Random Thoughts: On Writing, Politics, and Silence

Today, I am supposed to be writing a dinner scene among a family between whom there is no political agitation. Given the political agitation that is currently in the very air we breathe this is no easy task. The brain desperately wants to engage with that while the particular demands of the story I am writing now require that my brain engages with something else. The fictional family’s conflict that I am writing about has to do with combatting negative paranormal energies that they are, as humans on the living side of the equation, unaware of. This has nothing to do with politics, as far as the moment goes. Except that I remember in fiction, as in politics, conflict arises when character agendas diverge and come into opposition. So maybe I can use the present turmoil as a way in, as I write, even though the characters are fighting with ghosts rather than an oppressive regime. Maybe, if I can trick my brain into understanding that all conflict in story is still a mirror of conflict in general I can make it do what I want it to do. In a sense, this is sort of what writers do every day under any circumstance when we sit down to confront the blank page, the story that we are trying to write that has nothing to do with our real lives. Except that these aren’t normal circumstances, are they?

I don’t have any easy answers. We still have our work. We still have our voices whether we are writing escapist fiction or political allegories or essays or articles or engaging in rigorous journalism. But one of the thing artists of all stripes do is use everything around them in their work. Of course, we will use this too. This isn’t the only thing I think about of course. What we present online, on social media, or in fiction can never tell the full story of what is in our heads.

I’m thinking a lot lately about silence. There is power in silence at certain times. The silent protest, the vigil, the silence you employ in your personal life to protect others. The silence you choose in the workplace because you want to pick your battles wisely. The silence you choose because it is better in some cases to listen than to shout. Example: when someone speaks about marginalization that you yourself do not experience it is better to listen than to weigh in. Example: when you are in a classroom setting and are there to learn something that you previously did not know. Example: when you do not know if you can trust the person in front of you with personal information.

There may come a time very soon when some of us choose silence in order to use resources other than our voice in order to save others.

But when someone demands your silence you can bet your ass that something very shady is going on. Someone’s rights are about to be violated. Someone’s dignity is about to be forcibly stripped from them. Abuse is about to occur.

It is not comfortable for everyone to get loud. But now is the time to get very loud. It is past the time to get very loud.

In the past I often opted for silence on certain topics because by nature, I am a harmony seeker. I wish to understand before I speak.

One thing that I understand right now is that silence is no longer appropriate. Human rights are being attacked. The government currently is trying to push progress back. The arts are under attack, and yes, science is under attack. All of this will negatively impact human beings. It will negatively impact all of us, even those that support the Neon Narcissist because here’s the thing. Narcissists require approval. They are a sucking hole of need in this regard. When that man stops hearing accolades, or the accolades get repetitive enough that they begin to register as insincere his paranoia will grow stronger, and even those heaping accolades on that man will come under attack from him. He is already doing this with the press. You, in the Neon Narcissist’s line of sight, you might suffer last since you are playing along, but trust that you will suffer the worst. Do not be silent about his abuses when they happen. Get very fucking loud.

I know what happens when you remain silent in the face of an abuser who is like this. The behavior escalates, because when they can’t get accolades, they will seek a reaction, any reaction, even a negative one just to feel like they are in control. They are not in control, they are in chaos. This should frighten every single one of us. This should frighten those in the inner circle the most. This should give pause to those who are in support of the administration. Because the Neon Narcissist will not stop with attacking the enemies that he can see in front of him, he will go on to those he imagines are enemies. And eventually, those people who experience his wrath will be those who supported him.

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Random Thoughts: Just Checkin’ In

Hey, everybody.

So the political landscape right now I suspect has a lot of us fiction writers both distracted and energized, focused and scattered, angry and hopeful. All of these swirling and conflicting emotional states are tough to cope with. We are distracted from the work of writing fiction because the horror show of what is going on in American governance seems like dystopian fiction. It is hard to look away to focus on our work, it is hard to believe that our work is significant enough to merit stepping away from the news cycle and missing something crucial. But our lives and our work are crucial, too. Stories are important. Whenever you lose sight of that remember politics is also made of story. Want to change the stories that play out in real life? Write stories that nurture empathy in your audience. Reminder: All stories, whether escapist fiction or literary, nurture empathy in an audience.

So that’s the distracted part, here is the energized part. We are all seeing people come together to work against injustice and tyranny. Anger, when channeled into action can be a wonderful motivator. This is true of fiction writing also. There are some writers who do beautiful work that is fueled by anger. Anything that we experience as artists can be used as food or fuel for art. Use it for your work as you are using it for action. This, also merges with where we are focused. We know what is causing the anger and that cause points us in certain directions regarding our work and our civic duties.

But we are also scattered. It can be overwhelming to decide which call to action to heed. Which organization to volunteer for, whether to go out in the world and march or stay home and use your time to call your representatives. The American people are being attacked on so many different fronts right now it can be difficult to prioritize. And we have our personal limits. We have families and day jobs and obligations. We have things in our lives we must attend to because if we don’t no one else will, but the call to action right now is the same. If we don’t no one else will.

