings because my anxiety goes through the roof. Most of the people in attendance are classmates from high school who I haven’t kept in touch with since high school. I ate a copious amount and spent most of the evening talking to the few people there I happen to see on a weekly basis anyway.
-Accompanied my girlfriend to various errands to get out of the house.
-Marathoned previous “Top Chef” seasons to justify our lackluster feelings for the current season.
-Went to bed unreasonably early, telling myself it would only help me write better the next day.

Bad writer.

The realization of how much I’m going to have to edit is more than a little disheartening, especially because most of what I’m writing for NaNo is a reworking of what I had already written of Part Two and previously deemed garbage. Most of it is being rewritten from scratch, which helps things interesting, but I’m having trouble convincing myself that this is different and slightly better garbage than the original. It gets easier to just not write than to keep writing what doesn’t feel right.

Of course, all the writers say that’s how it is and just keep going. I’m sure one day in the future, assuming I ever finish this project, I will say the same and use this blog post as an example but — right now is still awful.

To make things more awful: To catch up with Cya’s 75K wordcount, I have to do 5K for the next three days. Which I want to accomplish. NaNo is great for me because I am secretly competitive and this public self-shaming of blogging and NaNo count puts the pressure on me. It’s like being back in school, the only time I was ever on-time with any writing.

You will note that there is no actual writing advice here, only shame and apathy. (Maybe tomorrow, friends. Maybe tomorrow.)

ON A BRIGHTER NOTE, Cya and I will be making a joint announcement this weekend, but before that — to keep up with my every other day blogging, which I missed yesterday — I will be doing a short blog on diversity in fiction, particularly science fiction since that’s my current novel genre. So, look for that tomorrow I guess.

UPBEAT!

My secret writing weapon has always been my writing group, who are really just my childhood friends who I have largely coerced into adopting writing as their art. It’s okay. You can judge freely.

Lately I have been relying on them more than usual as motivators and support. Cya over at 2WriterNot2Write has been doing her damndest to get me back into my previous schedule of a chapter per week. She has even offered HUGE, INCREDIBLE suggestions that tie up some loose ends I have been trying to fix for SIX MONTHS (or more. Very probably more.), which makes me feel occasionally inadequate, if always, always grateful.

In any case, I have been told be be UPBEAT (to be referred to in all caps from here on out like some sad reminder).

This is probably not UPBEAT.
But still relevant.

So here is my half-assed GUIDE TO BEING UPBEAT. Actually, this is not even a guide. It is an attempt. Update: I have been sitting here for a good twenty minutes trying to decide how to follow up the previous sentence. This is not a great attempt.

I have always viewed doubt as an inevitable — if not necessarily essential — part of writing, or at least my writing. It can be and currently is crippling, but most other times it allows me to go back over drafts without getting bored or becoming too stubborn to cut large chunks of text. I have also never known how to react to confident writers. I respect their courage and craft but often find myself doubting the veracity of their statements — which is deeply unkind, but there you go. In any case, their confidence has little to do with my doubt.

So where is the UPBEAT silver lining?

I am confident in my craft and technical writing. There has been some wavering in light of some as-yet unresolved plot holes. BUT I have gotten validation and positive feedback for my general writing time and time again. The constructive criticism has never been malicious and, for the most part, has given me much to consider and continue to work on with each new piece.  Why is this not an adequate safeguard against the ever-present doubt?

Mainly because the doubt has nothing to do with the actual writing, either the technique or story. I doubt the overall product and its reception. I doubt my ability to be validated as a published author. I know these are things we are told never to think about while we write. Obviously I and this blog stand as living proof of how these thoughts will only hinder stories. Short stories have always felt like breathing out; everything is expelled for my benefit and I have always been satisfied with the product, before, during and after editing. This longer novel-length work is draining in terms of producing all this work for myself.

Will all this time and effort expended still be worth it if it never gets published?

Frame this. Never forget.

This is still not UPBEAT. The only UPBEAT thing I have left is to say that this is the story I want to write. I WANT TO WRITE THIS. And it drives me to frustration and madness, elation and deep depression. But at least I still have that, the drive to keep going. That’s something. And I am clinging to it even as I drag my feet with starting new chapters and obsess over old drafts and all the loose ends to tie up or change.

I know I would regret leaving this puzzle unsolved and all this work unfinished more than completing the project and never getting it published. Logically, I do know this. It is the doubt itself that is illogical. In reality, it’s just easier to succumb to it than to struggle and break through.

But I think it’s time to start struggling again.

TO REMEMBER. Keep going.
By Kate Holden

“It’s hell writing and it’s hell not writing. The only tolerable state is having just written.” – Robert Hass

Good News, Bad News

So, it’s been a while.

Art by Karolina Koryl (korvjl@tumblr).

Art by Karolina Koryl (korvjl@tumblr).

Bad news first: I’m employed. Well, that in itself isn’t bad news, but it has definitely cut into writing time and the additional stress/exertion of mental energy doesn’t help either. (On the other hand, go support my new company, The Caregiver Foundation.   I now write grants for them but we could always use the extra support!)

Good news: I am back on track with my novel, (sort of), and getting over the mid-novel malaise that stuck around for several months. Some things that have helped:

1) Stepping back enough to realize that most of what I’m doing is still usable. The parts that aren’t can be fixed. It may take (UNHOLY AMOUNTS OF) time, but it is not impossible. That is somewhat comforting.

2) Regaining focus. A big part of my novel stress was trying to do too many things at once…or not knowing what I was doing at all. Most of the time I tried to manically convince myself that everything would work out in the end without actually looking for solutions. Wrong. It has definitely helped to look at what in my overall story interests me, i.e. why I need to write this story, get it out of my veins, keep going all the way to the end. The answer, of course, goes back to the story’s conception. Rediscovering that passion and focus has been a great relief. My main focus is why my main characters keep choosing to surviving in this new, toxic landscape instead of just giving up. Having that focus to hold onto simplifies a lot of what I’ve been trying to do. It makes everything somehow less scary, even if just a little.
3) Writing smaller projects to keep up technique and get out of my comfort zone. This allows me to explore things without fear of wasting time or effort on my novel project. I’ve joined some online competitions with near-weekly prompts and I find that having someone else toss out ideas for me to figure out in my own style has helped me look at what habits I fall into out of comfort and what I need to work on. Largely, I have avoided intense action scenes in the past and I’m hoping to expand my skill set with short stories that focus on action. I also stick to ideas very grounded in the real world and it is why my world-building can be shaky sometimes.

Victorian Velociraptor with Violets by Adam Mazur. I am so tired, you guys. Work is hard.

Victorian Velociraptor with Violets by Adam Mazur. I am so tired, you guys. Work is hard.

Mostly I am still tired and nervous and nauseous, but things are starting to look up, so here’s hoping. Thanks for sticking around if you’re still here.

Mid Novel-Malaise Part II: STILL STUCK

To quote Julia Child in a letter to her co-author and friend, Avis, “HELL AND DAMNATION, is all I can say. WHY DID WE EVER DECIDE TO DO THIS ANYWAY? But I can’t think of doing anything else, can you?”

I’ve been taking a short break from writing after hitting an extremely rough patch about halfway through the novel. Over and over, I have been told that this is perfectly normal, but it does nothing to diminish the awfulness and subsequent self-loathing. At this point, the following became pertinent questions:

1. Is this something I want to write anymore?
2. Is this really something anyone is going to want to read?
3. What is the meaning of life and why is it absolutely nothing at all?

bb1

Bob's Burgers recreating an exact conversation between my father and me.

Bob’s Burgers recreating an exact conversation between my father and me.

There are probably a lot of trite things I could say but the truth is that I’m still figuring out things as I go and I think I’d feel better in this world if more people did that as well. It makes sense that all we ever see of a finished product is, well, the finished product, but reading about the (often long) histories of how other books, inventions, and successes came to be makes me feel a lot less like giving up altogether.

For now I’m trying to get back in the swing of things with significantly less self-pity and anxiety for the future. What seems to help most is not bemoaning what will not be simply because there is still time to keep trying or something.

(This is not true. This is placating. This is the blog post everyone writes and it is the fake smile one wears because someone orders you to smile. And so, the reality: The words and words are piling up and I know I’ll feel better if I let them out, that it will be just like vomiting and what will initially follow will be stark relief. But then will come the clean-up and, shit, that’s the hard part. And then what if all that comes out are the ugliest cliches and the trite boring plotlines I’ve been fighting against from the start? The rewriting and rewriting can be good — has been very good — but all I end up doing is rewriting in circles and calling it progress. At times it feels good unraveling the puzzle, searching for the solutions, but then I take a step back and see my exhaustion mirrored in my characters and…I have to wonder if I’m doing the right thing at all.)

horse

Okay. But the fact is people are putting out a shitload of art every day (see above horse-head, lady-body) and being bitter about their accomplishments has little to do with my own failures. Books are going to continue being published regardless of whether or not I stop writing. As much as I would like to stay in my mire of emotion, wallowing in the self-righteous flights of fancy about how great my story ideas could be if written, at some point doing the actual writing is the only thing that will satisfy. It is also the only thing that is going to eventually be publishable.

Blargh.

comic
On a more positive note, read about Bout of Books and more at 2WritersNot2Write, especially since Cya and Plutark continue to fight my battles for me.