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. 

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.