It’s been nearly a month since I posted and I’ve got no idea how long it’ll be before I post again. Trying to create during these days is a tricky subject for me. I’m trying to manage my stress and health in a productive manner, but that’s a moving target as this past week has clearly illustrated to me. I mean, I visited a friend (we’re both self-isolating alone and have no risky contact with the outside, so we didn’t put each other or anyone else in danger of spreading COVID-19) in Sturgeon Bay, had a nice relaxing week away from all my stress and troubles, but then the protests started over the murder of a black man at the hands of a cop and not only could I not escape it, I don’t want to look away from this.Continue reading
I’ve spent a lot of time with myself, lately. Despite working pretty hard to make sure I talk to people outside my household every day, messaging people constantly, and spending more time bothering my coworkers during my work-weeks than is strictly necessary, there are more hours in the day than I can fill with other people. I don’t know if you’ve ever picked up on the theme in my many blog posts, but I don’t really like spending time with myself most days. I’ve got a lot of baggage, spend a lot of time dwelling on negativity, have a tendency to get caught up in my own feelings, and am really not very nice to myself. I’m not exactly the best person to keep myself company.
I’ve been watching a lot of my older friends (and a few of my peers) on social media post about homeschooling and trying to figure out how to get their child to engage with at-home lessons during this pandemic. There are so many tools out there for them to use: websites to crowdsource lesson plans, video tools for teaching lessons to multiple people (crowdsourcing education or stuff schools have set up so teachers can have lessons with their students without anyone needing to leave home), websites with all kinds of neat learning tools, and so much more. Some people are even choosing to forego standard education and instead focus on life lessons like cooking, home maintenance, simple car repair, baking, and the sort of things that schools no longer teach children that are still essential life skills. It’s amazing watching the world shift before my eyes.
Yesterday was pretty not-great. The minute I got into work, I had a coworker calling me to talk through a conversation we’ve had over a dozen times before that always included going over the same points at least twice per conversation. We talked for an hour and it drained the life out of me. All of today, from the minute that call ended, to now has been a pale imitation of the day that could have been if I’d only not talked to him today. Or if he wasn’t such an obstinate, obstructionist jerkwad who refuses to apply himself to the new processes I made for our team, specifically keeping in mind the issues he has always complained about. He, more than anyone else, stands to benefit from this new process the team is adopting and he is likely going to be the reason it fails should it eventually fail. It will only work if everyone pulls together and he is doing his best to pull in every direction but the one the rest of us are pulling it. It’s incredibly frustrating and it feels very defeating to have him constantly need the same questions answers, the same points rehashed, the same talking point discussed ad nauseam.
I’m not kidding when I say it ruined my day. I talked to him before I even had breakfast or my morning caffeine. I still got stuff done yesterday, but I know I could have gotten so much more done if I’d just ignored his call or worked from home where he couldn’t reach me. I’d have gone to dinner with my friends and then come home to write instead of going two important errands before coming home to collapse on my bed until my roommates brought pizza home. Even if I did pause to talk with them or check out the movie they were watching, I would not have stayed to continue watching it until almost ten because it was almost impossible to make myself get off the couch. I wouldn’t be struggling with the same sense of creeping dread, exhaustion, and failure that I felt last night. I’d have a new one or none at all. It’s difficult to tell just what my day might have been without the call first thing in the morning, but I can’t imagine it could have been even nearly as bad as today was.
I mean, it wasn’t that bad. Not objectively, anyway. No one died, my physical health is unaffected, my financial stability is the same as ever, and so on. But my mental health is in tatters because it has been ragged all month and this repeated conversation has been preying on a lot of anxieties even before we had it again today. Today just pushed it from a frustration to a feeling of never being able to do enough to make my process work and having to watch it all fall apartment as one person does his best to rip it to shreds because he lacks the vision to see beyond today or the open-mindedness to listen when I explain. It is so frustrating to watch something I spent over a year working on fail because the person I made it for can’t pull his head out of his ass long enough to appreciate how change could be a good thing.
Stuff like that is some of the most soul-draining stuff that can happen to me. I enjoy making things and I do make a lot of things for my own benefit, but I also like to make things with the idea of helping other people. To have someone pretty much throw away something I made to help them, something I have worked on for a long time, something I have spent dozens of hours talking to them about, something I told them about that got them feeling like maybe things could be better, it makes me want to stop making things. I have used my most valuable resource, my time, to create something specifically for them and they not just threw it away or didn’t use it, they brought it back to me and said it was making everything worse for them when they haven’t even given it a chance to work yet. Normally, after something like this, I’d just go home, play video games, and put off any kind of creativity for as long as I could manage. Even as I wrote this post, as I spent what I could salvage of my evening yesterday, the little voice inside me has gone from asking what the point of this is to saying there is no point and all I’m doing is taking my time and throwing it away, one second at a time.
It’s absolutely crushing.
But I’m stronger than it, now. I may feel as flat as a piece of paper, but even a piece of paper can be used to create three-dimensional art if you know how to fold it right. Since I am the paper, it hurts a bit to fold myself into something, but it still feels better than lying around in a pool of self-pity. I don’t feel like writing, but I’ve been doing it anyway because I want to write. I want to be able to go to sleep around midnight tonight feeling proud of just how much I’ve accomplished this month as I think about the two goals I completed. I’m only a couple thousand words away from having written one hundred thousand words in a single month. I’ve written almost thirty thousand of those words since Sunday, since I dug deep, processed all my own bullshit, and figured out how to keep working through the pain of my Grandfather’s failing health, the stress of the holidays, and the determination of my own brain to get in my own way as much as possible. These have been some painful days, but I’m trading short-term comfort and rest for long-term accomplishment and confidence. Even as much as I’ve written, as habitual as writing has gotten, I still need to win big every so often or I’ll start to feel like I’m not actually doing anything worth the effort. There are a thousand lessons to learn in failure, but having a success every so often is a good sign.
