Sketchbook #52

Photography, Writing

“I’m looking forward to March,” I said. “It’s going to be a good month,” I said.

Wow. So… I should know better than to tempt fate like that, I guess?

I’ll start with the good news: I finished the draft of Violet Lane that I’ve been working on since last November. I haven’t gone back to read it yet, but I didn’t type ‘the end’ and immediately hate everything, so I’m calling it a success. And this week I started in-depth brainstorming on my next project. I’ve been thinking about the idea for probably close to a year at this point, but things only started to gel in the last few months; it’s been so much fun, and a great distraction from staring into the void. 

In some ways, it’s just great to have exciting plans for the future. All of the other writing projects I’ve got going right now are things I’ve been working on for years, and that I’ll be working on for a while yet. And as much as I love them—I wouldn’t still be working on them if I didn’t—it can be hard to muster much enthusiasm right now. Having something to look forward to, something new and different that’ll be waiting when I’m ready to hit ‘pause’ on one of these other projects it helps a lot.

The other thing I did this month was exchange some chapters with some new potential critique partners. That’s been… kind of a mixed blessing. 

At the beginning of the month, when I first put out the call on Twitter, it was great. The response was better than I expected, and I got some amazing volunteers. But I couldn’t have picked a worse time; I need to be in a good headspace to process feedback on my writing—good, bad, or in between—and I haven’t been in that space. Obviously. (Giving notes is almost as bad. It’s hard to do a good job with stuff like that when I’m so distracted, but I really hate to let people down or let go of commitments I’ve made.)

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that in the long run. I’m trying to set reasonable expectations, more for myself than anyone else, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a weird time.

I also said that most of my attention in March was going to go toward photography.

I really shouldn’t have said anything about photography, since I’m now stuck indoors: the parks and trails in my area are closed to the public. I’m only leaving the apartment once a week (if that), to walk to the supermarket, and most of that walk is next to a highway. (I’m so relieved that I didn’t commit to a public photo-a-day thing again this year.)

But. Remember that thing I wanted to announce back in November? I took care of the logistical issue that got in my way. I still won’t be able to launch for a while, but I’ll be ready to go once the crisis has passed. Finally.

Again: it’s something to look forward to. That counts for a lot.

I’m not going to make any big declarations for April. I’m not going to commit to finishing anything complex, or starting something big. 

But I’m going to work on the outline for the new thing, and start planning the next draft of Violet Lane. (I want to be able to start writing again in May.)

I’m going to get back into the query trenches with The Black Sun, because if I let that go too long, inertia will take over, and it’ll be like starting all over again.

I’m going to figure out how to handle the critique situation, whether that means stepping back from some of those commitments or leaning into them.

I’m going to come up with some ideas to reignite that photographic spark, to use these limitations to my advantage, rather than letting them get me down. 

I’m going to keep moving forward, however slowly.

Snapshot #149 | 10 Things for 22 March 2020

Personal

The social distancing edition! Currently…

1. regretting… the decision to walk home from the supermarket with two weeks’ worth of groceries. (I’m not obsessively stockpiling, but I am trying to reduce my trips out.) I have a really good rolling cart, but still.
2. cutting… back on my social media and news consumption. A lot.
3. realizing… (again) that I own way too much stuff. I tried to rearrange a closet and… ugh.
4. wanting… to bake something, but again… not sure what.
5. trying… to trick the cat into cuddling. (I love her, but Lucy’s not the most demonstrative girl unless there’s food involved.)
6. feeling… thankful that I didn’t decide, back in December (when I would’ve had to give notice), that this was the year to find a new apartment. Moving right now would be awful.
7. finishing… the most recent draft of Violet Lane!
8. wishing… the mornings would warm up enough to go for a run. (How did I become this person?)
9. keeping… my anxiety in check. Mostly.
10. ordering… a new coffee maker, because mine decided—after fifteen years—that this would be the perfect week to give up the ghost. (I mean… I have others. The situation isn’t desperate. But I do need a drip machine for that first cup of the morning.)

Water bottle, keyboard and trackpad on a dark background. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

On writing, anxiety, and COVID-19.

Writing

I finished a draft of Violet Lane last week. (I say ‘a draft’ because at this point, I honestly don’t know how to number the drafts of this thing. Is it the first draft? The third? Yes and yes.)

