It feels weird to post a wrap-up of a winter’s worth writing, reading, and other creative happenings on the second day of spring. (This is the new “writing monthly update” series I had mentioned last month, btw.) But the truth is, I’ve procrastinated on this post for a couple weeks now, and not due to lack of time. Instead, I’ve been feeling anything but enthusiastic or confident about writing lately.
(Btw, my latest DIY MFA post went live last week. Something funky happened with the blog post announcement, so click here to read the article at DIY MFA.)
The good news is, I’m now taking steps that can hopefully help me regain that confidence and lead to a better, more productive spring. I’ll touch on that, as well as the progress I’ve made so far with The Novella (my new writing project) and the books I’ve read so far this year. Also, since this is the first Creative Corner, any feedback on the content and/or setup will be greatly appreciated. 🙂
What’s Been Going On, and Why It Disrupted My Creativity
To be honest but brief, I’ve been dealing with anxiety for the past three weeks. It’s due to multiple sources of stress, but a lot of it is my own fault. One of my worst habits is worrying about the future or things outside my control – sometimes to the point of obsession. So, my brain has been on overdrive, hyper-focusing on fears, mistakes, and weaknesses until I get so tense and nervous that it takes hours for me to relax. This has also wrecked havoc on my confidence in my writing and worldbuilding skills. So on some days, I feel like I’m incompetent at the one thing I love doing most.
Yeah. It’s been discouraging. But at least I recognize what’s going on. So I’ve been taking measures to calm my system (yoga, meditation, Reiki) and change my thought patterns so they’re more positive and rational (journaling, positive affirmations). I’ve also been spending time away from social media, and took a 10-day break from writing. That’s what you have to do to take care of yourself sometimes, though. Because as important as writing is to me, health and well-being need to come first.
In short, I’m writing again, and I’m doing my best to resume a normal routine. Changing the way you think isn’t easy, even if it’s for the better; and I’m aware I’ll be working on this for a while. What has surprised me the most, though, is that these challenges have inspired a new story idea. So now I’m torn. Half of me tells me I should continue working on The Novella… but the other half of me can’t stop thinking about this new idea.
If you’re a writer, have you ever been in a similar situation (i.e., deciding between two very different story ideas)? What helped you make your decision in the end?
What I’ve Been Writing
I started Draft #1 of The Novella in January and wrote 17,770 words before my 10-day break. This word count both stuns me and makes me squirm. Why? According to my status sheet for The Keeper’s Curse’s first draft, it took me almost 6 months to reach the same word count. 😮 So, The Novella’s first draft is already further along than TKC’s was during the same amount of time.
The only hiccup? I’m only on Chapter 5 out of a projected total of 18 chapters, with bits of Chapters 6 and 7 written. This means the first draft will be well over novella-length (probably close to 60k, instead of 40 to 45k) when it’s done (and if I ever finish it).
But you know what I learned when I was drafting TKC? I overwrite my first drafts. In other words, I use too many words to describe or explain things. Draft #1 of TKC was almost 132,000 words when I finished it. But through two more drafts of revisions and heavy editing, I brought it down to its current length of 98k. So it’s OK if I go long on other first drafts, because I can cut it to a more reasonable length later on.
In the meantime, I’ve been receiving feedback from beta-readers on TKC. I’m still waiting for feedback from a couple readers, but for the most part people seem to like the story. Several worldbuilding issues need to be addressed, though, among other things; and many of these changes will affect The Novella. And while I already know of ways to improve the story, my recent anxiety has made it almost impossible to think about either project clearly.
So, what’s my plan going forward for TKC? I’m not sure. Originally I was planning to finish the first draft of The Novella. But with my ongoing anxiety, and now the tug-of-war between The Novella and the new idea, I’m having trouble deciding the best path for me writing-wise. Maybe my upcoming trip to the Iceland Writers Retreat will give me a chance to clear my head and find some answers.
