What I’ve been up to

I had a lot to get out in the previous entry, so I didn’t get to the point of properly discussing what I’ve been up to lately. It’s easiest to come here and make updates when things are actually happening in my writing life, so here goes the latest!

Since NaNoWriMo of last year, I’ve been working on the latest version of my oldest novel, which I’m calling Project Oathbreaker for now. I started it with a new protagonist, then realized that I still need the older ones, but writing from a fresh perspective gave the story a new energy that was previously lacking. I still feel a little weird about continuing to write a story that I’ve been working on for so long, through so many incarnations, but the biggest part of me feels that I need to get this out and it will feel so rewarding to finally do so.

I’ve also dusted off a proof copy of Climbing Yggdrasil and started making notes to bring the damn thing to a third draft at long last. I often get annoyed by the fact that I finished its rough draft at the end of 2013 and I still have not gotten it to a place where I feel it’s ready for proper critiques. Maybe this sentiment is wrong and I could actually get more momentum by sharing it with others in its current form, but in the meantime, I have opinions on things I can change. I feel I owe it to future beta readers to take it as far as I can before bringing in outside opinions; I want to respect their time and make the best use of it that I can.

I am also working on a short story to submit for a queer edition of the Malahat Review, using an idea that has been rolling around in my head for a while. Those are my favourites, little seeds of thought that stick around and draw other ideas in until I have no choice but to explore them and see where they lead me. I’d like to say more, but I think it’s best to keep it to myself for the time being. I’ve completed a rough rough draft, and I’m working on fleshing it out a bit more before I seek constructive criticism. I’m excited to submit something for the first time!

With all of this, plus rejoining my soccer team, studying to advance myself at work, and maintaining some semblance of a social life; Google calendar has become my best friend. I am a little nervous about the level of organisation required to keep everything on track, but I am willing to put in the effort and hopefully feel that my time is being well spent and properly enjoyed. The last thing I need is to become completely overwhelmed by too many things going on at once.

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Relaxing into myself

I had one of those days yesterday. The kind of day where you meet a lot of great people and shake a lot of hands and smile and come home completely exhausted, yet brimming with energy. A day that when you wake up the next morning, you can’t believe it was only yesterday, because it felt like it went on forever in the best of ways.

(Maybe I shouldn’t post something that honest online, but I’m a huge dork, so why the hell not?)

I was sitting in a therapy session and expressing mild satisfaction with the direction of my writing life, and a hope that things will accelerate when my work schedule changes. As ever, my therapist suggested I not wait, that I try to get involved in something sooner, since it might take some time to get organized, meet up, et cetera. She pulled up her laptop and started Googling, and when I went home that night I decided to join the Quebec Writers’ Federation.

Then I got a newsletter, and pressure started to build. I had signed up, I would have to meet these people soon enough. How many books had they written? How many more years of experience did they have over me? And the biggest question, naturally, what would they think of me? This goofball who probably dresses too young for his age and likes to use the word “fuck” in fiction?

I put it away, but kept coming back to it during my breaks at work. I did this so that I could meet writers and discuss writing, find community and support, perhaps kindred spirits. I picked a morning social mixer. It wasn’t very long, I could duck out and retreat to my apartment if I felt overwhelmed.

Of course, I had a nightmare.

A few days later, I’m sitting down with my boss at work to discuss my performance and where I’m going. He said to me, not unkindly, “I can’t move you with these numbers,” and I knew it was true. The same feeling that was stressing me about meeting the QWF was plaguing me at work: I don’t deserve to be here. Any moment, someone will find that unforgivable flaw, and I’ll be thrown out.

I am an impostor.

Curiously, it was after that meeting with my manager that I started turning it around.

Walking back to my desk, I’m thinking on what my manager has said, and my dread at going to a casual social event. I tap into something that has helped me in the past when I’ve been out the door and on my way to meet strangers: fuck what everyone thinks. I’m here for me. So I am going to be me, unapologetically.

I sit back down at my desk, and having somehow, suddenly deciding to stop giving a fuck, I manage to have better connections with my clients, more in-depth conversations, and I am able to see more ways to help them. I don’t care what the clients think, I am there to do a job, and I can do it best by being myself.

I feel instant gratification because I am having fun with my job, my conversations that evening were more conversational and genuine. The next day, I read Lauren Graham’s In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It and it validates my experiences from the day before. I go to therapy and am told that I have relaxed into myself, and that sounds really positive. I go home and write more of my second novel, edit more of my first, and I feel more awake and present than I have in a shockingly long time.

