Writing Year: Week 1, January 1-7

It’s time to recap the first week of the 365k365day challenge! I don’t plan to do this every single week, but I will probably update periodically just so I can have some record of my progress (other than the word tracker).

The Word Count

The first few days I did very well. I wrote just above the goal of 1,000 words. Then, day six came around, and I was so focused on work stuff that I didn’t have any time to write. day seven, I was intending to catch up, but unfortunately I was short of the daily goal, let alone the catch-up goal. Luckily, I even get to count THIS post toward the word count, even if it’s not very eloquent. I still have plenty of time today to write, but the past two days my motivation dropped a lot. I hope I can get it back.

The Projects

So far I’ve mostly been working on the Sleeping Beauty novel I started a few years ago. I haven’t touched it in quite a while, but I have been thinking about it for a few months, so I used my new writing goal as a reason to get back to it … not that I should need one, but you know, you do what you have to. One day when I was at a somewhat boring part of the story, I wrote an outline for the rest of the novel; the next day, most of my word count came from a journaling session that I titled “I don’t feel like writing” or something along those lines. Journaling counts, but I usually like to with a pen and paper, and then I’d have to count the words manually.

For now I plan to continue with Sleeping Beauty. There are a few short stories that I have first drafts of so far, that I’m planning to work on and either publish on this blog or submit somewhere. I’m also thinking I will write a little more of my Helen of Troy novel, but I might still want to do a bit of research first–which is the original reason I set that novel aside after writing the first two chapters. If you want to see what I have so far, you could click on the “Helen” tab above.

I have many other story ideas noted, some of which I am very eager to start, and I have a few blog posts planned as well. Hopefully, as I get back in the habit of writing, I will be writing even more than my daily goal on a regular basis. I might even feel like a real writer again.

Build Your Own Writer’s Block

Anyone who has been a writer for more than a hot second has experienced writer’s block. It’s one of those strange, shape-shifting creatures that can last for any length of time, comes and goes as it pleases, and can be a minor annoyance or an awful, ever-growing, monstrous presence over which you feel you have no control.

I had experienced one form of writer’s block for my entire life, until recently, and it was the kind that made me question whether writer’s block actually existed at all, or if it was just a fancy term for lazy. It’s that state of mind where you feel like you can’t write until inspiration hits. Or: “Well, I want to get some writing done, but there’s an Indiana Jones marathon on tv…”

Over this past year, I’ve had a more troublesome version of the dreaded affliction. The best way I can describe the feeling is having lost my way with words. I had new ideas, and built on some old ideas, but when it came to writing attempts, the entire English language escaped me. There were blog posts that were deleted before I finished them because they were flat and boring and didn’t seem to say anything worth sharing. It was frustrating to say the least, disheartening, and led me to wonder once in a while if I should really keep trying to be a writer. Existential crisis much?!

Most often, though, it seems that writer’s block is just a series of excuses given to justify why you’re not writing. It’s pretty much fabricated due to anxiety, laziness, or some other underlying reason you’ve decided you’re not “in the mood” to write. The following are a few of the excuses I have been using:

  • I can’t write this thing until I’ve written this other thing! Unless you have actual deadlines for specific pieces, the order in which they’re written is not usually relevant. Certain stories, characters, ideas, etc. push their way to the front. Creative ideas do not stay in a single file line, waiting their turn. They’re more like cattle, and you have to wrangle them, chase after the ones that run off, and occasionally one gets eaten by coyotes, wolves, tigers, boa constrictors…
  • I don’t have a good place to submit or share that piece! This is a legitimate consideration when it comes to publishing pieces, but that part can’t be done until after they’re written! You’re definitely getting ahead of yourself if you’re giving the publishing and marketing aspects of things this much attention before you do the writing itself. Or, to look at it another way, it may mean that you’re not a writer at all, but just someone who wants to sell your ideas. There is a big difference. Focus on the writing part. Create your content. Then worry about finding the right platform for it.
  • The idea isn’t ready yet! There is sense and silliness to this thought. There are times when a story needs time to percolate in your mind, to form a clearer picture, before you can grasp it enough to put it on paper (physical or virtual). If that’s the case, sure, hold off on that idea, and write something else. However, if you’re waiting until you have the whole thing crafted so that you can write a mind-blowing first draft, you’re wasting time. Getting the story perfect, or right, or whatever you’re aiming for, is better left to the realm of editing. Your first draft will not be a masterpiece. Accept this, and get down to business.

