Sketchbook #48

Photography, Writing

I thought that October was going to be busy, that there were a lot of things that would get in the way of my creative goals.

It turned out to be even busier than I expected: I’ve only had one full week without interruptions (even today they’re testing the fire alarms in my building, which is always a joy—that’s why I’m working on this blog post instead of fiction), I’ve had inconvenient (but not serious) health issues crop up, and it’s just been generally difficult to stay motivated.

But I did it.

I’ll start with Violet Lane. I wanted to reach the midpoint by the end of the month. I’m not quite there, but I’m close. It’s on the horizon. And I like the story. It’s really good (considering it’s still very much a first draft, and ‘really good’ in this context means disjointed and messy and kind of terrible in some places), and more importantly, I’m having fun with it. It’s still not easy to write, and I’ve definitely had days when it just wasn’t working, but overall, writing it is a good experience this time around.

Also, I mentioned it on Twitter, but getting back into a proper mid-writing-session coffee break has done wonders for my writing routine. The caffeine helps, obviously, but mostly it’s the process of actually grinding the beans and heating the water. It gets me away from the work for a few minutes, but in a way that focusses, rather than distracts. It’s fantastic, and I love it.

Snapshot #119 | 10 Things for 27 January 2019

Personal

Currently…

1. daydreaming… about spring. It seems very far away right now.
2. starting… Project366. It’s gonna be an interesting year.
3. suspecting… that I might be getting a cold, but it hasn’t quite materialized yet. (Which is good! This isn’t a good time for me to get sick. Not that there’s a good time, but you know what I mean.)
4. cutting… my hair. Finally.
5. planning… my first sewing project of the year. (Nothing fancy, but necessary.)
6. thinking… about taking part in the CP Matchmaker event on 2 February. (Has anyone done it before? What did you think?)
7. waiting… for parcels. Still. And then they all—the ones I ordered at the beginning of the month, and the one I ordered last weekend—arrived on the same day. (Not gonna lie: that part was actually kind of fun.)
8. feeling… ambitious.
9. trying… to rebuild my routines. This has been a busy month, and the next two weeks are going to be even worse.
10. eating… cake.

Sketchbook #37

Photography, Writing

It’s been two months since I did a general update on how all my creative projects are going, so I’ve got a lot of ground to cover today. And since this day is already shaping up to be kind of awful (they’re rebuilding the balcony below mine, which means noisy generators and sawing through concrete, I’ve got my first serious cold of the season and so my attention span is pretty much nonexistent, and they’re going to be testing the fire alarms at some point today, and that’s always a joy), I’m going to try to make it quick.

When I did my last update, back in August, I was… going through some stuff. I was trying to figure out how to consistently create work—fiction or photography in particular—and get feedback, and not turn the entire thing into a chore.

I’m still working on that. That’s pretty much the driving force behind my reboot—and that’s going well. Still a process, of course, but I really do feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

One thing that’s come up in that work (and I touched on this the other day, but I think it’s relevant here, too), is that my long-term creative goals aren’t nearly clear enough, and that’s making it difficult for me to move forward. Especially in photography. I have some solid medium-term goals for my writing (querying agents, publishing), but when it comes to photography, I know more about what I don’t want to do than what I do want. And when I try to think long-term—five or ten years—things get really vague. I know that I want to be able to support myself through my writing and photography, but beyond that…?

I guess I’m still going through some stuff.

Sketchbook #35

Photography, Writing

I’ll be honest: the heatwave has been awful for my motivation this month. I haven’t wanted to do anything but hide indoors and stare at my phone. (Even watching a movie or reading has felt like it required too much energy the last few weeks.)

My goals going into July were to write (including outlining and editing) more days than not, and to keep going with my photography project. I wanted to make it another 1/3 of the way through editing The Black Sun, and make a good start on the Violet Lane outline. And I wanted to start carrying a real camera more often.

(I also wanted to announce one of the big scary projects I’ve been working on. And that will be happening before the end of the month, which means by end-of-day tomorrow. And that’s all I’m going to say about it until then. Watch this space.)

You already know how the first round of edits on The Black Sun went (spoiler: really well!). I gave myself a few days off before diving into the second round (mostly to clean up the inevitable errors that I added on my first pass), and as of right now, I’m about half-way through that process. I’m still happy with the story. Mostly. I’m looking forward to hearing what my beta readers have to say; I want to know if the things that I think need work do or if it’s just the fact that I’ve read this story seventeen million times, and I can’t quite tell which way is up anymore.

