I tend to believe that the ability to write a good story is born out of three separate facets: inspiration/creativity, skill (maybe also talent), and discipline. You have to have an idea worth writing about, first of all, an idea strong enough to carry you from beginning to end whether you’re writing a 1,000 word drabble or a series of novels. You have to have the ability to write a story well, balancing rhythm and plot, avoiding the black hole that is exposition, and knowing how to get the raw idea into words on a page that are in the order you intend. And you must have the inner discipline to get it done.
For all of 2017, I struggled with writing. Ultimately, I was able to bang out my goal 1 of 3 that I carry any given year, but neither of the other two.
Goal 1 = produce one chapter/oneshot per week to post in the following year, a total of 47 weeks of content (since I don’t post around the TCWC concert or CONvergence or the holidays).
Goal 2 = produce a minimum of 300,000 words.
Goal 3 = write an original novel
Yeah, I know, it’s ambitious as hell to have that sitting there on my shoulders year after year. But the only way I get better is by working harder, and the only way I work harder is by pushing myself.
The thing is that, in 2017, I didn’t run out of ideas, and I didn’t lose any ability to create words and put them down in order. But my sense of inner discipline suffered hugely due to all the stress around the things that happened in 2017 and the world it became. This wasn’t “eh, I don’t feel like it” — it was “I can’t get a deep breath because I’m in a near-constant state of low-grade anxiety attack and who can think about one thing when everything else is happening?”
I know for a fact I’m not the only writer who had a year like that.
The discipline I’d honed in the years prior held me up and I got things done even when it seemed impossible. I pushed through, I made Goal 1, and I’m happy with the content that is going up this year as a result.
But that push also exhausted me.
It’s the end of February 2018 right now. In the past, eh, 5 years, I’ve written a novel in the Jan-Feb block pretty consistently. But this year, I’ve definitely been feeling the effects of burnout. I have no fewer ideas, but the mental and emotional energy to make anything happen with them has been low (also, the world has not improved much, so all that anxiety remains).
I decided I needed to do something really different to break the cycle of exhaustion and to give my brain a different stimulus than my usual “write write write!”
So, last week I made a list of 47 fandoms with which I feel mostly comfortable, one for every week of posting that will be needed in 2019. Then I combined about 4 different lists of writing prompts. Some random number generation and cross-referencing later, and I ended up with a list of 47 fandoms with a prompt next to each and every one.
My new goal is to write a oneshot for each of these fandom/prompt pairings. I’m going to try to keep them all around 5,000 words or more, but I’m not asking myself to turn any one of them into a novel. They’re just oneshots. Short, sweet, fun stories.
For me, it’s like exercising a really different muscle. Writing at length takes a certain mix of skill and focus and long-term planning. I have to plant seeds even if I don’t know what they’re going to grow into or how I’m going to use their fruits later on. But writing short stories feels like a burst of energy and focus, like lighting a firework and letting it explode, rather than having to till the land, plant the flowerbed, water it, weed it, and wait for it to grow.
I started this new process last Wednesday. Since then, I’ve completed 2 of the oneshots and written more than I did the entire months of January and February until that point. And I feel energized again.
It’s kind of a weird exercise, and weirder still for me to think that I might go this entire year without writing a novel. On the other hand, if I get these 47 oneshots done quickly, I might have the end of my year completely free and clear of any pressure (since the 2019 Goal 1 will be done) and might find a novel in me yet.
What I’m learning about myself is that I really can write no matter the circumstances. If it’s hard, I still get it done, even if it’s like dragging thorns out of my skin to get there. If it’s easy, it flows from me as easily as breathing. And sometimes I need to change the rules of the game to keep myself in the best shape.
My writing triad is in pretty good shape, even if I’ve had to bend it a bit in the last year and a half. I’m still full of ideas and the will to write. I still love the language and the act of putting thoughts into words. And I still have the drive to push, to make writing happen no matter what. I had to tip the triad up and balance it on a different point to make it stable for now, but that’s okay.
Maybe it’s not so much a triangle as a wheel, and once I soften those edges, it’ll get back to rolling along.
Writing is such a journey to me. It’s an innate part of who I am and how I interact with the world beyond the TCWC or CVG or the people in my life. It’s inscribed in my heart and stamped on my soul. “Property of Writing.” I belong to it as much as it could ever belong to me. And through writing, I have found better parts of myself. I’ve *created* better parts of myself.
It’s not *easy.* Of course not. Nothing worth having ever is.
And writing? Is definitely worth it.
Even one short story at a time.