Sketchbook #52

Photography, Writing

“I’m looking forward to March,” I said. “It’s going to be a good month,” I said.

Wow. So… I should know better than to tempt fate like that, I guess?

I’ll start with the good news: I finished the draft of Violet Lane that I’ve been working on since last November. I haven’t gone back to read it yet, but I didn’t type ‘the end’ and immediately hate everything, so I’m calling it a success. And this week I started in-depth brainstorming on my next project. I’ve been thinking about the idea for probably close to a year at this point, but things only started to gel in the last few months; it’s been so much fun, and a great distraction from staring into the void. 

In some ways, it’s just great to have exciting plans for the future. All of the other writing projects I’ve got going right now are things I’ve been working on for years, and that I’ll be working on for a while yet. And as much as I love them—I wouldn’t still be working on them if I didn’t—it can be hard to muster much enthusiasm right now. Having something to look forward to, something new and different that’ll be waiting when I’m ready to hit ‘pause’ on one of these other projects it helps a lot.

The other thing I did this month was exchange some chapters with some new potential critique partners. That’s been… kind of a mixed blessing. 

At the beginning of the month, when I first put out the call on Twitter, it was great. The response was better than I expected, and I got some amazing volunteers. But I couldn’t have picked a worse time; I need to be in a good headspace to process feedback on my writing—good, bad, or in between—and I haven’t been in that space. Obviously. (Giving notes is almost as bad. It’s hard to do a good job with stuff like that when I’m so distracted, but I really hate to let people down or let go of commitments I’ve made.)

I’m not sure how I’m going to handle that in the long run. I’m trying to set reasonable expectations, more for myself than anyone else, and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a weird time.

I also said that most of my attention in March was going to go toward photography.

I really shouldn’t have said anything about photography, since I’m now stuck indoors: the parks and trails in my area are closed to the public. I’m only leaving the apartment once a week (if that), to walk to the supermarket, and most of that walk is next to a highway. (I’m so relieved that I didn’t commit to a public photo-a-day thing again this year.)

But. Remember that thing I wanted to announce back in November? I took care of the logistical issue that got in my way. I still won’t be able to launch for a while, but I’ll be ready to go once the crisis has passed. Finally.

Again: it’s something to look forward to. That counts for a lot.

I’m not going to make any big declarations for April. I’m not going to commit to finishing anything complex, or starting something big. 

But I’m going to work on the outline for the new thing, and start planning the next draft of Violet Lane. (I want to be able to start writing again in May.)

I’m going to get back into the query trenches with The Black Sun, because if I let that go too long, inertia will take over, and it’ll be like starting all over again.

I’m going to figure out how to handle the critique situation, whether that means stepping back from some of those commitments or leaning into them.

I’m going to come up with some ideas to reignite that photographic spark, to use these limitations to my advantage, rather than letting them get me down. 

I’m going to keep moving forward, however slowly.

Snapshot #149 | 10 Things for 22 March 2020

Personal

The social distancing edition! Currently…

1. regretting… the decision to walk home from the supermarket with two weeks’ worth of groceries. (I’m not obsessively stockpiling, but I am trying to reduce my trips out.) I have a really good rolling cart, but still.
2. cutting… back on my social media and news consumption. A lot.
3. realizing… (again) that I own way too much stuff. I tried to rearrange a closet and… ugh.
4. wanting… to bake something, but again… not sure what.
5. trying… to trick the cat into cuddling. (I love her, but Lucy’s not the most demonstrative girl unless there’s food involved.)
6. feeling… thankful that I didn’t decide, back in December (when I would’ve had to give notice), that this was the year to find a new apartment. Moving right now would be awful.
7. finishing… the most recent draft of Violet Lane!
8. wishing… the mornings would warm up enough to go for a run. (How did I become this person?)
9. keeping… my anxiety in check. Mostly.
10. ordering… a new coffee maker, because mine decided—after fifteen years—that this would be the perfect week to give up the ghost. (I mean… I have others. The situation isn’t desperate. But I do need a drip machine for that first cup of the morning.)

Water bottle, keyboard and trackpad on a dark background. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

On writing, anxiety, and COVID-19.

Writing

I finished a draft of Violet Lane last week. (I say ‘a draft’ because at this point, I honestly don’t know how to number the drafts of this thing. Is it the first draft? The third? Yes and yes.)

