En Route to the Future

Hello Friends,

This week has been an interesting one for writing. This is my second attempt at this blog post, the first of which talked about the emptiness that I was feeling at the beginning of the week. Coming off of writing Charlie’s second suicide attempt last week, I started this week feeling very emotionally drained. I didn’t have ideas and I didn’t want to write.

This wasn’t a case of writer’s block. Despite not using an outline for this project, I knew exactly where I wanted to take the story and what I wanted to say, I just didn’t have the motivation or the emotional means to sit down and actually say it. I was no longer actively hiding from my work like I had been the week before, but now I was passively avoiding it and hoping that nothing would come up and cause it to find me. I was extremely low-energy and unmotivated in a way that mirrored some characters and completely opposed others. While Sam shared my exhaustion, she also felt the need to move forward, whereas I struggled with that concept. Jo, on the other hand, was bouncing off the walls because of her news, and I simply couldn’t match that enthusiasm. I was tired, drained, and I didn’t want to do it.

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Because I wasn’t afraid of the writing this week, eventually I stepped into it and got to work; the words came slowly at first, but eventually, the process became fluid. This week’s progress has taken me into the denouement of the story. I am finally at the stage where hope is again present, and for a moment, the characters can all take a deep breath and be happy with themselves and where they are. The crushing tension that has been building through the chapters has been resolved. It isn’t the resolution that some characters were hoping for, and it is different than all the characters were expecting, but for now, there is some much-needed peace.

Today I wrote the set up for one of the final scenes, where the girls have to step into discomfort in order to mend their broken relationships. It is a necessary step and one that I am still working through, even in real life, though I have made considerably more progress than my girls have at this point. Learning to move forward is a process, and it is optional. Growth is something that we choose. No one is the same person that they were at the beginning of the story, and the story will continue even after my book ends. That’s how life works. The girls are experiencing a hard moment in life, but they have all displayed the courage and love for each other, necessary to get them through

Today I set up hope, and next week I move into it. I am nearing the end of my first draft and am excited to be moving forward in this journey that we are on together.

Thank you endlessly for your support. Your company is a light on this long road.

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Word Count: 133,000
Project Status: Writing First Draft

Patient Progress

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Hello Friends,

Over the course of the week, I tackled the hardest section of my book. I wrote about Charlie’s second suicide attempt. In this first draft, though the setting is different, the emotions present are very real. I read through all of the conversations that happened that night and I structured the scenes in a nearly identical way. This scene was excruciating to write.

I started the week by wanting to tackle the scene on Tuesday. It was my goal do the work on Tuesday in order to have it done and out of the way. When I sat down to write though, that isn’t what ended up happening. Instead, I ended up writing a preamble to the scene and setting up the situation more, adding context and emotional weight to the events that happened beforehand. Because I use “pantsing” as my writing style (as in “flying by the seat of one’s pants), the scene became something different than I expected and, in a way, I allowed it to.

When I first started this project, I knew that this scene, the night of the second suicide attempt would be the climax of the book. Emotionally charged and intense, it is clearly the event with the most tension in the story. I went into this project knowing that I would have to write this scene and I wanted to make it as lifelike as I could. As a result of that desire, I hid from the scene.

If I am honest, I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to go back into that moment of fear, helplessness, and desperation, where I felt like there was nothing I could do. I didn’t want to face those emotions again, but I’d put myself in a situation where I knew that I had to and I wanted to do the scene justice.

I was able to put off writing the scene until Wednesday. On Wednesday, I knew that I had to write it or that I never would. I had to face my fears and do what I had set out to do from the very beginning. In a sense, this was my moment to be brave. So I pulled all my information together, and I sat down and I wrote it.

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Going back in was different than I expected. It was visceral and real and I felt the same adrenaline and emotional unease as I did then, but those emotions and that energy were no longer being expressed via my body (i.e. I was no longer trembling or pacing in order to expend nervous energy). The fear was still there but it wasn’t as forceful as it had been then, maybe because I knew it was no longer needed. It was a calmer and slightly more detached experience but some things were still very much real and as compelling as the night they happened.

None of this is the point of this blog though. What I want to focus on here is the time that it took me to write this excerpt. Usually, during a work day, I start somewhere in the afternoon. On Wednesday I pushed writing time until late evening, filling the time with anything from reading to watching videos on the internet to staring out the window. I simply could not muster the courage needed to go back into this terror and the panic of having to was really getting to me.

