‘Writing updates’ as a genre provide such a dopamine kick. (Particularly on social media but you also enjoy telling your very patient and supportive girlfriend, too.)
You have no “following” but simply writing something about the routine of writing, how it’s going well or badly, dispatches into the vast space of The Net provides a sort of Feel-Good-INC. euphoria. Melancholic but hopeful.
You feel suspicious of it though. It’s self-congratulatory before you’ve even done anything, right? Or is it? Have you done anything by writing for an hour? Twenty minutes? Five? At all? Do you deserve dopamine?
Sometimes writing doesn’t “go great”. You may feel bad then. Most writing days, you come to realise, are fine to shitty. Making time for it is the achievement then. This is all there is. Being okay with that.
But then you can’t update anyone. You have to stay quiet for a bit. And then people might politely ask, how’s your writing going? And you go, yeahhh, and make a face, maybe laugh it off. But now you hear yourself and how self-regarding you are and you realise that you sound like a baby playing an incredibly low-stakes game.
And then you feel bad again.
It’s a self perpetuating cycle and the repetitive nature of
a) telling yourself “I am enjoying this and feeling good” or “Today was bad I didn’t write (well/ enough/at all)”,
b) giving anyone who will listen a State of the Union address on your Writing (with a capital W)
feels like the equivalent of tonguing a particularly malevolent mouth ulcer.
You go to bed marking the days since you started this project. How that will affect how people “see” your work etc etc. The list of these tiny, self-made irritants is long… and annoying to recount.
You remind yourself that none of this matters. No one cares. Not a single person is bothered if you finish that story, flesh out that character, study The Great Works or anything else you tell yourself is important. It’s just you.
This year–like every year–reading has been a fantastic source of respite from the neverending parade of bad news and tragedy unfolding around us.
Recently I finished THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN’S UNION–a detective novel by Michael Chabon set in alternative history where Jewish people settled in Sitka, Alaska post WW2–and it was one of the best reads I’ve had all year.
SGJ is probably my favourite writer of all time and someone I look up to immensely. Needless to say, I think this book is stunningly good. It’s seemingly so simple but yet so complicated and deep and powerful.
However, after looking over my Reading Log the other day, I decided that for the next half of 2020 I’d like to try and read more female voices.
Whether via marketing or algorithms or personal biases I end up reading about 50% or more cis-male authors and I’d just like to change that up a touch.
So, with that in mind, here are some titles I hope to read before the end of the year in no particular order.
Fiction Toni Morrison – Beloved Angela Carter – The Magic Toyshop Zadie Smith – Swing Time Octavia Butler – Kindred Hilary Mantel – Fludd Ursula K. Le Guin – The Dispossessed Tasmyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth Catherynne M. Valente – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making Sarah Read – The Bone Weaver’s Orchard
Non-Fiction Carmen Maria Machado – Dream House Rebecca Solnit – A Field Guide to Getting Lost Camile Paglia – Break, Burn, Blow Lisa Kröger – Monster, She Wrote: The Women Who Pioneered Horror and Speculative Fiction
I’m forever making reading lists but this one is composed of people I’ve largely never read before. (Caveats-Zadie Smith was an obsession for most of uni and I read Left Hand of Darkness by LeGuin but I think at the time I didn’t get it, maybe.)
Have you read any books off this list? Anything you could recommend?
In it he talks about a writer’s anxiety to move away from the claustrophobia of the sentence onto the next one and ultimately leave behind pages of unfulfilled prose.
The sentence, with its narrow typographical confines, is a lonely place, the loneliest place for a writer, and the temptation for the writer to get out of one sentence as soon as possible and get going on the next sentence is entirely understandable. In fact, the conditions in just about any sentence soon enough become (shall we admit it?) claustrophobic, inhospitable, even hellish. But too often our habitual and hasty breaking away from one sentence to another results in sentences that remain undeveloped parcels of literary real estate, sentences that do not feel fully inhabitated and settled in by language.
Gary Lutz, The Sentence is a Lonely Place, The Believer
After reading George Saunders’ Paris Review interview earlier in the week, I’d started playing around with words more and trying to figure out how I could be a better writer on the sentence level. So Lutz’s essay really spoke to how I was feeling.
Writing was, for yet another reason, becoming great fun… This particular joy kept up for about three days.
All this would have been fine by itself. Clustered together, however, it came to a head this morning.
I started rereading a passage I’d been working on from an opening chapter and I just couldn’t get past it.
So far, so normal.
I read, reread, moved things around, edited, reread, edited, read under my breath, edited, finally at last moved past it only to come back later on (30 seconds maybe) thinking about a million questions which don’t really need answering in the drafting stage I’m currently in.
Does that sentence use assonance in a subtle way? How could I double up the l and k sound here? Is there tension within the scene, what about the pacing? Are there enough stressed syllables in the sentence? And so on, and on, ad nauseam.
The claustrophobia was now firmly in my own head which should really be the most wide open space.
I stopped writing. Stepped away from my computer and assessed my problem.
A brain-cleanse is in order. I’m not sure what that would entail (is there a brain scrub on the market?) But it’s a comin’.
Will Christopher Baer – The Age of Reason – Truthfully, I still haven’t read this story but I love Baer and I’m really excited for his non-fiction book that’s coming out soon(?) ish(?) on his time working in psychiatric institutions. And I’ll probably read it by the end of the day. If you haven’t read the Phineas Poe trilogy – get on it.
I’m fascinated by the world we operate within and how I know far, far less of it than I really should. Reading articles like these and others from the same writer helps put things into some perspective.