Me — Where to Go After the First Draft?

As you may or may not know, I’m putting together my second short story anthology, which will be collected stories from three established universes as well as several standalone shorts. I’ve been bringing a few of these into my writer’s group, and depending on the story, I’m getting lots of varying types of feedback. What I mean by that is, I’ve heard everything from “this is perfect, don’t change a word” to “it’s a solid concept, but it needs a lot more polishing before it’s ready” (which is a nice way of saying it’s terrible).

When you’re getting lots of feedback that wildly contradicts one another, it can be difficult to know what you should think. It’s easy to agree with the person who loves it and simply move on to the next story, but it can also be soul-wrenching to hear that somebody doesn’t like the thing you’ve worked so hard putting together. It might even be enough to make you want to throw it in the garbage and start over completely.

And maybe that’s what the story needs, but I’m of the opinion that you should never destroy your work. Instead of deleting the file where you keep your first draft, if you must start over from scratch, why not simply make a new file titled “second draft”?

That being said, how are you supposed to know when a story needs to be rewritten completely, or if it simply needs some edits?

As with virtually any writing advice you receive, what comes next is going to be hearsay, so take it with a grain of salt.

In my experience, when I go to my writer’s group I will already know if a story needs to be rewritten from scratch, but it all depends on what I’m trying to do with that piece versus what it actually does.

For example, I wrote a short story in my Spear Gate universe that was essentially written for the atmosphere and the scene. I fell in love with the crazy weird locale the story was set in, so I wanted to make it about the locale. This meant thorough descriptions and a narrative style that matches the mood of the setting. But what ended up being written was a story about a mom with a robot butler worried about her son, and the mom happened to live in a weird place with odd descriptions. The difference is the focus of the story. Instead of writing about Neda and how anxious she was that the sun was setting and her son was supposed to be home by now, I should have written about the cold steel of the walkway she sat on, and the warm cup of coffee doing little to stave off the chilly breeze.

This is a flaw that edits would not fix. Or rather they could, but the wording would have been altered so drastically that it would become a ship of Theseus. If you have to change every sentence, is it really the same old story? In this case, it’s clearly better to simply rewrite it. So I did, and as you might imagine, I think it works much better than it did.

If, however, the story is accomplishing your basic goals, whether it is an interesting character, or a cool plot twist, etc., then more than likely the only thing you’ll need to change is how well the story accomplishes those goals. Maybe the plot twist could be better if it was more subtly foreshadowed, or the interesting character needs a longer interaction to really shine. In this case, you don’t have to tear the whole scaffolding apart, you just need to go back and reinforce what’s already there.

Now this is a huge topic, so I might discuss it more thoroughly later, but the main point here is that you’re the author, so you’re the deciding factor on what the story needs. Don’t let somebody tell you your story sucks if your character simply needs clearer motivations. But if they have good points and you agree that your character simply isn’t interesting enough to be the protagonist, maybe a rewrite is in order. Just think about what you’re trying to accomplish with your story and look at how critical the flaws are, and woven into the story those flaws happen to be.

Me — I Will Become… Pt. 2

Nearly three and a half years ago, I started The Daily Dose of Derailment. I did it for a lot of reasons, but first and foremost on that list was the fact that I was depressed. This was partially because I considered myself a writer, but didn’t write, and so the blog was one of many aspects about myself that I changed in those weeks. It helped a tremendous amount, and I’m still happy I took that first step. I never would have imagined the traction it would have gotten in that amount of time (though that is not and has never been the point of it), and I love that I can very easily see how much I—and this blog—have grown.

If you’re interested, here is the fist blog post I ever wrote. I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep myself from cringing a bit as I read it. That’s good though, it proves growth. (The fact that I’ve since changed websites and the formatting has been screwed up does me no favors here, either.)

Having noticed that 6 out of 10 of my most recent posts have been indirectly (or directly) related to my recent depression, I feel that it’s time to revamp. Just like I did over three years ago. I need to re-calibrate, and hopefully some good will come of it.

The last two months I have not had the willpower to make myself happy. I’ve just been allowing myself to be emotionally unstable because it has been so much easier than the alternative.

That ends today.

As soon as I finish writing this, I’m going to put together a list of some things I need to do—all of the things that will bother me during the week if I waste my Saturday and Sunday knowing I had time to work on them. In a sense, I’m throwing away the weekend by not allowing myself to relax. But I need to lay the foundation for a better tomorrow if I want every day to stop sucking. (As I’ve said before, every action I’ve been taking has been with the mindset of mitigating depression rather than maximizing enjoyment.)

