Sketchbook #31

Writing

When it comes to the big picture, I have a three-month attention span.

It takes three months for that initial burst of energy and enthusiasm to fade.

It takes three months to lose sight of my big goals, and get bored with the day-to-day grind required to achieve them. Three months to start to question whether those goals are actually possible, and whether I’ve got the drive to see them through. Three months to start thinking ’I don’t feel like writing today. I’ll make it up tomorrow.’

In other words, March was difficult.

Not impossible. I put together an almost-complete outline for Violet Lane in about a week, and I’ve been working on a new photo project that I’m really enjoying. Plus, I had a few days in which outside forces conspired to keep me from doing much at all, and that annoyed me enough to push me to start moving again. But that kind of motivation doesn’t really last very long—a week later I was doing things again, but I was feeling stuck, too.

So.

I’ve been taking some time to get myself focussed again, to remind myself what I want to be doing and why I’m doing it. I’ve been looking at what’s stopping me from doing those things, at what gets in my way and keeps me from writing, or taking photos, or whatever it is, and I’ve been coming up with ways to avoid falling into those old familiar traps. I’ve been looking at the way I spend my time, and how I organize my work, and just generally trying to figure out how to do things better. I’m doing what I can to eliminate the worst of my distractions, the ones that steal my attention and don’t give anything back in return. I’m looking at how others have pulled themselves out of ruts like this, and seeing what I can apply to my own situation.

And, as I write the current draft, I’m trying to pay attention to how I’m doing it, what works and what doesn’t. I’ve spent too much time only vaguely aware of my own process, and so, every time I start a new story, I’ve got to figure everything out from scratch. Again.

This all sounds kind of clinical. Maybe it is. But I feel good about the way things are going right now. Violet Lane is progressing nicely, if slowly. I’m on a bit of a roll with the photo project (having fresh flowers on hand helps with that… I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when they finally start to fade). And, a step at a time, I’m getting back on track.

I’m not there yet. Of course I’m not. It’s going to take a while to figure this out. And I’m not going to try to make a hundred changes at once – the temptation is there, but if I do too much too fast, I’ll just end up overwhelmed and right back where I started.

But I’m moving in the right direction. That’s the important thing.

Fighting Inertia

Writing

It’s been… a month and a half since I finished the first draft of The Black Sun.

I haven’t looked at it yet. Soon. As soon as I’ve actually started the Violet Lane rewrite… which I wanted to be working on by now, but I spent most of this week with a minor-but-annoying cold that slowed my progress. But it’s going to happen! The outline is taking shape—I broke out the index cards late last week—and I hope to be able to start the actual writing by the end of next week.

Actually, I’m going to put it out there: I am going to start the actual writing by the end of next week.

It won’t be easy to get to that point, but I can do it.

There are times (quite a lot of them, lately) when the hardest part of writing is getting past the inertia of not writing. It doesn’t matter how frustrated I get with myself (and I get so frustrated with myself), it’s apparently not enough to make me stop whatever mindless scrolling I’m doing and start writing. But sometimes, something happens—I get sick (or I lose electricity for the better part of an evening, which also happened this week)—and I can’t write, for reasons entirely outside of my control, and everything changes. The mindless scrolling starts to feel unbearably boring (it’s kind of boring anyway, but you know what I mean), and all I want to do is write. (And/or take pictures. Or make things, just in general.)

That’s where I am right now. It’s enough to break through the inertia I’ve been dealing with for a month, and I’m ready to get this thing done.

Real words-on-the-page writing starts again by Friday. Feel free to nag me if it doesn’t.

Sketchbook #29

Photography, Writing

(A little late getting to last month’s sketchbook post, but at least I’m getting to it.)

If January taught me anything, it’s that I need to have some kind of well-defined photography project if I’m going to keep shooting. And I need to make a public commitment to that project. Without those two things, I really struggle to stay on track with any of my photography goals.

In other words, it wasn’t a good month for me as a photographer.

It’s not that surprising; it’s always a struggle to get back on track with anything in January, and this has been a fairly dismal month for light and visual interest. But it’s still disappointing; I started the year feeling pretty good about my successful 365 project, so the fact that I’ve barely taken any photos all month feels kind of awful. (So does the fact that I haven’t even logged into Instagram since the second week of January. I feel guilty that I don’t have anything to post, and then I feel guilty that it’s been so long, and then everything just builds on itself.)

