Category: Journal

A real nice tuesday

Last week my friend Carina invited me as her plus-one to Nicer Tuesdays, a monthly creative talk hosted by design site It’s Nice That. Her invite came at a welcome time. I don’t do well in winter–and would hibernate straight through it if I could–but this one has been particularly challenging. My writing had hit a wall and I felt depleted of any motivation or inspiration. Besides, I wanted to learn more about this interactive ghost story she kept Tweeting about.

So, on a damp night in Bethnal Green, we dusted the mist off our coats and headed into Oval Space, which was bathed in purple and blue light. January’s speakers included:

  1. The Anonymous Project, an effort to collect and digitize old color slides from around the world, headed by British + French photography curators
  2. Visual Editions, a woman-led publisher specializing in experimental narratives
  3. Marie Jacotey, a French artist who showcased her melancholic, intimate illustrations
  4. I Saw John First, a Norwegian animator with a surreal, frenetic style

Everyone spoke for ten minutes or so about their latest projects and creative processes. Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time, so my impressions of their work may be fairly rudimentary. Nicer Tuesdays seems to serve more as a taster, a gateway into different mediums and disciplines that I otherwise would have never heard about.

a 1950 slide from Japan, via The Anonymous Project

The past year and half have been rather isolating, which is perhaps why I gravitated towards the projects that emphasized connection, or a desire/need to connect. The color slides archived by The Anonymous Project reflect the time period from the late 50s onward when color photography first became affordable to the masses, and everyday life was captured in full color. Thanks to Instagram filters and the cyclical nature of fashion, the photographs seem both contemporary and historical. A fine patina of dust and microscopic particles over the slides, preserved forever during the digitization process, indicate their age.

The curators say that the digitized slides not only preserve an era that would otherwise be lost (as the slides degrade over time), but remind us of our shared humanity. I hope they’ll eventually find access to more slides from around the world, to better represent this goal.

“All of this is long” via Hannah Barry Gallery

I also enjoyed Marie Jacotey’s pieces. They felt intimate and contemplative, a controlled path of emotion running through stark landscapes and succinct messages. Jacotey’s pieces feel like visual messages to a specific subject, hence the intimacy. Last year she collaborated with poet Rachael Allen. Allen wrote poems based on some of Jacotey’s old illustrations, which inspired Jacotey to make new illustrations based on the poems, resulting a positive feedback loop of creativity.

Finally, in a highly entertaining presentation, I Saw John First shared his process of animating a music video for indie artist Mr. Jukes. John talked about his influences: mythology, monsters and mythology, and Miyazaki. The swirling cauldron of reference material had to be remolded in six months into a four-minute video, with every second of snare and sax measured out and animated in an eerie, trippy fashion.

I truly enjoyed Nicer Tuesdays because I think I will always be more interested in processes than the end result–or rather, knowing the theories and experiments and methods someone used to make something gives me a greater appreciation for the final piece.

On the other hand, attending Nicer Tuesdays felt like the equivalent of stepping on the scale and realizing I’d gained five pounds out of nowhere (which has also happened). Except instead of pounds, it’s clickbait articles and similar detritus circulating through Twitter and Facebook like stale air. It was a little wake-up call to my own lack of curiosity and creative stagnation (but also the algorithms are winning, nooo)! I need to be more active in seeking inspiration, and in learning from others across creative disciplines.

Haven’t touched much on Visual Editions, but what they do looks very cool, and they’ve sparked some thoughts about digital publishing and the nature of a book. I tried reading Breathe on my phone during their talk but it a) didn’t completely work with IOS 8–I know, I need to update–and b) started to get kind of scary! I want to research their work a little more and maybe make another post on them in the future.

Thanks again, Carina!

The Sunday Currently Vol. 08

For several months I’ve been wanting to write more online, without really knowing what to say or how to say it. Not because I felt pressured to Build My Platform(TM), but because I missed sharing a part of myself, seeking to connect with others, in the way that others have shared part of themselves, seeking to connect with readers like me.

