I Have No Idea What I’m Doing!

i have no idea what im doing

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me use this gif to explain my writing process. It’s so accurate. I am totally winging this whole “writing” thing.

Some days, it really hits me how accurate that is.

This struck me recently while reading through the first draft of Trustfall, which I wrote during April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I can tell it needs work, but… fucked if I know what to do with it.

I thought I had an idea. I thought it was a great idea. It would require significant changes in the first half of the book, but it seemed brilliant!!! I wrote 400 words of notes about everything that would need to change in the first half in order to make this work. But then as I kept reading, I realized I did not like that idea. It wouldn’t work. It didn’t make sense. It wouldn’t fix things.

So now I’m back at square one. Having no idea what to do.

I’ve only written and revised one full novel in my life. It took me like three years to get it to a point where I thought maybe I was done revising and should start trying to publish it. Three years of “spend a couple months working on it, take six or eight months off, pick it up again later and revise again”… Ain’t no one got time for that now that I’m taking writing seriously and trying to publish. My goal for Camp Nanowrimo during July is to get this draft to a condition where I can send it to beta readers. Then I’ll probably wait 3-4 weeks for feedback from them (and write another short story or two in that time….) and revise again. Hoping to have it out to at least one publisher by the end of the year.

But I have no idea what I’m doing. No idea. At all. How do I fix this? I think I’ve figured out the problem (unclear character arc, entire first half of novel written during NaNoWriMo so it’s really, REALLY rough, and cute, but not overly exciting) but I am not sure of the solution. I guess I need to make Saul’s arc more clear? Make Alex’s struggle more difficult? So what do I do?? Add a scene? Change scenes? Remove scenes? Just flesh out scenes that are already there? rewrite the entire first half?!

This feels like someone dropped a calculus problem in front of me, told me the solution, but didn’t tell me how to get to it, and I have to write down the process of how to solve it. I HAVE NO IDEA. I GUESS I’LL JUST TRY A BUNCH OF SHIT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS! Except I have a time limit! One month! One month isn’t enough time to “try a bunch of things” with a novel.

I know, I know, self-imposing a deadline like that and pressuring myself is bad and leads to burnout. But I want to get it done.

I’m hoping for a flash of miraculous brilliance but not betting on it. How do you move forward when you have no idea how to move forward? Especially with revisions?

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A Ray of Sunshine

THINGS have been happening in my brain and in my life lately, and I’m going to babble a little bit here about how I plan to proceed.

I created a Ko-fi and a Patreon (links at end of this post). I changed my name. I am starting a vlog. I changed my logo and kind of re-branded my entire online existence.

When I first got started online, less than a year ago, I was just trying to find a writing community and accept myself as a straight female writer of gay romance. I’ve been marketing myself as a “m/m romance writer and reader” on all my social media and such. But over the past six months, I have learned a number of things that form the basis for my new online presence:

  1. I’m not straight. Don’t ask me what I am. I don’t know.
  2. I’m asexual.
  3. I’m not exactly “female.” I’m some degree of non-binary. I go with “female-ish.” Technical term, there.
  4. THERE ARE SO MANY GENDER IDENTITIES AND ORIENTATIONS THAT I DID NOT EVEN KNOW ABOUT. I WANT TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THEM.
  5. Anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses are insanely prevalent. You don’t realize it IRL much because people don’t talk about it as openly as they do online.

So with those things in mind, I re-branded. I’m now Leigh M. Lorien, queer romance author–I am both a queer author, and an author of queer romance, so the tagline can be read both ways.

My most popular blog post so far has been the one I wrote about depression. So many people said “Thank you for writing this.” It crushed my heart. I am both glad I am not alone, and so very sad that so many other people feel the way I feel. It’s awful.

I want to do more of that, though. More of the things that people need. I want to address things that so many people feel, but perhaps cannot put into words.

That being said, I’m not going to blindside you all with sudden shouting about issues and cisnormativity and heteronormativity and all of that. That’s not my thing. That’s not me. No one fucking knows what those words mean, anyway.

I’m just going to talk. I’m not going to lecture or argue. I’m going to pick a topic–a book, a feeling, an event, something–and ramble and swear and get excited about it, because I am an excitable person. I am, hopefully, going to make you laugh. I’m going to create “adventure recap” videos for my patrons–I posted the first one publicly on my YouTube channel (video at the end of the post).

I just wanna be a goddamn ray of sunshine, you guys.  Remember my post from waaaaaaaaaaaay back ’round election time when I said Let’s Not Talk About Politics? Let’s focus on being lights.

