aryanhwy: (Default)
Wait, that's ships, isn't it? I can never keep naval/navel straight.

Today I got the author proofs for "The Sum of Our Memories", the 7,000-word short story I extracted from 80,000 words of 400 words/day writing last summer and sent off to a call for submissions for an anthology, and was rather shocked when it was accepted. I queued up the soundtrack for it (Genesis, "One for the Vine"; The Strawbs "Ghosts" and "Hangman & the Papist"; The Crüxshadows, "The Hanged Man"), and began to read.

Oh man. I had forgotten just how dark the story is, and how it deals with miscarriage and suicide and loss of identity, and just how many nightmares (the literal sort) were exorcised in the writing of it. I came away from reading it feeling like I'd received a punch to the stomach.


Is it hubris to say that your own writing is good? I mean, no one has ever told me that it isn't, but one can't always expect one's parents to have an unbiased opinion. My academic papers always got good marks in university, and when I submit papers to journals, the comments I get are always about content and not style. If I thought about it at all, in the last decade, I'd probably simply say "Yeah, I'm a good writer", but this wouldn't have meant much because lots of people are good writers.

Except, lots of people are not. [Shelve this thought; we'll come back to it.] And other people who I would've pegged in the "good writer" category singled me out as "a good writer". One of my co-authors, while we were drafting, specifically asked me to edit his parts of the paper with liberty, because he really enjoyed and appreciated my style. Sitting down now, I can't recall other specific examples, but I do know they exist, in the last ~2-3 years: Academics specifically saying they enjoy the way I write.

Now, this doesn't really mean that much -- many people can write well and think that other people write well; many people can write well and still enjoy a specific person's style especially. This isn't enough to justify any sort of distinction about my writing.


Then last summer I composed this story by stitching together bits of a much bigger piece, and it got accepted.

Then I started writing The Novel and continued writing because I didn't know how to stop, and ended up in some writing groups on FB, and ended up volunteering to beta read for other people, and having other people volunteer to beta read for me.

And that was an eye-opening experience. Many, many people who have read even portions of the novel have commented on the elegance of the prose, that they find it beautiful. And I read a number of things which were, um, just not very well written. And it kind of shocked me; I knew that I've always been a good writer, but being good at writing had never stood out as any sort of especial characteristic; for all I really knew, everyone else could also be a good writer.

Except they're not. Which triggered a whole bunch of navel-gazing (wait, is that oranges, or boats? I have no idea). [This post has been mulling in my mind for a very long time now.]


When I wrote the 80,000 words that eventually became "The Sum of Our Memories", I wrote the story I wanted to write. When I wrote The Novel, I wrote the story I wanted to read. After finishing the first draft, I knew it needed a lot of work. I knew I needed to read it and reread it and let it rest and print it off and read the paper version and repeat until every single word was the perfect word. And yet, I'd sit down to start editing, and suddenly look at the clock and found I'd read 50 pages and it was past bedtime, and I'd gotten so completely absorbed in it.

I've let it rest for awhile now -- I now know, concretely, a few of the major changes it needs in the next drafting -- but the other night I was looking up a specific passage in it, and all of a sudden an hour had past and I was immersed in reading it. It is still exactly the story I want to read, and when I read it, it's hard to escape the feeling that this is good, this is really good.


I had that same feeling again tonight, rereading "The Sum of Our Memories". This is good, this is actually really good.


And I had that same feeling at the end of April when I completed a long short story that I wrote over the course of the month, "The Platform Between Heaven and Earth." For the final edits, I printed off a copy and read it aloud. It took about an hour and 20 minutes, and while reading it, I kept thinking "I wish I could read this around a camp-fire to an audience. This is good. This is really good." And I shared the PDF of it with acquaintances on the internet, and the response was...well, let's just say, very gratifying.


But there is something so very strange about waxing lyrical about how good your own work is, because if there is one person more biased than your parents it's you. How on earth can I say such narcissistic things about my own writing? How am I any judge? This is one of the reasons why this post is self-indulgent: I am giving myself liberty to articulate these internal thoughts, even if I have no evidence or validation for them.

There's also the flip side: Imposter syndrome. Why am I surrounded by so many people who struggle to maintain their faith in their works, to believe that what they are writing is good, worthwhile, valuable, when I myself am not plagued by these doubts?

