March Writing

  • Longest Chain in March: 10 days
  • Total 2021 Writing days: 64

Not a great month. But, 64 writing days since January is better than my usual track record. When you throw in last November and December, it’s the best 5 months of writing I’ve had in years! Anyway, like I said in my last Weeknotes, the haze is lifting, I think.

I’ve been through this before. I hit some kind of bump and I find myself with almost zero capacity for any kind of creative work. It usually stems from a combination of depression, anxiety, and general exhaustion. I try to fight it for a bit, of course. Push through on willpower. But eventually everything creative stops and I feel like a general loser for a month or four until the haze lifts or something pulls me out of it.

Except this time. I did a few things differently.

First, I didn’t fight it. I let the slump happen.

Second, I actually watched the slump take its course. This was a risky move. I mean, what if it was another week/month/six-months/eight months until I could write again? Well, I gambled against having racked up 5 months of the most productive writing I’ve had in years. As well as, you know, all the other times I got back on the horse and had a productive period whether it lasted a week, a month, whatever. I decided that the worst likely outcome was that one day in the future, I start up again.

Third, and most importantly, I actively fought my natural tendency to berate myself for falling off the horse. And let me tell you, it was not fucking easy. But if there’s one thing I can point to that made the difference between the past three weeks and every other time I felt blocked, this is it.

And so after three weeks with only 2 writing days, I seem to be back in the saddle as of this past Sunday. We’ll see how long this lasts. We’ll make some notes, and we’ll see what happens.

Until then, I’m…

February Writing

Sure it was a short month, but success is success! With respect to rebuilding my writing practice in 2021 from what it’s been (rather, not been) for years, I have absolutely nothing to complain about for February.

The story I’ve been working on is one, maybe two drafts away from done. It took as long as it took, and I’m okay with that. And I already know which story I’m going to dissect and finish next. That one will also take however long it will take.

Onward!

January Writing

No excuses for the gaps, but no apologies either. I’m still focused on the long term re-building, not just a more-or-less daily writing practice, but a sustainable one. Sure, 4 day gaps suck; 4 month gaps suck even more. And I’m not going back to that without a fucking fight!

You know, I’m not even worried that I haven’t finished the current short story I’m working on yet. Yes, I’ve finished stories in less time; heck, one time, inside of 12 hours back at Viable Paradise. I’ll get back to that point once I get back whatever the writing equivalent of muscle memory is. And at some point between here and there, I’ll get to posting things like word- or page counts. One step at a time, though. I’ve been very bad in life at trying to walk the line between accountability and self-flagellation.

December Writing

This is definitely an improvement on November! Here’s hoping I can keep up the momentum this year.

To tell you the truth, it might’ve been good if I’d skipped a couple of days, especially around the holidays. I realize I’ve paid a price over the years trying and failing to live up to “Write Every Day Or You’re Not a Writer(TM).” It was bad enough when one legit reason or another got in the way. Even not-legit reasons. Family matters, emotional exhaustion, abject laziness–it was all the same result to me: failure.

Writing to feel like you’re fighting failure wasn’t sustainable, and not just for the obvious reasons. My particular struggle was that any taste of momentum and success I had became like cocaine to Rick James. And like any drug, the more you get, the more you need.

I guess if the pandemic did one thing, it got me out of some old “writing habits” that were really just ways for me to keep chasing the momentum dragon. And it gave me the room to start building new habits and chase different dragons.

November Writing

For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I did the NaNoWriMo thing. It’d been long enough that I had to recreate my profile from scratch. No, I didn’t get 50,000 words but that’s okay, because that wasn’t the point for me this year. Instead, it was more about how to build a sustainable daily writing practice for 2021 by trying different things and seeing what worked.

To be honest, I didn’t get even remotely close to 50K, but I managed more days of writing than I have in any month in 2020, even taking the pandemic into account. And, if you’ve been following the state of America these days, you can probably glean the perfectly reasonable causes for some of the gaps.

So, what did I learn last month…?

  • I’ve always been a big believer in the Writing Chain as a productivity marker. And it sure paid off!
  • I think I’ve finally cracked for myself how to actually write what Anne Lamott famously calls the “shitty first draft.” As shitty as my shitty first drafts always were, I found ways to make them even shittier by setting my personal bar even lower in order to just get stuff on the page. Boy, was it freeing!
  • What bars did I lower? For one, deliberately ignoring continuity mistakes that I know I’m making at the time. So if I wrote that it was raining when the paragraph above talked about a sunny day… well, fuck it. I don’t even make a mental note to “fix it later” because I trust that when I do get around to revisions, I’ll catch and fix it then.
  • I’ve learned to be okay keeping my metrics for daily success a little variable. Because they’ve always been variable. Daily Word Count(TM) never satisfied me, especially in the revision stages of a project.
  • So, what are my daily metrics? Depends on what I decide they’re going to be the day before, as long as it’s something I know feels right. So, it could be “draft 3 pages.” It could also be “make a revision pass.” Or, “generate a beat list for the next scene.” Whatever works to move a project forward.
  • I’ve finally learned how to leverage the right dayjob habits into my writing process. I beat myself up about this for years, not feeling able to find whatever it was that led me to relative success and proficiency at my dayjob but not in writing.
  • I experienced the utility of stopping for the day even though I feel like I have more — because I finally got it through my thick head that trying to push through when I’m out of gas has almost never worked. And even when it did, it generally wasn’t worth it.

I think ultimately, I’m learning how to trust myself a little bit more, in terms of what sorts of artistic practices resonate with me. Wow, like like all the money I’ve spent on therapy is finally starting to pay off!

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…” [March 2017]

Well, I warned you last time this wouldn’t look pretty. That there is 7 days of writing in a 31 day month. Still, better to light an inch than curse the dark.

One of my VP20 crew told me, “Output is not a measure of value.” Which other friends and loved ones have told me before, of course. I’ve always known this intellectually, but deprogramming is hard. I’ve taken a step in that direction (I hope) by realizing that maybe for right now the fact of having to re-invent my writing process wheel after the sorts of interruptions I’m facing (almost exclusively dayjob-related stuff) is just a feature and not a bug.

That doesn’t mean I stay happy with it, though. But maybe I don’t have to resent it so much until I can make changes. And changes are on the horizon. I’ve got a new short story I’m working on for a particular market; just 3 weeks until the deadline. Plenty of time–if I can stay on the stick, that is.

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [February 2017]

God, I’m far behind in every way. It’s the end of March and I’m just getting to posting February’s writing progress now. And it’s not pretty. But there’s only one thing for it in cases like this. Pick yourself up, stagger forward, and just focus on putting one foot under the other.

So, there’s my February. Not great. But the one thing I can say about it is that each set of blank days represents specific and identifiable dayjob issues on which I had to focus, and that just took up all my energy. That’s not a “poor me” complaint; just a fact. A reality that I have to own up to and face. And I need to make my peace with it, and find a way to light an inch, rather than curse the darkness. And in a way, the fact that I wrote for as many days as I did in February kinda shows I did just that.

In fact, compared to March, I’ve probably lit a whole yard. Wait until I post this month’s utter failure. No, that’s not hyperbole–wait ’til you see it. Still, I know it’s important that I post it anyway. Accountability, right?

In the meantime, I’ll have to go through that whole process of making peace with what got in my way this month, what did and didn’t get done, and move forward next month.

“I can STILL hear you saying you would NEVER break the chain…” [January 2017]

What you’re seeing up there is my attempt at a January writing streak. Each red X is a day I met a preset minimum fiction writing/editing goal. The end goal, of course, is to have as long a chain of Xs as possible. I’m not off to a hot start this month, but we’ll find out together how February turns out.

I tried posting these a few years back, but it lasted all of five minutes. I’m gonna try public accountability again though, if for no other reason than to live out the main takeaway from my Viable Paradise experience: Put up or shut up.

“I can still hear you saying you would never break the chain…”

All I can say is, never say never… 🙁

I can say, though that May does look a bit better than April, which looks a damn sight better than March.

The life drama of the past few months is sort of heading toward better.  Some potential (good) dayjob drama is coming down the pike.  But life has eased up a bit, leaving me room to put some effort into my writing again.  Fiction, that is!

I’ve put the Serling project temporarily on hold for the rest of the week (although, I’ve already “failed” at this on a couple of occasions) and am working on a couple of short-stories, both for upcoming anthologies.  I almost forgot how good it felt!  After those first drafts done (I have a good 2-3 months for them), I’m hoping to use some of that momentum to finally get more done on my novella project. 

Yup, I think I feel like a writer again for the first time in a long time.

“Traffic was slow for the crash years/ There’s no other show like it ’round here”

I promised weekly writing progress reports, and I’ve fallen through.  On several levels.  So, here it is.  No excuses, no explanations, other than to say that my personal life has taken quite a few hits and it hasn’t stopped.

Prepare to be underwhelmed…

Pathetic, isn’t it?

I’m turning comments off for this entry.  I’m sure any number of friends will read this, cheer me on, and tell me not to be too hard on myself.  It’s so tempting to let them.  But the only person that’s going to get me writing again, despite everything else going on in my life, is going to have to be me.

With the help of my inner drill sergeant…