Feeling like marmalade on toast.

I’m spread soooo thin. I need to… I don’t know. Stop freaking out about the workload.

I have to have mentioned this somewhere in a previous post, but man, I have a lot of projects running at once. Here’s a glimpse of what we’re dealing with here:

  1. Doing research for a doc.
  2. Multiple (!) novels, the most highly prioritized ones being the following three: a) SJL, my oldest and most complete one, despite being far from finished; b) 485 Days (that’s the shortened title actually), with the unintentional author-insert protagonist I mentioned a couple days ago; c) Funny Little Man, about a twenty-something guy working to get his life together (oh look everyone, I think I’ve got a theme going).
  3. A probably-never-going-to-happen webseries that I’m wholly and inexorably smitten with. I can’t stop thinking about it even when I know I should work on other stuff. (UGH, I love these characters to death.) This is what’s eating most of my work time.
  4. One screenplay, and a couple of screenplay-esque something or others.
  5. A handful of short stories (some finished, most in progress) that I’d eventually like to put together in a collection.
  6. A partridge in a pear tree (I know you saw that joke coming, but it would have been disappointing if I hadn’t made it, right? Right?).

It’s ridiculous, I know. Ridiculous and unsustainable. “Do it all at once” is not a good way to approach anything. Ever. In life. At all. Ever.

And amazingly, that list is actually still excluding a lot of material that I intend to get back to eventually.

I spend a lot of writing time just clicking through my folders, thinking, “Well, they all look good. In a list.” But they’re all unfinished, and it drives me nuts. I can’t concentrate on one project at a time because I’m thinking about all the other unfinished stuff I’ve got in the queue. I click and fiddle around doing a little here, a little there, but not a whole lot anywhere.

Several months ago I sat down and made a weekly chart. I worked out days and times to work on every single piece. I tacked it to the wall beside my computer. Then I ignored it completely.

Does anyone have any good advice for learning to take things one step at a time and to focus?

And for not screwing up bullets/numbers/indents in the post editor, because seriously guys, why did formatting that list take me at least twenty minutes to get right?  It’s still not quite how I wanted either.

Next post, surely: anyone have good advice on how to stop complaining? here, have more complaints

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Peace and quiet, or lack thereof.

I don’t live alone, and so I have little time and space to myself.

When I listen to music, I use headphones. The others, not so much. On weekends, there’s often music going, out loud, from as early as 8 am to well into the afternoon.

I have a desktop computer located in a shared room. I used to have a laptop, but it exploded. Long story. Anyway, you can imagine the complications this results in. I think this is part of the reason I became so much of a night owl over the last seven or so years of my life. It’s the only time when I’m, in one way or another, alone. It’s dark and peaceful. The rest of the world seems to stop for a few hours. I don’t have anyone or thing to answer to.

I have a plan. A fantasy, really. Someday, when I’ve got the free time, I’m going to check into a hotel for several days, someplace far out of the city. Someplace scenic. I’ll check in. Hide the clocks. Take the tv remote down to the front desk and tell them to keep it from me. Then, I’ll lock myself in the room and write for as long as I can. I’ll stop to eat. I’ll stop to take walks. I’ll stop to sleep at night, or take a brief siesta in the afternoon. That’s about it.

I know I’m not the only writer to do that. I’m just wondering if it really works. Maybe it’s something I really need to look into. At the moment I feel like my concentration’s been shattered, like I’ve got all the focus of an anxious squirrel.

I’m curious as to how the need of and search for quiet time and private space affects other writers. Just how prevalent is this feeling? Is it possible that I’d be a lot further along if I could just get some time away?

I’ll continue to tell myself that…

Real life changes the plot? Also, Nanowrimo!

Very serious question I’ve been pondering: What do you do when a real-life personal tragedy mirrors the fictional tragedy occurring in the work you are composing?

For example: a character passes away in a very specific kind of car accident. Then, a close friend’s family member passes away in an eerily similar, if not identical car accident.

You can’t just change things, not now. Can you? Are you obligated to, out of politeness?  This sort of incident brings up tons of questions I have regarding showing sensitivity while depicting tragedy, especially if there’s a possibility that it could hit closer to home for than you ever anticipated. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no answers.

Also: today is the first day of November, which means a number of writers are embarking on the difficult task of finishing an entire novel by the end of the month. I’ve never participated in Nanowrimo officially, although as the tags indicate I’ve used it as an opportunity to try completing one of my novels. Go ahead and check those out if you’re interested in reading the chronicles of a writer slowly unraveling, you know, if you need inspiration in a vaguely schadenfreudey kind of way. This year will be much more relaxed. Since I’ve been writing everyday anyway, I’ll try to stay current and update on progress when necessary. Good luck to everyone participating!

Daggers, or puppies.

I often find myself sitting uselessly in front of my computer with one or several of my manuscripts open and waiting.

I’m often excited, at the potential of the work. Excited about where the story will be going. I’m also anxious. I’m worried I’m not getting enough done. Worried I’m not doing the story justice, and that I could never do it justice. There’s a huge spectrum of feelings I travel along when I sit down in front of my work in the morning.

I’m noticing a shift in my default reaction, though. Before, I would look at them and in a way those words would look back, and I’d feel vaguely taunted. “Wow, have you got issues. You may never get this done, at your rate.”

Now, we are both older, and the taunting has given way to something else. Something more sympathetic, or pitying maybe, and fatigued. The story longs for completion as much as I long to complete it. Instead I hear, “Look, we’ve been at this dance long enough. We’ve seen every corner of this ballroom. My shoes pinch and my feet are tired. It’s four in the morning. Can we just be done with this already?”

Yes. I’d like that too.

If only I could stop staring at you. Just. Staring… at you.

