Writing With A Broken Brain

I stare at the screen, take in the whiteness, change the colour of the page to see if it’ll help.

Then I change the colour of the font. Not that I can tell, what with the lack of words and all. But it’s the thought that counts, and changing the font colour, or style, is helpful for writer’s block, so maybe, maybe it’ll work.

It doesn’t. This isn’t writer’s block. It’s depression and/or anxiety.

I know the things that work to stop these moments, though those things are often left abandoned on the sidewalk as I speed ahead to try and get it all done. Eight hours sleep. Proper workplace. Three meals, enough water. Fish oil tablets. Quiet, or at least a little bit of quiet time daily. Not feeling like I’m constantly on call to save the day. 

Not feeling like the world is caving in around me would also be good, but the more anxious I get, the more I feel it, and the more I feel it, the more I try to outrun it and only make it worse.

The hard part is learning to stand, frozen in place when you feel like you’re going to die if you don’t run. Not literally- I know the world’s not actually caving in. But the panic is there, and the instinct to try and avoid that uncomfortable sense of futility is overwhelming.

On those days, if I have to write for work, I can generally force something into existence. But writing for me? I stare at the page.

Once upon a time, I used to verbally and emotionally eviscerate myself for that. Took it as a sign of laziness, rather than my mind screaming ‘stop’ and tearing itself apart until I obeyed, until I freeze and let the world crumble around me. This is what happens when I’m pushing myself too hard, too often, for too long.

It happens way, way too often.

Sometimes the only thing to do is stop. And sometimes stopping for even twenty minutes is enough of a reboot to get things started again. Maybe I’ll read for fun. Or take a shower. Or listen to music and sing along without caring about how I sound. I’ll take my tablets, eat and drink if I’ve forgotten it, maybe even go have a nap if I know I’m overtired.

Sometimes, the page stops being white, or whatever ridiculous colour it’s become in my quest to just do something, anything. And sometimes I’ll sip tea from a proper cup, snuggle under a blanket (I get cold when I’m upset, or stressed, like I’ve actually gone into shock. Because clearly, weirdness is my superpower here), and read something suitably trashy (no crime, no horror, nothing filled with angst or characters whose self-loathing too closely resembles my own). When I’m back in the real world, I’ll paint again, filling A5 journals with art that might not be fantastic, but is pretty damned therapeutic.

Sometimes it’s enough to get me back on my feet. Sometimes it takes a few days to set me to rights. But slowly, I’m learning that the kindest thing I can do is not try to write when this is my reality. I’ll hate what I write anyway- it’ll be harried and forced, and nothing will flow the way it needs to- and it’ll only be deleted.

They say you have to write every day, but honestly? The world doesn’t end if you don’t obey that rule.

‘You Had One Job’ by Peter M. Ball

I am utterly thrilled to say that our first guest poster is Peter M. Ball! Peter is a particularly kick-ass writer based in Brisbane, Australia. He’s got a brilliant turn of phrase, and a wicked mind for storytelling…and a habit of talking about mental health in a way that breaks my heart and reaffirms the entire point of this series: you’re not alone. You can find more of his writing- and links to some rather wonderful books- at his site, Man Vs Bear

1.

I’m about to make breakfast when the realisation hits me: I didn’t put the dishwasher on last night. Because I didn’t put the dishwasher on, there are no clean bowls for porridge this morning. Because there are no clean bowls for porridge, it should be quite obvious I’m a useless piece of shit. Come on Peter, you stupid mother-fucker, you had one goddamn job yesterday.

It takes 65 words to express that moment. Less than a minute of typing to transmute it into the beginning of a journey, a hook I can build around. A moment of anxiety rendered through the filter of a pithy internet meme. The part of my brain that deals with narrative is already looking for what comes next.

Another part of my brain is still dwelling on the dishes. It took three seconds to pull a pasta bowl out of my cupboard and use it instead. That doesn’t matter. I fucked up. One more in a string of fuck-ups that speak to the fact I’m sorry excuse for a human being.

