People walking on Portland Street. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

Project366: #211-220

Photography

Routine is the killer.

I kind of knew that before. I said back in June that part of my problem with photography lately is that I’m stuck in a bit of a pattern right now: I go to the same places over and over, at roughly the same time of day, travelling the same routes. I’m not seeing anything new, and that’s made it hard to see photographs I haven’t already taken.

But this week confirmed it. I finally broke out of that pattern and did something a little bit different, and started feeling inspired again. (‘Started’ being the key word, there.)

Sketchbook #45

Photography, Productivity, Writing

I have no idea what’s going on with July. It’s been one of those months that’s simultaneously been dragging on forever and is disappearing in a flash. But July is almost over (however that happened), and I guess it’s time to think about how it went.

I’m going to start with photography, because that’s the bit that doesn’t make me want to tear out my hair this month. (Fair warning for when I get to the writing bit of this update.)

I’m still in that rut I mentioned in June, still taking far too many photos of flowers and not enough photos of literally anything else. So that’s not great. But I’m still carrying a real camera a few times a week, and I do like the photos I’m taking, even if they’re kind of boring. 

But the real progress has been in the super-secret Big Scary Project. I’m still not ready to launch, but I have made some huge steps forward this month. (That ‘next step’ I mentioned at the end of June—the one that required an incredibly tedious bus ride? I actually tackled that the day after I said that it was going to be my top priority for July. And the bus out there wasn’t air conditioned, so it was pretty much exactly as painful as I imagined it’d be. It was slightly better coming back—at least there was a/c.) 

Point is, I’m incredibly proud of the progress I’ve made on that project this month, and I’m super excited about the next steps. If I can keep the momentum going, I’ll be ready to make some actual announcements by fall.

Now. Writing. (Feel free to skip this bit. Last warning.)

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.

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.

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.

Snapshot #93 | 10 Things for 28 January 2018

Personal

Currently…

1. feeling… restless. There’s been a lot of daydreaming about tiny studio apartments and Airstream trailers lately.
2. wearing… the fingerless gloves I got for Christmas. I love them.
3. rethinking… pretty much all of my social media use.
4. discovering… that my hair is finally long enough for a decent messy bun, just at the moment when I’d decided it was time to chop it all off. Now I’m torn… I like the idea of being able to do something with my hair, but history shows that when it gets this long, I’ll just get annoyed and throw it into a ponytail.
5. learning… how to use my AeroPress. 🖤
6. preparing… a new regular feature for the blog. I think it’s going to launch on Wednesday.
7. trying… to rebuild my habit of watching at least one new-to-me movie a week.
8. waiting… for the specific bulletin board I want (have I mentioned that I’m really picky? Because I’m really picky) to come back in stock. I’m literally checking the website twice a day. It’s absurd.
9. getting… back into the routines I put on hold back in November.
10. debating… whether or not to rearrange all my books by colour. I need to do something with my bookshelves, but I don’t know what. (Exciting, right?)

Finding my way back into a writing routine.

Writing

After taking some time off over the holidays, I’m starting to ease back into writing again. (Technically speaking, I started last week, but that was only two very short writing sessions, so I’m not counting it.)

It’s been… interesting.

December pretty much destroyed all the good habits I’d built up during November, and trying to get back to them hasn’t been easy. I haven’t quite lost the flow of the story, but it does feel like the things are dragging right now, even though they’re not. It’s just that I’ve been spending weeks writing one particular scene in short, scattered bursts, and the scene is pretty much all exposition, and so it feels like these two people have been in this room talking literally forever. Even though it’s only been about 1500 words, and there is actually something going on. But I’ve finally managed to get them out of the room and interacting with other people, and the story feels like it’s moving again.

So, yeah. That’s good.

There are two and a half weeks left in the month. I very much want to wrap this draft up by the first of February, and I’m pretty sure I can do it.

This week was a little better than last week, and next week will be a little better again. I hope. Feel free to yell at me if, by next Friday, I’m still not back up to speed.

Sketchbook #21

Photography, Writing

This has been a strange month. (Another one.) Not bad, just… strange. In a number of ways.