The truth is that sometimes writer’s block gets the best of you for a little while, but the best way to push through it, no matter what variety you have, is to just keep writing. This is the type of advice that doesn’t seem entirely helpful when you feel like you need an extra push, but it is a fact that all writers eventually learn. I didn’t follow this advice much this past year, I’ll admit. With the writing goals I’ve set for 2015, I can’t allow writer’s block to slow me down. I thought I’d debunk the condition before starting this new journey, as a way to remind myself that writer’s block only has power if you let it.

This post is raw, unedited, just barely proofread. In the near future I might be writing more carefully crafted posts, but this is mostly another stream of consciousness offering from someone who sometimes has interesting thoughts.  

Here Comes 2015, the Year of Writing

I stumbled across this post on the Writing Realm tumblr recently and decided, without hesitation, that I’m going to try to do it.

A year-long writing challenge: 365 days, 365,000 words. One thousand words a day.

I’m sure it will be hard, and there will be probably too many days when I don’t write anything at all. Maybe some days I’ll be totally in the zone, and I’ll write thousands of words at a time. Maybe I’ll fall utterly short, but even if that happens, it’s a way to motivate myself to get back to writing. Blog posts count, and so does journaling, although I would have to count the words manually, so I’m not likely to put that toward my word count.

I can’t predict how this will go. Maybe I’ll start off well and then lose steam before too long, and the whole thing will fall apart, or it will take some time to get going but once I’m more used to writing every day, I’ll be unstoppable. Or, maybe things will just go smoothly overall, with some days worse than others, but most in a pretty good state. No, I can’t predict it, as is our general state in life–I can only try, without knowing what will happen.

I realize that some people do write this much or more regularly, and have for years, and since I haven’t been doing that how can I call myself a writer? Well. I used to write more often, but that was before the internet became as big as it is these days, with as many different options for passive entertainment. The point of the challenge, therefore, is to have a good reason to ignore all these other things I could do in order to do the thing that is one of my greatest passions. Or, used to be, and could be again if I make the effort to make it a part of my daily life.

Reaching the Goodreads Challenge

Like almost everyone I know that likes reading, I’ve been using Goodreads for a while now. Mostly I use it to keep track of books I want to read at some point in the future. However quickly my “read” (i.e. in the past tense) shelf grows, my “to read” shelf grows faster. I’m fine with that, as there are so many great books in the world and I would like to read as many as I can, while also making time to re-read those that really spoke to and/or entertained me.

For the past two years, I have also publicly set a reading goal for myself on the Goodreads site. The only way I know to access it is to go to the main page and scroll down. It’ll be somewhere in the right sidebar. If you’re also an avid reader, you likely know what I’m talking about. Initially, I started doing this yearly reading challenge to get back into reading more. I’d been spending too much time with Netflix and not enough with the written word. Goodreads helped me fix that.

I’ve just met my 2014 reading challenge by finishing 24 books. I have actually read more than this, technically. To some people that does not sound like a lot, but between work, social time, sleep, and my habit of often reading somewhat long or challenging books, it is a higher total than I’ve reached in a given year since graduating from college.

Next year, I’m not going to set a reading goal. Why? Because I’ve decided that I’m going to be focusing on writing. And this time, I’m not just going to say that I’m going to do more writing. I’m getting too old to let ideas percolate until I feel like I “have time” to sit down and write them. Life has resisted being anything resembling convenient or helpful, and I need to make time to write, starting as soon as possible, or give up on the idea of ever being published. Even if I end up self-publishing, it will never happen if I don’t actually do the writing.

I’ll still read, of course, but my focus will be on creating stories, honing some of them, taking active steps toward being a writer. I used to write and read all the time, when I was young. Growing up, adulthood, responsibility, self-doubt, and a bunch of other factors slowly drained that away from me, but I took back reading, and now I am going to take back writing. I want to learn how to love it again, the way I did when I was a kid and wanted to write all the time. Life was so much more fun then.

Has Blogging Lost Its Lustre?

I’ve been blogging for years now. I don’t even know how many. Five, seven… something like that. And sometimes I feel like it’s become more of a burden than a useful outlet.