My stress came to a climax and I needed to get it out. I messaged a few friends and spilled my beans to them, seeking sympathy or understanding. My friends did respond but there was nothing that assuaged the stress. I tried to dance my stress away, but it was not a fruitful exercise. Throwing toys for my dog also proved ineffective. In the end, all I could do was I pull out my journal and I express my terror. I wrote about how I simply didn’t want to go back and face it all again. I admitted that I was afraid of the pain and the imminent feeling of loss that surrounded that night. I allowed myself to be afraid and to exist in that moment of fear. And after that, I was able to write it.

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One thing that writers, as a group, tend to do is push themselves hard. We set up these goals for ourselves and drive ourselves to accomplish them, whether we are ready to achieve them or not. To some extent, this is good. It’s good to have deadlines and to strive and to set goals for yourself, healthy even. But one thing I wish to express to my fellow writers out there is the need for patience with yourself. If there is something hard that you know you need to write, it’s okay to allow yourself to admit what you are feeling about that scene. It’s okay to take the time you need before you can step into a place where you can write it. Don’t allow yourself to run from it, but take the time you need to prepare for it because that time is important. When you are writing something hard or even deeply personal, it’s okay to take the time you need to process it before you write it. Don’t force yourself into something that you are not ready for.

I signed up for this project knowing that this would be my end goal. I knew that it would be hard and it was, but writing something hard isn’t the end of the story. We move past our hardest moments on to something new. Writing isn’t always easy, most times it isn’t, but if you are writing something that you experienced in a very painful way, it’s okay to be gentle with yourself about it. Patience is important in any project, and when writing something that is personally very difficult, it is more than alright to be patient with yourself. Take the time you need.

I come through this week victorious. Thank you for coming along with me.

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May we continue on together; unto dawn.

What’s in a Name?

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Greetings Friends,

As I finish up the first draft of my novel, I have been able to look back through my work and pick out some of the flaws that will need to be changed in the drafts to come. One of my main offenses in the writing realm is that all of my characters have names that tend to start with one of four letters: “A”, “C”, “L” or “S”. There are a few outliers whose names begin with a “J” or “M” but for the most part, my characters tend to pull from a very small pool of letters. This can make the reading process very confusing.

When I first was planning this book, I took a long time to decide the names of the main characters. Sam and Charlie were chosen, in large part, because they are gender neutral. Initially, I didn’t know if I wanted to make both characters girls or boys or make them different. As I myself am female, it was easier for me to make them both girls; many writers, especially for their first novels, find it easier to write from their own gender perspective due to a more innate understanding of the thought process. Females also tend to be more social and I chose that as an avenue to spread information throughout the novel via events such as sleepovers. The choice to make them both female also helped me to mentally streamline the story, allowing for narrative flow.

Names of other characters including Jo and Amy (Charlie and Sam’s close friend group) as well as Linda, Clara and Samuel (Sam’s mother and Charlie’s parents respectively) were all chosen arbitrarily. I thought about nicknames and usernames for each character, but for the most part, their proper names were largely unconsidered. A side effect of this lack of overthought means that most characters have similar sounding names, for example, Samantha (Sam) and Samuel, Charlie’s best friend and father respectively. Originally, I used this similarity to juxtapose the two characters, highlighting the differences in the ways they interact with Charlie, but as the story progressed it just became needlessly confusing. Charlie and her mother Clara both have names beginning with “C” which emphasizes their family connection but it also makes it easy to get the two characters mixed up, especially since they share many scenes together near the beginning of the novel. The similarity of the names actually makes it harder to follow the story and the implied connection isn’t necessary as they are family and the connection already exists.

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Even less prominent characters have fallen victim to this “same name” treatment. As a character, Amy is an extremely nurturing presence for the friend group. She is aware of mental disorders and knows about social work and is usually the most informed member of their group in terms of action to take. Because she has the most information, she is often turned to as a source of guidance, which highlights her more nurturing qualities as she will often seek out her friends before and after confrontations in order to access their wellness and see if she can help them. The only other character whose name begins with “A” is Andrew Mallen, Charlie’s psychiatrist. He also provides knowledge and guidance for Charlie in a medical environment. Andrew and Amy’s similar naming refers to their knowledgeable and nurturing natures.

