Deviate Ideas, Word Counts, and the Mounting Pressure of Personal Expectation

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I refuse to let me dissuade myself from finishing this book. No matter how enticing the story ideas I come up with sound.

I’ve started a notebook to keep track of ideas I have for other stories. Brief synapse, type of character, rough plotline… If I don’t write them down I have anxiety that I’m going to forget about them and cannot focus on what I’m actually supposed to be working on. If I do write them down, I want to be detailed so when I have time to revisit the concept, I’ll remember what I was thinking about.

Yesterday I noted, “Fern Gully, but adult horror, and gay. No fairies.”

This, the last week of July, I am off work for holidays, and I’ve kept my schedule purposefully open for writing (and reading). There are only a couple items I need to look after on set schedules: hair trim, chiropractor, and stopping by the administration office for my sister’s worker to pick up additional form copies. Everything else is flexible.

My desired word count is 1,000 per day. I’ve only hit that mark six times this month, and there were six days I didn’t get any writing done at all. I’m currently on a streak, and my plan is to keep that going through to the end of the month.

I want to write five full chapters this month. I have three half chapters, two of which I do not consider anywhere near my best work.

I’ve been writing in the perspective of my lesser antagonist for about a week and a half , and I love it so far. There are some rough points that’ll need to be ironed out, but predominantly I feel like I’ve found the character’s voice, and it’s being conveyed well. I had struggled with him as a character for a long time because I could not relate to him. He’s a soldier, from a nation of warriors idling because there are few wars to fight. Capitalizing on their skills, they become sell swords, mercenaries, bounty hunters, guards, and rarely, assassins.

I do not know much about military tactics, hierarchy, equipment, or training. And I have considered removing this region and culture from the story, but they are too integral to the plot. It’s been a delicate balance of researching enough to ensure my points are correct, and not too much that I end up swaying my intensions for the character.

I’ve also been reading books that feature martial characters to assess how fight sequences are addressed in the narrative. My favourite so far is the artist descriptions in Heaven Official’s Blessing series. It has been translated from Chinese to English, and the writing is rich and beautiful. There are violent and combative sequences in each of the books I’ve read, but they are not so detailed that they confuse me or lose my focus, nor are they lacking in information to the point of feeling cheaply convenient for the character’s triumph.

Magic is the primary focus in my book, but one of the main characters is also learning how to fight, and subsequently finds himself in indentured servitude in the violent homeland of the foil. I need to be careful. I don’t want to emphasize violence and cruelty in the book, but there are specific areas where it takes centre stage to propel the characters’ rash decisions.

I get hung up thinking about what I want to include, what I “should” include, overthinking what is included and how it will be received by readers, and questioning if it’senough.”

I am Nigerian, Norwegian, and Ojibway. Including BIPOC characters is deeply important to me. Have I done enough to feature these characters respectfully? Is borrowing different aspects from known cultures and religions done in an inoffensive way? Have I made the races and cultures in my story unique enough to be regarded separate from existing ones? Am I perpetuating stereotypes?

One of my main characters is homosexual, and there is a gay romance subplot. Am I approaching that appropriately?

Four character arcs are followed throughout the whole narrative, and there are significant female characters, but only one of the main characters is female. How will that be received? The other three females, while in supporting roles, have important relationships or positions of authority. Is that enough?

Part of me wonders if other writers give up on their projects due to fear of negative reception. Cancel culture is pervasive, but I’ve noticed that sometimes the scope of focus is inaccurate. People respond to headlines, rather than articles.

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes. – Jonathan Swift / Mark Twain / Winston Churchill.

It’s fitting to reference a highly debated quote while wondering whether or not my future as a writer has any viability due to the potential for misinterpretation of my own words. Ideas are bastardized. I was inspired to write this story by Dragon Ball Z fanfiction. I hadn’t read fanfiction in nearly two decades, but depression sent me to it, and while I was reading I re-discovered my desires as a writer.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up without seeing BIPOC characters in a positive light in media that I notice and consider things that other people don’t. There were no people of colour in the original three Lord of the Rings films, and while the books reference a black character as the lord of the black gates, he was turned that way as a result of magic. J.K. Rowling, when asked about the three main characters being white, referenced her own description of Hermione and said she never said she had white skin, but details in the books support that the character is white (blushing, blue when cold, referred to as a panda when she had a black eye). When I pointed out to people that I didn’t feel comfortable watching the original Dr. Who series due to the predominantly white cast, and the way BIPOC characters were little more than derisive stereotypes, I was told I was overthinking it.

I still notice these things in media today, as an adult. I pointed out to a friend that an actor who did not have an accent in real life was using one while portraying a villain. Watching Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba with my husband, I pointed out that quite a few of the demons were depicted as effeminate men, including Muzan Kibutsuji.

I love Supernatural because of the bonds of brotherly loved shown throughout the series, but I hate it for continuously killing off great female and BIPOC characters (Kevin Tran, Charlie, Ellen and Jo Harvelle, Meg), casting white men in roles that could have been portrayed by literally anyone (Samandriel, Metatron, Bartholomew, Death, Luigi Ponzo, Jack), and then giving larger negative roles repeatedly to women (Ruby, Bella, Rowena, Death Billie). Towards the end it tried to correct some things, Destial was confirmed canon, and Eileen Leahy was a brilliant and inspiring character.

How to Get Away with murder is one of my favourite shows because of the diversity of the cast (fuck the last season, though). I re-watch a lot of shows for similar reasons, Community, and The Magicians especially. When I was a teenager I absolutely loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but watching the Chumash tribe episode Pangs hits differently now. It’s hard to overlook the predominately white cast.

I am writing for a younger version of myself. It was so hard to look for inspiration for my future when the people who looked like me in the media were maids, butlers, slaves, prostitutes, gang members, drug addicts, evil voodoo practitioners, or dark wizards. I’m trying so hard to think of one from that time that wasn’t a stereotype of a negative portrayal, and I’m coming up blank… I’m discounting a lot due to incorrect terminology or stereotypes. Jackie Chan in Rumble in the Bronx, 1995? Does that have stereotypes in it? I’ll have to re-watch it…

It’s hard for me to agree with the assessment that I’m over-thinking these details when trying twice as hard as my non-BIPOC classmates was emphasized as the norm. My mother wanted me to be a lawyer, or a doctor, because anything less was worthless. My father wanted me to be a social worker so I could provide support to members of the community from a similar racial background. When I graduated high school, a lot of people in my life expressed surprise. Yet going to university and college wasn’t impressive because rather than using scholarships, I paid for it myself…

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I cannot point to a BIPOC author I was exposed to as a child, or even a BIPOC character in a book I read. I say all of this, but I’m fairly certain I do not want to write young adult or teen fiction.

There’s so much emphasis placed on indigenous oral history and the need for it to be written down. In recent years there have been a lot of calls for people to meet with elders and notate these stories. Books written by black and indigenous authors focus on historical fiction, or the BIPOC experience. Power to them! They are impressive works for both the subject matter and the delivery. I understand the need for such narratives.

I don’t want to tell those stories. I want to tell mine.

I have all of these things, and my day-to-day mundane responsibilities, floating around in my mind when I sit down to write. It’s a lot to push past, and it’s a lot to keep in mind. It’s self-imposed interpretations of societal pressure, but it’s not inaccurate.

All I can really hope for, is that I write the best piece I can at the time, and in the future, when I have learned more, and grown more, that I will write better.

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad.

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