obligatory july post

I know I haven’t posted anything in a while. I have no real excuse other than I have been writing, just not any blog posts. The body of one book is barely cold and I’ve already started on another.

This one is a comedy, which is a nice change. It certainly makes life lighter.

I am finding a slight frustration, however, in the fact that I seem to keep jumping all over the place in terms of genre and style. I find I switch modes for each project and sort of adopt a different voice for each piece. Perhaps the differences are only really apparent to me, but it makes me feel reluctant to pick one and run with it, lest I find myself tied to that genre or style.

But anyway. The current piece I’m working on is what I think of as my “Default Mode,” which is basically the same writing style I use writing my blog pieces. It’s how I write when I just write and I suppose there’s something refreshing in that.

It is also a genre piece but only in the sense it riffs explicitly on genre. Perhaps I have been implicitly working through my frustrations.

We’ll see how it goes. It’s a fun, fairly episodic project, so I’ve been toying with the idea of posting it online. Maybe when I’ve got a bit more of it under my belt.

Anyway. Writing aside, life goes ever on as it does. Husband and I are moving. AGAIN. We found out a few months ago that our landlord is selling the place, so we’ve been keeping an eye out for a nice condo, and we found one…. ACROSS THE STREET.

As this is our fourth place we’ve had in New West, I realized we’re perilously close to forming a golden spiral across the landscape.

Is this cause for concern?

Mildly concerning. If I were a character in a Dan Brown novel, perhaps.

Whatever. I love New West. Unabashedly. We have good craft beer, good food, and they just put in a rainbow crosswalk for Pride Week. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before I dedicate a whole post to it.

writing and the importance of just getting it done

After extensive note-taking and a few false starts, just over two months ago, I actually sat down and starting writing that young adult subterranean fiction piece I first thought of more than half my life ago. (it is now best described as *bracing myself* a dystopian YA novel-meets-Jane Austen.)

I’ve learned through this project the importance of persistence.

I learned how to effectively deal with something that’s not working. Rather than just giving up or sitting around waiting for it to get better I learned to change my approach.

I started writing this story just for fun, just to write and see what happens.

That got me through two or three chapters and then I petered out. This is part of a larger pattern and is why I have so many unfinished projects. I lose steam. I lose my way. I don’t know where to take it from there.

So I tried something different this time. My message to myself was: Just finish it, goddamnit. Who cares how good it is? This is a first draft. Stop your worrying, Ashleigh.

The idea of writing a whole book is always daunting. So I tried something different. I decided to focus on smaller goals, smaller hurdles.

I told myself to just write one page. One page to outline what the story would be: beginning, middle, end.

One page was easy.

Then I took that one page and delineated the beginning, middle and end into three clear parts: First Act, Second Act, Third Act.*

And then I took the three acts and wrote one page for each.

Again, focusing on just doing one page is easy. And it’s okay if every sentence starts with “and then.” These are just notes. The “and thens” are what you want to figure out right now.

Sometime during all of this, I arbitrarily decided that 75,000 words was a good length for a YA fantasy novel. I also arbitrarily decided that 3000 words sounded like a good length for each chapter. So there I had it: twenty-five chapters.

Forgetting for the sake of maths, the first chapter that I’d already written as something of a prologue, I was left with eight chapters per act.

I took what I’d written for each act and a different colour pen and separated the page into eight sections, each section a sentence or two.

I then expanded each sentence or two into a one page. This might seem daunting because that immediately meant I had to write twenty-four pages, one per chapter, but this was the fun part. This is the part where I flushed out all those “and thens” and made sure they actually flowed.

You might bang your head on the desk a few times when you realize that you can’t find an adequate character motivation for a certain “and then” that you’d been banking on and then things change and evolve. But that is the beauty of this thing called writing. It’s just as much discovering the story and characters as it is making it up. If it doesn’t flow naturally, something is not working.

This part of the exercise I found invaluable because twenty-four pages might sound like a lot, but it is certainly better than having written 150 before you find out a key part you’d been banking on isn’t going to work. And you’re not worried about style or sentence structure, because you’re just making notes. It’s the best way to find out if the story sinks or swims. The stakes are still low and you will have identified any major problems before you’re already too far gone.

Anyway.