I had Imposter Syndrome for quite awhile -- who wouldn't when you're 20 years old and in grad school, younger by a long shot than any of your classmates, younger than many of the students you're teaching, when you're surrounded by people who know more, are cleverer, are quicker on the mark, are better at everything than you are -- but I remember precisely the day that a switch flipped and it turned off. It was my 2nd year in Amsterdam, and I was sitting in, but not taking for credit, a philosophy of math master's course. I remember sitting in the back of the room (something undergrad me NEVER did), making snide remarks to the person sitting next to me (something undergrad me NEVER did), and asking challenging questions (something undergrad me definitely did do, but US grad me didn't as much, because I could never articulate the questions I had until a few days after the class), and I suddenly realized that I had become the person I had always felt inferior to. I was the one that other people would feel an imposter next to.

And basically after that, I've never really had any false doubts about my abilities as an academic.

But I have concrete evidence, reinforced in many different dimensions, that I am a good academic; I am a good researcher, I am a good teacher. I am not an imposter.

When it comes to writing, though, it feels like I should be more suspect of my own quality. I want to be more suspect of my own quality, because only that way can I recognize where the flaws and places that need improvement are. If I am too uncritical, I can never be better. So, it worries me, somewhat, how much I like my own writing, how it affects me when I read it, how good it seems to me to be.


But because I said this post was self-indulgent, I'll indulge myself enough to end it with this: It is good, it's really good.

Draft One

Nov. 30th, 2016 11:24 pm
aryanhwy: (widget)
144 days.

Almost 300 handwritten A4 pages, which equates to roughly 550 A5 pages when typed.

104807 words, of which exactly 50,000 were written in November.

Approximately 1000 hours worth of Nightwish.

Draft Two (editing) starts tomorrow.

aryanhwy: (Default)
It is a weird thing, feeling things wrapping up, after this has taken up so much of my mind over the last four months, and particularly since September.

After it started taking up so much of my time, from the 2nd week of September, without any end seeming in sight, I decided to do NaNoWriMo as a way to get the damn thing done. 50,000 words in a month: that should be more than enough. I aimed to go into November with 50,000; 100,000 words seemed about right.

In the end, I started November with about 55,000. Interestingly, my original belief that this was a 100,000 word story proved increasingly right; last week, I figured out how things would end, and wrote the final scenes, and then started writing both backwards and forwards so that I would eventually meet in the middle.

Up through last week, I banked as many spare words as I could, because Gwen and I went to Amsterdam yesterday and Sunday, and I knew I wouldn't be able to get much done then; turns out, I was wrong, as Saturday night I crossed 45,000 words, and...realized that I was actually basically done. Sunday I filled in a few bits and pieces in the chapters, but this morning rolled around, with 4440 words left to go to "win" at NaNoWriMo. Now, what was more important: Writing the right story, or winning?

Well, winning of course. I struggled to find a way that I could insert another 4500 words into what I had, but it quickly became clear that that was stupid.

So instead, tonight, I sat down and did what I do best: I stopped writing fiction and started writing academia. Sort of. I added a chapter at the end, which is currently titled "This isn't really a chapter." It's a place where I started writing up all the bits and pieces in the book which are in fact true, or at least based in actual fact/research, along with citations.

20 minutes later, I had 950 words. My usual average, when hand-writing, has been about 500 words per hour. This evening, at home, it took me another hour to write another 1200 words. The big number sure is nice, sure does feel different. This is such a different way of exercising my mind and my words.

This "chapter" probably won't even make it into the book, proper, but I'm glad I'm writing it ,and will probably use the rest of my words (2532 to be precise) adding to it. I am afraid that if I don't write this down, I will forget where my impetus for certain parts came from, and why I made the decisions I did. So it's part research paper and part memoir.

But the story itself: There is nothing more to build. There is a huge amount to add to the beginning, and a huge amount to be changed during the editing process. (I suspect that many of the last 25 chapters or so need to be rearrange substantially.) But I will be surprised if any new chapters are added. It is a strange feeling, to have gone from "I have no idea how this will end" to "I see how this can end" to "I now know what the end is like" to "I have ended it", in four weeks flat.

As for now? For the first night in a month, or more, I won't spend 8pm-11pm on the couch writing. Instead, it's 9:30pm and I'm going to go take my beer and a new book I just bought upstairs to the bathtub.


Nov. 22nd, 2016 08:08 pm
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Yesterday I passed 250 handwritten pages (actually, way more because I haven't numbered wholly sequentially. But I actually wrote '250' in the upper right hand corner.)

