Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in November: writing the other, art & politics, creative success, and more.
Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in October: stories that are neither character- nor plot-driven, the good guy/bad guy myth, thoughts on digital privacy, the history of women’s restroom lounges, and more.
Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in April.
Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in January.
Every month, I share the articles and sites that I found most interesting. Here’s what caught my attention in August.
• On Woman’s Weekly, and why we should all care about their new contract policy by Joanne Harris: “Womag writers are the canary in a very deep literary mine. If we, the more influential and better-protected folk of the literary world, allow their rights to be exploited, then sooner or later companies like TI Media will come for the rest of us.”
• Jami Attenberg’s #1000WordsofSummer Turned a Corner of the Internet into a Supportive Literary Community by Amy Carleton: “Writing is work. And writing well, amidst all of our available distractions, online and otherwise, can be hard work. But this summer, one writer found a way to turn a potential distraction — the internet — into a motivational force and an affirming pop-up literary community in only two weeks.”
• Is social media influencing book cover design? by Holly Connolly: “Like the recent revival of zines, the encroach of digital has resulted in a renewed appreciation for the physical – and beautiful.”
• Writing and the Creative Life: The Tactile Experience of Writing by Scott Myers
The only paper remnant I have kept this whole time are the index cards. That I have refused to give up.
So I asked myself why keep working with index cards? I knew the answer immediately: Because of the tactile experience.
• How to accept rejection: why failure can be the first step towards success by Donna Ferguson
• Canaries and Coal Mines: Women in Games and the Birth of the Alt-Right by Leena van Deventer [video, 16 minutes]: “To me, navigating creativity in a post-truth world hinges on communicating and working within your values, and assisting others to do the same.”
• The Internet of Garbage by Sarah Jeong: “Today, The Verge is publishing an interim edition of Sarah Jeong’s The Internet of Garbage, a book she first published in 2015 that has since gone out of print. It is a thorough and important look at the intractable problem of online harassment.”
• Electronic Devices Privacy Handbook: A Guide to Your Rights at the Border by the BC Civil Liberties Association
This handbook is meant to help you make sense of the current state of play with respect to electronic searches at the Canadian border and at US preclearance zones in Canada, and to provide tools to protect your privacy when travelling with electronic devices.
What’s the most interesting thing you saw online this month?
A list of everything that’s caught my attention this month.
Definition: a test designed to determine whether a film or any other piece of media has provided the audience with adequate representation of femmes of color. This is meant to encourage discussion on what good representation can look like for femmes of color and it is not the be all end all test (but it is a good place to start). The Kent Test is named after and created by culture writer and critic Clarkisha Kent.
• The Lack of Published Gay YA By Gay Authors? Lets Talk About It by Kosoko Jackson
• How to choose meaningful words: why language matters by Jan Fortune
Narrative and meaning go hand in hand. We all need stories that make sense of experience, particular and universal. But if the language functions to exclude our experience then how do we find this meaning?
• Enlisting an audience: How Hollywood peddles propaganda by Amos Barshad
That’s the difference between our propaganda and everyone else’s. In autocratic regimes, a government-backed entity pushes it onto indifferent or unwilling consumers. In America, we, the consumers, happily demand it.
• The male glance: how we fail to take women’s stories seriously by Lili Loofbourow: Male art is epic, universal, and profoundly meaningful. Women’s creations are domestic, emotional and trivial. How did we learn to misread stories so badly?
• This is how the world’s most covetable cameras get made by Vlad Savov: a tour of the Hasselblad factory.
• In Defense of Trends (Keep Calm and Let Them Be) by Grace Bonney
I fell into the trap of assuming that the trendiness or lower cost of something meant it would be tossed and replaced any day now. But for most people that’s not true. Something doesn’t have to be a) expensive b) utterly unique or c) classic for someone to hold onto it and love it for years to come.
• Halifax’s battle of the rising sea: Will the city be ready for future floods and storms? by Matthew McClearn: The deluges Nova Scotians faced during 2003’s Hurricane Juan could be commonplace within decades – but the provincial capital has barely begun to prepare.
A roundup of all the things I can’t stop thinking about this month.
• How I Write a Comic Book Script by Greg Pak
• We Need to Start Taking Young Women’s Love Stories Seriously by Marian Crotty
• Conjuring Creative Permission from Our Tools by Craig Mod
• To Feel Strong by Lucy Bellwood
• Detailed London Transport Map including closed and never opened stations, platforms, and lines
(A little late getting to last month’s sketchbook post, but at least I’m getting to it.)