From there, I had roughly 300 words per page, which would then be expanded to 3000. For some chapters, this was as good enough a place to just sit down and start writing as any. For others, I hit a block and needed an even stricter approach.

For about half of the chapters (All the Act Two ones; I have a huge problem with second acts. I blame F. Scott Fitzgerald.), I actually broke it down further into scenes or subjects and applied word count goals to each. Then, it was as if I didn’t have to write a whole 3000-word chapter, I just had to write one 250-word scene where the main character rides a horse. Easy. Write a few of those and then you’ve got a chapter.

When stuck, break it down to a page at a time. Or even a paragraph at a time. Sometimes, the first couple sentences are the hardest and then it flows. Most times, it’s just getting going that’s the hard part. Once you’ve started, you’re golden. You just have to force yourself to write that first paragraph. Just get it done.

When I’m trying to write, I set myself word goals a day. The easy default is 1000 words a day.

I used to meet this goal adequately enough before, but once I really set this level of organization to this project, I slowly started writing more and more each day. By the time I got into Act Three, I was writing an entire chapter – all 3000 words – a day. For the last several chapters, I was writing two chapters a day.

Another bit of discipline that I forced on myself was to not go back and read over what I had written. Not until it was all done. I would finish a page – just one page – print it off, stick it with the others, and keep moving forward. One page at a time. I didn’t want to get into that cycle of editing while I write, constantly going back and then pushing forward.

I wanted to focus on the forest not the trees. I will edit it all together when the first draft is done.

So, here I am. Done.

The whole thing is 81,000 words right now. But 81,000 words in two months marks me as the most prolific I’ve ever been. That’s not even counting other stuff I wrote this month. It’s amazing how focusing on writing one thing makes you already ‘in the zone’ for writing other things.

And now I am prepared to read that first draft over again and just see how terrible or magnificent it actually is. But even if it is terrible, that’s okay, because the hard part is over. It is done.

All I have to do now is edit, and editing can polish a turd into a diamond, that’s for sure.

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*This is a good starting point for breaking down structure. It’s something I learned from working in film, but it gives you a spine and then you just have to fill in the blanks. It will either help you get over any humps in the brainstorming process or give you a placeholder to put in until you work out the finer points.

Unmasked with Crab Fat!

IMG_4382A short story of mine – a slightly awkward New Journalism-inspired piece – is up online at Crab Fat Literary Magazine.

Unmasked! is an expose of the long-since retired superhero as he at long last reveals his true identity to the world.

I’m quite pleased with this piece, but I’ve been sitting on it for a while. It’s such an odd little number that it’s been hard to place with a publication. (Naturally, a magazine called Crab Fat seemed the logical solution.)

the winter months

Sometimes I feel like an asshole for complaining about the winter when I live in Vancouver. I see photos posted by friends who live elsewhere in Canada and they deal with Real Winter.

Real Winter, to me, is snow and toques and leaving for work half-an-hour early to navigate the ice. Real Winter only really lasts a day or two – a week, tops – in Vancouver. The rest of the season is characterized by grey skies, rain, and just… darkness. rain Thus, Vancouver privilege and all, the winter months are always a bit of a lull. This is so common for me, in fact, that I expect the annual mental health lull and try to steer into the curve. I force myself to make something productive come of my desire to spend all winter in my pajamas. I read. I write. I make dates with people I haven’t seen in a while. I catch up on all the Oscar movies.

This year, however, was just too much. On top of the grey sky blues, my sister got married, work consisted of on-going computer problems my boomer colleagues left me to solve, and I was struggling with crazy writer’s block. My life is easily segmented into four parts and all four of them were shitty.

One could think of these four parts as realms:

The Social Realm, including family, friends, all other personal relationships, and my domestic life. This realm is an easy one to take for granted. For an introvert like me, relationships take work. I don’t cross paths with too many people during the course of my daily life. I have to make time for people. And this is hard, because whenever I get free time, there’s usually so much more I would rather be doing. Like nothing.

The Work Realm. I really wish this weren’t a thing, but alas, that’s the world we live in. I wish work was something I could incorporate into one of the other realms, but I can’t. At least not now. Work is this thing that just sits there in the middle of my life sucking time. I try my best to incorporate what I can into my work life, including writing, or making lunch dates, or trying to get exercise. However, this all is required to take place during my lunch break, and by the time lunch rolls around, it’s Sophie’s Choice and I’m so paralyzed by indecision that I just end up scrolling Tumblr for an hour.

