fetish and taboo

February 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm (editing, writing) (, , , )

Jeff VanderMeer just posed an interesting question over at the Booklife blog, musing on the often problematic but also fruitful relationship between fetish and writing. Given the project I’m working on right now, I find myself more inspired to write about fetishes of a different sort, but Jeff’s post made me sit up all prick-eared, especially his opening quote:

In Booklife I have a section on relinquishing all fetishes, which is another way of saying don’t let having to use a fancy pen or special desk get in the way of writing. As I mention in the book I’ve learned to write anywhere at any time, and to never stifle my imagination just because I’m not in the ideal writing situation.

I give this advice in the book because we most commonly procrastinate and find reasons not to write. But the fact is some “fetishes” actually aid our creativity.

This really got under my skin (in a good way). Compared to some, I’m not particularly fetish-oriented as a writer, though I have a few quirks, of course. I do my best work up at a coffee shop, but given that my husband works from home as a world history teacher, speaking on the phone all day to children, my need to be up here is more born of necessity than a necessity, if that makes sense. Other than that, I do have an inability to write by hand, but mostly because I do my best work while editing compulsively.

That said, I may not be a very fetish-prone writer, but my booklife does tend to operate within a system of taboos gleaned from writer friends, things I’ve read, advice from writing teachers in my distant past, “common knowledge,” etc. And, just as fetish-objects should be eschewed when they’re hurtful rather than helpful, so should those taboos. As I’ve posted here lately, I’ve been paralyzed by a pretty epic bout of writer’s block. Thankfully, the ice is cracking, slowly, but that’s in part due to my decision to break taboo, in the form of outlining.

I used to outline compulsively when I wrote, for both creative and academic projects. But I found, years ago, that for my creative writing, having an outline made me feel wedded to that outline, and often prevented me from exploring with the characters; it put me in control of them, rather than them determining their own reactions and personality. It also sometimes made me feel wedded to a certain plot, even when it didn’t feel like the right thing.

So I quit outlining. I haven’t written a single outline in years.

But.

The large project I’m working on right now is. . . large. And there are several different storylines. I’m working on the final one, but while it was the easiest of the three to write for the first part, when I got to the real tofu-and-potatoes of the plot, I froze. I had no idea where to go, what to do. I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get it. After writing a bunch of short stories and puttering around and griping, I finally broke down and busted out the “outline” function Scrivener supplies. And lo, lo I said, I worked out a mock-up of what I need to do for the rest of the book. Hallelujah.

It just goes to show (as Jeff said), some fetishes really do aid a writer’s creativity. For me, I have to say that the process of discovering (for some are quite unconscious) taboos and then breaking those taboos seems aids my creativity, as well. I have an informal checklist of things I do when I cant write: find new music, edit from the beginning, research more, work on something else, imagine scenes I’ll never include in the project to get a feel for how the characters would act naturally outside of their “screen time.” But I think I’ll add a new item to that list of tricks: engage in self-reflection to see if a sense of taboo is holding me back from a new way of interrogating and negotiating with a project.

And now, I must run. I have a novel to work on!

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the darkness grips us all sometimes

January 17, 2010 at 4:29 pm (writing) (, , )

In the wake of the Great Rate Fail Debate of late ’09 people still seem to be discussing why (allegedly) it’s impossible or at least very difficult for new writers to break into semi-pro and pro markets, with or without a list of token or “for the love” markets following their name in their bio, with or without friends, with or without whatever.

A lot of people have had things to say about it, ranging from more or less confirming that there is a glass elevator for those who have already proven they have chops (at least for some markets), to ranting about the Augean task of selling one’s first story (or second, or third), to discussions of whether even discussing the topic is worthwhile, to the revelation that some writers are sending nasty “well, you might have rejected my story but guess what, I just sold it!” letters to editors, which is simply shocking beyond all excusability. Maybe I’m just new to this community (LJ specifically, but more broadly, the world of genre writing and publishing) and this sort of thing happens all the time, but it’s my first time seeing a lot of it.

