The blood going to it: On Depressed Creativity

I use to write like this. It was 10 months ago. I don’t understand what’s going on. I really don’t. I’ve had slumps before. Everybody does, but this is different. I’m sorry, we don’t know each other but there aren’t that many people I can talk to about it. I don’t understand what’s happening. There’s no blood going to it. I’ve never had to locate it before. I don’t even know where to look.

That’s a quote from Toby Ziegler on The West Wing, and it’s something that’s long resonated with me.

I haven’t blogged here in the past couple of months, and I wish I could say that’s because I’ve been devoting all my typing to productive writing. Some days, that’s been true. Many days, it hasn’t been. Many days, it’s been a definite struggle to put myself in front of the laptop and get even a few hundred words down.

Part of it has been my everyday life being quite busy, both at the day job and socially. There are, after all, only so many hours. But part of it has been depressed creativity. It’s hard to find the love, to find the juice, to find the blood when you feel stagnated. Being on sub is a rough place to exist as a writer, especially one hoping to make a solid debut. (There aren’t as many posts covering the submission process as there are for querying, but there are some fairly good ones out there — and this one absolutely nails what it feels like). Writing takes a lot of dedication, a lot of perseverance, and a lot of energy. When you feel like the wheels are just spinning in mud and kicking up gravel, it’s hard to keep going — hard to feel like the words you’re carving out are anything worthwhile.

But. You have to.

More accurately, have to.

I wrote over 3000 words yesterday, and 3000 today, and all actually on the correct project, not scattered all over the place in drips and drabbles of assorted nonsense. These have definitely the best writing days I’ve had since mid-May.

It reminds me that I can. It reminds me of my ability and of my passion for the words. It reminds me that I have stories inside me that want to be told.

And it reminds me that I need to suck it up, cupcake. This isn’t a game for whiners or quitters.

Yet Another Nano – On planning and spontaneity

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-Banner

Aware that my focus had drifted a bit in March, I set myself a personal goal of 30k for the month of April.

And I was pretty sure this was a daft thing to do.

April is traditionally my busiest month of the year. In fact, now that I’ve got the TimeHop app, I can verify that I spend every April over-booked and under-slept. This year the usual fluster of activity was further complicated by the fact that I spent fully one-third of the month travelling internationally, first to Vancouver and then to London. Both are a bit of a haul from Virginia. When I was home, there wasn’t a day in the month I wasn’t at one job or the other, including most of my evenings being taken up by rehearsals. Making time in the rest of the hours to eat, exercise, and occasionally sleep… It didn’t leave a lot of time for writing.

But a thousand words a day really isn’t that much. A thousand words a day is manageable. A thousand words a day I really ought to be able to do, even in a busy month, if I want to be the kind of writer I think of myself as. And it was nice to remind myself that, yes, I can do that. I have the discipline. As you can see from the chart below, I mostly stayed on par. Those stalled days are when I was in London, and admittedly, I could’ve found time to write then — but it would’ve meant not walking through Hyde Park or visiting museums in the hours I wasn’t at the conference, and I just wasn’t willing to make those sacrifices. I don’t get to London often enough to pass up those opportunities. (I actually did write a bit on the plane both ways, but it was in a different file and didn’t get toted up till towards the end).

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What surprised me was which project ended up getting the bulk of the attention. I’ve got two that I’m working on right now, and since Camp Nano’s rules are less strict than November Nano’s (and since I’m a bit of a Nano rebel in these regards anyway), I had pre-determined that I’d let myself work on both towards those 30k. That in of itself was a big help. While there’s a lot to be said for having a solid focus, as I did when I was editing Aven, there’s also a lot of value in flexibility. It meant I could come fresh to either project, and if I started feeling sluggish on one, I could pop over to the other.

I’d been charging ahead on secondworld fantasy The Seventh Star in February, but in April, I spent much more time on Goldheart, a space opera. The Seventh Star has a more solid structure, nice markers for its plotline’s progression, a very neat and ordered plan behind it. Goldheart is, well, sort of a hot mess. But that was where I wanted to play! The fact that it was so scattered and unstructured actually worked in my favor while Nanoing. I’d thought, going in, that having the strong skeleton I already had for The Seventh Star was going to help, but when I was working with such little time and had to seize impulsive moments to write, it ended up being easier to dive into Goldheart at random. I didn’t have to worry about where or how a scene fit — I could just write it, unencumbered by the constraints my own brain tends to impose when I’m working on something with a more distinct outline.

