Taking Out the Trash

I dedicated myself to getting rid of all my useless physical stuff earlier this year. I think now (though this could just be a symptom of general frustration) it’s time to take out the mental trash.

Desperate to come up with a blog post this week (because of course I waited until the last minute in the current state I’m in), I went through my idea bin and found almost all of it crap. Every stray idea I had to write down, yet didn’t feel compelled to elaborate on at the time, has less worth than a penny – that is, it took more resources to generate than it was worth. I took the time to write this crap down. Should I waste more time going through those ideas and deleting most of them? What’s the point?

I suppose writing the dumb ideas down in the first place helped me get them out of my system, so it saved my brain more energy than if I’d let them idle in my mental parking lot. Going through them now has also been enlightening, because I can tally up how many ideas I turned into something worthwhile and how many lingered unformed because they’re utter crap. I could work out a ratio of garbage to good ideas – and I don’t know what the point would be other than making myself feel better.

Going through my idea bin, chucking things out, feels as therapeutic as doing the same thing with physical junk. Maybe this is what the end of the year should be for. Why not? I spend way too much time feeling guilty over such compulsions, telling myself I’m dicking around, when maybe I have this compulsion for a reason. I suppose, for a week (no more), I’ll follow it and see where it goes. If I find my mind lighter after cleaning out my files, I’ll consider it time well spent – and then get on with more constructive things. Stupid brain.

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Clash of the Obsessions

Octavia Butler once wrote about “positive obsession” – something constructive you do because you just can’t stop yourself. It completely takes you over. For her it was writing, and led to a great career. But what do you do when you have more than one, and they keep wrestling with each other?

I’ve struggled with this for ages. I keep bouncing back and forth between one art and another. For a while, one takes over – and I’m driven to do nothing but. It feels great, but at the same time I neglect my other passions when I’m fully immersed in one of them. I can’t seem to find a balance.

This is why I’ve had a problem finding a career, because a professional has to focus on what pays, and keep doing it even when it’s a chore. Instead, when I’m feeling unchallenged, or over-challenged, or bored, I jump into something else entirely and get all caught up in it.

I’ve read all kinds of advice like, “Write down five things you love to do. Now figure out the one you want to do most and AVOID THE OTHERS LIKE THE PLAGUE FOREVER.” Maybe that’s the only way I’ll ever be a pro writer, if I give up all other art forms completely – but it feels like I’d be losing a richer life. I don’t want to be single-minded. I want to have hobbies as well, but it’s a little like having dessert before a fantastic feast. You fill up on the guilty pleasure and have no room for just-as-tasty food that’s good for you.

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Pain Brain

I’ve had a terrible time concentrating on writing this past week. In fact, this is the first thing I’ve written in days because I feel I have to. I’ve done no editing, outlining, or even writing about why I haven’t been writing. It’s not that I don’t know what to do next. I have a plan, I just haven’t started doing it yet. So what’s holding me back? Well, I’ve been in pain all bloody week, so it’s probably that.

Last week I got a new computer chair, because my old one is so big I can’t sit properly in it. It’s been killing my back and shoulders for years. The new computer chair actually supports my lower back and forces me to sit upright. I’ve been watching my posture all week. I’ve been stretching and exercising every single day, no flaking out on that. So what’s the problem? I’m not used to sitting properly! It hurts. I ache so much, so constantly right now, that I can hardly think.

And it’s been affecting everything. Today I hastily introduced my nose to a can of tuna by accidentally dropping it on my face. I’m not usually that clumsy. I’ve also been forgetting plans, letting my phone die, forgetting to phone, text, or email people. I’ve been a mess all week, and I finally realized it’s all because my neck and shoulders are killing me. I wake up with burning stiffness all the way from my clavicle to my acromion process – I almost typed “acrimonious” process because boy is it ever. Anyway, I have to stretch every morning just to breathe.

To top it off, I’ve been particularly stupid because my default activity when I feel like crap is to distract myself with computer games. So here I am self-medicating with regular dopamine hits from blingy crap on a screen, where I continually sit at the computer making my shoulder worse, because the stupid monkey in my head keeps saying, “Don’t worry about the pain, the answer is to keep clicking on these shiny pixels. That’ll make you feel better. Woo!”

So, that’s what I’m not up to. Ugh.

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How Important is Backstory?

I’m currently wrestling with this question because I have on my hands over sixty thousand words that don’t fit in the novel I’ve been trying to write. One of the many reasons the creative life is fraught with angst: you can work hard for months only to have to scrap everything you did. After keeping a steady word count for months, I have to stop, have a good look at what I’ve done, and possibly retool.

Not knowing where to start with my current novel, I decided to write my character’s story from the beginning and see where that took me. I started with his early life and, after fifteen thousand words, figured out that story wasn’t right for my novel. So I jumped to the next bit and spent a whole month writing twenty thousand words that could be something, but still wasn’t right for the novel. I did the same again last month, writing twenty five thousand words and – nope, still not my novel. Dammit! At least I can take heart knowing Mark Twain did the same thing.

I’m at a crossroads where I can either keep going with this exercise, getting all my character’s backstory written until I eventually stumble into the novel, or I can cut it off here and spend a month plotting to figure out what stories actually need to go in the novel and only write those. I’ve already weighed the pros and cons of both, so I’ll sum up:

If I keep going with the backstory, I’ll have my character’s whole prior life to draw from, probably enriching the main story in ways I can’t foresee. But I also know I’m stalling because I don’t feel ready to tackle the novel – is that a good or bad thing? It’s not like I have concrete deadline. Any stories I do include in the novel will have to be rewritten completely because it will be colored by the context of his current experience. Continuing along these lines means pumping out more verbiage for the scrap heap. However, a few of these stories might be worth turning into novellas, so it’s not all wasted effort.

If I quit writing backstory and get on with the novel, I do have a couple short scenes in the framing story to use as a jumping off point. Everything I write from there will be more relevant and automatically shaded in context. It means less work rewriting, but I also risk losing depth the story could have if I knew all the backstory lying below the surface. Not doing that groundwork also means potential continuity issues, because the novel demands being told in a non-linear fashion. The original reason for writing the story in its proper order first was so every puzzle piece would fit together when I mixed them up later.

So now I have a big choice to make. Do I make the big leap into my novel in a desperate attempt to crank out a first draft by the end of the year, or do I continue plodding along until I reach my novel naturally? Part of my anxiety comes from running into more than a plot hole – a great big information gap in the linear story that I’m scrambling to fill because nothing I write later will make sense otherwise. I could shrug and say who cares, but – no, actually I can’t. My brain won’t let me get away with that. I guess I’m stuck filling the gap and writing a crapload of exposition for my story bible until the world I’ve created once again makes sense to me. Sigh…

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