State of the Wordbirds

My last story wasn’t even meant to be a story – I just wrote it on Twitter and people loved it, so I decided it was story-able…

Once again, I’m quite behind. Luckily, I’m on holiday this week, so I have a chance to catch up. Catching all the way up would involve writing 22-23 stories a day, but given I spent Christmas day writing 81, that’s not beyond the bounds. We’ll see.

What’s actually been worrying me, to the point where I was thinking of giving up, was how far behind I was with the actual craneification. I know in a LOGICAL world I would have reacted to that by, say, making cranes, rather than getting completely stuck and neither making cranes nor writing, but it should be clear by now that I do not live in a logical world.

HOWEVER. Today I realised what my problem was. I’d been trying to make cranes while reading or watching television, and this was slowing me down like crazy. Each one took me 15-20 minutes. And I thought that was how fast I could go, so being well over 200 cranes behind was worrying, to say the least.

Then tonight I tried making cranes while actually focusing on making cranes. Oh. Right. Each one now takes me 3-4 minutes. THIS IS NOT THE DISASTER I THOUGHT IT WAS. Worth remembering that sometimes the thing you’re scared of proves to be completely non-scary on investigation…

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Well, phew.

I’ve written 81 six-word stories today. This puts me at 149 (target is 150.) I deliberately stopped there to avoid setting off my fear of catching up, and hopefully avoid my pattern of following triumph with disaster as well. See, I am sneaky with my sneaking around myself!

If you’d told me when I woke up this morning that I’d finish today where I am now, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’m over the moon (though trying not to get TOO over the moon because of the aforementioned triumph-disaster pattern.) Something just shifted in my head and I realised that catching up could be quite simple.

The big learning I need to take away from this is that when I’m behind, screw writing long, high-quality stories and just churn out the six-worders and get caught up. I wish I’d done this ages ago rather than leaving it until I had to write 81!

A nice side-effect of this is that six-word stories can be handwritten in nothing flat, which means I can catch up on some folding as well (I can’t use the printer until the housemate and her laptop get home in the New Year.)

I’ve been noticing some patterns in my six-word stories. Lots of things becoming sentient, lots of (sometimes violent) reversals of the normal order, lots of messing with time and space, lots of creepiness, and a sharp rise in existential ponderings and ecstatic mystical babble towards the end… hmm.

Most of this makes sense with what I know of myself, but the sentience thing surprises me. I think of myself as someone who has very little attachment to or investment in objects, and yet I keep coming back to the idea that they can think, feel, and love. This does absolutely make sense with who I was as a young child, and now I think about it, my story about Umbrellas (which is entirely true). Interesting.

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Refusal of the Call

Further to my last post on Joseph Campbell

Those of you who enjoy stories and wasting time on the internet are probably familiar with the Refusal of the Call trope. I was, but I’d never read what Joseph Campbell, who came up with the concept, had to say about it:

“Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or ‘culture,’ the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless—even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire or renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration.”

Aargh! This is the most perfect expression of how I feel (and also, the most perfect expression of Havi’s concepts of stuckness and walls and monsters.)

I’ve refused the call on several levels. Getting stalled with this project. Avoiding God. Every act of procrastination is a little refusal of the call. And as a young child I refused one of the biggest, most basic calls there is: the call to grow up, and grow up MY way, not the way I was told to. And all of these calls are linked, nested inside each other. It’s hard to respond to one without responding to all of them.

When I’m mired in the awful stuck feeling that comes with refusing the call, I tend to blame the call. It would all be okay if I didn’t have to grow up! I get convinced that the only way to hold on to any shred of myself is to keep refusing. But actually, the only way to regain myself is to stop refusing.

Otherwise, I’m a storyteller who doesn’t tell stories. I’m a knight who doesn’t go on quests. I’m Joan of Arc sitting at home in skirts and long hair, herding sheep, getting married, having babies, forgetting that she used to hear voices. I’m Frodo if he never left the Shire. I’m Luke growing old on a desert farm dreaming about flying. It’s awful, awful, awful.

And this is why I’m writing a lot of stories today. It’s Christmas Day, and if now’s not the time when anything can happen, then when?

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‘Artists are magical helpers. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives. [...]

