Category Archives: Writing

One month in

Exactly one month ago today – May 3rd – I started writing The Garden of Princes. Throwing caution to the wind, I went in blind, without much of a plan beyond how it all got started and how it would end. Everything in between those two points was a huge blank. And now, I’ve written every day for thirty two days straight. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before in my life. And even better, I’m nowhere near a burnout.

In some ways though, I feel that my lack of a plan is coming back to bite me in the butt. One of the reasons why I was so reluctant to get started on a big project in the first place, was that I get so demotivated when I feel like I don’t know where I’m going. While that’s still true, I’m glad I’ve gotten started; when I’m actually writing, I’m forced to think about the project for an extended period of time each day. I’ve realized a lot of things about the story and jotted down ideas for later use, so I’ve got a much better idea of where I’m going than I did a month ago. I’ve filled twenty pages of a notebook, and I keep adding to it every day.

I have, however, come to realize that the main plot lines may not work as well together as I would want them to. The timelines feel off, so I may end up chopping out one of them and save it for later. I guess it’s good that I’m seeing this now and not when I’ve written ten thousands of words for the plot, but it’s still fairly frustrating to contemplate losing a good chunk of what I’ve written so far. Of course, it’s this plot line that gave the project its name, so now I really have to think of a new title.

I’ve got plenty of time though, as this is turning out to be slow work. I’m trying to come to terms with how long it’s going to take me to finish this first draft, but I’m finding it hard. As some of you might have seen at the bottom of the blog, I’ve set myself a deadline on December 1st, but I’m not sure that’s entirely realistic. On one hand, the six months between now and December 1st sound like an eternity. On the other hand, I’m trying not to burn myself out on the project, like I’ve done so many times in the past. If I keep going at the pace I’ve been going at for the past month, I think I’ll end up missing the deadline. Not by a whole lot, but I’m toying with the possibility of giving myself more time instead of hoping that I’ll pick up the pace later on. It is, after all, better to finish sometime next year than it is to give up on the project altogether because I’m always wishing that my process was different than it is. I may be a fast typist, but that doesn’t translate into being a fast writer.

So, how are you guys’ WIPs coming along?

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What if?

Many years ago, a friend of me called me, quite fittingly, a “what-iffer”. I laughed at the time, but it really is a great description of me. Perhaps it’s a sign of an imagination that is a smidge on the dark side, but I have never had a problem seeing the worst case scenario, however improbable. Sometimes this quality protects me from making foolish choices, and I suppose that’s good, but often, it also keeps me from taking chances. If there’s something I’m supposed to do or want to do, I tend to take this thing and build it up in my head until it’s become an invincible beast I can’t slay. Then, because I feel there’s no way I can overcome the obstacles that are “sure” to come in my way, I put it off. And put it off some more. And some more, for good measure. I put it off until the opportunity has passed, or I’m forced by some external force to tackle it.

When I am forced to deal with things, I usually find that reality is far from as terrifying as it had become in my mind. Even if it is bad, after it’s happened, I will always find a way to be okay with how it turned out. I have to, because the only thing you can change about the past is your perspective of it. The rest is, as we say, history, and therefore not worth agonizing over. And yet, even knowing this, I find it extremely difficult to break the habit of sticking my head in the sand.

In many ways, we take a chance when we start a new project. We’re taking a chance that we actually have something to say that people will find worth listening to. We’re taking a chance that we have sufficient skill to say it in a way that does our message justice. We’re taking a chance on baring the inner workings of our minds to a world that has the potential to be both beautiful and harsh. Once our thoughts exist as words on a page out there, they no longer belong to us alone. Those who read them will do with them as they please. If it pleases them to stomp and spit on them, they can and will, often with ferocious glee. It won’t be any skin off their noses.

My nose, however, might be rubbed raw, and I guess I assume that it will be eventually. The what-iffer in me can’t imagine anything but failure, but of course, my hypothetical failure is like a hundred other things I’ve built up in my head before. It’s not as terrifying as I think it will be; there’s always life after failure, and where there’s life, there’s another chance to slay the beast you thought invincible.

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About a month ago, in an effort to introduce a little bit of structure into my writing time and ensure that I would actually get a little bit of writing done, I went into Google calendar and set up some alarms to remind me it was time to get down to business. Since I’m so rusty, I wanted to take it slow: only five minutes per day, then five minutes more the next week, five minutes more the week after that, and so on. If I wanted to keep going, I could obviously continue, but I didn’t want to spend half an hour staring at the screen if I just wasn’t feeling it.

