Those Clarity Moments

Do you know the one? Where you notice you’ve been thinking about something, or approaching something, in completely the wrong way? And then suddenly you realise in one brief moment of clarity that thinking about it a different way potentially changes everything.

In many respects, this has been a big part of treatment for my depression and anxiety, but this particular moment… I don’t know. It relates to everything I’ve thought and believed about working, dreaming, ambitions and careers, for at least 10 years.

There were a bunch of points I wanted to make about this, but I’ve forgotten them, so this post may seem a little disjointed and rambling at times.

Let me start by saying I’ve endured a bout of depression and anxiety for a little over a decade. It’s played a huge part in grinding me down for a long time. This past year has seen a big change in that, thanks to the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I’ve begun thinking about things in different ways, focusing on ‘being present’ and ‘being mindful’, and it’s helped immensely.

When I was younger, I wanted to be so many things; an astronaut, a lawyer, an assassin, a dinosaur trainer (still kinda want to do that, if I’m honest), and then, I fixated on becoming a writer. For a while, I could only think of being a ‘published writer’, but now I realise that writing is what I want to do, it’s what I am best at (despite quite imperfect work), and it’s the one thing I most enjoy doing. I put so much pressure on myself to get published, to write a marketable story that I lost sight of the ‘right motivations’ for writing. I had to want to tell a story. I found that again, this year, and that has helped me rediscover this desire to be a writer. Not a published author, but a storyteller. I’m not a great storyteller, but I’m learning every day.

This is the main point I wanted to address; for the longest time, I’ve had this crippling fear of ending up in a so-called ‘dead-end job’, one without prospects or desirable career paths. I’ve always been haunted by the idea that I had to be successful, earning a respectable wage, in order to be happy. In order to stop being the toilet paper the world uses to wipe its arse. I always thought my life would be a failure if I didn’t end up in one well-paying position or another.

The only thing I need, in order to consider my life a success, is to be able to do the thing I want to do. And that’s write. It doesn’t matter if I’m earning six figures in a high-powered position, or earning living wage on the checkout in a supermarket. That’s my realisation. That one, single thought, has cut my anxieties in half. I still have social anxieties to contend with, but that’s another fight for another day. Right now, I’m no longer stressed about being forced into a small job, for a small wage. Because the world needs small people, too.

I’m not saying I don’t have ambitions, because I do. I’m not saying ‘don’t dream big’, ‘don’t strive for more’, or ‘limit yourself to second best’, I’m saying find a way to do what you want to do. It’s not an earth-shattering thought, and it’s not ripe with profundity. I’m sure to a great many people, it’s common sense. But that’s the thing about depression, it clouds judgement. For me, what might be a singular, small thought to one person, has potentially wide-ranging implications. I’ve come to terms with the idea now, that whatever I end up doing, as long as I have the time to focus on writing without having to worry about stability or security, then I can be happy in the knowledge that I’m doing what I want to be doing.

Having gotten to the end of that thought process, I find myself thinking ‘well, that was an underwhelming illumination, wasn’t it?’. I don’t know how much this post will mean to people, or if people even read this far. Maybe it’ll mean something to somebody, though. Maybe it’ll help someone see through the fog of futility.

Shadows of Autumn

After many trials, Shadows of Autumn is nearing completion. As I began the story, I wanted it to be a part of something bigger, part 1 of 4, in a standalone epic. That has not transpired. ‘Part 1’ eventually neared 60k words before I could even see the ending, and now with the last chapters on the way out, it’s closer to 80k. It couldn’t serve its original purpose without severe edits, so I’ve opted out of the epic idea. Instead, Shadows of Autumn became a kind of exercise, into writing a brand of fantasy fiction I’d never really dabbled in, and drawing upon a culture I had no experience with.

In that regard, it’s become a success, and I’ve found more ways in which to learn, develop and grow. I need to work on pacing and tension above all else, but most importantly, I’ve learned the value of planning. This was the first attempt I’d made at planning out a story, and it’s made my work so much stronger. I couldn’t be happier.

I’d considered it a novella, but at 80k, it’s well into novel length, and now I can seriously begin to consider moving forwards, towards representation and beyond. It’s an exciting time for me, riddled with anticipation and anxiety. Not since completing Long May Men Have Voices, have I finished anything quite so substantial. I’ve written shorts that ended up wandering around on their own until they decided to end, I’ve written a bunch of flash fiction, but nothing like this. Shadows of Autumn has, I feel, substance, and it gives me ways to move forwards.

I’m beginning to consider financing options. Editors are sooooo not cheap. If you read this, and at some point see something regarding a crowdfunding campaign for a little novel called Shadows of Autumn, please do stop in and have a look.

Here’s the full colour map I’ve recently finished painting. Just in case you wanted a teaser. I’m happy with this, too. Apparently it looks professional, but the inner critic in me is dubious.

 

Itsuba Wattpad

Clever Title

Since I’m struggling so much to capture the right spirit in Shadows of Autumn, it’s becoming quite a draining endeavour. I’ve decided to try writing something else on the side. Fist of the Presidium is an experiment with a different genre, a different style and a different setting. Traditionally, I find it very difficult to write in the real world, so I intend to approach Fist of the Presidium with no expectations, no demands, no information and no knowledge of the science of a Sci-Fi novel, and write it in the real world. Or a version of it. I’m woefully unprepared for it, but I’m in no way taking it seriously. The idea is just to write here and there, when I feel like I need, or want, to write something a little bit different.
Shadows of Autumn has reached a point where I’m really fighting this notion of ‘capturing the right spirit’, since I don’t even really know what that spirit is. I want it to mirror the proud traditions of Japanese culture, without seeming like it’s just a carbon copy. I’m wholly afraid that as I venture further into the story, I’ll find my worldbuilding is shoddy, sloppy and two dimensional and that my characters are dull and boring. I have very specific wants for this story, and they’re all predicated upon a foundation of knowledge that I simply don’t possess. I am bombarding myself with research and it feels like quite a weight at times, but I am moving forwards. Very, very slowly.

