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Monday, 1 August 2016

On Resolutions, Accountability, and my general useless-ness.

(Warning: long post incoming. This started out as a small, to-the-point post and descended into something approaching stream-of-consciousness ramblings at 4am. If you read it all- thank you. If you don't, I totally understand.)

Something that pops up in my posts time and time again - ever since I started my first Livejournal blog back in 2002 - is me promising to do better, and utterly failing to do it. That's 14 years of setting out to do things and then simply not delivering.

That isn't good enough.

A few years ago I went through a really good, productive spell. I started doing the Write 1 Sub 1 challenge, where I aimed to write and submit one short story a week for a year, and for a few months I stuck to it. Some of the stories I wrote during that time are still the best things I've written - mainly because very shortly afterwards I simply stopped writing, for whatever reason.

In that time I sold a few stories, got some great feedback from some editors I really respect, and generally felt good about myself and my writing. I want to get that back, and I need to stop making excuses for myself and simply start writing again.

It's the 1st of August now. Has been for about 4 hours. It's also a Monday. That seems like a good time to make a start on changing, and getting out of the creative rut I've found myself in time and time again for over a decade. I'm 30 years old now. It's time to sort out my shit.

One of the things that always happens is that I have a burst of creative energy. I set out to do loads of things; I'm going to write this novel! I'm going to record this album! I'm going to make music videos! I'm going to make a cartoon! And on, and on. I inevitably start on all of those things, and very quickly find myself burned out and feeling like a failure. The more time that passes without any progress being made, the more of a failure I feel like, and the less gets done.

That stops now.

All of those projects still excite me, but it clearly isn't realistic for me to try and tackle all of them at once. That means I have to make some hard decisions about which things are priorities for me and which things have to be put on the back burner until I can prove to myself that completing projects isn't impossible for me. I can't expect other people to take me and my work seriously unless I take it seriously myself and start actually putting out some work.

I've talked about my band on here a few times. I've also posted music that I've made outside of my band. What I've found is that it's impossible for me to focus on my band, my 'solo' music, and my writing at the same time. I obviously can't stop working on music for my band - there are 4 other guys there relying on me, we have a manager, we have fans, we've made a financial investment, and there's simply the fact that I love my band and the music we make, and that I feel incredibly fulfilled by it. Similarly, writing has been a lifelong passion and is something that I think I'm good at. I deeply want to succeed as both a writer and a musician.

What that means is that I have to put my solo music on hold for the time being. I've got an EP written and recorded that needs to be mixed, I have ideas for lots of other musical projects, but they're simply going to have to wait. They are no longer a priority. Musically, I have to focus on just one project - and that has to be DEADTHRONE.

Not pressuring myself to be putting out other music frees up time for me to write more. The hard part here is picking which projects to work on. To put it into perspective, here's a non-exhaustive list of the things I've been working on (on and off - mostly off, if I'm going to be honest here) this year:

  • Loot The Room, a D&D resources site that aimed to post new content weekly. I haven't updated it in months.
  • GOLEM, a sci-fi novel that I plotted out, began writing, promoted on InkShares, and never finished.
  • Editing Under A Killing Moon, a novel I wrote nearly a decade ago.
  • Dungeon Crawl, a fun, dark fantasy novel with a terrible working title that I plotted, began writing, and then abandoned for something new.
  • A Cure For The Itch, a novel that I started writing years ago. I sold the first chapter to Jukepop Serials when they first started up, then never finished it.
  • The fairy tale/zombie romance novel that I posted about a lot a few years ago and that I now can't remember the title of (in my defense, it's 4AM as I write this). I wrote about 30k words of it, then moved on to something new and exciting that I also never finished.
  • Ariel, a novella that's been in the works for years. Still unfinished.
  • Writing articles for Critters RPG. I think I wrote 4 articles at the beginning of the year, then just stopped with no warning and a lot of empty promises when I decided to start Loot The Room.
Without starting to go through notebooks and binders, I can't remember everything I've been working on (or telling myself I'm working on while I procrastinated) over the past 7 months. What's clear to me, though, is that this is far too much for me to take on at once, and that the reason I never finish things is that I never allow myself to truly start things before moving on to the next project. I get in to something, it starts to get hard, and I allow myself to forget about it and start something new. Every time I get excited about a new thing I tell myself that this is the time that it's going to be different, this is the time I'm going to finish it. I announce it to the world, and then it gets forgotten about.