Back when I was first blogging, I was not aware of any opportunities for making money through the platform. I don’t think it was very common then. In order to make money writing online, you had to write for a content mill or online magazine/newspaper with a large following. I considered content mills, but never made the move, and I’ve never been that interested in journalism (maybe opinion pieces, but not news coverage). Blogging was still more of a personal/creative outlet than a money-making scheme. I liked it that way–being able to share my thoughts and writing with an audience, having a venue to put a little bit of myself out there. Originally I’m certain only my friends and family were reading, but they were my target audience anyway.

Suddenly, that all changed. Articles and job listings and all kinds of sources were telling me that I needed to optimize SEO to get more views on my posts. It was not good enough to express myself well and share something with the world, because doing so I wasn’t coming remotely close to the thousands of views per day that so many other sites claimed to accumulate. This was a few years ago, and even though I was not trying to make money from blogging, I felt utterly inadequate. These days, all the “how to blog” articles tell you have to use good quality pictures, fall within a certain word count, and talk about relevant topics that people want to read, like Kim Kardashian’s nude photos (this is a somewhat ironic example, as the topic is of no particular interest to me). If I’m only getting a handful of views on each post, then it must be because my posts aren’t good enough.

That, of course, is a trap it’s easy to fall into, and I’m starting to think it was created by ad companies, who are the ones benefiting most from the high number of clicks on a page. Someone out there wants us to believe that quantity (in views) equals quality (in production or content). We know this isn’t true. Some very talented people simply don’t achieve the visibility they deserve, for many reasons. Now it seems everyone’s striving for that one “viral” post, of whatever format, that will result in a steep increase in followers and, therefore, more views on each post afterward. I absolutely get it, as someone who doesn’t get enough blog views to even qualify to use WordAds (which in my opinion is not a reasonable rule), but at the same time, it’s got to stop!

I have to say that I’m really tired of worrying about my view count, why my overall number of views never seems to increase no matter how many new followers I get, and all other related things. I’m tired of wondering whether it’s better to pour my heart out, like some of the very popular blogs I’ve seen, or write extremely well-researched and crafted pieces that, in my opinion, do not belong on a blog (in most cases). Those belong in real magazines or on real sites, by real publishing companies. Blogging used to have a similar function to a diary, for me, with the small difference of knowledge that other people would be reading it. More recently, I’ve felt more of an urge, whether internal or external, to write “articles” or at least posts with a real topic, instead of just a spontaneous stream of consciousness, account of some event in my life, or whatever else blogs used to be used for.

Lately I miss the stream of consciousness. I think that if I do have specific topics to write about, a blog is as good a place as any to share them, but this idea that blog posts should always “say something” is bringing me down. The flood of blogs that are trying to be professional and presentable has given the impression that if you want to be taken seriously, you can’t just use blogging as a general brain outlet anymore. Not only is this NOT true, but I think I need the brain drain. My mind has been so stuck lately, both in a sense of feeling the need to save the “publish” button for only certain types of posts, and in a sense of being generally inarticulate and unable to think of the right word at very random but ever-more-frequent times. It’s as if so many words built up in my brain without anywhere to release that it’s become clogged, and now nothing can get through.

Does anyone have any word-Drano?

The point here is multi-pronged. 1) Your blog can be for anything you want. 2) Most of all, you should do it for you. If you’re only blogging to get views, that will probably show, and no one is interested in that. 3) You can’t predict what posts people are going to want to read. 4) Expecting to make money from almost any online platform, unless it’s through a specific site that already gets a lot of views, is a bad plan. That’s why #2 applies once again.

This post, I think, falls somewhere between the topical article and the stream of consciousness. That’s how I like to work, honestly, for topics like this. I want it to be somewhat personal and relatable, not ultra-researched and dry to the point where a lot of people click to view the post but most of them just skim over the bullet points. In a sense I could probably do better if I really took the time to formulate an essay-style post. But all that is, to me, is another false path to a “right” method of blogging, which, in case you didn’t catch it, I’ve already stated does not exist.

I have had many story ideas in my life

Hi, I’m a writer. I thought it was prudent to state the obvious at this time.

