Sketchbook #43

Writing

May has taught me that I really do need to build a better system for managing my writing projects.

It started off well enough—I had finished drafts of both The Black Sun and Violet Lane, vague plans for my next project (very tentatively titled These Modern Things), and I was excited to move forward. And then… not much happened.

May wasn’t awful. I’ve been brainstorming the new story and figuring out what I need to do with Violet Lane, and I’m waiting to hear from readers of The Black Sun. I’ve been beta reading a story for a friend. So it’s not like I haven’t done anything this month but… it kind of feels like it.

NaNoWriMo 2018 Diary | Prep Week 3

Writing

The plan was to start writing this week.

That… didn’t happen.

I did finish the character work I had planned; I know who the core group of characters are, and what roles they play in the story. In theory, I could have started writing on Thursday… and I sat down to do just that, but then I realized that I was missing a massive part of my opening scene. It’s not exactly the inciting incident (though I’m not a fan of that term), but it is the thing that triggers that incident.

If that makes any sense.

Anyway, I started brainstorming that thing, which turned into brainstorming some of the backstory that I hadn’t quite figured out yet (specifically, the reason why one of my characters decides to do a thing, even though she knows that it’s going to put her and everyone she cares about in danger). And that very nearly led to revising the entire timeline of the story, but then certain important details (like most of my secondary characters) didn’t make any sense, and… yeah.

I didn’t start writing this week.

However. I did figure out that tricky bit of backstory, in a way that doesn’t break the rest of the story. I figured out how to make the timeline work. And I’ve started to figure out the thing that kicks off the story. I’m not quite there yet, but… I’ve got enough. Not enough to start writing, but enough that, if I let it simmer over the weekend, I should know what’s going on come Monday.

Hopefully.

(Don’t forget: I’m always looking for writing buddies! Feel free to add me, and, if you’d like, say ‘hi!’ via NaNo mail. I’m usually available for motivation or commiseration.)

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.

Snapshot #105 | 10 Things for 15 July 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. editing… The Black Sun. I’ll be finishing the first pass this week. Then, I’ll do one more quick pass (for fact-checking—yay for slightly-skewed historical fiction!—and to make sure I didn’t introduce any new plot holes), and then… we’ll see.
2. trying… to get into the habit of carrying a real camera more often than I don’t. I’m not sure if I’ll bother taking it when I go to buy office supplies, but it’s something.
3. moving… forward on the next stage of the office update. I’ll be finished eventually, I’m sure.
4. enduring… the heatwave.
5. repainting… the balcony furniture. Finally. It’s been nagging me since May, at least.
6. worrying… that I might’ve aggravated my back again, but it seems to be fine.
7. hemming… more curtains. And seriously considering selling my sewing machine so I don’t subject myself to this madness again. (Joking. Mostly.)
8. working… on the outline for my new & improved take on Violet Lane. It’s like all the best bits from my previous two attempts are turning into something entirely new, and I can’t wait to start writing.
9. looking… for new podcasts to listen to. I’ve been up-to-date for too long, and not having something waiting in the queue at any given moment to is starting to irritate me. (Do you have a favourite that I might not have heard of? Let me know in the comments.)
10. feeling… the effects of not running or exercising during that heatwave. It was only a few days, but… yeah. I’m recovering quickly, at least.

Busy Bee | Reghan Skerry

Sketchbook #34

Photography, Writing

We’re officially half-way through the year. Or we will be in a few days.

I’m mostly saying that to remind myself, because it feels like 2018 is never going to end. It feels like we’ve been stuck in 2018 for three years already, it will always be 2018, this is our life now. This is an impossible year in which to write, or look for beauty, or make art in general. June in particular has been a difficult month; in light of the news, it’s hard not to feel like this is all a little bit shallow.

But art—writing and photography—is what’s keeping me sane this month. This year.

June was the month that I finally figured out how to function creatively in 2018. I’ve settled into a nice pattern: writing in the morning, working on other projects later in the day, and not allowing the horrors of the world in until after I’ve done something (anything) I’m happy with. It’s good.

I’m about a third of the way through the first round of edits on The Black Sun, and I’ve finally figured out how to make that final scene more dramatic. (As a bonus, it makes the story less dependent on a sequel. From the beginning, I’ve thought of this as a stand-alone with series potential—the world is really fun to play in—but my original ending was too much of a cliffhanger. The new one still leaves some plot threads untied, but it stands on its own.) I’m still debating a few issues when it comes to point of view, and how to drop some clues without relying on a second or third POV character, but in general, I’m happy with my progress.