I still don’t know how to get back into it in a way that feels right, but The Sunday Currently, even a selective version of it, is always a good place to start.

feeling

Down. Late last night three terrorists in a white van drove into the crowd at London Bridge, then went on a stabbing spree in Borough Market, killing 7. It’s a place I walk through six times a week, but pointing that association out doesn’t really matter because a) it’s one of the busiest areas in London, millions pass through every week and b) these days it could be any one of us, anywhere, at any time.  Matt & I consumed but didn’t share the details, raw and unverified, pouring into our feeds. We checked in with friends and family and fell asleep to the sound of helicopters–and the loud, slightly slurred chatter right outside the Italian restaurant below us, from people who, if they’d heard the news, carried on, as those who could, did.

This morning, the helicopters are still in the skies. On my way to the library, both buses I was on abruptly diverted from their routes, and traffic halted as several unmarked police cars rushed past, sirens blaring. I checked Twitter, and assumed it was part of the raids and arrests carried out in Barking. I’m trying not to check Twitter too often, because the hateful comments, misinformed hot takes, MUST READ THREADS, and people acting like spokespeople of their country/race are bubbling at the top, like the floating scum that you have to skim off whenever you boil potatoes. And because I have a rough draft of my dissertation due Tuesday. I am alive, unharmed, grateful and mournful, but I am also really, really behind.

writing

The aforementioned dissertation. This probably deserves a post of its own, but let’s just say that this book and I are not friends right now. A good chunk of time and money has gone into this book, and I will finish it. But I also feel that I’m working in a genre that is out of my depth, on a topic which taunts the limits of my understanding, and whose subject matter compels me to look at how the horrifying events of seventy-five years ago parallel our world today.

Which sounds exactly like what a dissertation is supposed to do. But wow do I miss YA fantasy, because I’m realizing belatedly–or this is delirium caused by dissertation stress, by being so deep in a book I can’t see the way out?–that that’s all I ever really wanted to write.

reading 

The best book I’ve read this year is The Bees by Laline Paull, which was shortlisted for the 2015 Bailey’s Prize. It’s about a worker bee named Flora 717, who is born into the lowest caste of a beehive ruled by a Queen with a secret. Abnormally large and armed with gifts that others of her kin don’t have, Flora devotes her life to the good of the hive, until her own secret–and a growing suspicion that the biggest danger to the hive comes from within–forces her to make devastating decisions.

I finished it late into the night and wept, overcome by the book’s portrayal of love and sacrifice. Then spent hours on Youtube looking up bees. Paull’s worldbuilding is fantastic, and meticulously researched.

listening  

Matt is insisting we get into the Glastonbury mood by listening to some of its headliners. Which is fine, but his playlist consists heavily of what I call “bloopy” music, replete with baby-voiced women. After fifteen minutes of this I’ll slip Carly Rae Jepsen’s new song “Cut to the Feeling” into the Sonos queue. I have an even deeper appreciation for it after reading Spin’s review, in which Jordan Sargent compares the transition to chorus to “the newer versions of Mario Kart, in which the rainbow-slicked ramps launch you even more theatrically into the beautiful blue sky.” Um, yes.

loving

My KeepCup, featured at the top of the post, which I bought when I went down a madcap ‘zero waste lifestyle’ k-hole. I became convinced that if I never used a paper cup again, I was basically Jesus. Despite not being Jesus, I love it. I got the 8 oz ultra-hipster model with glass body and cork band, otherwise known as the monochramatic Cafe Series in Filter. Every coffeeshop I’ve been to has been more than happy to accommodate it, it looks elegant, and even drinking out of it feels nice.

The only thing I hate is how difficult it is to pop the lid off. I don’t care if each lid has been hand-fitted to each individual glass body, which according to the website it literally has. If there’s still any liquid inside when you try to remove it, woe betide any surfaces in the immediate vicinity, including yourself.

stay classy never trashy

wearing

My go-to library outfit, which is cropped pants, a T-shirt, a baggy grey cardigan bought on a whim in Baguio, and my orthopedic-style white Skechers. I’m really channeling the 80s grandpa style. Whenever I wear it, I dance around Matt saying, “Oppa grandpa style!” He loves it when I do that, he thinks it’s very charming.

eating

Like trash. Cooking delicious and nutritious meals is at the very bottom of my to-do list these days. Dinner is whatever we can put straight in the oven with minimal mixing or fuss. Besides, Kewpie mayonnaise disguises all culinary sins.

wanting 

A mechanical keyboard. I know the feeling will pass, because it’s my brain’s feeble effort at distraction. If you really want to be a writer, it will say, You need a mechanical keyboard. Fortunately I’m too busy panicking over my dissertation to pay any heed to looking up keyboards (though the Cherry Mx Blue keys do sound nice…).

needing 

*checks time* To get back to writing. Like now.