I’m not sure how I’m going to fix it. I could start another 365 project, but I’d still run into the issues that I had last year: the weird combination of too much pressure and not enough challenge. I have been thinking about finding some thirty-day challenges, but I haven’t found one that appeals yet. (Full disclosure: I haven’t really been looking all that hard. Most of the ones I’ve seen in the past don’t appeal to me—they tend to be aimed at casual photographers, and again: I want something that challenges me technically or artistically—and I haven’t had a chance to do a new in-depth search.) I’ve also started thinking about a 100-day project of some kind, but I’m not sure what I want to do.

At least it was a good month for writing?

I’m finding my way back into a routine that feels like it genuinely works for me—a happy medium between the intense schedule of something like NaNoWriMo and the complete lack of structure that I tend to fall into when I don’t have a strict deadline. I’m still fine-tuning things (and we’re coming up on the real test now that I don’t have a mostly-finished WIP to motivate me), but… I think I’m on the right track.

And, hey: I finished the draft I was working on! That’s awesome!

… and it is, but I’m also in a bit of a weird mood. Some of it is just coming down off of that particular project (it was taking up a lot of my mental energy), but it goes a bit deeper than that.

I’ve been thinking about art vs. craft lately. For a long time—since before I burned out, took a break, and came back to writing—I’ve been focussed on the craft of writing: learning how to construct a story that makes sense without being painfully predictable, how to create a character that feels real. How to outline a story in a way that doesn’t make me lose interest before I put a single word on the page.

And that’s good! I needed to do that work.

But now—or for now—I feel like I’ve got a solid understanding of the mechanics of a story. There’s always more to learn (seriously, why are action scenes so difficult?), but I’ve reached the point where reading another how-to book or studying another variation on story structure isn’t going to push me forward. (Again: for now.)

All this emphasis on craft (and a conscious effort to rein in my naturally wordy prose) has led to a very… straightforward style in my writing. It’s perfectly ok, but there’s nothing in it that stands out. My best writing has always been the stuff that really plays with language (my favourite compliment that I’ve ever received for my writing is from someone who called it ‘lush’) and form, and I haven’t really been doing that lately. (Of course, we’re talking about a first draft here. It’s been ages since I’ve wanted to turn a first draft into a finished work. Who knows what could happen in the revisions and rewrites?)

Anyway.

Aside from that, I’ve started outlining the rewrite of the NaNoWriMo project I did in 2016. If everything goes as planned, I should be able to start writing it… we’ll say by the end of the month, to be generous (nothing writing-related is going to be happening next week), but I’d like to get into it sooner than that. I’m also trying to figure out what I want to work on next. I’ve got ideas, but they’re still very vague, and I’m not 100% certain that they’re in line with what I want to be doing.

I don’t know if I’m feeling optimistic about the rest of February or not.

Snapshot #81 | 10 Things for 16 July 2017

Personal

Currently…

1. taking… steps to find my inspiration & motivation again.
2. playing… with kittens. 😻
3. hoping… for a pleasant surprise when they announce the next Doctor later today.
4. remembering… why I should never give in to an impulse buy, no matter how tempting. Grr.
5. catching… up with my 365 project! Finally. (It’ll still be a couple of days before I’m completely caught up, but I’m getting there. The pictures will be up here by the end of this week, I promise.)
6. attempting… that ice cream recipe that’s been giving me trouble. I think I know what’s been going wrong (chemistry!), and this should confirm it one way or the other.
7. starting… the painting. You know the one.
8. searching… for a bag that’ll hold all my stuff. The one I thought was perfect… wasn’t. (See #4, above.)
9. wondering… why Canada Post never bothers to scan parcels. Ever. (I wonder this every single time I order something that ships via Canada Post. It’s maddening.)
10. practicing… with my Lomo’Instant. I am determined to learn how to use this thing properly.