I personally think that Jeff VanderMeer summed up everything very nicely on his blog:

Stupidity rather than malice is the main reason bad things happen in genre. Let’s be a little more forgiving and also a little less willing to contribute to a sense of vast conspiracy where none exists. It is always good for one’s health and to a community to assume the best until it’s proven otherwise.

How true this is.

I’m going to be starting an experiment. I’m going to start restricting my internet-vieweing to a to-be-determined amount per day (even checking my email). I feel like paying so much attention to the internet–including but not limited to my own snotty ranting about such important things as double-spacing after a period–has been affecting me on a personal level. Quite frankly, I feel like it’s been gumming up my works (though that’s a really gross way to think about it), because to be honest, I’m straddling here. I work for a genre mag, but I’m also a newb author. Half of me comes down firmly on the side of “good writing is good writing, write good stuff and you’ll eventually get rewarded” and half of me knows very well the black tundra of despair, of feeling like my stuff would be appreciated if only I could get an “in” with an editor; that my stuff is just too different, or too subtle, or too slow (it’s not boring, it’s called a slow burn, OK?), or not what’s popular, or whatever serves that day to explain why someone somewhere didn’t immediately buy whatever story and put my name up in lights, the jerks, and tra la la. I’ve walked many a mile on that tundra. I’m not proud of it, and part of me doesn’t even think I should admit it to the internet but what the fuck. I’ve been there, and hiding it seems dumb because it seems like a lot of people have been there. But, the thing is, I’m (in general) sensible and healthy enough hear those thoughts for what they are–bullshit–and try to short-circuit such self-indulgence by taking a walk, having a really stiff drink (gin does it, though Jesse proved that he can actually mix a good drink the other night when he made French 75s, and frankly, had I the funds, I think that would be my drug of choice), or do whatever to slap myself around a little, and remember that the list of claptrap above is just that–claptrap.

It sucks, starting out. It sucks a lot. I’ve been trying for three years now to write and publish, only about six months of that without the distraction of grad school, and I just a week ago I made my first sale. That’s not really a particularly awesome return rate (nor is it particularly terrible, says my defense mechanisms), but I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of the story I sold. I know for a fact that three years ago, when I started considering trying to write fiction professionally, I could not have written “In Sheep’s Clothing.” Six months ago I don’t think I could’ve done it, either. And when I wrote it, I got this feeling about it, something like “hey, you know what? This is my best work to do date, and if anything I’ve written stands a chance of selling, this will be it.”

The first place I submitted it to accepted it.

I do this thing to myself where occasionally (or, uh, more than occasionally) I get tangled in my mind, worrying about whether I’ll ever make a living from writing, whether or not I’ll ever find an agent, whether or not I’ll sell this probably-too-long novel I’ve been working on, whether I’ll “make it” or burn out and give up before I succeed according to whatever definition of success I’m using that day. That shit is just stupid. That is the kind of shit that should not even be on my radar right now. Right now my concerns should be writing, editing, polishing, creating. All that other stuff comes later. It’s more difficult than it should be sometimes in part because my best friend is a very successful new writer and I get to see what he’s up to and that gets me pondering things that are simply just not anything I should worry about because–and here’s the hilarious part–I haven’t even finished my first solo novel. I only have as of this minute three short stories out circulating. I’m not prolific. My strengths are research and editing, not generating a ton of material. So I play to those.

And you know what? I keep the hope that some day it will pay off. Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t. We’ll see. But the thing is, every moment I spend worrying about things in the future, or feeling slighted, or being distressed, or wondering if whatever I’m working on is too long, or too weird, or too whatever, well, that was a moment I spent not thinking about the important things, a moment lost I could’ve spent time dreaming, or writing, or doing work for my magazine, or planning, or researching. It’s literally wasted time, because no amount of that kind of shit will ever make me a better writer.

You know, unlike blogging. That’s writing, whispers my mind.

Not as much as actually writing is, I say back. And thus, I return to my regularly scheduled novel.

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