The results… well, they were wildly inconsistent.

A lot of the time, I just plain ignored the alarm. Often I had good reasons to do so. In hindsight, I probably picked a bad time for the alarms to go off, though I’m not sure that a different time would have worked better. Life as a freelancer can be very loosy-goosy, and it’s been a long time since I’ve adhered to a strict schedule for anything. I’m just not used to that way of thinking anymore, and it’s hard to adjust.

I really wanted to stick to the plan, but I found that it was very difficult to actually do so. Sometimes I was still working when the alarm went off at five thirty. Other times I had just finished working and was halfway into cooking dinner when my phone informed me it was time to write. Or I had just left the house to go for a much needed walk to clear my head. Or I suddenly felt like I had a head full of fuzz. Or, or, or, a hundred different ors. Don’t get me wrong, I did write quite a bit during the past month; I’m just not so sure that the reminders had anything to do with it. Like I said, I often ignored the alarms, and if I did write, it was later in the evening.

Perhaps that means I should try again, but set up the reminders later in the day. I do thrive on structure, but I also get so terribly frustrated when I have to go off schedule, which is bound to happen when work gets busy. I know I shouldn’t count on failure before I’ve even gotten started, but I feel that if I have a set plan, I will eventually give up. Maybe I just have to accept that my life isn’t compatible with a strict schedule, even if I like the idea of just sitting down at a specific time, without having to actively make the decision every day; it would just be my routine.

The real crux of the problem, I suppose, is that I can’t predict what tomorrow is going to look like, let alone next week. I get assignments when I get them, and there’s no such thing as a heads up before a particularly slow or particularly busy period. I just have to take whatever comes my way. I suppose I’m fortunate to have more busy periods with work than I do slow periods, but that also means that when I have a little breather, I feel like I should take advantage of the opportunity to relax. I rarely get more than a few hours of reprieve before the next work email ticks in, and my to-do list is hardly ever empty. But if I always allow myself to relax, however well-deserved the break may be, I will never write another word again. That’s how I ended up going four years without writing much of anything, after all.

I’m always interested to hear what other people do. Do you schedule your writing time, or do you just write as and when the mood strikes you? Do you make a point to write every day, even on busy days, or do you think it’s best to ease up when there’s just to much going on?

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Another “fuck you” to Clean Reader

I had planned on posting this last week, but when I realized last Wednesday was April 1st, I decided to push the post back a week in favor of a post about the ten year anniversary of my grandmother’s death. Then I ended up working 12 hours yesterday, and didn’t much feel like spending more time in front of the computer screen after that. But even if I’m a bit late to the party, I wanted to share my thoughts on the Clean Reader kerfuffle.

A few years ago, my mother scolded my brother for swearing at the dinner table. She rarely does that anymore, seeing as my thirty-plus-year-old brother is probably a lost cause, but for whatever reason, she scolded him that day and she trotted out the old adage about swearing being a sign of poor vocabulary. I vehemently disagree with that statement, so I informed her that I sometimes swear as well. Did she think that I have a poor vocabulary? After all I’ve made my living as a freelance translator for several years, and I’ve never met a language teacher who didn’t love me. She looked at me like I had grown a second and a third head.

It’s safe to say that a lot of what I write would be unaffected by Clean Reader. But sometimes I do include some choice language. When I do, I would very much like that choice to be respected. I understand that some people object to swearing and that’s their right. If I am speaking to someone whom I know does not approve of swearing, I will be considerate of that and not swear in front of them. However, despite not letting f-bombs fly at every moment, I am not against swearing, and I feel that is my right.

Some say that readers should be allowed to consume the books they have purchased any way they please. Clean Reader is simply an advanced way of going through a book and sharpie-ing out the bad words. They say this as if they are assuming that I’m okay with a person doing that. I’m not. Not really, though I recognize that it’s perfectly legal, not to mention that it’s utterly futile to try and stop it. Still, I aim to say something with the stories I tell, and if my words are changed and watered down to support the moral agenda of someone else, it’s no longer my story. Maybe my themes get muddled. Maybe my characterization suffers. Maybe it completely destroys my message. Whatever changes are made, there’s a good chance they interfere with my original intent. That’s true whether you do it with a sharpie or with Clean Reader, but at least the sharpie method is cumbersome and impossible to utilize on a large scale. Clean Reader, on the other hand, provides censorship at the click of a button.