I’m still dwelling on it an hour later, when I come back to this essay. An hour after that, as I’m eating lunch. Rationally, I know I had many jobs yesterday. I spent hours catching up with a close friend I hadn’t seen in months. I wrote a first draft of this essay that will never see the light of day. I obsessed about the flaws that first draft. I ate take-out burritos, which meant there were no dishes to put in the dishwasher, which is how I missed the step where I turned the dishwasher on.

I did not have one job yesterday. I never have one job.

2.

Let’s not fuck around. When Kylie asked me say a few things about mental health and writing, her one request was ‘talk about how you manage your bad days.’

The answer to that is simple: I don’t. The bad days are bad days, and when they hit, nothing gets done.

I plan around them when I can, mitigating their impact on deadlines. I look at the thirty days in the month, and figure I’ll be productive for about twenty-three. The rest will get taken up by other things, some of which will be bad days where my brain sends me into a tailspin and everything’s a struggle.

At worst…well, I sink for a week or two. On the really bad days I do not write, because I do not deserve to write. I do not deserve to eat real food or make sensible choices about how I spend my money. I do not deserve to have ambitions.

To write on a bad day is to acknowledge there’s a future, and the possibility that I will continue to exist. That I will wake up tomorrow and this process of pretending I’m a functional human being will start all over again.

On the bad days, that thought is terrifying.

3.

Today is not a bad day, but it could turn into one.

I didn’t write yesterday, among all the things I was doing. I mean, sure, I wrote a first draft of this essay, but it wasn’t good and it wasn’t finished and besides, it doesn’t really count. Only fiction counts as writing. The same part of my brain that focuses on my failure to turn on a dishwasher comes into play.

It doesn’t matter that I’d planned yesterday as a day off. That I’d specifically set aside the fiction project to write this and hang out with my friend and eat burritos and talk shit. That I cleaned my house before said friend came over, and answered emails that kept my writing career running.

You had one goddamn job, Peter. You had one goddamn job.

The worst part about writing is the speed with which it becomes a stick you can use to flagellate yourself, especially if you’re the kind of person who deals with anxiety or depression or other mental health challenges.

4.

I put a lot of value on being smart. For years it was my defence mechanism against that hollow feeling I wasn’t yet ready to call depression. I tethered my sense of self-worth to the twin docks of I am smart and I can write.

Here’s the real irony in all this – to write regularly and intelligently, particularly now that I’m aware that depression and anxiety will fuck with me, I need to admit that I’m actually pretty dumb. If I want to write consistently and avoid the bad days, I have to embrace all the simple, stupid thing that help manage my mental state.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I get at least seven hours of sleep, which means going to bed at 11 and waking up at 7.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I take my medication, even though my current medication means alcohol is likely to make my liver explode and that completely sucks.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I track my negative thoughts and dismantle them using the toolkit provided by cognitive behavioural therapy, even though it makes me feel like an idiot.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I make use of a CBT app on my phone to track things, and obey its daily reminders.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I start projects early and work on them consistently, instead of trying to burn through them before a rapidly approaching deadline.

I know I am less likely to have bad days when I do incredibly twee things, like create gratitude lists. Or when I go out and walk every day and eat healthy meals. Or when I make time to catch up with friends, even if it’s for a half-hour, even when I am reasonably certain that I am too feral to be around people.

Let’s be clear: I hate all of this. I do not want to be this person. I would much rather be a freewheeling, creative genius who shits rainbows and has their brilliance acknowledged by everyone around them.  The fact that I am not that person is frustrating as hell.

It doesn’t fucking matter.

I want to be a writer who makes a living from their work, and I want that even more than I hate being the person who needs to do those other things. It isn’t easy. It isn’t fun. It’s just what needs to be done

5.

I don’t like writing about mental health, particularly my own. I force myself to do it quite often, but in the back of my mind there’s this lingering fear that this time is the time when someone will finalise realise the truth. That I’m not actually depressed or anxious, but I am a lazy fuck-up too scared of my own ambitions to actively pursue them. You’re not unwell, that voice whispers, you just need to be fucking better than you are. Stop pretending that you’re good enough.

That thought is always with me. Stop pretending that you’re good enough. Stop pretending. Stop. Stop. It’s grappled with every time I sit down to write. Is this story good enough? This book? This essay?

