Oops! My “Quick Side Project” is Consuming Untold Years

How’d I get here, and what can you do if you’re in my shoes?

My spring 2022 was graduation time, and like 99% of human beings, I had no idea what I was going to do next. Okay, I had the privilege of a home and parent to go back to, but unlike classmates, I wasn’t going on to use my new Creative Writing degree to hook an agent and publish an amped-up version of my graduate thesis…because I didn’t know what that process looked like, and I didn’t feel ready to keep writing the story I’d started in my thesis.

I didn’t know what I wanted to create.

Okay, that’s not true either. It’s more that nothing I wanted to write seemed “good enough” to be a serious main project.

I was coming from a literary-fiction-oriented MFA program, yet all the things I wanted to make were games or silly genre stories. Some were short and some were huge. Somewhere in the middle was a LitRPG series idea that I felt I could write pretty easily, a story simply called Catgirl System.

The concept: She’s a cat. She’s a girl. She roams around the forest and fights animals and levels up. Eventually there is romance.

It seemed fun enough, but definitely lightweight and something I felt my professors would squint at me for. I remembered a few years back when I had told other professors, “What am I doing next? Well, my next project is a novel called Invisible Werewolf Dracula meets Vampire Mummy Frankenstein…i-it’s definitely not my life’s work or anything…”

Now I was going through the same rigamarole again: working on something silly as a stopgap before I eventually brainstormed “the serious work,” whatever that would be.

In the meantime, I had fun deflecting the stress of graduation by sketching characters, creating moodboards, and joking about the series to my serious MFA friend.

I never referred to these again. (And no, this isn’t from the catgirl’s moodboard. Hers has a monkey on it)

And eventually I started writing! In April 2022, with my thesis more or less done, I buckled down and wrote Catgirl System and it was SO easy I crushed the first three books. Just kidding, I finished a handful of scrappy first drafts. It took until June 2022 to finish half a book’s worth, and by then, of course, I was sitting at home sweating over all my bounced job applications.

My writing speed, such as it was, took an insta-hit once I entered an OK retail job. But things weren’t bad. Plus, I was finally starting to realize that Catgirl System wasn’t just a random side gig. It was THE project, at least for right now.

And I was going to write straight through these drafts on my lunch breaks until I finished.

So in November 2022 I started a totally different story for National Novel Writing Month.

And then in December I made a short visual novel, apropos of nothing.

Alright, but then after that I focused on writing full-time…just kidding, I focused on getting a non-retail job.

That month I started doing freelance editing, with hopes of reducing the hours on my existing job if I got enough work. And it was starting to pan out! Except that in this intermediate period I was still working regular shifts with bonus editing on top of that, so now I was fretting over my schedule even before accounting for Catgirl System‘s delays, and, and…

You see where I’m going with this. For the next few months, not only would my work schedule be in flux and money worries ebb and flow and be sometimes-okay-but-then-again-not-really-ever-enough, but I would also add additional projects to my docket. I would go, for example, “hm, Catgirl System is cool, I guess, but I really want a breath of fresh air—BAM, random zine.

And here I am today. Since I started jotting things down about the series in January 2022, we are four months away from the second-year anniversary of Catgirl System. The “easy” story is about 30% done and I’m not sure it’s ever had my full attention.

So what do I do now?

“Just write it?” Um…okay, but that’s not enough to keep me from wandering in distraction or getting so absorbed in the editing work of the here-and-now that I put it aside entirely. This may work for some and it can even help me in the short term, but it’s not always enough.

“Write a little every day?” Now we’re getting somewhere. This has often helped me in the past, and it could be the solution for you. Block out some time every day, or every other day—in my view, as long as that writing time is at least weekly, tangible progress is being made. That progress builds confidence, and momentum, and increases the chances you’ll actively want to stick with it.

But sometimes you might want a little pressure. You might perform better if you have deadlines at your back, and even if you have an audience to please.

That’s what drew me to NaNoWriMo 2022 in the first place—I wanted a project that people were seeing, and I wanted the pressure of having to try and succeed in their eyes as well as mine.

So what about “write on a schedule and put it where people will read it?”

That’s another good idea. But I’m going to tweak this for my specific situation.

One of my issues is what people have jokingly called “Attention Deficit Creator Disorder”: I am always drawn to another idea, either a project I toyed with months ago or something completely out of the blue. For instance, recently I started learning the software Blender! For some reason.

It doesn’t really help me with Catgirl System…it has nothing to do with writing or outlining, and can’t even help me make the cover…but at the same time, I just know I won’t be able to leave it alone.