This means no more late blog posts—especially when there’s no reason for them to be late—and no more procrastination. If I can’t be serious about pulling myself together, I’m in big trouble, so I have to be serious.

If you actually read any of the past few weeks of posts, allow me to apologize! I can’t imagine there was anything worthwhile in any of those, but I’m certainly not going back to check.

For those interested, one of the action items on my list is to make a list of quotes that I will start using to keep me going. I already have the list, I just need to print it out and put it on a frame on my desk so that I stay on track. I think that list of quotes is a great thing to send you off with (with no attributions as I’ve reworded many of them to be simpler than they were). And, as I hope mine will be, may your tomorrow be better than today was.

“Follow your path.”

“If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.”

“It doesn’t get easier. You get better.”

“What easy thing can be done now to free up time later?”

“Don’t break your back for somebody who won’t see your pain.”

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

Me — Exhausting Your Music Tastes

I’ve lately been getting burned out on music, which has never happened to me before. Every time I get bored of one band or one genre of music I can always jump onto another thing, be it a new station on the radio or a new artist I haven’t heard much of.

But in the wake of my depression, I overdosed on my “happy, energy-inducing music”, and in order to compensate for that, I put Spotify on the computer I use at work so I can listen to my own playlists, such as my 28 hour long gaming playlist (a good portion of which is Darren Korb from Transistor/Pyre etc, as well as things like the Faster than Light soundtrack and, most recently, the FFVII soundtrack).

The problem with this is that music doesn’t take very long to listen to. If you listened to every officially recorded Beatles song, it would take you about 9 hours, so with a 40 hour work week you’d be done Tuesday morning, and unless you’re prepared to start the next Beatlemania, you’re going to have to find something new pretty quick.

And so, where do you find new, good music? I’m not looking, per se, I’m just finding it interesting that I feel burnt out on everything. All my modern pop rock stuff is exhausting, my chill video game music is diverse and confusing as far as mood goes (I mean, just in FFVII alone you can go from Costa del Sol to One Winged Angel in a heartbeat).

At home I don’t listen to music a whole lot, because if I have any amount of actual free time I’m probably watching either Day9 or Critical Role. If I am listening to music, it’s probably a YouTube playlist of lo-fi music, which I recently discovered. I love the chill, hip-hop beats, but I don’t want to bring it to work because my production manager would hate it and I also don’t want to ruin this genre for myself as well. It’s funny, because picking the day’s music has slowly become a game of “what songs will I hate the least“. Having recently watched Yesterday, I’m going with Beatlemania II: Beatlmanier.

(It is also at this moment where I realized I should have just written a review post of Yesterday. I have quite a bit more to say about it. But I’m already this far in,  and this post is already a day late, so whatever.)

Is this why people ask for music suggestions on social media? Because they’ve exhausted their personal library of stuff they enjoy? I feel like all I really need is to take a break from music altogether, but working in silence day-to-day would be far, far worse. In addition to that, the only music sources I really have access to there are Pandora (which sucks, because it’s radio library is tiny, and it will occasionally play the same song twice in a row!) and Spotify, which is much better, but difficult to find good radios, because everything is a playlist and people’s preference of music are not my preferences of music.

When I’m no longer working at my current job I’m going to get back into podcasts. I’ve got over a year of stuff to catch up on!

Me — Playing Life on Damage Control

At risk of taking an even more intimate look at my psyche as I have been writing on my blog lately, I need to vent a bit. Again. So read at your own risk.

At the onset of even more bad news, I’ve been starting to seriously look at how I could possibly make the changes I need. I feel like at a certain point, the depression becomes my identity, and when it gets as bad as it is right now, nothing makes me feel better, I can only do things that don’t make me feel worse. Life becomes a game of damage control and mitigation in the hopes that each day is as not-terrible as it could possibly be.

Every conversation I have ends up being about staving off the sadness, and every thing I decide to do is carefully chosen with the intent of distraction and suppression. I start to seriously consider whether or not I would really care if I got hit by a car or if that headache suddenly turned out to be cancer, (being bedridden for months would remove a lot of options and choice, and the self-loathing that comes with them) and when I decide I would care, it’s because I couldn’t even begin to afford the hospital bills that would cost.

Now, my thoughts haven’t strayed towards action, and I don’t expect they ever will, but it can be hard to gauge just how bad of an emotional state I’m in because for all I know, this is just what life is and everyone else is just more well-equipped for it. I’m inclined to think that this isn’t the case, but you never know.

