Underneath my yellow skin

Writing Fiction: Getting Back on the Horse Again

old school writing
Creativity is flowing.

NaNoWriMo started today, and I managed to write 2,750 words. That’s more than enough to meet the goal of 50,000 words for the month, but I’m not happy with it. This is part of the problem with my OCD trait rearing its ugly head. When I decided to do NaNoWriMo this year, I decided that I’d go back to basics since I haven’t written fiction in quite some time. 50,000 words. That’s it. Nothing fancy, nothing creative. That breaks down to 1,667 words a day, which is something I can do in my sleep*. As I was writing today, I thought, “I should make it 2,000 words a day.” When I passed that, I thought 3,000 sounded better. I have a tendency to move the goalposts any time I reach a goal, which means perpetual frustration. Instead of being happy that I’ve written 2,750 words when I haven’t written fiction in months, I’m pushing myself to write an extra 250 words to reach the totally fabricated number of 3,000.

As I wrote in a previous post, I’ve been upset with myself because my brain hasn’t been providing me with stories lately. When I was in my twenties, I would sit down at my computer and just knock out several thousand words in one sitting. I have a dozen finished novels and probably fifty or more short stories, and I took it for granted that I’d always be able to write at such a prodigious pace. In the last year or so, my fiction writing has slowed to a crawl. I have several theories as to why that is, and I’ll enumerate them now. The first is that I ‘watch’ videos as I’m writing, but that one doesn’t really hold water because I’ve always had something else going on while I’m writing, mainly music. I never really understood why I did this, but the best I can figure is that it’s my version of a white noise machine. When I write, I need something to filter out the dross so I can focus on the ideas that matter. I know that it’s breaking all the cardinal writing rules, but as I said in my previous post, fuck writing rules. Except, write, write what you want, and do whatever it takes to help you write. “Write first thing in the morning.” Most people have other jobs, and I do my best writing late at night, anyway. “Don’t edit as you write–just write.” Nope. Editing as I go is the way I write, and that’s not going to change any time soon. “Don’t throw away anything you write.” Hell, no. Some of my shit is so bad, it deserves to be relegated to the trash heap.

I already have enough of my brain mandating what I should and shouldn’t do. I don’t need any more rules and regulations to live by, especially ones that come from outside sources. I’m kind of a dick in that if something doesn’t make sense to me after I examine it, I ignore it. I will listen to someone criticize my writing, but I rarely make the changes they suggest. I have a vision when it comes to my writing, and it takes a lot to sway me. Yes, I’m a delicate flower whose writing is more precious than gold. I jest, but it’s not far from the truth. I will say that when I was in grad school for writing, I took several classmates suggestions for one of the favorite stories I wrote, and in the process, I killed the story. When a story is vibrant, it shimmers as I read it. With this story, it glowed after I finished it the first time. With every edit, the shimmer faded little by little until the words were totally flat by the time I was done. I was so distraught, I metaphorically shoved the story into the back of a drawer and tried to forget it even existed. Years later, a friend mentioned that she loved that story, and I reread it for the first time in several ¬†years. It was still flat, but I was determined to revive it. I took out all the updates I made, painstakingly, piece by piece, and I reinserted the grimmer vision I had originally concocted for it. When I was done, I could see the shine again, and it might not have been quite as bright, but it was alive once more.

a light bulb moment
Getting a bright idea.

The last few fiction pieces I’ve written have been flat to me, and the start of this novel (for NaNoWriMo) has been the same. I read it back, and the words just lie there. I feel as if I’m going from checkpoint to checkpoint without much meat in between. I don’t know if I’m accurately assessing my writing or if I’m being overly critical. It’s just hard for me not to think back to the days when stories emerged from my mind almost fully baked, and I didn’t have to do much work on it. I really wish I would have appreciated it more back then because now, it’s much harder to write with the same abandon. The words are in my head, but there’s something lost in the translation by the time they make their way to the page. It’s as if there are gallons of sludge in my brain through which the words have to travel, and they’re dripping with slime when they emerge. Then again, I’ve been doing this blog for two-plus months, I think, and it was like pulling teeth to say what I want to say. Slowly, painfully, I started getting better. The words came more easily, and the finished product has steadily improved. There have been a few bad posts, of course, but in general, they’ve been solid. I’ve been allowing my brain to just stream of conscious it, which has created some really…interesting posts. By interesting I mean random and all over the place. Sometimes, where I end up is miles away from where I started, and the journey is weird and often wondrous. I’m trying not to be too critical of myself, which doesn’t come easily to me.