So pick something. Easier said than done, I know, but if we all choose at least one action, large or small, we can and will make a difference. Use your art, or not, but know that art itself can be an act of political defiance. When I wrote about the LGBT characters in Getting On With It, it did not feel like a political act. The manuscript was completed before November 8, 2016. It absolutely feels that way now. Like I said, any story asks for empathy for those who might be unlike you, whether that’s the author’s intention or not.

When I was in college, I remember having discussions about different political stances and movements and types of discourse and ways of approaching causes. There was a lot of judgment and blame bandied about in those discussions. (There still is.) This person isn’t doing enough, this group is too aggressive, this one is too quiet, this other one is too loud. At the end of those discussions it can feel as if there is nothing that you can do right even among your allies in a particular cause. This is difficult to confront, but we have to decide as individuals how we will approach things. We have to choose our own paths and stick to them. No one can do it for you, which seems lonely, but I guarantee you will find other people walking alongside you on the same path.

Whatever else you decide to do, though, keep writing.

 

Random Thoughts: Author “Platforms” and Politics

Okay, so yesterday there was an article circulating around writer internet (that has since been removed from the site it was on at the request of the author) that advocated political silence on social media from fiction writers.

Um.

No.

Now is not the time to advocate political silence, particularly from those whose work has hopefully lent itself to the development of an articulate voice.

Before I continue my rant I do want to say that the person who wrote it was probably well-meaning. The main concern of the article was about potential loss of readership, marketing, your “author brand” and while it is valid for a fiction writer to consider all of these things when expressing things in public spaces, it is not appropriate to URGE silence. I mean, we are writers. If we cannot express ourselves particularly in times like these then what the hell are we doing? Who would advocate suppressing the practice of the very art that we provide? Come on now. Art is political whether that is our intention or not. And you want us to not talk politics? GTFO. I mean that literally. If it bugs you there are tools you have. Block, mute, unfriend, unfollow, etc…

Here’s the thing, we are going to talk about the things we care about whether political or not. Because we are thinking human beings. And no, I am not always thinking about my “brand” or whatever. I tend not think of myself as a brand. If I thought that way, I’d work in advertising.

One thing I’d also like to point out is that I have read plenty of authors whose politics I either had no clue about or didn’t care for. The reasons we read or don’t read a thing (as readers) are as varied as the shape of leaves turning in the wind. If we assume that we can’t speak about things that matter to us because we might lose audience for the stories we tell, doesn’t that leave the work dead in the water?

On the personal side of this I think of all the things that work against artists from the start. No one wants us to do this work when we begin, you know. Our families worry for our finances. Sometimes our ideas or the places we have to go in order to tell a story well make people uncomfortable. I resent receiving a message, yet again, that I should reconsider speaking about something that matters to me. I have been silenced throughout my whole life in ways that have had severe consequences for me. Don’t tell me to shut up when speaking out is already difficult. I had to fight hard to get to a place where I can, where I want to.

I was not a person who discussed politics a lot on social media before this past year. But I will hang on to my freedom to do so. I certainly won’t let the opinion of someone else who is worried for book sales in the abstract keep me from saying stuff. Neither should you.

Talk about what you want to talk about, whether that’s cats, cartoons, or politics. Just remember it isn’t up to anyone else.

Writing Life: On Being an Indie Author During #GrabYourWallet

So this one is a bit thorny and I suspect a lot of us are dealing with it. It is no secret by now that politically, I am firmly against the Predator-Elect and all for resistance. One of the ways in which we can enact that resistance is with where we put our hard-earned and sometimes difficult to come by cash. Shannon Coulter brilliantly began something called the #GrabYourWallet campaign, a call to boycott all business carrying the Trump brand. An up-to-date list can be found here.

If you opened a link you will note that one of the first companies listed is Amazon.

Amazon is where you can find my recently released book, “Getting On With It.” It is currently the only distribution platform for that book.

The plan to publish there was made before the election, and I chose to follow through for the sake of consistency, the ease with which the Amazon as a platform makes it available to potential audience. I’m not going to pull my book, though the conflict of interest is quite painful to me. As an indie author the difficulty is obvious. Amazon is still the distribution platform with the largest reach.

I am also aware that during the #GrabYourWallet campaign, it is very likely that my numbers through that platform are likely to be lower than anticipated. Folks who might be drawn to read my work are very likely the same people engaging in #GrabYourWallet. Career-wise, I should be concerned about this, and I am, except not really. Some of this has to do with my perspective on writing and getting the work out. Slowly building an audience has been the expectation since I started self-publishing. The kind of success authors dream of is not something that happens overnight, it is even slower when you have very little budget. But there will be other projects, other work, other paths, other things to try. So I’m worried but not. Maybe it is more accurate to say that I am concerned more for this particular work than I am for my career overall.

That said, I hope that audience who were anticipating the work will not forget about it, and of course make the purchase eventually. (Link, for ease of discovery.) Digitally there will eventually be a release through Smashwords. Keep an eye on my various digital spaces for that.

