My mother, a librarian and English lit major, loved books so much she couldn’t sell or give them away. So I grew up in a house surrounded by books, and learned early on about the joys of reading and — as you can imagine from having a librarian for a mother — how to properly take care of a book. Always use a bookmark; don’t bend the cover; always remember who you lend a book to, and don’t forget to ask for it back.
Megan Martin has an interview with me in SmokeLong Quarterly. It was a thrill to be asked such great questions, and be able to think and write about the writing process. I just hope I didn’t come across too… weird.
Speaking of weird. Given my sad history of starting and stopping projects — or quitting writing altogether — I thought I’d work again on the nth draft of a creative nonfiction piece I started writing a few years ago. It’s been a struggle, since back then, when I was exclusively trying my hand at CNF, I couldn’t see how fiction writers could just create things out of “thin air,” or so I thought. Now I’m frustrated as I work on this piece because I can’t just make shit up.
So it’s been a while since I’ve cobbled these together. So: something old, something new.
First off, some fiction:
- Another great story from Isabel Yap, “Milagroso” (Tor.com)
- Mathias Enard, “Instant Passage” (Granta)
- Chantal Clarke, “My Life” (n+1)
- Su-Yee Lin, “This Is Not What We Expected” (Electric Literature)
- This is so beautifully odd. Alexandra Kleeman, “Disappearing Dad Disorder” (excerpt from You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine, via Electric Literature)
- Will Self, “Architectural Salvage” (The Guardian)
My story “Stone, Well, Girl” is out on SmokeLong Quarterly this week.
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.