Why I Give up Writing.

There’s a fine line between love and hate and depending on the day, my relationship with writing could fall either side of that line. On one hand, I really enjoy coming up with new ideas, creating good characters with interesting relationships and building a world for them to inhabit. But on the other hand, there’s the stress, pressure and self-doubt that comes into play when I sit down to type at laptop or when I pick up a pen and put it to paper.

Today, I have come up with a new novel idea. I have sat at my desk to try and write a second draft of my favourite short story that I’ve ever written. And I’ve also said that I am giving up writing, that I’m no good at it and that it is pointless for me to even continue to try and write. I’ve not had much success.

In fact, the only success I have had from writing came from being a ‘highly commended’ entry in a writing magazine competition. This might be part of the problem: when I sit down to write I don’t see any end game in sight, and I don’t see myself making any great strides or progress towards being a published author. Though, when I don’t write and I spend my time instead playing on the playstation or reading articles about films instead of writing, I feel angry with myself that I’ve not done anything to help my writing.

So I’ve got myself a schedule of where I want to be at weekly intervals with my writing after picking out a few competitions I think I can enter. This afternoon, I sat down to redraft my favourite short story and I hated it. A couple of days ago I went through the story, highlighted the good parts, pointed out the bad and decided what changes needed to be made. Rather naively, I thought that would make writing the second draft a lot easier.

I didn’t even get halfway through the second draft before I gave up. It was awful. In no way was it better than the first draft. The characters weren’t jumping off the page like they had the first time I’d written the story, the world didn’t seem as interesting after the changes I had made to the structure. It was a bad story, it was poorly written and it was incredibly inferior to the first draft.

Maybe I had sat down in the wrong frame of mind, just wanting to get it redrafted and out of the way, but this is how I feel a lot of the time. As I mentioned before, the fun part for me is having the idea and crafting it into something that can become a story, but when I try to write any of them I feel like I’m doing them an injustice. I have so many ideas in my head that I struggle to focus on any one of them for a long enough time to ever make the progress that I want to see.

Last year I finished the first draft of my novel, Queen of Hell Rising, and what have I done with that since? I’ve made an effort to read through it and evaluate the chapters, see what makes sense and what doesn’t, but I don’t have the passion or motivation to do that. The worst part is that I don’t know why I don’t want to do it because actually writing the novel was greatly enjoyable and I do think it’s a genuinely good piece of writing.

Maybe I just need to sit myself down and focus on a long term project, or maybe I should have a stern word with myself and get better at redrafting. Or maybe I just need to give up on my dream of being a writer altogether, which seems a lot easier and a lot more desirable at this point in time.

How Many Ideas Actually Exist?

Writing has a lot of questions but very rarely does it provide concrete answers. Like the short story post I wrote recently, if you google this question you’ll get answers that range from 1, 2 or 7 to 36 or even hundreds.

Take Avatar for example. The highest grossing film of all time. Is it not very similar to The Last Samurai, which in turn is very similar to Pocahontas which is probably very similar again to a film that came out before that. Ideas are recycled, reused and resold. And audiences love that.

Hollywood has taken this idea very literally in recent years by churning out sequels, prequels, spin-offs, adaptations and remakes like nobody’s business. Hollywood being lamented for a lack of originality is becoming as common as Meryl Streep bagging an award. Yet the types of films mentioned above – more often than not – become hits.

There’s something to be said for being similar to other projects, especially successful ones. Despite the fact that agents, publishers and competition hosts will often ask for something different, what they seem to really want is a new slant on an already told story. Think about it, when Twilight was all the rage, how many more Vampire television programs and films were made? They all – as far as I know – had a different slant on the Vampire story but I’d wager every one of them featured a human falling in love with a Vampire as is so often a trope of the genre, but because they were similar to something successful, they were given a shot. If people like one Vampire project, why wouldn’t they like another? It’s logical at the very least.

