|And just like that, six months after starting, another novel is done.
I trivialize the effort and attention this thing actually required, of course, but only in the name of pointing out that it took me six years to complete its predecessor. The disparity is entirely due to the degree of focus I was able to devote to this latest work. It’s not-so-astounding, the things you cannot do when you’re surrounded by people who don’t believe in you and an environment that wants you to be doing anything else. Also not a revelation but encouraging at the same time to confirm that, in the right place with the right people, I do in fact have it in me to do this work.
I’m a writer, guys. I write books.
You know what else I’m good at? Editing. Time to do some of that now. The work of getting this stuff out into the world…? That’s ongoing, but steps are in motion.
The internet certainly has changed the world we live in. The rules of social engagement are different now and still shifting. It’s hard to navigate them at the best of times, especially when you’re autistic; throw social media into the mix and everything I think I know about the correct way to handle people and the delivery of news is… possibly wrong? Maybe? Or maybe I’m a trailblazer in the quest to open up new ways for us introverts to talk to people without having to actually talk to them?
Ahem. Getting off track.
This year has seen some massive changes in my life. Massive. Whom do you tell first? To whom must you speak privately before it’s a gaffe to talk about it on the Book of Face? Which things do you talk about? Which are none of the public’s business? How do you write publicly about private subjects that you nevertheless feel you should be open about for the greater good? (Pause while you echo, “The greater gooooooood.”)
Which is all to say that, finally having satisfied the (I believe) expected protocol of letting my private feed in on some of the massive things I’ve been working on this year, I think it is now acceptable to speak in public spaces as well.
As I stated some weeks ago, I finally escaped my own personal Hell in Arizona. To put it delicately, that Hell consisted of more than simply the location. It was ruled over by a particular person with whom I am no longer legally entangled, as of this month. Consider the suggestion box open as far as what type of cake is most appropriate for celebrating Sweet Sweet Freedom.
Big things happened on the road to that escape; it’s been a busy year. The upshot is that I am in a much better place, surrounded by good people, I’m safe and happy, and I’ve just finished editing the w-i-p – which is now no longer a w-i-p! This final draft is ready to be shopped, baby.
Onward and upward.
When you desperately need to get some sleep because you have to be up and doing things in just a few hours, but every time you try to close your eyes you realize you’re running lines of dialogue and description.
Pardon me while I indulge in a moment of squee, but I’m bursting with excitement and I need to shout this somewhere: I can see it, finally.
After realizing that I can’t write a scene unless I can see myself there, in it, I put myself through a series of sort-of-stupid-feeling visualization exercises. I made myself see the physical location of the scene, become familiar with its details, the props, the lighting. I populated it with background people and their motivations. I mapped out what my characters had to do in the scene, physically. Where they would start, how they had to move through the location, how long it would take them, where they would end up. What clothes they had on. What their postures would be as they spoke to each other. Anything I could think of, any visual detail.
And then I saw it.
Dimly, like the lights were low and I didn’t have my contacts in. But I could finally see myself there, see it happening. I could finally start transcribing the overheard dialogue, record the action. Slowly. Even though I’ve been writing other things all through the fallow year to keep myself in practice, it felt like I’d forgotten how. I kept at it, kept examining the details, re-rooting myself. The resolution started to clear.
That was four thousand words ago. That’s approximately three thousand and nine hundred more words than I’ve added to this manuscript in the entire past year combined.
As I typed up the final lines of the latest scene, I realized that what I was seeing at that moment was the next one, already. I know what it looks like. I was there. This is nearly it, nearly the end of the story, and I can see it.
It’s all hands on deck now, because this ship is about to make berth.
I’ve been having some (who am I kidding — ridiculous amounts of) trouble writing the final few chapters of this novel. At first, it was easy to blame summer and the pattern I have of never getting any meaningful writing accomplished, say, post-May until at-least-September-but-more-likely-October. But that was last summer.
That’s right. Basically zip in an entire year. And not for lack of trying. Really.