Yesterday I wrote 2000+ words, surpassing 34,000 for the month of November, and 90,000 in total.

It's nearly done.

I've spent rather more academic/work time on this than I had originally planned (heck, I hadn't planned any of this, to be honest).

But weekend before last, I received an invitation which made all this time and work justified. I have been invited to be one of the keynote speakers at the British Society of Aesthetics Workshop: Fiction Writing for Philosophers in June. It's a two day thing; on the first day, the invited speakers will give semi-autobiographical/personal talks on a topic at the intersection of writing fiction and philosophy. On the second day, we speakers will meet individually with the participants of the workshop to discuss a piece of work that they will have submitted to us in advance.

One little invitation, and all the time and work I've spent when I "should" have been doing "real" work is justified.

I am doing exactly what I should be doing.
aryanhwy: (widget)
...revising a paper from something that was not very good but adequate and something I didn't mind too much having my name attached to into something that I am embarrassed to claim but which hopefully jumps the requisite hoops, so when I received an email whose subject line indicated it had the decision on a piece of fiction I'd submitted to an anthology back in August, my thought as I opened it was "Eh, they didn't want it. That's okay. I knew it was a long shot, it isn't really exactly on the chosen topic."

So I was shocked and delighted to read:
Thank you for submitting a story for the forthcoming Nothing anthology. We really enjoyed reading your submission, and would like to accept your story 'The Sum of Our Memories' for inclusion in the collection.

Suddenly, having devoted much of the last three months to working on a novel doesn't seem as silly a way to spend my time. This is my first piece of fiction to be published, has it really been since the essay competition I entered when I was 10? I won a 10-speed bike and got my short story published in the hosting society's newsletter. I've had some poems along the way, but this might actually be my first "real" piece of published fiction.


And on the topic of "all writing counts", yesterday I received an inquiry from the Surnames Society of Australia asking if they could reprint one of my DMNES blog posts in their newsletter. It's an informal, non-profit thing, so they were apologetic that they couldn't pay me -- but honestly, I put it up on the web for free, if they want to reprint it for their readers, I'm happy to! So I briefly rewrote it a bit, to make it less blog posty, and send it off to them this morning.

Guess I need to update my "projects" spreadsheet.
aryanhwy: (Default)
Today I wrote a chapter where I had the skeleton but not the words. "still need more words here", my PDF says in read, and a few paragraphs later "more words here", and 1/3 of a page later, "words", and in the next line "words".

I know what happens, but I could no longer face the fact that I don't entirely know WHY.

So tonight, I sat down, and instead of writing more story, I started making a list of all the true things that I know about the world that I either haven't said yet or where I have gestured to them but where I know I haven't said enough that anyone else would get them.

This has been incredibly helpful.

It is remarkably like writing a research paper and writing down true things until you figure out what your argument is. Because what is plot if not an argument? These are the bits and pieces that you need to know here, the ones you need to know there, the ones you need now, the ones you need then, and then BAM you get your main theorem, or your major crisis/denoument, and then it's just a matter of the conclusion, of wrapping up loose ends, and maybe saying something about future work.

Plot was always the bit I had the hardest part with, before. I didn't know how to make things happen, or how to build more structure than just "and then they did this and then they did this, and then they did this." If I had known how useful this last decade of not-writing (fiction) would be to my writing (fiction) I would've been a lot less disconsolate when I felt that I had given up on something that had been so central to my identity before.

Because, hey, folks, I've figured out how to write plot! And it's just like writing a research paper, except I can make up the facts.
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Friday is the end of September. The new academic year always starts the first of October, mentally if not actually. Wednesday is matriculation. Thursday I run a study skills workshop and meet my advisees. The following Monday is my first lecture. Sometime before then I want to meet with my tutors for my intro class. At that meeting, they will expect me to have a clue about what I am planning to do. I do, but I'm not sure that clue extends beyond the first lecture, which is unfair to both them and to the students. I need to map out at least the first term's worth of topics, start sketching homework topics even if not homework assignments.

I have been amazingly lucky to have been able to spend the last three weeks basically dropping everything else in order to write. I wake up in the morning, wake Gwen, we get dressed, we eat, we walk to school. I may spend an hour or so reading emails, etc.; I learned long ago that I cannot simply turn up to my office and work, I have to fritter away at least 30 minutes, usually closer to an hour. I became a lot more productive when I realized this and gave myself permission to do so, years ago while still in grad school.

