Don’t Keep Going for the Easy Win

Lately I’ve fallen into the trap of sacrificing harder creative work for tedious-but-predictable busywork. How to crawl out of the trap?

Well, here’s what’s going on. I’m revising Book 3 of Catgirl System, and I already know that this will take a bigger overhaul than Book 2. Thus, unsurprisingly, the idea of revising this makes me even more nervous. It requires injecting and deleting several big moments and might involve reworking an entire character.

It’s gotta be done…but…a lot of other things gotta be done too.

Like getting other creative projects out of the way. About two weeks ago, I was swept up by the idea of rereleasing an old story of mine, The Demon Lord is Apathetic, in a full edition with a cool cover I could actually be proud of. Formerly, the book editions had stalled on the third volume because…um…because I never drew a cover for the third volume. That’s seriously why. (Well, that and being demotivated by low ratings and overall low interest, but y’know, kinda both.)

I had to do that for my own personal satisfaction and resolution, and I figured better now than never. Plus, I figured it wouldn’t take long. By some metrics, it didn’t—about a week, I guess—but by my old decree that “I must focus on Catgirl System until it is done,” doing this at all is a horrible failure.

Huh, that’s a lot to think about. And it didn’t make me less anxious about revising Catgirl System Book 3 at all. Hmm.

Oh, wait, I found another task I absolutely had to do right now ASAP: you see, there’s this cool program called ErsatzTV that will let you “create your own TV channel” using your computer and whatever random videos you can scrounge up. You can made adless playlists and custom bumpers and upload old weird commercials to shuffle randomly in between and create the little logos that go in the corner of the screen.

Clearly it was extremely important that I do this and devote substantial time to it.

I did attempt to limit this, vaguely. I devoted a day off to it and told myself, “Just get it out of your system.” But figuring out this program was just difficult enough for my non-programmer head that it felt like a puzzle. And the reward was fun TV! Yay!!!

Which brings me back to the topic of the piece: what is the “easy win”?

In this case, it’s anything that’s less scary, lower-stakes, than the act of making or finishing out creative work.

The first easy wins came with the Demon Lord omnibus: drawing a cover picture that I knew would be cool the moment I began to sketch, that would be cool in exactly the ways I’d predicted at the outset, and going on to format the book full of predictable, already-finished content.

Then they were in ErsatzTV: making adorable playlists of shows my mom and friends can watch when they come over. (Which, by the way, I know isn’t happening for months. Very ASAP, you see.) Some parts brought the satisfaction of the assembly line: getting the right videos, giving them the right filenames, learning baby-level programming to easily raise or lower volume, splitting shows into chapters vid by vid so that ErsatzTV can then insert the commercial breaks where they should be. Other parts brought the satisfaction of tinkering. What makes a better watermark image, a gray, black, or white logo? Only one way to find out: vigorous A and B testing. And so on and so on and so on.

It’s all gently laborious and gently satisfying. In fact, it’s fun. It’s distinctly less satisfying than getting back into the editing zone with Catgirl System. But it’s much easier to find myself fine-tuning fake-o TV channels than tweaking character arcs because it’s distinctly lower-stakes, too.

So how did I get myself to stop messing with ErsatzTV?

Instead of challenging myself to shut it off, I let my interest taper off and focused on the other half of the situation: increasing time spent with Catgirl System, lowering what barriers I can so fewer things could get in the way of Catgirl System.

Sometimes scheduling daily tasks works for me. I specifically set aside time for Cat-editing.

I also made sure that the task I was heading into was very specific, very concrete, very obviously actionable. Right now, I’m in phase one: read all of Book 3 and take notes. (In this case, the notes are so copious they’re overflowing, oozing down the screen and onto my keyboard.)

Thirdly, today I changed things up: I took a long walk to a place I had wanted to see for many days now. Instead of taking along a book or a nothing, like I usually would, I saved a copy of the Book 3 chapters to my phone and toted a pencil and paper to take these latest notes. This majorly lowered the stress around reading and responding to the old work.

The final thing that’s gotten me more revved to revise and go for the difficult win of finishing up a satisfying story is momentum. Rereading is giving me so many great ideas (er, ideas that I hope will be great once they hit the page) about how much better the story can be. Each idea is a spark of stimulation that helps motivate me not only to come up with more fun ideas, not only to bring it all to fruition, but also to set aside my self-doubts and prioritize going for it.

If I had to put it all into a list:

Tips for Getting Back Into the Hard Work of Creation

  • Set aside time for it.
  • Make your next step obvious, concrete, and immediately actionable.
  • Inject some fun or relaxation into your process: a calming location, drink, or playlist, for example.
  • When you begin to feel momentum, let that feed you. Keep on.
  • Whatever is stimulating, fun, deeply important or otherwise engine-powering about your work, let that feed you too. Keep on.

And remember something my mom talked to me about recently: it takes a kind of strength and resilience to do anything in this life. Though what I’m doing seems to me and my brain like “it should be simpler than this, I should just do it already,” it takes a kind of resilience to be a writer and keep tackling the blank page, the shitty first draft.

Progress: How is Catgirl System Doing?

Uh, I kind of already answered that, but sure, let’s keep up the tradition of the roughly biweekly progress report!

I have 5 out of 37 chapters left to read and comment on. They’re really chapter-shaped lumps, and some have janky weird sizes (one chapter’s 1200 words, another one is…4500), so the amount of chapters in the finished book will likely end up being closer to a cool 50.

After that, maybe I should roll into Book 4 as quickly as physically possible, to make that process as smooth and un-nerve-wracking as possible. Or maybe I should take a break. Or maybe I should not overthink it. We’ll see.

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

I write a bunch about writing—both tips and just the ups and downs of everyday creative life. But if you’re not into that, you might enjoy reading about the Poking ‘Mons.

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