The reason I bring this up is because last night I discovered the film Splice. The plot of which “concerns experiments in genetic engineering being done by a young scientific couple, who attempt to introduce human DNA into their work of splicing animal genes”. For those – if there are any – that read my blog regularly, you may notice that sounds incredibly similar to the short story I’m writing at the moment. I have never seen Splice before, yet I fear now I may be inadvertently ripping it off.

I think there are two ways you can go when this happens. Either let it put you off and try (and inevitably fail) to find a brand new story that’s never been done before, or you use it as inspiration and motivation to make yours the best version of the story there can be. The latter is what I hope to achieve, but I feel like I should watch Splice first.

How Short is a Short Story?

How short should a short story be so a story is still seen as short? It’s up there with how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? as one of the great philosophical questions of our time.

A quick Google of the question will give you varying answers. On the first page of results alone you can find answers that give you up to 30000, 20000, 7500 and 6000 words; most of the sites seem to agree a short story should be at least 1000 words. The most scientific attempt to answer this question suggests that 5100 words is the prime total.

Whatever the answer is, everyone agrees that once your short story is a certain length (what that length is depends on the website you’re reading from) your writing is now a novella. Which poses yet another question: how long or short should a novella be?

The reason this is on my mind at the moment is because the ‘short story’ – as I am referring to it – I’m writing at the moment is threatening to be twice or maybe even three times as long as short stories I have written previously that have just about pushed the 2500 word barrier. While I see it as a short story, I recently found out about a writing competition asking for novellas where the word limit is 6000-17000 words, a category I can see my short story being able to fit.

Of course, when writing for yourself it doesn’t really matter how long your writing is or in which category of writing you define it as. Perhaps the best answer – and the most infuriating – is simply: as long as it needs to be. If you develop your characters well and the story moves at a good pace, never dying down then it doesn’t matter if its 400 words or 40000 words. It just matters that you’ve achieved something when you’ve finished.

As an aspiring writer still looking for a break, you’re at the mercy of competition rules and publisher guidelines where word counts are concerned but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve managed to cut stories before to half the length when imposed with competition rules and it challenged me to only keep the finer details and I do have a tendency to really ramble on in some cases.

I’ll finish this short story and see how we go on the word count. I’m hoping I do manage to make it over the 6000 word mark because I think it might actually stand a chance if I entered it into the novella competition I mentioned above. However, I’m conscious that every word has to be there for a reason and that reason can’t be simply ‘I need it for the word count’.

Fighting Distractions – and Losing

I find myself with an incredible urge to do absolutely anything BUT write.

It makes me really angry and disappointed in myself because I can’t force myself to focus or be motivated to write when there are so many more things to do. Some would call it lazy but I prefer to think of it as unmotivated.

Whenever I have had to do anything to a deadline I have had no problem whatsoever in getting myself motivated and determined to finish, be it an essay, coursework or a script for university. When you have a deadline – in work or at university, college or school – there is a reason for it. And there will always be repercussions if you do not hit those deadlines.

Since leaving university and having only myself to write for, the pressure and the motivation of looming deadlines no longer exists. And this is what troubles me. Because I know that if I decide not to write for a week or so, nobody will care, nothing will happen, I won’t fail anything and the rest of my life won’t be affected by it, at least in the short term. On the other hand, if I did spend a weeks worth of my free time writing, I may be able to accomplish something, maybe even finish a short story and have something tangible at the end of that week. So why is that not motivation enough?

More and more I find myself turning to television, reading a book and convincing myself this is just as good, or turning on the PlayStation and working on returning Ajax to their former status as European heavyweights (mission accomplished by the way). Then after a couple of hours I feel bad that I have not written.

It’s a vicious circle. I’m trapped and I don’t know how to get out.

Capturing the Excitement.

It’s been a couple of days since I last posted something about my writing here. I was planning on getting a blog up yesterday but I had an unfortunate fall from my bicycle on the way home from work which meant I just spent the evening feeling sorry for myself and licking my wounds (not literally) for the night instead.