The Sunday Currently is a series originated by Lauren. To learn more, click here.

Favorites: TinyLetters by Writers

(This may be an awkwardly-written post; it’s been forever since I wrote a sentence that didn’t need an accompanying citation)

I love TinyLetters. I wrote a few a couple of years ago. Every week I tell myself I ought to get back into writing one, but I never know how to start, so I don’t. Until then, I content myself with finding and reading other people’s TinyLetters. Especially ones written by writers (or those to aspire to write).

TinyLetters are stripped-down newsletters, lauded for their simplicity and intimacy. Some people use TinyLetter for traditional newsletters, but others use them in a more freeform way. As the name suggests, TinyLetters try to recreate the feeling of receiving a personal letter in your inbox. All you have to do is subscribe.

Because everything’s delivered through email, the letters aren’t that easy to find. Many of the letters I ended up subscribing to come from TinyLetter Forwards, a newsletter that forwards “one great TinyLetter, picked by the folks at TinyLetter,” twice a month. The writing community Catapult also started a Tiny Letter of the Month series. Often what I end up doing is punching in “TinyLetter” and “writing” into a Twitter search–sometimes I get lucky.

That said, I thought I’d share some of the letters I’m currently subscribed to. There are a few other TinyLetters I follow, but this list focuses on writers. They don’t always talk about writing, but sometimes discuss it indirectly, in an essay about travel or tarot or research. These also aren’t of the traditional newsletter variety, though there are many book/publishing-themed ones out there. I also only included those who make their previous letters accessible.

In no particular order:

Field Guide (Colleen Mondor)

 This monthly-ish newsletter contains links to articles on history, science, culture and biography that are of interest to me and many other people (I hope). Also updates on my work-in-progress about the 1932 Cosmic Ray Expedition to Alaska.

Colleen Mondor is the author of a nonfiction book about the beauty and danger of flying in Alaska. She’s currently researching a new book, the process of which she describes in this newsletter.

Her newsletter is a godsend to people like me, who tell people they’re writing a biography but actually have no idea what they’re doing. Mondor’s research notes makes me feel less alone. When she describes the frustration of an inaccessible archive, or laments a source that may forever be lost to history, it’s like she’s pulling the thoughts straight out of my head. I am desperate to find more ‘research diaries’ like this one!

Shaken and Stirred (Gwenda Bond)

Ramblings about adventures in writing, and what I’m reading and watching and thinking that month. You know, like a cross between an old school nattering blog entry and a letter to you. There will be news sprinkled in, but only at the end. Swear.

Gwenda Bond is a YA author who writes books about Lois Lane. (Can we take a moment to admire/slightly envy someone who has found so specific a calling?) Part personal blog, part writing progress, part book news, Bond’s newsletter is everything an author newsletter should be. Her most recent letter is about the distractions she faces now that she is a full-time work-from-home-writer, and how to resolve them. (She also wrote one about how to write when the world is burning).

Each update feels personable and candid, and at the risk of sounding extremely lame, it really does feel like receiving a letter from a friend.

Nitid Nneka (Nneka M. Okona)

Heart stirrings and emo musings from yours truly on everything under the sun.

Nneka M. Okona is a nonfiction writer who’s written several articles for magazines. She has a blog, which is also wonderful. That’s one thing I can’t figure out: how do people know what to post on a blog vs. a TinyLetter? But Okona does both, and very well.

Okona’s newsletter is personal, reflective, and intimate. She has this beautiful way of writing about travel and family in a way that is sincere yet measured. There is pain in her essays, like in this extended reflection on grief, but it is pain made articulate by her skill as a writer. And of course, even in that pain, she never stops writing.

Reading the Tarot (Jessa Crispin)

A newsletter devoted to the tarot, by the author of The Creative Tarot. I’ll dispense advice, offer recommended reading, notes on individual cards, that sort of thing.

