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Hello, my name is Sandy.

Writerly laundry, part 2: Polished prose

Writing is hard work. At least, I think so. When I was younger, I didn't worry about my prose. It was all about getting an idea out. And whatever way it came out was fine by me.

But this can't last forever. As an adult, you learn from experience what could happen if you don't mind your words. They might carry the wrong message, get misconstrued, cause some real trouble. Not caring about words is a luxury offered by childhood and the first draft. But as the great Stephen King says, "To write is human, to edit is divine."

Yesterday, I showed you a cringe-worthy draft. Let's now see what happens when we put it through the edit-o-matic:

Egocentrism is the regard for oneself as the centre of all things - me me me! It's a phase children go through while their minds are still developing. A child still in an egocentric stage of cognitive development (known as the pre-operational stage) will struggle to see things from the viewpoint of another.

For example, when buying a gift for someone, the child will choose a gift based on what appeals to themselves, rather than to the recipient. It's not until the child develops a stronger theory of mind that they can appreciate what another person wants, thinks and feels.

Adults demonstrate egocentrism too. It's fair enough to say we fall back on childish patterns when we're tired, stressed or under high cognitive load.

As a writer, I look at the progress of my writing along this egocentric spectrum. When I'm in the outline and first draft stages, I'm so wrapped up in pulling ideas together that I don't have the brainpower to consider how an audience might respond to it. I'm casting a wide net of thoughts so none of the good stuff slips through, and it's hard work keeping track of all those thoughts!

Hence a first draft that only makes sense to me, using my idiosyncrasies and inside jokes that may seem offensive to anyone else. I'm in child mode, having a tantrum at the page.

Once those ideas are down, though, it's time to grow up and explain myself so others can understand. Editing is the puberty that bashes out my clumsy infantile grammar, and adds an attractive shape to my narrative.

By the time my prose is ready for publishing, I've reached a kind of adulthood. The proof is a piece that's adjusted to existing in the world with other people. And hopefully isn't complete bullshit. :)

OK, enough hard work for today. I'm going to bake a cake.

Bloody... you try to be healthy and cut down on sugar, then you hear "banana mocha Herman cake" and don't know what to believe anymore.

Writerly laundry, part 1: Dirty drafts

When I read the work of other writers, I get jealous of how eloquent they are, and how creative their turns of phrase. It triggers my impostor syndrome terribly, and I have days where I sit around all sad because I can't write as prolifically and smoothly.

Then I realise it's no different to the same phenomenon that has people feeling depressed after browsing Facebook and Instagram. Most of the time, we only get to see polished posts with smoothly articulated points and all the crap parts taken out.

Today, I'd like to show you what a typical first draft looks like. I feel exposed doing this, but well, we are what we are. First drafts happen. They're awful, but nothing to be ashamed of as long as they get edited. Here goes...

In first-year psych, i learned of a concept called 'egocentricity' - to regard oneself as the centre of all things. It's a phase children go through while they're learning and developing their psyche. The example given was of buying presents. Children still in the egocentric stage of pscyhosocial development will pick presents they like to buy for other people. It's not until they get older and develop better theory of mind that they'll pick presents for others based on what those other people like. Eg. a cookbook for mum instead of that coloured bucket (though to be fair, I would prefer a bucket).

As an everyday not-a-psychologist person, it's pretty easy to pick egocentricity in everyday life. Though not so much in the present-buying stakes. I'm thinking more when people assume you see things a certain way, just because they see things that way. They can't fathom how you would have a different point of view, let alone see it. Egocentrism happens in adults too.

Maybe i'm prredisposed to this as awriter, but i see pieces of writing a little like children. in that early first ddraft stage, they're like toddlers and operate egocentricly. it's all about the idea getting up on its stubby little legs and taking shape in the world. but as you reach the adulthood of publishing, coming at it like a child often ends up making a mess. nuanced arguments especially would suffer from underdeveloped word choice, clumsy grammar, unnecessary repetition and the bevy of typos that never got bashed out by the puberty of editing. but in the draft stage, this is all fine. you're casting a wide net of thoughts and words so none of the good stuff slips through.

but publishing is akin to reaching adulthood, and as a parent, you kind of hope your grown-up kids would be adjusted to life and living with other people. so, you edit, polish your prose and hopefully wind up with something that's not a piece of shit.

There you have some rushed wording with minimal research. Somewhere in the middle, my points get gooey and kind of blur together. But that's fine. It's a tangle to pick apart later.

Tomorrow, I'll show you what it's supposed to look like.

It's June 1 somewhere in the world

#blogjune is starting. A week ago, my feet were tapping. I intended to come at this with an awesome cheating strategy. I'd draft posts ahead of time, schedule them throughout the month, then go play games as a reward for having worked my arse off to finish early.

But it's all well and good to have evil plans. Not having the time to carry them out has kept me honest, so here I am on day 1 with only a half-arsed idea of what to write.

Truth is, I've been writing-ly fatigued as of late, ever since starting over (again) with my manuscript. I'm staring down the journey of a thousand miles. That first step carries the weight of the steps to come, plus the steps I've taken to get to this point. I want to go on, but my feet are sore.