If January taught me anything, it’s that I need to have some kind of well-defined photography project if I’m going to keep shooting. And I need to make a public commitment to that project. Without those two things, I really struggle to stay on track with any of my photography goals.
In other words, it wasn’t a good month for me as a photographer.
It’s not that surprising; it’s always a struggle to get back on track with anything in January, and this has been a fairly dismal month for light and visual interest. But it’s still disappointing; I started the year feeling pretty good about my successful 365 project, so the fact that I’ve barely taken any photos all month feels kind of awful. (So does the fact that I haven’t even logged into Instagram since the second week of January. I feel guilty that I don’t have anything to post, and then I feel guilty that it’s been so long, and then everything just builds on itself.)
I’m not sure how I’m going to fix it. I could start another 365 project, but I’d still run into the issues that I had last year: the weird combination of too much pressure and not enough challenge. I have been thinking about finding some thirty-day challenges, but I haven’t found one that appeals yet. (Full disclosure: I haven’t really been looking all that hard. Most of the ones I’ve seen in the past don’t appeal to me—they tend to be aimed at casual photographers, and again: I want something that challenges me technically or artistically—and I haven’t had a chance to do a new in-depth search.) I’ve also started thinking about a 100-day project of some kind, but I’m not sure what I want to do.
At least it was a good month for writing?
I’m finding my way back into a routine that feels like it genuinely works for me—a happy medium between the intense schedule of something like NaNoWriMo and the complete lack of structure that I tend to fall into when I don’t have a strict deadline. I’m still fine-tuning things (and we’re coming up on the real test now that I don’t have a mostly-finished WIP to motivate me), but… I think I’m on the right track.
And, hey: I finished the draft I was working on! That’s awesome!
… and it is, but I’m also in a bit of a weird mood. Some of it is just coming down off of that particular project (it was taking up a lot of my mental energy), but it goes a bit deeper than that.
I’ve been thinking about art vs. craft lately. For a long time—since before I burned out, took a break, and came back to writing—I’ve been focussed on the craft of writing: learning how to construct a story that makes sense without being painfully predictable, how to create a character that feels real. How to outline a story in a way that doesn’t make me lose interest before I put a single word on the page.
And that’s good! I needed to do that work.
But now—or for now—I feel like I’ve got a solid understanding of the mechanics of a story. There’s always more to learn (seriously, why are action scenes so difficult?), but I’ve reached the point where reading another how-to book or studying another variation on story structure isn’t going to push me forward. (Again: for now.)
All this emphasis on craft (and a conscious effort to rein in my naturally wordy prose) has led to a very… straightforward style in my writing. It’s perfectly ok, but there’s nothing in it that stands out. My best writing has always been the stuff that really plays with language (my favourite compliment that I’ve ever received for my writing is from someone who called it ‘lush’) and form, and I haven’t really been doing that lately. (Of course, we’re talking about a first draft here. It’s been ages since I’ve wanted to turn a first draft into a finished work. Who knows what could happen in the revisions and rewrites?)
Aside from that, I’ve started outlining the rewrite of the NaNoWriMo project I did in 2016. If everything goes as planned, I should be able to start writing it… we’ll say by the end of the month, to be generous (nothing writing-related is going to be happening next week), but I’d like to get into it sooner than that. I’m also trying to figure out what I want to work on next. I’ve got ideas, but they’re still very vague, and I’m not 100% certain that they’re in line with what I want to be doing.
I don’t know if I’m feeling optimistic about the rest of February or not.
I’ve written my synopsis!
I still don’t have a working title, and I keep wavering between whether my story counts as sci-fi or fantasy (I mean… everything in it is based on “science,” but none of it is remotely realistic, and in the end it comes down to “I dunno… maybe aliens? Magic?”), but I have a synopsis, and I really like it.
Last year was the first time I bothered writing a synopsis for NaNo. I’d just never seen the point before—I knew what my story was, I had a full outline, so a synopsis felt like another variation on the theme. And… yeah. It kind of is. But it’s still really helpful.
To be clear, I haven’t written what I’d consider a “proper” synopsis. This isn’t how I’d describe the story in a query letter. This is just for myself and the NaNo site, so I’ve written something closer to back-cover copy. It’s not about selling the story to an agent or publisher, it’s about selling the story to myself, convincing myself that this is something that could work as a novel.