The timing was good. My anxiety levels have gone through the roof these last few days, and I don’t think I’d be able to write a word if I was trying to wrap it up now. As it is, I learned that it’s really hard to write an upbeat ending in times of crisis—the last scene is my main characters, watching TV as the villain talks about how awesome everything is, thinking ‘Well… at least we’re alive? And not in prison?’ (Not really a spoiler. I’ve got at least two major drafts of this story to go, and the chances of that ending sticking around are slim.)

It’s difficult to even write my usual postmortem about the process, because the last couple of weeks have thrown everything into chaos. I don’t remember most of the story right now, let alone how it felt to write it back in November. 

But I know I had good weeks.

I know there’s a good story here, somewhere. I haven’t read it yet—I’m still letting it rest—but I think that it’s the closest I’ve come yet to the story I want Violet Lane to be. I know that there are scenes that feel perfect. I’ve finally figured out who these characters are.

I also know that there are whole plot lines that don’t quite work, and that I need to rework the sci-fi side of things in order to keep up with how quickly the real world is shifting. (Seriously, my whole ‘near-future sci-fi’ thing? It’s in danger of becoming hopelessly outdated.)

And I know that I need to figure out how to work when it feels like the world is falling apart.

Because it’s fine to say that Shakespeare wrote King Lear when everything was shut down because of the plague. Shakespeare could close the door and get to work. He didn’t write on the same machine that fed him a constant stream of news about shutdowns and empty shelves and test shortages and people insisting on their god-given right to get drunk in public and lick doorhandles. He didn’t write on the same machine that supplied him with a soothing balm of cat pictures and romcoms and guided breathing exercises. He probably wasn’t trying to figure out if every little ache or sniffle was allergies or anxiety or plague, or realizing how difficult it is to write without touching your face. (Seriously. What am I supposed to do with my hands when they’re not typing?) 

Also: most of what he wrote was based on preexisting material—Shakespeare didn’t have to come up with something new and shiny.

The circumstances are different, and I don’t blame anyone for not being able to write—or do anything else—right now. It feels impossible, and it feels frivolous. 

I’m not sure what any of this means, or how long it’s going to last. I just know that I can’t sit and scroll. Even without the constant stream of bad news… even if I limit myself to those cat videos and romcoms, I still end up feeling sluggish and awful. I need to do something that feels productive, that feels creative, or the anxiety just builds on itself.

I need to figure out how to function in this version of normal. And this is a good time to do that—I don’t have to think about Violet Lane for a couple of weeks, I’ve got a fun project to brainstorm and hopefully outline, and I’m not on any strict deadlines. I don’t have to come up with a perfect solution immediately, I’ve got time to experiment and figure out what works.

I’ll keep you posted.

A stack of notebooks and sketchbooks in black and white. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

Sketchbook #51

Photography, Writing

Is it just me, or is the year moving really quickly? But in a weird way: there’s part of me that feels like January and February took forever, but then I freak out because how is it March already?

It’s probably just me.

Anyway. February.

As a whole, it wasn’t a bad month for writing—I’m almost done with the current draft of Violet Lane, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve made there. Not just on my word count (though that’s been pretty good), but on the story itself—I like this story a lot. If you’ve been following along, you know that this is technically my third attempt at a first draft of this story: they’re all complete, and none of them are terrible, but they’re all very different, and this is the first time I’ve come close to telling the story properly. (Close. I’m not there yet.) I finally feel like I’ve figured out who these people are and what their story is actually about. 

I had two amazing writing weeks in February. I also had one absolutely terrible writing week, where I couldn’t focus on anything story-related; I managed one half-hearted writing session, and that was it.

And I’m ok with that. I still wrote a few thousand more words in February than I did in January, and I can literally see the finish line on this draft. I’ve still managed to dedicate two hours a week to studying craft, and I can’t wait to start applying the things I’m learning to my own writing. (And I’ve been learning so much! It’s been years since I’ve read a craft book that said anything new.) I’ve started to put together a clear action plan for my writing—not just setting goals and making plans, but breaking it down into day-to-day and week-to-week tasks that will help me achieve those goals.

So, yeah. That one terrible week? It happens, and I’ve finally reached a point where I can accept that and move on, instead of letting it derail my entire month. (Progress!)

Now I have to figure out how to apply that same thinking to photography.

I didn’t really expect February to be a productive month when it came to photography. I needed to take the time to decompress after Project366, and February isn’t a particularly inspiring month anyway—it’s all melting snow and mud, and I always have a hard time finding things to photograph. So I set my sights low.

