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I am currently working on a short story. I started it at the beginning of June, and have been working on it off and on since then. There were some days that I had what felt like productive writing sessions, even if I did have to literally start with “once upon a time” in order to trick myself into starting on the concept I’d had in my head for weeks.
I say “off and on”, though that mostly means “off”. Granted, I did take some time in there to work at a writing retreat (more on that later), and to edit and polish a separate short story for submission (ditto), but some days when I sat to write on the current fairy-tale based WIP, I only got about 50 words before getting stuck again.
Fortunately, in my life, I have had the opportunity to surround myself with like-minded people, and over a series of conversations with other writers, I identified several problems with my story.
- the beginning I wrote didn’t match the ending I had envisioned
- I was hesitant to bring back the narrative POV after diving into a closer 3rd person POV, even though the story called for it
- I had the power balance between the protagonist and the villain wrong
- The villain didn’t have motivation beyond “working against the protagonist”
Once the problem areas were identified, I realized I’m going to have to start over. I will probably be able to use some of what I’ve written (about 2000 words on paper so far), but will have to change it to accommodate new idea.
Time is running out if I want to submit this story to the anthology I had my eye on, especially since I want to run it by a critique group first. So I decided to pull out one of the new tools from my writing toolbox, and see if I could figure out how it worked.
The tool is the 7 Point Story Structure, as presented by Dan Wells. (I have added my notes and a link to the video series on my Writing Resources Page.)
I’ve had intense discussions with my critique group around this tool – using it to flesh out the various threads for novels – but I had never tried to apply it to an uncompleted work. Honestly, it took me a bit of time, and I’m not sure what I came up with is perfect, but I can say that by following the steps, I got ideas. I knew the ending, and by looking at the beginning next, I realized that some of the new elements I’d discussed with my writer friends needed to be applied in the very first scene.
I had the most trouble with the pinch points, but in looking at them, I realized that I could call back a character from the first draft, and use this person not only as an aid in the pinch point, but also to make the relationship between the protagonist and the villain more dynamic.
Overall, I am pleased with the results, even if what I came up with doesn’t exactly match the 7 point story structure as it was taught (I think I’ve got one or two subthreads, that maybe deserve their own 7 points, mixed in), it helped me to come up with an outline for a story that has been broken for several weeks. The 7 point structure is providing support for the story I wanted to tell, making it whole. And even if the results from the exercise aren’t what I expected/ hoped – I have a story I can move ahead with, and that’s what really matters.
Had lunch today with my sibling, and we were discussing my earlier post about Habits and Depression. After lunch, my sibling sent me a link to an article Breaking The Low Mood Cycle [strong language warning]. It is definitely applicable to me today. Particularly applicable was the part under the header But I Can’t Because of Thing that dealt with what breaking the Low Mood Cycle is, and is not about.
Also, my sibling has just started a blog, called Aqua And, as a place to “share musings, observations, pop culture rants, gender and sexuality thoughts and personal experiences of life as an aromantic non-binary person moving through a heavily gendered and relationship focused society.” Check it out if you are interested.
For as long as I can remember, I have been on the path to establish good habits in my life. The habits on my list have shifted over time, but among ones I have tried to establish are:
- floss daily
- go to bed and rise the same time each day
- write something every day
- complete “Morning Pages” everyday before work
- drink a cup of tea in the morning
- drink a cup of green tea in the afternoon
- pack my bag, my lunch, and pick out clothes for work the night before
- cook dinner at home at least 3 times a week
- dedicate one evening a week to hanging out with friends
- reach out to distant friends once a week
- walk on my breaks at work
- go to the gym 3 times a week
- set 3 goals at the beginning of the work day that take priority
And so on, and so on.
I have always looked at these goals, these habits I was trying to establish, as a way to improve my life. Yes, I took some of them straight of of magazine articles. And Yes, I realize that simply having a routine, that establishing good habits, does not automatically mean that my life will be better.
I understand that there is no perfect combination of actions that will unlock happiness for a given day. Yet still, I wanted to set myself up for success as much as possible, and these habits seemed the way to go.
The Points System is simply a new iteration of this same idea. A way to reward myself for achieving something I hope to establish as a habit.
It was the routine, those habits, that got me to work today. Wake up after 3 snoozes. Take my medications. Sit and watch the day’s weather. Stretch. Set the kettle on. While the kettle warms, medicate and feed the cats. Make tea, and put it in a travel mug. It’s Monday, so take out the trash and recycling. Grab my bag (which is sitting in the newly designated spot by the door), and go to work.
I did not want to go to work today. I wanted to curl up in bed. I wanted to sit on the couch, with a cat in my lap, and just sit, feeling the warmth on my legs, and revel in the purring. I wanted to drop everything and cry.