I wish I’d gotten more done yesterday. I wish I had more time to wrap things up today so I wouldn’t be writing in a frenzy to beat the clock. I wish my grandfather didn’t have cancer and that I’d been able to sleep peacefully every night this month. I wish I had just one more day this month, so I could land my ridiculous goals in style instead of cramming in the last few thousand words as my last hours ticked away. I wish for a lot of things, honestly, but I’m going to deliver. I have all day to finish things up and I don’t care if I need to take the afternoon off so I can get everything finished with enough time to spare to do some editing and work on this weekend’s blog posts before the month is over. I’m close and nothing sort of divine intervention or the collapse of society is going to stop me from achieving my goals. I’m past the point of compromises, of sense, of being reasonable. I’m just going to get it all done and then celebrate by sleeping for twelve hours.
Today is the last day of National Novel Writing Month and YOU. CAN. DO. THIS. The final stretch. No matter what the results are, just end it strong. Even if you’re at five thousand words out of the fifty thousand word goal, just throw sense aside and write as much as you can. This isn’t about passing or failing, this is about trying to grow as a writer. It’s about trying to grow as a person. You don’t have to out-do anyone but yourself and I believe in your ability to do just than. One more day. You’ve got this. I believe in you. Don’t believe in yourself, believe in the me that believes in you. Grit those teeth. One last push is all it takes. Good luck!
As you wrap up your last day of writing, either laconically typing in your last few words or trying to cram in the last few thousand you need before midnight, take a moment to reflect on your accomplishment. You should be proud of what you’ve done, just like your protagonist should be proud of what they’ve achieved, of the solutions they’ve produced to whatever problems plagued them. Write a scene about what your protagonist is most proud of and spend a little time about what that says about them or what that says about how much they’ve grown.
Today, on the last day of National Novel Writing Month, as you take a break from finishing your word count or lean back in satisfaction after confirming your total, I want to talk about what inspires me the most. This is not something you should find inspiring, but it is hopefully something you should think about. What inspires me the most is myself. Without me, nothing gets written. Without my own hard work, I’d have failed this challenge and all my little bonus challenges weeks ago. Despite how busy I’ve been, despite how crazy my life has been, and despite the fact that I only have about six hours a day to work, I’ve make incredible progress on my goals. As of this posting, I haven’t finished them yet, but I’m so close there’s no doubt in my mind that I’ll finish unless Godzilla attacks Wisconsin.
The only thing that has kept me going throughout this entire month has been my unyielding willpower and iron-clad desire to test my limits. I kicked my own ass to get this done, I pulled these words out of thin air/the grey matter inside my head/my ass/the realm of stories I like to imagine lives on the other side of the story door in my head, and I absolutely rocked it. I set myself a goal and I worked as hard as I could toward achieving it. That experience is more valuable to me than anything else in my life right now and I hope you can find a similar drive in yourself if you haven’t already. I mean, in terms of growth from one year to another, I wrote seventy-seven thousand words last year and I’ve passed that twenty-thousand already, and I’ve still got an entire day left to write and make the gap even wider. I inspire me to continuously grow and I hope that you inspire yourself.
My last tip is to remember that, as long as you tried something this month, you succeeded. Even if it wasn’t necessarily more writing than you would normally do during a month, you’ve accomplished something. You put yourself out there and you tried something difficult. As long as you’re willing to keep trying, you’ve yet to failure past the point of learning something. As Jake the Dog (of Adventure Time Fame) once said, “Sucking at something is the first step towards being sort of good at something.” No matter how you feel about your failure, I want to congratulate you on taking your first step toward success. It was a difficult step, to be sure, but it was the first step. Even if you succeeded, this was the first step toward something else. There are so many things you can do with fifty thousand words of a story and you should take the time to explore all your options. You can still do most of those things with any amount of words, so even if you failed they’re worth thinking about.
Ultimately, failing or succeeding based on the National Novel Writing Month metric doesn’t matter. Sure, some writers have turned their fifty thousand words into award-winning books, but there are authors who literally had an idea, wrote it down, did a couple of edits, and then sent it off to one person who instantly decided that this book was going to be big and threw money at them until they wrote more of those books. Other people’s success isn’t a metric to use to measure your own efforts. Measure them against yourself. As long as you did better than last time, that’s success in my book. A step forward is always good, even if it’s a small step. Sometimes, especially if it’s a small step.
I wanted to give up yesterday. I sat down at my computer around six, hoping to get a jump-start on the night’s writing so I could finish earlier than previous nights, and I didn’t even get started until nine. My moods are rather mercurial and yesterday had been particularly draining, so I wasn’t really surprised by my sudden lack of drive and ambition. Disheartened and frustrated, sure, but not surprised. I’ve been working with myself too long to be surprised by this. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately and I haven’t been getting enough sleep for a long time, so I’m not surprised I hit a wall. The fact that I was humming along on Tuesday, managing six thousand words over the course of the day, doesn’t mean much since I can keep working at full capacity right up to my moment of complete exhaustion. It’s probably why I tend to work by burnout cycles rather than in any kind of moderation.
If I took it easier, I’d maybe be in a better place, energy-wise. I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect and I’m usually pretty good at figuring this kind of thing out. Too bad I’m apparently only good at it after I’ve wiped myself out. The flip side is that I wouldn’t be able to avoid a night of low energy and exhaustion if I hadn’t pushed myself. I’d have needed to get even more words done that I did last night, and it wouldn’t have been a choice. I’d have forced myself to do them. Instead, I was tired and inclined to give up, but I was able to choose to keep working and then pack it in a bit earlier than usual. I didn’t get an amazing amount done, but I got enough done and that’s what was important to me. I did something.