Jessa Crispin is an author and editor who founded Bookslut, a respected literary website that sadly stopped updating last year. She has since been, seemingly, traveling the world and writing books. I don’t always agree with her views, but I’ve always admired her. It’s hard not to feel intimidated by the ferocity of her intelligence and breadth of knowledge.

Her newsletter revolves around tarot, but tarot and her creative life are inextricably linked (a theme she explores in her book The Creative Tarot). One letter that exemplifies this is this one about The Devil card, which springboards into a larger discourse on evil. A book recommendation, or three, are always at hand.

…the fuck is this? (Bim Adewunmi)

things that have no real meaning, sent out sporadically

I follow Buzzfeed journalist Bim Adewunmi on Twitter, and only recently learned of her TinyLetter. The title brings to mind the line from Book of Mormon, said by General Buttfucking Naked. Though the description makes no apologies for what to expect, Adewunmi sends letters once or twice or month.

These are typically vignettes about her life, that recently have focused on travel, homesickness, and Blackness. Her update from Charleston, South Carolina, sheds light onto the difficult aspects of being black journalist tasked to cover the trial of Dylann Roof. She does not romanticize her anger, and knows how to add nuance to her indignation. Also, she’s damn funny.

Maven Game (David Moldawer)

[a] weekly newsletter on writing, speaking, and sharing without hating yourself in the morning.

This is a bit of a cheat because–as I just discovered while compiling this list–Maven Game isn’t actually a TinyLetter. But since David Moldawer’s most recent letter inspired this post, it felt wrong not to include it.

This newsletter contains a hodgepodge of information about writing and publishing. Some are motivational: the most recent, for example, asks writers to evaluate their routine to make writing more enjoyable. Another gives advice on how to “write damp”–when the initial fire of creativity has fizzled out. Moldawer has a clear and slightly self-deprecating writing voice, which makes his advice a fairly enjoyable read.

If you subscribe to any other TinyLetters, I’d love your recommendations!

*Featured image attribution: “Messages” by Naomi / CC BY

World Stationery Day: Current Favorite Notebooks

Today is World Stationery Day, which falls in the middle of National Stationery Week, which encompasses the slightly-better-known Fountain Pen Friday. If that’s not the nerdiest sentence I’ve ever written, it’s certainly in the top 5.

This post is a bit slapdash as I’m trying to finish a major writing assignment before Friday. I thought I would quickly write about my favorite notebooks and what I use them for. When I first bought the Traveler’s Notebook in 2013, I truly believed that it would be the One Notebook to Rule Them All. Three years on, I’ve clearly reconsidered that stance–but, as you’ll see, I haven’t ventured far at all.

So, starting from the bottom up:

Hobonichi Techo – A6

I discovered the Hobonichi last year when I was getting into art journaling. It is designed to be a daily planner, but people use it to journal, track habits and quotes, and scrapbook; in fact, the Hobonichi creators encourage people to use it creatively, however it may suit their needs. It has a bit of a cult following around the world–simply search the #hobonichitecho or #ほぼ日手帳 tag on Instagram to see just how widely it’s used.

The minimalist, page-a-day layout drew me in, as did the fact that the Hobonichi uses Tomoe River Paper–a lightweight paper akin to onion paper, but one that holds fountain pen ink beautifully. I mostly use mine for art journaling and random reflections, or to hash out what’s on my mind at the time. Journaling in the Hobonichi, unlike my written diary, is an aesthetic exercise as well–it is the main outlet for my washi tape obsession!

Five months in and the Hobonichi is starting to swell up from washi tape, photographs, and stickers thickening each page. By November I predict it will be very difficult to write in, but I hope the lay-flat binding holds out for as long as it can.

Traveler’s Notebook in Black – Regular Size

While no longer the Notebook to End All Notebooks, the Traveler’s Notebook has a vaulted place in my heart–and in my bag. I carry “my Midori” around 95% of the time. It used to be produced by Midori, but the Traveler’s brand has slowly spun away from Midori and is now known as Traveler’s Company. If the Hobonichi has a cult following, the Traveler’s Notebook is a religion unto itself.