I’m trying to be patient as I write this novel for NaNoWriMo, but I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my writing. Nothing is good enough, and, to put it bluntly, what I have so far is pure crap. Yes, I know that the most important thing is to just write, but fuck that noise. OK, yes, if there are no words on the page, then you can’t really make any progress, but if those words are horseshit, it’s pretty hard to make diamonds. I think part of my problem, oh, yeah. Back to that. The reasons why it’s so much harder for me to write now than it has been in the past. I think social media is partly to blame. Yes, I know I rant about it often, but the fact that I’m tweeting often in 140 characters has really stunted my ability to write complex sentences. I’m used to tossing off a snappy tweet or ten, which is an art in and of itself, but it’s very different than creating vivid, colorful worlds and believable characters. I think social media has shortened my attention span. I have a hard time reading longer pieces (meaning five to six thousand words), even though I enjoy writing them. That may be because with the internet, the magnitude of crappy writing is immense, and it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

When I write, I don’t like to talk about what I’m writing until I’m done. I don’t even like to give a general outline because I feel as if the energy dissipates the more I talk about my writing. I think it’s partly because my characters are telling me I should be writing rather than talking about writing. Do not worry. I don’t think my characters literally talk to me. However, they are almost sentient to me, and that’s partly how I know if a story is going well. If they are talking to me, then I’m doing a good job. If they’re silent, then they’re not pleased with how I’m writing their story. There are glimmers in the beginning of this novel, but they’re faint. I’m really trying not to put too much pressure on myself, but I feel like the middle-aged ex-jock who can’t stop talking about how he threw the touchdown pass to win state championship twenty-five years ago. “I was a real writer once. The words flowed out of me like nectar. I could make a turn of phrase that would have brought tears to Shakespeare’s eyes.”

Nothing is less interesting than hearing a writer gripe about writer’s block, so I try to keep my frustrations to myself. It’s hard, though, because I feel worse every day I don’t write. Wednesdays are wellness day (in my post rotation), which might seem like a strange time for me to talk about my lack of writing. Here’s the reason why. My writing is linked with my emotional well-being. It was my anchor for the decades when I was severely depressed. There were days when I lay comatose on my couch, unable to even leave the house. The one thing I could do was write, and I did it fairly well. I’m not verbally expressive, either, so I used my writing as a venue for that as well. I’ve been wondering if the fact that I’m much less depressed now than I used to be** is one reason I’m struggling with my writing. As I said in my previous post, I don’t want to believe that because I would hate to have to give up my writing, but I can’t help but notice that my writing troubles started just as my emotional well-being started improving. Ironically, the fact that my writing, which has been my lifesaver, might be the first casualty of me getting better. I’m not sure that’s a trade-off I’d like to make.

My writing has been my boon companion all my life. It’s been more loyal to me than anyone except for my two cats. It was there every time I needed it, and when I was in deep distress, I wallowed in it to forget about my problems for a while. I’ve been lost without it these past few months. Several months. That’s why I’ve been so excited to participate in NaNoWriMo this year, but, and I know this sounds really petty and whiny, but it feels like work rather than fun. Yes, it’s first world writer problems, me whining about how it’s not fun any longer, but you have to understand that it’s the one thing I had a good time doing and that I was good at. It was a comfort to me, and I don’t want it taken away from me. As I said earlier, I’m trying to be patient with myself, but it’s not easy. I should try to apply some taiji principles to my writing. I need to wipe away my past relationship with my writing and take it as it is. Try not to have preconceived notions about what my writing should or shouldn’t be, but it’s hard. I’m going to try to be more open to whatever my writing brings to me in a true taiji manner. I’ll think of it as my daily meditation.

 

 

*This isn’t a humble brag. I’ve never had a problem with quantity; it’s quality that is in question.

**It’s relative. I still get severely depressed now and then, and my base emotion is mildly depressed.

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