Not low enough, apparently, because I didn’t build those photo study sessions into my week the way I wanted to, and I made limited progress on those business-related things that I’m still not talking about. But I did make some progress, and I’m starting to want to take photos again, so it’s possible that I just needed that decompression time even more than I thought.

That said, I think most of my attention in March is going to go to photography.

Not all—I’m going to wrap up the current draft of Violet Lane in the next week or two, and when I finish that, I’m going to take a few days to rest and then get started on the outline for the next thing. (I’m so excited about that one! I really wish I could say more than that, but I don’t even have a working title yet.) And I want to finalize my plans, start putting those systems into place. But in general, my writing is going to slow down at some point this month, and that’ll give me a good opportunity to start figuring out how to reincorporate photography into my day-to-day, and it’ll give me time to start making the same sort of plans for my photography that I’ve already made for my writing.

I still don’t know how it’s already March, and there’s still part of me that’s freaking out about that. But I’m looking forward to March. It’s going to be a good month.

Sketchbook #50

Photography, Writing

The first month of a new year is always strange for me. Between the new year and my birthday, I’m thinking of big goals and big dreams, and my motivation is as high as it ever gets. 

Which is good, because January is also difficult. I’ve got to rebuild routines that the holiday season shattered, and find my way back into stories I haven’t thought about in a month. I have to navigate a minefield of existential crises, brought on by that same new year/birthday season. January is dark and rainy or so cold I can’t even bring myself to walk to the coffee shop to interact with someone that isn’t my cat. If it wasn’t for those big goals and dreams, I don’t think I’d be able to make it through the month.

All things considered, 2020 is off to a pretty good start.

First of all: I finished Project366

I’ve got to be honest: I didn’t think it was going to happen. I fell behind on posting the photos here when I was painting the apartment, and the whole project stalled entirely in November. I came this close to just admitting my heart wasn’t in it anymore and giving up. But stubbornness won out over technical difficulties and lack of inspiration and the logistical nightmare of editing and posting that many photos over the space of a week. 

I’ve pretty much decided that I won’t be doing an official 365/366 project again anytime soon. Or any sort of photo-a-day project that lasts more than a month. Projects like that are great for some people, and I’m especially in awe of anyone who creates and posts a photo every single day for years, but they just don’t work for me the way I always hope they will—eventually, they always turn into a source of guilt and obligation, and that isn’t fertile ground for making art.

I’m not sure what comes next. I’ve been playing with some new gear—nothing fancy, but I do have a phone that works in the cold again—and that’s done a lot to reignite the spark, but mostly I’ve just been decompressing and not making solid plans just yet. But I have a feeling I’m going to start looking for something new to work on very soon; I do have big plans for the year, and I’m starting to get antsy to take pictures again. Right now, though, it’s nice not having that obligation hanging over my head, y’know?

It’s been a good month for writing, too. I’ve made good progress on Violet Lane: the current goal is to wrap up this draft by the end of March, and I’m on track to hit that target with room to spare. (Unless I’ve severely underestimated the wordcount for act three, which is always a possibility.) My feelings about the story are kind of mixed—I like it in theory, but I’m still not 100% certain I’m on the right track—but I’m having fun with the writing itself, so I’m not tempted to scrap the whole thing and start fresh (again).

I’m close enough to the end that I’m starting to think about what I want to work on next. For months now, I’ve been sure that These Modern Things was next in the queue, but I’ve suddenly got two other ideas (one novel, one screenplay) that are demanding my attention, and that might feel a little more in line with what I want to be doing long term. 

Maybe. I don’t know.

Now. February.

My primary goal, of course, is to continue progress on Violet Lane. I’m kind of tempted to say I’ll wrap up this draft by the end of the month—and that’s actually reasonable at my current pace—but I’m not going to commit to a certain milestone. If I finish early, that’s great, but I’m not going to push.

I realize that ‘keep working on this thing, but probably don’t finish it’ is kind of a boring goal.

I also want to start building some photography practice/study sessions into my week; I’ve been doing that for writing—two hours a week dedicated to improving my understanding and ability without the pressure of finishing anything—and I’ve been really happy with how that’s going. I want to do the same with photography.

And, of course, there are a few other things I want to do, mostly related to the business side of things, but I’m not ready to talk about them here. 

January is a strange month; even in the days between drafting this post and actually posting it, it’s thrown me some curveballs. But January is over and the year has barely begun. 

