I’ve been mired in place for the past two months. Just choked with the inability to look at the draft, much less work on it. Thinking about writing was giving me fits of anxiety, and not writing was making me depressed. I am depressed. I am also high-functioning. It’s a paradox of forced smiles and not giving a shit about polite, lighthearted conversations that are irrelevant when contextualized against the thing you want the fucking most — the thing you live for — is also the thing that hurts you.
It’s the inner litany of, “I can’t work right now, everything is bullshit.”
I’ve become one of those parody creative types: a sketch of a writer, two-dimensional and difficult to look at for the dark circles under its eyes and the scribbles that compose the whole.
There’s no “why.” I don’t have a “why” as to “why” this happens sometimes, other than the fact that sometimes life grinds you to a halt, and the localized stresses become too much, and you breed your own particular sort of failure rather than affirming the fact that you can plough onwards through the hard parts of everyday existence when everything begins falling apart. (Everything save my relationship, apparently: we just celebrated our two year anniversary yesterday. We very nearly went to the tea house where we together experienced the rocky beginnings of what turned out the be an excellent first date.)
I wouldn’t make such a big deal about it, but it is a big fucking deal inasmuch as creativity is a well, and when you staunch the flow, everything else sputters to a trickle too. Art, design, writing. Even fucking craft projects. The part of me that needs to make stuff keeps on making stuff, but it’s thinking about the thing that I ought to be focusing on, but I can’t. It’s a background hum. A little bit of static that clouds conversations with its steady crackle.
Finally — finally — after two months choking on my inability to move through the middle slog of the revision, a friend on IG pointed out something obvious:
Work on two projects at once if they’re in different stages. Hell, work on three if you can juggle it. Just do something else for the duration that it takes for the hum to become a roar and you can’t ignore it anymore.
Fine, I said. Fine. Angrily. To myself. Because that’s always been part of the inner dialogue: I always measure the guilt of refocusing on something new against the belief that you should finish what you fucking started. I had to reassure myself that it’s not abandonment It’s only a break. A shift to work on something quick and dirty and linear… and mostly plotted already. The revision will be there once I unstick myself. I will go back to it.
I sat down last night at my old desk (which is being replaced in a matter of weeks by a grown-up version of the same.) I opened my notebook. I pulled out my notes, and I began transcribing the major plot markers of a ghost story that exploits a handful of latent fears that I’ve held onto since my early days of reading Stephen King’s Bag of Bones.
Write what you fear
We’re told a few things about what we ought to be writing about. Write what you know is part of it, but writing what you fear and doing it sincerely is the greater challenge.
Like a lot of people, I have my predispositions towards certain topics to illuminate the still-beating heart of the thing: I prefer creepy houses, cemeteries, well-worn toys, possessed objects, and darker aspects of magic — particularly those which deal with the dead. In my heart, every day is Halloween. Every story is a piece of poison candy from a greater bucket that might be a pumpkin with a rictus grin, or it may be a skull.
My cauldron of ideas is one which plays with the supernatural, but recognizes that the truly horrifying stuff is often found in real life, and as such, the stories that I want to work on take elements from both the fantastic and the everyday to anchor them to reality.
I’ve yet to veer away from this pattern.
The notes in front of me are about a ghost story, but more importantly, the reason for it — why this particular intelligent haunting laced with poltergeist activity is happening at this place and time in the storyworld, and why the protagonist, Harper, is the trigger.
The deeper I dig, the uglier it gets.
It’s darker than the other draft that-shall-not-be-named.
The cinematic loop in my head as I imagine it makes me uncomfortable. I think that’s exactly what I need right now.
The Hollow Road
The working summary is as follows:
Two lives are intertwined across generations when Harper uncovers the record of a girl who drowned at the old Briarhill sanitorium decades before. Harper must race to uncover the secrets stirred in the sediment at the bottom of the lake before history can repeat itself, or the house pulls her down with it.
And there are pieces of my inspiration board here:
And the soundtrack here:
Worlds different than Wake, which is all gristle and necromancy and punk rock, with far too much mythology to wade through easily. It’s about as thick as the swamp setting I finished writing before I put down my pen.
It’s simpler though the characters are difficult. It’s linear, and most importantly, it’s something to unstick what was stuck.
Checking in for NaNoWriMo’s July edition, right here.
Let me know if you’re participating. I could use the writing buddies.