Words! Do I curb the flow?

Let me just say, I have absolutely no issue at all with the endless flow of words. Having struggled with idea block for so long, I’m glad the floodgates are open at the moment. But, having said that, I am very, very conscious of the fact my word count is just north of 20k, and my chapter count is just north of… 3.

In my mind, actively trying to keep my work shorter whilst writing, especially in this first draft, would be massively counter-productive, and I certainly won’t *worry* about the redraft until the story is finished.  I am, shall we say, aware of the growing complications. I don’t want to be reaching 100k words before I’ve even finished Part 1. I might then have to seriously start considering breaking it up into smaller books, and I have zero idea how to do that. It hurts my head.

I keep hearing that new authors need to keep their word count down, but I can’t get behind this. If my story requires 200k words, then that’s what it’s going to get. I’m not a moron though, of course. I realise that 200k is already getting towards the wrong end of the scale, so going much higher is not something I’m aiming for. 200-230k is something I’d be happy with, but getting an editor, or at least an affordable editor, might be a trial in itself.

I’m honestly quite sick of people saying that established authors get to indulge themselves because they’re established. Although I am ready and willing to make concessions if somebody ever tells me they think my work is good enough to publish. Or if it ever gets anywhere near that standard, despite being very flawed at the moment. Apparently, I have a fairly pronounced issue with sentence fragments. And dumb typos.

My point, as long winded as it has become, is that I’m confident I’m using way too many words to say the things I want to say. Yes, in the redraft, I can work all that out (shudder), but getting past that niggling worry, knowing I’m writing so much chaff, is proving frustratingly tiresome.

I still want to write this story, which is huge. I keep finding myself doubting my writing, ‘writing myself off’, if you will, and then invariably thinking, ‘it’s okay, I’ll keep writing anyway. I want to tell this story’.

My first job is getting the words down, the second job is making them not suck. Anyone know who said that?

Maybe I should be thinking about ways I can split them up, just in case. Or maybe I should start thinking about how I can make part 2 work if part 1 was removed… Contingencies, though. I need contingencies.

On another note, I’m going to start sharing the link to my early chapters, posted up on Wattpad, as another tool in my quest to build a readership and a platform. IF you find yourself in any way curious, please do drop in and have a look.

Story is posted here.
And you can follow me on Facebook, here.
And Twitter, here.

My activity varies, but across all these platforms, I do try to engage, and find interesting things to say.

 

Facial Reactions & Feelings Through Dialogue

Today, I faced a conundrum. I was writing a hefty amount of dialogue in my current chapter. When I write dialogue, I tend to script the conversation first, and then go back through it to ‘illustrate’ it with tags, descriptions, emotional cues, and so on. It’s a good approach that works well for me, but it can be counter-productive.

For instance, whilst I was going back and forth, dissecting the dialogue, chopping and changing and rearranging, I was becoming painfully aware of my limited ability with describing facial expressions. What I mean is expressions like the following, and all the variations thereof.

‘…clenched jaw’, ‘grinding teeth’, ‘…narrowed eyes’, ‘…furrowed/knotted/creased brow’, ‘…nostrils twitching/flaring,’ ‘…cocking an eyebrow’, ‘…puffing cheeks’, ‘…pursing lips.’

I pursued some advice on possible options, resources, solutions and what not, and I was told that I should try conveying emotion indirectly or through dialogue. Now, to me, this seems like exceptionally bad advice, and certainly very limiting. I understand that dialogue can express feelings and emotions, of course, especially through an exchange or conversation. But we’re talking fiction here, creative writing, showing not telling.

Without description, without facial reactions, or interactions with the second person, or the environment, it means nothing. There is no context, no feeling.

Character A: “I hate you.”

Nothing. It’s just a statement. But is it infuriated? Hateful? Ambivalent? Sarcastic? Ironic? Bemused?

Character A: “I hate you.”
Character B: “No, you don’t.”

Yes, these are largely simplified examples, and by no means ‘compelling dialogue’. In the second example there’s more to the picture, but there’s still no context.

Character A: “I hate you,” his eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring.
Character B: “No, you don’t,” her smile froze.

Again, maybe not the meatiest exchange ever, but you begin to see my point, surely? At least, I feel like I’m beginning to make my point, or perhaps I’m just missing the point of ‘try to convey emotion indirectly or through dialogue’. It’s such a restrictive attitude in my mind. I must be missing something, surely?

What if Character A is ‘a man of few words’? What if he never really talks except to say something that needs to be said? Yes, this conveys a measure of import. The act of speaking carries significance just by virtue of the fact that he’s saying anything at all. But again, there’s no feeling. Unless he’s a robot, then whatever he’s saying has to register somewhere on his emotional spectrum.

Then you come to simply using adjectives and adverbs.

Character A: “I hate you,” he said darkly.
Character B: “No, you don’t,” she replied, dejected.

Adverbs themselves are a discussion for another time. (I’m pro, for the record. In moderation.) But the plain and simple adjectives just don’t have that punch. Everything in it’s place, and all that. I understand that all of these techniques need to be used together. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, is another thing to bear in mind. Isn’t that the point? To use all of these techniques. If someone tells me to use physical, facial reactions AFTER these other things have failed, then aren’t they missing the point? Or am I just misinterpreting their meaning?