I know the advice: write anyway, no matter how hard it is, even if it’s garbage, every day. Bring yourself to the work if you expect the work to materialize. Believe me, I’ve given that a go. It hasn’t just been a year of browsing Tumblr for amusing puppy gifs and twiddling my thumbs. I’ve written and half-written and deleted the next scene so many times I’ve lost count, then given up and tried to break through whatever this is by writing something else instead. No dice of any kind. (I mean, yes, success at writing other things. But that has not, alas, transitioned into a successful push through the tough spot in the novel.)
And now I’ve just spent another evening hacking away at nothing I want to keep. Nothing that leads the story forward. As I was saving the paltry five words of alteration I made today in anticipation of closing the document, asking myself for the billionth time why it’s turning out to be so hard to just freaking write down what happens next, I realized it’s because I can’t see it to describe it and I’ve been trying to make the scene instead (the results of that all too apparent). Which in turn made me realize something else painfully obvious that I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t realize a long time ago: I’m apparently one of those writers. I can’t feel like I’m crafting. I have to feel like I’m describing things that I actually watched happen.
What to do when the scene won’t play, and all attempts to build it (like an actual damn storyteller and not a lazy special snowflake artist) meet with internal resistance because my subconscious thinks that’s not its job? That would appear to be the question.
Jiro is a bit of a 120lb distraction when I’m trying to write, but he thinks he’s being helpful.
Yashi, on the other hand, issues a flat denial:
Eventually, I manage to do a perfectly serviceable job of providing my own source of distraction by deciding I need to organize my photo folders when I can’t find something where it should be. I find this photo out of place and waste another few minutes introducing it to the internet.
Yep. I was productive with my quiet Saturday.
When another year dies, we have this tendency to convince ourselves that our arbitrary measurements of time have some meaning, and that they are defined by how much we’ve done in that span. As I get older, I’ve begun to realize that survival is itself an accomplishment we shouldn’t be so quick to brush off. The need we have to be constantly doing something, as though our existence lacks justification otherwise, is an evasion. Just background noise to fill the silence; busywork to keep our minds off of our own doubts over whether or not we are who we want to be.
And so I sit here at the start of a new year, unable to stop myself from examining my performance of the last twelvemonth at least a little. I did, after all, quite brazenly and with enormous bravado, decree last January that I would finish the zero draft of my novel before the end of 2012. It’s much easier to sweep such declarations under the rug when you don’t make them out loud. That’s why I made that one where everyone could see. I do my best work under pressure. Or so I tell myself.
While I didn’t actually manage a finished draft, I am calling my work of the last twelve months a success. It took nearly three years of my life and innumerable drops of (blood) sweat and tears just to accomplish the first fifty thousand words. Since then I’ve added more than one hundred and seven thousand. Yep, that’s right. Over a hundred thousand words in 2012, which is why I can’t be disappointed with myself. That’s a hell of a lot of work I made myself do no matter how hard it got some days to make my brain English. And even though the last several weeks of the year were filled with more non-verbal days than I would have liked — even though I may be pushing through a mini-slump even as this post hits the intertubes — I’m still going. Slow work though it may be, it’s happening. This story is heading into its climax and not even good old-fashioned writer’s inertia can stop it now.
So you can suck on that, 2012. I am not ashamed of you, no matter how much you may want me to be. We lived, we learned, we even took several steps forward together.
This summer has been an actual battle.
I say that with a certain amount of willful optimism, implying that summer is approaching something like an end, when in fact in the Valley of the Sun we could easily be looking at another two months of temperatures over 100°F. That’s just how Phoenix rolls.
When the heat took hold and the dimensions of my world shrank in the name of self-preservation, I thrashed against the captivity like a caged tiger. My very literal physical confinement quite naturally led to the surfacing of all the other ways in which I’ve been feeling limited. And, being trapped with myself and my thoughts, there was little I could do but huddle in my hole and stew. I flailed miserably against my novel all through the month of June, ultimately deleting more than I walked away with by an alarming margin.