Snapshot #80 | 10 Things for 2 July 2017

Personal

Currently…

1. finding… some inexpensive pens that might meet my admittedly-specific criteria.
2. falling… behind on my 365 photo project. 😬 I’m trying to catch up (promise!). (It was around this time last year that my weekly photo project fell apart, wasn’t it? Apparently, I just lose all photographic motivation in the summer. Which seems weird.)
3. hoping… that the balcony plants survive. Building maintenance means I haven’t been able to plant them properly yet… it’s so annoying.
4. putting… my plans in place for the next few months, and generally taking some time to get myself back on track.
5. watching… all the shows that I missed during the actual TV season.
6. wishing… that this weekend was a little better, weather-wise. I’d hoped to get out for some of the Canada Day stuff, but the idea of standing around in the rain/drizzle/etc. doesn’t really appeal.
7. thinking… that I really need to start doing something real with this blog again, don’t I?
8. reevaluating… my various creative projects. (I suppose this is technically part of #4. I’ve been thinking about my work process and the work itself. There are changes on the way.)
9. wondering… why one particular ice cream recipe doesn’t seem to work for me. (I’ve used other—nearly identical—recipes from the same source with no trouble, but I’ve tried this one twice and it just doesn’t work. Still tastes good, at least.)
10. unsubscribing… from the email newsletters and blog feeds that don’t inspire me.

Sketchbook #24

Photography, Writing

This hasn’t been a great month.

I’ll just get that out of the way to start: I haven’t done nearly as much writing as I’d hoped, and photography has been a bit of a struggle, and I still haven’t started my painting.

But weirdly, I’m ok with that. I’m realizing that this is completely normal for me, and I’m learning how to work with it.

When I set my goals at the beginning of the year, I made plans to come back and revisit them every few months: to make sure my goals haven’t changed, to think about whether or not I’m on track, and to decide on my next steps. I didn’t really think too much about it at the time—it was just something I picked up from a productivity article—but it’s turning out to be an essential part of my creative process.

I never noticed it before this year, but my attention and motivation both start to flag after three months of work. That’s all I’ve got before everything starts to suck and I start thinking about moving onto something new.

June was month three in this particular cycle.

Noticing this pattern has been incredibly helpful: in the past, I would have gotten frustrated with myself, and probably scrapped some of these projects entirely. This time, I knew that it was time to set everything aside for a while and reevaluate everything—including my goals themselves.

The good news is, my goals haven’t changed. (Though one or two of them are going to take longer than I’d planned back in December.) I’m still committed to the two writing projects I’ve got in progress, and the various photography plans that have been kinda-sorta in motion over the last little while. [1. Speaking of photography: I am still on track with my 365 project! Really. I just fell behind in posting photos to Instagram, and so I’ve held off on posting them here. But I’ll catch up by the end of this week. Promise.]

The bad news is: I’ve decided that I need to go back to the drawing board on the second draft of the NaNoWriMo story. I’d made one really huge change to the opening scene in order to fix some issues with my main character, but… it’s introduced some new ones, which are just as bad. And I’ve got to fix some structural issues. Big structural issues.

But I’ve got a plan. I know what my next steps are.

As for the next story: I’ve got my basic outline done. Now it’s onto world building and fleshing out my characters, and I know that this part isn’t going to be easy. (I have a very bad habit of slacking off when I get to this stage of things, which is why I abandon so many first drafts… and partly why I’m having trouble with the second draft of the NaNo story. I’m trying to avoid that this time around.)

The next few months are going to be… interesting. Probably not great. My routine always suffers in the summer, for various reasons, and I know that that’s going to be a challenge again this year. And I still haven’t quite figured out how to structure my writing time when I’m in the planning stage of a story – it’s so much easier for me when I’m writing. But that’s ok: it’s going to be difficult, but… I know what I need to do, and I’m ready to get back to work.

(I’m also ready to start that stupid painting.)

Snapshot #79 | 10 Things for 18 June 2017

Personal

Currently…

1. going… to see Wonder Woman. Twice. (It’s so good! I assume at some point I’ll stop tearing up at the end of the No Man’s Land scene? Eventually?)
2. feeling… lazy and unmotivated. It’s time for a reboot.
3. planning… my first batch of ice cream for the year. I don’t care if it’s rainy and gloomy and not particularly warm. It was stupidly hot earlier in the week, and I have made up my mind. (The base is mixed, and ready for freezing later today. I can’t wait.)
4. watching… the Black Panther teaser trailer. Maybe more than twice.
5. starting… to do some planting, but now the rest of it is on hold (for very stupid reasons).
6. having… a really busy week. I’m not sure what I was thinking.
7. remembering… how to format a screenplay. It took a day or so to find the rhythm, but then I fell back in love with the form.
8. making… it through two whole weeks without having to adjust my C25K schedule because of rain. This is A Big Deal.
9. thinking… about which comics I want to start next.
10. buying… pens.