The Mental Realm, or “My Inner Life/Sense of Self.” This pretty much means that constant battle in my head between happy and sad or Good Mood vs Bad Mood, and generally feels beyond my conscious control. So much of this is at the mercy of the other realms. But sometimes the other realms suffer solely because this realm is suffering. And then they influence each other back and forth in a horrifying dialectic most commonly referred to as a “downward spiral.”

The Creative Realm. I almost labelled this the Writing Realm, but writing isn’t my only outlet, even if it is my most important. I don’t know if everyone has this realm, but I like to think that most people have some kind of creative outlet. Perhaps it’s just my own artistic myopia, but I can’t imagine living a life without creating something somehow, be it whittling sticks, making model trains, or designing avatars for World of Warcraft.

The impulse takes me to arrange these realms like a hierarchy of needs, but that wouldn’t do it justice. For instance, The Work Realm is the least important to me emotionally, but it’s the one that must be taken care of first. If it isn’t, I lose my job. It’s that simple. The Mental Realm is probably the most important, emotionally speaking, but it’s the one that’s the hardest to maintain. There are just so many variables. The Social Realm is thus the first to suffer, at least in a visible way. It’s just so easy to not make plans. It’s so easy to take people for granted. It’s so easy to give into that drive to keep to myself. I need alone time. But sometimes an overdue conversation with an old friend does wonders.

And, as it both feels extraneous yet is totally necessary, the Creative Realm requires discipline. But, for some reason, it’s so much easier to apply discipline to this than any of the other realms. And it’s so much easier to fall apart when I get stuck. If I hit a writing wall, I can try another outlet, like drawing or zine-making, but it just isn’t the same. I need to write. It feels like the hook on which everything else hangs. If one of the other realms suffers, I can usually power through by focusing on another. But if I go too long without writing, it eats away at me. (It’s like I based too much of my identity on this or something… weird.)

That’s why I try to set goals. I try to write 1000 words a day (and let weekends slide a little because I’m not fucking crazy).

In the fall, I was hitting a wall with the project I was working on, so I forced myself to try other things. A new project with no pressure might be good, I told myself. But, as the other realms collapsed over the winter, I hit a wall too high. I was lucky if I got 500 words a week done. On anything. I couldn’t even muster a blog post.

It was really starting to wear at me in a way that I know must seem ridiculous. But when I can’t write, it feels like some intrinsic part of myself is locked off and I can’t access it. It’s like that irritating, itchy feeling when you can’t remember the name of something but it’s on the tip of your tongue. Just imagine having that feeling all the time and you don’t even know what it is you’re trying to remember the name of.

I needed a solution. I had to force myself to write something. Anything.

I needed to let go of the idea that it had to be good. Husband even gave his words of support: “You do you, boo.”

So I thought about what it was that might have been holding me back. I had managed to write several decent openings for different pieces, but quickly lost momentum. I was struggling with world building. I was struggling with character building. This is not something easily overcome by sitting down and brainstorming it all out, like I do with a plotting problem. I need to feel a setting. I need to intrinsically know a character. (And the themes are always an after-thought. Like Dumbo’s ability to fly, there were there all along but only realized at the end.)

So… anyway…. here it is: I wrote fan fiction.

Ugh. I did. I have no problem with fan fiction at all, I just never thought writing it was for me. I wrote a piece once at the request of Dr. Roommate that crossed-over her favourite character of mine with Sandor Clegane, and, while I wrote my own character fine, I found it awkward writing someone else’s character. As I said earlier, I need to intrinsically know a character, and I didn’t think I could do that with a character that wasn’t mine. It was like wearing someone else’s shoes.

But I could. I did. And although it felt weird at times, the exercise of writing fan fiction worked wonders.

I didn’t have to build a world or characters; that was all done for me. I could just drop them in a plot or conversation without needing to provide context. It was like taking a warp pipe around the writer’s block. While my writer’s block is not perfectly removed, the frustration of not being able to write at all is gone. It’s like a fog lifting.

And now it’s a sunny day and all.

Maybe I’ll go out for a walk.

on keeping a log-line book

I keep tiny notebooks of log-lines. These are brief kernels – nay, seeds – of a story.