That’s my goal. I just want to be a fucking sunbeam. I am a depressed and anxious mess but I am going to keep fucking going and I’m going to keep creating and I’m going to keep sharing, because people need voices who are willing to talk about the tough things.

My Patreon

My Ko-fi

Self care!

Sometimes, you just have a shit week.

I mean, my week wasn’t bad really. I got back to writing after two weeks off, so that was good. I got a handful of beta readers for my short story (I love you all), I went and saw a movie–ooh, and I started a Patreon!!! Check me out!

But overall, this past week just felt weird. Upon reflection, that is MOST LIKELY due to the fact that I ingested way too much caffeine and energy drinks, did not sleep much, and got sick because of it.

…Yeah probably.

So I’m going to write a quick blog post on self care.

You’re not invincible. Don’t pretend you are. I know you’re not. I know your secrets, friend.

I like to think I’m super healthy, super resilient, and impervious to illness. Turns out I am not. I am getting less healthy, less resilient, and less impervious to illness with every passing day. Here are a few things I need to remind myself of, which you may need to be reminded of as well:

  1. Caffeine is not a substitute for sleep. Don’t stay up until 2am thinking “I’ll just chug a gallon of espresso/five energy drinks/a 24-pack of Coke at work in the morning and I’ll be fine.” Spoiler alert: You will not. You will not be fine. You will be miserable. Staying up late is not worth it.
  2. Exercise and sunshine are actually really important to human life. Go outside, for Christ’s sake. I know you have to write, but did you know that taking breaks actually increases your productivity? It does! So go outside. Walk a lap around the block. Sniff a flower. You’ll feel better when you return to your dank writing cave.
  3. Human interaction is healthy too. I KNOW you have to write, and I KNOW you talk to people on Twitter, but it’s not quite the same. Call someone. Go out for a drink or lunch or whatever people do these days.
  4. Eat actual food. GOLDFISH CRACKERS AND COKE ARE NOT A MEAL. Cookies aren’t breakfast! (I use these examples because I frequently eat Goldfish crackers for lunch, because I am an adult person and I make good life choices, clearly.)
  5. Write. You say you’re writing, but are you really just sitting there trading Tom Hiddleston gifs with your friends on Twitter? Because that is not writing. If you’re going to write, buckle down, focus up, and put words on the page. Set a reasonable goal, meet it, and THEN trade Hiddlesgifs.

That’s it. It’s halfway through the year and I assume most peoples’ best laid plans have gone flying out the window. I know mine have. Take a moment for self-care. Relax. It’s okay. You don’t need to stay up until 3am to get that scene done unless your deadline is 4am. Then maybe you should. But if not…… don’t. Take care of yourself, friends. It doesn’t do anyone any good for you to run yourself into the ground trying to be productive.

I needed to write this to remind myself of these facts. I hope they help you, too!

Baby Steps! – Publication Update

Exciting news on the publication front! A few months ago I entered a flash fiction contest for queer scifi (contest info here).  My piece, “Green Burial,” has been selected for inclusion in the anthology to be published later this year!

Official contest winners have not been announced, so I may or may not hear more on this, but even if I don’t, I’m happy! This is small, but it’s publication, right?! This counts! I’m going to be published!

WOOHOO!

I told myself ages ago that when I got something accepted for publication, I’d get myself a new tattoo to celebrate/congratulate myself. I was thinking it would be, you know, a book publication and that I would make money from it, but flash fiction in an anthology is good too!

I’ve been craving a new tattoo, and since it is Pride month and I write queer fiction, I’m going to get a rainbow. I’m excited.

As for the rest of my publication journey, I am revising a short story (Jigs and Reels, if you want to browse my snippets from a few months ago – first lines here) and hoping to have it out to publishers by the end of the month. I’m thinking Nine Star might be my first shot. As soon as it’s out to publishers, I’m moving on to revising Trustfall, my D/s novel with an asexual MC.

On the backburner is a scifi novel tentatively called Dark Lies, which has been in my head for years and years but not as a romance. I need to rework it. I realized a few months ago that the love interest is trans, and realized last week that the MC is aro/ace, so that will be incredibly difficult and torturous FUN to write. I never realized how much I relied on sex scenes to keep plot moving until I wrote a whole novel without any. I love a challenge, though!

Also on the backburner, an entirely new novel idea which will end up being polyamorous, with one asexual partner. That one would be urban fantasy. Something about a curse and a cop on a magic-law-enforcement task force. I’d write this one in third person, I think, which I haven’t done in ages but with three MCs it’ll be hard to do in first.