I’m also pleased with the progress I’ve been making on my plans for the Violet Lane rewrite. Most of it has been brainstorming and worldbuilding, figuring out backstories and character motivations, but I started piecing together the actual story outline today. I’ve still got a lot of work to do before I’m ready to start writing, but I’m looking forward to it. I already feel like I’ve got a better grasp of the story than I did on either of my previous attempts, and I know that this version is going to be closer to the original vision I had for the story.

I still have moments when it feels like I’m not actually writing, like editing and outlining don’t count, but I’m getting better at ignoring that feeling. My ultimate goal is still to be working on three projects at any given time (one first draft, one in editing/revisions, and one in the outline stage), but I’m moving in the right direction, and that feels pretty good.

Now. Photography. I’m not quite ready to make those photography-related announcements that I’ve been dropping hints about, but I am working on them. If anything, I’m over-preparing: at least one of the projects is a little bit scary for me (in a good way!), and I’m definitely procrastinating by anticipating and researching every single problem that I might encounter. And, while I’m aware of that and making a conscious effort to overcome it, it’s still going to take me a little bit of time to get over myself and be ready to launch.

My black & white photo project hasn’t stalled again, and I adore some of the photos I’ve made in the last few weeks. (Though I do wish more of them were taken with a real camera, rather than my phone. I love the peony photo I took last weekend, and wish I could print a nice big version of it, but it’s just too low-res. But I wasn’t expecting to see such a perfect peony in the parking lot of a big-box office supply store, so….)

So, yeah: somehow, despite everything, I have managed to accomplish my creative goals for June. Or, if I didn’t accomplish them, I at least made progress, and can acknowledge how and why that progress hasn’t happened quite as fast as I might like.

What are my plans for July? Keeping in mind that the world is on fire, and everything is impossible.

I’m going to keep going. I’m going to write—or outline or edit, because that’s writing, too—more days than not. I’m going to take pictures, and look for beauty, and stop looking for reasons to not do the things that keep me sane.

More specifically, I want to make it another third of the way through the edits on The Black Sun (at least). I’m going to figure out the key scenes in Violet Lane, and the broad strokes of the outline. (I’d also like to commit to character names, both for the new people, and the ones who I’m not entirely in love with yet.) I’m going to announce at least one of those scary projects that I’m working on.

I’m going to try to carry a real camera a little more often, even if I’m just going out to buy file folders.

Sketchbook #33

Photography, Writing

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going into May.

I finished April feeling good about how I was approaching my goals. I was feeling really good about the first draft of The Black Sun and my writing routine in general, but not so great about Violet Lane. And kind of awful about my photography. And I wasn’t exactly clear on my goals for May; I knew I wanted to keep moving forward, but beyond that…?

So I have no real metrics with which to judge May. Vague emotional impressions, it is!

I’m still really happy about The Black Sun. I’ve done a second read through, breaking down each plot line and character arc and planning the first round of edits. That’s going well so far, and if everything goes according to plan, I should be able to start those edits next week.

And I think I found my way back into Violet Lane! On the advice of another writer (writer friends are the best), I spent some time brainstorming and figuring out what I still loved about the story. It took some time—and a lot of frustration—but I eventually remembered the original spark of an idea that made me want to write this particular story. And realized how far from that I’d drifted over the past year and a half. (Or more?)

But that original spark is still fantastic. I really love it, and even though it’s evolved (a lot), I can see how to make it work. I can see a way to make it better, to make it into something really cool.

That said, it does mean I’m basically starting from scratch. I don’t have to throw out all of the work I’ve done… but I do have to throw out a lot of it. (The entire current draft—and all the prep work I’ve done on it—has to go, but the initial draft still has some good stuff.) I have to do a lot of worldbuilding, most of which won’t end up in the story (most of it isn’t actually about the story-world itself), but I still need to be clear on it, because reasons.

(Sorry for being so vague. I want to talk about this. I want to give you all the details about this story, and explain to you exactly how it fits together in my head, but it’s too early in the process, and it feels like too much of a spoiler at this stage of things.)

I’m starting to think that the new and improved version of Violet Lane is going to be my 2018 NaNoWriMo story. I’m not sure yet; that feels like a good target to aim for, but if I feel ready to start writing before November, I will. (And maybe use NaNo to finish the draft? I’ve never been a NaNo rebel before… I kind of want to give it a try.) In the meantime, I’m going to dig into the worldbuilding and outlining process, and keep working on editing The Black Sun.

