Writing Projects Over the Years

I posted my Annual Writing Review a while back, and it made me realize how much value there is in assessing what I’ve written.

If writing is, as John Updike says, “nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that mankind has invented,” then reviewing it, revisiting the old projects, can tell us a lot about ourselves during that time.

I’m not alone in thinking this. I’ve read many essays from authors on their writing, and many of them talk about reading their old work and asking, did I write that? Like keeping a journal and rereading the high school bits and being totally aghast that you were ever that dramatic. I mean, really?

I thought it would be interesting to see what novel projects I’ve kept over the years. Unfortunately, when I moved abroad the first time, I cleared out a lot of old stories, not knowing how awesome it is to receive inspiration from the past, so much of the old, old stuff is gone. I was clearing out a lot of mental clutter and emotional junk at that time, and many things that should not have been forgotten were lost (did I just quote LOTR? oh yeah I did).

Regardless, in perusing the old stuff I did have, I came across some amazing things. I mean, a lot of it is trash, of course, half-ideas and flat characters and nothing more than a few words of an embryo of an idea. But there was some good stuff in there too, surprisingly. Stuff I’d like to revisit in future.

Story Ideas

  • A story about a half-tree man, a moon child, and some boy (probably only there to be romantic, the bugger)
  • A story about the war between angels and demons and two kids caught up between them, very allegorical, very dark, very Inferno-esque
  • A girl who locks herself in a tower and befriends the dragon (original at the time, since writing it oh, seven years ago, I have seen the same idea a dozen times)
  • A story about people whose destiny is just to die – as in meaningless deaths, very nihilistic, never fleshed out
  • A story set in a crooked house that leans from a windy hill in Peru – sometimes just the image is enough to get me an idea
  • “Little green policemen in little yellow suits wave little purple guns and shout their little shouts. They pitter patter after plagiarists, creeping into their brains and stealing back stolen ideas.” I have no idea why I wrote this down. Plagiarism police? Was I messing about with alliterations? No idea.
  • A world with everyday gods, like the god of parking. This was before I read Pratchett, who has his Small Gods which are very like what I had in mind. And American Gods, of course, touches on the idea as well.
  • A story about a girl who is a phoenix. Also not original, but my opening line is pretty good.
  • A story about houses with minds, who get up and follow their owners. I still love this idea.
  • A story about a girl who is queen of the hounds, based pretty much entirely off the book Prince of Dogs by Kate Elliott. (I read the book as a teen and thought it was pretty amazing. I wonder what I would think of it now…)
  • A story about a girl who can see sounds as things (the idea got totally ripped off by a Kdrama years later. I should sue!)
  • A story about people who fish among the stars. But for what? And why? And how would that even work?
  • A story about a society lost in the present time, when things moved but time did not

Themes

As I was doing this all-around read, I noticed certain themes, images, or types of story that showed up repeatedly. At some point, I’ll sit down to go through this and try to figure out what story I keep wanting to tell.

  • Hidden things
  • Darkness
  • Sleeping beasts awakening – the darkness inside of us, like animals, waiting to burst forth from their cages and cause us to do terrible things
  • Transformations, mostly to bad and gruesome
  • Vivid images – a lot of these earlier pieces I wrote when I was also making a lot of art, and images and contrasts were particularly appealing to me. I would see an image in my mind and note it, either as a picture I wanted to paint or a story I wanted to write. The two blended and became inseparable.
  • Folktale/Myth – many of my ideas take the form of folk stories or myths. I have always loved that genre, and I feel like it’s a more joyful kind of fantasy, even when it’s dark. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe because it generally takes place kind of in the real world, but makes it magic. It has its own vitality that is of a different quality than fantasy set in new worlds. I love all fantasy, epic, folk, dark; but there will always be a special place in my heart for folklore.
  • Melancholy – a lot of my writing comes from the darker places of my heart and mind, those places I don’t get to show the world. So then they come out in stories, where I try to work them out. Most of my ideas have violence, anger, terror in them somewhere. They aren’t tragic; I usually envision happy endings, but that too is a kind of working-out of my demons. I want my own life to end up happy, so my characters must. Or at least, until I grow up.
  • Moonlight – moonlight and starlight feature in a lot of my ideas. I don’t know that there’s a reason for that, but I will say that I have always loved the moonlight more than the sunlight. Sunlight hurts my eyes (I have lighter eyes and pretty bad light sensitivity), and so moonlight has always felt friendlier.