Onwards.

Black and white photo of an open notebook with the year '2020' and word 'grit' written on the first page. Photo by Reghan Skerry.

2020 in Preview

Art + Craft, Personal, Photography, Writing

The year—the decade—isn’t even two weeks old and it’s already testing my optimism. I keep sitting down to write this post, and I just stare at the blinking cursor, trying to figure out what to say about my goals for the new year, trying to figure out how to say that I’m still hopeful. That despite everything, my goals for this year are more ambitious than they have been for the last few.

But maybe that makes sense. Everything’s terrible, so why not take some risks? This isn’t a year for ‘find a hobby’ or ‘build a sustainable writing routine.’ That was about building a foundation. This is a year to make some real, concrete changes. 

I’m not going to go into all of them here. Some are obvious and don’t need further explanation (finally get that photo thing off the ground, finish Violet Lane, keep querying), some are too personal, some just aren’t within the (current) scope of this blog. Some I’ll talk about later, but I just want to keep them to myself for now. 

But there are a few things I do want to publicly commit to:

Focus on improving my craft.

I said back in September that I felt l like I’ve hit a plateau when it comes to my skill, both as a writer and a photographer. That feeling hasn’t gone away.

Like I said then: it’s normal. And, really, I wouldn’t want to be satisfied creatively—I think an artist’s vision should always exceed their skill, at least a bit. It’s not that I think I’m a bad writer or photographer, I’m just not where I’d like to be, and it’s time to level up.

I’m not 100% sure about my game plan, here.

I know I want to work on building my technical skills, whether that means studying the writing books I’ve collected over the years, or working on specific photo projects, or taking classes, or something I haven’t thought of yet. 

I want to do more work—I want to take more photos and spend more time writing. I’ve done well, building a sustainable practice, but it’s time to expand on that. I need to be careful not to push too hard—burnout is always a real risk for me—but the pace I usually work at now doesn’t allow for much growth. 

And I want to build my creative confidence. I don’t (just) mean when it comes to sharing my work—I’m getting better at that, even though it’s still difficult. I want to be braver in the work that I create; I want to stop holding myself back from taking the photographs I want to take, or writing the stories I want to write. This is a process, and I don’t expect it to be a quick one, but it’s something I need to do.

So, yeah: not exactly a clear plan, but at least my goals are clear. I’ve got time to figure out how to get there.

Reevaluate my relationship with social media.

I’ve been wrestling with this for a while, and I’ve come to some conclusions:

  1. Instagram and Twitter are terrible distractions that make it harder to focus on the work I want to be doing.
  2. Facebook and Twitter are actively harming society and chipping away at democracy, and the people in charge embrace it because it’s lining their pockets. (Instagram itself isn’t as terrible on that front, but the ad revenue still goes to Facebook.)
  3. I’m sick of Facebook’s constant presence. I’m not even on Facebook, and I can’t get away from it. It’s creepy
  4. I miss blogs. I miss the old internet, back when it felt fun and creative and serendipitous. Back when it was still weird.
  5. Instagram is one of the things that has stalled my progress as a photographer. Yes, it’s helped in some ways, but it rewards sameness rather than creativity, and it’s hard not to play to that.

Any one of those is reason to jump ship—taken together, I’ve reached a point where it’s hard to justify my presence. At the same time, there’s part of me that feels like I need to be on those networks, for personal or professional reasons. I feel genuinely guilty when I don’t post to Instagram or Twitter for a few days, and I hate it.

So this year, I’m going to figure out a solution. I’m probably going to step back from the services that bother me most, or abandon them completely. I’ve already taken some steps in that direction, curating my feeds a bit, and I’ve already left Pinterest (they finally made it too difficult to avoid the cluttered home feed).

I’m definitely going to breathe some real life into this blog, rather than relying on those other services. (I might go back to the self-hosted version of WordPress, to get back a little control with that, but my account is paid up until the fall, so I’ve got time to think about it.) 


Mostly, though, my goals for 2020—writing and photographic and personal—are summed up in the watchword I’ve chosen: grit.

Very few of the things I want to do this year are going to be easy. And it’s going to be a difficult year, just in general. (I didn’t know how difficult when I started thinking about my plans, but… well.) I’m going to to be tempted to give up, or slack off, or set my sights lower.

“Grit” is what’s going to keep me going.

Sketchbook #49

Photography, Writing

I kind of feel like I should start this with some kind of ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ riff.

