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 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

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

Cinder Day Twelve — Come Rain or Shine

Word Count: 1523

Time: 1 hr 30 min

I wish I could start everyday with a full tank and my eyes on the prize. Alas, not all days are created equal. But lately I’ve been reminding myself of something a character from one of my favorite shows said. She was talking about being an aspiring writer, and that she writes everyday, come rain or shine. 

I may not always feel like writing, but each time I let fear, pain, discomfort, sadness, or insecurity stop me, I make it stronger. I make the mountain bigger so the next time I go to climb it, I have to go harder and longer to achieve my goals.

I felt pretty shitty today. But still I managed to push myself through the pain. I’d like to say some magical moment happened where I realized it was all worth it and that made me feel revitalized and better about myself. But it didn’t. And I’m not sure it ever will. I don’t write to make myself feel good. I write because it’s a calling deep inside of me that draws me to it. I feel good when writing sometimes because in that moment I am living as my true self, doing my best and brining new creativity into this world. Those times are a luxury and a blessing. 

The chance to write is a gift, and to squander it because I don’t feel like facing the discomfort and frustration of it, isn’t who I want to be. It’s time I stopped putting myself down and act on my love.
—Johnny Eoin

Cinder Day Ten — Distractions

Word Count: 747

Time: 0 min

Distractions are a part of life. And that’s okay. Some days we just have to play with the deck we’re given. That being said, I think it’s important to be cautious of two of the biggest distractions: regret and fear.

Today, both of those stopped me in my tracks. I compensated by obsessing over minor details that I could control. On the plus side, it made me aggressively productive at work, which allowed me to resolve problems quicker and more effectively.

But when we trap ourselves in the regrets of the past, or lose our minds over fear of the future, we rob ourselves of the strength to do what we need to do in the present.

—Johnny Eoin

Cinder Day Nine — I v. He

Word Count: 747

Time: 45 min

Okay, so, I’m finally off to a good start. I still need to carve out more time to write, but I seem to have overcome the problems that plagued me a few days ago.

I’m finally focused on telling the story through my character’s eyes; no longer worried about fancy sentence structure or creative descriptions. One of the biggest improvements happened when I switched from third to first person. 

I’m fond of both, but somehow I got it in my head that writing in first person would be “too easy” and it would tempt me into using exposition rather than description. 

First off, good writing is good writing, no matter the narrative style. I can just as easily overuse exposition in either voice. Second, so what if it’s easier to write in first person? Shouldn’t I be looking towards any and every thing that will make this undertaking easier? It’s like the time in college when I decided I wanted to do my animations using 24 drawings a second, instead of the equally acceptable (and easier) 12 drawings a second. Needless to say, I didn’t finish my project on time— at least not the way I intended— and my career has suffered for that. What was I trying to prove by making my work harder for me? No one cares that you lowered yourself on your sword and scribbled the pages in your own blood. All they want is a good story.

Another point I failed to realize is that you can’t force your writing into a format that doesn’t work, just like you can’t force a character to speak in a voice that isn’t their own. It just doesn’t work, and your work suffers for it. My story is an intimate dramedy about identity and self discovery— why wouldn’t I use first person to put the reader as deep as possible into the protagonist’s head?

Lesson of the day:

Let your creations speak for themselves and they will tell you all you need to know.

—Johnny Eoin

P.S. Remind me to talk about overworked outlines and committing to writing processes before trying them out.

Cinder Day Eight — Here We Go Again

Word Count: 316?! 😵🤔

Time: 3x 15 min sessions

So after completing the first scene of my book, I read over what I had, not in a premature attempt to edit it (like I usually do), but because something didn’t feel right.

Writing is hard, but it was never this hard. I was pulling out my hair and my teeth but everything I came up with was complete shit. The dialogue. The descriptions. The framing. The exposition. For a few desperate minutes, I wondered if all my dreams had been for nothing. Maybe I didn’t have what it takes to be a writer. 

It was at that moment I happened to flip through the posts on this blog, finding short stories I wrote when I started. Now don’t get me wrong, they weren’t masterpieces, but they weren’t horrible. In fact, it had been so long since I’d written anything that I’d forgotten what my voice sounded like, and for a second I thought my stories were written by someone else. 

I stopped that pity party quickly after that, realizing the reason why none of my words worked was because they weren’t genuine. I was so wrapped up in how everything was going to look, how it would be received, that I lost sight of the whole reason I chose to write in the first place. I was making decisions for my characters that weren’t reflective of who they were. In some ways, I’m not surprised. Despite all my planning, characters don’t come to life until you sit down and commit their actions to paper. That’s when they truly reveal themselves.

So I scrapped the scene and toggled my perspective. I grounded myself in my protagonist and aimed to see the world through his eyes, rather than those of a writer stuck in his fear and insecurity.

So I may have taken a step back in terms of word count, but it was necessary to prepare myself for the marathon that lies ahead.

—Johnny Eoin