Many balk at that big word, censorship. Surely editing out a few cuss words isn’t censorship? They bleep out words on TV all the time*. What’s the big deal? In my mind, censorship is exactly what it is though. I chose my words carefully,  then someone else came along and changed them to suit them and their beliefs. What is that, if not censorship? How can it be anything but censorship? Am I not allowed to choose words that suit me and my beliefs? I hardly think that Clean Reader is the top of a slippery slope that ends in book burning and the demise of civilization, but it’s bad enough in itself.

The file isn’t being edited, the creators of Clean Reader say. The original file is still there, in all its uncouth glory. Semantics, I say. Clean Reader may technically be legal, but there are a lot of things that are technically legal that I don’t agree with. It’s a loophole. Actually editing the file is illegal. Making it appear edited is not. But the end result of editing and making the text appear edited is much the same. The bottom line remains that Clean Reader takes a person’s words and allows a reader to make them more palatable, regardless of the author’s intent. I’m certainly not saying that every writer weighs their every ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ carefully; sometimes swearing is just swearing. But the writer has a right to use those words, and nobody should get to put other words in his or her mouth. You don’t like it, nobody is forcing you to keep on reading, and nobody is stopping you from never again picking up a book by the same author.

But people who dislike swearing want great books too! Why should they miss out on all those great books, just because there’s language they don’t agree with? To that I ask, why shouldn’t they? If they make the choice to avoid swearing, good for them, but that choice comes with a sacrifice. Most choices do. Not everyone has to accommodate them. There are plenty of books out there that have little to no swearing. They’re not missing out on all great books, just the ones that don’t conform to their idea of morality. If authors could opt in, then sure. I’m not against so-called “clean” books, and I have nothing against people who do not want to be exposed to swearing. I just don’t want my beliefs to come second to theirs.

Let’s not forget that there would likely be quite a lot of noise made if the tables were turned and someone created a similar app to turn “clean” books into dirtier versions, or to replace all mentions of God with Allah. If one author doesn’t want his or her “fricks” and “shoots” to be turned into “fucks” and “shits”, is it so hard to understand that another author might not want their “fucks” and “shits” turned into “fricks” and “shoots”?

Let’s also discuss some of the choices the creators of Clean Reader made when creating their filters. Is vagina considered profanity? Do women only have “bottoms” below the belt? Is breast a dirty word? I for one struggle to think of a less profane word for female genitalia than vagina, and “breast” is about as innocent as you get as well. In fact, I cannot for the life of me understand how “chest” is less profane than “breast”. I can see why you would blank out many words referring to the human anatomy (even though I obviously disagree with blanking out any words at all), but those? It makes it abundantly clear that the creators consider the human body to be profane in general, and I have absolutely no wish to further that belief in any way. Clean Reader would have forced me to do just that, and the creators of the app would have made money from it to boot.

The fact of the matter is that the words Clean Reader blanks out are heavily biased towards a specific belief system, which I happen to not share. I’m aware that Clean Reader can’t reach into my mind and stop me from writing anything profane. I can still use the words I feel are appropriate for the occasion, and those words will still be there underneath the filter. But if the reader can choose to brush aside my views, my choices, my beliefs with the click of a button, what does that matter?

*I don’t, in fact, agree with bleeping out words on TV either.

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Taking writing off the shelf

This is the fourth version of this post I’ve written since July last year. Who has ever heard of a blog post that has been nearly a year in the making? Perhaps it is fitting though, since my failure to actually complete the post would indicate that I have not, in fact, been ready to start writing again. Am I ready now? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m more ready than I was last summer. At that point I think my desire to write was much greater than my ability to. For a number of reasons, I simply lacked the necessary mental space to dedicate time to writing on a regular basis.

Despite attempting to at various points in my life, I’ve never before been someone who writes every day. At times, I’ve written frequently, and sometimes even many days in a row for a long stretch, but never every day, period. Ever since my early teens, I’ve been the on-and-off type, simply because short bursts of frantic activity were what worked best for me. I would blatantly disregard the advice to have a set schedule, yes, but after taking a few days or weeks off, I would always come back to it with new energy. Until I didn’t have any energy left over for writing at all.

The dry spell started nearly four years ago, when I hit a rough spot financially. I was about a year into my job as a freelance translator, and still in the process of proving myself as a competent and reliable worker. In addition, I was a student with a more than full course load. Needless to say, the combination of studies, a rapidly increasing work load and the constant worry about money was a rather trying. There was always something I was supposed to be doing. I handed in work assignments, because I had to. I went to lectures, attended seminars, wrote papers, took exams, because I had to. Just these basics were often a struggle, but anything beyond seemed insurmountable.