And lo and behold, on the very last day of April, I realized… I actually had a structure in there. I’m going to have to do a lot of trimming and rearranging, but I realized that I can actually hang the protagonist’s arc on something resembling a typical Hero’s Journey. It all clicked. And now I’ve got even more to go on as I move forward with the project.

Thoughtful structure is super-important when writing novels. But sometimes, in order to find it, you have to give yourself the freedom to play, first.

And sometimes you fall on your face…

Welp. April’s attempt at Camp Nanoing the new project was… an unqualified failure, really. I was aiming for 30k. I made it a little past 6. Maybe 2 of them good.

There are a lot of reasons. I could plead how busy I was during April — I worked enough extra hours that I could basically take an extra week and a half off without burning any PTO, and I was rehearsing the new murder mystery. I was traveling the first half of the month and so exhausted that I didn’t know what day it was for the second half.

But all that is just excuses. I could’ve found the time, and somehow, I probably could’ve summoned the energy. The truth is that… that story just isn’t ready yet. It needs a lot more percolation before it will be anything resembling coherent. I was trying to force something to work that just wasn’t, and when I realized that, I lost steam and decided to spend my energy elsewhere (mostly in naps, if we’re being completely honest with ourselves).

This is okay, though. Failing is important sometimes. This gif came across my Tumblr the other day, and at a moment when I was primed to appreciate it:

TinaFeyfreeingfailure

Failure is part of writing. Sometimes the stuff you try just plain doesn’t work. It might work later. Or pieces of it might. The important thing is not to let the failures stymie you. So I’m picking myself right back up and working on a new project. Well, a new-old project. All that Star Wars business has me wanting to dip my toes in sci-fi again (in female-centric defiance), so I’m taking a handful of ideas from across years and years of writing — some of them originating in my very earliest endeavours — and giving them a respin in a new universe. Will it work? No idea. But it certainly won’t if I don’t try.

On the need for a new project…

TlatelolcoHaving a manuscript out on sub is a bit of an odd experience when it comes to continuing to work as a writer. It was true when I was querying agents, and it’s true now that we’re out to editors. I need something to do — writers write, after all. Not having something to work on feels like laziness. While it was nice to take a little bit of a brain break after the last round of revisions, I’ve been getting twitchy lately. But I quite specifically don’t want to work on the project that’s currently out. If I work on the manuscript as it is, I’ll just make myself crazy with second-guessing — worrying if we subbed too soon, if there’s something else I could’ve, should’ve done first, will they like this, will they like that, and so forth. And I can’t really work on the next book in the series more than I already have, because further revisions to Book 1 might negate anything I did there. I do have another WIP, the steampunk project, but I sort of lost the flow there, and I think right now I’d have trouble leaping back into it in a thoroughly productive way.

So, for the past few weeks, I’ve been letting a new idea percolate. And I’m tentatively excited about it. It’ll be a second-world fantasy, but with some different cultural influences than I’ve worked with before. I’ve been delving into some new areas of research, playing with some social constructs and diversity aspects that I like but couldn’t work into Aven, and thinking out a little bit more of a quest structure to mix in with a dynastic dispute. (At the moment it’s feeling a little bit “Wars of the Roses” meets Stardust, minus pretty much all of the English-ness from both). I’ve got a few characters sketched out, a few potential relationships to work on, and almost no plot points determined. I’m okay with the blurriness, though. I like to start projects open-ended so I can feel my way through it all. It may mean a lot of editing and a lot of scrapped material down the line, but that’s all part of the process for me.

In that spirit, I’ve decided to work on this new project for Camp Nanowrimo. It’s partially because I’m just getting stir-crazy writing-wise, and partially because I’m superstitious enough to think it’d be bad luck not to. But, should news from an editor necessitate more revisions on Aven, it’ll be something I can easily put back down. This will be something to occupy me, to keep me from fretting, and to keep the creative muscles active. So… onward!