I like to think of this challenge as a month-sized mud puddle, where I can splash and cool my piggies. (Don't talk about trench foot. Let me enjoy my own analogy.)

So, let's assume I get my act together and manage to be a Cheaty McCheatFace this month. If not "sitting down to write everyday ho ho ho!", what am I hoping to get from #blogjune?

Writing more. Writing faster. Writing better.

I was going to detail each of these, but the way I see it, they all come together. On top of my usual writing, I hope to write somewhat thoughtful albeit rambly and haphazard blog posts. And to fit them into my day, I'd have to write faster. Not type faster, or get more slapdash, but remove the confidence barriers I still get stuck on.

You know the ones. They plug up your throat and stop you from saying what you want to say. They get in your ear and tell you what dumb ideas you have. I mean yes, sometimes you don't need to say certain things, and yes, sometimes your ideas are dumb. But you don't make progress by taking no chances.

This is where writing better comes in. I'm chancing that I can write faster and not sound like a tit. Or at least if I sound like a tit today, I might figure out how to be less tit-like after 30 days.

I don't want to just write more. Or just write faster. Or write better but take a million years to do it. I want all these things together.

Well, that's enough navel-gazing for one morning. I am sore from last night's personal training session with the Humaans. Apart from trying not to whine about it, my challenges for the week include:

  • #blogjune
  • Novel writing
  • Writing assignments
  • Pitching
  • Bookkeeping (boring!!)

But I'm looking forward to:

  • Movie club
  • BBQ lunch tomorrow
  • A gardening job
  • Going rock climbing
  • Football

How about you? What are your challenges? What are you excited about? Hit me up on email or social media and let's chat. :)

Busy body, busy brain

This morning, I read an article about how being busy might actually be good for your brain. The headline is a bit misleading, or at least overly optimistic, since the stress of being busy can cause all sorts of problems. But you know, boredom can cause stress too, so I'm all for keeping busy with meaningful things.

But this isn't an essay about being busy. I'm working from home; done all the day's work plus toiled on my novel. It's time to get some practice in for next month's #blogjune challenge. Been four years since I last did it - just enough time to forget the stress and pain of having to sit and blog something every day. Like squats and lunges, I'm sure it'll work out good for me in the end.

Writing a blog post every day shouldn't be that hard. The only criteria are self-imposed and thus as flexible as I want them to be. And yet, I find the longer I leave it between posts, the more pressure I feel to produce something worthy of going in Aeon or The Atlantic. Creative arrogance, perhaps? Who am I to be that important?

I like to think the challenge will give me an opportunity to un-realise the pressure. Last year, my perfectionistic neuroses would loom over every freelance job. Over time, through doing many jobs, I discovered I could produce work that was just as good even without that worry. Stressing made no difference. What mattered was buckling down and doing the work. Jon Westenberg's recent advice about getting 'mean' resonated with me for this reason.

So in theory, this exercise should strengthen the connections in my brain that help me write. I expect there's a similar mechanism at work when it comes to keeping busy. No time for the mind to atrophy when you're constantly practicing and getting better at stuff.

Would anyone else like to join me for #blogjune? Follow these instructions to register via twitter.

What's been going on

I've spent the last month meandering through my weeks. I like how things are going lately. Even though my black dog still nips at my heels, he's been less a hound of Baskervilles and more, I dunno, a beagle or something.

So, wots been going on then?

Gaming

some friends need to put more clothes on

Ah... Miitomo. This is a weird, creepy, cute and awkward game built around over-sharing. Above is a picture of a friend who took his clothes off and came over to my virtual apartment. It's why you don't add just any old chum to your friends list.

my dark souls 3 character

Also, Dark Souls 3. What can I say that you haven't already heard? Nothing. But let's celebrate the sentiment. Just thinking about it makes my palms sweat and my heart beat faster. I also feel like shouting swear words at the wall.

Fooding

Herman apple cake

There's been a lot of food in my life. Cakes, breads, cookies. Above is a Herman the German friendship cake - the actual cake, not my bread alternative. It's so very moist and keeps well. We still have some in the freezer, a bit of which went into making the healthier-ish edible terrarium below.

healthier-ish edible terrarium

My terrarium isn't healthy healthy, but I'd take it over the sugary (but pretty) original recipe. For the 'drainage layer' (the rocks you put at the bottom of a normal terrarium), use nuts and seeds and add custard for moisture.

Fresh fruit and cream make great 'plants'. The plan was to extract a natural food colouring (fail) for the cream, then whip it stiff (also fail) and pipe it into little echeveria-style leaves (cbf). But yeah, I was just ready to eat, so... maybe next time. :)

homemade tortillas

Learned how to make tortillas using this Basic Homemade Tortillas recipe. It's easy, tasty, uses only 4 ingredients, but the house reeked of fried oil after, and I can't stand the smell. But I now know I want my dream home to have an outdoor wet kitchen for stuff like this. :3

Best food news: I found a restaurant that serves spicy offal noodle soup! It's a huge, filling serve for just $13 at the place that used to be Beer & Skewer in Northbridge. They've recently changed their name to something else; Mama's something-or-other.