I realise that this post sounds like just more of the same. I need to bring some discipline into my life, some accountability. That starts with culling the projects I'm going to work on, and then setting very clear goals. I can't tell myself that sticking to those goals is the hard part, and that it's OK to fail. I'm telling myself, and anybody that still reads this blog, that I won't accept failure any more.

So. Which project - or projects - to focus on? It makes sense to me to take the thing I've been most excited about recently, and pour my energy in to that until it's done. 

That makes it easy to narrow the list down. I started an Inkshares campaign for Golem, people backed it and even preordered it. The fact that the campaign didn't meet its funding goal is irrelevant. I made promises to people to deliver that book. So that needs to come first.

I also made promises to people - on Twitter and here on this blog - to start up Loot The Room again. There's no reason that shouldn't be easy; I have a regular D&D group again, and the work I do to run that game feeds directly in to what I want to do with that site. 

That's it. Everything else can wait. Loot The Room is an ongoing project; Golem will be written and edited. Then I'll begin trying to publish it. At that point, and only at that point, will I allow myself to move on to the next project.

That's the cull done. Now for the discipline. I always begin my renewed desire to do better by going full steam ahead and burning out. It would be easy for me to say "I'm going to write 2000 words of Golem a day, and update Loot The Room every week!", but I need to be honest with myself. That simply isn't sustainable for me. There was a time when 2000 words a day was easy, but I had to build up to it. Trying to produce one map/article/whatever a week for Loot The Room has already failed once. It's pointless to make that promise again.

I need to start slowly. I need to feel like I'm making progress to keep making progress, because it's clear that when I put too much pressure on myself I simply give up. So I'm going to set small, realistic goals:

  1. Write two pages of Golem a day. That's only 500 words. I tweet more words per day than that. It's not a lot, the novel won't be done quickly. But my chapters, on average, run to about 3000 words each. At that pace I'm writing a chapter a week, with a day off. That's doable.
  2. Post one article or other piece of content to Loot The Room each month. No, it isn't much. And it almost definitely isn't enough to develop any kind of readership on the site. But initially, that's fine. Without content, I won't have a readership anyway; likewise if I keep promising things I never deliver. I play D&D 3 times a month, so this should be easy.
That's it. It may not seem like a lot - it may, in fact, seem too easy. But at this stage, having not committed to any projects for any decent amount of time for the entirety of my adult life, I need to accept that these are my limitations. There may come a day when I can churn out novels, but I need to stop lying to myself that I'm anywhere near that point yet. 

This post is nearly 2000 words long. That means two things: first, that this post is way too long and I need to end it now. And second, given that this took about half an hour to write, it's obviously realistic for me to write 500 words a day, even if I'm working a 13 hour shift. It's a small enough target that I can't lie to myself that I didn't have time to do it.

So that's it. That's my promise to myself, and to those of you who still encourage me and have faith in me even though I've been letting you down for so long. The support I've been given has been entirely undeserved, and it's time for me to show some appreciation for that by producing the things I say I will produce.

The final goal is one of accountability. Every month, on the 1st, I'm going to update this blog with a progress report. If I haven't done what I said I'd do, I encourage you to let me know about it in the strongest possible terms, either here, on Twitter, or via email. That includes shouting at me if I don't check in on the 1st. 

Don't wish me luck. Just give me hell if I don't deliver. 

See you in a month.

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