July made it worse in some ways, as the heat deepened and the monsoons rolled in with their humidity to make us truly suffer; and with my son off staying with relatives for the entire month, I found myself suddenly without any tangible responsibility. It was mind-boggling how quickly I embraced the nothing I was able to get away with doing. But it soon became clear that my avoidance of the sun was quite literally making me ill – clinical depression brought on by vitamin D deficiency.
Even as my general ability to anything dwindled, that trapped feeling was brimming over, exploding into something volcanic and destructive. I needed out, and I needed it any way I could get it. Dark thoughts in the midst of the sun’s ascendancy.
Now, Depression and I are old friends and I know its knock by heart. I know not to listen to ideas that aren’t being spoken in my true voice. But that helplessness, that need to escape, to do something, was real. Unfortunately, so are all of the familiar limitations that daily hold me where I am. There were two things, only two, that I could exert any control over in the depth of summer’s hell, and I dove into those as if to save my life.
Because it was.
My novel: I’ve vowed to finish it by the end of the year, and I mean it. I’m tired of being vaguely embarrassed to tell people I’m a writer just because it hasn’t been monetarily rewarding. I’m also tired of being too poor to handle my daily life, and having no recourse to do anything about that because no one will hire a thirty-three-year-old autistic woman with limited work experience. Well, if I can’t get hired, then I just need to earn money at the thing I’m good at. I don’t want this book to feel like it has to save my life, but it kind of does. (Don’t tell the novel. It’s under enough pressure as it is. /whisper) So I’ve spent the summer hacking away at this word count, some days with a feverish urgency because the more trapped I felt, the more I needed my writing to save me. Every time I hit a snag, I begged the novel to behave because we don’t have time for that. I need out now. The poor novel has done the best it could.
The only other aspect of my life I had the power to effect any change over was my attention to my health. I dove into that too, because it was all I could do. Knowing I needed some sun, but obviously unable to get it healthily in the middle of the day, I made a choice. I’ve always struggled with insomnia, and I mean that struggled quite dynamically. I fight it, trying to force my clock to conform to social norms, only ever ending up the worse (and more sleep-deprived) for it. But this summer, with no spawn in the house and no one to make demands upon my daylight hours, I made a decision to go full vampire. Completely flipped my schedule. I didn’t want to be up and moving around and trying to do things during the hottest part of the day anyway. I did this ostensibly so that I could get out for a brisk walk in the mornings at dawn, before the worst of the heat set in, but there have been other benefits as well.
I’m getting my 6-8 hours of sleep every day for the first time in a decade and a half, now that I’m not fighting my body’s natural rhythm and trying to take them at night when my mind is most alert and active. I would say it’s miraculous, except it’s more like I should have thought of this years ago. My family isn’t exactly on board with this, but you know. They have their struggles and I have mine and we all have to deal. And this is me, dealing.
But the other unintended side-effect has been that the surrender, the laying down of arms against my body’s sleep cycle, has led somewhat organically to a more cooperative approach to my writing. Instead of seeing my own creativity as an adversary needing to be conquered by the forces of productivity, I’ve been able to accept the flow of ideas as helpful even when they don’t ultimately lead me where I want to go.
Part of this has been a direct result of the hour-long walks I’ve been taking before the world has awoken, because in the silence and solitude I am naturally inclined to explore dialogue and creative concepts. Sometimes it’s hard to get it all down on paper when I get home, and not everything I write ends up being useful, but surplus is the opposite of the problem I’ve been having until now and I’ll take it. Mainly, though, I really think this sudden relative ease in my writing is just the lack of struggle. I’ve stopped fighting myself, at least in this.
And, strangely, I’ve even found things to love about my little corner of Hell since I started venturing out with the sun:
The clouds at dawn. The stillness of the world in that hour before morning shakes off night’s silence. The utter freedom of being out beneath the sky at an hour that belongs to no one. The inexplicable colony of lovebirds living in the neighbors’ Royal Palm. The dog that still barks at me every morning as I pass his chain-link fence, even though he started recognizing me weeks ago; he wags his tail now while he makes his usual ruckus. The baby cock that thinks he can crow like a man, and tells us so every sunrise in his reedy little voice. The dawn-light on those ageing blue crackle-painted louvers. The contrast of the fuzzy black carpenter bees against the wall of glossy white lilies. The scent of ripe figs telling me I’m coming close to the crumbling old brick building at the end of the neighborhood. The cats who watch me pass from their comedic safe spot, wedged in beneath the eaves. Familiar faces whose names I’ll never know greeting me with a nod and a smile as we pass, we alone moving through a world not yet awake.