For instance:

A bored office worker finds himself stuck in a carpool with his most annoying co-worker.

Or:

Ted wakes up in the morning to find a werewolf drinking a cup of coffee and reading the newspaper at his kitchen table.

(Aside“Ted” and “Lucy” are my go-to placeholder names. It’s rather helpful, as sometimes just trying to think of a name, even if it takes ten seconds, can mean losing your crazy train of thought.)

I write these log-lines down, one per page. Maybe I can flesh them out into something later; maybe not. Sometimes I will make myself sit down and come up with, say, ten log-lines. Then, I will sit there and think of them, just to write them down then forget them.

It’s a simple exercise, the point of which is really just to start thinking. It helps focus what I’ve got rattling around in my head. A lot of the ideas are terrible, but sometimes just writing them down so I can forget them is a good way to deflate that bloat that creeps into your creative process.

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There are so many log-lines I have that I just know I will never write. Mostly because they are either a joke that only I found funny, or because they just seemed too gimmicky, in either structure or conceit, or because, as much as I would want to read them, they aren’t the sort of thing I could write.

These are a few of those unpolished gems. If they somehow strike a chord with you, by all means, write away. Just promise me you’ll let me read the results!

 In a big “whoopsie” moment, NASA accidentally destroys the moon, wreaking havoc on planet Earth.

A series of passive-aggressive post-it notes left between two roommates escalates quickly beyond control into an all-out war.

Desperate to get home to London for a wedding during the Icelandic volcano eruption of 2010, Lucy finds an ad on Craigslist posted by Ted, who is driving from Greece to London and is looking for a carmate to share the cost… these two strangers navigate a traveller-ridden Europe in a race against time.

Lucy suspects her boss is writing a novel… about her.

Ted collects porcelain dolls but can’t relate to people… until the precocious kid next door arrives with intent to harm.

An atheist and a creationist who fell in love at first sight are at the end of their first date and are about to discover each other’s beliefs.

Two Bridget Jones-ish roommates are suddenly put upon to take care of a friend’s baby for the weekend.

Little Red Riding Hood reaches the cabin in the woods to duel her arch nemesis, the Big, Bad Wolf, but this time, he’s brought back up, so she summons the rest of “The Hoods,” Yellow Riding Hood, Blue Riding Hood, Black Riding Hood and Pink Riding Hood (the boy), and when their powers combine…

Two geeks argue over triple word scores as the Apocalypse sounds off all around them and they just want to get one last game of Scrabble in.

Machines are taking over the world, one pocket calculator at a time. Calculations are wrong! Computer run time errors predicate doom! It is the most passive-aggressive Terminator ever.

As an old cat reflects on his nine lives well led, the Ghost of Nine Lives Past visits and shows him how he could have led a more selfish, vain, greedy, cat-like life.

In a fit of idealism, a typesetter for a famous 16th century printer places a typo in a copy of the bible… which leads to blasphemous consequences.

Ted changes the world when he discovers a film developing fluid that allows people to have conversations with photographs. Suddenly, history is changed, he’s rich and famous, but then he discovers an old roll with the grandfather he never knew. Does he want to delve into his own family’s secret past?

A woman and her husband’s best friend are on the verge of an affair. Just as they are about to tell him, he dies suddenly and they are stuck on how to proceed.

Delighted with how he got spoiled for his birthday, twenty-three-year-old Ted fakes a terminal illness in order to manipulate his family into spending time with him on his own terms.

Five people from all over the world find themselves all in the same spot at the same time: Pont des Arts in Paris. They are strangers and this was not planned; something is drawing them together.

A young girl can remember her past lives after a troubling accident. As the details start to piece themselves together, she realises one common – and horrifying – thread.

An Irish gypsy girl falls in love with an investment banker. It is not so much Romeo-and-Juliet as it is the profitable tinsmith business in the UK.

A young graduate student embarks on an affair with the academic rival of his research supervisor (who is also his mentor/father-figure).

A naïve young celebrity forms a unique bond with her dentist following a series of visits to correct her “unmarketable” overbite.

A ditzy frat bro takes to the road with the outcast valedictorian after the duo unwittingly steals a valuable piece of property from the university.

A ghostwriter who never gets credit for their work is tasked with the autobiography of a selfish socialite. When it’s clear her subject could care less, the ghostwriter takes liberties to the extreme, blowing the celebrity social world wide open.

