December Makes Me Crazy (But Not The Way You’d Think)

The great thing about being a writer: everything is the basis for a story, one way or another.

It’s also the worst thing about being a writer. In fact, it kinda sucks. The tendency to extrapolate a narrative out of isolated incidents means that your head will be filled with chaos, especially once you move away from the page and try to live your life. Things happen and your subconscious starts playing what if, and because all writers are sadists at heart, those what if‘s are not pleasant.

I’ve got a month away from the day-job coming up. It starts Friday.

I hate taking time off, especially at this end of the year, because it does stupid shit to my brain. What starts with yay, holidays! becomes but what if something goes wrong while I’m away, which becomes but what if it was something I could prevent, and it wasn’t there, which becomes what if the job isn’t there when I get back, which becomes what happens if I’m unemployed and stuck with my mortgage, which becomes oh, shit, my life is over accompanied by a side-order of I fuckin’ suck.

A great process to go through, while plotting, but its a terrible way to live your life (especially this year, working in the arts sector, where the budget cuts mak)

Every year, around this time, I start spinning together crazy projects on the basis that they will magically save me from the terrible fate that lies ahead because I took time away from the office. Most of them involve writing – which feels like an insanely secure gig compared to the day-job (especially this year).

No-one can fire you from being a writer, my subconscious whispers, all you need is a way to write more, better and faster.

Then the plans come. So many plans.

On the list of highly-impractical methods of busting into full-time, pay my mortgage writer-dome: writing 52 personal essays to teach myself the form, that could be published here and collated into an ebook for sale; writing and sending out 104 short stories next years, on the basis that if every single one sold at pro-rates, they’d come close to meeting my day-job income; rapidly self-publishing a dozen books, which would all need to be written from scratch, to buffer me against the inevitable job-loss my subconscious is sure will arrive any day now.

There’s a theme running through that, if you pay close attention. It’s all about immediate control of my output and business. It’s a big clue as to where the impulse is coming from, when I’m paying attention.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t. Instead, I actually started putting all of these into action right after I had the idea, because my subconscious is quietly whispering bad thoughts and dire endings. I dropped into fight-or-flight mode, and writing is always fighting.

I wasted several hours, simply because I wasn’t thinking straight.

None of them are inherently bad ideas, even if they’re impractical and massively overreaching. They’re just things that I haven’t thought through, ’cause my brain is packed to the brim with panic that I haven’t even acknowledged as panic yet. If I was thinking straight about any of them, I’d have a business plan. I’d have research and goals and moderately detailed guidelines about why I was doing them and what I’d hope to get out of them and what success would actually look like.

I’d have a reasonable idea of how to actually get them done, based on what I’ve been able to achieve in the past.

Basically, the sorts of planning I’ve done for the projects that I actually want to do through 2016, which are still ambitious, but comparatively sane compared by my usual end-of-year craziness.

There is a line between doing stuff and productivity, when it comes to writing. It’s easy to find yourself on the wrong side if you’re not paying attention.

The thing that actually kept me on track this week is habit and the act of data-entry. It’s not glamorous, but I know I have to spend two hours a day at the keyboard, actually putting new words into the current project. I know I have to log word count and time-in-document in the excel sheet that tracks my progress.

Each column gets colour-coded based on whether I hit my word-count goal and time goal. Blue for the days I make it, red for the days I don’t. I can do any crazy shit I want, so long as those columns are blue.

I can trust in a plan made at a saner time.

If there’s one thing I’m grateful for in 2015, it’s that the saner time existed. This is the first year in a long while where I haven’t been slave to the crazy, subconscious impulses. December of 2014 was full of so much crazy, desperately reaching shit courtesy of my exhaustion, and 2013 wasn’t much better.

By this time next year, I’m hoping I can wean myself down to a single slightly-crazy idea that is neatly filed and scoped out instead of getting implemented.

Until then, I’m sticking with the excel sheet and the columns, trying to rack up as many blue days as I can until the novel is done.

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