Not too long ago, but long enough that I don’t remember when it was, I decided that it would be a good idea to keep a list of all my story ideas in a word document. It’s in google docs so that I can access it from any computer or my smartphone. (I know, I’m a genius). I started doing this because I know that if I don’t write down an idea, whether it’s good, bad, interesting, weird, conventional, or whatever else, I’m quite likely to forget it. We have to many things clamoring for attention. I’ve forgotten enough story ideas to know that this is a real thing that happens. It may not be the most pressing problem, but for a writer it is frustrating.

I currently have:

  • 17 novel concepts
  • 5 short story concepts
  • one note to just write microfiction pieces as I come up with the ideas

Then, there’s a different file, containing:

  • 9 plot summaries for modern fairy tales

… making a total of 31 story ideas. This does not include a whole bunch of partially-written stories and first drafts that still need work before they can be allowed to have contact with readers.

I’m sure I have forgotten countless other ideas and will continue to think up, write down, and forget many more.

This should be my most important to-do list. I suppose it is. But it should also be the most urgent, and it is not, because attempting to be a responsible adult takes that spot.

Another Life #33

Every morning I set off into the just-risen sun, trekking the twenty-five minutes from whatever comforts there are in my home to my workspace. About half the time I wake up and enjoy a cup or two of coffee before I go; the other half, I swoop through a coffee shop on the way, sometimes ordering two coffees to get me through the day.

I rent the basement of a three-story house by the lake. The three main floors are divided into office space for people doing whatever kind of work they do. I never see them. I just head to my subterranean lair through its private door, neatly avoiding any distracting contact with people (ten minutes of small talk can turn into an hour or two of internet surfing afterward…). Once I’ve disappeared, I start to pound and hack away.

When You Can’t Write

Lately one of my many story ideas has been fighting for prominence in my thoughts. I don’t remember exactly when I first had this idea. Sometime in the past six months or so. I liked it a lot then, but for whatever reason I don’t often start new stories unless I can see the entire basic outline of the plot–for novels, anyway. Short stories I don’t mind just diving into. But I like to be able to see a full novel before I begin, fully expecting many of the details to change, of course. So I haven’t written any of this story yet, even though I did a basic outline. Now, it’s like the thing’s knocking on my door. (Brain-door?) “Hi. Remember me? I get that you have a lot going on, but you said we’d hang out. Just give me a little time, please?”

And what can I do? My “responsible” side (that I’m currently hating) keeps telling me that I have to take care of my obligatory work first, so that I can pay bills and afford to eat and stuff like that. I have a tendency to listen to that side because I’ve always been pretty responsible. But now my creative side is getting angry at being neglected. She will not stand for it any more. I have a feeling she’s just going to keep bothering me until I give in.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t want to. There are two reasons. One: I cling to that silly notion that I need to be in a better financial place before I can really give my attention to writing. Maybe this means I’m not a “true artist.” Maybe it means I live in a ridiculous economy and like everyone else I have to pay for things. I even have to buy my own health and dental insurance. Two: Even though I want to write, right now, more than anything, and I can honestly say very few things would make me feel as good as writing this story that’s jumping up and down, waving its arms at me, when I think about actually sitting down to write it there’s a certain resistance. I’m not sure where that comes from, exactly. I’ve been trying to pinpoint what that feeling is. Maybe it’s the knowledge that I still sometimes rely too much on cliches. Maybe it’s being kind of out of practice in fiction writing, and wondering if I still have any talent and imagination or if the real world sucked it all away.

Or it could be the certainty I have, when I look back at the last seven years or so, that I’ve already wasted so much time I could have spent pursuing things I wanted to learn, do, feel, experience. Some of you reading this (people who know how old I am) will I’m sure say that this is ridiculous, but I feel very old these days. It seemed ok to be adrift and uncertain when I was 24. I was young, just starting to live on my own (sort of). Few people actually have anything figured out at 24. Not anymore. As I get older, more and more people my age are actually finding full-time, stable jobs or starting businesses or families. This tells me that it’s my fault I’m still in such an unpleasant, uncertain life situation. They say you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, but I bet “they” do it too…

So anyway, this story is about love. A fair bit of it takes place in dreams, and it will sort of explore and/or blur the line between dreams and waking. I’ve actually had a lot of story ideas that involve that aspect. I also like the idea because I can include a lot of fantastical elements even though the story is not in the fantasy genre. I’m hoping that I can push through all my doubts and obstacles and start writing it. I hate asking this but please, click “like” or comment if you think this story sounds interesting.

