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.

At least my writing projects are going well. I heard back from my beta readers on The Black Sun (thanks again!), and I finally mustered the courage to actually read their comments. After a few days to process and deal with my emotions, I’ve been able to start thinking about what comes next.

The story needs a lot of work. I knew that would be the case, but it still stings a little bit. (It always does.) The general response was good, though, and that’s enough to reassure me that I’m on the right track with this story. I was hoping to be able to wrap up the next round of revisions by the end of the year, but with NaNoWriMo approaching (two days!), that’s not likely. I am ready to start planning those revisions: comparing the different sets of notes and figuring out what the underlying issues really are, and deciding how to fix them. Once I sort that out, I’ll have a better idea of how long the revisions themselves will actually take.

I’ve also started writing Violet Lane. Which is fantastic and fun, and I’m definitely not as far along as I’d hoped (stupid cold), but I’m feeling good. If I can build up the momentum enough during November, and if I settle into a pattern that works for me, then I might still be able to get through the first draft before the end of the year. Fingers crossed.

… which brings me to photography.

I’m still stalled. I have made exactly no progress since I checked in last.

I wish I could say that it’s just because I’ve been so focussed on writing, but… that would be a lie. I just haven’t been taking photos, and I am not happy about that.

I’ve been thinking about photography. That’s something? (It really isn’t.) I’ve been seriously tempted to do a major upgrade of my camera gear, but I know that won’t solve the underlying problems. (Except for one. I stopped carrying a real camera every day because it was heavy and awkward and making my back hurt. New gear would solve that.)

It comes back to the issue of goals—when I have something clear to aim for, it gets easier to get over myself and take photos.

So, that’s my mission in November: to sit down and figure out what I’m really working toward, in my writing and in my photography.

That, and NaNoWriMo. And planning the next round of revisions on The Black Sun.

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.

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.

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.