Diary of a Writer, Day 9 – Losing the Plot

*I wrote this a few days ago but did not get to edit and publish it until today.

I have lost the plot.

You probably know that expression. It usually means that somebody has lost track of what is going on. They are confused. It can also mean that they have lost track of their goals, what they wanted to achieve. It also carries the undertone that the person has gone a bit mad. If you lose the plot and you don’t know what’s going on – you might be a bit off.

Well, it feels like all of the above is true in my case.

I took the entire last weekend off from writing, even though I was sure it was going to be a mistake to do so. I haven’t written enough in the last year or two to just take a break in the middle of writing a first draft and expect to be able to pick it up again at the snap of a finger. I knew that breaking the habit (of writing) after just a week of restarting wasn’t a good idea because it happened too often since leaving Saskatoon.

Turns out I was right. It wasn’t a good idea. I lost the plot.

Finding back into the story from where I had left off was hard. The characters, who had taken on brighter and brighter colors seem to appear behind milk glass now. The settings appear to have locked me out. Words are harder to pull out of my brain than from a dictionary. There are gaps left, right, and center in my manuscript. Jumps. Fillers. Things like ‘XYZ’ or ‚etc.‘

I have tried to just patch the story up well enough so that I could get to the ending. It is called a ‘shitty first draft’ for a reason, I thought. But when I got to the ending, I didn’t know what to do. I mean, I knew what the ending was going to be. But how would I get there? What would it look like? How was I going to finish this delicate souffle off without having it falling apart?

My original plan was to have a first draft ready by this past Friday. Sunday at the latest. Then have a first edit done by the end of this week. Now, I am struggling to patch this thing up to the point where I can even call it a ‘shitty first draft’ by the end of this week. All because here I am tracing my steps, trying to find the lost plot and pick up where I left off.

Diary of a Writer, Day 3: Chewing the Cud

For the third time in as many days, I got up yesterday morning at six-thirty, showered, brushed my teeth, made coffee, and started to write. The last time I started my days regularly like this was in spring 2018 and I was in the last stretch of writing my MFA thesis. Back then this routine seemed like the easiest thing in the world. Right now, not so much.

My writing muscle is still a bit twitchy as well. It’s like a physical workout: when you haven’t worked out in a while, you can feel every fiber of your muscle. It may even be worse the day after. But by the third or fourth day, it gets a little easier. Not so much during the workouts – those still hurt and your muscles might even feel a little less loose than when you started – but the recovery is quicker and easier. Some things even start to come back naturally: words, phrases, metaphors. Even the thing that is commonly known as “inspiration.”

I still feel a bit like a camel, regurgitating my old ideas.

I can honestly say that I haven’t had a decent, (somewhat) original idea since 2018. Anything I explored in the almost four years since then was cud – regurgitated old ideas that sometimes fell out of my mouth and landed on the floor, and sometimes got chewed and swallowed again, but never actually made its way through my literary digestive system.*

And then yesterday…an idea!

Now, it is too early to say whether this idea is any good. And to be honest: it isn’t even much of an idea. I view it more as the foundation of an idea. The idea of an idea, if you will. But it could also be the head of a long queue of ideas that are just waiting to develop into more solid ones and, eventually, into stories. If not that, then at least it might be a sign of life. Perhaps the old jukebox needed just a little kick in the side.

That should do it for now. I need to rest. I can already feel my writing muscle. It will be sore in the morning. But I just have to work through it. The only other option is to regurgitate the cud forever and that is not very appealing to me.

*I realize that, in this metaphor, a finished story is equal to feces, but I don’t think we might be too far off in some cases.

Diary of a Writer, Day 1

Today, I decided to end my suffering.

I decided to go to my bookshelf, dust off the old Master’s thesis and browse through it one more time. I smelled it, too. Let my fingers glide across the writing, just for old time’s sake. And then I threw it in the garbage. I even considered setting the garbage on fire, just to make sure that demonic thing was dead for good.

Okay, I didn’t actually do that. But there’s a part of me that wanted to. I actually saw me doing it. Things haven’t exactly started out great in 2022 and so I thought, just to occupy my brain with something, I would sit down, get the old writer’s toolbox out – you know the small one with the vocabulary and basic grammar – and start to write again.

But imposter syndrome is a very real, very writer-esque malady. It usually appears in combination with the fear of failure, perfectionism, and mental delusions like “lack of inspiration” or “writer’s block,” both of which often express themselves in excuses like “I’m too busy” or “I have no good ideas,” all of which welcomed me back with open arms right away.

It’s not fun.

The truth is that I have ideas, some of them, I dare say, even good. One of the good ones is buried somewhere deep in the old Master’s thesis. My problem is that I am very good at finding excuses not to sit down and do the work. A big part of it is that I don’t have the patience.

But then I hear of examples like Jake Tapper. This school-principal looking TV anchor sets aside fifteen minutes each day to write. Every day. Fifteen minutes. Heck, I can do twice as much, if not more! If a busy TV anchor, who looks like a real-life grown-up Nelson Muntz can do it, so can anybody, including me!

I’d like to think Jake Tapper is proud of this entry.

So I didn’t throw my thesis out, nor do I intend to (at least for now). As I am typing these lines, the wretched thing is staring me right in the face from the top of my bookshelf.

It’s a reminder of what I want to do. It’s a reminder that, despite what my mind tells me, there’s something to work with here. I just need to make time for it. That’s it. Make time for writing.

Writing this entry was hard. Not mentally or emotionally. It was hard because I realized that the old word-machine is rusty. Some of the buttons are stuck. The ink is very dry, so I sometimes have to press the same button multiple times. And, good Lord, is the backspace unpredictable! Sometimes you hit it three times and it deletes fifteen things. Other times, it is the other way around.

The entire machine needs some dusting, some oil and some gentle handling. It will need constant care. But if I take care of it and put in the work, it will get better again. And perhaps, with a little luck, it will be as good as new again.

Believe it or not, but it took me almost 45 minutes to write a first draft of this. The editing took me another hour or so. Back in school, both would’ve taken me 15 minutes, respectively.

I’d like to think Jake Tapper would be proud though.