2017 Project365 #159 | Reghan Skerry

Project365: #155-161

Photography

I’m still at a creative low. It’s not just photography—I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about writing this week, either, and a lot of my other projects sort of stalled on me.

Some of it is just a cycle I go through, I think. There’s a pattern to my motivation and creative impulses, and I think I need to reboot every three months or so. And that’s fine—it’s time to sit down, evaluate, and refocus, that’s all.

(… not that I’ve got time to do that this week. I like to have a few hours to dedicate to that reevaluation, and, for some reason I’ve got a lot of stuff going on this week. Still. Soon.)

Project365: #148-154

Photography

Ok, so I might be taking too many pictures of flowers lately.

The novelty is starting to wear off, which is probably a good thing. (If I’m getting bored with pictures of flowers, I can’t imagine how everyone else feels.) But… I’m still feeling a little low on both motivation and inspiration, and flowers are a good subject when I don’t have anything better to take a picture of.

Hopefully, I can break out of the cycle sometime soon and find something else to take pictures of. In the meantime, I’ll at least try to find new and interesting ways to photograph flowers.

Sketchbook #23

Photography, Writing

This has been such a weird month, creatively.

It seems like I say that—or some variation on that—every month (which should probably tell me something), but… yeah.

First off: my schedule. I’ve changed my workout routine, which has had an impact on everything else I do through the day. And the impact has (mostly) been good: I can start writing a little bit earlier in the day, which fits my natural creative cycles better, and which means I meet my targets a little bit earlier, freeing up time for other things.

So that’s good.

But, at the same time, my old workout routine gave me one day off a week, and that’s gone now. I’m doing different workouts, but I’ve got something scheduled every day. (In theory. In practice, I’ve missed one day of running every week this month due to rain. So.) And the new workout has required a bit of an adjustment period—some days are exhausting, and I find it really hard to focus afterward. I’m sure I’ll get used to it, but I’m not there yet.

Still, the writing itself is going… reasonably well. I’ve started the second draft of the NaNoWrMo novel. It’s not moving quite as fast as I’d hoped. It’s a combination of the weird outlining method I’m using and the fact that I seem to hit a wall after a thousand words or one hour of writing, whichever comes first. But the first chapter’s done, and I’m into chapter two.

I’ve also made pretty good progress on the outline for the next story: I’ve figured out my villain, and I’ve finished the general outline of the whole story. There’s still a lot of work to be done (so much work), but I’m feeling pretty good about the whole thing right now. Even if I’m starting to suspect that the actual first draft won’t actually happen until this year’s NaNoWriMo. (That’s not a bad thing! If I’m well-prepared going in, then I might end up with a decent first draft. And… while I’m still looking for ways to fit one more writing project into my routine, the idea of planning another project for November is kind of horrifying right now.)

That’s writing. Photography is… something else.

I mean. It hasn’t been terrible. But my motivation’s been pretty low this month, and I’m not sure why. We’re finally out of the early-spring wasteland of brown and grey, but I’m still a little bored with the whole thing.

Last month, I said that I’d been enjoying the limitations of iPhone photography, but this month, they’re annoying me. I’ve been using my DSLR a little more this month, and I’d kind of forgotten how great it is. I love the pictures I’ve taken that way; there’s absolutely no way I could’ve made them with my phone. And, of course, there’s nothing that says I have to use the phone for my 365 project, but it’s still so much easier. (Not taking the pictures—that’s pretty much the same, if not more difficult—as much as editing them and getting them online in a timely fashion.)

(I’m also a little bit annoyed with my main camera bag. I’d like to get out with my DSLR a little bit more—I really want to take a bit of time to explore the city this summer—but my favourite camera bag is just a little too small to be convenient. I tried reconfiguring it, and I should be able to make everything I need fit, but it just doesn’t seem to work. I blame whoever designs women’s wallets; they’re all so big, and only really work if you’re willing to carry a big purse. It’s dumb. I’ve come up with something that might be a solution, but I’ve got to field-test it a bit first.)

It hasn’t been a great month for photography. I did update my portfolio again (with a whole new section!), so I guess that’s something?

So… yeah. Weird month.

I don’t know if next month’s going to be any better. I’ve still got a few changes I’d like to make to my writing routine, but some of that needs to wait until I get used to the workouts. (Right now, when I’m done for the day, I’m done.) And my big goal with photography is just to find my motivation again (and to use my DSLR more).

Wish me luck.