Tag Archives: writing

Write the truth

The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.

-Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin


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Ups and downs

You won’t believe the silly thing that lead me to break my nearly two month long writing streak.

I did laundry.

In preparation to go home and see my family for the summer, I needed to get all my laundry done, so I hauled my clotheshorse out of the bathroom and put it up in it’s usual spot. Unfortunately, its usual spot is in front of the desk where I normally write. So instead of putting my computer on the desk before I went to bed bed that night, I put it on my comfy chair instead, thinking it was no big deal if I sat there to write.

Turns out, it was a big deal. The next day, some time in the evening, I suddenly thought to myself, “Hey, did I write today?” And I honestly could not remember if I had or not. I opened the document and wrote a few sentences, just to ensure that I had, in fact, written. But I didn’t learn, and the next day I found myself wondering whether I’d written anything once more.

To be fair, it wasn’t just laundry that got in the way. The summer rush that happens every year is starting to kick in at work. I wanted to get in a few more girl nights before I left the city for more than two months. I needed to make sure my place won’t be a nightmare to return to in the fall. Once I arrived at my parents’ house, I was immediately roped into babysitter duty for my two-year-old nephew. Making dinner for everyone is my responsibility on days when my mom is working late, and unlike in the city when I can just make it whenever I’m hungry, it needs to be on the table by five. Then it was Dr. Who Night with my cousins. My sister’s birthday was a few days ago, so I had find time to go into town and buy a present for her, and make a cake on her actual birthday and then have dinner and then coffee with the family. I’m also attempting to be less of a sloth this summer, but my trips to the gym are, as always, dependent on just how bad the summer work rush gets.

And, and, and, and…

And I haven’t written a word for Garden of Princes in maybe two weeks. I have written other things, but mostly doodles that I don’t intend to do anything with at the moment. It’s just so frustrating how I keep on sabotaging myself like this.

Of course, I don’t think all the blame lies with the various responsibilities that have been piling up lately. I’ve arrived at a place in Garden where I just don’t know where I’m going, and the inevitable result was that my daily efforts yielded fewer and fewer words and more and more trivial scenes being put on paper.

Writing just to see where I’m going doesn’t work for me, because it feels like I’m going nowhere. I keep telling myself that I need to sit down and come up with a plan instead of complaining about not having a plan, but my head appears to be too far up my own ass to actually hear it. So. That’s where I am right now.

How about you guys? Hope you’re having a more productive writing summer than I am!

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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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Although I haven’t really written anything substantial in a long while, I’ve never lacked for ideas. I’ve squirreled them away in a folder on my computer, in various notebooks lying around my room, on scraps of paper, whatever was closest when inspiration struck. Still other ideas have been forgotten, because nothing was handy to write with then and there, or because I thought, with great hubris, that I would remember.

Of course, if you keep having ideas without actually writing them, it builds up and suddenly you’re not only struggling to write, but struggling to choose what you most want to write about when you finally get over yourself. For months, I’ve been saying, “Just do it. Just start writing it and worry about everything else later.” I’ve genuinely wanted to follow my own orders, but with more than a hundred ideas to choose from, it was overwhelming. I just didn’t know which idea to go with.

There were a few front runners, but not one obvious winner. None of them were fully developed – far from it – but all had little bits and pieces that were waiting for me to fit them into a larger framework. In the end, I chose the one that had both a beginning and an end. It’s a fantasy, and quite possibly too large in scope to be my first big project after a long hiatus from writing. It’ll likely take years to pull together the storyline I have in mind. I’m actually toying with the idea of starting one of the other stories as well, just to be able to alternate a bit, but we’ll see how it goes first. I don’t want to spread myself to thin.

The working title is The Garden of Princes, but that’s likely to change as soon as I can find something better to call it. I don’t know how I feel about getting into the details yet, partly because I don’t have many details yet, and partly because I’ve always preferred to be a bit tight-lipped about what I’m working on. But in my head, it’s sort of a blend between Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. (argh!) Martin. I haven’t gotten all that far yet, but chapter one is done, chapter two is starting to take shape, and I’ve had a good time (mostly) when sitting down to write in the mornings. So that bodes well, I guess, but ask me again next week!

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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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