Now. Photography.

I’m taking photos again! And I’m enjoying it again!

It’s not all amazing, and I’ve still got some anxiety around the entire process—and I have to put effort in, every single day, to make sure that anxiety doesn’t stop me from taking pictures—but I’m doing so much better than I was. I’m seeing progress in my 100 Days of B&W project, and I’m actively moving forward on the Big Secret Project That I Can’t Wait to Announce. (Though that’s moving a little slower than I’d hoped; I changed some of the logistical plans for it mid-stream, which will be good in the long term, but slows things down in the short term. But it is moving forward, and, fingers crossed, I’ll be making some big announcements by the end of June.)

So May was a good month, creatively.

Next month, I want to start (and make significant progress on) editing The Black Sun. I’m under no illusions that this is going to be easy or quick, but I’ve got some good momentum going right now, and I want to maintain that. (I also know that editing a draft is kind of new for me—I can’t remember the last time “editing” meant something other than “a complete page-one rewrite”—and I’m learning as I go, here.) I want to start (and make significant progress on) the outline and worldbuilding process for Violet Lane.

I want to keep going with the photography project. And I want to reach a point where I can at least announce the Big Secret Project That I Can’t Wait to Announce… and the other, less big project that I’m still really excited about.

It’s going to be a busy month, but that’s good. I’m looking forward to it all.

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.

Snapshot #96 | 10 Things for 11 March 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. taking… steps to eliminate some of my more annoying distractions. Or trying to, at least.
2. eating… all the Cadbury Creme Eggs.
3. cutting… my hair. Finally. I’ll probably regret it in a few weeks when I start running again and can’t pull it back, but for now, it’s fantastic.
4. thinking… about art and craft and process.
5. watching… Black Panther. So good. (And this time, I don’t have to wait two months to read all the analyses!)
6. feeling… simultaneously frustrated and motivated. It’s… actually not a bad place to be.
7. saving… every single resource linked in this article for future reference. (Writers: take a look! There’s a lot of potential usefulness here.)
8. cursing… Canada Post. Which I end up doing every single time I order something. (All of my parcels did eventually arrive. So that’s nice.)
9. enjoying… the 100 Days of Black & White project more than I thought I would. Mostly. (More on that subject later today.)
10. looking… at cupcake recipes. Still.

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Postmortem

Writing

I keep sitting down to write this post, and it keeps not happening. There’s part of me that feels like it’s not time, yet: I haven’t finished writing the story, so how can I possibly think about any of this objectively? I didn’t write the postmortem for last year’s project until I’d finished the draft, and that worked out well enough. But this isn’t about the story, it’s about the experience.

And this year was a very different experience from last year.

I went in confident that I could do it. Last year was… I won’t say “easy,” but it was fairly straightforward. I wrote nearly every day, and I stayed pretty much on-target as far as word-count went, and then I crashed as soon as I hit 50K, because I’d had a cold for the last few days of the month and the only thing that kept me going was stubbornness.

This year wasn’t like that. At all.

After the first week, I spent the entire month just a little bit behind schedule. Not far enough behind to send me into a panic, or make me give up, but enough that I was dealing with constant, low-level anxiety for the entire month. Every day, I sat down knowing that if I didn’t hit my goal for the day, things would start to snowball, and it would become a genuine struggle to get through.

I’m still not sure how I managed, but… I made it through. Somehow.

Word-count anxieties aside, I had two big goals for this year.

First, I wanted to focus on building the daily writing routine that I really want.

So, how’d I do?

I’m getting there. I’m learning how to fit writing and exercise into my best hours, which has always been my highest priority, but the constant deficit in my word-count meant that I had to sacrifice some other things to keep from falling too far behind. My photography suffered, and I was often too wiped out at the end of the day to think about the other writing projects (in the outlining and editing stages) that I wanted to be working on.

But now that the month is over, and I’m setting my own targets again, I’m starting to find the time and energy to think about other creative projects, on top of this particular story. That’s all going to get a bit chaotic again soon (the holiday baking marathon will start to suck up all my free time this coming weekend, and my brain is already moving into deep planning mode for the new year), but… I know that I can make this work for me. It’ll take a couple of weeks to find my way back to it in January, but I will find my way back to it in January.