Out of every year I’ve participated in National Novel Writing Month, this year’s attempt has been the one I’ve wanted to quit the most. Since November fourth, the day I found out about my Grandfather’s failing health after being kept up all night by my neighbor, I have entertained daily thoughts of giving up and taking some time to rest and meditate. There have even been a few days where I half-decided to give up but wound up being able to make myself do it when it came time to write the “I gave up” post. I mean, I’m a few thousand words away from finishing the month and so close to my goal of having written one hundred thousand words this past month, but I still want to give up. It’s not even me feeling defeatist or incapable. It’s my bone-deep weariness. Just like my worst days of depression, it isn’t the feelings of failure or of ineptitude that get to me, it is the feeling that I am so tired I could just lay my head down to sleep and never get up again. The feeling that whatever it was that once pushed me forward has wound done. Gone out. Been destroyed. Decayed into nothingness. Any or all of the above. The rationalization hiding behind the worst intrusive thoughts coming from my OCD. They both come from the same place and they’re a mixture of depression and actual exhaustion.
Which is why I know exactly how to handle them. Which is why I managed to get some writing done last night despite wanting nothing more than to lie on my bed and be still until I fell asleep or ceased to exist. I know that this is just a feeling of legitimate tiredness being amplified by my depression that has latched on to a combination of my anxieties about whatever wore me out that day and my anxieties about how I’m going to manage my exhaustion. They get all bound up together and create a feedback loop that will eventually wear me down unless I manage to escape it somehow. I can meditate my way out most of the time, but that’s really close to the whole “lying down on my bed and not moving” thing that I’m trying to avoid so I prefer a more active solution. Like writing about it (which is why I wrote this bit about how I felt yesterday before doing my day’s writing and then came back to fill in the before and after parts to tie it to the rest of a daily blog post). It works. I wish I’d gotten more sleep, of course, but I needed to stay awake long enough to reframe “going to sleep” as something I chose to do rather than something my depression-based exhaustion made me do.
A lot of managing yourself, and by extension your mental health, is finding little tricks to convince yourself to do whatever it is you think you should be doing. That’s what most of my tips are this month, ways to trick yourself into focusing on work or into doing more work than you originally planned. That’s what the previous paragraph is, a way to trick myself into dealing with my mental health so I can write more before the day ends. Or write anything beyond a couple hundred words. Anything that gets the job done and doesn’t cause additional harm. I’ve got hundreds of little coping mechanisms I’ve developed over the years that can be adapted to fit almost any scenario and I bring a lot of them to bear during months like this one, where I’m constantly exhausted and stressed from working hard, all while trying to cope with the bad news I keep getting. Sure, taking a night off to sleep would be nice, but the guilt would be horrible. I’d feel like I’d abandoned my writing goals if I just took a nice off. So I found a way to get some writing down and get some extra sleep. A little bit of compromise can go a long way.
Anyway, I hope this made sense and I hope you got something useful out of it, even if it’s just an example of someone who is doing really well with their goals wanting to quit. We all have those moments and it’s usually better to deal with them out in the open than to try to hide them away or pretend they never happened. Denial gets you nothing, so learn to cope, learn to process, and know that you’re not alone in whatever you’re feeling. I hope your last two days of writing go well! Good luck! I believe in you!
As you look over your story and all the work you’ve done this month, you probably start to get an idea of what this story is really about. Sure, you planned it to be about one thing, but that really pans out. Too many changes get made during actual production for any plan to stay intact unless you’re entirely rewriting something that you’ve already finished or you’ve strangled your story in an attempt to get it to fit the narrative you initially chose. Now that you know, though, find the right place for this idea and work in a scene that solidifies it in the earlier part of the narrative. Maybe do a couple if it’s a complex one. Just make a few small adjustments so the story’s message says what you want it to say.
Last year, the writer who inspired me the most was John Green with his novel, “Turtles All The Way Down.” This year’s story is an updated and slightly adapted version of last year’s, so it bears mentioning that I was inspired by his candid way of writing about mental health. When the book was coming out and for a while after it came out, he also spoke more frequently and openly about his mental health and struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It means a lot to me that someone who struggles with OCD more than I do was able to openly discuss and still manage to make great art despite the struggles it often presents. While I can handle my OCD better than most, I’ve always kind of shied away from talking about it because I don’t really like admitting how constant and severe it is. Reading John Green write about his experiences, through the story of a teenage woman, inspired me to try to write about my own experiences since that’s a story I’ve never seen before. Hopefully I can get it finished and shared with the world. I feel like it’d be really helpful for people like me to read a story like that. I know my life would have been a lot easier from sixteen to twenty-five if I’d read something like this.
As we get to the end of the month, I just want to say that it isn’t a big deal if you failed this month. Failure is something you’re going to encounter frequently if you take risks and attempting to create something without taking any risks will get you nothing. No new lessons, no new skills, and quite possible no end result that you’re satisfied with or proud of. Last year, my entire department read a book about creativity and failure in an R&D department as my boss tried to foster a more adventurous and engaged attitude in his employees. The book suggests that failing early and failing often is the best way to approach any task. If you spend all of your time planning, you’re still going to come up with one or more failures later in the process but you’ll have less time to correct those failures than if you’d just dived right in and started failing immediately.
Writing is hard work. National Novel Writing Month is also a lot of hard work. I’ve failed it twice, once because I decided to give up at the beginning of the month and once because I told myself I didn’t need to register–that I didn’t need to be accountable to anyone but myself. The former was a good decision on my part, a choice to focus my time and energy on finding a new job to leave one that was slowly killing me (and already almost had). The latter is a decision I regret because it was made out of a desire to avoid the appearance of failure. The first one wasn’t really a failure because I learned and made a change that helped me succeed in the future. I dove right in and took risks by starting a new job. The second was one of my worst failures as a writer because I let the fear of an ultimately meaningless goal prevent me from doing my best. Better to try and fail rather than not try and fail anyway. You always get something out of it when you try, even if still fail. I’ve learned this lesson many times through life, but my first “attempt” at National Novel Writing Month is the one that has stuck with me the most.