One of those two will end up being my NaNoWriMo novel for November, unless I get an infinitely better idea before then. Both will require significant worldbuilding, which is not my strong suit, so I’m not planning to dive in to them in any hurry.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on with my writing! Hopefully I’ll have more news in the coming months.

author announcement

Pantsing

I’m a pantser. It’s odd, because in life I can’t operate like that. I have to have a plan for everything that happens in real life. But for writing, plans make me anxious. I feel suffocated and restricted. There’re expectations, there’s pressure, there’re rules. Pantsing lets me follow my gut, lets the characters guide me, lets me experience surprises as I write!

However, after finishing my last draft, I think I’m going to try plotting my next novel.

When I pants things, I know generally how it starts, the largest obstacle, and how it ends. The excitement of getting to know the characters and figuring out their lives is usually enough to get me started, and then following them through their lives is enough to keep me going, but that excitement peters out if I hit too many snags. I keep going, because that’s what you do, but I start to hate it. I’m confused. I’m lost. I’m distracted. I just want to be done. The quality of the draft suffers because I am just so sick of writing it.

My last draft took eight weeks to write. I’d hoped to have it done in 4 or less, but I hit a snag, I got writer’s block, I went almost an entire week with no clue what I was supposed to be writing, I had to fight with it, it was awful.

From my understanding, plotting would minimize those periods of blockage because I would have some idea how I intended to proceed and I could refer back to it. I would go through those periods of confusion and creative constipation prior to the actual act of writing. Then, when I go to write, I would just…. write. No fighting. No fuss.

This is a beautiful concept.

HOWEVER

As soon as my characters make a decision that throws me off the plotline I’ve created… the idea of having to step back and recalibrate my plotline instead of just plowing forward… seems awful. So then I start to think, “They’re not going to let me stick to it. Why should I even start one?”

I’ve plotted a few short stories and that went okay. For something small and restricted like that, I can manage a plotline because I have to make sure I don’t wander off he reserve. It’s short, so it needs to be succinct and powerful. The plotline is a couple pages long, if that.

The idea of plotting a novel is… eek. But I’m gonna give it a shot. However, I need your help!

I have no idea where to start. Link me some good plotting/planning resources in the comments and I’ll appreciate you greatly. 😉

Binge & Purge

Oh man you guys, I finished my draft. Holy shit. Hot damn. It’s done. It’s absolute trash, but it’s done. (I’m kidding, I really love some parts. Just the last 1/3 or so kinda went to shit because I was so tired of writing it I just wanted the suffering to end)

The process of writing this draft has made me realize that I operate in a series of binges and purges. Intakes and outputs.

Since the end of April, I’ve been writing this draft. So for two months, I’ve been purging. I’ve been on “output” mode. I’ve read one book in that time. I haven’t watched any TV or played any video games, I’ve watched maybe three movies, and I’ve been listening to the same handful of bands on loop until I hate them. I’ve purchased SO MANY BOOKS in the past two months, but I haven’t read a word of them. I’ve been getting anxious because I want to do other things, but I just couldn’t stop writing. Some people might advise “take a break and do some of the other things!” but if I did other things, I would be anxious because I wasn’t writing.

It’s a vicious cycle.

When I wrote the last word of this draft, I sat staring at it for a minute, thinking, “Well… I’m not happy with this ending, but this is the ending. I have no further ideas for this draft. I have written all of the ideas. I guess… that’s it. It’s done.”

It’s like stumbling out of a desert into a lush field of wildflowers. I’M DONE. I’M FREE! SO MANY OPTIONS FOR HOW TO SPEND MY TIME! SO MANY OPPORTUNITIES! SO MANY THINGS TO TRY. I CAN FINALLY RELAX!

So I will now roll around in the wildflowers for a while. It’s binge time. I will read some books. I will watch some movies. Maybe I’ll finally finish Yuri on Ice. I will load my brain up with SO MUCH STUFF after draining it clean of ideas with the single-minded focus I’ve had on my current WIP. I need to refresh my brain. I need to intake. I will devour all the media. All the ideas I can access. I will do new research. I will spend time outside.

I have declared on Twitter that I will take two weeks off from writing. That’s hilarious and untrue, but I will take at least two weeks off from this particular draft. I have a short story that needs to be revised and sent out to publishers. I had people beta read it for me a month ago and haven’t read their feedback yet because I didn’t want to split my focus off my novel draft. I have another short story that needs to be revised and sent to betas. I still have my NaNoWriMo novel from last year waiting to be revised.

