Writing Down

I watched a video today, celebrating the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter’s publication, that highlighted the personal struggles that JK Rowling endured while writing the first novel. 

I knew only bits about her life, how she struggled with domestic violence and survived on government welfare, but I was completely unaware that she battled depression as well. This got me thinking, as someone who struggles with depression: how do you write when you’re down?

There are days when I can barely function as a human being, neglecting even my most basic needs. Then there are times when the pain is merely a constant, nagging companion that whispers in my ear, talking me out of making productive choices in exchange for ones that provide distractions and fleeting moments of comfort. Regardless of the kind of day, the result is often the same– a waste.

I can never seem to gain (or keep) the momentum necessary to accomplish my projects. I’ve tried a variety of approaches to combat these feelings, such as working through them, allowing myself limited indulgences, and front loading my self esteem so that when I do hit a wall, I’m not crushed by it. I can’t say I’ve found a solution that helps 100% of the time, and maybe I never will. Perhaps it takes more than a single solution to fix this problem. But, it is inspiring to know that one of the greatest authors of our time, maybe all time, managed to combat this same foe and come out on top. It gives me a little sliver of hope that I too can commit to writing despite the odds. 

And who knows? Maybe that bit of hope will be what finally pushes me to the end…

Write What You Like

It’s been a while since I posted an update about my novel. Part of the reason why has been my inconsistancy. Writing has proven to be a giant beast and tackling it has brought me face to face with nearly every insecurity I’ve ever had. So I’ve long since given up on trying to track how many words per day I’ve written or how many per hour. There are benefits to such things, but for me, after a while, those numbers lose all meaning. And keeping track starts to feel like empty bragging. Who cares if I wrote five thousand words in a day if half of them are utter garbage?

Which brings me to the other reason why I haven’t been updating my progress– I’ve been unhappy with what I produced.

One of the reasons I chose this story as my first novel was because it was a basic drama. No magic. No lore. No mechanics to get too caught up in before I even got around to writing a single line of prose. And for a while, I thought I had a good thing going. 

Thirty thousand words of a thing, to be precise.

I have never written that much in my life! And I’ll be honest, it felt good. But as I got to the meat and potatoes of the story, it started feeling hollow and, at the same time, overbloated. There were too many things I was trying to say that I eneded up saying nothing. And worse yet, I didn’t have the passion I thought I would have. Sitting down to write became a chore. I no longer cared about these characters and what they wanted. Why was that?

After some soul stressing I decided needed a break. So one afternoon, I downloaded the game Life is Strange from the PlayStation Store and while it installed, I set myself up in the air conditioned bedroom to read a few of the comics I bought on vacation last month. Upon finishing all four issues of Namesake I felt this “surge” of excitement. It  strattled the line between reality and fantasy so perfectly. This is a balance I have always been drawn to; ever since my early days watching Saturday morning cartoons, to the angst ridden teen years locked in my room playing video games, to now, where such tales can be found in much wider reach, from television to comics and books. A part of me was revitalized, but, at the time, I didn’t know what to do with these feelings.

A few days later, I sat down to play Life is Strange, a game that I fell in love with watching Felicia Day play on YouTube. If you are reading this, and are unfamiliar with the premise, it is about a teenage girl who discovers she has the ability to reverse time. Without spoilers, the story unfolds around her learning about these new abilities and utilizing them to navigate the chaotic landscape that is high school, as well as some very strange happenings that are occurring around her small town. The game is a masterpiece of interactive storytelling, and after a few hours of play, everything inside of me clicked into place.