The artist is meant to put the objects of this world together in such a way that through them you will experience that light, that radiance which is the light of our consciousness and which all things both hide and, when properly looked upon, reveal. The hero journey is one of the universal patterns through which that radiance shows brightly. What I think is that a good life is one hero journey after another. Over and over again, you are called to the realm of adventure, you are called to new horizons. Each time, there is the same problem: do I dare? And then if you do dare, the dangers are there, and the help also, and the fulfillment or the fiasco. There’s always the possibility of a fiasco. But there’s also the possibility of bliss’ – Joseph Campbell

This. THIS. I need to re-read this so many times. He’s talking about writing, of course, as well as visual art. And this project is totally a hero journey for me. I’m a little bit stuck in the Slough of Despond at the moment. Can I do it?

Part of my angst is that the more time I waste, the less time I have to make my stories good, and so the less I feel like writing them at all. Because of the time I’ve already wasted, this project will already be less good than it could have been.

I so, so need that skill of going, ‘Oh. Okay. This has happened. And this is what I’ve got left. Well, I’m going to do the best I can and have the most fun I can with what I’ve got left.’

I need to focus on the fact that I’m doing this first for the dogs and only second for myself, so if I write 1000 bad stories (and that won’t happen, because I’ve already written some I like) and I raise £1000 doing it, I’ll still have reached my first and most important goal.

It’s incredible the amount of embarrassment you have to face doing anything creative in public. With almost every story I write, I go through a phase of thinking it’s humiliatingly bad, it flows wrong, it’s so clearly written by someone with no music in their soul, no taste, no understanding of human nature, a small mind and a shallow heart, and everyone who reads it can see that. This phase usually passes, but man, when you’re in it you’re in it.

I know that to catch back up, I need to just burble out lots of bad stories, but what if someone I really admire sees them and thinks I’m a bad writer?

There’s one friend I haven’t told about this project yet, because she’s someone I look up to, and she’s so talented and such a hard worker, I’d be gutted if she didn’t like my stories, or if I told her about it and then failed to finish the project.

I think right now, I need to reassure myself that I never have to tell her.
Even though she’d be really proud of me.
Even though she’d encourage me, and inspire me, and ask me about it every time we met.
Even though she’s the kind of person who’d probably love my stories.
Even though she’d love the idea of what I’m doing, the wish, the origami birds. Totally her sort of thing.
Even though she loves dogs, and would probably want to sponsor me.
Even though she would totally understand and give me a big hug if I failed to finish.
Even though she believes in me as a writer.
Even though she’d be sad that I didn’t feel I could tell her about something so important to me.

If it makes it easier for me to do this project, I don’t ever have to tell her that I’m doing it. And I don’t have to beat myself up about that. Showing your stuff to people is hard, and I’m only just beginning.

The trouble is that if she asks me how the writing is going, I’m going to blurt it out. I just know I am.

Realistically, I know it’s not that big a deal if she thinks I’m a bad writer. But aargh, this is my thing. It matters to me.

I just need to remember that this is for the dogs and not for my ego, and that even bad writing can be good if it saves dogs’ lives!

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Catchupdate/Vote for my best stories!

(NB. When I say vote, it doesn’t mean there’ll be a poll or anything. So just ‘tell me’, really. :) )

So. I am behind. Epically behind. So far my Christmas Catch-up plan has not happened.

Interesting learning from this! It seems my optimum place to be is one to a few stories behind. If I’m bang on target, I freak. If I’m way behind, I also freak. So I need to catch myself *almost but not quite* up.

Between now and the housemate’s return on 3rd Jan, I have 7 days when I’m busy with either work or people, and 6 free days. In order to get back on target I’d need to do 5 stories on each busy day, and 12 on each free day. Actually, though, I’m aiming to get *almost but not quite* back on target, so can do a few fewer (A few fewer!)


Some of these stories are not going to be good. (Okay, no, that’s defeatist. Some of these stories MAY not be good.) One of the fears that keeps me from writing is, ‘What if I write this and it’s bad and someone comes to my site and that’s the first one they see, and then they think I’m a bad writer forever?’

So what I ALSO need to do is to create a ‘best of’ feature to direct people to my best stories. (Feel free to tell me what you think should be on the list!) I think I’m going to do this first, so I can then blaaaah away safe in the knowledge that whatever piece of blaaaah I just blaaaaahed out is less likely to turn readers away.

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More fun

So I’ve been very quiet lately. Where are we at?

I’m epically behind, but I’ll have 3 weeks to myself over Christmas that I was planning to use as ‘getting ahead’ time. So now it can be ‘catching up’ time.