What I’ve Been Listening To While Writing
I’ve mentioned before that music is a big part of my writing process. It helps me concentrate and steeps me in the mood for the scene-in-progress. That’s been the case with The Novella; and like with TKC, fantasy film scores have been my go-to backdrop during Draft #1. Interestingly enough, the songs I’ve listened to during The Novella weren’t songs that TKC had “asked for.” Here are a few of those tracks:
- “Faramir’s Good Council” by Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers)
- “Severus and Lily” by Alexandre Desplat (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2)
- “Enter Tomanha” by Jack Wall (Myst IV: Revelation game)
- Several pieces from Harry Gregson-William’s The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe score, including “The Wardrobe”
I also started working on a playlist for the Novella, which is also shaping up to be different from TKC’s. The “vision” I’ve had for it is similar to TKC’s in that it features symphonic rock and metal. But the personality of one of my POV characters is also calling for moodier, more atmospheric songs. Check out these tracks, and you’ll see what I mean:
- “Ambitions” by Katatonia
- “Murder” by Within Temptation
- “Autre Temps” by Alcest
- “Lost” by Within Temptation
What I’ve Been Reading
Apart from a slump-y January, 2017 has been a fantastic reading year so far. I’ve read 10 books since the year began, and out of those I’d like to highlight my five favorites, with links to my Goodreads reviews:
- American Gods by Neil Gaiman: My new favorite Gaiman novel. This modern fantasy epic combines an American Midwest road trip with a melting pot of religious deities, social commentary on power and consumerism, and touches of horror. It’s bizarre, but beautifully done and more profound than I expected it to be. Now I can’t wait for the STARZ series to begin next month!
- The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: A stunning debut novel inspired by Russian folklore. Everything about this story – its rustic setting, various demons and spirits, brave and free-spirited heroine Vasya, Arden’s gorgeous yet understated prose – took my breath away. It’s already a contender for my Favorite New Book of 2017.
- A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, Book #2) by V.E. Schwab: I just finished this on Friday, so I might not get a review on Goodreads before this post goes live. However, A Gathering of Shadows was JUST as fantastic (if not better) than A Darker Shade of Magic. It expands on the worldbuilding, magic system, and character development while introducing new players and pumping the stakes to stratospheric levels. I’m now reading the series finale A Conjuring of Light and already loving it. (EDIT: You can now find my review of AGOS here.)
- The Girl of Fire and Thorns (Fire and Thorns, Book #1) by Rae Carson: Finally started Carson’s first YA fantasy series, and WOW! Between the Spanish-influenced world-building, her book-smart and courageous heroine, and a clever play on the “chosen one” trope, this was an enthralling read.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman: My new second-favorite Gaiman book! It’s a collection of Norse myths that arcs from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, following the Norse gods and goddesses (Odin, Thor, Loki, etc.) and the other races populating the Nine Worlds. It’s different from Gaiman’s other works, but his wit, prose, and deep respect for the Norse pantheon made this the perfect project for him and a delight to read.
Attending Writer’s Digest’s 3rd Annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Conference
How cool is this?? Writer’s Digest is holding its third annual Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Conference the weekend of April 1st and 2nd. (Attendees are encouraged to sign in on Friday, March 31st to preview any conference materials.) It includes six 1-hour webinars by SF&F authors such as Charlie N. Holmberg (Magic Bitter Magic Sweet, Paper Magician Trilogy), Max Gladstone (Craft Sequence series), and Joe Hart (The Last Girl, The River Is Dark); as well as an opportunity for attendees to submit a query letter for critique to one of three participating literary agents. I’m only doing the webinars, but that doesn’t change how super-excited I am for the event. Not to mention it’s taking place the weekend before the Iceland trip. YAY. 😀
If you’re interested, click here to read more about the Writer’s Digest Science Fiction & Fantasy Online Writing Conference. I’m not sure if there’s a deadline for signing up, so my advice would be to do it sooner rather than later. Also, since the conference is online, I’m planning to share tips real-time on Twitter with the hashtag #WDSFF17. So feel free to follow along if you’d like!
How are your writing projects going? What books have you read lately? And, have you ever dealt with anxiety or indecision that interfered with your craft? How did you overcome it or learn to manage it better so you could continue writing?