Monday Musings: Writing on Empty

I love writing. It’s an essential part of my daily life and my life would be incomplete without it.

At the same time, it burns me out.

Starting in late September, I’ve experienced a writing high that I haven’t experienced in years. I had my mojo back. In between then and January, I completed two novel-length projects and started revisions on one.

That hasn’t been the case these last few weeks. There’s a frenetic energy that accompanies a first draft. You get caught up in a story first written, get excited by its potential, and it’s a precious thing that gives you purpose every day. The initial drafting is one of my favorite parts of the writing process.

With a revision, however, you’re forced to examine the flaws of the first draft up close and correct them. My process is rewriting whole chapters: expanding scenes, questioning dialogue and character motivation, throwing in more flashbacks, putting a little more effort in worldbuilding, and the like. It’s fun at times, soul-crushing at others.

And these last two weeks, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle with motivation. My work has taken a toll on my energy after an extra-long week and, with the news being the news, my emotional reserves have been uniquely depleted as well. I have a schedule I’m trying to keep to maintain momentum but I’ve fallen behind. But I’m trying to be gracious with myself. I’ve learned that burnout is the mind’s way of telling you that it needs a breather.

Rather than force the issue, I take a break. I try to relax.

It’s easier said than done though. I fear not being able to pick up the pen again. I fear losing the momentum. I haven’t written like this in years (plural with an s!). That fear is always there. Even though I know from experience that a break is the best thing I can do for my creativity. Even though I know some of my best ideas come when I’m not thinking about my story. I recently read a Joan Didion quote that an author’s greatest fear after writing their first book is that they can’t write another and that this fear remains after the second, third, or fortieth book. It was more talking about ideas but I think it’s applicable here as well.

Regardless of my mood, I still try to write. Even on days I wake up and think that writing is the absolute last thing I want to do that day.

So here is what I do. I stick to my routine. I get up to dedicate my weekend mornings to writing. I open my story and see where I left off. I tentatively start writing something, give myself 25 minutes to find a groove. If I get into a rhythm (like on Saturday), I write until 1 and manage to crank out 2000 words (a win!). If I find myself unable to concentrate and looking for distraction (like on Sunday), I put the story away and promise myself I will try a little later after giving my head a rest.

The important thing is I never try to force it anymore. It shows in the work when I’m writing on empty. It’s painful to read and a nightmare to edit.

I’m trying to emphasize being kind to yourself when you lack the motivation or stamina to do things, especially when it comes to things you love. Breaks are a necessary component of the creative process. Never be afraid to indulge in them.

Thank you. I’ll step off my soapbox now.

Monday Musings: Voice in Writing

I spent some time contemplating voice. More specifically, I spent a lot of time contemplating my own voice in writing.

Writing through characters has always been easy for me. When coming up with a story, a character’s voice is the first that comes, then the premise, then how that premise might be executed. It develops the more I write it and evolves in ways I don’t expect. It’s very involved play-acting. The characters are my costumes and I interact with the world as they do.

As I describe this, my mind is brought back to the childhood stories I acted out with my sister. We spent countless hours in the day playing as our favorite Disney characters and inventing wacky scenarios that they had to puzzle their way out of. Writing helped fill that gap when we both grew out of it.

Writing as myself has always been a struggle. I’m a (near) daily diarist but when I push that voice to the public eye, it sounds awkward…not quite right. I’m not used to talking as me or the invented, highly polished version of me that I want to present to the world. Hence, why blogging is such a struggle. The voice stutters and falls flat.

I’ve had the idea, not for the first time, that I should come up with a character for this version of me. Surely, putting some artifice between myself and my writing persona would help me write as myself. It’s already there. After the retooling and editing, it’s baked in. The very act of effortless articulation a façade in its own right. You see that sentence before. I would never say that in real life.

It’s also possible I’m overthinking this like I do with most things. But a fair bit of practice goes into crafting a voice. It’s a patient endeavor. Historically, I’m not a very patient person but I can learn!

Things That Help Me Write

(a completely subjective list in no particular order)

  • Rainy Days. In my part of the world, the last few days have been rainy so this list is brought to you by cloudy skies and pitter patter. I can’t tell you what about these kinds of days that put me in a creative mood. Could it be the fresh smell of grass? The patter of rain? The calm of a cloudy day? The creative potential that sounds in my head like a clap of rolling thunder?
  • Something caffeinated to drink. Most days I prefer teas that range from the maltiest of blacks, those with a kiss of citrus, to the refreshing greens.  I savor coffees socially or when I struggle to keep my head up.
  • Musical brainstorming to provide soundtracks to the plot and character reels I produce in my head.
  • Writing nonsense, feelings, and routine things to start off the day. I like giving my brain a running start when it imagines a roadblock.
  • Quiet sounds. The ticking of my desk clock. The chirping of birds and the sound of rustling leaves outside my window. The cars rushing past. The sound of my constant breathing. The slow hum of thought.
  • Staring up and away from the page to my plant shelf and the sepia world.
  • Not writing at all the time. I wouldn’t call myself the most dedicated of writes so this may seem counterintuitive to this list. But sometimes not writing gives me more ideas and more energy when I do decide to write. I bubbling with creative energy when I’m at work shuffling books, when I’m in the kitchen prepping vegetables, and even when I’m vegging out watching TV. Allowing rest times makes me come back more inspired and refreshed.

