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.

Sketchbook #42

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

The end of April kind of snuck up on me, but here it is: time to check in with how I’m doing with my overall creative goals, and figure out what those goals are going forward.

My big goal, of course, was to finish up the third draft of The Black Sun. I’m technically still working on that, but I’m counting it as ‘done.’ The work is done; all that’s left is the final polish—tidying up a few typos and making sure the big edits didn’t introduce continuity errors, that sort of thing. I’ve done the read-through, and… I’m happy with it. I should be finished the polish in the next couple of days.

I’ve also been brainstorming the next projects. I’ve got a good basic plot and world for the next novel, and should be ready to start character work and outlining sometime in the next month. I’ve also got a vague plan for another thing, but… it’s very vague (as in, I still need to figure out the characters and plot). I’m not sure how quickly I’ll be able to get to that, but I’m mostly treating it as a side project right now, so there’s no rush.

The brainstorming for that side project also helped me clarify some of my plans for the second draft of Violet Lane. I haven’t started work on that, but that’s my big writing goal for May: to come up with a clear plan of attack for that draft, and to complete the outline.

(And I’m finally getting a handle on Scrivener. I still don’t like the file sizes, or the proprietary format, but I’m absolutely in love with the organizational features, and I’m slowly figuring out how to make the application work the way I want and need it to. I like it enough that I broke down and invested in the iOS version… and at $30 Canadian, it is an investment, so I’d better make good use of it.)

Overall, I’m happy with my writing progress this month. Normally, I’d take a break after reaching major milestones in two different projects, but… I don’t really want to. I want to keep this momentum going.

Sketchbook #41

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

It’s the end of March! And, since it’s also the end of the first quarter of 2019, this feels like a particularly significant creative check-in. I’m trying to focus on 90-day goals this year, or at least breaking down my bigger goals into smaller milestones, and… well, the end of March is my first big deadline of the year.

Wall hanging to display enamel pins, by Reghan Skerry.

Sketchbook #40

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

In a lot of ways, February is when my real work starts—even in a good year, it takes me a few weeks to find my routines and start moving forward again with my writing, or photography, or… whatever.

This year, February has been a very good month.

My goals going in were to move forward with the photo-a-day project I started at the end of January, to find my rhythms in Violet Lane and The Black Sun again, and to start making time for the creative hobbies I want to explore over the course of the year. (I was also hoping to make up my mind about Scrivener, and to start moving forward on my big scary photography goal again.)

Sketchbook #39

Art + Craft, Photography, Writing

When it comes to creativity, January and December are never great months for me. I spend December—what little isn’t taken up by holiday prep and recovery—in full planning mode, which is good, but it does turn into an excuse not to do the actual work. And January… despite my enthusiasm going in, it always takes me a bit of time to find my rhythms again. Add to that the one-two hit of the new year and my birthday, and I’m suddenly questioning everything.

That’s actually why I’m working on this post right now, when I’d already blocked out this time for writing fiction. I need to step back and take an objective look at some of this stuff, and talking it out here always seems to help me clarify my thoughts. (If you’re not here for my creative-process rambling, consider that your warning. I won’t feel bad if you skip this post.)

Sketchbook #38

Photography, Writing

… well, that was a month, wasn’t it?

Leaving aside NaNoWriMo for now (since I’ve been talking about it all month, and I’ll be talking about it even more on Friday; but if you do want a recap: the story has been fighting me, but I made it through), it… wasn’t too bad.

Not great, obviously. I didn’t get to work on a lot of things that I’d hoped to spend time on in November, like the next round of revisions on The Black Sun. Or photography.

But last month, I said that my mission for November was to sit down and think about what I really want to accomplish, in both writing and photography. Everything else aside, if I did that—or if I made significant progress with that—the month would be a good one. If you’ve been reading my reboot updates, you know by now that it hasn’t been easy; I haven’t really been in the mood for the necessary self-reflection, and I’ve been second-guessing myself a lot.

But I’m on the right track.

Sketchbook #37

Photography, Writing

It’s been two months since I did a general update on how all my creative projects are going, so I’ve got a lot of ground to cover today. And since this day is already shaping up to be kind of awful (they’re rebuilding the balcony below mine, which means noisy generators and sawing through concrete, I’ve got my first serious cold of the season and so my attention span is pretty much nonexistent, and they’re going to be testing the fire alarms at some point today, and that’s always a joy), I’m going to try to make it quick.

When I did my last update, back in August, I was… going through some stuff. I was trying to figure out how to consistently create work—fiction or photography in particular—and get feedback, and not turn the entire thing into a chore.

I’m still working on that. That’s pretty much the driving force behind my reboot—and that’s going well. Still a process, of course, but I really do feel like I’m moving in the right direction.

One thing that’s come up in that work (and I touched on this the other day, but I think it’s relevant here, too), is that my long-term creative goals aren’t nearly clear enough, and that’s making it difficult for me to move forward. Especially in photography. I have some solid medium-term goals for my writing (querying agents, publishing), but when it comes to photography, I know more about what I don’t want to do than what I do want. And when I try to think long-term—five or ten years—things get really vague. I know that I want to be able to support myself through my writing and photography, but beyond that…?

I guess I’m still going through some stuff.

Sketchbook #36

Photography, Productivity, Writing

Most months, I take this post as an opportunity to reflect on the creative goals I’d set, and decide what I want to try to do in the coming month. Sometimes, taking that time to reflect leads me in a direction that doesn’t really fit into the standard format I’ve established for these ‘sketchbooks.’