I’ve written a long post about the Traveler’s Notebook on my previous blog. Some things have changed since that post, the main one being that I use this notebook almost exclusively for journaling. It includes a written diary, a weekly creative journal, and a fabric wallet to hold washi tape, stickers, and ephemera.

Midori MD Notebook (Grid) – Medium

This is a relatively new addition to my notebook collection. I was advised by a lecturer to start a research diary for my nonfiction book–naturally, I interpreted her suggestion as a mandate to find the perfect research notebook. I attempted to use my Traveler’s Notebook at first, but something seemed off: the proportion of it, the paper in the inserts, I wasn’t quite sure. It just didn’t feel right.

I took a chance on the MD Grid Notebook in Medium, which is actually a slim and compact size. As soon as I started using it I knew it was the perfect choice. The pages lay flat, the grid pattern made for neat notes, and the notebook’s small size made it incredibly easy to carry around without taking up too much space. True to the Midori brand, the notebook is a minimalist, aesthetically-pleasing beauty. I use it for everything related to my book, including research notes, reflections on progress, revision brainstorming, and tasks to chase certain people or topics.

Traveler’s Notebook in Camel – Passport Size

There isn’t much to say about this notebook, as I just bought it yesterday. The camel-colored notebooks were initially a limited edition series, released for Traveler’s 5th Anniversary. This year marks their 10th Anniversary, and to celebrate, Traveler’s Company made the Camel notebooks part of the regular lineup. I had considered getting the regular size, but at the last minute swapped it for the Passport size. The Camel version is gorgeous, with a rich bright caramel leather cover that scuffs easily. As its new, it still has that strong heady leather scent.

I plan to use this notebook for planning/non-journaling purposes–it’s more practical to whip out than the regular size Traveler’s Notebook. I’ve written a page so far, and it will take me awhile to get used to the sizing. It feels really small! I’m excited to play around with it more and fit it out with beautiful accessories. For when one has no pets, no kids, and no life, what else is one to do….?

For a closer look at the notebooks, particularly the Traveler’s Notebook and Hobonichi Techo, I post quite a few pages on Instagram: @tdpjournals.

I may go into more detail about my work tools in future posts–especially what I use to write nonfiction, which is my biggest project at the moment. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what tools you use–analog or otherwise–to write!

What I’ve Learned Writing Flash Fiction Every Day

Over the years I’ve had an on-and-off writing project called Flash Fictionary. The project calls for a daily short story inspired by Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day. The stories are roughly 200 words long. At the moment I type each one on a 4×6 index card, so the story ends when the card does.

Flash Fictionary had its longest run of 26 stories in 2015, then became dormant. In November, I made one ill-fated attempt to bring it back, then stripped it down to the essentials and made a new home for it. In resuming the project, I’ve confronted familiar fears about writing–but also realized that, over this rather long hiatus, other fears have receded in significance.

The bad news is, there will always be a strong inner editor telling me that my writing is crap. The good news is, writing crap matters less than the act of writing itself. A week and a half ago I had 0 new stories; now I have 11. This time, quantity trumps quality. What more can a struggling perfectionist ask for?

Here are other small lessons I’ve picked up so far from writing flash fiction every day:

The stories will be rough.

They aren’t just first drafts: they’re baby drafts, shaking and ugly and out of control. Like babies, they don’t communicate their needs and wants all that well. But they exist.

“You can’t edit a blank page,” is a quote attributed to everyone from Nora Roberts to Meg Cabot to Shakespeare. Regardless of who said it, it’s true. Flash Fictionary forces me to confront the rawness of my own writing, even on days when it feels like sewage is leaking out of my fingers. Because a small percentage of the time, the words don’t feel like sewage: they feel like rainbows and Nutella and freshly-baked bread slathered in salted butter.

To write more, reduce the barriers to entry (AKA don’t make it so hard for yourself to write!)

Barriers to entry is an economic term describing the different obstacles a business encounters before it can enter the market. For example, starting a telecommunications company has high barriers to entry, while selling candy has low barriers to entry.

The more steps it takes for me to write and upload a story, the more likely I am to quit. The very first time I attempted Flash Fictionary (2004? 2005?), I set no limits on story length. This also happened during NaNoWriMo 2015. As a result, I found it hard to finish the stories in a day, and lost steam early on.