A middle-class drug dealer is forced to hide his lifestyle when his religious sister and her two precocious children come to stay after her husband walks out.

A travel guide writer finds the easiest way to do his job is to sit in train stations talking to people, until he meets someone worth following around the world.

The clerk in the head-of-state’s office in charge of writing the 100th birthday letters has an existential crisis and decides to hand-deliver the letters.

When the ghost of a supervillain begins stalking the corridors who is there to stop him? Ouija boards and séances underway, can they summon the ghost of the superhero who defeated him in life?

Whilst playing an historical RPG, Ted realizes that his changes are starting to have real-world effects… for instance, when his CG counterpart prevents the Norman invasion, the entire face of Britain changes.

A lonely forest ranger discovered the body of a disappeared hiker. As he waits three days through a snow storm for the authorities to arrive, he discovers the hiker’s diary and the secrets it keeps.

A downtown waterfront condo development goes awry when the old, disused train tracks they were about to dig up suddenly come to life: a train is chugging down them…

the rubbermaid tub of broken dreams

In a fit of nostalgia-fueled panic, I dug with gusto into this blue tub I keep in the closet that houses all the old poetry and scripts and stories I wrote in my teenage years.

This is not a metaphor. I hope.

That blue tub contains horrors and treasures in equal measure. Like some kind of acne-speckled Cave of Wonders.

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But the reason for this spelunking expedition seemed straight-forward enough at the time. My ambition for my own work was starting to frustrate me. I felt like I couldn’t start to plot something out or brainstorm without trying to add complicating layers. I’d come up with a plot-point or character tic and then my mind would spiral off into a million tangents, like light through a prism. But it was neither that beautiful nor that cliche; my mind just felt… overwhelmed.

Or, even worse, I would start to obsess over what it all means. This is not necessarily a problem, but when it comes with a lack of plot progression or character development, then I’m stuck. I might be staring down the barrel of something that sounds brilliant, but I can’t actually write it.

Working under the assumption that these murky depths in my writing came like layers, one with each year of my life, I decided to find a story idea from my younger years. Somehow, I thought, I could peel back those layers to get to the core. Somewhere down there was a simple narrative along the lines of girl-meets-boy-then-dies-horrifically-in-battle.

I just needed something… simple… to clear my head. I’d become too bogged-down. For me, writing is like that old myth about sharks drowning if they stop swimming. I’ve got to keep writing. As soon as I lose momentum, it takes forever for me to start going again. Weeks. Months. Years, sometimes.

So I needed something where I could just sit down and start writing. Something simple.

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Not counting some ridiculousness about teenagers taking road trips that I wrote when I was twelve, the first story I had that I really fleshed out was a science fiction epic (that leaned a little too heavily on Hollow Earth nonsense).

When I started telling Husband all these laughable ideas I had when I was a teenager, he asked me more about this one. For the better part of a forty-minute car ride, I dove into the story, surprised at how much of this world I created when I was thirteen came back to me.

It’s been well over fifteen years since I’ve even thought about it. I’d long ago banished it to the realm of absurd shit I used to think was cool. (Some of the company it kept: post-grunge pop punk and shiny plastic peacoats.) I’d assumed it was terrible.

But it’s… not.

Which is surprising. There are problems with the first couple of chapters I already had, naturally, but the premise is sound. Even if you ignore the stupidity of Hollow Earth crap and just go with it. Hell, subterranean fiction is it’s own genre with a deep mythology.

I started over from the beginning on Tuesday and I’m already over 5000 words in. That’s farther than I ever got before.

Subterranean homesick blues, indeed.

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– Anne McCaffrey

the indolent muse

k133624_lIt always seems the way.

After months – nay, years! – of complaining that I just don’t have enough time to write, that I have to struggle to make time, that I have to make hard choices like not going to that social gathering and not keeping the house clean and not, you know, having children, I find myself with plenty of time but no creative urges.

Perhaps the free time does something my brain. When I’m busy, I daydream like crazy. Ideas crop up everywhere! And all I can do is lament the fact that I am too busy to act upon them. When so much is going on around me, I have to force myself to focus. Those proverbial several plates spinning at once force me all in: firing on all cylinders, using 100% of my brain, however you want to describe it. That’s when I’m at my best. But I can’t keep it up for long; it’s a sprinting state of mind, not a marathon.

