Started reading Jennifer Smith’s THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. It’s a really low-key book about a girl who’s flying to London to attend her dad’s wedding to the woman for whom he left her mom. On the flight, she meets a guy, and maybe they fall in love. Everything is really simply and understated. I think I’m actually liking YA romance a lot. The ones I’ve read seem very smart and well-written.
Been plugging away at this literature review (part of the mysterious other work that I do for money and never ever talk about), and it is miserable. I am terrible at literature reviews, because there’s very little about them that’s creative. Instead it’s all about exhaustive attention to detail. Just about the only part I’m any good at is the part right near the end where you look at the massive amount of information you’ve accumulated and think about how best to organize it into a paper.
However, I have gotten better over time. What I’ve learned to do is, when I’m researching, to write my notes in the form of sentences (including citations) that could eventually appear in the final paper. That way, when I get to the end, I can just assemble everything, collage-style. It’s still miserable, since it takes me hours to accumulate a page or two of notes, but at least when I get to the end, everything just…comes together.
That’s the one and only thing I know about getting stuff done. The hardest part is starting. Once you’ve started, you’ll probably finish. It’s going to miserable. And you might not enjoy the process of finishing. You might not even finish quickly or on time or at all efficiently. But if you start something and plug away at it day after day, you’ll eventually finish.
And I think I will, god willing, finish this paper sometime tomorrow.
Ever since reading Lynda Barry’s What It Is, I’ve been experimenting with writing by hand. Mostly for short stories (though I did try it a little bit with novel chapters). I’ve had mixed results. Nothing is a magic bullet, creativity wise. Nothing makes it easy. It’s always something you have to do (without doing anything). That’s the problem with writing. You sit down and feel like there’s some work you need to do, and there is…but it’s all completely invisible.
Anyway, writing by hand at least solves one problem: it’s very easy to write continuously when you’re writing by hand. I think that’s because it slows down the process of composition to a level where the mind is easily able to race ahead and ponder the next few words. Whereas when I type, the pace of composition tends to be about as fast as I can think, which means that if my mind ever stutters a little bit, then I have to stop writing.
When I hand-write, however, I can write continuously for a whole morning. I mean two or even three hours might pass without my hand ceasing its motion. That’s a pretty new experience for me, and that, by itself, is fairly compelling. It’s just really fun to be that absorbed in something. Furthermore, since you’re writing by hand, there’s no electronic devices around to distract you. There’s nothing to fiddle with at all. In fact, I do all my hand-writing using pages of lined paper on a clipboard. And whenever I suffer a false start, I will–in a move I’ve learned from the movies–crumble up that page and toss it onto the ground. It’s pretty fun. And it also feels very low-stakes, somehow. You’re just toodling around with paper. Whereas when I write on a computer, the words seem very permanent, and I’m compelled to save them, I feel no compunctions about my paper drafts. In fact, I’ve thrown out (literally thrown out into the garbage) most of the things I’ve written by hand, because I just can’t see myself lugging reams of paper through the rest of my life.
On the other hand, the proof is in the results, isn’t it? And there I’m not so sure. I’ve completed two stories by hand. Both occurred in single three hour sessions. A few days later, I typed them up and straightened them out, and now they’re out on submission. But I’m not convinced they’re my best work. I mean, I could be wrong. I’ve sold plenty of stories that I didn’t think were anything special. But in this case the disjunction between the magic of creation (writing both of these stories felt spectacular) and the quality of the output felt particularly high.
Writing by hand is obviously one way to produce amazing work: Shakespeare wrote by hand; Tolstoy wrote by hand. But I question whether the output is any better than what a given writer would be likely to produce on a computer.
Nonetheless, I’m gonna keep doing it, because it’s fun, and writing is all about having fun, isn’t it?
Don’t answer that.
Years ago, I was worried about stuff. Maybe it was getting into MFA programs. And I read that Dale Carnegie book (the other one): How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. And In that book there’s a testimonial from a guy who said that he’d started writing down his anxieties as they occurred to him and then checking back in a few months later to see how they’d all turned out. So ever since then I’ve kept a file called “What I am worried about” which lists about three year’s worth of anxieties.
And, in general, 90% of the things I worried about did not come to pass. And out of the other 10%, I mostly got over them within a few weeks. It really is true: the fear of something bad is usually worse than the actuality.
The problem with anxiety is that it feels like a prophylactic. It’s almost a form of magical thinking. If you worry about every eventuality, then somehow they won’t come to pass. But it’s silly. The worst things that happen in your life are things you can’t ever anticipate. And the best things, too, come as a surprise.
Yes, this is a short entry. Umm…I’m gonna be at BayCon this weekend! Anyone else gonna be there?
There is a lot of YA romance. It doesn’t really get much respect (unless a man writes it, as with THE FAULT IN OUR STARS). I haven’t read very much of it, because, as I said in a previous post, I don’t know much about the romance genre. However, a few weeks ago I saw that this Jennifer E. Smith novel was on sale for $2.99 and I bought it.
The book is fantastic! The premise is unbelievably simple. Two kids meet in New York one day and experience a romantic connection. Then they both have to move. They try to keep in touch, but they just keep getting further and further apart (on a physical level). Will they overcome the distance? Or will they do the sensible thing and drift apart? I don’t know the reading codes of the YA romance genre very well, but I’m gonna guess they make it.
I just really like this. I want to write one of these. In fact, I DID (almost) write one of these. My first book, This Beautiful Fever was a dystopian, but its core was a romance plot. Unfortunately, they did not get together at the end. Someday, though, I’ll write a real one. Okay, that’s it for this blog entry. Sorry, my concentration has been shot lately. Oh well, high points and low points, right?