I want you to know that, even if you know you won’t finish in time, don’t give up. Keep trying. Make your failure the best failure you can because the things you learned this month will all still be there whether you succeed or fail. Every attempt is a learning experience and the ones that teach us the most are almost always the failures. So try hard, dive in, and fail quickly. You’ll be surprised just how much you learn when you learn to not fear failure.
Well, I’ve had another productive evening. I’m pretty sure a lot of my good mood was the caffeine since it disappeared once I had dinner and there was something in my stomach to dilute the coffee. It was a big dinner, which was nice since I love cooking, but I’ve learned that baking a ten pound ham is something I can do on a whim and that’s dangerous knowledge. I mean, loved glazed ham growing up and I was always frustrated that my family had put it solidly in the “special occasion” category of foods. I remember thinking that, when I was an adult, I was going to buy and prepare a giant friggin’ ham whenever I damn well pleased. Turns out, it took a few years after graduating from college for me to remember that this was a thing I could do and it wasn’t so much that I remembered I could do it as I saw a giant spiral-cut ham I could take home when I went to the grocery store to find something that would go with the stuffing I’d brought back from Thanksgiving. It was super expensive since the local grocery is exorbitantly overpriced, so it’s probably not a whim I’ll be indulging very frequently, but now I remember my love for glazed ham and I’ve learned it’s really quite simple to prepare since all you need to do is warm it up to a desirable temperature. Or, you know, eat it cold. Whatever works for you.
I meant to do writing sprints between trips to the kitchen to check on it, but I hit this weird point in my caffeine parabola where I was a bit over caffeinated and kinda loopy. I think I might be getting sick since I’m also rather congested, which wouldn’t surprise me given how high my stress levels have been lately and how crazy the weather has been this month. It’s a mini-miracle that I haven’t already come down with something before this week. I leveraged the uncertain future to push myself to write more last night, gradually working my way up to a nice three thousand six hundred words on my National Novel Writing Month project, but I think staying up past midnight is what is going to leave me sick enough to be glad I worked ahead. As I write this, I’ve only got six thousand more words to write for my project this month and I’m anticipating finishing on Thursday so I can catch a break from all this on Friday. Except for the blog post, of course. Can’t let that lapse. And the pre-writing of blog posts for the weekend so I can hopefully rest during those days. Which I probably won’t do because I’ve got a great idea for a parody of a song I want to write out.
Thus the cycle continues. Stay up too late working on something I’m passionate about, get too little sleep to stay healthy or function properly during the day, lean on copious amounts of caffeine to make it through the day, wind up energized and awake late into the night no matter how early I consume my afternoon caffeine. At least it’ll hopefully end soon. I can go from four thousand words a day to one or two thousand. You know, back to normal. At least for a little bit. I’m planning to actually keep some of this other, non-blog writing going after the month has ended. I’m not sure what, yet, but I know I’m not ready to go back to my lower writing numbers. I really enjoy having high “words written in a month” totals. This tracking is most to help me map out my writing habits, but I do love numbers and statistics, so I admit I probably spend too much time tweaking my number tracking charts and report outputs. At the end of year two, I’ll be able to tell just how many words of poetry I’ve written in a year. Or how many words I’ve written about video games. How many words of reviews I’ve done. I’ll be able to pick out my wordiest days of the weeks since I track what day the writing happens on, not just when the writing is supposed to go up here.
As much as I complain, this is working for me right now. I can always sleep in another hour or two if I need it and I’m almost caught up in my daily word count for National Novel Writing Month. It may not be the most relaxed way to do things, but I’m still getting there, which is what I’ll settle for given this month. I’ve done at least a little writing every day of the month and I will be able to end the month meeting most of my original goals. I’m going to be low on sleep, but I’ll have a whole weekend to catch up on that and unwind with updates to one of my favorite video games. I’ve even got a whole other pile of games for the Switch that I’m still working my way through, and they’re all proving to be quite relaxing. I like the movement of the smaller, simpler games to the Switch. Night in the Woods is way more fun when I can pick it up or put it down at will. The sleep mode functionality of the Switch makes it a godsend for games like that which aren’t super conducive to a gaming binge. I will never stop saying how great the Switch is as a handheld gaming console. This may be the sleep deprivation talking, but I honestly think going handheld was the smartest move Nintendo has ever made. I’m still a little upset about the reliance on motion controls for a lot of games, though. I dislike motion controls because I don’t have steady hands and that makes motion controls next to impossible for me to use for anything requiring accuracy or precision.
I’d like to get more sleep and needing only two thousand words a day to finish on time will be incredibly helpful for that, unless I wind up pushing myself to cram them all into tonight like I’ve kind of been doing the last few days. I could totally just not write a bunch extra and instead get some sleep. I told myself that last night as well, but I clearly stayed up late to get to a milestone and then stayed up even later to write this post. Sorry for how ramble-y it is.
Anyway, we’ve got three days left in National Novel Writing Month and we’re so close I can taste it! I hope you’re nearing your goal and that your last few days go well for you. Good luck!
Toward the end of a story, there’s a moment when everything comes together and the story reaches its peak. The conflict at the heart of the story is brought to the front and either resolved or circumvented. What comes next is largely up to you. You can take the Andy Weir approach and just end the story once the protagonist has been rescued with no wrap-up, or you can go around tying up loose threads like the hero of an RPG finishes all the sidequests after defeating the Big Bad Evil Guy. Or anything in between. For today, write about what comes after the climax of your story. Show us what you intend to do with your readers and either wrap things up neatly or slowly ease us out of the story by revisiting all the characters as they adjust to life after the conflict has been resolved.