I finally got my depressed arse to ONE job interview, and it turned out to be at an online bookshop. I got the job! Been there 3 days and my boss is very pleased with me so far.

I mentioned to my local library ages ago that I was interested in volunteering. They got in touch yesterday and I’m going to start helping out with children’s storytime after Christmas. This will be my first storytelling practice.

One of my friends said, ‘Your wish birds are working already!’

My mental health is still a bit rocky, but having work is helping, and I think I’m ready to start writing again. Meanwhile, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what needs to change here.

Mostly, there needs to be more fun. A lot more fun. I need to get through my head the maxim of P. L. Travers, ‘Write to please yourself.’

I’m terrified of change, but lately my prayer has been ‘Please change me.’ It’s earwormed me so much that I keep praying it over and over without meaning to. And it would appear to be starting to work.

I was obsessing over Luke Skywalker and something shifted. I lost interest in the character and started finding out everything I could about the actor, Mark Hamill.

Now, I know my brain. My preoccupations reflect the qualities I want to have. I’ve longed for years to be an utterly pure, intense, driven and grimly determined hero with ice-blue fire in my eyes. In actual fact, I’m nothing like that, and just possibly this is not because I suck but because I’m not meant to be like that.

Watching the now 60-year-old Mark Hamill in interviews, talking nineteen to the dozen about whatever project he’s doing at the minute, doing funny voices and knocking the microphone around with his excited gestures, I thought: oh, wait. This is what I want to be like. Funny, playful, wildly enthusiastic, shamelessly dorky, and doing what I love for the love of it, to please myself.

In the wake of this realisation, I tweeted him: ‘Just realised you’re a better role model for me than Luke because you’re more fun.’

Ugh, it’s so hard to sum up how much he inspires me, and I’m supposed to be a writer. He is so strong, he’s bounced back from things that would have crushed most people, and as far as I can tell he’s entirely powered by squee. He just loves what he does THAT much. He’s determined all right, but it’s the opposite of grim. It’s a joyful and infectious thing and I want some of that.

And it’s struck me that if I want some of that, I need to let go of my wish to be a hero. Or at least drastically change it, because in its current form it’s incompatible with fun, it’s incompatible with who I really am, and it’s not producing any heroism whatever.

Letting go of such a powerful longing isn’t quick or easy, but I’ve started. I had a free coaching session with the excellent Leela Sinha, thanks to which I decided to experiment with spending an hour a day intentionally doing what I wanted. Just pure pleasure for its own sake. For the first few days I was like, ‘If I spend so much time doing what I want, when will I have time to write?’

Then the obvious hit me: I want to write. No, REALLY. For PLEASURE. Apparently, I already do have some of the enthusiasm I want, it’s just been buried because my ‘heroic’ attempts to turn myself into a willpower machine have left me completely out of touch with my own desires. I shall be spending the next while digging it out.

PS. No, I’m not going to address the question of why my role models always seem to be guys. I do have female role models as well, honestly!

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Apparently, when I have writer’s block, I need to do a comic.

I don’t know if it’s because a change is as good as a rest, or because I don’t expect to be any good at comics so I just chill out and have fun, but this is the second time this has worked for me.

Disclaimer: Luke belongs to Lucasfilm, Joker belongs to DC Comics, Mark Hamill belongs to Mark Hamill, Wikipedia belongs to Wikimedia (I think.)

Also! MANY thanks to Kit/Rathenar for the LARGE donation! This really cheered me up! 3% of the way there, folks…

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The You’re Gonna Die Monster won that round.

Hmm. So apparently my resolve to ‘improve the quality and length of my stories’ resulted in… no stories at all.

I suspect the part of me that thinks I will LITERALLY DIE if I succeed at this has reasoned thusly:

‘Okay, so you insist on doing this. I make you lose it so badly you can barely do anything, and STILL you somehow continue to puke out stories. Fine. You can write 1000 stories, but only if they suck. That way, a year from now you’ll have raised maybe £100 from friends who feel sorry for you, and you won’t have learned anything or written any stories you can show to publishers or tell in front of an audience. That way, it won’t be a success and you won’t die.’

I shall be working on this over the next while.

I’m also irked because I had a long and spectacular dream last night that referenced Glee and Jane Eyre and involved me getting a tattoo of a raccoon, and I was already thinking about how I could turn it into a story while I was dreaming it, but when I woke up I realised it was way too incoherent to make a story.

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