I mentioned already that I can’t be the only indie-author using Amazon for distribution and struggling with this particular conundrum. But I also think that the situation we are facing offers something useful, at least for the #GrabYourWallet campaign. That useful thing is an argument. It might be a weak one, since corporations are not well-known for their conscience, and since individual indie authors have little impact on Amazon’s practices as a whole. However, as a collective our value to Amazon is more significant. The longer they carry the Trump brand, the longer our livelihoods might be impacted negatively. That is something that Amazon should consider. If we don’t make money, they don’t get their cut. I just mention this as something you can use when you speak up and tell Amazon why you aren’t shopping with them this year. Do I think it will contribute to a desirable outcome for the #GrabYourWallet campaign? I have no idea. But it is something to think about. It is something that can be leveraged.

So my question is, who has data? Because that would be useful going forward.

 

 

Random Bloggery: One of those writing days….

So today is one of those days in the writing life when I open up ye olde work in progress, stare at the screen, position my hands over the keyboard ready to write and then…. nothing. Most of the time, I just write without worrying about the outcome (something I learned how to do, in part by participating in NanoWrimo.) Most of the time, I am able to squeeze something out of my head and onto the page when I have set aside time to work on fiction, but these days do happen. As I write this blog it is still early in the day. Not even noon. But my brain seems to be spinning out a bit for some reason.

So, I take a deep breath, a step back, and consider where I am with the work.

And then I remember that I have a novel that is just about ready to be published. All I need is cover art and a few tweaks to the back cover blurb and BEHOLD A BOOK SHALL BE UNLEASHED UNTO THE WORLD.

Then I think, “Holy crap!”

And I remember how creative endeavors have their own cycles. When a project is this close to completion, it makes sense that I need to relax for a few beats about productivity  with first drafts. I always hit this moment and try to push through in spite of myself. And I also hit the same moment of frustration each time. There’s a moment when I have to put a lid on the self-generated pressure to produce. I have to remind myself that the words and ideas will still be there and it is okay to take a break.

It is kind of strange that this moment hits on the first day of NanoWrimo, the month in which word count is king. Maybe there is something there, though. Yes, push through, hit those goals, do your best to finish the thing, but its good to remind ourselves that we are human and need breaks. Take those five minutes, get a coffee, do that chore that you’ve been procrastinating on. Then come back to the writing work happy that you no longer have to do that irritating chore.

It seems counterintuitive but it is true that sometimes increasing productivity means taking a little break when you hit the wall. As a person with workaholic tendencies I can tell you that I have wasted time trying to push through when my brain simply would not co-operate. When I am self-aware enough to understand what’s going on I take that needed break and end up producing more and better work than I might have without it. The thing is that it’s hard to recognize when that moment hits sometimes. Everyone’s cognitive/creative process is different, nuanced, and only we can know when a break will benefit us and when it will not. Advice? Pay attention to yourself to figure out when that is. I said before that you can learn a lot about your own process when you participate in NanoWrimo. This could be one of the things.

 

 

 

It is almost here… NANOWRIMO

November is almost here. You know what that means. NANOWRIMO DESCENDS UPON US WITH THE FURY OF WORDS THAT MUST. LAND. ON. THE. PAGE.

National Novel Writing Month.

Most folks who have been considering participating in NanoWrimo have already decided, yay or nay? I can’t do it this year with six projects in various stages of draft. I’ve got things started that I am determined to finish and Nano requires a new first draft of a thing.

I have, however, participated in NanoWrimo in the past. For me, it was a lot of fun, but I also learned a few things about my own writing process. For a person who has ambition around writing fiction this is incredibly valuable. If you, nascent novelist, also have ambitions around writing fiction, I would like to provide a gentle nudge in the direction of participation.

One of the most important things around fiction writing is learning how to finish work that you start. This is a road toward a complete first draft. While the word count requirement to win NanoWrimo is not, strictly speaking, book length, it is enough word count to determine, at the end of it all, whether your story idea will work once you’ve polished it.

Whether or not you have something workable at the end of it, you will have learned whether the kamikaze approach to writing 1,700 words a day works for you. That’s not nothing. if you are a person who has already started and finished long work then maybe the challenge for you is producing content at a relatively blistering pace. Doing this can teach you how to work with deadlines and how you, as an individual writer, work under pressure.

Then there is the lesson that you learn when the race is over. At the end of the month, when you have your pile of words, will you remain motivated enough to complete the work and then edit? Because editing is where things become publishable. Editing is crazy important.

That said, for a lot of us who have been writing for a while NanoWrimo can be a way to force us to shut down the inner editor for a month and simply produce work. We can play on the page unfettered by an impulse toward perfectionism (or even legibility). We need, sometimes, to throw away the million and one restrictive lessons around grammar, narrative structure, expectations of genre, etc… in order to produce work. This is harder to do than it sounds. Nano can provide the jolt and support community it requires.

As true as it is that editing is crazy important, it is also true that we get nowhere if we have produced no work to edit. Nano shows us one road toward producing that work. If you are not sure about your process, this is a good way to learn something about what works for you, and what doesn’t.

That’s my two cents.