When I did Flash Fictionary in 2015, I limited the stories to 1 or 2 handwritten cards, because that removed the temptation to delete and edit as I went. However, because the stories were going on Instagram I tried to make them look visually appealing. Cue spending hours on: sourcing colorful background patterns, waiting to photograph in natural light, and illustrating all the title cards.

For this iteration, I use 1) a typewriter 2) a single 4×6 card and 3) a scanner. Everything is typed: no hand-lettering, no watercolor illustrations, no endless searching for the right VSCO filter. I can post each story any time of the day. I do miss the bright colors of the Instagram versions, but not as much as I love faff-free writing.

You have a daily opportunity to work on different writing techniques.

I know what my biggest writing weaknesses are. My writing style is rather languid. I get lost in long sentences. In drafts, I chase tangents with abandon, often abandoning my original idea entirely. I struggle with clarity.

Flash Fictionary allows me write through my weaknesses. For example, ‘Fossick‘ was an attempt to incorporate more suspense, urgency, and dialogue. ‘Exodus‘ resulted out of a personal challenge to write within a specific, real setting. For future stories, I can mimic the styles of authors I admire, or attempt specific challenges like “Use more sensory detail.”

It’s fun and experimental, but more importantly, it’s good practice.

Finally, endings are really hard.

I often forget about ending the story. (It happens when you start hundreds more stories than you finish.) By the time I realize it’s time to wrap it up, I’ve run out of card. Endings are my biggest weakness, and it will take more than two weeks of writing short stories to be comfortable enough (and ready) to write them! But at least I’m beholden to finishing at least one story a day.

It’s a start.


For the rest of the stories, please check out FlashFictionary.com. Feel free to write some flash fictionaries of your own!

 

 

The Sunday Currently Vol. 07

I’m counting this Sunday Currently as #7 because the six previous entries can be found in my other blog. I’ve decided against updating two blogs for now.

Reading

I’m in between books. Every other week we’re assigned two nonfiction books to analyze, and this week we just wrapped up Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Philip Hoare’s Leviathan. I had to deliver a presentation on Leviathan, which took up considerably more of my time than it should have. Leviathan is essentially Hoare’s 450-page love letter to whales, but it also manages to touch upon every other subject under the sun. You have to be utterly obsessed with a subject to write about it the way Hoare writes about whales.

My report kicked up a bit of a debate as to whether Leviathan actually counts as a convincing narrative work, or if it’s just some guy writing down everything he knows about whales and then whipping up an arbitrary structure around those facts. I’ll spare you the details of that discussion (not that it was anything riveting). After those books, I am in need of some good plain fiction that can be enjoyed without any overthinking.

Writing

It’s Day 1 of NaNoWriMo! I’ve written 1305 words today, which means I’ll have to play catch up tomorrow, but not as much as if I hadn’t written anything at all. More on my NaNo project here.

Eating

I haven’t cooked anything of note in the last few days, but last week I made a conscious effort to start eating healthier. I make green juice with green apples, celery, kale, carrots, cucumber and a bit of ginger. I stocked my fridge with plenty of vegetables and throw them into whatever meal I’m preparing. I also eat smaller meals more frequently, and opt for quinoa instead of rice and pasta. Still waiting for all that extra energy to kick in, but I feel a lot less bloated from just a few weeks ago which makes it all worth it.

Wanting

A productivity system that works. I think I’m doomed to be one of those people who is just constantly searching for the one system to rule them all. A cure for being a waste of space. For awhile I was doing OK with bullet journaling, but it became overwhelming once the tasks began to build up. Maybe this week I will try a timeboxing method–either the Pomodoro Technique or the 20/10 Timer from Unfuck Your Habitat. 

I also read somewhere that some people write the 3 most important things they have to do in a day on an index card, and focus solely on those tasks. I might combine this technique with one of the timeboxing methods above.

Needing

To stop looking at stationery, washi tape, stickers, stamps and Hobonichi/Traveler’s Notebook layouts. It’s becoming a problem.

Also, a job.

Feeling

Like another bout of the funk is on its way.