There was a lot more. A lot more dross, a lot more golden eggs. I had more than I realized when I set out on the endeavor. You know how you make folders within folders within folders on a computer? Well, every time I started writing again I would put all the old stuff in a folder marked (old) or (archives) or something. Turns out I have a lot of subfolders within my big writing folder.

But it was nice, overall, to go over everything. It was nice to be inspired. It was nice to know that I wrote some pretty decent stuff when I was younger. It gives me hope for my future.

If you’re a writer, have you ever looked back over all the old stories?

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Korea: Looking Back

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(Written two weeks after coming home.)

Already I miss Korea. I was desperate to leave the situation I was in, but Korea itself was never the problem.

I miss walking up the uneven sidewalk to the crosswalk, where I always waited. Sometimes I waited with others, sweat pouring off me in the summer humidity.

Sometimes I waited in silence, the special padded silence of falling snow, on those rare mornings it fell.

Sometimes I would run into a coworker. Let’s leave it at that.

I miss the walk; that calm ten to twelve minutes on the way, when the steady rhythm of my feet evened out the day ahead of me. The first wrinkle ironed.

I must have walked that way and back hundreds of times. Almost every day for two years. Sometimes on weekends too. I wonder if I had closed my eyes and felt with my feet if I could have guessed where I stood at any point along the way.

I miss waiting for the 102 bus to Jeongja, where I played D&D. I miss walking to the station in fine weather to the mall to shop, or just to the Kimbap King to get food that didn’t come from a convenience store.

 

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The path to school – one I walked hundreds of times, and every season it changed.

 

I miss the spring rain of cherry blossoms.

I miss the few friends I made there. I miss the things we said to each other every day.

Funny, how quickly all the problems shrink as they move past. Funny, how everything that seemed heinous seems laughable now. Funny. It’s not.

Korea from this moment looks like my regular life, the one I will return to when I wake up.

I wonder what Korea will look like when I realize I have woken up.

I wonder what Korea will look like ten years from now.

Korea, Korea, land that I miss.

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Overcoming Anxiety: A Tip From an Imperfectionist

“Becomes less anxious by not caring so much about your anxious thoughts and feelings (let them be and don’t fight them).”

The above tip is from Stephen Guise‘s book, How to Be an Imperfectionist. I did a full review for the book here.

(Just let me say that if you’ve ever struggled in life by being a perfectionist – not starting something because the conditions weren’t right, being so worried about making mistakes that you won’t talk to that person at the store, not finishing x project because it’s not just….right… – but also secretly thought being a perfectionist was like the perfect weakness…please read it.)

He has a lot of great tips, but one thing he mentioned was how being a perfectionist can lead to or be caused by depression or anxiety. As that’s something I’m really struggling with these days, this tip immediately caught my eye.*

It seems trite. Just don’t care. Huh. Right. Like telling an angry person, “calm down.” Fan the flames, why don’t you?

But it’s good advice. It’s the same advice I get in my meditation practice. I start feeling anxious and then get more anxious because I’m worried about the anxiety. And Guise himself has struggled, so he’s not coming from an outsider’s perspective on this.

Getting caught up in the negative spiral of anxiety or depression is part of why it’s so damned hard to get rid of it.

So let it go. Here’s my thought process; I feel bad. Okay, who cares? Keep working on this project. I feel sick. Okay, don’t care about that. Go lie down and sleep. Crap, I can’t sleep, my mind’s all worked up. Okay, that’s fine, your body could use the lie-down and if you don’t sleep, that’s okay. I keep waking up in the middle of the night. Okay, don’t care about that, just try to sleep again tomorrow. I’m having a panic attack. Okay, don’t care about that. You know what those are like. Just let it pass. No, this time I’m really dying, because x is happening. Okay, no you’re not. Don’t worry. You know this drill. It’s your brain. Let it pass. Don’t care about it.

