read it: steering the craft


I thought I already had a “read it” post on Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin because I think about this book quite a lot. But apparently I hadn’t written one yet, even though I’ve certainly quoted (and will continue quoting) from this book frequently.

It’s one of those books that I’m never quite done reading. After I finished it cover to cover, I have found myself coming back to it here and there, discovering something new each time. Le Guin encourages you to think about how your writing is put together, the granular qualities of your prose and how those grains come together to form something bigger than their sum. Each chapter is accompanied by excerpted text illustrating the concept and ends with exercises to practice that particular element of the craft.

If you already write, I think you’ll find something in this book useful. It is not a book that will teach you exactly how to tell a story (check out Damn Fine Story if that’s what you’re looking for–post on that here), but it is a book that will help you think about how the clockwork bits of story, the actual words, fit together and work.


too much of your heart

The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.

– Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art

writing recap 2019: w4

Had a pretty decent week. There were definitely a couple of days where I could have done more, but I was feeling meh and didn’t. Also lost almost the entirety of one day to some of my other obligations coupled with a doctor’s appointment.

I’m running into that old adage “kill your darlings” for the first meaningful time. If you aren’t familiar, “kill your darlings” means you shouldn’t keep something in your writing just because you like it or think it’s pretty. It should serve a purpose. (Then again, sometimes it’s okay to leave something in because you like it or you think readers will like it or it’s pretty. Like all writing “rules,” it’s open to variable interpretation and application. Really, I think it just means that you should be critical of your own work and not be too precious about it.)

There are bits that I wrote in the previous iteration of the fairytale novel that I think are clever or well done (if I do say so myself), and I don’t want to let them go. I keep trying to wedge them into the new version, but sometimes they just don’t fit. There is a (jerkbrain) part of me that thinks I just won’t be able to write anything as good/clever as the bit I already have, which is just not a productive mindset to have. Every week, a new jerkbrain tactic. I’m not trashing the bits though. I’m just putting them in the Graveyard to reference later and sigh wistfully over.

Even still, I’m up to 15k in that project. So, that’s good.

I did not do any work on my short stories this week, besides noodling on a couple new ideas that I’m excited about. I need to work on the tendency to chase after the shiny new things instead of working on what I have in front of me. Part of it is because it almost feels easier to write something new than fix something that already exists? I suppose a lot of that is because I have more experience writing new things than I do with revision, which is another set of skills. And as we’ve discussed, the only way to get better at something… So that’ll be on the top of my list for things to focus on next week.

cat palace


Got Nukat an over-the-top cat palace and finally put it together today. It is massive and heavy and much taller than I anticipated… How much do you want to bet that she ignores it completely and plays in the box?

making time

It’s the month of setting new goals and resolution. I find that when we’re talking about  resolutions, people tend to talk in terms of things they want to add to their lives. I want to work out. I want to read more. I want to write/draw/paint/spend more time with friends. Etc.

Often, these resolutions don’t stick. There are hundreds of articles circulating the internet about why. About how to set goals. About specificity and actionability. But one thing that I think we need to spend more time thinking about is this: what are you going to give up to reach that goal?

Given that you are a living person (an assumption, but a relatively safe one, I think), you are already using up all the time that you have in each day. That’s not to say that you’re using it wisely or productively, but it is, most definitely, being used, simply because you are traveling forward through time (another assumption, but again…). So it’s all well and good to want to add to your life or pick up a new hobby or do more more more, but unless you’ve got a time-turner or can somehow freeze time, something has to give way.

For me, it’s useful to frame it this way because I want to be more mindful about what I’m doing with my time. There are things that I do way too much of (read Twitter, watch Netflix, the internets) because they are easy or habitual or I just need that sweet, sweet dopamine kick. But there are also many things that I would rather be doing, that I feel badly about not doing. I imagine that this is a nearly universal feeling.

So in addition to identifying the things we’d like to do more, we should deliberately figure out what we are willing to give up. Identifying the things that you want to cut down on this year will also give you a series of cues to check in with yourself.