I don’t realize at first, but I am arming myself against impostor syndrome. I am doing things that will allow me to push back against those feelings with logic. When the voice tells me that I’m not a real writer, I am able to know that I have just written, I am writing, I will write. I may have not written as much as some, but surely they didn’t get to where they are by letting doubt stop them from moving forward. At least not all the time.

By the time I meet members of the QWF, a few at a time as they arrive, I am able to feel at ease. Just like when I started playing soccer two summers ago, I didn’t feel judged about my level of experience. These people were encouraging, interested, and interesting as well. I was happy to see what an eclectic bunch they were, and it was pleasant to talk to each of them. One of them even knew where Cecilia was, having spent some time in Louisiana, and I was floored: suddenly we’re discussing the Cajun cuisine, the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge, and the prevalence of the French language there. I love how I could never have predicted that conversation would take place, it makes it all the more special.

The rest of the day rushed by: I attended a panel where writers shared stories of events that influenced their writing, or had to be overcome so that they could continue writing. I listened to another where queer writers discussed their recent works, and their motivations for the themes they explored within them. It brought me back to thinking about Louisiana, and I’m wondering if that’s the sort of thought that might grow into something I’ll work on later.

So that was yesterday. Now I’m working on a short story in addition to my two novels, and I’m getting involved with a writing group. I feel like I can finally come here and write things, because I have so much more to say now that I’m actually writing again. It’s like dusty gears inside me are moving once again, the machinery is warming up and coming back to life, and I am loving it.

I mean, don’t expect regular updates or anything. Let’s not forget to retain a speck of cynicism.

Kitchen Timer

I’ve just finished reading Lauren Graham’s aptly-titled Talking As Fast As I Can, which was an utter delight and contained something I did not expect: writing advice.

I had somewhat vaguely been made aware of the existence of Someday, Someday Maybe and thought it to be a memoir, and for some reason never pushed myself to pick it up. For context, it came out during a time when I was mostly reading eBooks, and not especially going to great lengths to get new ones; and even though Gilmore Girls has always been a part of my life, it wasn’t receiving the renewed attention that the revival provided. Still, I knew Lauren Graham had written a memoir or autobiography, but weren’t those always ghostwritten anyhow?

My point being, I went to Talking As Fast As I Can to get to know the person behind Lorelai Gilmore a bit better, and I found more than I expected.

Her best bit of advice comes in the chapter entitled Kitchen Timer. I took it as I take all writing advice: this worked for me, it may work for you, but it is hardly the only way to go about putting words on a page. This way, I give myself permission to tweak things a bit, to try and fail and revise before I find a way to successfully make this into some sort of rhythm. So here goes.

I’ve dedicated the next hour to writing. (I actually forgot to set the timer until just before the previous paragraph, oops.) Before I sat down, I cleared my desk of the most useless and distracting things: now there’s nothing but a burning candle, a beverage, my cell phone (turned face-down and on Do Not Disturb), and my personal journal. I am trying to ignore the dust and the urge to reach for the Swiffer hanging on the corkboard: cleaning is such a great accomplice to procrastination. How can I write when my apartment is absolutely filthy?

No, for this next hour, I am writing. Or I am staring at the blinking cursor. I am certainly not getting up to vacuum, I am not fact-checking (though I did check to see if I was blogging when Someday, Someday Maybe came out), and I am not going out for food. If I get stuck here, I can switch to my journal, or I can open Scrivener to work on a novel.

The journal bit struck me as incredibly brilliant. I have often felt guilty about updating my personal journal when my creative writing was lying ignored, but never forgotten. As if text on a screen would stare at me broodily while I scribbled my feelings in a notebook. It’s absurd. My journal is my emotional homework, it is an indispensable tool when I can’t figure out how I’m feeling, why I’m feeling that way, what would make me feel better. The creative stuff is work, and as important as work is, my mental health takes priority.

On more sensible days, I’ve been able to think, “Even if I didn’t write creatively today, I wrote something. I did a good thing.” However, it never occurred to me that I could set my journal beside my keyboard and have both forms of writing be part of a session. It makes sense, I enjoy writing, I feel things while I’m doing it, I have feelings about what I’ve written, as I’m writing it. My personal journal houses many of my feelings. Come to think of it, this could well be an entry in that journal. Maybe I’ll end up keeping it to myself, but I don’t have to decide that just yet.

I know from prior experience that I am happiest when I am actively working to create something, and that spurs me to want to document that experience, and record the emotions I feel as I go through it. It reminds me of something I discussed in therapy, about how getting going with one thing can lead to me doing other things, because completing these tasks makes me happy and makes me want to do more things to continue feeling that way. By overcoming the initial friction of starting one small task, I’ve gotten to a state where my momentum can carry me through other tasks.