The letter “L” applies to people who provide support and comfort as well as guidance. Linda, Sam’s mother, and Lilly, Charlie’s therapist, both fill supporting roles; they both try to equip their charges with the tools they will need to face the situation. Linda is not a major player in the story but she provides Sam with some necessary perspective and love, as well as the knowledge that she is supported in her decisions. Linda’s support is very practical as is Lilly’s. Since the book is told from Sam’s perspective, there is little interaction with Lilly and most of her presence is experienced second-hand, but Lilly still offers emotional and intellectual support for Charlie, even while identifying her negative thought-patterns. Lilly acknowledges Charlie’s improvement and offers encouragement and support within the situation. Neither Lilly nor Linda has an extremely overt presence in the book but both women play similar roles in the lives of their charges.

When I first wrote this book, I didn’t notice how similar everyone’s name was. It was only when I pulled together a cast list that I understood the lack of diversity in my characters’ name. As a result, it’s mandatory for me to change my character’s names in future drafts.

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This week is just a fun little blurb both to introduce characters and to highlight a flaw I have as a writer. As always, thank you for joining me for today and I hope you will enjoy as we continue along this road together.

Word Count: 120, 000
Project Status: Writing First Draft

 

The Reasons Why

Greetings Friends,

In response to my previous blog post (Flying By The Seat of My Pants), I was asked a question: why am I changing the story so that my book tells about an experience that is different from what I personally went through? This is a valid question, the answer to which has meaningful ramifications on the current state of my book and my project as a whole. This post is dedicated to answering that question.

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Two major reasons for changing the story was to even out the pacing and add clarity to the work. In my real-life experiences, the situation is still ongoing and had started before I had arrived on the scene. Life rarely packages itself into nice little bundles to be written about, but I thought about how I might incorporate what I knew to be the beginning of the story and how I could acknowledge the ongoing struggle of my characters throughout the book, which leaves the characters changed but the situation as a whole unresolved. I wanted to incorporate the whole story, even though I hadn’t been a part of it, in order to give the audience a better understanding of the situation. When I first became part of the situation, though I was aware of first suicide attempt, the reasons behind it and the situation surrounding it were extremely vague and confusing. I talked to several people involved in the catalyst in order to get a more comprehensive understanding and learned that my depressed friend’s perspective of events was more rooted in pain from past events than the event itself, which were now growing into a powerful force resulting in negative patterns of self-sabotage and self-damage and finally depression. So much happened during that time that it is impossible to include everything in what is trying to be a three hundred page novel. As a detail-oriented person, I tend to fixate on the small moments and their accumulated meaning, but it isn’t realistic to try and include everything that happened; even if I did, my book would become so specific and focused that my story would become largely inaccessible and the point of my story would be lost. The zoomed out perspective was necessary both to tell the whole story in a way that the readers can understand what is going on, both in a physical and emotional sense, and stop it from becoming a thousand-page niche novel which wouldn’t be able to touch anybody’s life in a meaningful way.

The second reason for my changing the story relates to the details of events.  Many of the things that happened were so specific and interconnected with different people’s lives, thoughts, behaviors, reasoning, and actions. In every situation, people’s perspectives have been formed by their past and though I do give each character a formed backstory, I simply don’t have the writing space to explain everyone’s actions, nor do I think it would be helpful. In many ways, the experiences we had were deeply personal and because they would neither further the story nor add meaningful clarity, I thought it best to remove certain events, details, and emotions. Even when telling your story, sometimes it is okay to keep some things private, as the public at large couldn’t understand them without having your background, context, and understanding of the world. While this choice does change the story, I don’t believe this takes away from it in a meaningful way. The story I am writing is not the same as the one I experienced, but for the most part, that is because I rearranged of larger events to include the audience in them, not because of the redaction of smaller details that are more personal to the people involved.

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Another argument that was brought to me as a reason I should write the story as I lived it is because of the details that do affect the story. By changing the catalyst of depression and the backstory of my friend to that of Charlie, I am fundamentally changing the person’s outlook on life. Charlie’s perspective is not the same as my friend’s but I do feel as if I have maintained the emotional beats of the story, especially the emotional absence of parents and the rejection by peers for extended periods of time. Charlie’s story is different from the one I lived, but I believe that it is still a reasonable depiction of depression as, though the catalysts have changed, the symptoms, the treatment, the mindset and the behaviors that I witnessed are all very much present in Charlie’s journey, her behavior and her life. Charlie is living the same mental and emotional life as my friend did, and, in the case of depression, those are two of the main factors, despite the differences in their physical lives.