Which is a roundabout way of saying this might be long, and it might ramble a bit. I’m trying to figure out some stuff, here, and if this isn’t the best way for me to do it, at least it’s been effective in the past.

Ok? Let’s go.

The way I’ve been managing my creative life—the things I’m working on, my creative energy, my time—isn’t working.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy with the things I’ve been doing lately. I love the stories I’ve been working on and the pictures I’ve been taking. This isn’t the usual feeling of ugh, I hate EVERYTHING that comes over me every so often, or the low point in my usual three-month cycle. Some of it can (probably) be attributed to the heat this summer—I haven’t had the motivation or attention span to do much work. Some of it is a general anxiety, and I know exactly what’s triggering that. (More on that in a minute, because it’s relevant.) But this goes deeper than that. It’s a restlessness and general dissatisfaction with my current processes, rather than with the work.

For the last few years, I’ve been thinking about writing and photography in terms of “projects:” concrete, measurable goals, whether it’s NaNoWriMo or a specific manuscript, or 365 photos. For a while, that was exactly what I needed—something to work toward, with some degree of accountability.

And that’s great.

Until this month, when all of those projects managed to hit stopping points at roughly the same time. I finished the 100 Days of Black & White photography project. I sent The Black Sun to my beta readers. I launched my newsletter.

… and then I wondered what the hell comes next.

There are things I could be working on: the Violet Lane outline. Various updates I want to make to the website. The big photo project that I keep hinting at and that I swore I’d be ready to announce this month (and which, by the way, I am not ready to announce this month). I’m not working on any of them. (Or not much. I have been picking away at the Violet Lane outline, and I’m really starting to like that again, but it’s going slowly.)

And, like I said: part of it comes down to anxiety. As soon as I sent The Black Sun to the last of my beta readers, I was instantly aware of all the flaws in the manuscript. (But I’m being good about that, at least. I know where this uncertainty is coming from, and I know that I can deal with it. I won’t look at the file, let alone make any changes, while it’s in beta. I’ve gotten some initial response, of the don’t worry, it doesn’t suck! variety, so that’s nice.) Plus I’ve been doing that thing I do with Instagram, where I feel guilty about not having anything to post, so I don’t log in at all, and then I feel guilty about that.

On top of that, the progress I’ve been making on the office revamp has been its own source of stress. As much as I love what this space is becoming, it’s a mess right now. The closet is a disaster area, I’ve still got one ugly old bookcase that I can’t throw out until I’ve found places for all the odds and ends that I’m still storing there. The cat has officially claimed my new comfy reading chair, even though she’s got a bed in the room already (which she’d been using happily until two weeks ago). And every so often, the scale of this hits me and sends my not-so-inner minimalist into a tailspin, thinking about the money I’ve spent (nothing excessive, but still more than I’m strictly happy with) and what’s going to happen when I move (which I’m not planning unless something really big changes in the few months before the lease is up for renewal). I joked the other day that, between the office and my bedroom, I’m basically building a fully-functional tiny house, only… it wasn’t a joke. Not really.

So, yeah: I’m dealing with some stress.

But there’s always stress. I’m not going to meet any of my creative goals unless I figure out how to work around that stress. And the way I’ve been working until now isn’t helping me anymore.

The problem with projects is they’re finite. Eventually, they come to an end (or at least a logical and/or necessary pause), and you have to transition to something new. Different projects require different approaches, even different schedules. Every one of them needs some kind of plan, and every one of them starts with a certain amount of resistance. (At least for me.) I need to overcome inertia to start, and when it’s just one project, that’s fine, but when it’s everything, it’s… not fine. It’s really difficult.

I’m also starting to think that maybe this project-based approach doesn’t actually move my work forward as much as I’d like. I mean, yes, the two photo-a-day projects have noticeably improved my photography. But how much of that is the project itself, and how much of it is just taking photos on a regular basis, and sharing them publicly? Feedback is a huge motivator for me as an artist (as much as it freaks me out), and a creative community of some kind is essential (as much as that freaks me out sometimes). The projects themselves are irrelevant.

That said… routine can be a killer, too. I’m not the kind of person who can sit down at the same time every day and churn out 1500 words, regardless of what I’m working on. (I mean… I can. I’ve been that kind of person, and it was a big factor in my burnout. I’m not going down that road again.) And I definitely don’t want to ritualize the creative process too much. If I need certain circumstances in order to be able to make art, whether that’s a certain environment, or a certain schedule, or even a specific scented candle, then everything falls apart when I can’t repeat the ritual. (Again: I’m speaking of my own experience, here. If the ritual is what works for you, then go for it!)

The trick, then, is figuring out how to consistently produce work, whether fiction or photography or something else entirely, and get regular feedback, without turning it into a chore. It’s figuring out how to focus on the process, rather than the outcome, while still keeping my long-term goals (which still haven’t changed, so at least that’s something) in sight. It’s figuring out what really motivates me, and how to tap into that.

I don’t know how to do that.

It would be nice if I could wrap up this blog post with some clear answers, if I could say for sure what I was going to do. It’s taken three days and over a thousand words just to articulate the problem in a way that makes sense to me, and I’m still thinking about what the solution is.

So that’s what I’m going to be doing in September: thinking about my creative process, and my day-to-day routine, and looking at ways that I can improve it. I’m going to try to get back to regular posting on Instagram, though it probably won’t be a specific project. I’m going to work on the Violet Lane outline and continue to try very hard not to worry about The Black Sun.

I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime… if you’ve gone through this, and come to any conclusions, I’d love to hear what helped you. If you’re still going through something like this, I’d love to hear from you, too—we can puzzle over the dilemma together.