But I am taking time off. I need to regroup. Maybe I won’t take two weeks off, but I’ve accumulated a seriously large number of books I need to read, so I’ll be starting on those. Plus there are a few authors I’ve befriended online and I’d like to read every book they’ve ever written. Plus I have things to beta.

How do you guys split up your “intake” vs. your “output” when it comes to writing? Do you intake and output a bit every day? Every week? Or are you a crazy person like me and you split intake/output periods over months? Leave me a comment!

Trust Your Broccoli

If you are a writer and you’ve never read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, GO DO IT NOW. I read that book in college and it literally changed my life. I’ll wait.

2000 years later

All right, so there’s a chapter in Bird by Bird called Broccoli. In it, Lamott cites a quote from a Mel Brooks skit: “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.

What does this mean? Well, in the context of writing, it means “Listen to your story, and your story will tell you how to write it.” In other words, listen to your intuition. Listen to your gut. Writing is a very heart-and-soul driven process, and if you try to over-think it, analyze it, make it a science, it’s not going to work.

That’s the gist of the piece, but I highly recommend you read it for yourself. That one and “Shitty First Drafts.”  “Shitty First Drafts” is the reason I finished my first novel instead of letting it waste away half-finished somewhere on my hard drive.

ANYWAY.

I had my own “listen to your broccoli” moment this past week which kind of blew my mind. I’ve written before about how music ties into my writing process. For my current WIP, I’d been listening to Saul’s music — dark, sultry, heavy on piano and violin and angst. I was writing from Saul’s point of view, so listening to his music made sense.

I hit a turning point in the story and I started slowing down. I was getting stuck. I slogged through it with help from a friend, and then I got stuck again. My brain suddenly decided that I MUST LISTEN TO FOLK MUSIC. Folk music? Okay, I thought, this is Alex’s music. He’s a small rural town kinda guy, bluegrass and folk and country-esque music is prevalent there. So, we’re listening to Alex’s music now, like the flip of a switch. Saul’s is absolutely not acceptable anymore. Alex was reaching a turning point in his character arc, so that made sense I guess.

But I was still stuck. For days. I was fighting my way through, feeling that the writing was slow and boring. I couldn’t figure out how to make it interesting. I kept thinking, “It’s really hard to show this from Saul’s point of view.” and “I have no idea where this is going.”

And one night I just hit a wall. I couldn’t write. Nothing. It wasn’t happening. I didn’t know what was supposed to happen next. I had ideas in mind, but none of it seemed right. The pacing was off if I executed the vague plotline I had in mind. It just didn’t work. I was so, so stuck.

Of course, I took to Twitter, because Twitter is my people.

I had a bit of conversation, and then an epiphany.

And something tumbled loose in my brain, like there’d been a rock stuck in the gears and that idea knocked it loose, and I starting thinking “Yeah… this might work. This would solve a lot of problems. This would solve so many problems. THIS WOULD SOLVE LIKE ALL THE PROBLEMS.”

And the gears started turning again. Slowly. It takes a little while for the machinery to go from total standstill to functional again. I went to sleep that night with a thought. The gears clearly kept turning while I slept, because the next day, I woke up with ideas. I tossed them out on Twitter so I wouldn’t forget, and then I kept simmering on it during the first half of my work day. On my lunch break I sat down with a notebook, and the flood gates opened. The clouds parted and sunlight broke through. I put pen to paper and the entire ending of the book spilled out over my brain with drunken enthusiasm. The pieces clicked together easily and logically.

Here’s where I get to the point. Remember up there where I said my brain randomly decided that Saul’s music wasn’t working anymore and it was time to start listening to Alex’s music?

DAYS before I got stuck, DAYS before I thought of switching POVs, my broccoli knew.

It knew.

broccoli

Writing is hard. There’s all kinds of advice out there. Not all of it will work for you. Maybe your broccoli is a lying little shit… but I doubt it. Your broccoli is your heart, your muse, your innermost self. Trust yourself. When you’re writing and things get rough, try to get quiet. Tell the doubts to shut the fuck up. Ain’t no one got time for doubts and fears. Cuss and swear and scream and throw things if that helps, and then get quiet. Sit. Focus. Stop trying to force words, and listen. Somewhere in the back of your mind, there’s a little green sprout saying “Do this thing. This is the thing to do. Trust me.”

Trust the broccoli.

(if you hate broccoli, feel free to think of that little voice as something else. Muse. Subconscious. Tiny person standing in your brain cavity shouting at you. Whatever form it takes, let it exist and listen to it.)