I have little doubt that my depression is worse than it was in January, and if I have any hope of being okay now rather than later, I need to make some drastic life decisions. As I’ve talked about before, I intend to move out of California, and my current plan has been to start that process next January/February. The reason that I’m not looking now is because I have one more semester of school left, I want to help get my passion project off the ground (which, admittedly, wouldn’t be much harder if I moved), I’m sort of waiting for a suitable replacement at work (though I’m not wouldn’t hold out for that—plus the idea of looking for new work breaks me a little bit), and I want to find a good conclusion to the D&D campaign I’m running. That last one is kind of important to me, and though my brothers and I could play over voice chat, I feel it would take a lot of the fun out of the game, because we’ve only ever played D&D on a table with character sheets and miniatures. Plus, I really hate it when campaigns don’t get closure, as is often the case.

But what if none of that really matters? What if I started packing my things right now and moved next month? Would I start healing right now? Would that be the right choice in the long run? I’m very aware that given the grand scheme of things, none of the things I’m holding out for really matter all that much, but I like to have a game plan, and throwing out the next few months of plans worries me.

Still, spontaneously going on a three hour walk because you can’t get out of your own head and almost crying in public while you’re listening to All You Need is Love also worries me. To me, that is a very clear indication that Kollin’s normal mental functions are failing.

I’ve found a quote about a week ago that really struck a chord with me.

“It doesn’t get easier. You get better.”

Strange how words can have the power to soothe and terrify at the same time. They say it gets worse before it gets better, so maybe my best course of action here is simply to assume that life isn’t done yet.

Me — July ’19 Update

I’m going to try my best not to make this month’s update too depressing, as June was kind of a mess for me and I don’t want it to bog down my July. I’d rather talk about the news I’m excited for rather than the bad stuff that’s been happening (that I’ve admittedly been talking about nonstop the last few weeks).

So as always, the Monthly Update Topic Order™: blog, writing plans, work, school, D&D, video games, reading/listening, and other things.

I’m honestly thinking about taking “blog” updates off of the monthly topic list, because this entire year has been consistent of Tuesday and Saturday posts, even if the Saturday posts always seem to be late. I’m still pretty happy with that consistency, though. It keeps me accountable and keeps me writing. So unless I have some changes to make, I won’t be including the blog on the regular list of updates.

Writing has actually been going well! The story I wrote for my passion project is done (well, it’s first draft is), and I’m relatively satisfied with how it turned out. My original plan for a simple 1500 word “establishing shot” of a location turned into a 10k word novelette with lots of mystery and intrigue. A happy accident, I suppose. It won’t end up here on the blog, though. Our current plans are to monetize it along with other parts of the project. In other news, the second short story anthology is still in progress! I still have lots of edits to make on the stories, but it is something I am actively working towards, and I hope to publish it some time this year.

Work is still not going great. I did get a pay raise, which was nice, but it wasn’t as much as I was hoping, and the amount of stress I had to deal with a couple weeks ago when the manager was on vacation was not worth it. Still, I survived, and work has been getting slow so I managed to leave a little early a couple days, and for as much as I’d like the money, staying home to relax is more valuable to me at the moment (even if home hasn’t been particularly welcoming lately).

There isn’t much to say about school, because I’m not taking any summer classes, but I will reiterate that my hope is for the next fall semester to be my last, and once I’m done, I’ll have two AA degrees that will be basically useless, but hey, at least I don’t have student loans to pay off.

The DM fatigue of my current D&D campaign is hitting me hard, and it’s getting very difficult to thread the story beats I want to while also just trying to get through the sessions. I have a climax to the arc I want to earn, but if I don’t do a good job in the upcoming sessions, it will feel sudden and hand-wavy. It’s tough, but I really just want to take a break from DMing, cause it takes a lot out of me, and currently it’s been adding a lot of unnecessary stress to my life! Last month I was hoping we would have five more sessions before the arc was over, and even though our sessions are weekly, my current scope is now about three more sessions (because things take longer to happen than I expect).

I haven’t had a whole lot of time for video games, lately, but when I can spare a minute I play Magic: The Gathering Arena, and when I’ve got an hour or more I play a few games of Heroes of the Storm, usually while listening to Critical Role or something similar. (I’m almost to level 75 with D.Va, which is exciting). That’s about it, though.

As before, I’m still getting caught up with Critical Role, as a few busy weeks brought me behind, and I’m excited for Peace Talks, which I expect will have been released by this time next year. I’m planning on doing a reread through the Dresden Files. If/when I have time.

And that’s about it. I don’t have a whole lot else to talk about, though I’ve been trying a few new things lately to break myself of the monotony that has been driving me a little crazy with the stress my life has brought the past month. I’m planning on sharing my thoughts on them soon, and I’m excited for next month, when I start what is almost certainly my last semester of college.

