Recalibrating

I’m over halfway through the current round of revision of The Book of the Dead, which has been going swimmingly. Until yesterday. I was in the middle of one of my favorite scenes, about to re-introduce a character, when…bam, all of the sudden I can see an arc for him that I have never contemplated.

It literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to write down the bare bones of the idea, close my laptop, and stop working to let it incubate.

On one hand, it’s fairly late in the game to be making a big change. This was supposed to be a semi-final draft (if such a thing even exists). On the other, the new trajectory that came to me in a flash solves about three problems that I’d been worrying over: one about representation, one about reception, and one about pacing.

So today, when I was supposed to be polishing up a chapter, I am about to re-structure three. We’ll see how it turns out.

Dodging Doubt

It’s that time again, when I depart from my mountaintop university, drive six hours, and end up back home in an existential crisis. It comes from lack of structure.

How will I attempt to abate this? Writing, of course!

I plan to knock out a final-ish draft of The Book of the Dead in the next month and a half before I leave for Ecuador so I can hit the ground querying when I get back. My goal is at least half a chapter a day, using the process I detailed in this post. I’m fighting a lot of doubt right now over just about every aspect of the story, so hopefully total immersion in it will belay that.

I found a quote on tumblr that I will be referencing when I feel  this way: “when u dont like ur art take a deep breath and remember u created it from nothing, like a god” —hypeswap

I think this can apply just as well to writing. Nothing like a power trip to chase away hesitation. I’d love to hear others’ ways of coping with doubt.

 

Published!!!

Way back in January I made some New Years Writing Resolutions, and no.3 was “Submit a short story to my school’s literary magazine.” Well, folks, I submitted one, and I was accepted! The release party was last night, and you can now find my short story “Cake” right here, in the 2016-17 version of The Peel, a very cool literary magazine.

I was asked to read the story at the release party, which I did, and I didn’t throw up, mess up, or start laughing uncontrollably into the microphone. The crowd was the kind that snaps when they like a line. It was an incredible experience, and the implications haven’t quite sunk in. I’m a person who’s been published. A published person. P U B L I S H E D.

The story is about a cake (surprised?) and only a page and a half long. It was actually a writing prompt I did last year and buffed up to submit on the last night of the deadline, which goes to show–well, I’m not sure what, but it goes to show something.

And after that brief celebration, it’s back to the despair of exam week. Good luck to any fellow students out there!

cake edit

Image 1: An attempt at a context-based visual pun

Mimesis and Magic: Michael Taussig

In a small room full of professors and students, the lights are dimmed, and an image of a woman transforming into a palm tree is projected onto the screen. At the head of the table, cast in dramatic shadow, is a man who resembles a very tall turtle. He peers over his glasses at a sheaf of pages in his hands. In an Australian accent, he reads aloud to us, the room hushed except for his voice and the hurried scribbles of pens attempting to take down as much information as possible but not lose track of the story. He is describing nighttime, and a donkey. In a moment that startles the affect of the room, he lets out a harsh bray that stutters everyone else into surprised laughter. 

If you’ve never read Michael Taussig, I can’t say I’m surprised, unless you’re an anthropologist. But I can safely say you’ll never read anything like him. He writes about magic and mimesis (to condense the uncondensable), and does the kind of writing that evokes what it is it’s about: writing about mimesis that is, in a very absolute way, mimesis. (Mimesis is, essentially, copying–reflecting and becoming other.) Taussig’s writing is breathtaking, befuddling, and unrevealing.

I had the privilege to not only spend a semester reading Taussig under the guidance of two of his former graduate students (now my professors), but actually hearing him speak in a public lecture and a private workshop over the last week. It’s going to take me a long, long while to digest it all.

I won’t go on too long, but I want to think briefly about Taussig’s theory of ethnographic writing, which I believe is applicable to all writing. To paraphrase Taussig, writing by engaging what the writing is about, ie. writing magically about magic, is the writing looking inward at itself, evoking a process of mimesis. It draws an emphatic connection between the writer, the reader, the text, and the subject of the text, blurring the lines between them, the reader or writer becoming other, becoming the subject written about.

If you haven’t read Taussig, I suggest you do so at least once (but prepare to be baffled). If not to understand the theory, then do so to learn something about a powerful way of writing.

Surrealist Writing Games

Sounds kind of like Reindeer Games. But detailed instructions to surrealist writing can be found halfway through André Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto, which requires at least two hours and a strong cup of tea to make any kind of sense.

Essentially, the goal is to tap into your subconscious. Sit, clear your mind, and begin to write–not focusing on what you’re writing or what you’ve written, only moving forward with the flow of the act. Writes Breton, “the first sentence will come spontaneously, so compelling is the truth that with every passing second there is a sentence unknown to our consciousness which is only crying out to be heard.”

A friend and I tried the practice out: It’s absolutely harder than it sounds, equally fun, and I invite anyone to try it out. We certainly had fun laughing at our results. Below is my most viewable piece.

Slashing and violent do the urges come to us, the authors, creators, merry-makers, weaving lost threads under the suns of our ancestors: what is sense? But the moment to moment daze, understanding flashes of white, of the apples which bloom beneath our feet to perish and make merry the ebullient tomatoes of servitude, sorrow, reminiscing. Do not but fear at the faint thought of the scavenger, whom to all else is nothing. Let carnage strip from beaks, flesh from feathers that reach the night. Every thought is fluttering, passing, self-aware. It hurts!

 

What have you written this week? (Probably more than you think.)

Sometimes I have to remind myself that while I’m not writing as in working on my manuscript, I’m still writing as in practicing putting one word in front of the other. And honestly, it all adds up to experience. So while I’ve had no time to work on BOTD this week, here are some things that I’ve written since Monday.

  • A writing prompt about the Grim Reaper, a child protection services agent, and three hellions
  • An extensive outline and pages of notes for a paper dealing with science fiction and the Gaia Theory
  • A half-page summary of Cities, People, and Language by James C. Scott
  • Several powerpoint slides and a presentation outline of a paper on the effects of atmospheric CO2 on photosynthesis
  • A scholarship award acceptance blurb
  • A blurb about a club for practicing Kichwa
  • Countless emails
  • Detailed notes for a grassroots social justice organization meeting
  • A scrapped retelling of the myth of Icarus
  • Notes on several presentations/lectures by archaeoastronomer Dr. Anthony Aveni
  • Notes from 18 hours worth of classes
  • Several to-do lists per day
  • And 1 blog post (you’re reading it)

So if you feel like you’re not getting any writing done, as I frequently do, stop and take a look at how you’re evaluating ‘writing’. In the overall scheme of things, any practice is valid practice. Whether you mean to or not, you’re improving every time you stick two words together.

Editing Editing Editing

EDITING. Endless, exhausting, invigorating. It’s how I’ll be spending my writing hours today, so I thought I’d share my current process. (Of course, there are so many processes and stages and convolutions that I could never document them all.)

My manuscript is at that stage where it doesn’t need another entire from-scratch draft, but the prose needs some all-around touching up. Here’s how I’m doing that this week:

Step 1: Open original document on half of the screen.

Step 2: Open new document on other half.

Step 3: Re-type the original in new document, taking it a chapter at a time.

Thus far I’ve found this method to work really well for me. I’m following along my story and fixing what needs to be fixed, tuning what needs to be tuned, but in a controlled way that doesn’t feel like I’m re-inventing the wheel. I’d love to hear anyone else’s preferred methods of torture as well.