NaNoWriMo: Day 16-18

Laughably behind on NaNo but I’m convinced I can catch up by the end of the month. Foolhardy delusion though it may be, I’m still glad I took on this challenge because at least something is getting done, even if I don’t meet the full goal.

In the meantime, as I continue to procrastinate on today’s work, Cya sent me this lovely gif:

Bob Ross, patron saint of self-doubting artists.

Thus, I present to you a list of things that I have put (forced) into the world of my novel for my own happiness…in no particular order:

  • A large group of main characters
  • A flying vehicle that is more home than transportation
  • Discussion of mental illness through characters (panic disorder, PTSD)
  • Characters across the entire spectrum of LGBTQAI, who are not solely defined by their sexuality
  • An all-POC cast, with a focus on Asian Americans
  • Homages to my friends and loved ones: crocheted animals; all Spam meals, all the time (albeit under a different name); the shame and gratitude of everyone who has ever sat with me through a panic attack; dinosaurs and cephalopods and technology, oh my!
  • All the badass womens.

The rest of the stuff is the hard part, of course. I am continually reminded of how far out of my comfort zone I am whenever my characters and I are confronted with all the difficulties I throw at them which I know nothing about. All this science fiction stuff makes the problems about five thousand times harder to resolve and make logical and make feasible, all while keeping my crew in character and off-kilter enough to keep the story moving. There have been six different versions of what happens after their ship is hijacked by another rogue crew: Negotiation? Hostile kidnapping? Calm explanation and recruitment? Different permutations of characters have been taken and left behind and each time I think I’ve made a final decision, I think of new trajectories the overall story could go if I just change this combination of characters or this bit of dialogue.

How do you make peace with your choices? I’m starting to think that peace doesn’t come until the very end, if that. These drafts will forever be in limbo until the whole story is laid out and ultimate decisions can be made. If this ever gets published, I’m sure there will be regrets and secret stories testing out the possibilities left untouched (secret post-hijacking dance party~ Massive orgiastic rave to Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends”).

Another image that should have been forced into my story.
…There’s still time.

As I wade through all the possibilities for this next chapter, make sure to look for my post tomorrow on OK Potato. Check us out on Tumblr too. Annnnd I am on Twitter SO throw book recs at me!

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NaNoWriMo: Day 9 & 10 (Mental Health and Writing)

Despite surviving my marathon writing this past weekend, it pains me to inform you, readers, that I am still actually behind on my word count.

As some of you may recall, Chebk, the platonic mistress of my heart, had challenged me to writing 75K this month, as opposed to 50K. She argues that she believes in me and my writing abilities and that 50K is cake for me — but the truth is simply that she revels in my tribulations and bathes in the tears brought on by lack of ideas and awkward sentence structures. She is the Lady Bathory of my writing life.

To catch up, I will be writing about 3500 words per day to make 37K by this weekend but, readers, I AM SO TIRED.

potato1

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

I give up on the computer theme. These idiots can carry the rest of November on non sequitur caps.

And by tired I mean it is getting hard to write, for various reasons. Which brings me to the topic of this post: Mental Health and Writing.

I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and depression in the second half of my freshman year of high school. At this point, both were debilitating. I could not get past second period most days and was going home by 10 AM every day approximately 80% of the week. About eight different doctors declared me physically fine. My parents were upset, my teachers were upset, I was upset. At this point in my life, there was zero writing happening unless you count maybe Xanga or MySpace (yeah, yikes, went there). I lost about 15 lbs, which is significant for me as I stand at 4’6″ on a good day thanks to my Asian genes.

After about six months of crying every morning, knowing I would have to go to school and get through it, nauseous enough to be relatively useless, and angry that this was happening at all, I had a mental breakdown. I had newly discovered a fair coping mechanism in the weeks before this: screaming into a pillow. It was effective up to a point. Now picture the small Asian girl unable to stop screaming or crying until hyperventilation kicked in and parents had to knock down my bedroom door to get in.

Okay, what does this have to do with writing?

Okay, sure, writing is a good way to vent and all that, which, don’t get me wrong, it is. I will testify to this until my lungs fall out. Nothing feels better than a good midnight vent to Mic Word that I can save to a folder no one will ever see. It doesn’t need to be good, it just needs to be on the screen and out of my veins. I get that. I advocate it.

Yes, although maybe less masculine tears than Hemingway’s need to be shed.

The reality as a writer is a little harder. I’m never going to publish those late night spiels, for instance. So when you have to put your nose to the grindstone and get down to your novel or what have you, how do you write while still depressed? Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s not like there is exactly an uplifting answer here. One version is that you sit down and get to it, come hell or high water, but I mean, those are pretty words in the face of depression. I dealt with the rest of my high school years by continuing to blog, turning real emotions and problems into convoluted imagery and run-on sentence ideals. If I could turn everything ugly into something I could feel relatively proud of, it was worth the continuing battle. Making my life into a story made it manageable, quantifiable. The story of my first girlfriend and our subsequent break-up(s) became a twisted story of our one date in Chinatown. The pig’s heads that hung in the butcher’s became the main image and my narrator walked through the filthy alleyways with a bloodied head in hand, a burden and companion. Similar to reading a narrative that plays with your emotions, writing out the situation detached me enough to find a way to at least a satisfying ending (even if at the moment it came out in vengeful, bitter words). I could put the emotion to rest for a least a moment and catch my breath in the real world. It helped me keep moving.

This continued well into college, going through different stages of evolution. Towards the end of my graduate courses, it had become somewhat an obsession. I was trying to examine my own mental illness in my writing like a constant tic, especially my anxiety as frequent panic attacks have plagued me for the past ten years (though gotten significantly better in the last five). Part of my justification for this intensely introspective, somewhat morbid prose was that readers deserved better media representation of mental illness in literature, ones that didn’t always end with a happy-ever-after cure but that focused on how the main character would be dealing with this daily, every day, maybe even forever. The harder part to justify was trying to figure out what exactly went wrong with me to make me this way.

How do you write when you’re depressed and want to do nothing, including not writing? If you’re me, you burrow into the depression itself to try to figure it out in words. Words are the only thing that have ever given me solace or made sense in the midst of madness. The stories of others that were easy to empathize with gave me hope — that’s generally what they’re there for, I assume. I suppose my advice would be to find something you can latch onto that lets you get catharsis from your writing. Throwing yourself or your problems into your characters may not give you real life solutions but it can give you reason to believe that by trying to make your characters better, you have a chance at building your own narrative for the better, too.

This is probably not very helpful, but it’s what I got.

Link to my Tumblr for a reference post for various mental illnesses and related resources. We’re all gonna get through this, friends.

NaNoWriMo: Day 5 & 6

Lately Chebk and I have been discussing the brainwashing involved in any writing, but especially for NaNoWriMo.

But, first, obligatory X-Files 90s Computer cap:

Sexy.

Sexy.

So: Brainwashing. Some of you may remember my tragic Mid-Novel Malaise (Pt.1, Pt. 2),  and my somewhat apathetic downfall involving a very simple solution: Not writing. Anything. At all. Ever. Obviously that was not the best long-term solution to finishing a novel, let alone a short story. Chebk convinced me to join NaNoWriMo with her so I would start writing again, just as she was jumping back into her novel-length project, which had also been put on hold. Birds of a feather and all that.

We’re still in the first week of the challenge and there is already despair (Chebk) and ruthless optimism disguising even deeper despair (me). We are both admittedly rusty about getting back into the swing of writing daily and I have decided to approach this by convincing myself, every day, that I am THRILLED to be writing. We’re going to finish the challenge! We will meet every daily word count! Look how fun this is! Aren’t we doing well?!

Hysterical and depressing though this may sound, ladies and gentlemen, this has so far proven useful. For one thing, it keeps me from thinking too hard about what I’m writing because the part of my brain in charge of persistent judgment is drowned by the other new part yelling IT IS OKAY EVERYTHING IS OKAY JUST KEEP WRITING WE ARE HAVING FUN LOOK AT ALL THESE WORDS KEEP GOING YAAAAY. To be honest, this usually comes out in a voice reminiscent of a person who knows their plane is going down and is trying to keep their three-year old child very calm. But still. It drowns the judgment. That’s the part that matters.

anxiety

This is the last vaguely depressing comic for this post. Promise.

Day Five involved about 500 words and a lot of TV due to some health problems.  (The GF and I marathoned How to Get Away With Murder which inspires me to write if only because of the inconsistencies and predictability that make me want to do better. It is a very pretty show though — and Viola Davis! This has been a tangent.)

Today is Day Six and the litany of hysterical optimism is back in full-force, especially since I am now officially behind in my word count. I’ll be back to update my word count unless it is too shameful to post. Hopefully this weekend will bring a boost in word count and self-esteem.

Thank you for reading the beginning of my spiraling descent into true NaNo madness.

NaNoWriMo: Day 1 & 2

Alright, so I’m doing it: National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) 2014. This challenge has been around for a while, but if you don’t know anything about it, basically it’s a challenge to write 50K in a month, roughly enough to be considered novel-length. The entire challenge is geared towards word count, not quality. It is (supposedly) a great way to get you writing daily and get a story out without holding yourself back. (DOESN’T THAT SOUND FAMILIAR.)

So to get me out of this writing rut once and for all, here goes nothing.

"Current mood: Mulder typing sadly at his computer." Pic and caption via tumblr.

“Current mood: Agent Mulder typing sadly at his computer.”
Pic and caption via tumblr.

In an effort to keep myself honest, I will be blogging almost daily for the month of November to keep track of my progress. My writing guru, Chebk over at 2WriterNot2Write, is convinced 50K is a cakewalk for me (lies) so I have the additional challenge of meeting 75K by Nov. 30.  NaNoWriMo calls for about 1,700 words per day to meet the challenge in 30 days. I will be writing 2500 words per day to meet Chebk’s awful, awful challenge.

Day One went mostly well. Unfortunately, most of the day was taken up by previously-scheduled engagements with my mother that ran late. I was able to write for a couple of hours in the morning and one more at night to total 1,000 words. Yikes. I then fell asleep, REMORSELESS.

One thing worth mentioning, is that I lost some of that writing time to attending the Hawaii Film Festival to watch the documentary Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, which chronicles Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli’s history and progress with their recent animated film, The Wind Rises. It moved me deeply as an artist and writer to hear Miyazaki, a master in his own right, discuss the difficulties he encounters in his craft. At one point, he and his staff draw Zero plane after Zero plane and all are rejected. The producer, Suzuki, explains that it is because Miyazaki does not want the plane to be animated the way it actually flies but the way Miyazaki sees it fly in his head — how it could fly, how it should fly.

That is definitely something any artist can relate to, and something I struggle with daily. The story I write is never going to be as good as the story in my head but at least it will be real and completed. Lesson learned.

ghibli1

Scenes from Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. Or: in which Miyazaki continues to be my life's aspiration.

Scenes from Kingdom of Dreams and Madness. Or: in which Miyazaki continues to be my life’s aspiration.

Day Two: Today’s going better, gang, (she said, prematurely). I’m mostly reworking what I had of Part Two, starting with the beginning. The first chapter is still mostly intact but I like to type things from scratch with both docs open to fine-tune things, so it was an easy writing day but it really boosted my word count. Tomorrow is when the hard work begins as I will be rewriting the rest of the chapters from scratch. I’m hoping to deepen my characters’ struggles by separating them. I love the scenes they all have together but they rely on each other too much and it creates too much of a safety net in terms of growth or real danger. We’ll see how it goes.

Current word count: 7,405 of 75,000.

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