Writing

After powering through weeks and weeks of 30-minute writing sessions on my novel manuscript, I'm getting ready to... start all over again. Dumb dumb dumb. How do you know when to press on with a project, when to reboot it, and when to give up entirely?

Giving up is not an option here, but I don't want to press on with a direction that doesn't feel right. But I also worry about the whole thing falling off if I play with it too much. This is the bane of life for everyone working in a creative field. The bane. I has it.

a pensive cat

In the past month, I've written a short story and started two new longer stories. Before the next month is over, I hope to have another two short stories under my belt. Heck, I'd be happy with a couple of 100-word stories. I just want those brainwheels turning smoothly again.

making a mess, making cocktails

A magazine I write for accepted my pitch for a piece on... cocktails! Which meant researching, testing, modifying and drinking. My favourite recipe of all was a Summer Mary, dubbed 'JanuMary' for us in the southern hemisphere. It's a lighter version of the Bloody Mary, using passata and soda water instead of straight-up tomato juice. Pound in a few basil leaves and it tastes like pizza. :) New household favourite.

Full article: 5 Easy-to-Grow Herbs for Fresh Spring Cocktails

Making

an arduino hooked up to a breadboard

I hoped to have something electronically interesting to show you by now, but you know how it is - you go to read up on how something works only to find you need to read up on a million other things before you begin to understand. The other day, I went looking for the right-hand rule. Remember that? I haven't had to use it in nineteen years.

It's amazing how we can use electricity every day and have no idea how it works. I know that's kind of the point - that you don't have to know - but I like knowing. Learning this stuff has been one mindblow after another. I had no idea how much ingenuity went into the tiny things I take for granted. Like transistors. I mean, wow.

Electrical engineers are pretty much amazing. You should shake the hand of the next one you meet. I don't think I could ever be a proper engineer, but pretending for a few hours a week is heaps of fun. I'm a fun-gineer.

What else?

I've been thinking about starting an email newsletter. When I started freelancing, one of my mentors said I needed one, but I was busy and scared and it sounded like marketing fodder so put it out of my mind. Lately, conversations have been coming up around newsletters. Friends have introduced me to some rad ones, and some I had been thinking of unsubscribing from suddenly got good. Is the universe sending me a sign? Or is this just the hot thing everyone's doing right now?

Would you sign up to a newsletter if I started one? I couldn't tell you what you'd see in it yet, but quite likely similar topics to what you see here, or what we'd talk about over tea or a beer, and other random interesting things like these:

And these:

And of course this:

If you're keen, let me know. Who knows, maybe it'll give us a chance to chat on email more, or give you something to chat about with someone you like better. :)

So, what's been going on with you?

Lifting, bro

Writing fiction has been hard. They say writing is like a muscle - the more you do it, the stronger it gets. But I've always found no matter how much stronger you become, you always end up lifting weights that get a bit heavier.

Before last year's big challenge, it had been over a decade since I'd written fiction in earnest. Poetry and lyrics, yes, but a big meaty story - even just a small story - escaped me.

If there is a fiction writing muscle, I imagine it's closely related to the part of your brain that dares to imagine. Non-fiction, technical writing and web copy are all safe - there's a frame of reference, there are constraints like in bumper bowling.

When you author a piece of fiction, you're in control of all of it. You set the rules of your universe, then work your arse off not to break them. You'd think it'd be easier to stick to your own rules than to someone else's, but when you have the power to make rules, you can also change them. On purpose or by accident. Many times over the course of a first draft. Oops!

In real life, I get nervous controlling the destiny of others. Throughout my career, people would urge me towards leadership, but I never wanted it. I felt guilty all the time about telling people what to do, even when it was my job. I can tell someone, from experience, what will and won't work, but I don't want to tell them what choices to make. I'd rather give them the tools to figure things out for themselves.

You can't do this with fictional characters. Obviously. So the same 'leadership guilt' fears bubble up when I write. How weird is that?

The human brain has trouble discerning fact from fiction. Input is input, even the input it generates itself. Consciously, you can comprehend what's real and what's not, but at the hardware level, it's all impulse and circuitry. To a writer's brain, the characters are as real as your mum.

So that's why I have trouble bossing them around, interrupting them when they say something boring, and why my first draft, after three months, still sucks a bit. :)

But I'm making progress. I'm two reboots in, and have finally found a direction I think I can make work. I'm writing in 30-minute sets every day - well, most days.

I've also joined a new tiny community of fiction writers. It's a slack chat group, which is perfect because you can drop in and out at you need to. You're not obliged to talk, like you are on forums. Just seeing that little green light next to someone's name makes me feel like I have a gym buddy. Message me on twitter or facebook if you want more details.

Today, I'm writing non-fiction. Flyer copy, a short article for a magazine. But if I get all that done, I may look for short story inspiration at /r/WritingPrompts.

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