Once you have a list of the things that you’d like to do less of, the next step is finding the time. That requires being honest about how you currently spend your time. And we all have a tendency to fudge the numbers. Some of the things we do are mandatory and regular (e.g. jobs, childcare), and that amount of the time varies from person to person. And some things are mandatory, but not fixed (e.g. self-care). But when you take a good, truthful, granular look at how you spend your time, you can usually find a hour (or five) here and there that isn’t being used the way you like.

That’s the place to start. What are you doing with those minutes or hours? Is that what you want to be doing? What else could you be doing with that time that would prioritize your goals and well-being?

And sometimes, maybe the answer is watch TV/movies, veg out, and otherwise give your brain a break. That’s totally fine too. I have plenty of those moments. But if I’m watching Netflix, I want it to be because I chose to watch Netflix, not because I fell into a bad habit loop. I don’t want to have those behaviors be thoughtless and automatic.

Tim Urban (Wait But Why) did the calculus: we have roughly 100 ten minute blocks in each day (assuming you sleep 7-8 hours a night). How do you want to spend each of those finite blocks?

adverbs, again

I had a piece critiqued for the first time by the writer’s meetup that I attend. Generally, the feedback was good–validated some things for myself (like I can actually write something that someone else enjoys) and provided a couple of useful things to work on in rewrites.

Also though.

Someone handed me a print out with line edits that consisted primarily of their circling or underlining the adverbs I used. Not all the adverbs, but all the -ly words. With the exhortation to “watch the adverbs.”

I’m trying to take this particular critique in the most generous way possible: Sometimes I overuse adverbs, and it is a good reminder for me to be more deliberate in how I choose to deploy them.

But then I think about the fact that all the -ly words (and no other adverbs) were circled indiscriminately, and I become incandescent with rage.

So you get another adverb rant.

I’m sorry, but the rule “only bad writers use adverbs” is a TERRIBLE THING to tell (any, but particularly new) writers and is JUST SO WRONG. (Also, just don’t “Only bad writers…” anybody in general. It’s rude and mean.) The adverb ban is one of those common knowledge “laws of writing” that people espouse without stopping to think about why. Just like all of those other absurdly prescriptivist “rules” that people have about writing. (There are rules and then there are “rules.”)

(Also, actually, I’m not sorry.)


Sure, adverbs can be overused (easily, in fact). But so can adjectives. Or other parts of speech. Or grammatical quirks/styles like incomplete clauses. Why must the adverb be so maligned? Sometimes you need them. They modify other parts of speech (mostly verbs), and they do this because there are occasions when those parts of speech need modifying. Sometimes there isn’t a more precise word. Sometimes there is, but you’re using the adverb for a specific effect. Adverbs can change the meaning of the sentence you are writing.

And sure, sometimes you are BEING REDUNDANT (she shouted loudly) and using them unnecessarily. And if that’s the case, release those poor adverbs into the ether and remove them from your writing.

Here’s a quote that sums up why it makes me so mad:

It’s that adverbs are no guiltier than any other part of speech. A noun can be nonsense. A verb can be vague. A preposition can be improper. An adjective can be antiquated. A conjunction can be confusing. Even if English speakers have a tendency to misuse adverbs, that doesn’t mean they’re evil. Some—those that help the current move “ceaselessly” at the end of The Great Gatsby or the crew of the starship Enterprise go “boldly”—are downright great.

– Lily Rothman, “Why I Am Proudly, Strongly, and Happily in Favor of Adverbs,” The Atlantic, Dec. 1, 2011

Being careful and deliberate with using the tools you have in your toolbox is NOT the same thing as outright banning one of the tools for no reason other than “lots of people don’t know how to use this correctly and also once someone told me don’t.”

The only way to get better at using a tool is to gain more experience with it. Read, and pay attention to how your favorite authors use adverbs, to why they do it. Experiment with them, see where they work in your writing and where they don’t. Be conscious and choosy when using them, just like you would with any of the other words you are using.

I kind of hope that I don’t have to rant about adverbs anymore, but I’m sure it’ll come up again.

read it: the only harmless great thing


The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a hauntingly beautiful alternate history novella. It’s partially set in the era of the Radium Girls, partially set in an AU modern day, and partially set in timelessness and memory. The prose is lyrical and the POVs are distinct. It’s a story about injustice and cruelty. It’s a story about history and narrative and truth.