In that context, writing a synopsis has turned out to be really valuable.
It’s forced me to think about my story in a different way. When I write the synopsis, it’s less about the plot or the characters—though they both come into play—and more about establishing the story world and the overall tone of the story. It’s a way to draw the reader in, and to tell them what they can expect from the story without giving too much away. It’s a way to draw myself in, and to keep myself focussed on how I want the story to feel, even when I’m struggling with what happens next.
And both last year and this year, writing the synopsis has clarified bits of the story that I hadn’t quite figured out or didn’t understand. Last year, the synopsis helped me figure out the antagonist’s motivation, and the conspiracy that was lurking under the whole story. This year, it’s made me realize that, whether the story is sci-fi or fantasy, at it’s heart, it’s a relatively straightforward thriller. I know more about my main character’s backstory. And, suddenly, I know exactly how it feels to live in the story world: how it looks, how it sounds, and the vague unease that comes with just stepping out onto the street in this world.
It’s so cool.
I’m still working on the scene breakdown, though I’m feeling better about that than I was before. I’m making progress, though I’ve still got a lot of work to do. I’m still taking some time to study craft, but I’m being a little more discerning about it—right now, I don’t care at all how other writers structure their stories. I know how I’m structuring this story, and that’s enough.
I’m starting to feel like I might actually be ready when November 1 rolls around.
If you’re a NaNo-er interested in reading my synopsis, I’ve added it to my profile. (Though, naturally, it’s still subject to change.) As always, I’m thrilled to get new writing buddies, so feel free to add me—and if you need some cheerleading or commiseration, say ‘hello’ via NaNo mail! As an experiment, I’m also going to start opening up comments on these diary posts… I’m not sure if it’ll last (I’m not a fan of comments in general), but we’ll see how it goes.
(Also: this week I discovered that the index cards I bought in preparation for outlining are unlined, which is annoying, but I’ll make do. And I’ve been struggling with another cold, but at least I’m not trying to prepare for Thanksgiving on top of everything else, so I’ve been able to dedicate my limited energy to NaNo prep. I guess that’s something.)
I got a little bit off-track this week.
I’ve been trying to expand my one-page outline, figuring out my scenes and subplots and character moments and, you know, all the things that turn an outline into an actual story. And, because I’m still tweaking my outlining method, I’ve been looking at what other people say about their processes, reading about outlining techniques, that sort of thing.
(Also: by Tuesday afternoon, I had to accept that I was coming down with a cold. Studying craft was a way to feel like I was being at least a little bit productive, even when I didn’t have the attention span to be working. On the bright side, I’d rather get a cold now than in the last week of November.)
It was probably a mistake.
I’m not going to say the advice I was reading this week was bad. Some of it was, but most of it was… perfectly reasonable. I know that it works for some people, even if it’s not going to work for me. The problem is the sheer amount of advice out there, and the way it gets repeated. Someone writes a book on how to write a best-selling novel, someone else blogs about it, someone else blogs about it but doesn’t mention where they got the idea, and so on, and pretty soon it’s being treated as received wisdom, instead of a formula some random guy came up with sometime in the last ten years.
And if I read enough of these things in a short enough span of time, it starts to feel like if I don’t follow the template exactly, then I’m doing something wrong.
Which is absurd, of course.
There are patterns in stories, common rhythms, but a novel is not a formula; it’s not a bunch of variables that you can plug into an equation and get a consistent answer. (Or… you can. But you’ll end up with a formulaic novel.) I love the Hero’s Journey (and I’ve been using it as a guide for my broad outline, because the symbolism of it works for this particular story), but it can be problematic… and it’s far from universal. It’s a guide, rather than the guide. Even the three-act structure—as close to a ‘universal’ as we can get, in that most stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end (though not necessarily in that order, to quote Jean-Luc Godard)—only applies to most stories, not all of them.
There’s value in looking at the writing process, but I have to remember to be critical about it. I’m better off listening to what the writers I genuinely admire have to say, instead of the rules that the self-proclaimed “experts” insist we have to follow. I have to remember to focus on the art of writing, as much as the craft—and art cannot exist if I’m hung up on formulas. (Formulae?) I have to remember to abandon the maps when they point me in the wrong directions.
I have to trust myself a little more. I’ve done this before, I can do it again.