Sketchbook #16

Productivity, Writing

Ok, so: July and August were kind of terrible, creatively. I’ve acknowledged that and moved past it. It happens occasionally—both due to my own issues, and things beyond my control—and I just have to deal with it.

I went into September with modest goals: I wanted to get back on track, and dig myself out of the rut that I’d been in all summer. I wanted to see if I could find ways to motivate myself, rather than relying on inspiration to just happen. I wanted to work on clearing my weekly photo backlog, and see if I could make some progress on the NaNoWriMo outline, but I didn’t set any specific targets—any movement would be good, as long as it was forward.

So how’d I do?

Not terrible? I mean, it’s a bit tricky to measure this sort of thing when I intentionally didn’t set any clear guidelines for myself.

I’ve started (slowly) working on the weekly photo project again, and chipping away at those missed prompts. I’m still really behind schedule (and, as I said the other day, it would be easier if I wasn’t adding to the list every week, but, well, that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?), but I’ve been working on it, and I’ll have even more pictures ready in the next little while. I don’t quite have a good workflow with the new computer, yet—I’d like to make some changes from the way I handled things before, but I’m still working on what those changes actually are.

Still: progress.

Writing… is still going slowly. I’m finally hitting a daily word count that I’m happy with: not quite enough for NaNoWriMo, but perfectly acceptable when the deadline isn’t quite that ridiculous. That’s nice. I’ve only made a little progress on the NaNoWriMo outline, but I’m starting to build momentum again, and I’ve got a pretty good plan-of-attack to get the outline actually done. I’m starting to feel like I might be ready to go when November rolls around.

I have discovered that the new computer—more specifically, the increased screen size—really changes the way I write. I tend to write my first drafts in plain text (or Markdown), using a lightweight text editor; it’s easy, portable, and doesn’t lock me into any particular system. And on my old 13-inch MacBook Pro, it served as a pretty good distraction-free writing environment. But it’s just not working for me on the new screen; the window’s either too small, or it’s a huge, intimidating blank page with no real margins. I’m trying out a few alternatives. With luck, I’ll find something that clicks with the way I like to work.

Really, though, even though it’s not a lot of progress, I am feeling pretty good about both writing and photography right now. Better than I was feeling this time last month, at least.

Now. Drawing… I’m still just going through the motions, there. I’m trying not to worry about it too much—I’ve always intended it to be a hobby, and not another source of stress—but it’s still a bit draining. The trouble is, I feel like I’m still in the skill-building stage of things; there’s a lot of practice, but very little real creativity right now, which makes it less fun than it could be. (Especially, since, you know, it’s a hobby. It should be fun.) It might be time to switch things up again, go back to figure drawing for a while and see if that helps.

Which brings us to my plans for October.

Obviously, my NaNoWriMo outline is my priority. I have one month before I actually have to write this thing. I’m fully confident, now, that I can hit the target as far as word-count goes. So that’s good. And, while I’m nowhere near ready to start writing right now, I’m pretty sure I can get there in time. As long as I can stay focussed and do the work.

The good thing is, I do think I’ve finally figured out what motivates me, and how to harness that energy when I need it. Anxiety and perfectionism are still issues, but I’m starting to figure out how to work through them—maybe even (dare I say it?) channel that energy into motivation—rather than let them paralyze me. Between that and (finally!) getting back into the habit of working at my desk in the office rather than literally anywhere else in the apartment, I’m starting to get my schedule under control and keep myself from getting too distracted.

So I should be able to get the outline done in time.

That’s my priority, but I don’t want to lose my momentum with photography, either. I’ve got quite a few new photos waiting to be edited, both for the weekly project and otherwise, and I’ve got plans to tackle some more of the backlog. If I can get (mostly) caught up before November, it’ll make writing the novel a lot less stressful.

And, because I’m me, and because it’s starting to feel like the year is winding down, I’m starting to think ahead to 2017. I’m already planning next year’s photo project (taking into account the problems that arose this year and the things I’d like to accomplish), and thinking about the changes I’d like to make. As I said, I’ve begun making some changes to my daily schedule, and I’m hoping to fine-tune those changes so I can start 2017 with a routine that I like and that works for me. (I’ve also got a new monthly feature here on the blog that was originally going to launch early next year, but I don’t want to wait that long; it’ll debut later this week.)

In short, my plan for next month—and the rest of the year—is all about getting back to work. Not just getting back to where I was before the old computer decided to die on me, but using the changes and the things I’m figuring out about myself to actually do the work I’ve wanted to do all along.

