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 It’s in danger of becoming hopelessly outdated.)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.

Snapshot #144 | 10 Things for 12 January 2020

Personal

Currently…

1. setting… big goals for the year.
2. remembering… how much work shovelling snow is. Everything hurts.
3. realizing… that some of my plans for the year make it seem very much like I’m training for some sort of revenge mission, which just makes the whole thing more fun. (And will probably drive my wardrobe choices in 2020.)
4. finishing… the Christmas cookies.
5. getting… back to work. It’s been a really good week.
6. downloading… the 2020 edition of Christie Yant’s Tools for Writers spreadsheet. I loved it last year—seeing the calendar fill up is incredibly motivational.
7. trying… to decide what colour to dye my hair. I’m ready for a change. (I’ve narrowed it down to purple or teal—probably purple—but I’m tempted by platinum, too.)
8. editing… so many photos. So many. (Taking a bunch, too. Expect 366 updates to start this week.)
9. accepting… that I’ve got a bit of a cold. Maybe. I can’t tell anymore.
10. thinking… of ways to use up some of the notebooks I’ve been collecting.

Snapshot #134 | 10 Things for 25 August 2019

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… work on that dress I’ve been meaning to make forever.
2. trying… to kick my motivation back into gear. I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last few weeks, and I’m not sure why.
3. making… the year’s first batch of ice cream. At the end of August. It’s been a weird summer.
4. forgetting… what a nightmare some stores are right now, with back-to-school season coming up. I just wanted to look at pens.
5. spending… six and a half hours in the emergency room. I’m ok! Just had a bit of a scare and needed a bunch of tests. They all came back good. (And I’m incredibly grateful for the Canadian health care system right now.)
6. reevaluating… a few things.
7. finding… a reusable cup for iced coffee that fits in my bag! I’ve been looking for ages. (This is the one, if you’re facing the same dilemma. The silicone feels a little precarious when it’s full, but it works just fine so far.)
8. wishing… the cat would stop waking me up in the middle of the night.
9. exploring… a part of town that I haven’t visited in years. It’s changed a lot, and it’s kind of fantastic.
10. hoping… that next week is better than the last two have been.

Snapshot #130 | 10 Things for 30 June 2019

Personal

The last couple of weeks have been a bit of a wash, and I’m genuinely struggling to think of things I’ve actually done. But let’s try anyway.

Currently…

1. craving… ice cream. I haven’t made a single batch yet this year.
2. wondering… if the new coffee beans I got for the office are really this bitter, or if it’s just the way I’m tasting things right now. (Stupid cold.)
3. worrying… about the balcony plants. The building-supply place around the corner closed last summer (they’re building a hideous corporate HQ in its place, which infuriates me for so many reasons), and buying plants has been difficult enough without a nearby garden centre, but now I have to try to get potting soil before the herbs die.
4. avoiding… the rain. Barely.
5. starting… to wean myself off Pinterest, or at least change the way I use it. (If anyone can recommend something that works better as a digital ‘swipe file,’ let me know. I use Evernote for a lot, but sometimes a grid view helps spark ideas better than a list.)
6. reorganizing… the archives.
7. recognizing… some missing skills in my writing life, and taking steps to build them.
8. finishing… the stack of books at my bedside. I’ve still got at least a dozen ebooks to read, but it’s something.
9. trying… not to let my anxiety get the better of me.
10. looking… forward to things getting back to normal.

Sketchbook #44

Personal, Photography, Writing

“Maybe I’ll have some answers by the end of June,” I said

Why do I set myself up like that? 

I’m being a little overdramatic. The first two weeks of the month were good. Really good. It took a few days to figure out what I was doing with Violet Lane, but I’m well into the second draft now, and it feels like the big changes (cutting down the number of point-of-view characters, eliminating one character entirely, et cetera) are the right ones. I’m still wavering a bit on the tone (I want to make it darker, but it doesn’t seem to be working. I might have to rework the main character again), but in general, I’m happy with it.

My progress with photography is… ok. I’m in a bit of a rut—so many flowers—and I’m trying to figure out how to push myself out of my comfort zone with that. Part of the problem, I think, is that I’m in a bit of a rut when it comes to my routine in general—I do the same things and go to the same places, travelling the same routes, at roughly the same time every week—so I’m not seeing anything new. Nothing is feeling fresh or interesting. (I haven’t gone on as much as a day trip in over a year. The logistics for that kind of thing get tricky when you don’t drive.) Plenty of photographers have found inspiration in mundane environments, but I’m dealing with a general sense of frustration that’s just feeding on itself right now, and I need to figure out how to break myself out of it.

That said, the flower photos are ok—some of them have been quite good—they’re just boring.

Other than that things have been pretty much progressing as expected: I’m having fun with the website redesign, I’ve been making some real progress when it comes to figuring out my long-term plans (which… yeah, I kind of worked on that a few months ago, but I’ve been refining the ideas and framing them in a way that means I can work toward them rather than just dream about them), and I took a few small steps toward that big project that I’m still not announcing, even though I fully intended to do so this month. (More on that in a minute.)

… and then I came down with a cold. Nothing much has happened since last Wednesday. At all.

Snapshot #113 | 10 Things for 4 November 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. starting… to panic. I haven’t settled on any of my Christmas baking plans. (Actually, I’m panicking a little bit at how close the holidays are in general.)
2. feeling… feverish. The most recent cold was very brief, but intense.
3. debating… the merits of various notebooks.
4. making… apple pie. And remembering why I don’t make fruit pies very often (they stress me out). It’s not pretty, but it tastes good.
5. craving… silence.
6. reminding… myself that I can still hit 50,000 words for NaNo, even though I’ve only had one good writing day so far.
7. enduring… construction on my building and fire alarm tests.
8. getting… annoyed with Pinterest again. It’s a cycle.
9. looking… forward to a normal week.
10. buying… post-its and highlighters. (So many post-its and highlighters!)