I have to echo a recent post in which I talk about how I received great advice from a writer at New Hope Pride. He told me to enjoy writing, and that, if I didn’t love it as a hobby first, I would never enjoy it as a career. And he was right. I had been cock blocking myself from accomplishing any significant success because I wasn’t allowing myself to experience the full joy that is crafting a story. Which was the whole reason I started down this path! I let my thoughts get tangled up with ideas of success and failure that I lost sight of my true objective– to tell a story that could make others feel the way I felt when experiencing a story that I loved. I got it in my head that I needed to start with a certain kind of book so as to avoid falling into some of the traps I had previously succumbed to. But in doing so, I hobbled together a tale that wasn’t me, that aimed to be socially conscious without really reflect my worldview or my experience. In other words, I was trying too hard to be something I’m wasn’t. 

So what to do? 

Honestly, part of me panicked. I wanted to curl up in a ball and just quit. Here was undeniable proof that I didn’t have what it took to be a writer. But thankfully, by the grace of God, I didn’t allow myself to fall into that trench. Instead, I followed the path my intuition carved and I began wondering: what if I add back a supernatural or paranormal element to my story? How would that change it? Where would that lead me? After a few bouts of panic, I managed to pursue my gut. I threw all my old “rules” out the window about what I should and shouldn’t do, about what should come first and how to map out my plot. I followed my feelings and jotted down what came to me. Then, I commited to those ideas, to making them work, but never so blindly as to writing them in stone. I did a little research. I jotted down various ideas. I changed what I needed but always made sure the result resonated with how I wanted this story to feel. After about a week of uncertainty, the disparate pieces began to make a whole picture. And the first words of prose I wrote? One of the second to last chapters of the book! From there I was able to map out the entire plot, in broad strokes. I understood my characters as basic shapes and how they would fit together in the overall story. I accomplished in a matter of days what I had labored over for months. And, I managed to make a version that was far more concise and with far more heart than before.

I was in awe. I still am. Here I was back at the beginning, but instead of feeling run down, I felt rejuvenated. I now had the framework to write a story that I could really sink my teeth into. I’m so grateful so the experiences, the wisdom, the grace, and the inspiration that have led me to this point. They have brought me back to the staring line for a reason, and that is to help me see the world once again through my eyes. To create a body of work that is as genuine as I can muster. Whether it’s good, bad, groundbreaking or run of the mill, it will be my best because it is sincere. And I am excited to share that with all of you. 

I Get Why People Quit

I’m drained. There doesn’t seem to be enough energy or hours in the day for me to dedicate to life and my artistic needs.  I feel tired, dejected, and insecure, which, as you can imagine, does not do much for the fires of creativity. When I do manage to get those juices flowing, I’m rusty. The craft becomes pulling teeth and I quickly become disheartened.

I seen now why people quit. Why they say “to hell with my dreams!” It feels like every week I wonder if I would be happier giving up and spending my life consuming the arts rather than contributing. After all, who am I to think I have anything to add?

But something keeps me from giving up on that dream. I’m not sure I know why, or even if it’s wise. But this too will pass. I will make it to the other side of his funk and when I do my dreams will be there waiting for me. They’ve gotten me through a lot of dark times, never once abandoning me. So I suppose it’s only right I show them the same respect.

Can I Do This?

I’ve asked myself that question a lot as of late. Can I really write a novel? Will I ever do what I want with my art? Will I ever have a career that is financially responsible as well as personally fulfilling? Can I juggle being ambitious with being a loving friend and partner? Am I doomed to always end up depressed and disappointed?

I got an important snipit of advice from an author I met at New Hope Pride this year. He told me to love writing.

At first that seemed cliche. Of course I love writing. Why else would I invest any time and effort into something so daunting. But weeks later, I began to see the wisdom in his words.

I had become so overwhelmed with everything but writing that I wasn’t enjoying it. Will it be any good? Will I ever make a career out of this? Will I ever be able to quit my job? Does this story  have a deeper meaning? Does it say everything I want it to say about life? It’s no wonder I haven’t been able to keep up the momentum I need. I’m psyching myself out before I even begin.
Telling stories has always been a passion of mine. I don’t know exactly why. It didn’t matter whether it was a sweeping existential epic or a charming everyday comedy. I simply loved going on the adventure. And I think that is the spirit I need to hold on to. 

So this is me, starting from scratch… again. But I will not allow myself to be discouraged. I can do this. More importantly, I’m going to enjoy doing this.

System Overload

I did a lot today… probably too much.

I went to work, I sketched, I drew, I read, I had dinner with a friend, I had second dinner with family, and I dealt with car troubles. I did not get to write however. And that’s a result of poor planning.

I was so eager to do so many other things today that I stacked my tasks in the wrong order. By the time I got to writing, I was exhausted. And worse yet, by the time I got home close to midnight, I had nothing left in me to give to those I care for the most.

In he pursuit of my dreams I need to remember that marathons are completed by knowing yourself, including your stengths and weaknesses. You must compensate for the areas your are lacking in, and create opportunities to shine in areas you excel.

I think going forward I will start my day off with writing, even if I don’t feel totally energized to do so. Then I will shift to something that eases my brain like drawing or exercising, and then go back to writing or one of my other projects. This may keep me from burning out, since it forces my brain to shift gears when before it starts to become fatigued. But only practice will tell.

Daily Breakdown

  • Sketchbook — Time: ???  Note to self: remember to keep feature three dimensional, especially in the face
  • Drawing — Time: ?? WIP portrait study. Current plan: ink and add value with Copic markers Original photo 

—Johnny Eoin

I Think I Can I Think I Can

In an effort to make good on my goals, I’m working really hard to discipline myself to put in the work each and every day. One of my biggest struggles, however, is how to carve out that free time so that I hit all the areas I want to work on. 

Today, even with my limited time, I managed to fit in some sketching, writing, research, and reading. Yet, there are still many areas of my day where I find myself wasting time and procrastinating. 

Knowing what you want to accomplish and setting goals seems to really help with the day to day decision making of what to focus on and how much time to invest in it. Take for example, my sketchbook. I’ve been pretty haphazard with my daily sketchs. And I feel my growth as an artist has suffered for that. So I thought about what it is I want out of my drawing and he kind of projects I want to work on. I don’t want to be a photorealistic portrait artist. I don’t want to draw architectural diagrams. I want to tell stories, in the vein of the comics and movies I grew up loving. For that, I need to understand action, gesture, expression, mood, lighting, perspective and point of view. When I shift my attention to these elements, the need to render every single strand of hair or perfectly sculp a figure’s body goes out the window. It is instead replaced with a series of choices, each aimed at answering one question: how do I convey a particular idea and feeling in this drawing? With these lines? With these shapes? In this space? That’s when I get really creative and discover which elements of a subject are important to me, and not ones I was told to venerate because they are the markings of a master artist.

Art truly is all about confidence. The moment you learn to decide and declare who you are and what you like is when the real fun begins.

Daily Breakdown

  1. Cis CinderTime: 1 hr / Word Count: 2,678. Still re-hashing the first chapter. I’ve gone back and add more to scenes I’ve already written, in an attempt to create a central “spine” for the whole chapter.  We’ll see how it works.
  2. Sketchbook45 min. Focused on gestures and the basic shapes of the human form in motion. I’m also obsessed with finding the right way to draw mouth expressions. 
  3. Graven Idols 30 min. A few more research sketches but mostly lists of product designs.
  4. ReadingEarthman Jack vs. He Ghost Planet by Matthew Kaddish (40%). Still entertaining but getting a bit drawn out. I’m staring to understand the importance of editors.
  5. WatchingScandal. Papa Pope oh no you betta don’t!! 😵

—Johnny Eoin

Paradigm Shift

Okay, so it’s clear by now that writing everyday is a tough commitment for me. I am by no means giving up, but I fear my blog will become repetitive if I continue to eek out a mere flurry of words each day. So therefore I will be shifting the focus of my daily posts to include all my current projects.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned, by in addition to being an aspiring writer, I am also an artist. I’ve studied animation, film and sound design. I love hobbies and crafts. I (occasionally) practice keyboard and guitar. There are a whole slew of ways in which I explore my creativity, and while I initially started this site to focus on my writing, it’s time to open it up a bit. After all, it’s not a fair represention of my progress if I only post that I didn’t write today but leave out that I did a page of gesture sketches. I want this site to chronicle all of my journey as an artist, so that means widening my pallet to include more.