I’m sure a psychology major out there could confirm that this is a thing. That happens. To normal people. I am normal.

Maybe.

And then when I’m bored, I struggle. I get lazy. Nothing challenges me and thus I don’t challenge myself. I’m Ashleigh stripped of anything of value: a car parked for too long in the bad part of town.

Now that I’ve identified this problem, I can take steps towards overcoming it.

Unless… I just let myself enjoy this a little longer. Like a vacation. Let me just finish up a few shows on Netflix. Read a few more books. Maybe finally finish crocheting that blanket that’s been at scarf-size for a while now.

Maybe actually update this blog a little more?

Yes. Yes, that might be nice.

writing without words… not as a deep as it sounds

I’m on the homestretch. The opus of my twenties is nearing completion. Yes, I realize that I am now thirty, but I’ve been working on this project more or less since I was twenty-five. I have about 100 manuscript pages left in my LAST PASS and shit is getting real.

barney - this is totally going in my blog

It’s been hard to focus on anything else. I’ve only polished other drafts, began and abandoned a dozen other books, and submitted existing works for publication (including this shameless plug about a piece coming out in an anthology soon – details to come!).

adam scott celebratory wink

Where does this leave me mentally? I can’t really describe it.

You can't handle this

Really. I can’t. All my words are dried up and my brain is dead. I took a nap about three hours before my bedtime. That’s the state of the union here. The republic still stands, but its knees are shaky.

Cersei more wine

I desperately want to describe what this literary journey has been like, but I just don’t think I have it in me right now. I ate chocolate cake for dinner.

tl dr

So I raided the gif folder on our desktop. After a certain point (in the day; in the twenty-first century), gifs will become the only mode of self-expression. Thus, I promise, promise, promise this will the last time I use a gif to illustrate a point on this blog.

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I take that back. I don’t want to make that promise. I fucking love gifs.

Ginsberg - get out while you can

So, yeah. Sorry. Not sorry.

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Anyway.

varys head bonk

This is kinda how the whole five-year-long writing process went. More or less. On a bright and dismal July morning in 2009 the idea struck.

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Pirates, I thought, are awesome. But what if they were IN SPACE.

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It might just have been crazy enough to work. (Probably not, but I was hungover.)

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The brainstorming part of the creative process began.

professional magician do not attempt

And continued…

professional magician do not attempt 2

Seriously. I spent 22 STRAIGHT HOURS making notes that first sweet day. I had a sunburn on half of my body and a crick in the neck like a horrible acupuncture session gone wrong. I went through two pens and a whole mechanical pencil.

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Eventually – about a year later – emboldened by the creative methodology I’d honed in film school, I sat down at the computer and started writing.

Tom Hanks enjoys the internet

And it went really well for a while. I scribbled in notebooks and typed away like a mad man trapped in an endless comments section loop. I gave up on socialization; gave up on showering; basically, gave up on real life.

Bill Nye screaming head through space

After about a year of that, I finished my first draft. Excited by the idea of space pirates, Dr. Roommate wanted to read it. I was terrified.

Worf peek

She said she loved it.

karl pilkington bullshit

She threw the manuscript across the room when I killed off one of the characters, and even started shipping another character with Sandor Clegane.

betty can't believe your shit

But she had notes. And I had not quite been happy with that draft. It’s easy to lose perspective of the objective qualities of one’s own work. That is why notes from others always help; they at least open you up to new opinions. Anyway. Revisions began.

Joffrey hates booksAnd went on.

dog typing

And on.

Fozzie fuck

And on.

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Holy hell. It was really painful guys.

barney robin

I’m finally ended up with a draft I was happy enough with. In retrospect that happiness was a lie. At some point earlier in this journey, the masochistic tendencies wore off and I just wanted it to be over. There were problems with the manuscript, but it was easier to ignore them than fix them. Especially when you simply don’t know HOW to fix them.

kevin spacey smile

It is much less emotionally damaging to buy the lie you tell yourself! Hell, it was easy to believe! An agent even expressed interest!

davidmitchellBut she told me that – at 160,000 words – I had a lot of cutting to do. I had to get down to the thick of the plot.