The timing was good. My anxiety levels have gone through the roof these last few days, and I don’t think I’d be able to write a word if I was trying to wrap it up now. As it is, I learned that it’s really hard to write an upbeat ending in times of crisis—the last scene is my main characters, watching TV as the villain talks about how awesome everything is, thinking ‘Well… at least we’re alive? And not in prison?’ (Not really a spoiler. I’ve got at least two major drafts of this story to go, and the chances of that ending sticking around are slim.)

It’s difficult to even write my usual postmortem about the process, because the last couple of weeks have thrown everything into chaos. I don’t remember most of the story right now, let alone how it felt to write it back in November. 

But I know I had good weeks.

I know there’s a good story here, somewhere. I haven’t read it yet—I’m still letting it rest—but I think that it’s the closest I’ve come yet to the story I want Violet Lane to be. I know that there are scenes that feel perfect. I’ve finally figured out who these characters are.

I also know that there are whole plot lines that don’t quite work, and that I need to rework the sci-fi side of things in order to keep up with how quickly the real world is shifting. (Seriously, my whole ‘near-future sci-fi’ thing? It’s in danger of becoming hopelessly outdated.)

And I know that I need to figure out how to work when it feels like the world is falling apart.

Because it’s fine to say that Shakespeare wrote King Lear when everything was shut down because of the plague. Shakespeare could close the door and get to work. He didn’t write on the same machine that fed him a constant stream of news about shutdowns and empty shelves and test shortages and people insisting on their god-given right to get drunk in public and lick doorhandles. He didn’t write on the same machine that supplied him with a soothing balm of cat pictures and romcoms and guided breathing exercises. He probably wasn’t trying to figure out if every little ache or sniffle was allergies or anxiety or plague, or realizing how difficult it is to write without touching your face. (Seriously. What am I supposed to do with my hands when they’re not typing?) 

Also: most of what he wrote was based on preexisting material—Shakespeare didn’t have to come up with something new and shiny.

The circumstances are different, and I don’t blame anyone for not being able to write—or do anything else—right now. It feels impossible, and it feels frivolous. 

I’m not sure what any of this means, or how long it’s going to last. I just know that I can’t sit and scroll. Even without the constant stream of bad news… even if I limit myself to those cat videos and romcoms, I still end up feeling sluggish and awful. I need to do something that feels productive, that feels creative, or the anxiety just builds on itself.

I need to figure out how to function in this version of normal. And this is a good time to do that—I don’t have to think about Violet Lane for a couple of weeks, I’ve got a fun project to brainstorm and hopefully outline, and I’m not on any strict deadlines. I don’t have to come up with a perfect solution immediately, I’ve got time to experiment and figure out what works.

I’ll keep you posted.

Snapshot #148 | 10 Things for 8 March 2020

Personal

Currently…

1. having… one of those weeks when my daily tarot draws are uncanny.
2. listening… to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness for the first time in two decades, because a certain Apple commercial got ‘We Only Come Out at Night’ stuck in my head.
3. rolling… my eyes at the empty shelves in the supermarket.
4. being… brave. I think it paid off.
5. catching… a cold at the worst possible time. (Yes, definitely a cold—there’s been no fever—but I still kind of felt like a plague rat.)
6. starting… to suspect that it’s not going to be warm enough to start running this month after all.
7. rethinking… my plans for the website. It’s going to mean more work, but I think it’ll be worth it. (That said: the new homepage in the WordPress.com editor is incredibly annoying.)
8. trying… to stay on top of my todo list. It hasn’t been easy.
9. spending… far too much money on books lately, but I’m done with that for a little while…. At least a month. Really.
10. feeling… sleepy. Stupid time change.

A stack of notebooks and sketchbooks in black and white. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

Sketchbook #51

Photography, Writing

Is it just me, or is the year moving really quickly? But in a weird way: there’s part of me that feels like January and February took forever, but then I freak out because how is it March already?

It’s probably just me.

Anyway. February.

As a whole, it wasn’t a bad month for writing—I’m almost done with the current draft of Violet Lane, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve made there. Not just on my word count (though that’s been pretty good), but on the story itself—I like this story a lot. If you’ve been following along, you know that this is technically my third attempt at a first draft of this story: they’re all complete, and none of them are terrible, but they’re all very different, and this is the first time I’ve come close to telling the story properly. (Close. I’m not there yet.) I finally feel like I’ve figured out who these people are and what their story is actually about. 