It’s when the voice get something to point to – a failure, however small – that I crash into the bad days and get nothing done. Look, the voice says, see how bad you fucked this up? You deserve this. You suck. Now everyone will know.

Because the bad days are bad, it’s easy to villainize that nagging thought without acknowledging that it can be a positive thing. The need to be smarter and better drives me as often as it sinks me into the quagmire. It led me to take a stupid challenge that became my first book, or write a short story to prove someone wrong that ended up getting reprinted over and over and over.

The line between a good day and a bad day is frequently just having enough bandwidth to recognise that voice as part of a polyphony, not the entire conversation.

6.

I fear having my depression invalidated because…well, for starters, that’s the nature of being depressed, and there is something comforting about the possibility that you, at your worst, aren’t necessarily 100% to blame.

But it’s not just that. At all.

The worst part about the bad days was never the depression itself, because depression didn’t give me the space to care about anything. What really fucked with me was the week just after I emerged from a depressive quagmire, when the internal monologue stopped playing “nothing matters, so why bother,” and I started to give shit about writing and work again.

Suddenly I looked back at the time I lost and felt nothing but shame, panic, and anger. I was lazy and out of control, and I didn’t understand what caused it. Why could I write consistently and regularly for weeks a time, only to sink into this shit for no reason?

And so I would come out of a low period and try to make up for it, putting together incredibly ambitious and quite unreasonable plans to try and make those feelings go away. Often this meant throwing myself at big, public projects where people would validate me. Public displays of productivity are easy, when you’re a writer. You don’t even need to finish projects, just show that you’re working a lot.

To be able to look back on a bad week and go, “oh, right, I was just depressed,” circumvents a lot of self-loathing. Freeing up the mental resources that used to go into bolstering my ego means it’s easier to get back to writing, simply because I’m willing to cut myself a break.

7.

It occurs to me that I still haven’t put the dishwasher on. More dishes have accumulated on the sink, and there are still no clean bowls if I need them. Do I stop writing and go deal with the problem, or do I keep working while I’ve got the thread of the narrative? I stick with typing, ‘cause that’s what I’m doing right now. ‘Cause taking care of me frequently rates beneath finishing something I’m writing for someone else.

Even though that’s one of the things that I should monitor better than I do.

I’ve almost talked myself into the dishes when I get a notification on google hangouts. My fortnightly writers catch-up is starting, a meeting I’ve forgotten because I didn’t do my weekly diary seven days back. A gap in my process, which I know better than to ignore because it leads to anxiety when shit like this occurs

Jesus, Peter, you had one job…

8.

The worst part about writing about my mental health isn’t the fear. No, the worst part is knowing that you’re still a writer, that stories and essays have structures and conventions. Characters in stories start off broken, and they are made whole by the climax. The problems of the beginning are resolved by the end, all neat and clean.

If you write long enough, this becomes instinct. The reader has stuck with you until the end, and now you owe them an epiphany.

I have nothing for you.  In terms of dealing with writing and my own mental health, I’m a rough draft, not the final product. Everything is very much a work in progress. What helps some weeks helps less a month later; anxiety triggers that send me into a tailspin get worse, or better, or go away.

And yet again, the thought is there: Jesus, Peter, you had one job.

Today, I just have the energy to put that thought in the box marked anxiety, which sits next to the box marked depression, and them aside long enough to do this job, and the next one, and the one after that.

It’s not much as epiphany’s go, but right now it’s the best I’ve got.

The Sunday Circle: The Smurf Haired Girl Vs The Depressive Episode

[For those not in the know, Peter M. Ball hosts the Sunday Circle on his blog every week, which you should know because you should honestly be stalking his blog by now. This is my response to his questions.]

 

This week didn’t go well. I had PLANS- the sort that needed to happen, the sort that have been struggling to happen with a move and a bunch of drama associated with it. Last week was to be the week I got back on track. I wanted to get to today’s post triumphant and maybe just a teensy bit smug about it all.

The problem, of course, was that I was so busy plotting my triumphant return to getting shit done that I missed the rather obvious issue: I was stacking the deck against myself. If you look at my post from last week, you’ll see it’s the queen of the big-ass to do lists. It’s ridiculous.