In other words, don’t worry about the fact that you worry. As I said, this is the same advice as I get in meditation. I’m doing the anxiety pack on Headspace, and it says that the point of the exercise is not to get rid of anxiety. That’s impossible. Everyone will feel anxious in some situations. The point is to change our relationship to the anxiety. See it come, note it, let it go. Or, as Guise says, don’t care.

In Practice

The first day I read it, I was having a good day. It was easy to pump my fist and say YES. The first test came the next day.

Since I came back from Korea – maybe jetlag, maybe not – around 2 or 3 in the afternoon, I get in a low mood. Not necessarily sad or emotional or angry or depressed, just low. No energy, no desire to do anything. And not really sleepy, but wanting to sleep.

It wasn’t fun. I moped around for a few minutes, reading back over the note I’d made on the tip to not care. I tried a power pose. That helped a bit. Got me in the mindset. Then I decided to ignore the mildly unpleasant feelings (not mild enough to operate normally, but not catastrophic enough to actually merit me stopping what I was doing), and read. I read for about an hour, and when I reached a good stopping point, was sufficiently distracted from my feelings to get back to the art project I was working on.

I think of it like craving displacement. When you’re dieting, one thing that’s hard to overcome is the craving for treats. If you can wait fifteen minutes and distract yourself with something else (like really distract, not do something all the while thinking of the thing), then most of the time the craving fades (I heard about this in Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before – another great book).

Cut to two hours after I first started feeling bad and I was fine again. I had successfully not cared and ignored the bad feelings, continuing to operate through them, and had come out feeling good again.

Now, in comparison, the previous week, I’d felt the same way two days in a row, and had opted for a nap both days. The naps resulted in no sleep, but tossing and turning in frustration over the anxiety, worry over the low mood, and anger that I had to deal with it at all. A vicious cycle.

Overall I think my first trial was pretty successful. It was a small exercise in it, but I hope to make it so habitual I can work through even worse situations.

I haven’t been going many places for fear of having more attacks (thanks, agoraphobia, you SUCK), but when I do, this attitude (not worry about the worry, or the anxiety, or the vague unpleasant feelings) has helped.

Since I first started writing this post, the day I read the tip, I’ve had a few more times to test it. I got through a six hour D&D session just fine. I had some moments where I felt the fatigue setting in – something I would normally worry over – and decided not to care about it and keep being in the room and paying attention.

I had another panic attack (and possibly a second) this past week, and though it’s always painful and irritating, I felt those feelings and let them go, just lying down until they had passed, not worrying about the fact that I was having one. It helped me sleep better afterwards.

I’m calling it a success so far. I still need practice, but I’m going to hang on to this idea for all it’s worth.

What’s your favorite at-home method for dealing with anxiety?

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*This is not medical or psychiatric advice. This tip, meditation, and other forms of self-care do NOT replace medical help or medication. I’m still seeing doctors, on medication, and going to therapy. At-home tips help, but they should never be used as a fail-proof, cure-all method. Every person will have a different reason and different struggle with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, so make sure to see a doctor or psychiatrist!

Dear 2018: The Year of Healing

Dear 2018,

I don’t expect a lot from you. Actually, I guess I do. I expect you to make me better. Well, I expect me to help myself get better, with the aid of some doctors and things. But really, I’m hoping I won’t have to go for your big sis 2019 too. That would kinda be a bummer.

I’m hoping I can find peace.

I’m hoping I can find a direction.

I’m hoping I can feel all the things I want to feel: serene, authentic, creative, present, radiant, nourished.

I’m hoping I can make all the things I want to make: cosplay, paper art, knitted things, a beautiful garden, the best bullet journal, and ten more novels. (I’m aiming high.)

I’m hoping I can get all the habits started I want to: cook every day, meditate every day, write every day, eat and exercise in a way that fits my body and health situation.

I’m hoping I can find a tribe of people to support me, to love me, to accept me, to push and scold me when I need it.

I’m hoping I can play D&D every week.

I’m hoping I can read all the books I want now that I have a library at hand again (praise the LORD Y’ALL).

I’m hoping I can write more poetry. Poetry is the bomb.

I’m hoping I can find a career that suits me, or a good-enough job to help me live a life I love.

I’m hoping for…hope.

I’m hopeful.

I’m hoping 2018 will be a year of hope realized, of desires fulfilled, of feelings expressed, of love and other emotions felt and allowed.

