So far in 2020, my attempts at fiction writing have not been going as well as I’d hoped. For several weeks, I’ve continued to wrestle with the vampire story that I’ve been working on for some time now. Sometimes, I’ve had some inspiration and written individual scenes of a few hundred words. But planning the story has been a real problem. I’ve been trying to rework the outline, but I’m struggling to plan out how the second half should go. And while the first two chapters are polished enough for me to have sought and received feedback on them, some of the scenes that follow feel boring, awkward or both. Somehow, it feels harder to turn the messy fragments I have into a cohesive story than it is to write a new story from a blank page for NaNoWriMo.
So perhaps I need to try something different. Being so frustrated with that project, I’ve set it aside for a while in the hopes of clearing my head. Instead, I’m spending some time with The Approach to the New World, the story set on the Titanic that I wrote for Camp NaNoWriMo in 2012. This remains the longest story I’ve written, the one I felt happiest while writing, and the one I still look at most fondly now. I haven’t spent much time re-working it in the intervening years since I wrote it just for myself and didn’t seriously intend to do anything more with it, but now I’m thinking it could make me feel more positive – and sharpen my skills – to see how I can improve it. Inspired by this advice by Anna Davis on reviewing a first draft, I’ve uploaded the document to my Kindle and am in the process of re-reading it and taking notes. It’s certainly different from reading it on the computer, and allowing me to see what can be polished more clearly.
I’m also still trying to learn and adjust my mindset. I recently finished reading Creativity Inc by Ed Catmull, about the management of Pixar Animation Studios; while most of the advice in the book is directed at managers wanting to encourage creativity among their team, there are also useful tips for solo artists. The main thing I took away from the book is that I shouldn’t be afraid of not getting a story right the first time. I’m a perfectionist by nature, and while I can churn words out during NaNoWriMo (usually after a good deal of planning beforehand), at other times I’m being held back by trying to ensure a piece of writing is going to be worthwhile before I’ve set it down. I need to allow myself to experiment, and accept that if one attempt at a story doesn’t work out, it’s not a waste of time. As pointed out in Creativity Inc, even Pixar films can spend years having their stories ironed out, with the final product often bearing little resemblance to the original pitch, only the heart of the concept remaining intact.
I’m currently reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a short book which I think is also going to be useful. Pressfield starts by talking about “Resistance”, which stops artists from doing their work through forces like fear, rationalisation and the desire for instant gratification. The part I’m currently on is about the difference between amateurs and professionals, e.g. professionals understand that they are not their work and thus don’t take criticism personally. I’m hopeful that this book is going to help my writing mindset as well, and I can get into a routine of doing proper writing outside of November. I’m only going to get better if I put the work in!