I’m currently planning the second draft of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year, and I’m in the earliest stages of planning a different novel. I’d worried that it would be confusing, trying to work on two different stories, but it’s not; they complement one another, but they don’t get tangled up together.

It does mean that I’m working on two different stories, but not actually writing either of them right now. I’m not putting words on the page. And the writing routine I built over the last five months doesn’t quite work when I’m outlining, or researching, or trying to make sense of the notes I made last November. I’ve been trying to do some free writing, but… meh. I don’t quite have the hang of that—I always reach a point where it feels like I’m just typing, rather than writing.

So, keeping myself on track—and feeling like I’m actually being productive—has been a bit of a struggle.

What I really want is something like my daily photo project, but for writing: a low-pressure way to give myself a little bit of structure and a reason to actually do the work. I’ve been really happy with the 365 project so far: not every photo is great (or even particularly good), but I’ve produced a few that I really like, and I’ve seen an improvement in my work in general, just in the last three months. Even posting the pictures to Instagram is part of it—I’m not chasing likes, but I’m not going to deny that the only reason the project hasn’t stalled out already is because I’ve got people who notice when I post, and who comment when I post a particularly good shot.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks trying to come up with a way to do something similar with writing, without much luck. I did have one idea that ticked all of the boxes, but… it’s not something I want to do. (And I realize I’m being vague. But. It’s not a good idea, and I’m just going to leave it at that.)

(I also realize that I’m saying this on a blog, and that a pretty good solution would be to just post more often. And that might be what I end up doing, but I’d rather focus on writing fiction.)

On a brighter note, this whole thing inspired me to dig out the unfinished drafts I was working on a couple of years ago, when I made my first attempt to ease myself back into writing. My goal at the time was to write 500 words of fiction a day, with no real plan or outline, just to see if I still could (and get some of the ideas out of my head). The attempt was ultimately unsuccessful, but… a couple of those drafts are actually really good. The stories themselves aren’t going to go anywhere (I abandoned them for a good reason), but… I think I came closer to “finding my voice”—or just finding a prose style that really works for me—in those stories than I have before or since. It’s a good time to remind myself of that, right when I’m about to start the rewriting process.

So! What’s coming next?

April’s going to be a busy month for me, which… isn’t great, but it’ll be a good time to think about my options and try to figure out how to bring some structure to my writing time. And, now that I’ve started, I want to get the outline for draft 2 of the NaNoWriMo novel done ASAP; if at all possible, I’d like to start the writing process sometime in May.

I’m taking my time with the outline for the next story. I rushed the process for the NaNoWriMo outline (trying to get a plan in place for 1 November), and I regret it now. But I’m still working on it, and I want to see real progress by the end of the month.

I’m also hoping to get out and take some proper photos sometime soon. But, really, I’m pleased with how my photography is going. If I can keep it up, I’ll be happy.

Snapshot #73 | 10 Things for 26 March 2017

Personal

Currently…

1. wishing… that grocery delivery was an option in my area. It would be so helpful.
2. having… kind of a weird week. Nothing major, just… random daydreams and a lot of internal debates that don’t actually go anywhere. 😐
3. loving… this TED Talk. (This one was good too, but in a slightly-depressing kind of way.)
4. thinking… about alternatives to Evernote. I’ve loved the app since 2009, but… ugh. I hate the most recent iOS version. I’ve accepted a few minor annoyances over the last little while, but it might be time to switch.
5. wanting… a change of scene. I keep finding myself browsing airfares. And apartment listings in cities I’ve never visited. Or just wondering how practical it would be to swap my bedroom for the office. (Not very.)
6. starting… to outline the second draft of the NaNoWriMo story. (Have I mentioned that I’m basically rewriting the entire thing from scratch? Because I’m basically rewriting the entire thing from scratch.)
7. buying… the supplies I need to finish up that bag I’ve been making. Finally!
8. getting… annoyed. I’m looking at non-specific schedule disruptions for the next week and a half, and it’s throwing me off my game.
9. trying… to get focussed. (See numbers 2, 5, and 8.)
10. hoping… that the weather evens out soon. I am ready for spring. (I probably said the same thing last week, didn’t I?)

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.