I’m about fifteen minutes into my first hour, and I haven’t decided if checking the clock is against the rules. I am over 700 words into this post/entry, and that’s more than I’ve done in a long while. That feels great.

I have a good feeling about this kitchen timer thing, and I expect to post more about it as I go through. More of my deviations this time around: I have read, opening the book to check on what the rules are. I am listening to music with lyrics. I have not disable the Wi-Fi on my computer, though I have managed to ignore my phone. I haven’t used the Internet for any communication, though I think I will post this, finally. And then I’ll go radio silent until my hour is up.

Big Goals, Little Goals

Rather than actually writing, I thought I’d come here and write about writing!

A curious thing happens to me on days off where I stare at the computer and refresh various social media sites in some sort of attempt to amuse myself. Hours go by. The sun sets and I feel that I have utterly wasted another day at home.

Today, at least, I’ve had Dabble open. I corrected a typo. I did not write anything new, however.

I have previously discussed with my therapist my difficulty with motivation. Logically, I understand that Motivation, much like Inspiration, is a fickle friend and it’s best to learn how to begin things without either of them. My therapist suggested I set myself a small task, and one of two things would happen: having completed the task, I would feel a sense of accomplishment. Then perhaps, the fact of having gotten started might give me the momentum to continue on past my initial goal.

If that doesn’t work, it’s no big deal. At least I would have accomplished the lesser goal I set for myself.

NaNoWriMo sets out a rather intimidating objective: 50,000 words in 30 days. It’s easier done when broken down: 1,667 words per day. Write every day. Write even if you’ve fallen behind, or skipped a day, or aren’t where you feel you should be.

Side note: “should” is a terrible word, and anytime I use it I feel my rebellious spirit telling me that “should” is made-up and I can do whatever I want.

So here are a few hundred words about my struggle to create momentum, and now that my fingers have limbered up, it would be a shame not to continue typing away. Even if I don’t break 1,000 words, at least I will have written today. Even if I don’t win NaNoWriMo, I will have a pile of words that I didn’t have in October. That’s something to celebrate.

NaNo Eve

I’ll admit, I haven’t really done any outlining since my last post. I’ve made up for it today with two new parts, and getting some new software set up for tomorrow.

I read this post about Dabble, and thought I would give it a shot. Simplistic UI, auto-saving to cloud, ability to create plot points and shift them around? Sounds fun. Since I’ve only finished one roughdraft to date, I have no idea what works for me, so trying something new is never a bad idea.

So here I sit with just under ten hours remaining and four of five parts outlined in Dabble. I will get that last part out before I head into work for a bit of overtime, and then I will prepare for a midnight sprint to begin this National Novel Writing Month. I don’t have a specific goal for tonight: just write, write, write. Then, in all likelihood, come back here to write about how I wrote and what a mad rush it was.

Till then!

Outlining

I took the plunge and did the first step: outlining my novel as a subdivision of five parts. The decision to label them explicitly within the novel will come later. For now, they are a way of organizing my work into distinct acts. Of course, anything can change as I go on.

Now I’ve given myself the task of fleshing out each part with “chapter” outlines. I’m identifying key scenes and the events surrounding them, and will probably only go this far in the outline process. The rest will be narrative linking them, and I will get into the whole of determining how much goes between each major point as I go along.

I have to keep reminding myself that the most important word is ROUGH: this is a first draft and I don’t need to get hung up on refining things. I need a framework, a skeleton. I will sculpt the muscles and the flesh at a later time. I need raw material to work with.

For the moment, I’ve got two out of five parts “fully” outlined. Not bad for just past halfway into the month. I’m doing my best to give myself incentives: do some work in a cafe, or bring home a bar of chocolate I won’t open until I reach my daily goal. (Dark chocolate, sea salt, believe me it was WORTH it.)

I feel happy with my progress so far, and each consistent bit of work I can put behind me makes me more confident that I can keep going and accomplish what I set out to do. I’ve also decided to outline in a notebook I can carry around, and type up the result in Scrivener when I’ve completed it. I should take to keeping it in my bag; I was on the way home from an appointment earlier and wished I’d had the chance to stop at a café and work there. At least I got it done at home.

Let’s give this another shot

Oh, look. The second update in twelve months! Shocking.

So, what’s new? I’ve got a job that actually gives me decent benefits, including insurance, so I’ve been seeing a therapist on a regular basis for a while now. She’s helped me iron out some of the wrinkles in my romantic life, and we’ve recently turned our attention to other goals. We’ve discussed writing in a few sessions, and my propensity for making excuses to keep my ass out of my chair.