You should go read it. It will give you the feels.

all of the histamine

I have an appointment to establish care with an allergist today. The plan is to get allergy testing done and then re-initiate allergy shots. I had a truncated course of shots back during medical school when it became impossible to mesh the schedule of the shots (weekly and then monthly) with the schedule of clerkships (all over the fucking place, changing from week to week). I think I had maybe a two year stretch of them? Optimistically, three at the most. The usual course is five years, I think.

So I want to start getting them again because they did make my allergic rhinitis symptoms so much better. It’s a self-imposed problem, of course. I’m somewhat allergic to cats, but I’ve always had cats. And I anticipate that I will keep having cats in the house. I’m also allergic to dogs, and everyone I care about in my life right now has dogs. So… Yeah…

In any event, in anticipation of the appointment and allergy testing today, I’ve been off cetirizine (Zyrtec) for five days now. And IT. HAS. BEEN. FUCKING. MISERABLE. My original allergist in Dallas advised me to take it daily, not so much for allergies, but for my dermatographia (aka skin writing). Basically, minor trauma/pressure (i.e. scratching, poking, nudging OR hell, too much heat or too much cold) to my skin causes a histamine response, leading to hives along the trauma. It’s called skin writing because you can literally write out words and my histamine response will follow.

This is not my skin. From

Not only does it lead to unsightly welts, EVERYTHING IS FUCKING ITCHY. It’s torture. I’d rather be in pain than be itchy like this. I try to refrain from scratching–it only makes it worse seeing as the scratching causes more hives causes more itching causes more…–but there’s only so much a person can take before the claws come out. There is a small line of petechiae (from broken capillaries) along my right inner arm from a self-attack in my sleep last night.

I can’t fucking wait to be back on Zyrtec. Being off of it has left me irritated (literally and figuratively), grumpy, sleep-deprived, distracted, and, of course, itchy. Medicine is the goddamn best–I will fight you.

Edit @ 2:41p

I ended up having a blood test done instead of skin testing. The allergist tested my dermatographia, took one look at the response, and was like “yeah, that’s going to be too hard to interpret.” I said that I didn’t care how the allergy testing got done as long as it was done today, so she sent me to the lab. She mentioned that you didn’t need to be off Zyrtec for the blood test.


I totally would have opted for the blood test straight off the bat and avoided the last five miserable days. But I suppose this is something that the appointment schedulers aren’t trained in.


You will need to find and trust people — teachers, mentors, friends, spouses, partners, and lovers — who are unequivocally on your side. Not stupidly on your side, not uncritically. Unequivocally. Blind or uncritical support can only damage you. But you must have support, and it must be unfeigned.

– Stephen Koch, The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop

writing recap 2019: w3

Had a much better week this week. I chalk it up to getting those processes back in place. Setting a flexible schedule each morning is very helpful for me — it clarifies what I should be doing at each point in my day so that there isn’t any effort/willpower wasted trying to make those decisions.

I’ve also added a bit of meditation to my mornings. I’m not entirely sure if it’s helpful yet, but I’m giving it a shot. Right now, I’m using Headspace.

I realized that part of my listlessness and task avoidance was related to feeling overwhelmed by all the moving bits of all the stories I have kicking about. And then I though, why the fuck am I trying to hold all of it in a nebulous mass in my head? Dumb. I’ve always been a proponent of writing things out, but for some reason I hadn’t applied that to my projects yet. So I wrote it all out on Post-its and tacked them to the wall next to my desk. Immediately, I felt lighter and more collected, just having everything laid out explicitly.

I had a good plotting breakthrough with my fairytale novel project. As I suspected, it strips everything back all the way near to the beginning. I have a tendency to let the scope of my project get a little out of control, which is what happened here. It resulted in extra large events carrying my characters from reaction to reaction, which then led me to lose sight of what their agency and motivations. So I ruthlessly narrowed it down, and it feels much better.

I actually, surprisingly (yay, growth!), don’t feel particularly discouraged about that; I’m more optimistic and excited about heading in the right direction now. Plus, as Sanderson says, every word is valuable. Added about 5000 words to the rewrite.

I also made some progress with one of my short story revisions.

All in all, quite a good week.