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Not According to Plan

Not According to Plan
By Amanda Kabak • Issue #11 • View online

Things have gone so horribly wrong in my writing so many times that I long ago learned not to feed the fiction of having control by making a plan for when I might be done with any aspect of what I’m creating. In reality, going off any preconceived rails is, contrary to what one might think, a good thing. It means I am open to new ideas and change, that I am engaging with what winds up on the page and asking important questions. Why? When? Really? What happened before? I put one word in front of another, getting it only kind of right (or even totally wrong), until my attention snags on something innocuous, and I stumble closer to the root of a character or scene or all-out mistake and end up near the right path.
Right now, I have recently finished rewriting the first half of the novel I started over the summer and am pushing forward into the great unknown again. I had gotten it wrong, or only kind of right, and I needed to try again. Now, sixty thousand words in, I already know I’ll need to try it again once more, that I’m still not writing these women the way they need to be, urgently real and flawed and loving and afraid. The plan is to figure it out. To try hard. To trust that over a decade of doing this means that I will get to a satisfying end eventually if I don’t let myself give up.
2022 has not gone according to plan on a personal level, either. My confidence that I know how to figure it out, to try hard, to trust abilities I have proven to have over so many years and in so many different venues, was more than shaken; it was obliterated. My plans shrank to making it through the day. My goals contracted to the smallest steps in any direction other than backward. Everything was hard, and hard things were impossible. I was not myself but just familiar enough that I panicked at what I seemed to have lost. Depression and anxiety led to brain fog and crippling self doubt, and ideas about what I might accomplish professionally or with my writing had to get revised again and again until I could get to a place where I had more good days than bad and could stake stock.
As you can tell from these newsletters, I am harsh about my own writing (okay, I’m harsh about what I read, too, but that’s another story). I must be, if I want to be able to make my words reflect at all the richness of my imagination. If I have any chance at progressing as an artist, it must come through, as I wrote long ago, “seeking out the next of the infinite layers of hardness in saying something better, more effectively, as starkly real as I can manage.” This means developing a devastatingly critical eye.
But to my words, not to myself. Writing shit doesn’t make me shit. Not knowing what comes next doesn’t make me stupid. Getting things wrong does not condemn me to getting everything wrong for all of eternity. I didn’t plan on becoming a kind person. The deck was stacked against it, in fact. I could be polite and courteous, but my internal pencil was always too sharp for more than that. Still, I learned and changed. I found value in a broader empathy and caring. I began to give the benefit of the doubt without having to try all that hard. Just not to myself.
This year has changed that. As I rehabilitate myself back toward my normal functionality, I don’t want to be exactly like I was; I want to be better. Not smarter or more productive but seeing what I can get out of love and kindness in addition to the criticism and judgement I’ve honed through the years. My plan now? One day at a time and one word then the next, all riding on the belief that I’ll get to where I want to go, just as long as I keep moving.
Around the next corner? Another corner. Another word, sentence, page. Another cup of tea and minute of chit-chat with the baristas at the coffee shop. Some more disappointing election results. The holidays and quiet time in the mountains, where maybe it’ll get cold enough to see my breath.
Given what I’ve already written, it will likely come as no surprise that I’ve spent time rereading some books from a few years ago. After watching Station Eleven on HBO Max, I revisited the book for the second time and … actually liked it even more than I did the first time. The series bears only a passing resemblance to the writing, and both are worth spending time on.
I also reread Seveneves by Neal Stephenson while Anna and I traveled through Canada last month. Again, I liked it more than the first time, but I was bothered by some of the more speculative aspects in the same way I did when it was all new to me. I will say this: writing about a civilization as it was and as it might be 5000 years from now is an undertaking just begging to be criticized and takes a lot of courage and grit. Despite my admiration, my suspension of disbelief was tested even as I appreciated the story.
As always, I’m still loving any ratings or reviews for my books. A simple click on a star even without a review blurb goes along way.
Did you enjoy this issue?
Amanda Kabak

Writer of software and literature - Novels: UPENDED and THE MATHEMATICS OF CHANGE. Denizen of the in-between. In ardent pursuit of making an impact.

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