Really, I don’t know how to stop it. Sitting down and getting started for the day continues to be the hardest part. Might be the pressure. I’ve always been one to duck my way out of high-pressure situations, opting to throw on my headphones and pretend the high stakes don’t exist.

I’ve been working on my longest and oldest in-progress piece for almost eight years. It’s gone through rewrites, four restarts, a couple of major plot changes, three different names for my protagonist (third time’s absolutely the charm), one Nanowrimo attempt, and a loss of over 100 pages worth of progress.

So how long? I mean, really?

Eliminating the fear of one’s voice.

Imagine with me: you’re making home movies with a video camera, or maybe playing with the little doohickey on your laptop. You get wrapped up in the fun of goofing off with friends and/or family. You laugh boisterously. You are loud, to keep your sister from making a point that would jokingly embarrass you. You interrupt. You cram brownies into your mouth with ferocious intensity. You squirm out of playfully constrictive hugs. The conversational tone veers into the somber, and you speak your mind honestly, earnestly, unfiltered, and without concern for judgment because you are surrounded by accepting ears.

Later you review the footage and you are horrified.

“Is that me? That’s what I sound like? That’s my voice?”

Your sibling nods. If you have no siblings, imagine your companion animal. If you have no companions, imagine your mail carrier.

“No. No. No it’s not. Shut up.”

Oh, keep watching. There’s more.

“Why hasn’t anyone told me I flail my arms like that? I didn’t even know I gestured when I spoke, I swear I didn’t. I look like I’m attempting flight. And what is this—is that me laughing? Have mercy.”

There is no end to the horror of discovering yourself as others see you, or at least your perception of how they see you.

I’d posit that the same thing happens when you step back and take a good look at your own writing. In fact, I touched on this subject in a previous entry when I detailed the first time I had such an experience. There’s a difference though, between watching your image captured in moving pictures and “hearing” your literary voice captured in static letters. A crucial difference, even.

Quirks are quirks, tics are tics. Crooked smiles and asymmetrical eyebrows and spaghetti noodle arms make you you, and they neither can nor should be changed. But the fluidity of one’s written essence, the nuance and richness with which you approach the process… these things convey skill, learning. Discipline. They have meaning, on a computer screen and in the real world. And so, even the simplest of musings can become a scale on which your intellectual heft is measured, even if others judge only subconsciously.

What this can then boil down to is a paralyzing fear of writing in ways that reveal fundamental shortcomings in one’s understanding of the craft, the human condition, the world—feel free to fill in the blank there.

I (we? All of us?) don’t want to sound ridiculous. Or uneducated. Or stupid, at worst, because really, how many people are above calling someone else stupid for any reason? Someone thinks I’m stupid.

Unlike noticing that your eyes blink at slightly different times or that you are doing a far worse job concealing your carb-fiendishness than you ever imagined, ignorance of the mechanics of life can and should be changed. Some of this is accomplished just by being alive I guess, but the rest probably requires the active, constant exposure of actually living, and wanting to know what “being” means for other people. This is especially true if you write. Right? Right. How else would you write about people?

But what, then, to do with the reality that we have gone this far with these words only to learn that the foundation of authenticity on which those words rest is so unstable that they crumble beneath the weight of our naïveté? What do you do with the burning of that embarrassment clawing at the surface of your skin, at the knowledge that your art betrays you? How am I supposed to move forward when I know I sound like that? Like I’ve got as much of a handle on the gravity of this material as I might have on, say, a working fire hose?

Congratulations! you say to yourself. You are poorly informed. You are arrogant. You are a little naïve. You are young. You are in some ways socially inept. You didn’t do enough research before you wrote that. You weren’t emotionally honest with yourself when you wrote that. You won’t really experience what you’re describing for another couple of years. You are forgetting what you learned in 11th grade U.S. history. You are forgetting to set the DVR to record Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

Yes, we’re still speaking hypothetically. Hush.

So the “what to do” thing: maybe… just kind of be okay with it? I guess? Maybe?

Maybe there’s an art to learning to live with being seen, and likely being judged, for everything you are, actually are, and not the things you’ve carefully constructed as you grasp at the heels of the complexity and sophistication you aspire to. I say that because I just realized that the title of this post is unintentionally misleading. “Eliminating” fear. I don’t know if this is a fear you can really eliminate. If I knew how to do that I wouldn’t have written about it. I’m just typing to myself, thinking aloud on paper on screen. I think I’m learning that you can only learn to let go, accept that what you’ve produced is all you (and hopefully the best of you), and stop sweating the inevitability of plainly not knowing something. Do your best, and appreciate your psyche, place in life, and who you are in that moment for what it is.

So yeah, uh, I’ll let you know when I figure out how to do that.

When is finished really finished, anyway?

A couple of days ago I wondered if displaying my work in progress was a good idea. Almost immediately, I began to wonder how much of my work was really in progress. (The truth: a lot of it.) Sometimes I write things and sit on them. Whenever I open up an old piece, I always find things about it that can be changed. I hear this isn’t uncommon, but I’m under the impression that most writers can at least find a certain amount of approval with a piece once they reach its end. For me, nothing ever feels finished, or at least good enough in its finished form.

How do you know when a piece really still needs work, and when you really just need to step away from it, and let it be whatever it’s become? Do I keep tinkering away because it really isn’t finished, or because I can’t stop editing and nitpicking what I’ve completed, and as a result remain perpetually dissatisfied?

There’s probably a little of both happening, but the nitpicking/editing-while-writing is easily among my most crippling tendencies. I won’t have anything to work with if I can’t stop hindering myself before I ever get it done. The editing can come after I have a complete product. I know this, but that doesn’t seem to change the habit.

I am getting better about it, though. Awareness of the problem helps tremendously. I guess we’ll see how much I improve over the next few weeks, as I work to reel it in.