Dear 2018, you will be awesome. Because 2017, while it had a lot of lows, had a lot of highs too, and I know they are in every day, every moment. That each second is all eternity, is a wavelength of dips and spikes and we can ride the crests or flounder in the shallows and I know where I want to be.

I want to be here, where I am. In who I am.

Dear 2018, I love you already.

And Dear 2017, good-bye. You taught me some of the best lessons I’ve had in my life so far. And I did a lot, too.

  • Went to Middle-Earth (a huge bucket list item)
  • Wrote 50,000 words for NaNo
  • Became a better, more confident teacher
  • Attended two very important weddings
  • Launched this blog
  • Read 100 books
  • Reconnected with an old, dear friend
  • Got clear on how I want to feel
  • Had a health crisis that invigorated me to start getting better

Thanks for those, friend. It was great, it was tough, and it’s time to move on.

Happy New Year!

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Excerpts from my journal; Late June 2017

June 26

It’s been nearly a week. I’m home on vacation now, trying not to think about the fact that my week is nearly taken up by meetings with friends and appointments and how much that stresses me out. One day I will plan a vacation with actually nothing. But I suppose it’s good to be doing all this. I did need the chiropractor, and I’m sure I’ll have fun. I just…enjoy not having a schedule sometimes.

The flight was good. I’m getting so used to it now the dread is abating for the most part. Even the prospect of a twenty-one hour flight to NZ isn’t daunting. It’ll be long and boring but it will end. I’m glad I’m to the point where flying isn’t a big deal.

There’s a lot to do, and I keep not doing things. I keep putting off contacting people because I don’t actually want to do anything. I just want to sit here and sleep and walk around and look out the window and think about nothing.

It’s odd though, because as soon as I landed I felt like I’d never left, like the six months since I was here last didn’t even go by.

The best part so far has been the D&D playing and planning I did with my brother. I got off the plane, he took me to eat, and then we went to his friend’s place to play. My brother is the Dungeon Master for his friends, and he brought me in as a surprise villain – a white dragon. It was beautiful. I was an excellent liar and an excellent villain. They were so indignant. It made me want to move home just so I could join their games.

I’m here this coming Saturday night too, so I get to play again. That’s about the only thing I actually want to go out and do. I am such a nerd.

July 29

While I’ve been home I went on a road trip with my best friend. It was amazing in a lot of ways, kind of painful in others. For instance, staying in a five-star hotel convinced me that staying in five-star hotels is not something I enjoy. Particularly the valet part. I don’t understand how valets work, so I kept opening my own door as they were reaching for it. Awkward. And I kept getting to the hotel door before them too. Awkward. I also got my own luggage out. Not even in some display of female power; I just didn’t realize they were going to do it. Other hotels don’t. Ha ha ha ouch.

And the room itself was just a room. Granted, a very clean room, and one with impressively massive pillows, but, in the end, just a room. We didn’t use the facilities, so I’m guessing a lot of the fancy was down there.

We walked around the downtown area. That I enjoyed. I like pretending I’m urban and cool and walk around downtowns all the time. Which I do, in Korea, so I’m not sure why I felt so falsely pretentious. It might have had to do with the fact that I had to hold my dress down the entire time. Curse the wind.

So we walked and had lavender coffee and went to a scratch kitchen (where they make everything from scratch. Shame, as I was hoping for one of those scratching sticks) and had amazing burgers and then to a bar to meet her friend and I had two gin drinks with strange names that were pretty good, experienced DIY s’mores, which seems dangerous with open flames and alcohol so abundant but okay, and went back to the hotel room early for such urban walkers and instead watched TV and did at-home pedicure treatments. Ah yeah. My kind of night.

July 1

It’s been several days again. My time in America has almost ended, but not my vacation. Tomorrow night I will leave for New Zealand. I keep putting off mentally thinking about it since I’m pretty nervous, I guess. I wouldn’t have thought so. I think I’m just worried it won’t be as good as I want it to be. I want it to be the best thing in my life, but that’s a pretty high expectation. The memories will be good. The experience might have a lot of discomfort and stress. That’s okay.

Tonight I’m going back to DnD. Tomorrow I leave for Middle Earth.