Anyway, after writing my first blog post I made the decision to start my short story from scratch again. Technically, it’s the second draft. I made the decision because I believe that if you’re going to dedicate so much of your time to something then it needs to be something that you’re passionate about. I had no love for the half-written story in my notepad but the characters, tone, atmosphere and relationships that were in my head just continued to develop every time I thought about them and that made my decision a lot easier.

So I’m a few hundred words in to my second draft which may not sound like much but it’s quite an achievement for me. I have such little time to write now that whenever I get any writing done at all I feel like I’ve achieved something. With just the beginning written though I feel like this is already a much better story and just a nicer piece of writing: I’m really happy with the tone I’ve built so far with a sprinkle of foreshadowing and a couple of easy-to-miss hints at what is to come. I feel like I’m managing to capture the Dracula-style element I was aiming for. Of course this is my own opinion, but being pleased with your own work is a great starting point.

Starting this blog has had the effect I hoped for, it is causing me to think about my writing every day. And it made me remember that the idea for the short story I’m currently writing actually came from a series of short stories I had planned and half-written previously. There was a time a few years ago when I was hoping to publish a collection of short stories; the idea being that they were all about different characters in the same vicinity and their paths would cross every now and then, like Heroes or The Street or something similar but written down. A collection of short stories rather than a novel because each one was different, focusing on a different character and viewpoint each time, with varying tones; standing alone but feeding into one another for a large effect. It seemed like a strong idea at the time but I’m not sure what the market is like for collections of short stories. A little more difficult to sell as an up and coming writer I feel.

I’m sort of undecided what to do when I finish the short story I’m writing. Part of me is tempted to post it on here for the world (read: 3 viewers) to see or to enter in into competitions and see what happens. With my track record of finishing projects I’ll have a while to decide yet, but at least it’s exciting.

The Weight of Self Pressure

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Over the last decade or so, becoming a writer has not only been a primary goal of mine, but it seems more achievable now for me than it has in the past. I can’t really explain why that is; perhaps its because there are so many ways now to get your writing out there, or perhaps it is because that everything I write teaches me something new – about either myself or the writing process. I know I’m still a long way of achieving my main aim of having a novel published or a script sold, but I feel I’m making progress, no matter how small.

One thing that I believe is stopping me is the incredible amount of pressure that I put on myself, which in turn turns into self-doubt, which then creates a negative impression of my writing that I just can’t turn off. This has increased over the past decade in tandem with the above. It is when I compare my experience of writing two feature length film scripts years apart that I can see just how much pressure I am putting on myself now. And how that is taking away the fun from a hobby that I used to enjoy a lot more. The two scripts in question were:

Navanho. Set in the fantasy kingdom of Navanho, King Gabriel’s palace is overrun by his half-brother who banishes Gabriel from the kingdom and takes his baby daughter to raise for his own, in his own image. Gabriel brings together a team of mercenaries – including old friends and new acquaintances – to take back his kingdom and rescue his daughter.

Beyond the Veil. A journalist investigating a series of kidnappings is thrust into the centre of his own story when his son becomes the latest victim. After finding out the children are being smuggled to a different dimension, our hero must visit the second world and face off with some familiar faces to find out why his son was targeted.

Oh… it wasn’t until I just wrote both of the synopses out side by side that I realised how similar the two stories are.

Navanho was the first script that I ever wrote (way back when scripped.com was a thing) and seems to have been lost in the ether now. It may have a simple story which is similar to many fantasy novels/films but it will always have a place in my heart because it was the first project I had seen through from start to finish and is exactly the kind of film that I would love to see on the big screen. I remember writing Navanho just to see if I could. To see if I had it in me to write a full length feature film. And I did. I think it’s for this reason that it will always be my favourite piece of writing I have ever done. The point is though, when I wrote Navanho I wrote it for myself, knowing that it was a project being written out of passion and was not meant for other people’s eyes. This completely sucked the pressure out of the project because if it was bad, what did it matter?

