Sometimes, the best things to happen are the ones that you don’t see coming. Or the ones that look positively unpleasant. Or are arriving far too soon, surely.
These things have tumbled on top of each other for me lately, and while my actual writing may have staggered to a halt because of them, it’s been great.
People may be skeptical of coincidences, but truth is stranger than fiction. Just when I was starting to disparity about not being able to find a fluffy pet the dogs would be able to survive, there is a litter of rabbits born to a friend. When I get an extension on my journalism assignment, I get inundated with responses when there had been deafening silence beforehand. I joke about our family motto not really applying to me, and find a loose dog on my way to catch the train. This stuff seriously happens to me.
Coincidence can happen to characters, and that can be a good thing. I’ve noticed when reading that one if my pet irritants is when a reasonable coincidence feels like an act of external meaning. Regardless of genre, even if it is the act if a god, like the Chalion books, I prefer to have an acceptance of coincidence rather than an explanation of it. Unless the character is trying to justify events, that’s perfectly acceptable. When the narrator chimes in with some ‘was it meant to be?’ nonsense, I feel like the grown up at the pantomime who can see the bad guy sneaking up on the oblivious good guy. And while that’s fun sometimes, I’d prefer the characters to offer me a suggestion than be reminded of the narrative voice.
How do you balance the coincidental with the conspiracy? I have a handy rule of thumb picked up from my military history minded friend. Once is coincidence, twice is suspicious, three times is enemy action.
So, now I just have to work out if my new friend is a once, twice, or thrice!
This weekend I discovered that doing something different can give you a new outlook on where you are, emotionally, mentally, even in relation to your goals. I helped my dad build a fence, and even though my first response was ‘I can’t do that’, I managed somehow and felt better for it.
Today, I was talking to my amazing Thesis Supervisor, and she asked me about how I got so organised. I’m not organised, by the way, I just make it look like it. And I learned it through being sick. Which, as I sat on the train staring into the rainy night, I realised Alicia doesn’t know she’s learning.
Suddenly, the block I has been happy to leave there shifted a bit and the story moved a little in my head.
And a black striped cat stuck his head through.
Jax: a small, short haired black cat who appears on the fence post of Huey’s yard. He has green eyes, and he really would like a cuddle if he doesn’t have to go too far from his big furry friend. Often seen stalking the sparrows, but yet to be seen catching one, he claims Alicia as his person. He is actually really striped up close, but it may take a while for anyone in the book to find out.
Last weekend I did something different. I helped my dad make a post and rail fence for the pony paddock. Afterwards, I was exhausted, but I felt like I’d achieved something. Considering how overwhelmed I’ve felt lately, that’s a big relief.
Which made me think about writing, surprisingly. I wasn’t thinking about how to make fencing a part of a book, though That Story may well pick it up. It made me think about what I liked about writing, and that lead to some other interesting thoughts.
Writing is a reflection of you, how you see the world, and what interests you. I’ve heard that a lot over the years. What I haven’t heard as often is it’s a reflection complete with those things you dislike too. That came as much from the fencing, where I was incredibly glad I didn’t have to work out how to make it work, as from my recent investigation of journalism. I like making things up, I like to carefully craft something that makes sense and has had the time to become well rounded. I don’t mind putting in the hard work if I have an idea what it’s going to look like at the end.
Despite my pantster attitude towards planning, who needs it, I am determined to get what I end up putting out there ‘right’. I don’t like putting a polished vomit copy out there, it needs to have had a couple of drafts at least before it can be seen. I may do freewrites with no concern, but they’re a very different thing. I try not to get precious about things, but sometimes the need to get it ‘right’ is compelling.
‘Right’ has a way of getting in the way. Despite looming deadlines, I’ve been so stuck on what I am disliking right now that I haven’t given myself the mental space to get on with things.
The easy way doesn’t get things done. Not when the easy thing to do is procrastinate and get worked up about how annoying that thing is. And then the deadline is closer, nothing more has been done, and the annoying thing still sucks.
I’ve got a plan, dangerous as that sounds, and it’s based on the idea that if I don’t like what I’m doing then I have to do something about it. The only person who can get me out of this brain-tantrum is me.
I’m going to do something different. I’m going to fence off the time I need to get things done and do them. Then I’m going to fill the rest of my time with good things. The things I’m annoyed at came stay somewhere that’s not those places.
Hopefully, my fences will be more like the new one Dad and I finished, not the fence we replaced. I have a feeling annoying things are good escape artists.
Lately, I’ve rediscovered something I knew about myself but forgot. I really like deadlines.
Not that I like having them looming over me, and the feeling of inexplicable terror when I first receive them is something to behold. I like them because they give me a frame to work around.
If I have a deadline, or seven depending on university, I know I have to portion time so that I can do things well. I could slap them together at the last minute, but that would be doing myself a major disservice. And I have learned that the ‘but I could have done it better’ is a perfectionist’s favorite self-judging stick. I may not be a perfectionist all the time, that would be exhausting, but sometimes I try it out just for fun. Which it’s not.
I say this all because I have found again the strangely satisfying moment after the deadline, when there is relief and a sense of achievement, and the promise that it can be done again.
Shame I can’t set my own deadlines.
Luckily, there are methods around that little snag, and I read it in Chris Baty’s No Plot? No Problem!. If this book is unfamiliar, and you wan to write ridiculous amounts for no other reason than because it sounds awesome, get this book.
The people around you may not necessarily seem to care if you’re writing, but if you involve them and give them the chance to ask about your progress in such a way you have to be honest, the most unenthusiastic person can become inspiring. Honestly, sometimes I write just so that when people I barely see ask what I’m doing, I won’t be working on the same thing.
And that’s how I get my deadlines.
I make myself accountable to people I know, and trust to ask the uncomfortable question right when I least want to answer it. They don’t have to actively do anything more than a cursory question and a polite pause while I answer, but it helps.
Rewards for deadlines are also really help, but that’s a whole other post.
The real upside of deadlines this week. Baby bunnies are so cute!
Baby Bunny snuggles