Seeking Microfiction

Writing has been hard these days. I find that at any given time I either have nothing to say or too many things to say. It’s probably a stress thing. I should meditate more, and drink less coffee. Or more coffee.

Yes. It’s becoming clear to me that I’m not drinking nearly enough coffee. I should rectify that.

Then again, maybe I should drink less coffee after all…

I’m feeling indecisive. Can you tell?

I’ve been thinking that I want to start writing microfiction again. I was very into that style for a while, and it just dropped off suddenly for reasons I could not identify.

Flash fiction is something that has probably been around longer than we think, but has gained traction in the past few years. It does not seem to have a fixed definition. Some people will say under 1000 words, others will say under 1500 or 2000. Some people say anything that’s no more than a few pages is flash fiction.

Microfiction is sort of a subcategory of that, also without a firm word limit, but in my experience it defines works up to the 500-700 word mark. It can be as short as a sentence or two, or as long as a few paragraphs. In theory, the short piece contains an entire story, or enough of a story that the reader can fill in the missing details. Personally, I think there’s a danger of reading that criterion in a limited way. Yes, the intention is to try to fully communicate the piece in that rather small word count, but I don’t think that means packing a plot into that space. Many of my microfiction pieces are more along the lines of snapshots, moments in time, rather than trying to have a narrative. I think the form lends itself to that use and so I took full advantage of it.

I don’t know why I stopped writing them. I suppose I just stopped experiencing things that inspired me in that way. Or I got distracted by adult life and became separated from my imagination. Or both. So I tried to remember how I started writing them, and I remembered–of course, I started by reading.

One book I can go back to is Lydia Davis, Varieties of Disturbance. I would also like to find some microfiction I have not already read. Do you have any suggestions?

 

It’s in the Execution

I’m writing a post right now (not this one; it’s still in my drafts folder) that is swiftly becoming a timing problem. It’s the sort of post that only makes sense to publish at a certain time of year. It’s about seasons. And sure it will make exactly the same point no matter when I end up posting it, but if I don’t get to it in the next week or so, it will seem far less relevant and no one will care. I started writing the post and figured I’d finish it the day after that, but haven’t done a thing with it since.

This is actually two problems I have had as a blogger combined into one. The first is that I have many times started writing a post, based on an idea or the seed of an idea, and somehow found that it just doesn’t work out. I don’t finish it right away, and when I come back I can’t remember what I was intending to say. Or I just don’t like it. I am the first to say that not every blog post has to be a winning work of art, but I do think it should convey SOMETHING of value–and if I’m not really interested in what I’m writing, there’s no reason to expect anyone else will be. Besides, even though I tend to approach blogging as more informal writing, and therefore needing less polish than something that a “real publication” (whatever that means at this point) would print, I still do prefer to hold myself to a certain standard as a writer, which requires that I’m at least moderately pleased with the pieces I decide to put out on the vast emptiness of the internet.

The second problem, of course, is procrastination. It’s not actually that hard to think of a timely topic, but it can be a little more difficult to finish the piece while that topic is still relevant. I’m not saying I couldn’t do this if I had to, but it is one of the reasons I like to write about more general topics that are not time-bound, whether I’m writing in fiction or in the real world. (I would like to pause to acknowledge that at this point I have already done the backspace-shuffle, the typists’ most common finger dance, to fix numerous typos, and I’m wondering when I got so bad at typing. I used to be much better than this.) Ahem. Anyway. Procrastination is procrastination whether you open the file and stare at it with your fingers over the keys or go clean the kitchen instead–if you’re not writing, you’re not writing.

This leaves me in my current predicament. I can either make myself work on this post (I suppose if I hate it I just won’t post it) now-ish, or I can wait until next year, at which point I probably will have forgotten about it entirely. My concern, after looking at what I have so far, is that I won’t get the post to say what it is I am really trying to say. This is a constant struggle for me, in writing and in regular conversation. Somehow I always feel that the recipient of my thoughts just doesn’t quite get it. I don’t know it that’s my failing or theirs.

Keep an eye out. If you see a post from me very soon about the myth of summertime leisure (oo, I think that’s a much better title than what I had), then you’ll know that I succeeded in finishing the piece. If you don’t… well then you know the other thing happened.