Oh, I revised and submitted three stories in the last two days! My short story output is way up in the last few months. It’s pretty amazing. Two of these first drafts were hand-written, too, which I think is a very good effect.
After reading these Brené Brown books on vulnerability, I still am not quite sure whether or not praise is a good thing. Because, alright, one of the takeaways from these books is that the act of artistic creation entails a lot of vulnerability. This is a part of yourself that you’re offering up to the eyes of the world. And if the response isn’t good, then, well, it’s pretty devastating. And that devastation is also completely disproportionate to the crime. Writing a bad novel isn’t terrible. In fact, it’s good. Writing a bad novel is a huge achievement, and it’s a natural step on the road to writing a good novel. I don’t want to make people feel bad about writing bad novels.
And it’s all fine and well for you to be like, oh they shouldn’t be ashamed. You’re not criticizing them. You’re just criticizing the work. But I can’t affect how they’ll hear the criticism. Only people who are really at peace with themselves are able to hear criticism in a wholly constructive way, and writers aren’t noted for being particularly at peace with themselves. And I know lots of writers who’ve been shut down by negative criticism. They withdraw completely and either stop writing or stop submitting. And I believe that the most important way in which writers improve is by continuing to write! That, more than any criticism, is how they’ll produce better work.
Which seems to make it easy. I ought to encourage all writers and honor their future potential to create good work.
But where it becomes more complicated is that praise is also, I think, very harmful to writers. I’ve seen so highly-praised apprentice writers whose development stalled out.
And I think this is for two reasons. One, when you get praise, you assume success is imminent. And when it’s not, you get frustrated and give up. And, secondly, when you get praise, you assume that writing is not hard and you’re naturally good at it, and that’s not interesting. People want to be challenged. Not so challenged that they feel frustrated. But they want to feel that sense of accomplishment that comes with trying your hardest and then achieving something.
So both praise and criticism aren’t that great for writers.
Honestly, I feel like our current system is pretty good. New writers mostly get ignored–oftentimes for the better part of a decade–until they start to show a little progress. That decade of being ignored is terrible, but it’s also freeing. No one is telling you to stop. No one is telling you that you can’t do it. It just teaches you the two things you need to know as a writer: a) the motivation for doing this needs to come from within yourself; and b) no one’s going to pay attention until you write something that makes them sit up and take notice.
That having been said, I still do like to praise people. I figure that the folks who’re discouraged by praise will eventually find their field somewhere, somehow, while the folks who’re encouraged by it are the hothouse flowers who need a very special environment within which to blossom.
Unbelievably tired today. But feel pretty free. I’ve turned in both my book and that solicited story, so, for the first time in ages, I’ve got no firm and immediate commitments (at least w/r/t to fiction). And it’s almost summer. I love the summer in California. That’s a pretty controversial statement, I know. But people here on the West Coast don’t understand that summer almost everywhere else in the United States is absolutely miserable.
I’ve recently begun reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. This is normally the place in the blog post where I’d apologize for reading a work of pop nonfiction whose author is primarily famous for a TED talk. But I won’t do that. This book is great. It’s about how to be vulnerable. The idea being that it’s difficult to take risks unless you’re willing to open yourself up to failure. And opening yourself up to failure is, in turn, is primarily about learning how to make space for and live with your feelings of shame.
These are lessons that I need to learn. I’ve always dealt with problems by bulldozing the emotional component: I just do the difficult thing over and over until I become desensitized to the pain. But I think there is an easier (though not necessarily easy) way. Anyways, I am too tired to go too much into depth about this.
Again, not a lot of work in an absolute sense. Just a lot more work than my current work management techniques are really equipped for. Really, it’s just the number of projects that are all happening at more or less the same time. Normally I like to do just one thing at once, but that’s just not doable. I just spent fourteen days, for instance, writing a story that’d been solicited from me for an anthology. If that’d been the only thing I’d done for those fourteen days, I can’t even imagine what kind of hole I’d be in right now. Instead, I was simultaneously doing the final edits on Enter Title Here. Of course, I have no idea if either of those activities would’ve taken less time if they’d been the sole focus of my work.
But the problem when you make something your sole focus is that sometimes you just end up spinning your wheels on a task–sometimes for months–and if during that time you’re not doing anything else, then you end up completely screwed.
Been experiencing major soreness and tightness of the jawbone. It’s possible this is what is causing my ear pain. I have a dental appointment next Friday. I think this is the first time that major physical discomfort has coincided, in such a dramatic way, with an extremely positive mood. I’m sleeping terribly and every day I experience minor to moderate pain, but I am also pretty happy. It’s unaccountable.
I finished reading So Tough To Tame. It was actually pretty compelling. There are a lot of these YA romances too, actually. Maybe I should read one of those. I mean, when I say YA romance, I’m thinking ‘pure’ romance, rather than YA novel with a romance subplot. For instance I’d say that The Fault In Our Stars was a romance. Actually, the first novel that my agent sent out for me, This Beautiful Fever, was also something of a romance, but not really, because it didn’t have a happy ending. That’s the key component in a romance. The happy ending. Without it, you’ve just got, well, two mismatched people who don’t end up together. And no one wants to read that, because that’s just the reality of day to day life on this earth.
Anyway, I’ve started reading For Whom The Bell Tolls. I like Hemingway, okay. I wish he had fewer war novels, though. I loved The Sun Also Rises. I don’t see why more of his books couldn’t have been just about chilling in Paris and shit. But anyway, I’m reading this. It’s an odd experience. The dialogue is so stilted. I think it’s that way on purpose? He’s trying to convey some of the rhythms of Spanish? I don’t know what it is, but I think it’s working.