Writing Update: Art through the Chaos

Last week has been a chaotic one. Putting aside world events (like that whole mess at the Capitol) there’s been a lot of things that hit a lot closer to home. Things like Covid, paranoia, and living in the world.

Due to that, I freely admit that this hasn’t been the most productive week. How could I? How could any of us honestly?

Regardless, I did manage to make some progress. I made it a bit farther in my revision. My characters are coming along nicely and they’re also getting snarkier. The most surprising is my character Tanner Williams. When I reintroduced him in the revision, he had a lot more to say and couldn’t care less about anyone, especially his boss.

As things settle, I plan on setting up routines and quarterly goals. I hope to share those this time next week.

Happy Monday Everyone!

Writing Update: What am I working on exactly…?

So in my quest to be more “literature-ly” accountable, I offer myself to the eyes before me and recount my writing deeds for this past week.

I’m tackling the revision of my Hunger & The Hanging Tree arc of my Grim Lore of Hollow Grove story. What do I mean by arc and what is this story I’ve been hinting at for the last, oh, two maybe three years?

First off, Grim & Hollow is very tentative title for the overall story. To make a very long story short, the main gist is that my man, Sebastian Calderon, in the alternative year of our Lord 185X, decides to take up a job in a small town called Hollow Grove where he meets interesting characters and learns about the darkness that haunts the place there. I’m taking more of a serial format for the story. I plan to have five arcs that tell their own interlocking story. The first has to do with Hunger and Hanging Trees.

I’ve been fortunate to be granted a three day weekend for my job due to New Years. Somehow between watching movies, compulsive cleaning, and experimenting with breakfast recipes, I made some headway with the revision. The best way I know to tackle this is to write the whole thing over again on a blank document and retyping past drafts. My main sticking point with this former draft is that it read really stale with my characters doing one thing then another until they have to do something else. I’m attempting to make my characters less agents of plot and more people with thoughts and feelings. It’s a bit tedious but it’s the only way I know how to tackle this project at the moment.

At this very moment which is Sunday at 3:24pm with Natalia Lafourcade singing in the background, I’ve written 2,474 words for the current draft. A most noticeable improvement from the 150-word presses I did maybe two or three times a week in week’s past.

In related news, I have managed to write some really rough drafts of short stories that I’ll be tackling when I can’t look at the former project anymore.

That’s all I have to report. Thanks for reading.

Drinking London Fog on a Sunday Afternoon

Good Afternoon All,

I’ve just finished my first attempt at something of a London Fog tea. I love Earl Grey and had a craving for something like an Earl Grey latte.

It was moderately successful. The Earl Grey was brewed just right but after stirring almond milk over a hot eye for five minutes for the desired fog effect, I gave up. It’s still tasty though.

So news!

I’ve been trying to be more active here. Making plans and sticking to them. In between the Saturday movie marathon and the errands I’ve left for Sunday, I wanted to make sure I made time for writing. No matter how little or mundane the subject matter.

I’ve been having lots of fun with The Hollow Times. I’ve planned out the next few weeks of content for that and Hollow Grove is coming alive for me again. The Grim story about Hollow Grove in the 19th century has the first arc planned out. Now I’m in the editing stages.

Other things of note?

Speaking of movies and my dedication to watch more of them, here are some that I’ve enjoyed immensely.

Diaoblique (1955)

A fun little French horror film. Like most older films, it took me a while to settle into the pacing but I found myself enraptured once I got into it.

Take this premise of a school’s headmaster’s wife and his mistress come together to plot a murder. They go through with the deed and dump his body in a pool but when they drain it, there is no body!

Tape (2001)

I have to praise this movie because it made two dudes talking in a hotel room engrossing. Two friends from high school meet together in this old motel and secrets are revealed. Its a twisty turny movie where the other’s morality is repeatedly put into question.

Shaft (2019)

This is throwback to an older 70s franchise (which I should definitely check out!) I had so much fun watching this film. Action-packed, hilarious, and with Samuel L Jackson clearly having a good time in the titualr role what’s not to like!

That’s all I got this time around! See you next week!

In the Event of Distraction

In the event of distraction, we prescribe the following: First, barricade yourself in a quiet room. Then, turn off all music, hide your phone, put a pen in your hand and begin writing and pray something good comes out of that brain of yours.

Admittedly, this has been a week of distraction. My life and the life my mind invented has taken up a lot of attention. I work two jobs; both in books, both I love, and both physically and emotionally taxing. And I couldn’t help but let this and a whole bunch of life things suck up 90% of my energy. Writing included.