And I’m making good progress on the Violet Lane outline! I’ve got the arc of the story figured out, and I’ve started filling in the gaps between the big scenes. It’s still a little top-heavy—I know almost the entire first half of the story, and almost nothing in the second—but that’s normal for me at this stage of things.

I’m also starting to suspect that it’s the first of a series (or a trilogy, at least). I haven’t quite decided how I feel about that. One one hand, if that’s how the story has to be told, then that’s how it has to be told. On the other… that’s a lot of story, and I have to write it all. So. (I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I really wish this particular story already existed. I’d be just as happy to read someone else’s version, instead of writing it myself.)

And I’ve started brainstorming a new story concept. I’m not sure when (or even if) I’m going to try writing it, but right now I really love it.

So… I guess my writing went well this month. I still feel like I’ve found a routine that works for me, and I’ve managed to maintain it.

And, for once, I’m happy with my photography, too! (It seems like it’s always one or the other, never both.)

I mean: I’m still picking away at my 100 Days project, but I’m on track to finish it this week. And I have been carrying my camera more often. Not everywhere—I’m still not taking it when I go grocery shopping—but I’ve been making an effort. And it’s paid off: I’m absolutely thrilled with some of the photos I’ve been taking over the past few weeks. I feel like I’ve been figuring out some things about myself as a photographer, and I’m having a lot of fun with it.

I’m also still moving forward with the office refresh; the last two weeks, I’ve been focussed specifically on improving the space for photography, and I’m absolutely loving the changes I’ve been making. (That said: it’s also feeling a little bit cluttered right now. I officially can’t buy anything else that takes up floor space until I get rid of the last of the old, ugly furniture… which I can’t do until I figure out some new storage solutions.)

So, yeah: despite the terrible, terrible heat wave, which has made me feel lazy and unproductive, July was a really good month.

And, since I’m pretty sure that setting very specific goals at the start of the month contributed to that, I’m going to do the same for August.

When it comes to my writing, I want to finish up this round of edits on The Black Sun (hopefully this week), and get it out to my beta readers. And then I want to try very hard to think about literally anything else. (I’m serious: I haven’t sent a story out to readers since before I went through my whole burnout-never-writing-again thing, and I know this is going to trigger a certain amount of anxiety.) It’ll give me a good opportunity to focus on Violet Lane (I need to figure out if one particular character actually belongs in the story, and I’d like to finish the index card outline) and on developing the new story concept into an actual story. (If I end the month with a logline and *maybe* a short synopsis, I’ll be happy.)

For photography, I want to figure out a new daily—or near-daily—project to work on ASAP. I don’t like being without something specific to focus on. (Pun only sort of intended.) I want to keep going with black & white, but beyond that… I’m not sure. And I’m going to keep pushing myself to use a real camera more often than my phone.

Finally, I will get that second big scary project ready to announce by the end of the month. I refuse to put it off any longer.

Now, let’s just hope the heatwave breaks.

NaNoWriMo 2016 - Winner

NaNoWriMo 2016: Postmortem

Writing

It’s been just over two months since NaNoWriMo 2016 ended. It’s been ten months since I first started thinking about maybe trying my hand at it. It’s been exactly a week since I typed “the end” on the story I started back in November.

It feels like a good time to look back and think about how the whole thing went.

I’ll start with some backstory. (If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you might know some of this already.) I used to write. A lot. At least 2000 words a day, four days a week, without fail. I did NaNoWriMo a few times, years ago… until I realized that it wasn’t really a challenge anymore, and that starting a new project in November would mean putting any current projects on hold for a month. I considered myself a writer before anything else.

The problem is, I’ve got a perfectionist streak, especially when it comes to writing.

I was writing a lot, but nothing ever came of it. I’d finish a draft and… I really couldn’t bear to look at it again. All I could ever see were the flaws: formulaic plots and boring characters. And while I know that all first drafts are terrible, mine felt particularly terrible, like trying to revise them into something readable would just be a waste of time. It got to the point where I wasn’t even happy to reach the end of a draft—just faintly relieved that I didn’t have to think about that story anymore, and angry with myself for spending so much time on something so awful, and for my refusal to try to turn it into something not-awful.

I had to stop. Writing was making me too miserable. That was about five years ago now, I think.

But I never really stopped thinking about writing. Story ideas never stopped coming, and I kept studying technique. It always felt like something I’d come back to. Eventually. Once or twice, the urge got too strong, and I tried to ease myself back into it, but it was never the right time. I produced some amazing prose, but always started to hate the process again before finishing anything.

And so, last spring, I started thinking about NaNoWriMo again, and how maybe easing myself in wasn’t the solution—maybe I needed to make a big scary commitment and just see if I could still write at all. By the time November rolled around, I’d (mostly) figured out my story, and got my typing speed back up, and was feeling… weirdly good about the whole thing.

