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writing

Dear Captain,

I write fiction, mostly fantasy. I admit I can be humorless about it. My friend “Shawn” writes fiction of similar genre. We used to talk about writing and about our ideas a lot, but less so since I got a day job.

Shawn starts projects all the time and most of them never come to a full rough draft, so I know not to get too invested in any particular setting or character concept they tell me about. (OTOH, due to my more limited free time for writing, I’ve just got the one novel I’ve been revising for a few years now.) My issue is that Shawn keeps telling me about all of these ideas, with no context. They’ll text me out of the blue, “I’ve decided that Character X and Character Y are going to date” or “I’m setting my next story in a fantasy version of Tibet” and I have no idea how to react anymore. I’d be happy to read any completed stories that came from these ideas. I’ve read their one completed manuscript and, hell, I’d be happy to hear random thoughts about that setting or those characters, who I already care about. But what on earth do I say to “My new character is a dragon and her favorite soda is Ramune,” especially when I know I’ll never hear about this dragon again?

I wouldn’t mind if I got to talk about my own writing in turn, but they don’t seem interested anymore. They asked to read my manuscript once, and (a year later) have finally stopped pretending they’ll ever get around to it. Recently they asked me a question about my protagonists, and I got excited at this sign that we could resume shop talk like we used to. But after I answered, they just said “Nice” and used it as a springboard to brag about their own great characterization, in the context of another story they had just thought up. I kinda feel like my time and effort are being disrespected here.

Am I being snooty about different approaches to the creative process? Am I being too precious about my own work while judging theirs harder? If not, how can I steer these conversations back to a fun and mutual place, and not a place where I’m getting infodumped on?

Thanks,
A Wiki for a Fictional Multiverse that Doesn’t Yet Exist (they/them)

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thewrongway

Image description: Book cover for The Wrong Way To Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra, with a very vivid & colorful model of a human heart on a light blue background.

If you’re done reading the wonderful and hilarious We Are Never Meeting In Real Life and looking for something else to read, my friend’s Megan’s essay collection The Wrong Way To Save Your Life comes out today.

I can’t celebrate her book launch (and my 17th anniversary of moving to Chicago!) in person today ’cause my alter-ego Captain Cinema Professor Jennifer is in Los Angeles for the University Film & Video Association conference. Megan has written about the exact material I’m presenting this week, if you’re interested and want a “worlds collide!!!!!” moment. A version of the same essay is in the book with the title “Stand Here To Save Lives.”

My UFVA presentation Wednesday morning might be mostly me reading aloud from Casting Call Woe and @Femscriptintros and then screaming HOW DO WE UNFUCK THIS? at the other film professors.

(Not really, I made a PowerPoint with hardly any swears and I have some specific ideas about how to unfuck this shit incorporate diversity and inclusion organically into first-year production classes).

Whatever happens, I’ll have a little imaginary Megan Stielstra on my shoulder saying “That sounds like a story, you should write it down” and looking at me with the world’s kindest eyes.

 

 

 

If you’re here because you saw my talk on constructive criticism at work at GOTO Chicago yesterday, welcome! I really enjoyed meeting so many of you and I’m interested to adapt the talk to make it more applicable. Thank you for letting the weird art kid come play in your sandbox. Edited to Add: My slides and video should be available through the conference site soon, but you can also access a pdf here if you like: PeepasGOTOMay1 [/Edit]

I’m going to be thinking about Erin Horáková’s essay about the collective retconning of Captain Kirk for a while. Disclaimer: I am a mere Padawan learner in the lore of Trek, so your comments about the details of the episodes and the character might go over my head. Things I really love:

  • Her portrait of Kirk as quite a lovely, thoughtful, dutiful person (vs. the “Chest Manbeast:Ultimate Rebel” he’s become a shorthand for) made me want to go back and watch.
  • The idea that the Boring Guy You Meet At Bad Parties is part of “a vast eldritch horror sitting in another dimension that extrudes its thousand tentacles into our own, and that each one of This Guy is merely an insignificant manifestation of the beast: they couldn’t all be so boring in precisely the same way by chance, surely.”
  • The discussion of Dickens and Helen Keller and Norman Rockwell and the way stories get updated and remanufactured to erase their radical roots and ideas. We love a truth-teller and a rebel and a hero, as long as their radical acts are safely in the past and can have the edges sanded off for the “nation-building, heritage-canonising costume drama adaptations.
  • This sentence:Robinson Crusoe is a dull, badly-written, racist pile of shit (and it’s “the first novel” like I’m Romy and it’s my high school reunion and I invented the post-it note).” I don’t know you, Erin Horáková, but I think I like you.
  • And finally, this:

“Thus it becomes a matter of reclaiming texts via attentive reading. In the post-truth world, attention is a skill. Reading is a skill. We must vigilantly listen to the hum of the currents of power running through texts and their interpretations, to actions and their spin. We must insist upon reality in order to meaningfully and morally do the work of relativistic interpretation: there are four lights, for fuck’s sake. We do have to have stories, and so we need to be able to see them. It’s important both to add marginal voices to canons and conversations and to protect the marginal elements already there from conservative erosion, for the sake of accuracy, artistic quality, and politics. We need to have access to their resources and to be able to use our own, not to host within ourselves an enemy that occludes all we see, that drains the progressive potential of everything we have access to. What good things we have done ought to be preserved. There are histories of resistance, large and small, that we ought not to lose; that we cannot afford to lose.”

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I’m doing stuff out and about. Join me? Events listed in the order that they’ll happen:

  • Saturday, February 25, 2017: I’m teaching a short smartphone video workshop for beginners  at the Second City Training Center in Chicago. Want to shoot & edit video on your phone? Want to make it look and sound better? Still some spots left! $70.
  • Sunday, March 5, 2017: I’m reading at the final That’s All She Wrote show. 8pm, Great Lakes Tattoo, 1148 W. Grand Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. True stories. Free admission.
  • Saturday,
    cafe-le-jardin-du-petit

    Image of the cafe’s outdoor space (source: TripAdvisor) They have comfier-looking chairs inside, too.

    March 18, 2017: Awkward Meetup in Paris, France. I’ll be at the Cafe Le Jardin Du Petit Palais at 2:00 pm that day, with Mr. Awkward in tow. From what I can tell they have various coffee, tea, and sandwiches in a nice, centrally-located space with free admission. If you know you’ll attend, RSVPs are appreciated so we know to look out for you and how many seats to save.

 

Readers! Especially Readers Who Are Also Writers! Here is a blog you might want to know about:

Longtime Awkwardeer Rose Fox has started an advice site for writers called Story Hospital. Every week Rose answers a question from a writer who’s struggling with a work in progress or with writing in general. The site’s tagline is “Heal your relationship with your writing” and it reads a lot like a relationship advice column, with a balanced mix of writing tips and deeper analysis of what leads writers to feel blocked, anxious, or uncertain about their work. So far the site has covered being your own muse, writing peer-reviewed papers while feeling overwhelmed by academia, patching plot holes in novels, and figuring out when to let go of a script draft that’s just not working out, among many other topics relevant to both fiction and nonfiction writers. The site is supported by Patreon and patrons get cool perks, including inspirational postcards and access to a priority question queue. Rose has been a professional writer, editor, and book reviewer for 20 years and is overflowing with great advice. Take a look at their site, and if you’re having trouble with writing of any kind, ask them a question!

I’ve got a piece up on awkward holiday conversations at BuzzFeed this week.

If you’re a new reader, here’s some stuff you might like to know:

Welcome!

 

O Captain my Captain:

How on earth does one ever take charge of the creative process when it requires the input of others? Please help.

The specifics: I’ve written a novel. (Okay, actually I’ve written three. But I could imagine that someone might want to publish this one someday.) Various friends, colleagues, etc. have offered to read it and provide comments. Of those people (all of who have received it roughly 6 months ago), I’ve gotten responses from … one. Out of ten.

The jerkbrain has a really good answer to this: it’s such shit that nobody can finish it, and they don’t want to be honest, so I should just smash the computer and move on with my life and find something else to do. Preferably something where I can fool people into thinking I’m competent. Fuck my dreams. Fuck the work I put in. I’m bad at this and that’s that.

How do I silence the jerkbrain? Actually, more importantly, how do I actually get some useful feedback so that I can actually work on making it better? (That would go a long way towards silencing the jerkbrain, since it would give me something to actually work on!)

I’ve tried leveling with the people I’m the closest to, and asked them to commit to reading it and getting me comments by some specific date. And: radio silence from one, broken promises from two more. And some good news: regular updates from one about the life events that are keeping her from getting there, which is awesome, and keeps giving me hope!

— the next Bulwer-Lytton [or insert your least favorite author here]

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