… my job is to not chicken out.

“I remember years ago, working at Radian, writing CivilWarLand, thinking, Wow, I’ve been working on this same paragraph for five days. Is that normal? And then that wise little voice in my head asked, Well, is it getting better? If so, then yes. It may not be normal, per se, but obviously it’s what you have to do. And this light went on, like, It’s going to be as hard as it needs to be, and my job is to not chicken out.”

George Saunders, Paris Review

I feel like I need these words tattooed on the back of my hands so I can see them while typing.

Surmount all obstacles

I did some work on the novel this morning before work. Came up with a pretty great scene that takes place largely before the point at which I started my narrative.

I knew that scene was there, all along. Skulking in the shadows.

The problem–as is always the problem with coming up with new beginnings halfway through–is that it wouldn’t necessarily fit with the current narrative structure. It would require moving things there over here, replacing that with this and so on, and so on… But I think it’d work far better.

Writing, am I right?

Must he retreat into mysticism,
Or locate the base and climb?

Surmount all obstacles.

Losing the Plot

A few months ago I had a really great conversation with Leo on the Losing the Plot podcast.

An aptly named podcast for the times in which we live.

It was a really fun conversation and we talked about all sorts of things including how no one asked us to be writers and how we probably shouldn’t be in politics.

Have a listen if you fancy.

Someone always says it better…

After my post yesterday I got some of my favourite regular e-mail this year – my monthly writing exercise from Matt Bell (If you haven’t signed up you’re missing out.)

This month he wrote about Choice and Complicity.

It was a fascinating read and the subject matter, though difficult to fully execute in prose, is something I’ve already started considering how to utilize.

Essentially, he’s talking about power structures. The ones in which we operate in and how we make choices within those power structures.

These are not always (perhaps, importantly so) the Perfect Choice but rather the Best Choice We Can Make Given the Situation.

All of these systems and power structures can and should and will be resisted, but at the same time many people have no choice but to live within them, with someone always benefitting even as others are injured, and of course I know that standing up against one power structure doesn’t automatically mean being able or willing to do the same against another. We all make choices from inside these systems, and for me, [Octavia] Butler’s novels are some of the best examples I know of how to depict those choices in fiction.

Matt Bell

It’s something I’m already interested in, generally, but I’d never considered how it could be applied to fiction writing.

Elsewhere in the newsletter he links to Charlie Jane Anders ‘s ongoing essay-series/book Never Say You Can’t Survive. I’ve only just started reading the first few entries but I think I’ll be reading the whole thing.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter, How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories.

“And escapism is resistance. People sometimes talk about escapist storytelling as a kind of dereliction of duty, as if we’re just running away from the fight. That’s some bullshit right there. In her 1979 essay collection The Language of the Night, Ursula K. Le Guin paraphrases Tolkien thusly: “If a soldier is captured by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? …. If we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape and to take as many people with us as we can.”

So yeah, escapist fiction is about liberation, and imagining a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart. As Le Guin says, the most powerful thing you can do is imagine what if things could be different…

What if?”

Charlie Jane Anders, Never Say You Can’t Survive

Like I said, someone always says it better…

What are you adding to the conversation?

Is writing anything in this day and age stupid?

As I’m working through my current WIP and working on shorter things I’m plagued by this question:

What’s the point really?

It feels like every day there’s a new piece of bad news. It feels like every day another writer (usually, but not always, a white cis man, like myself) is outed as being a creep or a literal cartoon villain.

And I’m not normally one to give into despair – my actual day-to-day life is pretty great – but, still…

Last weekend I took part in an online class with Benjamin Percy on the writing of comics. He talked about the structure and “story math” of comics and how they can be applied to writing novels, short stories, and even memoir.

The whole four-hour class was a blast and I learned a lot and have revisited my extensive notes again and again over the past few days. He’s got a lot to impart to writers because he can do the genre thing but also the “literary” thing. The kind of shuffle I wish I could pull off.

However, one thing he said towards the end caught my attention.

“What do you have to add to the conversation?”

It’s such a simple question but one I’ve probably only briefly considered: Why me? Why now?

He said he’d been asking himself in recent months, what, if anything, was his art bringing to the table? Is it just a mirror regurgitation of things he consumed and enjoyed?

I realised that it resonated with me because I’ve been wondering the same thing.

Three months ago, I said on here that I was going to make my work as personal and strange as can be. That I wanted to burrow into what, hopefully, makes my worldview unique. And then I have to spotlight my work and say, is that what I’m doing?

Now is a good time as any to remind myself that I should be working harder to do that.

It’s still in an early drafting stage so everything can change but I want to write things that feel true and that genuinely interest me.

So here’s me re-upping on that promise, mostly to myself.

Related, but maybe not, I keep having this image in my head…

An empty town. Burnt out cars. Windowless buildings. Cobalt sky with streaks of white. Warm, sickly winds that taste… wrong. Here and there, flickering lights of small communities huddled together.

And beneath an overturned, slightly crushed car, is a figure, silhouetted by a torch rigged to hang from a headrest.

The figure is hunched over, furiously scribbling on something. The hand they’re using to steady the page is wrapped, bandaged, with a discoloured shirt. In their other hand, they clutch an orange crayon and scribble in the margins and faded yellow spaces left on old newspapers and books. Paper, when they can find it. The inside of the car is filled with these scribblings.

But what would worth writing in the midst of a wasteland?

I like to imagine it’s a play.

Something that people could come together perform one day. If the author doesn’t screw it up or ruin the last section. If they don’t run out of paper. If they can only get it just right.