But then I settle in my rocking chair, pull up another chair next to me to balance the computer, another in front to serve as my footstool, and then I write. I write until lunch time, or through lunch time when I forget, I write until my tea is gone and I need to make more, and then I write more, until my alarm goes off at 16:45 so that I can be up to get Gwen before 5:00pm and we don't have to pay the extra 5GBP for after school care. On the walk up to the bailey, I think and reflect and plot and plan. On the walk home, I am still distracted. We make supper, eat it, clean up afterwards. Gwen does her homework, watches a video with me. We have snuggle time and then I read her a story and sing her a song, a song from the music that I have been listening to on repeat in my office, loudly and in gratitude to the fact that no one else is in my stairwell to be bothered by it. Then she is in bed, and despite my best intentions, there is always about an hour of TV on the couch before anything else happens. But 8 o'clock roll around, and then the music comes back on, and the paper comes out, and I write, I write until it is late enough that Joel is home and he expresses surprise that I am still awake, that I have often still been awake when he comes home.

It's something like 10 hours a day, my primary purpose has been to write. Even when we went to the Netherlands for Borefts this last weekend, I wrote on the ferry, I wrote on the bus, I wrote -- legibly and sensibly! -- while drinking beer. My pagination of handwritten pages is up to page 88; the PDF is 166 pages long. wc -w tells me I have 32792 words, though some of them are commented out; roughly all but 8000 of those have been written in the last three weeks. My three alpha readers have been so encouraging (I expect it from my mom. She has loved every word I have ever written. She is the very best of alpha readers. It has been wholly unexpected from others, to have them enjoy what I am writing so much, to hear from them that reading it has kept them from other work they should be doing).

But I cannot keep this up. I feel like I'm writing against a deadline, when the end of Friday comes (or maybe Saturday; Saturday morning I get 1.5 glorious hours uninterrupted at the public library while Gwen is at her drama lessons) and I will have to face up to the fact that I actually am employed to do something other than write a novel. So I will write all that I can before then, and then? I don't know how I'll arrange things then, but I'll arrange something. Because I now cannot imagine not finishing this, and soon.

And when it is done, I'll know how to write a book. I never felt like I learned that, while writing the dissertation, and since then, the idea of writing a book has frankly terrified me: A book is just so big. I have been very lucky that even though in my field, a book is expected, in my niche field, they are not, so I have been able to get away without writing on yet. But somehow, I feel like once I have completed this, the shear dint of having done so will make doing it a second time infinitely easier.

And this is why I have given myself permission to basically ignore everything else, these last three weeks, and simply to write. Because I am teaching myself an important skill that I need to have, and will make use of again in the near future.

This, folks, is why you give academics tenure.


Sep. 20th, 2016 01:01 pm
aryanhwy: (Default)
Over on my more academic/public-facing blog I recently wrote about writing fiction vs. writing nonfiction. I've been ruminating on an interesting difference lately.

One of the things I struggle with in my academic prose is to simply say what I want to say, and not try to dress it up fancy or make it complex. JUST SAY WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY! Sometimes it takes two or three or four parings down of extraneous words until I get rid of all the fluff, and just make a simple statement.

On the other hand, when writing fiction, what I've been finding lately is that I have to stop myself from simply saying what I want the reader to know -- it's the whole "show, don't tell" advice (advice which has been in the forefront of my mind for the last year or so because I am consistently telling Gwen "tell me, don't show me", in an attempt to get her to describe things to me rather than make me look up from what I'd doing to see yet another X). I will write what I want the reader to know, and then delete the final clause, the explanatory clause, and see if what is left, just the action, is enough to get the point across.

It's an interesting divergence.
aryanhwy: (Default)
This novel started the 2nd to the last day of conferencing in Melbourne, when during one of the keynote talks I sketched a face and started writing, and I haven't really stopped since then, though it's gotten worse in the last few weeks -- I hit my New Year's Resolution goal on the 5th, and since then my brain has been like "whoo! go academic Sara, go you, you did it! Now: Do this instead!" So here I am, writing a novel instead of any of the papers I should be writing; but I learned long ago that I will be may more productive if I follow this out rather than try to ignore it.

I've been paginating sequentially, but "p47" doesn't mean I've written 47, it means I've written closer to 50-55, because some of the pages have branched to, e.g. "36a", "36b", "36c", before I realize that I'm not coming back, yet, to where I branched and I start over with the next number.

47+ handwritten pages.

18200+ words.