As the approaching equinox chases dawn deeper into the morning, I know I’ll be sharing my quiet hour with more of my neighbors, so the solitude has been a gift that only summer could give. And for that I must thank it.
This remains a place I know I can’t go on calling home forever. If there’s one thing I took away from the depth of my desperation, it’s that Phoenix cannot be all there ever is to my life. We are not and never will be friends. But for as long as we are forced to deal with each other, we may as well accept a wary truce.
I’ve pushed past the rather miraculous 100K mark on this behemoth and have managed to meet every monthly word goal this year, somehow. (Except in March, but that ended up being okay because I overproduced by so much in February and I did manage to get something out of March in spite of everything. All forward motion is progress, and I’m still on track.)
Can’t say for certain how long this thing will be in the end, but I am definitely past the midpoint. I made myself promise to write at least 10K a month in 2012 because I assume that should leave me able to put a cap on this monster by the end of the year, as planned. If I can have more months like February and fewer like March, then so much the better. I am by turns excited to have this story told and out there, and frustrated that it isn’t already. And somehow, oddly, I also feel both that I know exactly what I need to do to get there and that I have absolutely no clue how this thing actually goes.
It’s quite possible that this manuscript needs heavy antipsychotics. Or that I do. Or something.
Unfortunately, the dearth of updates lately has been for bad reasons. Too sick, and no progress on the novel to talk about.
In fact, I’ve not only not written this month, I’m rather aggressively not writing. Or rather, it’s the not writing that has been aggressive. I wouldn’t call it Writer’s Block; it’s more like Story Blockage. I know the rest of the story is there, and I want to get to it, but there’s something blocking the way to the action and I can’t seem to see around it. I’m on my fifth version of the next scene and feeling like this one isn’t it either, but at this point I think I just need to push through and hope it clears away some of the rubble so I can see what happens past this.
It’s the strangest thing. I’ve lacked inspiration before, I’ve been lost in the plot maze before, I’ve drawn blanks before. This is something different and it’s freaking weird.
I’ve never been one for deadlines.
Hell, I’m not really one for plans. Of any kind. It wouldn’t be accurate to say I have a fear of commitment – I’ve been with the same partner for more than half my life, at this point, and never at any time was I afraid of committing to him – but I do definitely object to having my future nailed down. I’m the asshole who never RSVPs. I don’t even want to think about what I’m going to have for dinner until it’s time to actually eat it.
Accepting a deadline has always felt like another way the future makes you promise to be in a certain place at a certain time, and I prefer to keep my options open. Making goals, same thing.
If I buy a beautiful steak to grill for dinner, but come 6 o’clock I find I can’t stand the sight of red meat, I’ve wasted money and a prime cut. If I say I’m coming to your party, but then an unanticipated attack of autistic overload that afternoon means I can’t be around people, I’m a jerk for standing you up. If I say I’ll have your article written by Friday, but then writer’s block prevents a single good idea from forming in my brain before then, I’m fired and I don’t get paid.
Better to keep things fluid, I’ve always thought. Especially when it comes to writing. Nothing shuts down my creativity harder than a deadline. Knowing that my work is expected, that someone is waiting for it, that there are stakes, that something is on the line – kills my Muse stone dead.
Sounds like I think I’m some sort of free-spirit hippie, I know. That’s not really it either. Truth is, I’m just contrary. I’m just a grouchy, solitary individual, and I want things the way I want them. I don’t ask things of others, and in turn I don’t want anyone feeling like they have the right to expect things of me. (I am aware that this is a deeply moronic way to live. Shut up.)
So it really means something when I say that I’ve made a decision to finish my novel this year, no matter what.