And it should have been a glaring neon sign that I was about to be in bad brain territory. Whenever I’m about to struggle, my body lets me know in advance with a random flurry of preparation. Like extreme nesting, I try to do as much as possible so that while I’m feeling like shit, I can at least tell myself that I’m not screwing anything up overly much.

The week started off well. I was focused, I was there. And though the problems I was tackling were breaking my brain and taking forever, I was seeing progress. And then… I wasn’t. There were distractions galore stealing my time, and frustrations that honestly need to be dealt with, and then I fought with someone I adore, and spent two days curled under a doona, freezing my ass off and getting increasingly frustrated that my body’s way of dealing with massive amounts of conflict and stress is with shock symptoms for days afterwards.

So my achievements became ‘I did some writing work’ and ‘I kinda just gave up on getting the fucking blog formatting right this week and decided that’ll do, pig’. That’s… that’s pretty much it. I got a few writing jobs done, and it seems they were well received (I got a charming text from someone I reviewed that absolutely fucking made my day), and I stuck my pride to the sticking place and tried to resolve the big horrible fight of bullshittery when, let’s be honest, I’d have rather just pretended nothing ever happened, because resolution runs the risk of more conflict and more days stuck hiding under doonas unable to do a gorram thing beyond listen to my ‘Depression: The Musical’ playlist and wishing coffee made itself.

So because my headspace is still far too close to shitty territory for my liking, this week, I’m approaching it from a much different- much smarter- direction. I’m scaling back. I’m trying a new rule: one thing daily for my business, and one thing daily for me. That way, on the good days, I can throw more into my day, and on the bad days, I can do the absolute minimum and not feel like a total screw up.

What am I working on this week? Mostly the writing adjacent stuff. I need to get the distractions sorted- the problem with living with a chronic procrastinator when I’m pretty damn good at procrastinating myself is how easily it turns into both of us getting to the end of the day, having done not a fucking thing. That can’t keep happening. Boundaries must be set and enforced.

The collaborative review blog I made, Reviewers of Oz, still needs work. But it’s going to be part of a blog tour for an author’s novel release in mid April, and that needs to be a massive priority. If I can do that well, it’s a damn good way to start moving from ‘new, shitty blog’ towards ‘new, but kinda sorta professional and accepted’ blog, and I want that.

I’m reviewing A Rock & Roll Writers Festival next weekend, which should be a hell of a lot of fun, and a good chance to learn more and chat to some writers and artists I haven’t gotten to meet before. And I’ll need a couple of reviews written for it and delivered by close of business Monday. Doable.

Other than that, I want to get back to writing 2k a day (made easier because Camp Nanowrimo starts next month, which is an ass kicking to get it done, at least), and reading for an hour. For the most part, these are my ‘one a day’ goals.

What’s inspiring me? To be honest, the blind panic that happens when I realise I’ve fucked up; that I’ve missed the glaring warning signs that shit isn’t going well when I know damn well I need to be vigilant. This time, I was really lucky. It didn’t last as long as it could have before I was able to drag myself out of the blue mood. But part of my business plan as a freelancer has to be taking care of myself, and minimising these moments. So figuring out how to pay better attention clearly has to be a priority.

What am I avoiding? The world, maybe? I’m avoiding the part where I have to sit people down and say, ‘as much as I love spending time with you, we can’t keep just hanging out all day. Both of us have stuff to do, and I need to make things happen in a way that isn’t possible when we’re doing this.’ I hate the very idea of that, because it means putting my stuff ahead of someone else’s, and the implication that my work is more important than talking to them about the stuff happening in their world makes me feel like twenty shades of asshole. Which, it shouldn’t. I know that if I was giving a friend advice, I’d be telling them to set that boundary. I’d be telling them that if after weeks of talking it out, nothing’s changing, than continuing those conversations isn’t going to be helpful. That it’s never a bad thing to prioritise your life, and your goals.

Now I just need to get my overly anxious, people pleaser brain on board with that.

Ugh.

The Sunday Circle: A Reckoning

It’s… it’s been a while since I’ve done this, gentle reader.