Others may speak of writing as a necessity, something as essential to them as breathing. At times I’ve felt shamed when others talk like this, despite having a very pragmatic approach to writing in general. I’ve never truly related to what they were saying though. If I stop breathing, I will die. If I stop writing? Life will go on. Sometimes I’ve even thought I might be happier if I decided to give up on writing altogether. But somehow, I always seem to end up with a pen in my hand. So even after four years have passed without me accomplishing much in the way of writing, I’ve always believed that I would some day return to it. It didn’t happen when I thought it would, but over the past six months or so, the desire to write has hit me more often. Acting on the desire is still difficult 99% of the time, but the desire is there. I’ve written more in the past month than I did in the entire year that came before it.

I get discouraged a lot, because I’m having a hard time getting into the groove I used to have before the dry spell, or at least the groove I remember having, regardless of whether that memory is real or not. It also seems as though my inferiority complex has grown while I wasn’t looking. I’m finding it very hard to think about people actually reading my words. Someone will inevitably judge them, misunderstand them and misinterpret them. And sometimes I will most likely say stupid things, which is a dangerous pastime on the Internet. I think I find that particularly hard to accept. All my life, people have labeled me as smart, and I’ve been desperate to not prove them wrong.

But now I often find myself wanting to say more stupid things, as long as I’m actually speaking. I want to be louder! My natural inclination is to listen rather than to speak, to defer to others, let others decide and avoid attention at all costs. My opinion has never seemed to weigh as heavily in my mind as other people’s. Right now, it feels like I’m almost taking up a negative amount of space. I’m thinking about what everyone else wants me to do rather than what I want. And what have I ever gotten out of that? Nothing. Sure, nobody ever looked at me and thought, “there goes brainless”, but if that’s the best epithet I get, I will consider my life well and truly wasted.

My twenties have been a dark decade, and now as I’m about to enter my last year of it, why not try something new? I’m not quite sure what that means yet, exactly, but one thing I’m certain of: I will dedicate myself to the words again and through them show myself that brighter days are possible.


When I first started school, my teacher would hand out worksheets at the beginning of each week, detailing our homework for every day of the week. You knew exactly what you were expected to do, and when you were expected to have it done. This was an environment I excelled in. My mother grins when she talks about how I told her that she would never have to nag me about my homework like she did my brother.

I was true to my word, too; I may not always have enjoyed doing my homework, but I thrived on the structure that school provided me with. It was never difficult for me to sit down to get my homework done, and I always settled down at my desk as soon as I came home. No dawdling, no fuss. Friends were invariably told to wait if they came to hang out before I was done. By me, not my mother.

Then, towards the end of elementary school, things changed. We were still given worksheets at the beginning of each week, but instead of detailing what needed to be done each day, we were told what needed to be done each week. That’s when I started slipping. Without specific tasks to complete each day, I started leaving things to the last minute, and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

My procrastination has led to a lot of frustration for me. Not just academically, but in most aspects of my life, including writing. Over the years, it’s become increasingly clear that I need to make changes, and, thinking back on the ease and willingness with which I did my homework, I think that’s the key. What works for me is to take small steps and reaching partial goals rather than trying to build Rome in a day, so to speak.

Last semester, I had three very simple goals to help me do better academically. I would go to the library every day of the week, I would read the assigned articles before every lecture, and I would create a clearer separation between school and free time (i.e. not study after getting home from the library). I won’t say that it worked perfectly, but it worked well enough because the goals were specific and not terribly hard to reach. In the past, I’ve always lost motivation because of my tendency to bite over much more than I can chew, and nothing is more disheartening than setting yourself a goal you cannot reach.

So I’ve decided that I will apply the same principle to my writing. Every day in 2013 I will write at least 100 words. To some, this might seem like a ridiculously small number. Why even bother turning on your laptop for such a measly progress, right? But I can already tell that it’s working for me. I’ve been doing it for a little over a week, and unlike other goals I’ve set myself, I’ve actually met this one.

It’s not like I have an excuse to not do it. It takes all of two minutes. And then, once I’m warmed up, I often keep going. The first day, I wrote 112 words, and it was agony. The second day, I wrote a little more. The third, a little more. And so on and so forth. I’m not expecting it to always be a little more, but a lot of days it is.

My goal is a minimum. I can exceed it if I want. But there’s no pressure to. I still get the satisfaction of having reached a goal, but there’s no guilt when I can’t carve out an hour to write in a schedule that is crazy and unpredictable most of the time.

So that’s my writing goal for 2013, and hopefully, beyond. What’s yours?