Sketchbook #13

Photography, Writing

[FYI: This is kind of long. Feel free to skip it if you’re not interested in reading my stream-of-consciousness artistic angst.]

Ugh. This month.

I mean… it’s not as bad as I probably make it sound. I’ve made real progress in figuring out what’s going on in my NaNoWriMo story: I know who my main character is, and who the antagonist is, and I sorted out the big worldbuilding issue I was having. I’ve started to figure out how the backstory I’ve been thinking about fits into the main story, and I know (generally) what’s driving the plot.

I’ve also been (slowly) building my daily writing practice back into something that I’m happy with, and that will put me on track to be able to hit the word counts I’ll need to make it through NaNoWriMo.

So far, so good.

But.

I’m not feeling even remotely inspired. In anything.

Photography has stalled. Photo editing has stalled. (Which bugs me, because I’ve still got some really good photos from May that I want to share with you, but I just can’t convince myself to fire up Photoshop.) I’m even struggling with the 52-Week Project, almost exactly half-way through. (Part of this is because a recent prompt needed specific natural light, which I just wasn’t getting. And, while I knew that that sort of thing was going to happen a few times over the course of the year, it’s still frustrating, and it’s still affected my motivation.)

And even though I’m still making progress with writing… I’ve hit the point where, in recent months (or years), I’d decide to give up. My enthusiasm has faded, and literally the only thing keeping me going right now is the public commitment I’ve made to do NaNoWriMo this year.

The last time I really felt like this, I wound up booking a trip to Montréal. And while you can’t really run away from your problems, there is something to be said for spending a few days alone in an unfamiliar city, where you barely speak the (main) language, with nothing to do but force yourself out of your comfort zone, take pictures of things you’ve never seen before, and think. But that sort of thing isn’t in the budget right now. (Not that that’s stopped me from browsing airfares and hotel websites. In case you’re wondering, it costs a small fortune to fly anywhere from here.)

I know that most of the problems I’m having are things that I’ve always struggled with—perfectionism’s a big one, and so is my love/hate relationship with routine. And, on top of that, I don’t really have a creative community right now, and I miss it. I miss having people to bounce ideas off of, and commiserate with, and whom I can trust for objective critique. (Friends and family are great, but rarely objective.)

I’m also remembering that my love/hate relationship with routine also affects how I feel about story outlines. On one hand, the structure is good: it keeps me focussed and doing the work that needs to be done. On the other hand, it’s stifling and uninspiring. And, since I’m looking at outlining this story for the next four months (I know from experience that I can’t make it through NaNoWriMo without an outline), it’s hard to get myself motivated.

So. Where does that leave me?

I know that, every so often, this sort of creative ennui kicks my ass. I know that it’ll eventually pass, but “eventually” isn’t really good enough; I’ve lost so many promising projects this way.

I know that I’m still determined to get through this 52-Week Photo Project.

I know that I’m still absolutely committed to doing National Novel Writing Month this year.

I know that I want to be making things. I want to write. I want to take photos. I want to make art.

And I know that forcing myself to create when I feel like this only makes things worse—the work becomes too much of a chore, and I only do it to say it’s done. I stop caring about whether it’s any good, and when I stop caring, it stops being good. And then I start to resent the fact that I’m doing the work at all when it’s clearly terrible, and then I burn out.

I don’t know how to reconcile these things.

I need to figure out a creative practice that works for me: something that doesn’t rely too heavily on routine, but still feels productive. Something that doesn’t fall apart entirely when I’ve got to take a few days off. Ideally, something that I can keep up (at least enough to maintain my momentum) when I’m travelling, or spending a week baking Christmas cookies. I need to figure out a way to outline stories that doesn’t suck all the energy out of them before they’re even written. I need to find a creative community that clicks. Most importantly, I need to find a way to be objective about my own work—I need to figure out how to recognize the good parts, and figure out how to live with (or, you know, fix) the parts that aren’t amazing.

For now, I think I can maintain the progress I’ve made. I can keep writing 500 words a day, and I can keep working on the 52-Week Photo Project. I can draw for a few minutes every day. I can keep NaNoWriMo in my sights and hopefully not fall too far behind on my preparations. But I’m going to hold off on trying to increase my daily word count, at least for now. I’m going to focus more on editing and sharing the photos that are sitting on my hard drive than on taking a tonne of new pictures. I’m going to look at outlining techniques I haven’t tried yet, and see if they might suit me better than the methods I’ve been using.

I think I can do that without putting too much pressure on myself.

And, while I’m trying, I guess I’ll try to figure out the rest of it.