Formatted so it looks like a paperback book, because I need to be able to see the physical shape of the story to know if the tempo is right, 103 pages (including table of contents, list of citations, and bibliography).

18 chapters in full draft, covering 8 days of story. Another 5 chapters have snippets in them.

I have, for the most part, been writing sequentially: I started at the beginning, and went forward. Except there was one scene that I knew I needed, even though it was in the future, and I wrote that; and then I wrote sequentially from the beginning and from that scene. Late last night, I joined the two lines up, and am now working forward from a single point. At first I worried I had too little to say; now, I am 100 pages in and I feel like the whole of the story is still before me. I am happy with how things are going, and for the first of any fiction writing project I've ever done, I can see how to get it to being finished.

Don't worry, mom, you'll get a copy of it soon enough. :)
aryanhwy: (Default)
So not only do I write differently writing long-hand vs. typing -- LaTeX has infected me so badly that when I write long-hand, I include mark-up in it. Why write . . . when instead you can write \dots?
aryanhwy: (Default)
I've long been familiar with the research which indicates that different mental processes involved in speaking, writing by hand, and by typing, and I've certainly exploited these differences when I can. If I am especially stuck with a particular passage that I am trying to write -- by hand or by typing -- I will try to say out loud what it is I am trying to articulate, and that often helps.

I learned how to type roughly the same age I learned how to write, and from the start, the bulk of my fiction was composed on the computer rather than hand-written. I remember finding, when I was a teenager, that I simply couldn't write by hand fast enough (not without the material degrading into illegibility). Not only could I not get the words to keep up with my thoughts, when I did write by long-hand, the process of doing so was slow enough that my mental perception of how much time was passing in what was being written was distorted; I'd read back my words and find that much less time had actually passed than I thought had during the process of writing it. So everything was all messed up, temporally, and it was clear that my writing style and skills had been developed to the specific mode of typing.

As an undergrad, and as a grad student, I took all my course notes -- very copious course notes -- long-hand. I did this because it was the process of taking the notes that mattered, not the having of them. I very rarely ever went back and consulted what I wrote down (as witnessed by the number of classes where I took my notes in mirror script as a way to fight off boredom; because I knew I'd never need to read these notes, ever, and I was right), because having written them down was what I needed.

All of my essays and term papers, and later academic papers, were all drafted on the computer, and, eventually, in LaTeX. I've been writing papers in LaTeX for more than a decade now, and I find that when I am composing a paper, I think in LaTeX; the composition is both text and code. One consequence of this is that when I'm preparing a paper for a journal that doesn't accept .tex files but requires .doc or .rtf, I will often write in .tex and go through the GODAWFUL OH HOW AWFUL process of converting to semi-legible .doc rather than compose in .doc format from the start: I simply can't think academically via that medium any more. I recently managed to make an exception for a paper that involves no logic whatsoever, the paper on the historicity of names in Game of Thrones that I co-wrote with two people who don't know LaTeX. It was...less hard than I would've thought. I'm now working on another paper for a journal that wants .doc (as much as I'd like to stick to my principles and not submit to journals that don't allow LaTeX, I'm not quite at a point where I can), and I'm trying my best to compose in .doc. It's hard.

All that being said, I was quite surprised that when a new fiction project pounced on me during one of the keynotes, it did so in the guise of writing long-hand. I was even more surprised when I turned around and had something like eight pages completely covered. How did that happen? It just seems right for the initial composition for this; but in order to handle edits, without having to do a lot of physical rewriting, I decided the second pass would be a typed transcription. I converted the first few pages into .doc...and really disliked it. What I like about LaTeX is that it separates composition from output, but the output has a "like published" quality to it. And .doc just doesn't. WYSISYG, and it's ugly.

So I've queued up a .tex file, changed the page size to A5 so that it looks vaguely paperback-booky, and done my first pass transcription that way, because I need to know, even vaguely, how things look. I need to know things like "are the paragraphs the right size?" and "are the chapters of plausible lengths?" These sorts of physical details matter in the construction of the story.

Nevertheless, I have been somewhat surprised to find that the primary mode of composition is (so far) remaining long-hand. Every page or so, I'll type up what I have, and often doing that will give me the next line or so, but once I type that new line out, I then transfer it back to the paper and continue writing that way, until I fill another page or so, type it up, recompile the PDF, and the cycle repeats.