My favorite storytelling medium besides writing is Dungeons and Dragons. I love the ability to make up and adjust stories on the fly, the chance to connect directly with my audience so I can tailor the experience directly to them and their investments, and the framework it gives me for detailed adventures filled with puzzles and audience interaction. Even if my players fail to unlock all the parts of the story I’ve created because they fail a skill check or decide to proceed in a different manner, I still love having the opportunity to create a game for them. I will always appreciate Dungeons and Dragons for giving me a chance to tell different stories and practice my framing on a regular basis. Being a Dungeon Master has probably helped me grow as a storyteller more than anything but my past year of daily writing.
If you can avoid looking at what you just wrote, I suggest you do so. As you’re trying to cram in your last few days of writing, now is the time to create new words rather than focusing on how to improve old ones. Editing is an important part of the process and there are a lot of people who edit as they go, but I think that there’s a lot of value in just charging ahead until the story is done. That method works pretty well for a lot of people, even if they prefer to do consistent and nearly constant editing. I prefer to write in what I call the “lapping” method. I review the work I did during the previous two days and then focus down on adding another day’s work behind it. I find most of my errors that way and it makes it a lot easier to stay consistent when I’m constantly reminding myself of what just happened. When it comes to pumping out new words, either for the last part of the lapping method or for a long-term writing marathon like National Novel Writing Month, I try to just focus in on adding more words and let Future Chris worry about whether or not they’re any good. There are always a lot of changes to be made after the fact, but it gets the job done. I suggest you experiment with both and then focus on whichever one suits you best.
I don’t know what it is about today, but I’m feeling downright capricious. Which is a side-effect of feeling really energetic. It could be all the coffee I drank, though that never really lifts my mood so much as makes me the energetic version of whatever mood I was before. It could be the return to using my therapy light every day for three days straight after leaving it at home when I visiting my family for the Holidays. It could also be the fact that I wrote just over three thousand three hundred thirty-three words in an hour and forty-five minutes last night. That felt pretty good, especially when I knocked out another thousand in the subsequent half-hour. All of this on a night when I felt incredibly run-down and exhausted from a busy, stressful day at work. I wasn’t sure I was going to get the three thousand words I needed to more-or-less stay on schedule to finish my National Novel Writing Month project on Friday, but I managed to completely knock it out of the park despite starting at nine at night as a result of chores and coping with my depression.
Yesterday’s tip about using the milestone method to trick yourself into staying focused and driven toward whatever is your writing goal made it possible. Without slowly working myself to the start of the next page, to the next thousand, to the next five hundred, to the next round number on my word total, I would not have been able to get as much done as quickly as I did. There may be a fair bit of editing that needs to happen since I didn’t do any as I wrote, but it shouldn’t be much unless I decide to change something much earlier. It’ll be fixing sentences, trimming out repetition, and adding in a few extra words here or there for clarity. Mostly simple stuff since I’m still proceeding along the path I laid out in my outline at the beginning of the month. I’ve had a few deviations, but they’ve all been minor course corrections and adjustments of what topics get introduced where. There’s a lot to go over in this story and I’m trying to make sure it all flows naturally.
I also took my own advice from yesterday. I started setting aside some time to reflect. I took half of an hour after I was ready for bed to relax and reflect on what is going on in my head. It was surprisingly productive and probably set the stage for today’s tired but still good mood. I didn’t come to any big conclusions and I’ve still got a lot to think about, but it took some of the pressure off. It made it easier to focus at work today and, with some of my mental knots untangled, it made it less difficult to get excited about and engaged with stuff. I mean, not that work is any more exciting and engaging than usual. I like my job, but I wouldn’t say that there’s anything going on that I’m particularly excited about. I like the stuff we’re doing and I think it’s cool, but there’s no sense of urgency or anticipation to bring it up to the “excited” level. No, today’s excitement is about the content coming to Destiny 2 that started today and will continue over the next few weeks.
I’m seriously in love with this game after all the changes they made to it for the first “live support” year. All of the story content has been stellar, there’s enough going on from week to week that I actually feel engaged, and all of the niggling little problems that persisted over the course of the release year have been addressed. There are still issues, of course, but they’re much more reasonable and I look forward to them being addressed as live support continues. Because of how much better the story is, I’ve been getting excited about the game’s lore and am now apparently spending all my breaks from writing on the Destinypedia, reading about everything I missed from the first game and delving even deeper into the events I’ve witnessed in this game. I’ve tried to listen to all the dialogue and read all the text from everything I’ve found in-game, but it’s really easy to miss something when you’re running through a mission with your friends. Not everyone wants to stop mid-mission to read the wall of text they just unlocked by interacting with the lump of ore you found hidden behind a storage container in a side room you didn’t need to run through.
It’s been really fun to find out just how self-aware the game is. There are references to the giant mess that was the initial story-line of the first game, emotes that tie into inside jokes that the community has loved, and even a bunch of in-game references to the fact that Guardians (the player-characters in the game) tend to break into dance in the weirdest places without any regard to what is going on around them or whether or not there’s even music. Stuff like this makes it clear that at least someone is paying attention to the community and what we care about. And the dumb stuff we do. As I looked back into the events during the live support years of the first game, I can start to understand why people were so excited to start playing Destiny 2 as soon as it came out rather than waiting for the release year to end. It was such a different game from the release year of Destiny 2 and it incorporates that same fun, exciting spirit I’m feeling as we’re rolling through the first year of live support for Destiny 2.
Anyway, this is late because I went to bed at a reasonable hour last night and was busy at work today, so I didn’t have enough breaks to get this done. There’ll be a lot of busy for the next few weeks as I try to get a buffer going for my blog again, attempt to prepare for a giant move at my day job, and try to play Destiny 2 for five or more hours every week. I’m prepared for that, I think, but that might just be my current optimism speaking. It’s kind of hard to tell for sure, to be honest, but I’d like to think that the culmination of all of my work this month will be a more energetic and engaged version of me. I’ve dreamed about being that person for years, ever since my depression took deeper root and sort of supplanted my identity, so I’d be really excited to see it happen. It might also just be the caffeine.