As far as my writing goes, well. I’ve never been in any rush. I started very young, with plenty of time to meet all of those big writer goals. It has always just been a fact that I would take my time, improve, write some things, write some better things, and someday someone would publish something of mine that was worth it. No rush. The last time I was submitting for publication, it didn’t really matter that I met with no success, because there was still time. And I can’t even say I really gave it as much effort as I could have. It’d happen some time, and until then, I’d just keep writing. Something must have changed for me, though, because now when I think about finishing this novel and getting it published, the feeling is no longer no rush. Now it’s more like no time like the present.
Really it’s just that there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to. After a long dry spell, I’m productive again. I’ve written more than ten thousand words in the last three weeks. That’s not even an especially impressive word count. Assuming I can only do just that much, if not more, there is no reason why a zero draft of this novel shouldn’t be a thing people can read before 2012 ends. And then, an actual attempt at actual publication.
Snow and sky mirrored one another, stark whites and shadow blacks meeting and melding like the finger-paints of a sullen god. The only line separating their reality was the mist-shrouded darkness of majestic pine robed in ice – two rows of their solemn silence divided by a pristine strip of diamond-white snow. A narrow path between absolutes.
At the end of that path, the frozen air obscured the form of a man standing alone.
I believe it was some time in the spring of 2009 that I began seriously considering the reality that I had written a good book based on a trilogy of bad books, and that something would have to be done about this if I wanted my future fiction empire to have any kind of foundation.
I was at that time just finishing up a long piece of fanfiction that was the first thing I had managed to write since concluding the principle writing on Faríel in 2004. I had been learning things from fanfiction and from editing other people’s work that no college course had ever taught me about what other people like — and expect — to read. It felt good to be constructing phrases and plots again, and coming within shouting distance of the end of that long fic had given me the confidence to believe that I still had it in me. Not just to write, but to write better. I was able to convince myself that I could rewrite my first novel, that I should rewrite it, that it would be great this time and furthermore I would breeze right through it because I knew the world and the characters and the plot so well.
At about… 2 a.m. on September 19th, 2011 (give or take an hour ago), I finally managed to crack 40K on this beast. A whole forty thousand words, two and a half years later, of what was supposed to be an easy, fun rewrite. This is a bigger deal than it should be.
Somewhere along the way, things went pretty screwy.
Maybe it was the fact that I peddled Faríel for three years without a single bite. Maybe it was depression, adulthood, overexposure to bad fanfiction, stored-up childhood insecurities, or sheer mental exhaustion; but somehow, somewhere, I lost my confidence in my words. The thought of writing instantly brings with it these days a sort of clenching in my chest, a greyness in my thoughts as I try to map out what I will write and am met by the unrelenting internal response: but I have nothing to say.
I never used to believe this. I can still remember the days — not so distant, surely — when you couldn’t stop me from writing. If I was going to be the passenger in a car for more than five minutes, I brought pen and paper. If I was supposed to be taking notes in class, I was actually writing about elves. Or trickster gods. Or warped fairy tales. Just not about the economic theories of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. or the failed military decisions of General Lee in Pennsylvania. I knew my work wasn’t great, but I always felt there was a yet unspoken in there. With all the writing I did, all the time, everywhere, whether there were other things I should be doing or not, there was no way I could avoid learning how to be not just publishable but famous. It’s great that I genuinely believed this. All children should have that kind of passion for something, that kind of self-confidence.
I lost it somewhere.
If I could just pinpoint the moment of initial decay, or find somewhere to point the finger, it might be easier to relearn to believe in myself. Problem is, I don’t know when it started or why. All I can do is try to stop, take a look at where I am now, and see that whatever else I might have been once, at this exact moment in time I am a woman who can string a damn fine sentence. Looking at the future raises the frightening spectre of doubting my ability to build a solid plot that other people would find interesting. Screw sixty thousand words from now, a hundred thousand. In my imagination, I’ve already failed at the story by then.
What matters is that right now, right now, I’ve got 40K I wouldn’t be ashamed to attach my name to, and I wrote them. I wrote them.