When I came up with the idea for Beyond the Veil, I genuinely thought I was onto something good. The basic premise, I believe, is a really good and really strong one. Some of the themes and characters of that script were solid. I’m not saying the final product was a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but it was good. And when I look back on it now I can be proud of it. I wrote Beyond the Veil about three years after Navanho and was writing it with the intention of trying to get some interest from production companies (of which I did get a little) so while I was passionate about it, I wasn’t writing it just for me, which is where the pressure came from.

More and more I have found myself trying to second guess my audience because I want their approval. Not all writers will admit to wanting their writings to be liked, but I do. I want to be able to share my stories and ideas with people and for them to resonate and mean something to the people who read them like they mean something to me. I feel like I’m caught in a vicious circle of wanting to put my own work out there but scared of it not getting the reaction I would like. It’s a big thing, putting your work in the hands of someone else and not knowing how they’re going to react to it.

I put so much pressure on myself because I want my writing to be the best it can be that I think sometimes my passion and writing style gets lost in the mix. I know that I need to take this pressure and turn it into something more productive, like courage, motivation to do better, determination to succeed or all of the above.

Finally I’ve seen what the biggest obstacle I face in becoming a writer is. It’s me.

The Overbearing Second Draft

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For someone who has so many unfinished projects, you wouldn’t think I’d have a lot of problems with second drafts. But this isn’t a post about how difficult it is to write a second draft (though I’m sure that will pop up somewhere), this is more about how difficult it is to finish a first draft while continuing to populate ideas which are so much better than what you’ve already written.

Allow me to explain as this has become a huge problem for me in writing my latest short story. I’ve had a story I’ve wanted to write for quite a few years now about a scientist who is experimenting with genetic modification and combining the DNA of different animals to make them ‘better’.

So I embarked upon my short story with this premise: a former Nobel prize winning scientist invites a disgraced child prodigy turned blogger to her secluded laboratory for an exclusive interview about her latest experiment. What should be the scoop of a lifetime could be his last when he uncovers the true intentions behind her experiments.

I wrote around a thousand words and found myself at somewhere just before the halfway mark when I realised a couple of major flaws with my story: the stakes were not high enough and the relationship between the characters just seemed…forced. And I stalled. While I had started my story with full of hope and great vision it just did not seem to translate to the page, I felt like my pen was plotting against me.

But my brain was not going to let this stop me, instead it brought to find fresh ideas and different approaches that I could try to get it right. Now I’m intent on writing the story again, this time shaping it more to fit the Gothic monster theme, think Dracula or Frankenstein. I feel like my story is purpose built for that particular style. And with that I want to remove the ‘blogger’ aspect which I now can see was only added to make my story seem modern and I want to replace him with a spouse who my scientist has finally decided it is time to open up to. Although who’s to say that it won’t end in the same way?

I’m really excited by the new relationship at the centre of my story and trying to give it a more Gothic feel (Dracula is one of my favourite books of all time) yet all I can think about is that half-written first draft. I’ve always been told the hardest part of writing is actually getting to the end of the first draft and I cannot believe how true that is. But when I have such exciting ideas for the second draft why would I bother finishing the first? Why do I need to know an ending to a story that’s going to change? These are the questions I ask myself to try and justify tossing aside hours of work and planning – not only with this short story but with so many others too.

Then on the other side of that argument, what if I get halfway through my second draft and then come across another idea that I think would be even better. In the end I may have put in days worth of writing without really ever getting anywhere, only a stack of unfinished papers that aren’t going to get read.

I desperately want to finish, but I desperately want to finish something good and something that I can be proud to show people. Should I continue to the end of my first draft so that I have a template to work on? Or should I just start from scratch on my ‘better’ version of the story?