We’ve got four days of the month left (well, three and a bit since this is going up in the evening), so make sure you stay focused! Even if you’re almost finished, don’t let up! You never know what might come up and there’s never anything wrong with finishing early, so just wrap it up as soon as you can and don’t depend on the uncertain future. You never know what might happen. Good luck today!
Stories are about change and one of the major modern catalysts for change is new people from somewhere else showing up. It’s been a catalyst for change since Beowulf showed up to kick Grendel’s ass (Debately. He only really won because Grendel tried to run away rather than fight), but the change isn’t always good. Lately, there’s been a lot of fear and hate involved in the change we see when new people show up rather than support and polite interest in new cultures. How does your protagonist react to new people? Do they see new cultures as a chance for positive change, or negative? How do they feel about the way the rest of their society reacts? Write a scene where your protagonist is introduced to people who are different from them and show us how they react to the way their life changes as a result.
One of my favorite finds on YouTube, using the “next up” feature, was Rush Garcia. They are a musician and composer who creates music on commission or as inspired by their interests, all of which means they make a lot of music about video games. I love music about video games and these three specific songs in particular are my favorites. They’re part of most of my writing playlists and they’re the core of one of my instrumental anti-anxiety playlists since they feel, quite literally, like emotion turned into music. They all vary quite widely and I can always count on whatever new song Rush puts up to be a beautiful listening experience that makes me want to create my own stuff.
I know I’ve mentioned thinking about what comes next and I know we’re super close to the end of National Novel Writing Month, but don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what you’re going to do on December 1st. If you lose focus now, you might not finish as strongly as you’d like. It’s a really awful feeling to be racing the clock as midnight on the 30th approaches, trying to beat the countdown to the end as your despair and frustration only grow with each update of the clock. Focus on getting all of your writing done and let the future take care of itself for now. There’s nothing wrong with idly thinking about what comes next, just don’t spend much time or energy on it. Don’t make a plan unless it’s for a bottle of champagne or something like that to toast a successful month of writing. Do plan that stuff.
Despite everything going on, I managed to be reasonably productive yesterday. Better than that, I decided to just go to bed at midnight, which is why you’re getting this post rather later in the day than I’d like to be putting it up. Unfortunately, despite those good things, yesterday still wasn’t great. I was busy all day trying to get my head out of the stressful holidays and back into anything resembling a productive mindset. It took most of the day and while I did have adequate time to zone out while writing without it compromising my ability to finish the day’s writing, it was still an uphill battle to get anything done. As today will be. Additionally, if that wasn’t bad enough, I may have been in bed by midnight, but I couldn’t fall asleep until after one. It was the worst, lying in bed and staring at the darkened ceiling while I waited for my mind to wind down for an hour.
To be entirely fair, I’m not exactly surprised. It’s been going on for a while and last night was just the latest in a long string of issues sleeping. As my stress level goes up, I start to struggle with sleeping. I’ve used some games in the past to keep me engaged enough that my mind doesn’t fret over pointless stuff but not so engaged that it can’t wind down (any Pokemon is my go-to since it has done that flawlessly my entire life), but that hasn’t been working lately. This is the first time in years that I can’t just shut down my mind when I need to. Or it’s the first time I’ve ever had something on my mind that I don’t want to just ignore. It’s difficult to tell the difference, sometimes, and I’m willing to be this is one of those scenarios where something isn’t happening because I don’t actually want it to happen.
I haven’t done a lot of thinking about my grandfather’s health, my aunt’s rudeness, and my relationship with my family in general. Or my relationship with my past. I honestly haven’t really been doing a lot of self-examination lately, which was a poor choice because I know just how cluttered my mind can get without it. Since my breakup, I’ve had a lot of stuff going on, some by choice to lessen the sting and some by circumstance that has added whole new elements to my anxieties and frustrations. The flood, a wisely abandoned but rather persistently reexamined decision to ask someone out, my grandfather’s health, a huge pile of things at work–participating in planning for the future of my team, a six-week period of crazy business as we tried to get a project done, and then leading the charge on a whole slew of new processes and best-practices for my entire team–and then I went straight from all that into National Novel Writing Month with only a week off to recover which pretty much all went to hell immediately because of my shitty neighbor’s music and the fact that I found out my grandfather was dying the weekend before I had to spend a week outside of my comfort zone in every possible way at work. It’s a lot and my few attempts at sorting myself out weren’t enough. I’ve been journaling every day, but that’s almost always surface stuff and my therapy visits have had quite a bit of time between them lately because of how busy the holidays are.
I really need to take some time to self-examine and process everything that’s been going on in the past six months (because I also went semi-viral on twitter and learned a lot about how I think social media should be used), but it’s difficult to get that time when there’s still so much going on. Numerous events in my friend group, we’re moving to a new building at work, the Christmas holidays coming up, new year’s, trying to figure out what comes next after National Novel Writing Month is over, and the ever-persistent issues of my health (mental and physical) and debt situation. It never lets up! Which is an unfortunate fact of life. The only time and respite I get from all of the chaos of life is the time I make and even that comes with a cost. There could be a lot of important things I miss in my life if I’m constantly pulling myself away from it to get the breathing space to calmly reflect on things. At the same time, taking a break from life to reflect once every six months clearly isn’t cutting it. I’ve been trying to work it into daily life, but enough Big-Deal stuff happens in my life from one year to the next that I need more than the casual reflection I can fit into my day-to-day life.
