Benito Vergara

Weekend Reads, Late August Edition.

In books on August 29, 2015 at 5:01 pm

So it’s been a while since I’ve cobbled these together. So: something old, something new.

First off, some fiction:

Then two articles with writing advice:

It’s been years since I taught a class. Back then my students didn’t have smartphones; neither did I. I don’t know what it’s like now being up front, in a world where students surreptitiously (or not) look at their Vine feeds during lectures. I was in graduate school when that first wave of political correctness hit college campuses, but I can’t deny how this gut level of understanding — at least about how words shape perception, in a Sapir-Whorf kind of way — has been largely for the better.

Microaggressions are real, and I comprehend the logic behind trigger warnings, but I can’t help but think the examples mentioned in the article seem cherry-picked for their (to me) extremity. Anyhow, if I were teaching now, this minefield of trigger warnings that the authors describe seems awfully impossible to navigate. I look back on my Anthropology and Asian American Studies syllabi and realize that, if held to these trigger-warning standards, I can only assign the most basic of textbooks. No more readings on Gilbert Herdt’s work on the Sambia; no more Carolyn Nordstrom’s Shadows of War; no more Carlos Bulosan’s America Is In The Heart; no more Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters; no more Ed Lin’s Waylaid; no more R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind” (The Atlantic)

 

Story in SmokeLong Quarterly.

In books on August 26, 2015 at 6:54 pm

My story “Stone, Well, Girl” is out on SmokeLong Quarterly this week.

A Year of Writing.

In books on August 22, 2015 at 3:24 pm

Yesterday was my 365th straight day of writing at least half an hour a day.

I learned a few things:

The daily practice is non-negotiable. In the past several years I have stopped writing many times. That skipped day turns into a week, then a month, and before I knew it, I lost the right to call myself a writer because I wasn’t writing. That kind of sounds hard on myself, but really, I cannot let my writing slip like that ever again.

A consistent time and place works best. I’m lucky that I can psych myself into writing anywhere (the ferry, my desk, a plane, a cafeteria, a park, the beach, a waiting room, a hospital room at 3 in the morning) or on anything (notebook, laptop, whatever I have handy) or anytime (early morning, late at night, etc.). But what currently works for me is waking up at 5 am and getting the morning routine out of the way before I start writing — then I hop on the bus at 8 am for a change of writing venue. I find that being able to write before going to the office provides me with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction I am otherwise denied for the next 8-9 hours.

My phone and the internet are the enemies of writing. Getting to Level Whatever on Clash of Clans, or a score in the 100s on Crossy Road, or leveling up my shaman in Hearthstone, wins me exactly nothing. I uninstalled them all last year, but that still left me with Facebook and Twitter and Feedly, those sly thieves of time, where I sometimes convinced myself that reading fiction and articles about writing fiction and articles about avoiding procrastination was somehow not procrastination. I can tell you what they are: they’re not writing.

Finish your stuff. This is way easier said than done. I write and revise exceedingly slowly and get distracted easily. (Like with writing quick book reviews and blog entries like this one.) I’m not that happy about my pace but right now it kind of works.

I finally have one forthcoming story (in SmokeLong Quarterly — a place I would have been scared to submit to had I known what their sliver of an acceptance rate was, so the lesson here is Don’t self-reject). I also have two other pieces making the rejection rounds; they’re done, but I smell revisions coming up for one of them soon. That’s fine.

But I also have these, in the space of this same writing year, in order of not-doneness:

  • about 18,000 words into a novel (?) set in the Philippines in the early 1900s, loosely based on Macario Sakay, a third of which I’ve polished over and over
  • a handful of flash fiction pieces that could easily be revised to doneness or made longer
  • a steampunky kind of story about a woman who guards a machine (unfinished, but getting close to a full first draft)
  • a few pages into a crime story about the hapless driver of a Tondo gangster (unfinished)
  • several pages into a story about a bunch of office workers lost in the desert (way unfinished)
  • a personal essay about my father (still way unfinished)
  • a few pages into my “Goddess of Lost Things” story (very much unfinished, but wouldn’t you like to know more about this girl and this village and what happens when an asteroid passes over)
  • a page or two into a story about Jose Rizal, medical examiner / detective (or supernatural investigator, I haven’t figured it out yet)
  • and I’m also cleaning up an old creative nonfiction essay about me as a young reader (unfinished, but it’s undergone several drafts).

As I said, I gotta finish. (I like thinking of the above as my product backlog, to bring in terms from work.)

I have the best readers. Writing may be a solitary act, but without my community of fellow writers and readers I am nothing.

If there’s only one takeaway from this year of writing, it is this: it’s all about doing the work. I’ve been told I have talent but at the end of the day it’s nothing but a field lying fallow if you don’t sit down and do the work.

My mother asked me if I had a goal. I told her, in all honesty, that my only goal was to write every day.