My second big goal was to to write a draft that worked. by which I mean “doesn’t need to be torn down and entirely rewritten.” And I did much better on this one. I’m still only three-quarters of the way through Act Two (and there are a few missing scenes here and there), but so far, I’m thrilled with how the story is coming together. It’s not perfect (obviously), but it’s very close to the story I hoped to write. I kind of can’t wait to get to the editing stage, and that’s never happened before.

Part of this has been fine-tuning my outlining process (though, let’s be honest, that’s not something that’s ever going to be set in stone). Part of it has been finally figuring out how to create characters that feel real to me. And part of it is just growing as a writer. It’s starting to feel real to me.

So: I met my goals (including that whole write-50,000 words-in-a-month thing). So that’s good!

And I learned stuff!

I’m starting to figure out who I am as a writer, and that changes everything.
This is the first story I’ve written in a very (very!) long time that really feels like me. I’m not writing it because it ties into any particular trends (or wilfully ignores a trend because I’m a snob), or because I’ve got a passing interest in a genre, or even because the idea has been sitting at the back of my mind for years and I want to finally write the stupid thing. (That was last year.) I’ve got a connection with this story, I genuinely love the story-world, and, if it works the way I hope, it will move me toward some of my bigger writing goals.

And that’s made the entire writing process easier, and more fun.

I really need to learn how to write action scenes.
Building on that last point: the stories I want to write require action scenes. And I’m kind of terrible at writing them. I mean… I can. I have written decent action scenes in the past, but that’s more luck than skill. I want to take some time to really study (and practice!) the process… ideally, before I start the editing/rewriting process on this story. (Are you good at writing action sequences and fight scenes? Please: leave a comment! I want to pick your brain.)

The NaNo graph is really helpful.
NaNoWriMo 2017 Graph | Reghan SkerryI mean it. I love that graph. On bad writing days, I’d update it every time I took a break, and seeing my word-count creep ever closer to that line was enough of a reward to keep me going. Over the last week or so, I’ve started trying to put together a spreadsheet that will do something similar, but some of the formulas are tricky—it’s entirely possible that I’m making them more complicated than they need to be—and I really have no idea what I’m doing. (But it’s weirdly fun? I don’t know.)


That’s where I stand right now. The month was difficult—more difficult than I’d expected, going in—and I was dealing with low-level anxiety the entire time, but… it was good. I’m happy with how the month went, and I’m really looking forward to what comes next (like finishing the story).

(By the way: I’m just going to go ahead and count this as November’s sketchbook post, because NaNo was really the only creative thing I did in November. And I’m going to skip December’s sketchbook. I’ve got some year-in-review and goalsetting stuff coming up, and I’m not going to be getting very much done over the rest of the month. Except baking. I’ll be doing a lot of that.)

NaNoWriMo 2017 Diary | Prep Week 5

Writing

It’s been a really good week on the NaNoWriMo-prep front.

Well. Mostly. It started out good.

It started out good enough that I’m not worried about the fact that I’ve come down with yet another cold (or possibly a mild case of the flu this time?), and I haven’t made any real progress the for the last day or so.

(As an aside: I really haven’t been kidding when I say that it seems like every 3-4 years, I get everything. My theory—and I’m sure that there’s no scientific basis for this, but please leave me my illusions—is that every few years, all the viruses mutate enough that my otherwise-solid immune system can’t cope. I’m just on a weird cycle where it all happens at once, instead of a few viruses every year.)

I’ve spent most of this week working on my secondary characters, giving them life and personality and figuring out what their stories are, rather than just thinking about how they impact the main character and her story. It’s been incredibly helpful—every character I figure out helps flesh out the world, develop subplots, and generally fill in the gaps in my outline.

That’s the other thing I’ve been doing: spreading my index cards out on the floor in a grid, and staring at them a lot.

I mean. It’s more than that. I’m figuring out the shape of the story (it’s much more straightforward than last year’s project), and looking at the scenes I have and thinking about what scenes I need to make everything else work. But there’s a lot of staring and frowning and false-starts involved.

(I’m also trying to keep the cat from walking over, laying on, or stealing the index cards. That’s actually the hardest part of this whole thing.)

I’m not ready for NaNo. There’s less than a week to go (!!!), and I’m not feeling well, and I’ve still got giant plot holes to paper over. But, at the same time, I could be ready. I could start writing right now, and it wouldn’t be a disaster.

I don’t want to. I still want to (and I’m going to try to) get this story really ready to go over the next few days. I want to sleep and try to shake off this cold. (And I’m not going to have much choice, there.)

But I could.