And maybe there’s a way. Blender can handle animations, and I could make myself create only Catgirl-related animations, keeping me in the loop of the project at least in some way.

So “connect what you’re writing to every side project, fresh interest, or shiny new bit of software that can possibly be tied in.” If this sounds like an emergency measure…it just might be. It’ll keep your project relevant to your other current interests at all costs.

I’ll try that.

If I get coaxed into NaNoWriMo again this year, it’ll be a Catgirl side-story. If I doodle, I already have a roster of drawable characters just sitting around. Heck, if I read about an interesting philosophical quandary, I can totally have the catgirl think about it…at least it’s worth a shot.

Here’s what I’ll do:

I’m going to post biweekly about the story and how it’s coming.

The posts will include other cool and fun things, like details about the character, where it takes place, and—on the off-chance a reader asks—pretty much anything else you request.

Oh, and another rule, perhaps the most important: I have to report non-embarrassing writing progress every time I post. If I don’t, the world (or just my friends) will know!

The goal of all this, and the goal of whatever you may try to get your own creative work out of a rut, is simply to enjoy the process of making and thinking through your art as you create it, and to keep encouraging that process of creation. You can try any strategy under the sun—as long as you keep that front and center, I believe it will work.

Let’s try it.

UPDATE: I’m trying it! Follow along as I update every two weeks, all while digging into my LitRPG creation process! (I just wanna see more blog posts about LitRPGs and progression fantasy, you know? I think it’d be fun.)

Thank you for reading, and Patrons, thank you for Patreonning.

If you ever wanted to make a comic but “you can’t draw,” read my article on ways to get over the hump. Or what about procrastination, “pointless” creation, or this other project I have which seems perpetually paused at Part 4 of 12? (Oops.)

6 thoughts on “Oops! My “Quick Side Project” is Consuming Untold Years”

  1. Definitely have had Attention Creator Deficit Disorder my whole life. It’s how I theoretically have enough characters and series concepts to rival an entire Marvel Universe line-up, and most of them don’t have a single story to them. :V

    As for silly side-projects ending up becoming the actual thing you work on, instead of the “magnum opus” you meant to, a lot of creative outlets end up like that. Plus, it’s usually the thing you didn’t expect to take off that takes off.

    Switching mediums can be a good way to keep things fresh while sticking to a property. It’s certainly helped me before.

    1. But see, if instead of Catgirl System this had just been a catgirl in a squad of fun characters, I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this mess, yet I still would have derived enjoyment from drawing a catgirl in fun poses. Instead I have a posse of characters who have been married to a specific plot from the start, yet the story containing said plot just doesn’t exist yet…but now it must become real.

      Switching mediums is a good idea to get brainjuices flowing. I’ve been toying with the idea of making some mini-comics to go with the novel in some way, which could be really neat, actually, but for now I must…write write write! And use Blender when my mind will not write.

  2. Bear in mind that the shame stacks depending who you ask. I don’t write Catgirl System, but I also don’t write “serious” fiction by many definitions since I write fantasy instead of something realistic. If there’s magic or robots, it’s not art, even if you have themes and subtext and stuff. And there’s probably more purity contests higher up the scale that I don’t bother over, where some fiction is more literary than stuff that’s better than spec-fic but still intolerably accessible. At the top of the highest mountain sits some magical realist whose work is no more plausible than mine, but also less ordered and comprehensible. He has ascended to artistic transcendance, and spends all his time having enlightened conversations with the spirits of James Joyce and Umberto Eco. Or something.

    If maintaining that perspective doesn’t help for you, it stacks the other way too, so you can go on Royal Road and judge the very badly written can’t-believe-it’s-not-ChatGPT gamelit. This isn’t really productive or healthy but you’ll probably feel better. [shrug]

    1. You’re right! There are so many unique shame-gradients. And there are also more commercially viable mountaintops, at the top of which are authors MFA programs may scoff at but my mom at least recognizes. I guess that because I just accidentally scrambled the metaphor, those mountains are only five feet tall so everyone can read them and chat about them.

      My current strategy is to try my best to run off the mountain with my eyes closed. My greatest weakness but also my greatest strength is probably my ability to read stories and, if I think they’re bad, pick at every little thing. Sometimes it amuses me, or even gives me inspiration for stuff I can do. I actually DID keep running around RoyalRoad and ScribbleHub for a while, reading both stories I liked and stories I really, greatly disliked, mentally lampooning things, wondering about it all. It may not be healthy, and yet it was my food.

  3. I look forward to the Nanowrimo side story that accidentally becomes more popular and famous than the work it spun off from. the Fortnite Battle Royale of catgirl novels

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discover more from Joi Massat

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading