In The Village

Sometimes, despite the size of the world and the ever expanding groups we associate with, the truth is the immediate world is a village. The same people just around tr proverbial corner, the same people to talk to and exchange news with. Sure, sometimes there are visitors, and they’re wonderful, but they’re not part of the general reality of the day to day in the village.

Which begs the question, what do you do when something had comes to the village? Not a monster, not wolves or bears in he far woods, but a person who moves in and brings a darkness to your village. What do you do when you need to face that bad regularly, and it’s not possible to tell them to pack their bags and get out?

Dealing with a bad, person or event or anything else, can’t be done without understanding what the bad is, its role in the village, and a better plan than ‘get them!’. A bad can be the cluttered desk, the pile of dishes gaining sentience, the feeling of inertia or negativity that stops you doing what you want. The bad can be ever-present, recurring, or a random visitor who arrives and sets the village on its head. It doesn’t even have to be a bad all the time. Sometimes, the bad is also a good, but it changes, and can leave you with elation or depression. It doesn’t matter what the bad is, or how often it appears, it’s a bad and for the same of the village, something has to be done.

The first step to dealing with a bad is identifying it. Once it’s identified, it can be dealt with. And that’s always the first step, figuring out what the obstacle ahead is. Once that’s done, the village can have a quiet town meeting, and work out what to do about the bad.

Critical Mass

So, I’ve discovered that starting small is not the only thing that needs to happen…

Critical Mass has to be achieved.

This, I have discovered, is much harder than just doing something. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult parts of getting back into self-directed work. Procrastination has crept in, and it does not want to leave.

And so, I’ve been looking for ways to build this pile of motivation, so that instead of just searching the internet for horsey things, I get myself settled and do some work.

The first thing I need is a deadline. That gives me something to pile the mass against, so it can get to the point where I can’t ignore it anymore. I’ve got until the end of the month to make a plan of action, get my supplies, and embrace the crazy amounts of work I really want to get done this year. This lead up is so I can deal with a few stressful things happening in the real world, and so I can start building Critical Mass for the start of the month. This includes asking for the help I know I need, and making sure I arrange to get it.

As an impulsive writer, I’ve discovered Critical Mass may not always appear where I want it. Some story ideas, pieces of thoughts, or ‘what if’s come with their own weight, and they build Critical Mass like a snowball. More established stories, ones that have shed the exuberance and the encumbrance of exposition are much harder to get started, or continue working on.

Don’t stop yourself. Set aside some time and let Critical Mass happen. Even if the piece or idea will never make it to the big, bad world, it will collect more ideas and enthusiasm than it needs, and that will filter over to other work. The more you do, the better you feel, the more capable you feel, the more likely you are to be fighting off plot bunnies with a stick. Or trapping them humanely and releasing them into prepared habitats.

So, if you’re stuck like I am, trying finding a way to build Critical Mass, give yourself permission to explore before you decide what you absolutely must do. This stuff, even if it’s aimed at becoming a job, is supposed to be fun. Remember the joy, and the excitement. As an impulsive writer, the fun part is discovering things as I write. Planning is for when the idea is more than just a nebulous form in my head.

Critical Mass, like plot bunnies, builds when you give it time, space, and something to feed on.

Here are two examples of things that have shown me Critical Mass can show up anywhere. Even in the wrong genre!

Petey and Scottsman

Petey (at the back) and Scotsman (at the front), two horses saved from the knackery. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Trooper 3

And Trooper, same backstory. He’s a sweetie too.

Stuck? Start Small.

There was a news article clipped out and bluetacked to Mum’s office wall. It was about lion tamers, and how they used the chairs to make the lion hesitate in picking a target. There were four legs, which one would be best? And so the lion did nothing. I can tell you, this week I can really sympathise with the lion…

Having done a really good job of organising my writing, I have discovered the flaw with organising your writing when you’re impulsive and prone to really weird projects. They’re all really difficult and under-developed. Which means that all the ‘World-building/Idea Generation’ group are about as difficult as the ones in ‘Plot’, and ‘Write’ just looks terrifying. I don’t even want to think about the ‘Edit’ pile…

And so I sit, staring, and I realise that I’ve forgotten the rule that fixes it all. Just start small. So I open this page, which I’ve been meaning to do, and write up this post. Because it’s small, and I can do it. And when I’ve done this, maybe I’ll feel like doing something more. Maybe I’ll feel like doing some plotting for the horse story I am thinking about, or maybe start doing some of the last book in the fantasy trilogy I’m meant to be working on.

Just start small.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the biggest project ever, it’s all made up of little things. Break it down, find something small, and do that. Doing something, and being happy that you did something, is a really good skill to have. I’m working on it. Today I am even writing it on my whiteboard. Start small.

Every little bit counts.

Speaking of little things, here is Bobby, who is awesome, and gets into heaps of trouble because he likes to nibble clothes.

Proof that small can be awesome. And fluffy.

Proof that small can be awesome. And fluffy.

Songs have more than one story

I was in the shower, singing along to a song I’d used for the restart of Throne of Shadows, before I actually got to plan it for Camp NaNo August 2012.

The story that came to me today was a new start for a modern fantasy young adults series. At the moment, it’s called Gwen because that’s the current name of the MC.

Idea notes:

Gwen has run away/snuck out, because she’s struggling with the realisations of the lies that her Grandmother and brother were telling her, particularly that she’s a witch.  It’s raining, not heavily, but enough to make her more miserable. As she’s wondering if someone, anyone, cares that she’s not at home, a young man only a few years older than her appears and says that they need to get out of there. She goes with him, something about him sparking a feeling of belonging she hadn’t known before.

They do need to get out of there, the henchmen of the Bad Guy (immortal priest bent on destroying witches probably) are on Gwen’s trail, and somehow the boy hides them. But they’re herded towards an old miner’s cottage, which is meant to be empty. It’s not, and as they hide in the small outbuilding to try and not get noticed by the Bad Guy, Gwen realises that she can recognise the sobbing voice coming from inside the cottage. A girl from her school, pretty, popular, and definitely in trouble. Before she can convince her new friend that they have to do something, the Bad Guy appears, and makes some revelations about his hatred of witches, and his ability to see their magical abilities. Then, right when Gwen is going to act, in comes her Grandmother, and claims the girl is under her protection, and that the Bad Guy knows better than to cross those lines. Some more interesting things happen.

Gwen sneaks back home, and pretends that she doesn’t know anything about it, and pretends that she believes the popular girl is dropping over to visit her brother. It’s happened before, but now Gwen knows that they’re not just being older teens doing older teen things. She feel betrayed, isolated, but she has met one person who cares what happens to her. She does something, small and symbolic, to remind herself about this guy.

End of idea.

Right, now it’s on the internet, I either will forget it, or I will look at it and be all ‘what on Earth was I going on about’…

Starting Somewhere.

Remember the part where I said I was impulsive? Unfortunately that also translates into incredibly messy. Which, I have discovered in my procrastinating internet-trawling, is one of the things that will block productivity. Who knew a messy desk could be such a problem? Actually, I did, but I try and forget that as soon as I’m too lazy to clean my desk. After Christmas, however, my desk looks like a disaster, and I really should do something about that… I even got given some funky new Ikea draws to go under my desk to help with the mess! Which is awesome, but it’s so hot here that I can’t think, let alone gather the energy to sort out tubs of mess.

Instead, I decided to essentially organise my writing by collecting it into some sort of sensical fashion. As an impulsive, character driven writer, all my drafts and notes are labelled by the name of the MC, which can be a bit tricky when you have no memory of a story until you read it. This does lead to issues, and since it’s clearly something I need to work on to stretch my skills, I decided to let myself get super organised about my stories.

I got myself a new notebook, a sketchbook so I could brainstorm on non-lined paper, a folder , and some plastic pockets. I already had a few spare favourite brand pens, some greyleads and coloured pencils, sticky tape and scissors, so that really meant I didn’t need to take them home when I ogled them at the shop. And then I went through all the writing files I had on my computer, and got to work. I wrote down the name of the story, and a brief note so I could remember something about it. That was the start.

The Process:

  • Write out a list of each project by name, any order, on lined paper
  • Add what stage each project is to list, put in front pocket of folder
  • Get one plastic pocket for each project, group projects together in a way that makes sense
  • Small whiteboard divided by stages; prep/research/worldbuild, plot, write, edit. Put it somewhere really obvious, mine is on the wall beside my desk
  • Write story tags under the headings on the whiteboard
  • Be pleased at how organised everything looks

Each plastic pocket includes:

  • 1 piece of sketch paper, mind map style, about the story, themes, scenes, anything
  • 1 piece of lined paper, name of story and Progress Log at the top, in the back of the plastic pocket, facing out

And now I have written a blog post about getting organised! Talk about a productive day! Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle the desk soon, but with the heat of summer rolling along, I think I might just be pleased with these little steps.

Oh yeah, and here is another pic from the farm. Isn’t it the cutest!

Look what I didn't bring home!

Look what I didn’t bring home!

So, what is this about anyway?

The start of the year is meant to be a good, and terrible, time to start things and make changes. This year, I have honestly thought about the dreaded Resolutions. I decided that what I need to focus on is writing. Not just doing it, last year I managed to push myself and get a good body of work behind me, but stretching myself as a writer. There are so many skills involved in creating good, emotive stories, ones that make people go back and re-read sections again and again. I want to be able to write something that really resonates, something that really works how I want it to do, even if the only person who ever reads it is me.

How to get to that glorious, mythical point of liking something that I’ve written is a much more complicated problem. It’s all well and good to set Resolutions, but getting them to actually become a reality is a lot more complicated. So, while I stared in panic at the small but meaningful list of Resolutions, I decided to take a deep breath, try a short meditation to reset my brain, and see if I could break things down into smaller pieces. Given other factors, the deep breath and the meditation had limited success, but I did manage to get smaller, more manageable parts.

That was how this blog started, as a step to make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard, thank you too many horse training videos. If I want to improve as a writer, I need to make improvements. If I need to improve, I need to know what my strengths and weaknesses are. To do that, I need to take an honest evaluation of my writing. And then I need to take the small, necessary steps to get from where I am, to where I want to be.

I am an impulsive, character driven, scatterbrain writer, who runs off on tangents, never finishes projects and is always up to her neck in ideas. I have more characters than I care to admit, and I am sure I’ve forgotten many good ideas that I would have rather written about. The writer I want to be is able to plot the impulsive ideas, make plot and world work as well as story, keeps focus on a project, and gets things done. The writer I want to be is only as far away as the effort and time I am willing to put in. And so, this blog is serving the purpose of a record, a training log of what I’m doing to push myself, to make things better, and maybe a place to put the random ideas that I don’t want to lose. Once something is on the internet, it’s there forever, I should be able to find it if I lose it in my mess, right?

So, that’s what we’re here for; pushing past the comfort zone and becoming more than we were when we started. I’m going to get distracted along the way, but there are so many quotes that say persistence is essential to do anything well, I’m hoping that this little piece of internet gives me something to come back to and to help order the chaotic world of writing. We survived the end of the world, time to make the best of it.

Oh, and the picture of my pony, Pickles, is there because I’ve spent the last few days with her at the farm, and I’m missing her already. Isn’t she cute?Image