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But then I never heard from the agent again.

life is pointless and nothing matters

So nothing happened for a while. Because that’s sort of the way things go.

cat with butterfly on paw

In the meantime, I wrote a whole other novel. I got married. I moved to England. I moved back. I convinced myself pirates in space was stupid and terrible and a waste of four years of my life.

m gustave runs away

Eventually, in a fit of navel-gazing, I decided to read my elegant tale over again, expecting to find a hideous fragment of a past life: an artifact I could hold up as an example of how much better a writer I’d become since way back when.

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But no. It was actually… pretty good. The distance from it gave me more of an objective perspective.

Mad Men swag team

Perhaps I was a genius after all!

Aasif Mandvi condescending nod

But there were still issues. Something was off with the book but I couldn’t quite say what.

suspicious lucille bluth

In all that time while I thought I was running away, I was learning to trust myself. I learned that art takes work. I learned that this book could be something special but it wouldn’t happen by accident. I needed to tell the story I wanted to read. Eyes open, I was finally able to discover the problem at the root of the book. It was the voice.

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This meant, of course, going right back to the root and blowing it all up.

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I could make this good – I could make this work – but it would mean essentially rewriting the whole thing.

buscemi

There were a lot of tough questions I would have to ask myself.

Dean doesn't get it

How convincing are my characters?

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And their conflicts?

girl fights

Do they develop and change over time, as shaped by their experiences? demon!dean

What about subtext?

Wayne Lenin Party On

And emotion?

Captain America right in the feels

Are the shocking moments actually shocking?

Daily Show spit take

The humour actually humourous?

Firefly LMAO

As it stood, everything was… adequate.

Steve McQueen Oscar clap

So as I readied myself for this undertaking, suddenly overwhelmed and panicking, Husband decided he would like to read it. I love him and trust his judgment; he’s a harsh critic and a terrible liar. What’s the worst that could happen?

Troy having a bad time

So he finishes the book and delivers his verdict: it’s not long enough. Simple as. (Which makes me frustrated with the old advice from the agent, she of word counts and plot supremacy.)

carrie - fuck this shit

I had been so worried about plot but Husband just wanted to spend more time with the characters. He wanted more backstory.

Castiel - sorry

So there it was – no more revisions – just more writing.

Sleepy worker bunny

Which is always the fun part.

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No really. It is. I promise.

Ron Swanson throwing out computer

And he was right. He was SO right. At LAST the book works! Finally it is something I truly love. It’s the characters people want to spend time with; it’s their fate the reader sticks around for. I should have learned this lesson from Dr. Roommate, but I just hadn’t yet learned to trust myself back then.

Sally Draper sees the Beatles

So I’ve printed it out and am currently going through this last draft with a thick, red pen.

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At the end of the day, it’s my story, not an agent’s. At the end of it all, I don’t care how long it is; I just care how much I enjoy reading it.    payday

It would be nice if something came of it, but that no longer feels essential. There’s no point in shooting for the moon when you can curl up with a good book.

dog fail

when I was thirteen a thesaurus lied to me

ataraxiaContrary to the alleged wisdom of Roget’s Super Thesaurus 1995 edition (what deemed it “super” the tome never explained): “poetry” and “prose” are NOT synonyms. Thirteen-year-old me did not realize this. I trusted the almighty power of the printed word. Old notebooks now hold embarrassing hand-lettered titlepages. Of course, by “hand-lettered,” I mean letters cut from Seventeen magazine like a ransom note.

I digress.

Full disclosure: I don’t write poetry very often.

Any more at least. Between the ages of twelve and seventeen, I filled nearly a dozen hand-written journals with my awkward, adolescent odes. In some of the earlier volumes, I hadn’t even mastered the dexerity required for elegant cursive writing. And I consulted the aforementioned thesaurus far too often, believing this great book to be the key to it all, thus peppering my poems with endless malapropisms.

I don’t think I’ve gotten better with age.

Anyway.

I’ve written a total of about four poems in the last seven years. Two are terrible. Another two, not so bad.

One of those not-so-bad two, Madrid, Before a Recession, appears in Ataraxia Vol. 4, available here.

When I first wrote this poem, nearly six years ago, it was simply titled Madrid.

I sat on it for a while. Years passed.

Looking at it again, it suddenly became something of a time capsule. (Like a thesaurus from 1995.) And a rather accidental one at that.

Thus, the renaming.