I really miss summer or winter vacations. I haven’t really had one in almost a decade since I worked every break during college, but I still miss them all the same. I miss the weeks of decreased responsibility and relaxation I had to recover from the mental rigors of studying. The US seriously need to address the shortage of vacation and personal time infecting most of its… everything. Infecting every part of its wage-earning culture since this is a systemic issue from the bottom rung of the job later to all but the top. The top gets to do whatever they want so they don’t count. Except, you know, they do because they’re the ones causing most of the problems. This is not where I saw today’s blog post going. I had notes to talk about how sore my back is from sleeping on an incredibly firm mattress for three nights before returning to my very soft and comfortable mattress but now that just doesn’t seem like something worth complaining about more than I already have in the face of corporate and governmental corruption’s impact on the economic health of all but the upper class.
Uh, eat the rich, I guess? Down with capitalism as a government policy? We should definitely get money out of politics, though, and probably ban anyone over retirement age from holding public office. That seems like a decent start, but we should also consolidating voting to one day every year and make that day a national holiday instead of “Columbus Day” since we’re trying to move away from people who ruin everything and then insist they didn’t do anything. While I’m talking about it, we should also institute a living wage, actually put money into gun violence research, limit the sale of fire arms/enforce conscientious ownership using reasonable gun control laws (Chesus fucking Jrist, can’t we just treat them like goddamn cars or something? With tests, licenses, and ownership certificates? This doesn’t seem like that difficult a fucking concept to work with), put limitations on banks and the whole “move money around to magically make more of it” economic sector to prevent the kind of abuse that led to the subprime mortgage crisis, and ban anyone who is a white supremacist/white supremacy sympathizer from participating in reasonable adult society like the job market and politics? And a million dollars for me, while we’re at it. Since we’re talking about impossible dreams that aren’t likely to occur in my lifetime.
On that depressing note, I’m going to go work on my writing for today. I hope your day is going better than mine is (and I kinda hope you don’t read this blog and my summation of a lot of the catch-all problems in the US). I hope you’re making good progress on your National Novel Writing Month goals and I wish you the best of luck when it comes to finishing strong! I believe in you!
A person’s musical taste can say a lot about them. I like music with big words and complex lyrics that is also usually indie rock or some kind of alternative or folk, which says I’m pretty much a hipster. I also like punk, hip-hop, older country, jazz, and electric rock, which says so many different things that it kind of clouds the picture a bit until you realize I actually like anything that incorporates instrumentation and vocals well, which means I just like melodious music. And that I’m still kind of pretentious and hipster-ish. What kind of music does your protagonist like and what does that say about them? Write a scene involving music that lets your protagonist reveal a bit of themselves that might otherwise keep hidden.
The book series that probably impacted me the most as a writer (aside from, you know, the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings inspiring me to actually be a writer), is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. Not only does a read through his incredibly fun, clever, and quick books make me want to write, but his style of writing has shown me there’s room for writers with a voice like my natural one. His series and his writing is directly responsible for me starting to write like myself rather than as a mixture of my favorite writers. As anyone who has made the transition can tell you, that’s a pretty big deal. Also, as one of the biggest Fantasy series that isn’t full of giant tomes, it made me appreciate the value of a story told in three hundred pages, give or take fifty. There’s an elegance in simplicity if it’s done right and Terry Pratchett was a master of it.
As we approach the end of the month, there are probably more than a few of us who are behind on our word counts. I’m so far behind I’m going to be behind until the very last day when I finally hit fifty thousand words. For those of us trying to catch up or find a way to squeeze more words out of the day, I have a suggestion. At this point in the month, it should be relatively easy to get your regular words out. The issue is usually the extra words you need to catch up. For that, I suggest using what I call the “Milestone Method.” The idea is that you tell yourself “just another hundred words until I’ve rounded my total up to the nearest thousand” or “if I do three hundred thirty-three more words, I’ll have two thousand words done for today.” until you reach whatever your actual goal is. Try to pick amounts that you can easily reach in a short amount of time because that’ll make it feel more like sprinting toward the finish like rather than adding another lap to the marathon. I’ve gotten so used to this method that I have to consciously stop myself if I hit my writing target before I’m falling asleep at my computer. I only needed three thousand words yesterday, but I got myself up to thirty-five hundred so I could stop at a nice round thirty-six hundred. If you can break it down into smaller bites and track your word count accurately, it’s worth trying to slowly work your way forward.
As I sat at my desk with my therapy light going, trying to come up with something to write about for today’s blog post, I remembered a similar feeling from well over a year ago. From most of my life, actually. I’ve always been of the opinion that it is best to say nothing if you don’t have something worthwhile to say. We’ll, that particular thought has always been in my mind. It’s difficult to draw the line between something I’ve come to believe and something I was taught from an early age. They’re often related to each other in ways that aren’t necessarily clear. This one, though, is probably something I was taught early in life and internalized deeply enough that it became a strongly held belief.
Looking back, it’s pretty easy to see where I learned that lesson. As the second oldest of (eventually) five kids, it was difficult to get my parents’ attention. Not for me specifically, but for any of us. There was just so much going on as my parents tried to make not just their lives but the lives of the four little children they had (the youngest showed up a seven or eight years after the second youngest). They taught us a lot of things in order to cope with the sheer number of requests for attention, like waiting silently if someone is on the phone rather than constantly saying “mom” until we got a reaction. Or placing a hand on someone’s arm if we wanted their attention rather than yelling their name. Or going to look for someone to talk quietly rather than shouting across the house. Or trying to solve problems on our own before going to our parents. Or taking the time to decide if something was really important before bringing it to them. All of it points toward consideration for other people’s time and a thoughtful selection of what’s worth vocalizing.