I didn’t. I followed my routine, my habits. And by mid-morning, things weren’t so bad. My anti-depressant had kicked in, and while I’m still not terribly motivated to do work, it is easier. And the routines and habits I’ve put in place at work are also catching me from just staring at the screen, feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
I was diagnosed with depression earlier this year. Before this, I attributed my lack of motivation and my moods to stress. To my own inability to handle life. It wasn’t until I talked with friends and family who were also being treated for depression that I realized that I may not be failing at life – that something may be chemically wrong in my brain.
With their support, and the support I felt from other public figures I respect talking openly and honestly with their own experiences with depression*, that I talked to my doctor. I am still in the phase where we are trying to get the medication right. Some days are harder than others, but I find that the habits and routine that I’ve been trying to build over the years are really a safety net of sorts.
For the days when I don’t feel like doing anything, if I can do the habits I’ve set, I will have accomplished something. It will be the minimum, sure, but I will have accomplished something. And looking back at myself over the years, over all my attempts to set these good habits, I wonder how long I have been in the grips of depression, and have been fighting it in the only way I could see, without knowing what I was fighting.
*Mur Lafferty talks honestly about depression on her blog and in her podcast; Howard Taylor does likewise on his Facebook page (like February of this year), and his wife, Sandra Taylor did a wonderful post on being married to someone with depression.
The following is a post I made on an earlier iteration of the CrushedMuffin site. Below the post, I will toss in my current-state two-cents; what the “now” me thinks about what the “then” me wrote.
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My Thoughts On Why I Write
|I think I’m a writer at heart, or rather, soul. As my current project I was was going through my filing cabinets, purging things I’ve had tucked away for who-knows-how-long, and I have found a lot (several folders full) of my creative writing. I also have, elsewhere (another project to go through) a box of journals. I think I started keeping them off and on around the fifth grade. I began to wonder why I write so much. I think it is in order to explain me to myself.Skimming my poetry, and setting it aside to type and save on a CD ROM disc (another new project) I see some creative imagery, but also a lot of introspection. I have, in the past, tried meditating, feeling it was important to try to find the inner me, what I mean to myself, my beliefs…my core. It never seemed to work. It has just occurred to me, 25 years into my life, that perhaps I don’t need the candles, the quiet music the lying still on the bed trying to relax my entire body and clear my mind. Perhaps I just need a pen and paper. I write to release my soul, to discover who I am.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not closing my eyes and doing that automatic writing exercise, where you let the pen do what it will, calling on whatever may be present in you. Rather, I figure things out on paper. I go through my thoughts, my mind, my soul, step by step I pick up the pieces, turn them over in my hands as I examining them in words, and place these pieces in a (hopefully) logical place in myself where I can find it again later. I write to get to know me.
Well, I’ve decided, once I begin that monumental task of typing all my handwritten prose, I’m going to select bits of my soul that I don’t mind sharing, and placing them on my writings page. And this writing- it started out as a write for myself, but I decided to invite an audience. Welcome to a little piece of my soul.
I think I’m going to try to write something, anything, for my website and change it out every week or two. It may be soul-searching, it may be a strong statement of my beliefs, it may be silly prose I come up with on a bad afternoon, but I have decided to invite you to join me in my life-long quest to understand myself.
Current status: Well, I now have a two-drawer file cabinet full of folders of fiction, no fewer than eight three ring binders of novels and one of poetry (those are the ones correctly shelved, though I’m convinced I have at least one more novel somewhere). Additionally, I have electronic versions of the same stories, and of stories I’ve not yet had reason to print – on my computer, in the cloud, on flash drives and CDs.
I still journal, though for a while I was concentrating on the Morning Pages model from The Artists Way. I still have all these journals – stored away in my office in tubs and boxes and sitting on shelves.
I don’t recall how far I got typing in the handwritten pages, though I’ve had that thought (or scanning them) enough times since then that I think I didn’t get very far. At least not with the straight up journaling – A review of the old contents of crushedmuffin.com tells me I did manage to type up a significant portion of the fiction and poetry.
And I have considered traditional meditation again and again in the 13 years since this post (honestly, I was surprised to find that I had been trying it, or at least considering it, for so long – it feels like a more current development in my life). I think in some regards the younger me had more insight into how my brain works, or at least, more self awareness.
The idea that writing is how I explore my self, and come to know myself better feels both foreign (like it wasn’t my idea), and right. I wonder what has happened in the intervening years that made me lose sight of this – what convinced me that I need to seek other forms of meditation? I’m not discounting the fact that people change over the years, and how they interact with the world can subsequently change, but am opening myself up to the idea that maybe the younger me had some wisdom worth re-examining.