Though my life is not riddled with experiences with depression, I believe that the changes I have made add value to my story in that they allow for more time to be spent on the relationships that are being developed between Sam, Charlie and their friends Amy and Jo. Details are sacrificed for a wider understanding of the situation as a whole rather than just my part in it. The story is no longer the one I lived but it is still one that I am experiencing with these characters as I write them. Whether these changes will stay, be replaced by the original events, or turned into something entirely new, I stand by my decision to play with the events that occurred, both to make it more accessible and to draw out new elements of the story. Stories grow and progress, they change over time, and I eagerly wait to see what this one will become.

There is adventure yet to be had and I invite you to come along.

To those who have been with me thus far, thank you for your companionship. The journey is richer for your presence.

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Word Count: 107,700 words
Project Status: Writing First Draft

Flying By the Seat of My Pants

*Trigger Warning: Brief mentions of self-harm and suicide, though there are no details or descriptions given.*

When I first began planning for this project, I came up with an outline in order to give myself a frame to work from. As someone who doesn’t like to use outlines, I promptly saved the file and never looked back. This means that my entire writing process for the first draft is an example of “pantsing” (the process of writing freestyle, without a preplanned structure; referring to the saying “flying by the seat of one’s pants”). I choose to write this way because of the raw emotional atmosphere it gives almost every scene and interaction. The events form as they happen and as a result, everything feels less forced.

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Because of my choice to “pants” my book, the pacing of my novel is a bit strange. Every scene is unplanned so events jump somewhat erratically; sometimes I focus on a week continuously and other times I jump whole months with little to no detail about them given. I wrote out a rough timeline for the book, separate from the outline, but that has, in part, contributed to the problem, as it encourages me to jump large periods of time between “important events”. The real-life events took place over a span of almost two years; it is impractical to try to fit everything that happened into a novel of about three hundred pages, but despite that, the speed at which events happen in my story makes me feel like I am short-changing reality.

In order to make this story my own, instead of it be a biography, I changed the parameters of the situation. I included Sam in the catalyst of Charlie’s depression, whereas, in real life, my involvement (which Sam’s perspective is based on) began well after the depression had set in, though before the official diagnosis. Important scenes including when Sam first learns about Charlie’s self-harm and her first attempt at suicide happen very differently in the novel, and, in a way, those differences deflate the emotional impact of those scenes. By having Sam see the evidence of Charlie’s self-harm and confront her about it, Sam does not experience the raw terror of suddenly having that secret thrust upon her. By having Sam be present for both suicide attempts instead of just the later one, though the fear is still real, it undermines the initial uncertainty that maybe things won’t get that bad again, and then the growing horror as a second attempt becomes more and more probable. By changing Sam’s experiences, the emotions that she is feeling are no longer the same as the ones I felt. Our circumstances are different and that diminishes my ability to write her emotional state accurately.

When I started this project, one of my main goals was to express the raw emotional state that I was in; to show my readers that these emotions are natural in situations with such high stakes and to show them what I did in that position, the mistakes I made, the choices, the losses and the victories won. By highlighting the emotional path that I took, I could paint the circumstances in the raw light that I understood them, even though I was telling a story that was not my own. It was never my intention to turn this project into a biography, but now the choice to make it somewhat different than my experiences has led to unforeseen consequences.

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While I am not sorry that I chose to forego the outline, my writing process hasn’t been what I expected it to be. Things that seemed so innate to the situation I lived through are so different now when I am looking through Sam’s eyes. Honestly, the dichotomy between the emotions I experienced and the ones I am writing now from Sam’s perspective have incited thoughts of a full rewrite, in order to reclaim the depth of emotion that I am striving for. Any writer knows that a book is ten percent imagination and ninety percent rewriting and editing, and I can see that as a very likely outcome for this project. Whether or not I decide to do that though, for now, I am dedicated to finishing the first draft as a whole; I’ll only be able to get a true sense of the book’s emotional value after it’s completed anyways. So for now, I stay the course. The first draft hopes to see completion somewhere between now and end of January and I am eager to see where it is then and where it will go from there.