—Johnny Eoin

Today’s Rundown:

  1. Cis Cinder — Daily words: 0 / Time: 0 / Total Words: 2,336.
  2. Sketchbook — I only had time for a few gestures and facial expressions. I’m still struggling with streamlining my drawing process to balance getting the maximum detail with the most efficient use of line and value.
  3. Graven Idols — I recently watched Moana and it inspired me to take my wood burning project in a new direction. At this stage I’m researching tiki designs.

Cinder Day Fifteen — The First Two Weeks

Words: 0 / Time: 0 / Total Count: 2,336

It’s funny how we make the same assumptions over and over again, despite seemingly learning our lessons. This time I though I would be able to knock out the first draft of my first novel in one month. After all, I already completed the hard work of plotting and planning. But telling a story isn’t as simple as plugging fluffy descriptions into pla pre-framed outline. There’s so much more to it.

There are an endless number of choices and decisions that get made every step of the way. What color is this barn? What magazines are strewn about on the bedroom floor? How to convey the history of character’s relationship using action verbs and not by simply telling? 

And biggest of all, how to swallow all my fears and buckle down to put in the necessary time?

I’m still learning. Rather than being frustrated, maybe I should take pride in that growth and just enjoy the journey. 

—Johnny Eoin

Cinder Day Fourteen — BGM

Word Count: 2,336

Time: 1 hr 15 min

Do any of you write with background noise?  I’m a fan of instrumental music, especially film scores. They are filled with energy and emotion that often helps get me in the zone. I also write to music with lyrics, depending on my mood. However, at times I find it distracting. When I was younger, I had the bad habit of keeping the television on while working. But there came a time when I felt I was doing myself a disservice by splitting my attention. Writing is hard enough without having to simultaneously pay attention to two plots. 

As I’ve come to discover during this process, not every plan works every time. Some days, I need silence. Others, I’m so overwhelmed with extra thoughts and emotions that I need a little more than music to drown it out. Today was one of those days. At first I hesitated to turn on the television. I felt it was a bad habit that I had finally nicked. But something called me to make the decision. And logically, what’s the worst that could happen? I lose productivity for one day, but then, how would that be any different from many of my other sessions? At best, I could just learn more about how to mange my down days.

I know myself well enough which shows I can and cannot work to. It’s best for me to stick to ones I’ve already seen, those I have little investment in, or shows that create a soothing and enveloping atmosphere. So I threw on a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and got to work. It’s too early to tell whether this technique will become my norm, but today I managed to increase my word count, and push through my insecurity. It gave me the comfort I needed to keep going. 

One day down. God only knows how many more to go. But today, I am thankful I listened to my gut and didn’t tether myself to rules that don’t always apply.

Cinder Day Thirteen — Chit Chat

Word Count: 1775

Time: 45 min

Dialogue is a beast. It is a true test trying to get characters to sound natural while giving exposition and moving the story along. 

Today I deleted much of the dialogue I wrote yesterday, putting a damper on my word count. But it was necessary, because even though what I wrote sounded cool, it wasn’t genuine to the character at this stage of his or her development. That’s another hurtle. You have to juggle who a character is versus what they will be, and sometimes that knowledge colors what you choose to write. Other times it serves as a good reminder as to what a character can and cannot do at a given point in the story.

I’m just happy I managed to get through my first scene of dialogue unscathed and with better knowledge of the people whose lives I will be playing god with for the foreseeable future.

— Johnny Eoin