Strange how integral the mode and medium of composition is to what it is that I am composing.
aryanhwy: (Default)
This morning (or maybe yesterday, but it was this morning when I read it), [ profile] hrj posted a very interesting post on Representation and Intersection, starting off:
There's a lively conversation online these days about representation of non-default characters, the intersection of identities, and the importance of representation that comes from authors' "own voices" (Twitter hashtag #ownvoices). That is, understanding the distinction between authors who are writing from within their own cultures, their own histories, their own identities, and authors who are writing those things as an outsider but who may have more access to publishing and publicity support, and who thus may become the "face" of those identities in preference to #ownvoices authors.

Sadly, I've completely missed this discussion, because I'm still mostly wholly adjacent to that subgroup on twitter (basically, I intersect with it via HRJ herself, and a few people I've started following because we've been involved in the same conversations and they seem cool), so what I have to say here comes from almost complete ignorance of the full conversation (fair warning).

Shortly after reading that post, someone in one of the FB grups I'm in posted asking about people's thoughts on representations of under-represented people written/produced by people who are not a part of the under-represented group, which was too perfect an opportunity to pass up to link to the post, and also for me to try to articulate some thoughts I've been having, particularly as in the last two years/few months when I've been (again) doing more fiction writing.

See, one thing that I've learned from reading HRJ's blog and following her (and the people she retweets) on twitter, is the importance of incorporating the entire diversity of the LGBTQ+ spectrum. I remember reading in this context -- in a post of hers? In a tweet? Sadly, I can't remember and can't find it -- something along the lines of "if your story doesn't include queer characters, you're effectively erasing a substantial portion of humanity, and something has gone horribly wrong". Reading this, I come away with a strong sense of obligation, as a writer, to make sure that things don't go horribly wrong. But how does this square with the idea that under-represented groups are best represented by members of their own group? Because I'm certainly not a member of that particular under-represented group.

Here are a few of the thoughts I had, that I posted in response to the question on FB (somewhat expanded here):

  • Anything that I write that is not 100% autobiographical necessarily involves my being the voice of people who are not me, and this goes for any author. At some point, writing fiction, one must make up experiences and people who do not exist, and hence are not experiences of the author or identical to the author. Now, not all of these people/experiences are going to be/be from an under-represented group, but it's still a matter of putting words into the mouth of someone who is not yourself.

  • No one seems to expect men to only write male characters or women to only write women characters. If we have different standards when it comes to People of Color or LGBTQ+ characters, where do these different standards come from? (I don't mean this to come across as "this is a double standard, and hence bad". I really do mean just "what is it that makes these cases relevantly different?") Why can a woman write a male character, but a white person can't write a black character? Is it merely a matter of balance -- women can write male characters because there are plenty of men out there to write them too, whereas there are (potentially) far more white people writing PoC than PoC writing PoC? This seems to me to be a plausible candidate, but I'd be interested in other alternatives.

  • If I am right in understanding what [ profile] hrj and others are saying, that stories which fail to take into account t the diverse spectrum of sexualities available do a disservice to everyone involved, then this entails not only that straight people are free to write LGBTQ+ characters, but also, as aluded to above, that they may have some type of obligation to do so.

I'm not sure if these thoughts are all jointly consistent, or how they relate to each other. But I certainly feel the pull of the repeated theme, that it is morally problematic for such characters to generally be absent from fiction, and it's something I've started paying more attention to. I started something new while in Australia, and am trying to take seriously the obligation that I feel has been engendered. The best way I can articulate what I'm trying to do in it is to make diversity of sexualities both prominent and incidental.

A follow up thought that I had was that I think genre makes a big difference. When one is, say, writing a contemporary fiction story set in this world, and writes a character from a different race/culture/sexual orientation, there are a lot more potential pitfalls than when one is writing fantasy/sci fi, where one has much more flexibility and freedom to simply make things up, to make things be the case simply by pretending that they are. In such a case, it's not clear that there is anyone who could speak in their #ownvoices. So does that make it better/ok for me to speak in what is by definition an other voice?

One of the frustrating things of having disparate thoughts is that there isn't any clear awy to end a post like this, so I'll just end it.