Here’s to the future and digging ourselves out of the wholes we dug.

 

 

Me — Daily Happiness Tracker

So, I’ve been using a happiness tracker that a guy named Hugo started, as it is not just a pile of data (like most other ones I’ve used), but rather it turns that data into graphs and helps visualize your life in ways you can understand and digest. I’m not going to explain how it works, as you can just use that link to read up on his (very long) blog post. Instead, I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned from it.

First things first, when you rate how good a day was on a scale of 1-10, I’ve noticed that it tends to be a bell curve. For me, my average day is a 7. I’ve had multiple conversations with people trying to explain why the average is 7 and not 5, but honestly it boils down to semantics, I guess, except that the American education system says that 70%, a C, is an average score.

Most of my days are 7s, with a good number of 6.5s and 7.5s. I realized that I had actually been doing a great job, all things considered. I’ve been keeping track of my numbers since March, and while I had good days and bad days, things tended to be pretty consistent, and it got easy to predict how good my day would be based on the things that I did.

But then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. Three weeks ago, my daily average went from ~7.3 all the way down to 5.8. The last time my depression had been this bad was at the end of January, and I had spent all the time in between building my stability back up. I felt like all that work had been thrown at the window.

Happiness Chart

You can clearly see things drastically change near the second week of June.

It’s still affecting me in very obvious ways, and I won’t pretend things are different, but this time around I tried to take action immediately. I do not want to spend another six months using excessive busy work as a coping mechanism again. So, I reached out to a few people, and with the help of some sage advice, some personal daily routine changes, and a little bit of providence in the form of that dream I mentioned a bit ago all came together to put me back on track. My daily average is roughly 6.7 at the moment, so I’m already about halfway back to where I used to be a month ago, despite even more trials life has been throwing my way in the meantime.

The worst part about my depression is that when it’s at its worst, I feel like it’s the only thing I ever talk about, and the same is true whether I’m writing blog posts or talking to friends, or even in my own headspace—it’s almost inescapable.

But this chart—this chart shows me that I did a great job bouncing back. I feel like all of those good days since “the fall” were exceptions to the rule, and not the standard, but hey, if I can make a habit of what feels like abnormally good days, even if those days were the standard when I was better, I’m clearly making progress.

Me — Making Excuses or Biding Time?

A lot of people have this ideology that their life will get better If and When. “If I just got that job I wanted, I would have the money I need to buy that new car”, or “When my kids finally graduate high school and go to college, I’ll finally find the time to work on my hobbies”. They take the unhappiness they’re currently feeling and deflect the responsibility by saying they can’t fix it because of whatever situation they are currently in. That situation, of course, is always temporally locked, so the future is always brighter.

I’ve done a post about how happiness is a choice, and I still think that is 100% true. It’s just a mindset you have to flex, and virtually anyone can be happy in almost every situation they find themselves in. (I’m excluding the extremes here for obvious reasons.)

But even though I’m very aware of this argument, I still have a hard time feeling that my situation is like these things. For example, I desperately want to move to Oregon/Washington for a multitude of reasons, but first and foremost is the lack of privacy I have. I don’t really feel like I have my own space to work in, because I even share a bedroom (and have all my life). I can’t move out this second because I’m still going to school, but as soon as I’m done, the current Kollin has no intention of staying for a second, though some opportunities might encourage me otherwise.

This isn’t to say that I’m unhappy in my current living situation, as my unhappiness is an unrelated issue, but this significant and constant blow to my psyche of not having anywhere I can run to does put quite a damper on my mood. Even if I’m sitting at my desk playing video games, I have to be selective about the games that I’m playing if I don’t want to be visible to friends I may or may not want to interact with.

I’m doing everything in my power to make my space my own, though. Right now, I’m in damage control: I’m trying to be productive as mindlessly as possible so that I can maximize happiness while dumping out as much free time as possible (because free time spent not being productive stresses me out quite a bit).

No, I’m not under the delusion that changing my living space will solve all my problems. But I know for a fact that it would help, as I like clean, efficient uses of space, and as of today, the amount of people living/sleeping in my home went from 6 to 11. When your living room has to be converted into a mass sleeping mat, you’ve got spatial issues.

So while I’m waiting for this temporal problem to sort itself out, I’m working on the unrelated things. I’m trying out a new hobby that feels both productive and takes up a lot of time, and on that principle alone, it works well. More on that later, as I don’t want to talk about something after having only spent a few hours doing it.

Godspeed with your own endeavors and tribulations.