escapism

As for the charge of escapism, what does escape mean? Escape from real life, responsibility, order, duty, piety, is what the charge implies. But nobody, except the most criminally irresponsible or pitifully incompetent, escapes to jail. The direction of escape is toward freedom. So what is “escapism” an accusation of?

– Ursula K. Le Guin, “It Doesn’t Have to Be the Way It Is” from No Time to Spare

writing recap 2019: w7

Revisions are just a wholly different beast than writing new stories. It’s hard to feel like I’m making progress because I’m losing perspective. I made several lateral revisions today — I didn’t feel like they made the piece better or worse necessarily, just different. It’s a whole different skill set to work on, it feels like.

That’s left me feeling kind of listless this week because I’m having trouble figuring out how to mark progress. Anyone have any tips?

lies for a living

We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.

And that is why we write.

– Neil Gaiman, “Telling Lies for a Living… And Why We Do It: The Newbery Medal Speech, 2009” from The View from the Cheap Seats

writing recap 2019: w6

Bit of a slow week. I did some revisions on a short horror piece about sirens, but it’s still not sitting right. I can’t tell if it wants to be longer or not. I also added (and then subtracted) many words to a short story about memories. I’m not entirely sure where it wants to go, so I’ve been playing around with different structures, but this is one that might need to go back to scratch and be rebuilt from the ground up. I really, really like the idea though, so I’m reluctant to let it go.

I’m finding that many of my stories right now are about memory and narrative, and they have a tendency to take a dark and twisty bent.

Lots of reading and thinking this week and not as many new words as I’d like. But then again, maybe that’s what revisions feel like? I don’t know yet.

process and mystery

Fiction is both process and mystery, knowledge and imagination. It lies somewhere on a spectrum that begins with poetry and ends with statistics. It is art. It takes the forms and shapes of the real world and re-views them with new perception: the shade, texture, and weight of the subconscious and the unreal.

– Karen Lord, “What Is/What If: The Beauty of Mystery” from Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer

writing recap 2019: w5

Short update this week.

Not as much added to the novel word count this week — up to about 16.5k words. Mostly worked on revisions this week and doing some reading.

I’m working on getting up the courage to apply to a writing workshop this year. I mean, the worst (and most expected) thing would be that they just say no, right? And on the flip side, maybe I would get into a writing workshop! But to get the application together, I need to get some of my shorter pieces written/revised/polished, so that’ll be my main focus for this month.

read it: steering the craft

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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.

 

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.

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.)

THIS IS A PETTY HILL THAT I WILL DIE ON.

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.