I spent the whole month expecting an existential crisis that never came. Instead, I managed to make it through, writing nearly every day and hitting 50,000 words a day before schedule.

Now, remember: I only typed “the end” last week. The draft is not 50K words long—it’s just over 90K.

And… yeah. It’s terrible. One entire chapter is missing (it was a big empty hole in my outline, and I just skipped it rather than lose momentum). The plot is a little formulaic (though less than previous stories I’ve written… more on that in a minute), some of my characters are boring. But I don’t feel like I’ve wasted the past three months. I’m actually looking forward to rereading it and starting the revision (or rewriting, more likely). I’m starting to put serious thought into my next story.

I’m really glad I decided to tackle this thing.

So, looking back, what did I learn?

I am still capable of writing, and not making myself miserable.

I was genuinely starting to wonder. But I made it through the entire month of November, and the months after, and I never once doubted what I was doing, and I never hated the process. That said: I knew going in that the 1666 words/day every day that NaNo requires isn’t sustainable for me. But it was a good kickstart for that one month, and in the weeks since, I’ve established a good writing routine that feels both productive and sustainable.

I need other writers and creative types in my life.

I kind of knew this, but NaNoWriMo really did confirm it for me. In retrospect, one of the things (and there were several, not all of which are worth going into here) that contributed to my burnout was that my longtime beta reader (the person I regularly bounced ideas off of and trusted to read my earliest drafts) went AWOL, just at the moment I was starting to get serious about my writing. Without that feedback, I had nothing to balance out my perfectionism. So… yeah. That sucked.

But I made a genuine attempt to interact on the NaNoWriMo forums, and find some other people for mutual cheerleading and advice, and it helped so much. Just knowing that there were people out there going through the same thing, and who were genuinely interested in my story (and helping people through their own struggles)… it’s made a huge difference.

The only thing that really motivates me is doing the work.

Over the past year or so—not just on this project—I’ve been trying a few different methods to get myself motivated to do the work that I want to be doing. And, in the end, I’ve learned that the only thing that really works for me is seeing the progress I’m making (however I choose to measure that), and focussing on my big goals. All the tricks and lifehacks in the world are meaningless.

An outline doesn’t have to lead to a formulaic story.

I struggled with this a lot in the weeks leading up to November. I knew going in that I needed an outline, but I also knew that part of the reason that my earlier stories felt so formulaic was because my outlining process was too strict. But I managed to find an outline technique (scene-based, on index cards) and story structure (um… it’s complicated) that worked for me: it gave me the structure I needed to stay on track, and the freedom to discover the story as I went along.

I also learned that every story has it’s own process, and that discovering what that process is is half the battle. I already know that the story I’m thinking about right now is going to need a different approach, but I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to look like.


So… what comes next?

I’m setting this draft aside for another week or two, just so I can find the distance I need to look at it objectively. Then I’ll read it over, make some notes, and start planning the next draft. (It’s going to need a complete rewrite, and probably a new outline. So it’s going to be a long process.)

In the meantime, I’ve started thinking about the next project, trying to expand the concept into something like an actual story. I’ll probably start outlining it before the end of the month. I’m still writing every day; even if it’s just vague freewriting, it’s still helping me maintain that routine.

I think the experiment was a success.

Snapshot #25 | 10 Things for 24 May 2015

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… my annual search for a high-SPF sunscreen that doesn’t leave chalky stains all over everything. (Have a recommendation? Let me know. Please. I’m desperate. I’m also super pale and wear a lot of black.)
2. feeling… productive. And inspired. I seem to be getting stuff done for once. It’s kind of awesome.
3. planting… this summer’s garden. Or getting ready to, at least.
4. getting… over my fear of horizontal stripes. Apparently.
5. pretending… that the Jem and the Holograms movie doesn’t exist. (Not linking to the trailer; if you want to see it you can find it.) 7-year-old me (who was always Stormer when she and her friends played ‘Jem’—and hell yes I wanted to be one of the Misfits) would be so disappointed.
6. trying… to get (back?) into the Twitter habit. And Instagram.
7. thinking… that if a certain beta reader hadn’t gone AWOL a few years ago, she’d be blown away by the stuff I’ve been working on lately.
8. wishing… the cat wasn’t quite so obsessed with routine. I can’t remember the last time I got to sleep in, even a little.
9. looking… for a good iOS text editor. Markdown support is nice, Dropbox support is essential, but other than that, is just needs to be as straightforward as possible. (And look nice.)
10. putting… the finishing touches on something new. It’ll be up tomorrow.