Hoping

I can begin a workout program in earnest this week. I started a circuit training program on Tuesday and broke myself after one workout. I could barely walk during the week, let alone manage the stairs. It’s only today that I’ve been able to bend my knees enough to see inside the fridge, and lower myself onto the toilet without mewling pitifully.

But I’ve learned my lesson, and will start with the gentler pre-training guides before trying the main program again!

The Sunday Currently comes from here.

Americanah

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Highly recommended. (Thanks again Gabe!)

Oh to be driven by demons

I just came across a Tweet that quoted William Faulkner and his dismissal of writers who don’t write:

I have no patience, I don’t hold with the mute inglorious Miltons. I think if he’s demon-driven with something to be said, then he’s going to write it. He can blame the fact that he’s not turning out work on lots of things. I’ve heard people say, “Well if I were not married and had kids, I would be a writer.” I’ve heard people say, “If I could just stop doing this, I would be a writer.” I don’t believe that. I think if you’re going to write you’re going to write, and nothing will stop you.

Perhaps another time, this quote would have spoken to me in the way intended by the person who posted that Tweet. I would have felt the dustings of self-reproach tickle my skin and feel the heat of an imaginary disappointed glare and think, “My god he’s right! No more excuses! Off I go to go to finish my story!”

The secret to writing is no secret, and manifests itself in various words, but the essential message is this: If you want to write, you will write. You will make it a priority. You will make sacrifices in your life in order to write.

And yet.

As a financially-dependent creative writing student, I have arranged my life in such a way where writing is the priority. Most days I am free to write, at least until my job prospects improve. Every week I am beholden to submitting a piece of writing, and critiquing other people’s writing, and reading books that teach me how to be a better writer. I work at a desk by the window that gets a generous hit of light, and when I’m bored or restless I can spy on people in the office building across the street or study the ads of the double-decker buses caught at the red light. I wish I had a more comfortable chair and higher standards for coffee, but otherwise I have very few reasons to complain.

Yet the words don’t come. Instead, I will do anything but write. Cleaning is a popular option. Another current favorite is art journaling. Sometimes I will find a reason not to go on with a story. More often, the trouble hits before I even turn to the page.

I have too many ideas. They crowd around the tunnel in my mind through which ideas are made real, a tunnel no wider than a speck of dust. All ideas clamor to be first. That’s not the worst of it–they are also ideas in different forms and genres. Young adult. Narrative nonfiction. Personal essays. Short stories. Romance. The breadth of all the things I’d like to tackle could not be any wider

Depending on the day or the news or my mood, one idea might edge in the lead, and I try to coax it out as far as I can. But then–snip!–suddenly our connection is severed. Back it goes to fight amongst the other ideas.

Times like this, I wish that I were driven by a demon inside me. I’m not the type of person who must write a story, at the expense of my physical health and quality of life–but is it wrong to wish that I was sometimes? To feel an almost compulsory urge to write not just something, but a very specific thing, against all odds? To unload some of the burden of writing to an incessant and powerful force?

To be fair, most people tend to not be fueled by demonic possession. It is pointless to compare oneself to someone like Nawal El Saadawi, who in prison wrote parts of her manuscript with black eyeliner and a roll of toilet paper. Also pointless to compare oneself to Herman Melville, who completed Moby Dick in an obsessive haze, vanquishing everything non-whale related (wife and family included) from his mind.

But demon-driven people exist to a degree, don’t they? There are people who cannot stand to watch TV or movies because they’d rather work on their own art, and writers who forgo social gatherings to spend time alone with their words (and probably a glass of something strong). Others write in whatever minute they can grab–standing up, upside down, in bed and between their children’s waking moments.

Ah, but maybe it isn’t a demon that eludes me, but another D-word. One infinitely more frightening, because it requires a mastery of oneself over one’s surrender to the aforementioned demon.

Frankly, I’d rather throw myself at the mercy of a higher creative power*.

I know that’s not the answer. It’s more like wishful thinking. It also serves as a balm for my continuous fear that there is an essential ingredient of writing that is absent in me.

*As I realize that it’s October 31, I’d like to remind the spirit world that this post should not be considered an invitation for bodily possession. Thanks and be good tonight. 


Image attribution: “05.08.14 (CREATIVE 365 PROJECT)” by MICHELLE ROBINSON is licensed under creative commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).