So what have I done this week? I’ve stared at blank docs and counted the number of times my cursor line blinks on the screen. Mid-week I was able to eke out some words, butcher some dialogue, and hate it passionately. But it was something so it’s a victory. Other times, I imagined what happened next and listened to music to make it more real. I pulled my computer closer, opened Word and then couldn’t summon the energy to act on inspiration. Like they say, the holy trinity of time, energy, and inspiration in art usually step in as a twosome.

Earlier this year, I promised myself that I wouldn’t beat myself up on weeks like these. I highlight the good. This week’s good is finishing one chapter and carving a small path into the other. No matter how I got there or how bad I think it is at the moment, I’ve done something and that’s enough.

Helpful Writerly Links

Happy Monday, everyone!

It’s a fresh week and a fresh start. And to start off the week I’ll be sharing helpful links to writing, history, and other things I found interesting. Hopefully, they’ll be as informative and/or entertaining to you as I found them.

As I get closer to finishing the first draft of my story, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching ways to explore characters and story structures for a more engaging narrative.

Enjoy!

8 Character Development Exercises to Help You Nail Your Character by Reedsy

9 Writing Prompts to Move Your Story Forward by Leigh Shulman

Thoughts on Writing Serials by J McCrae aka Wildbow

Use a story structure to make writing your novel a lot easier by Susan L Steward (Writing Cooperative)

Revisiting the 7-Point Plot Structure by John Berkowitz (Critique Circle)

Becoming a better editor through reading by Kelly Lauturner (ACES- The Society for Editing)

Add, Delete, Rearrange & Re-imagine

Let’s begin with a sentence.

The first sentence gives you a direction. It may not always be the first sentence. Revision could take it from its pedestal, maybe even erase its existence entirely with a few careless keystrokes. Add, delete, rearrange and re-imagine.

Right now, the first sentence tells me that I needed to start somewhere and made itself the star. It made me choose between first and second person with the tumble of thoughts afterward making the decision for me. But where does this go now? How do I structure my meandering? How do I give logic to something that was one in the stream of my consciousness?

So let’s begin the process anew: add, delete, rearrange, and re-imagine.

 

This week, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the structure of narratives. The process of digging through trash to unearth gold and working in enough spit and polish to make it shine. The more I write, the more I think. The more I think, the more I see myself as a butcher in a dark room readying my knife for the first hacking.

Structure, in my head, is the method by which you connect the plot by a cohesive string. That line might run through every way in loops and dips and over the edge in zigzag patterns but when you step back to connect the dots, you should see the whole picture. As I near the end of my first drafting, I keep asking myself where’s the string. I’ve written a lot of words, made a lot of snap decisions, and used the line of my pen as my guide as I navigate through a world that I’m building up and tearing apart. I’m trying to make sense of the surreal horror of thought before me so that I can carve it into something others will understand. Maybe even enjoy.

As I’ve often heard, the first draft is you telling yourself the story; giving the initial structure to the jumble of words and images in your head. Revision bakes in the themes and allows you to experiment with storytelling, or at least allows you to imagine such things: First or third? This setting or that setting? Beginning here or beginning there? This action or that action? And as the writer, what is my role? As a narrator, am I the same person?

So much to think about and so much more still. And I’m still at stage one.

Revision, History, and Other Things I’m Trying Not to Think About Right Now

It’s been a pretty productive week for me. Consequently, it’s also been a terrible one for my characters. I managed to push through the spot I was stuck on last week. I’m in the middle of putting the pieces together for the main crux of Grim History’s first arc. They’ve gathered in one place, now I have to keep pushing them along.

The story is rough at the moment. Despite being on my mind since 2017, Grim History is still a first draft. Everything is new, uncharted territory. Often imagined, never dedicated to words. It has a ton of issues. I’m painfully aware of it but I’m resisting the temptation to look back and start editing. The last time I started to do edits before finishing the story, I decided the whole thing needed to be reworked. I started at square one again. I’ve got a nasty habit of throwing the whole thing away when I get hung up on one issue.

I’m getting into the habit of writing down perceived issues in a separate document and then moving on. Maybe a note or two on improvements but not too much else. And trust me, there’s no shortage of them. In the document, they’re broken down into the following categories: Setting, Characters, Plot, and Structure. Pretty self-explanatory, right? I plan on going into more detail about each in other blog posts but “Setting” has been especially on my mind this week.

Though Grim History isn’t strictly a historical fiction, I still want to ground it in a specific time and place in American history. Admittedly, I’m not a puritan for historical accuracy. Historical accuracy is hard to judge in fiction (or media in general) especially as our understanding of the past keeps evolving. And also, that concept violently lunged itself out the window since this particular story is teeming with spirits, vampires, and other supernatural creatures that influence the events on this make-believe historical setting. But I do want enough information that a reader can believe its in a specific time and place. The time is more or less set—the early 1840s–but I’m starting to flip flop on where it takes place.

First draft wise, this isn’t important. The details will come in through revision and tons of research. Two things that I won’t commit to until after the first draft.

So that’s where I am at the moment. I’m currently 15 parts into the story and still going strong. I predict the climax is a good three parts down the line though. My goal is to get Arc 1 finished by mid-July.

We’ll see how that goes.