The utterly kick-ass wonder, Peter M. Ball, has a weekly Q&A opp over at Man Vs Bear, asking 3 simple questions. I’ve been meaning to answer these weekly for a while now. No, really, there are drafts and everything.

So here’s me, sheepishly creeping back into the routine.

What are you working on this week?
Too freakin’ much. Nobody should be shocked at this point. I’m trying to get the review blog live, finally, after a kabillion irritating setbacks. It means figuring out how to set it out, and… yeah. Not my happy place.

I’m also trying to get back into a writing habit, because the move last month absolutely destroyed my focus, and my ability to get anything done. I need to get back on track with the music challenge, and Smart People Talking, too. I’m still trying to catch up on the reviews owing, because, again, moving house sucks heartily.

And I’m trying to wrap my head around how much writing I need to get done this year to keep up with all the longer form projects I’m involved in. You know that moment when you start thinking you’ve maybe bit off more than you can chew, but you decide to try and choke it down anyway because what’s the worst that could happen? 

Yeah. That’s me.

What is inspiring you at the moment?
The new project is a lot of fun, and getting to bounce ideas off someone is awesome. The idea of learning in a more hands-on way about the industry is equal parts brilliant and terrifying.

Being somewhere with minimal internet and zero TV means having to actually write or read, which is great for productivity. Or it will be, when I can get my brain up and running properly.

What part of your project are you trying to avoid?
Designing the review blog. Because Jesus-freakin-Christ, that’s the part I hate. Have you seen how shittily basic this blog is? For whatever reason, whenever I try and trudge my way through the design stuff, I just… my brain just does not compute wtf needs to be done to make it all suck less.

I want it to look good. Professionally casual, I suppose? It’s a bunch of people wanking lyrical about books, nothing academic or overly serious, but I don’t want it to look like some 13 year old’s dear diary, either. But easy af to navigate, and no stupid poppy-uppy mofo asking for people to subscribe or whatever before they’ve even gotten to look at the blog. Because those things are the devil’s work.

And I need to figure out how to (cheaply, because sudden unexpected move means all hail the poverty for a while) make sure that the authors are credited properly. One of the sites I freelance for has the owners name show up on the links, so it essentially credits her for everyone’s work until you click the link and read down. I 100% don’t want to do that. But I don’t know enough to not do that, and this is why this part of the project has been summarily ignored. Like, I need to have one person uploading, because everyone is busy af and it’s easier just to have one person scheduling things than everyone trying to. But I want everyone’s work immediately and clearly credited to them. And I have no idea how to explain that in a way that someone who knows how to fix the problem is understanding.

Honestly, we’re all speaking English, but we’re speaking vastly different languages right now. I hates it, precious.

Also? The writing. Mostly because I’m just a tad overwhelmed by the sheer volume of things I need to get done, and my brain is just kinda looking like Sam Neil when he first sees a dinosaur:

dafuq is that dinosaur doing there

 

Fail. Fail Better.

At the beginning of the year, I set myself an ambitious, but not entirely unreasonable challenge: 2,000 words of writing every day for the year. Which sounds kinda cruisy until you do the math: that’s 730,000 words in a year.

…That’s a big number.

I kicked ass in January, and came close to hitting 1/7th of my goal in the first month of the year. February? Not so much. Life became about the stress of the move, big time. If you’ve ever had minimal money and maximum need for accommodation in Brisbane (or anywhere with unreasonably high rent)… you know what it’s like.  2k a day became ‘get your work done and survive’.

It’s hard getting back into the swing of writing. Even with so small a break, it feels like the muscle memory has died off in the weeks I’ve been freefalling and focused elsewhere.

The voice of anxiety is booming that it’s doomed- how can I catch up? To be back on track means getting another 86k written this month. That’s a big ask with a sprained finger I’m meant to be resting.

Shall I give you a moment to get the dirty jokes out of your system?

crowley is bored
I’m waiting…

We good to continue? Lovely. No, it wasn’t doing anything fun. It was hauling stuff around. And now every time I use it to hit a key (or turn on a light, or use my phone… or…) it reminds me, rather painfully, that I need to cut that shit right out this instant. I want to write, but I also kinda want the pain to stop, too.