Thank you for your company thus far. We still have a long way to go.

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Current Word Count: 94, 500 words
Project Status: Writing First Draft

This Road I Travel

Greetings Friends,

It is often said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My journey began three months ago, and my destination: publication. But as I go, I felt the need to tell two stories: the story in the book itself, and the story of the book and how it came to be. So, if I may, I would like to introduce myself.

My name is Katie Fortin. I am a young writer and an avid reader. Three months ago, I signed up with Jeunes Volontaries, supported by Emploi-Québec, to work on a project, the goal of which is to write a book in the span of a year. I jumped on the chance and since being accepted, I have been doing my utmost to acquit myself well.

This project is not my first attempt at writing a book. I have one and a half completed novels and an outline for a third novel, all of which are fantasy novels, a genre which I adore. This project diverges significantly from my previous attempts. My current project is a piece of literary fiction, and the reason for that is something that happened to me somewhat recently: one of my friends was diagnosed with major clinical depression. Having little-to-no knowledge of depression at the time, I did my best to help, and more often than not, failed miserably. The situation with my friend progressed and I did what I could to help but, as is the case with any mental illness, there is only so much that can be done. That realization is what led me to this story.

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The story that I am writing draws heavily from my experiences, though events that take place are not directly based on real events nor are the characters real people who I know. When I was thinking about ideas that I could use for the project, I thought about my experiences with depression, what I’d lived through, what my friend had gone through, and I decided that this is something I wanted to write about. There are many wonderful resources about depression, which outline how to get help and how to help someone who you love through it, but, I personally, found them to be impersonal. I suppose they have to be, due to the fact that general statements simply have no way of speaking to each individual experience, but I wanted to do something different with my book. I wanted to tell a personal experience; not necessarily my experience, but something that is raw and emotional, painful and hurt but also hopeful and loving. I wanted to tell the story of depression in a very personal and touching way.

The flaw with this idea is that I am not depressed. I have never experienced the depths of sorrow and pain that so many do, and as such, I did not feel qualified to write about the topic as if I had. I wanted to write this story about depression and what I had experienced, but I couldn’t write it from the perspective as one who is depressed because I simply don’t know what it’s like. Thus, I decided to twist the perspective and write from the point of view of the friend of a depressed individual. This is a perspective that I understand well and that I feel confident that I can write about without overstepping the extent of my experience. And as such, Sam and Charlie were born.

Sam is the protagonist of the novel. Strong-willed and a bit overbearing, she has a driving need to help and to do what she can for the people around her. She cares deeply and tries to bring peace to situations. Charlie is a bundle of laughter and joy, always trying to bring a smile to the faces of those around her. She loves being with people and sharing a good time, but when an unexpected blow exposes a crumbling emotional foundation, Charlie slips into a depression. Willing for the pain to end, she wants the world to simply slow down and stop, but together, she and her best friend Sam have to hold on to hope, just to make it to each new day. Neither girl is perfect and both fail many times, but both care about each other and neither girl is willing to give up, either on themselves or on each other as they reach for each other’s hand and hold on until dawn.

I have chosen to write this story due to my experiences, but it is important to note that I am not a medical professional or a psychologist. If you or someone you know is dealing with depression, seek help immediately from your doctor or mental health professional. It is also helpful to educate yourself on the topic. I will leave a page with resources to help gather professionally approved information and contact information of helplines.

Though hard to write at times, and exploring dark and potentially triggering topics and conversations (which I will put warnings for at the beginning of the appropriate posts), I felt like this was an important story to tell. And I am here both to tell that story, and to give something of a behind-the-scenes view of the book. This blog is a place where I hope to share my experiences and feelings as I write, edit, market, and eventually publish the book. It is a compendium of my journey and I hope that you will be willing to come along with me for this trip.

I can offer nothing more than the inside thoughts of a budding authoress and the hope that maybe my story will touch your heart and help you to touch the hearts of others through your creativity and hope.

This is my story, and I hope that you will share yours.

I plan to update this blog once a week, highlighting word count, struggles that I’ve had with characters and ideas, maybe explore plot threads and work through ideas. Feel free to tag along and join me in my musings. I hope that there is something here that you’ll enjoy.

Welcome to my journey. I hope that it will be a pleasant one.

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