One of the excuses is that my apartment is not what I want it to be. There is no separation, so the same space where I play games and watch Netflix is the space I’m meant to use to write. Naturally, there are worse obstacles, and I can overcome this one with a bit of discipline.

My therapist and I discussed momentum, and how that begins with a single, simple action. She suggested I set a goal for myself that is easily achievable, and then the fact of having completed a small task will likely lead me to go further and do more. For instance, rather than say I will plant myself in my seat and write another novel, I will set myself a goal to outline the first three chapters. Easy.

That’s what I’m doing here. I’m setting myself a goal to outline a few chapters of a novel. The grand scheme is that I finish an outline before the end of October and throw myself into NaNoWriMo 2017, but I’m not focusing on the bigger picture here. I’m looking to get some momentum going by taking that first, tiny step. The rest should follow.

 

Our digital era

The advent of the e-reader has brought the world of books to an interesting place. I’ve gone back and forth myself, though I was never firmly in one camp or another. I enjoy the convenience of the e-reader: I can carry a series, better yet an entire library, in my bag with minimal bulk and weight. I can download new titles anywhere, their size makes it painless to set up a wifi hotspot on my phone and use my cellular data plan. I get recommendations directly on my home screen.

That said, nothing beats the feel of a paper book. There’s something reassuring about its heft, the feel as you turn pages, the smell of a new book or that more usual scent that comes with time. They look nicer lined up on a bookshelf, they add personality to your home. When you get excited after finishing something new, you can pass it on to a friend without considering whether their device is compatible with yours, or how to transfer the file.

In younger days, I foolishly got rid of a substantial portion of my physical collection because I was enamored with my Kobo. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it, but now that I’m no longer commuting two hours or more a day, I’ve mostly gone back to paper copies. I find myself in the position of purchasing copies of novels I’ve given away, taking particular care to dig through precarious stacks in used bookstores. My bookshelf is starting to look a bit disheveled, and I don’t really have space in my current home to get a second one, but I’m not letting that stop me.

The e-reader still has certain advantages. I expect when I finally have money to travel, I’ll want to load my Kobo up with enough reading material to keep me busy. I’ll just have to make sure to bring the appropriate cable to charge it; I’ve upgraded my cell phone, so it’s no longer the same USB plug. Maybe a few paperbacks and a graphic novel or two aren’t too heavy for my luggage, after all.

I know nothing

One of the biggest issues I have with writing here is that I acutely feel that I know nothing, so what value could my words here possibly have? I have limited experience, I have no advice to offer, and who am I to try? These anxieties often stop me from coming here and putting down something new.

Then again, what will I ever know? In five or ten years, despite the experience those years will bring, I’ll probably still think that I don’t know enough to get up here and proselytize. What I know needs to be enough for me, so here comes a disclaimer:

Anything that I write is colored by the lens of my experiences and emotions, and is not to be taken as absolute fact. If you agree, great. If you don’t, it would be nice to have a discussion about it. If you learn something, I am honored.

Ultimately, this blog has to be here for me, as a place to document my painstakingly slow journey as a writer. This will be my last post excusing myself for not being good enough. I am a work in progress, like so many projects I haven’t yet finished, and perhaps one day I’ll be a bit more complete. I will never reach a place of absolute comfort in my knowledge, and I need to be okay with that.

I’m okay with the fact that I can’t know everything, and I won’t let that stop me from trying to learn as much as I can.

I draw inspiration from Alanis Morissette’s “Incomplete” and Amanda Palmer’s “In My Mind.” Fuck yes. I am exactly the person that I want to be. Forever incomplete.

Queer soccer in Montreal

August got away from me. Lulz.

(To what extent is it appropriate to blog the same way that I text? Maybe something to write about later; short answer, my blog, my rules!)

14212084_664695600353706_7502318046475601004_n(I’m the dork at the top right.)

In lieu of writing, I have been very actively engaged in Soccer LGBT+ Montréal. I couldn’t tell you the last time I played soccer before this, probably some P.E. class where I was the last one picked and the other kids made fun of me for sucking so hard. This has been a wholly different experience, full of encouragement and support. I am gradually getting better, and getting to know the members of my team better, and they are a great bunch of people. I’m having a blast.

A lot of what I’ve been doing this summer has been an effort to fully enjoy the last summer of my 20’s. Joining a sports team, jogging so that I can better participate in matches, these things make me feel wonderful and are getting me into better shape. True, they take time away from writing, but I simply need to redouble my efforts on that front. Also, gathering new experiences provides fodder for the imagination.

It’s early yet, but I’m gearing up for a big push in November: National Novel Writing Month 2016. I don’t want to say too much about that yet, however. Stay tuned!