November was… a month. You probably could’ve guessed that—I barely posted to the blog at all, and I’m nearly two weeks late with this particular post. It’s not that it was a bad month, but… there was a lot of stuff going on (most of it good), and I’ve been kind of terrible about managing my time.

I’ll start with the ‘worst of times,’ because that’ll make the good stuff even better.

Sketchbook #48

Photography, Writing

I thought that October was going to be busy, that there were a lot of things that would get in the way of my creative goals.

It turned out to be even busier than I expected: I’ve only had one full week without interruptions (even today they’re testing the fire alarms in my building, which is always a joy—that’s why I’m working on this blog post instead of fiction), I’ve had inconvenient (but not serious) health issues crop up, and it’s just been generally difficult to stay motivated.

But I did it.

I’ll start with Violet Lane. I wanted to reach the midpoint by the end of the month. I’m not quite there, but I’m close. It’s on the horizon. And I like the story. It’s really good (considering it’s still very much a first draft, and ‘really good’ in this context means disjointed and messy and kind of terrible in some places), and more importantly, I’m having fun with it. It’s still not easy to write, and I’ve definitely had days when it just wasn’t working, but overall, writing it is a good experience this time around.

Also, I mentioned it on Twitter, but getting back into a proper mid-writing-session coffee break has done wonders for my writing routine. The caffeine helps, obviously, but mostly it’s the process of actually grinding the beans and heating the water. It gets me away from the work for a few minutes, but in a way that focusses, rather than distracts. It’s fantastic, and I love it.

Sketchbook #47

Personal, Photography, Writing

September wasn’t terrible.

It wasn’t great. Losing power for two and a half days knocked me off my stride, and it took me longer to recover than it should have. I haven’t been happy with my photos lately (I already mentioned that). I’ve been dragging my feet on pretty much every big important project I’ve got going right now, and looking for any excuse I can find to avoid working on them.

But I’ve made it through the first act of Violet Lane. It’s been slower than I’d planned, and I’m still having a hard time settling into a consistent writing rhythm, but I’m having a lot of fun with the story. For the first time since that very first draft, lo these many years ago, it feels fresh and exciting. Tearing everything down to the foundations helped immensely in this case, and I’m glad I took the risk.

I’m taking photos. Even if I’m not thrilled with the results, just the fact that I’m carrying a camera on a regular basis and taking photos is a win. 

September hasn’t been terrible, and after July and August, I’ll take it.

But I do need to get past ‘not terrible’ and start making real progress again.

I said last month that I haven’t been pushing myself hard enough, and (obviously) that’s still true. Creatively, it’s because I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock, in both my writing and photography, where I’m not quite sure what the next steps are. I’ve reached the limit of my skills; that’s not a bad thing (it happens to all of us, all the time), but it does mean that I need to think about how to ‘level up.’ I’ve got some ideas for how to do that with photography—I’m more aware of my weaknesses there, and as a medium it lends itself to dedicated practice—but I’m having a harder time figuring out my options for writing. (If you have suggestions, let me know. I might have an idea, but I have to think about it a bit more.)

The other reason I haven’t been pushing myself hard enough is simple fear. 

Snapshot #136 | 10 Things for 22 September 2019

Admin, Personal

Currently…

1. realizing… that I’ve been procrastinating on some important projects.
2. ordering… so. many. books. (I had loyalty points to redeem, and I spent them well.)
3. having… the worst week. Seriously. Between the 9th and the 13th, everything that could go wrong did.
4. wishing… I knew how Lucy would react to another cat. (I met an adoptable pair of kittens that I’m absolutely smitten with, but I can’t really consider it with that uncertainty.)
5. regrouping… and refocusing. (Which is somehow not connected to #1.)
6. turning… off likes on posts and comments. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and it’s time. (I’m extending the comment window a bit to make up for it, but aside from that the comment policy isn’t changing. And, yes, likes still appear in the WordPress reader—I’d turn them off there too, if I could—but this way it doesn’t benefit the spammers who abuse the feature.)
7. trying… to catch up with my Instagram backlog.
8. solving… the email problem that was giving me stress dreams. (Part of why I had such an awful week… but at least it’s fixed now.)
9. getting… excited for autumn. I’m counting the days ’til I can break out the fingerless gloves and black tights. It’s almost cold enough, but not quite.
10. starting… to suspect I’m finally on the right track with Violet Lane.