Mar. 16th, 2016 08:37 pm
aryanhwy: (Default)
[ profile] hrj confessed recently to enjoying reading her own writing, a confession I found very interesting, if not a little marvelous, because my own feelings towards my academic writing is highly ambivalent. I enjoying finishing things up, and sending them to my standard set of beta-readers (Joel; my mom; anyone who was involved in the production of the paper via FB conversations), and I am strongly enough invested in what I've said that I will righteously dispute every single comma Joel wants me to remove, because clearly it is the RIGHT comma, otherwise I wouldn't have put it in there in the first place! Then I send it off, to a conference, to a journal, and then at some unspecified time in the future, I get the reports back, and, positive or negative, I have such a hard time reading them, and an even harder time addressing them (even when the report is positive and I know publication is on the horizon!) -- and it is partly because dealing with other people's comments is tedious and annoying, but partly because I've finished that project, I've closed it off and moved on, and I don't really enjoy revisiting what I've written. It's not that in retrospect, I think it is poorly written, or that I should've done it differently, or anything like that, but mostly that I've finished that thing and am doing something else now, and what's the point of rereading, I already know what the paper says, I was the one who said it in the first place!

But I think I do understand, a bit, of what she means, because I get glimpses of it when I am rereading my fiction. There are a few pieces from my late teens/early 20s that I reread and think "Wow, yeah, that was pretty good", but I always dismiss this feeling, discount my own enjoyment, because who am I to judge? Maybe I only think it is good because I remember the context in which it was written, and that colors my view of it; if viewed objectively by someone who didn't know what it was intended to say, maybe it would fall short.

It's different, though, with my current writing project, my 400 words. I made a promise to myself that these would be written for me and only for me, that I would write what I enjoy. I've fallen enough out of the habit that when I do sit down to write, I often have to review some of the recent days to remember exactly what I said -- especially as repeating certain phrases is a trope I'm using to tie things together. And more and more, I find that when I do so, I get sucked in to what I've written, it draws me into a vortex I can't quite escape, and when I finally do surface for air, part of me thinks "Whoa. That was actually really good." And this time, I'm able to listen to that voice, and not discount it, because I'm the only one I'm writing for. If it draws me in and makes me feel the way I do, then it is successful, and I can enjoy its success. I don't have to worry about whether it is comprehensible to anyone else -- even knowing that other people are reading it -- because I am not writing it for them. I am writing it for me. If they enjoy it, if they can reconstruct their own version of the story from it, hey, that's great! I'm glad! But that is incidental to what I am doing and why: Which means that I don't have to feel like it is overweening pride, to reread these words and find them well-written, because they are well-written in the sense that they do exactly what they are supposed to do: They tell a story that I want to read and to be a part of. Whoever else reads this, I don't give a fig for their opinion (though, of course, if they DO enjoy it, that's a perk.)

So, yeah, I think I finally get it. And maybe this is why I don't feel this way about my academic writing: Because the writing is almost exclusively for other people, and not for myself. It is almost exclusively about production, for production. It is the creation of a product, and I enjoy the creation and I enjoy doing a good job, but I am not invested in the product at all, because the product is for others, and not for me. Whereas this is solely for me, and so it is not prideful for me to say "This does what it was intended to do well."
aryanhwy: (Default)
They say that if you want to become good at something, you need to do it every day for a month.

They say that to be a writer, you need to write every day -- it doesn't matter what, it doesn't matter if it's good, what matters is that you write every day. No excuses.

Last August, I set myself a challenge. There was so much going on, in my head and in my life and I was having vivid and restless dreams on a near nightly basis. I thought I wrote about it here, but in looking back to find the post, I see I did not. [ETA: Ah, I did, but much later than I thought! here] My challenge was to channel the dreams, the thoughts, the worries into something cathartic, something that would be just for me and not for anyone else: I was going to start writing again, writing without an end in mind, without any worry about whether others would be interested in it, without any guilt over appropriation (though, indirectly, I have maintained a list of stories and songs I have shamelessly stolen words from). I was going to write every day, and in order to make it a real challenge, I was going to write 500 words, no more, no less.

It turns out, 500 words is actually rather a lot. So the very first day I quickly changed it to 400. 400 is somehow a lot less.

I missed a few days, due to traveling or other reasons. A missed day meant 800 the next day. I made it to 20,000 words. And then, about two weeks after we moved, I tapered off. I was ill, exhausted, and had no working computer at home, meaning my usual time -- at night, before bed, when I had something to say, I had nothing to say it to. But I have kept count of the days, and when I needed to, returned and wrote more. In the last year, the story has grown and fractured and splintered, and I still have a relatively clear idea of where it is going I just don't quite know how to get it there yet. But I reached another milestone today, of 40,000 words. 100 days. What should've taken slightly over 3 months took slightly over a year, but 40,000 words is basically a novella!