I had two amazing writing weeks in February. I also had one absolutely terrible writing week, where I couldn’t focus on anything story-related; I managed one half-hearted writing session, and that was it.

And I’m ok with that. I still wrote a few thousand more words in February than I did in January, and I can literally see the finish line on this draft. I’ve still managed to dedicate two hours a week to studying craft, and I can’t wait to start applying the things I’m learning to my own writing. (And I’ve been learning so much! It’s been years since I’ve read a craft book that said anything new.) I’ve started to put together a clear action plan for my writing—not just setting goals and making plans, but breaking it down into day-to-day and week-to-week tasks that will help me achieve those goals.

So, yeah. That one terrible week? It happens, and I’ve finally reached a point where I can accept that and move on, instead of letting it derail my entire month. (Progress!)

Now I have to figure out how to apply that same thinking to photography.

I didn’t really expect February to be a productive month when it came to photography. I needed to take the time to decompress after Project366, and February isn’t a particularly inspiring month anyway—it’s all melting snow and mud, and I always have a hard time finding things to photograph. So I set my sights low.

Not low enough, apparently, because I didn’t build those photo study sessions into my week the way I wanted to, and I made limited progress on those business-related things that I’m still not talking about. But I did make some progress, and I’m starting to want to take photos again, so it’s possible that I just needed that decompression time even more than I thought.

That said, I think most of my attention in March is going to go to photography.

Not all—I’m going to wrap up the current draft of Violet Lane in the next week or two, and when I finish that, I’m going to take a few days to rest and then get started on the outline for the next thing. (I’m so excited about that one! I really wish I could say more than that, but I don’t even have a working title yet.) And I want to finalize my plans, start putting those systems into place. But in general, my writing is going to slow down at some point this month, and that’ll give me a good opportunity to start figuring out how to reincorporate photography into my day-to-day, and it’ll give me time to start making the same sort of plans for my photography that I’ve already made for my writing.

I still don’t know how it’s already March, and there’s still part of me that’s freaking out about that. But I’m looking forward to March. It’s going to be a good month.

Snapshot #147 | 10 Things for 23 February 2020

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… to think about picking up the camera again. I’ve been decompressing for a month (exactly), and I’m starting to get twitchy.
2. going… a couple shades lighter blonde. It’s not the white-blonde I’ve been daydreaming about, and I’m not 100% sure I like it yet, but I’m giving it some time.
3. trying… a new waffle recipe. Good, but I do need to fine-tune it a bit.
4. psyching… myself out. I need to get my head back in the game.
5. shopping… for new pens.
6. troubleshooting… a new cookie recipe. All of the ingredients and proportions make sense, and everything seems right, but there’s something missing. (Nothing that kept me from eating the cookies, of course, but I’d like to make them better.)
7. daring… to hope that I might be able to start my running season before the end of March. (That’s always my goal; the weather has never cooperated.)
8. marvelling… at how terrible the combination of Chapters/Indigo and Canada Post continues to be.
9. getting… ready to redesign the site. Again. (Sort of.)
10. wondering… why my downstairs neighbours are blasting ‘Jingle Bells’ at full volume. In February.

Snapshot #146 | 10 Things for 9 February 2020

Personal

Currently…

1. reorganizing… my sewing supplies so I might finally be able to finish something.
2. figuring… out some big-picture stuff.
3. wondering… if I’m going to bother with the Oscars tonight. I’m not excited about them this year (at all), but if I skip them, it’ll be the first time since I was fourteen. (Final—last minute—decision: I’ll be staying up to watch.)
4. drinking… all the hot chocolate. It’s been that kind of winter.
5. trying… not to worry too much. Lucy had to go to the emergency vet clinic. She’s feeling better now, but we both had a very stressful week.
6. troubleshooting… more weird technical issues. Fun!
7. thinking… about my writing routine. I’m almost done the current draft of Violet Lane, and I want to outline the next project—whatever that is going to be—while I let that rest.
8. wishing… that the newer WordPress.com themes had font & colour customizations. (I’m super picky. We’ve established that. I’m this close to going back to the theme I used for the first few years of this version of the blog.)
9. getting… to know a new tarot deck.
10. wanting… to bake something, but I’m not sure what.