So how do you get back on track when it feels like that goal lives on the impossible end of the spectrum? You learn to fail better. I managed about 13k last month. I doubt I’ll make 100k this month to compensate, and that’s okay, even though in this moment anything less than 100k feels like an epic kind of fail. I’m already at 14k- I’ve already beat last month’s word count in two days of work. Instead of saying ‘I must hit 100k’, let’s say 70k- about 10k more than my set monthly target. If I add that little bit extra each month, boom. I’m caught up by the end of the year. It still feels like a bit of a failure, because I’m rocking the anxiety girl chic right now, but it’s failing better than last month, at least.

It’s not always about the massive instant fix. Sometimes, slow and steady is the better option.

Goals and Life

Last month, life went fairly well. Rocked the fiction writing goals, made progress on a bunch of stories- things went so well I blasted past my original word count target by 30k-ish.

I rocked it like a hurricane.

This month? Not so much.

I’m frantically house hunting, which, if you’ve ever tried to find affordable, pet friendly, public transport accessible housing in Brisbane, you’ll know it’s the mental equivalent of stabbing yourself in the arm, over and over every single day, hoping that this time it won’t hurt as much. Funnily enough, that doesn’t help get things done.

At the same time, I’m packing, or trying to. It’s a slow process to try and find all the little bits that have gone awry over the last year, especially when you work from home and actually have to… y’know, get that work done. It’s even more fun to be trying during a heatwave, in a house without air con or fans, with three cats demanding regular attention.

In ye olde worldy days, when I was young and stupid, I asked writers- a lot- how they managed to make it all work. I mean, let’s be honest: life is a shit storm sometimes. How does anyone get anything done in that?

And almost every single writer trotted out that painful line ‘if you value it, you’ll do it’. Which, let’s be honest, is the sort of privileged, hunk of shit answer that sounds like it’s given to them along with the publishing contract in a cheesy ‘how to’ guide style format. I’m gonna be honest: as soon as anyone says it, I assume the biggest issue they’ve ever faced is a slightly sore toe. Maybe a vague sense of unease that lasted about five minutes.

I tend to roll my eyes and look for someone slightly more real and relatable to talk to.

You can value the hell out of something, and still not be able to give it the attention it needs or deserves. The truth is that sometimes, life is gonna kick you in the crotch, and you’re gonna need to rest instead of forcing your way through the pain to the other side. Sometimes, other things need to be of higher value in your life. Like not being homeless. Or not having to replace a bunch of stuff at the worst possible time. There are gonna be times when you write like it’s the easiest thing in the world, and there are gonna be times when every word feels like you’re dragging it kicking and screaming from a tar pit and trying to scrub it clean while it tries to rip your arms off. That’s pretty damn time consuming.

My goal this month was 52-ish thousand words. I’ve just passed 12k. And, honestly? That’s okay. That’s actually pretty damn phenomenal, given the circumstances. Instead of focusing on the lost 40k, I’m focusing on the found 12.

The more stress I throw at myself to get it done, to try and write 40k and pack and move and house hunt and…and…and… the more I’m going to struggle. The more I try to play catch up, the more I throw guilt into the mix, the more impossible it’ll feel, and the quicker I’ll give up. Guilt kills creativity.

So instead, I’m kicking back and relaxing. I’m saying it’s totally fine that there will be months where I get nothing much done. It happens. Life goes on. 12k is infinitely worthy of celebration in a month like this.

Hell, 10 words in a month like this? Still a number to be proud of. Surviving the month without getting a single word down would have been worthy of celebration.

Sometimes, where you’re at is enough. Sometimes, you need to put down the goals you’re beating yourself to death with, and accept that next month will be better.

Progress, not perfection, right?

Habits and Challenges

I’ve been blog-stalking Peter M. Ball for basically forever at this point. And for just as long, I’ve read his conversations around organising and understanding your writing habits, and figured that was something for people way, way smarter than me.

It’s been easy to shit all over that idea that writers can actually own their writing habits, and take charge of their writing. After all, we’re meant to be chasing that ever elusive muse, right? If you’re not waiting for inspiration to rain down upon you like glitter, you’re not really a writer, right??