Part of the design of the piece is that it is not told in a linear fashion (which means it may be rendered incomprehensible to follow to anyone other than me -- but that's okay, because as I said, I am writing this for ME, not for anyone else. Anyone else who wants to read along is welcome to, but know that you cannot expect yourself to understand it all.). I have found that my choice of writing this on Wordpress has proven to be wonderfully serendipitous, because Wordpress has an algorithm that calculates "related" posts, and at the bottom of each post, gives links to these related posts. The beautiful thing is that these are recalculated dynamically, which means that which posts are "related" changes as I write more, and the "related" posts can be ones written after the one you read. So the entire thing has become sort of a choose-your-own adventure, in that you could, say, start with Day 1) and then, instead of reading Day 2, and then Day 3, and read the items as I wrote them chronologically (which doesn't follow the story chronologically), go to Day 8, or Day 323 (Day 94), or Day 74, and then on from there. Because I tend to re-use certain language, and because Wordpress's algorithm is pretty good, you can use this method to trace a single thread through the story in a slightly more coherent way than reading the Days sequentially.

So, there it is. I will continue it until I reach the end that I see, and then I may sit down and try to revise it. Some of the early posts, before I really knew where I was going with all of this, would need to be changed. I would need to read it to make sure that the story in all its different threads can be followed by someone who is not inside my head. I think when that time comes, I might have something of interest here. But for now, I write for me, and it makes me happy -- or at least helps me sleep better at night.
aryanhwy: (Default)
There are a few things that are intrinsic to my mental make-up.

* I'm very competitive.
* I'm motivated by arbitrary restrictions and deadlines.
* I find it inspiring when other people surrounding me are doing cool things.

One piece of advice that I got often when I was younger, and hadn't yet let the idea of being a writer fall by the wayside (or rather, I've spent the greater part of the last 10 years as a writer, I was just writing non-fiction instead of fiction. It still counts as writing, and I have little guilt over having pretty much thoroughly ignored fiction writing for such a long period), was to write every day. But "write every day" is too generic. It's too boring to be motivating.

Still, I've been fascinated over the last year to watch some of my friends taking that mantra to heart -- or if not writing every day, writing often enough that I could follow their developments via LJ/FB -- authors such as Heather Rose Jones/[ profile] hrj (I got to be one of her beta readers! Whoo!), Karen J. Carlisle/[ profile] firenzekat (who about a year and a half ago took on a "write every day" resolution and her output as a result was truly inspiring), and Christine Seaforth Finch (who just finished her first novel, can't wait to read it!).

So of course, I want to be part of the cool club. But I don't have time to plan or plot or write detailed notes, and I can't just "write every day" without having some guide to what I'm doing.

Nearly two months ago, I decided "I'm going to write 400 words of fiction per day." (Actually, I decided first on 500, sat down to write, and realized that's a lot. So I changed my resolution.) Exactly 400 words, no more, no less. If I miss a day, those 400 words roll over to the next, and I must write 800. If I miss another day, then it rolls over to 1200, and so on. And I gave myself complete freedom: I can write whatever I want. I can make things up, I can write things that are true, I can pretend, I can lie, I can quote, I can badly quote, I can do whatever I want.

It's been fascinating. Within a week I noticed a number of results: I usually wrote last thing before bed, and the vividness and variety of my dreams sharpened immensely. I also started writing more in my paper diary again, something which I've kept nearly continously since I was about 10, but which had fallen off in the last few years. Now, I'd write my 400 words, and then write about writing them in my diary. (It was a very weird feeling, to see how writing breeds writing.) And I found that with one or two exceptions, I never lacked for something to write about. Now, I'm at the point where pretty much any given day, I have about 3-4 days' worth of ideas ahead of me; or rather, I will have 3-4 days' worth, I will write them out, and then wonder "what on earth will I write next" until I start writing it and then another 3-4 days' worth unfold.

I have missed a few days, what with traveling, etc., but only once did I miss two days in a row and have to write 1200 words. One thing I found is that this changed my writing style somewhat, having the option (or rather, the requirement) of being so verbose. It made me want to go back to writing every day, so I could keep to the smaller vignettes. Now, since I still prefer to write at night and we still don't have internet at home, what usually happens is I write before going to bed, and then back-date the post when I get to the office the next morning.

Yesterday was Day 50. That's 20,000 words, 400 words per day. Bonus points if you can spot all the song lyrics, book quotations, and SCAdian references in each post.


aryanhwy: (Default)

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