There’s plenty of room to debate on whether or not thing was a good thing. I’m sure it made my parents’ lives easier when it actually worked and it taught me to be deliberate in everything I say which has helped me avoid saying something I’d come to regret when dealing with anger or sadness. The only real problem I see with it is the idea that holding back until you have something important to say lends power and worth to your words isn’t really how the world works. It may be how the world once worked, but I suspect that’s a bit of fiction we collectively tell ourselves to make it seem like the past was a more civilized time. I’m willing to bet the quiet considerate people who spoke only when they felt it was important were just as ignored back then as they are now. For similar reasons, too. I remember my first manager at my previous job telling me that I needed to speak up in meetings more if I wanted to climb the ladder. I told her that I generally didn’t have anything useful or constructive to add and I’ll never forget her response. “That’s not the point. You just need to appear like you’re contributing to the meeting so always say something about anything that comes up in a meeting.”
Needless to say, I refused. I still think this particular attitude toward meetings and competence is part of what’s wrong with corporate culture in every company or institution I’ve ever been a part of or heard about. The idea that someone will get promoted by constantly saying nothing important just so they appear to be involved in everything is probably why there are so many terrible managers in the workforce. Companies are literally promoting people who have done nothing useful except attach themselves to the accomplishments of others. It’s insane and I’d rather never get a promotion that get one because I’m faking competence.
Where this whole idea gets problematic is when it gets applied to my writing. I have had three other blogs before this one, all of them with the goal of updating every day or at least every other day, and none before this one ever survived very long. My common refrain, when talking to friends or writing teachers about it, was that I just couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say or write about. For a long time, the first year and a half of this blog’s existence, I did the same exact thing. I created this blog because I had something to talk about that I felt was important, and then I self-edited myself into silence by saying it wasn’t worth posting about all the time or by telling myself I should never repeat myself. Deciding to post every day for a year is what saved this blog from eventually be consigned to the trash heap like all the others. It also taught me that I have a lot that’s worth saying, even if I’ve said it before. A lot of things worth saying are worth saying multiple times and in many different ways. It takes practice to be able to do that, but so does every kind of writing.
I still often feel like I don’t have anything important to say, but I know that I still have a lot that’s worth saying. So even today, when I sat down and felt like there was nothing important on my mind or stirring inside me, I could find something worthwhile to say. It has taken a year of practice and several hundred thousand words worth of blog posts, but I can finally say that I’ve gotten over this particular hump. I may not be constantly keyed into all of the most important issues in the world, but my views and my thoughts are worth writing about. It’s really difficult to be a writer if you don’t believe that on some level or another. It still feels a little conceited sometimes, to be constantly putting my thoughts out there for everyone to find, but at least I’m not running an anti-vax or flat-earth blog. At least what I have to say isn’t really hurting people. Like the description of Earth from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’m proud to say the worst I am is “mostly harmless.”
Well, I’m sure I’m also a little caught up in my own stuff from time to time and there are probably a lot of people who find my inability to get directly to the point frustrating, but all that kind of fits under the “mostly harmless” descriptor in my opinion. Even if I’m not doing everything I want to be doing, I still feel like I’ve gotten past one of my major hurdles to writing. It’s a good feeling, to be honest, and I think I should add that to my list of personal triumphs to be celebrated.
I hope your holidays are wrapping up nicely and I hope you got a lot of writing done! Or, you know, at least ENOUGH writing done. We’re on our last calendar week of the month and we’ve only got six days of writing left, but that’s still enough time! It might take a lot of work (I’ve got eighteen thousand words left to write), but if we dig deep we can get it done! I believe in you and I am here to support you as best I can! Good luck!
Humans are endurance hunters. We aren’t really faster than most of the creatures we’ve hunted over the course of history, but we’re certainly more durable than most. Animals often die of shock from a single broken bone and yet humans can live through things that take all their limbs. On a less gruesome scale, we’re also really good at enduring long periods of stress and strain. We can go without sleep for a while and are generally pretty quick to get back into the thick of things once we’ve recovered. How does your protagonist handle this kind of endurance? Are they graceful under long-term stress, or will they crack quickly without proper care? Can they deny hunger or exhaustion when the chips are down and they need to keep moving forward? Write a scene showing us how well your protagonist can endure whatever you’re throwing at them.
If you need a new book series to read or a fantastic series of fantasy books that’ll make you see the potential of Fantasy in a whole new light, you should check out The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. Technically, they’re classified as Urban Fantasy, but they helped solidify the genre as its own independent genre that doesn’t need to rely on vanilla Fantasy for shelf space. It still usually does because most bookstores dislike that level of granular sorting in the books since alphabetizing things is a pain, but I’ve gone a bit further afield than I meant to. The series is creative, the protagonist actually grows from a misogynistic egotistical jackass into a real human being who is CLEARLY out of his league and only surviving due to a mixture of luck, audacity, and lateral thinking. At least at first. More recently, things have changed pretty significantly so there’s been a big shift in the formula for the stories and that’s super exciting. You should check them out and get into a great series whose newest book COULD be coming out soon! Sometime in 2019! Probably!
If you’re having a difficult time working your way through a scene, trying drawing it out. Not lengthening it, but putting a pen or pencil to paper and representing it with images or something. I like to use bubble charts when I’ve got a busy scene to write and I need to keep track of too many people to juggle while writing. Since I play a lot of Dungeons and Dragons, I’ll do “round graphs.” The idea is that I represent the movements through the scene in six second intervals (skipping ahead a bunch when no one is moving) without attaching dialogue to the rounds because talking is a free action. If there’s a lot of dialogue between a lot of people who are also moving around, I’ll add dialogue trees to the rounds. If I’m trying to get some key element of a scene worked in smoothly instead of tracking a bunch of people or their speech, I’ll write down the core of that element and slowly wrap layers around it until it can fit in the scene. For instance, if I’m trying to show grief in each of the characters, I’ll start with what they’re sad about, how they feel about their grief, how they show their grief, how they think they’re showing their grief, and how other people see their grief. From there, it’s easier to just plop it into the scene where appropriate because I can just go to the correct layer for each character depending on narratorial perspective. The idea can work for pretty much anything, so I recommend experimenting with it until you figure out how to apply it for your own writing.