Writers, like all creatives, have some bullshit ideas hidden in the nooks and crannies of their career goals, both in terms of the art and business of being creative, and in terms of our personal ability to rise to the challenges that show up. I am rife with silly ideas (did you notice that bit about me not being smart enough, because hi, that’s a RIDICULOUS idea). And Peter is 100% right when he says the best way to write more, and better, is to get those stupid ideas out of your gorram skull. Like Van Gogh saying ‘If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint’, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced’, but with more of a ‘sit your ass down and write, dammit’ vibe. 

Peter M. Ball is the snarky, grumpy as hell older brother I never knew I needed, and if you don’t read his blog, you really, really, really need to. NEED. TO.

So, here’s the thing: this year, I’ve decided to actually try Peter’s suggestion of setting actual, achievable goals, monitoring how much I write each day, and how long it’s taken me to get it done.The glorious Matthew J. Hellscream and Melanie Edmonds both pointed me towards the word trackers they use- pay as you like arty, gorgeous spreadsheets by Svenja Gosen. And while, let’s be honest, I struggled to choose between the Black Widow, Winter Soldier, and Peggy Carter art, I finally settled on some girl power, and got the hell to work. I’m still getting the hang of this monitoring business, but so far? Wow. The shift in my focus and motivation has been staggering.

Remember: up until this point, I’ve been a sporadic writer of fiction, with massive goals and no sense that I’m anywhere near achieving them. There’s a reason I talk about my writing in terms of gamboling about like a hyperactive bunny.

My 2017 challenge is 2k a day. I know I can hit that target if I try, without it being too painful- I hit almost that amount daily during Nanowrimo, so kicking it up a few hundred extra words daily isn’t that big a deal. It’s a low-ball number for me, given the numbers I can hit during The Rabbit Hole (which makes me feel guilty because most of my friends average about 1k daily, and I’m still learning how to not feel guilty about shit like that).

And what I’m realising is that the more I sit my ass in a chair and write, the less time it takes to reach that 2k. There’s some room to wiggle here- if I’m having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, then it’s like pulling teeth that have been cemented into place. Same if I’m overtired, not feeling well, or working on transcription work. But when I’m writing fiction, and I’m in a good mental and physical space- boom. Done. I can churn out 2k in the hour and a bit before my flatmates get up of a morning, all the while playing with my ridiculously attention-seeking cat. And then, in the teensy spare moments of the day, I write a little bit more.

The more I do it, the easier it gets. I know writers say that a lot. But until now, I didn’t understand that it wasn’t just one if those shitty things people say because everyone else says it.

With 2k a day, the overall goal is 730,000 words. Which is, let’s be honest, a gorram terrifying number to see staring you down from the top of a tracking sheet. It’s not much better when you break it down to the monthly goals: the goal amount for January was 62,000 words.

But here’s the thing I honestly didn’t get until I started this challenge: it piles up, far quicker than I thought it would. And that’s true even though there’s been days this month where I haven’t written a damned thing. Even with those gaps, on the days I’ve written, I’ve yet to have a day where I’ve hit 2k exactly, and stopped. There’s always been a few hundred words more. Or a thousand. Or, y’know, way more.

Participating in The Rabbit Hole at my local writers centre threw 40k into the mix in three days. Even with a few days of not writing at all, I’ve well and truly kicked past that original goal. Yesterday, I decided that I was close enough to 90k that I might as well bump it up to there. Today, having blasted past that goal, I’ve decided to try for 100k.

Or, to put it another way: after one month of sitting my ass down and focusing, I’ve written more useful words in the span of a month than I did in the whole of 2016. That scares me a little.

Partly, it’s scary because holy shitballs, how much time have I wasted and how much more prolific would I have been with some gorram disclipine? Partly it’s because I know those are the kind of figures that will not be sustainable. I’m having fun now, and my brain (other than the Rabbit Hole days) hasn’t been exhausted by this effort, but I know these are not the numbers I’ll be pulling every month. Which is scary, because my brain needs constant reminders that this isn’t going to last and that’s totally, completely okay.

By the end of the month, I should be just shy of 1/7th of my way through my yearly goal. Which, wow. I don’t even know what to do with that information, right?

But, yes, basically, this is me:

james-spader-boston-legal-2