In Which I Respond to Advice by Chuck Wendig: Part One

So I’m reading this book – or PDF rather – called “250 Things You Should Know About Writing” by Chuck Wendig. I follow Wendig’s blog, terrible minds, but I can’t say I’ve ever read any of his books.  At least not until now.  So what prompted me to start now? This post.  It’s absolutely phenomenal and funny and actually has some good tips on writing. I heart it.  So that made me peek around the site and I found his book bundle on writing and gladly paid for it and here we are, checking out the first of eight books.

And this post shall be my thoughts on that book.

“You must always be learning, gaining, improving”

I agree with this heavily.  Mostly because a lot of the work I’ve been doing lately has been about honing my craft.  And it is a craft that is for certain.  When I haven’t been writing (which isn’t as often as I should be, alas) I’ve been reading.  I’ve been reading about writing in books like this one.  I’ve enrolled in a creative writing workshop. I’ve spent hours on Skillshare (have I mentioned how much I love skillshare?) looking into creativity.  I am learning so very much it makes me giddy with glee.

“Stones Are Polished By Agitation”

Or put another way, you learn via criticism and editing etc.  I am admittedly terrible at this.  I hide my work away, showing only others who will praise it.  That’s not good at all. Hopefully my writing workshop will help with that.

“Quit Quitting”

Damn.  Another one I’m terrible at.  I have two works in progress I guess you could say.  One I haven’t touched in months, the other in weeks.  Mostly because I think they’re shit.  But if I’m doing this the right way, that should matter.  I should give myself the permission to write shitty first drafts.  That’s what rewriting and editing is for.  I see this piece of advice so much, everywhere, that it just might get me to go back to my story about a girl who is the next grim reaper, but she doesn’t know that.  It might. Maybe.  The story is really shit so far.

“The storyteller operates best when he’s a little bit of a dick”

I need to embrace my inner dick.  I tend to wrap things up too neatly and take the obvious path in a story, and that’s not always good.  Sometimes you need a twist in the story.  Sometimes you need to push your characters off a cliff.

“Beginnings Are For Assholes…”

Or, begin as late into the story as you can. This I’m good at.  I like dropping the reader into something that’s been on-going off the page somewhere.  Plus I’m kind of shit at all the beginingy stuff.   It winds up very “And then THIS happened, and THAT happened, and WHOA THAT happened.” And then we get to where I want to be.  So I just cut out the front end. Sometimes a little too much. Because then there’s this:

“Go all high-karate-action and we have no context for the characters who are in danger, and no context means we don’t care, and if we don’t care then we’re already packing our bags in the first five minutes or five pages.”

Yeah.  That’s the problem with grim reaper girl.  There’s nothing to her.  I don’t care about her, so why should the reader? But that’s a problem for the rewrite, right? Right?

You give us a great character, our only desire becomes to lick him like he’s a hallucinogenic toad and take the crazy trip-ass ride wherever he has to go.”

I definitely need more hallucinogenic toads these days.

“Describe only what matters to the story. If the reader must know something, then ensure she knows it. I don’t give a fuck about your lamp. Or what leaf-rot is on the oak tree outside.”

This is highly, highly reassuring because I kind of suck at detailed description.  Like, I don’t even tell you what colour my character’s hair is.  I should probably do that, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I need more description but not too much.  This is good.

“good writing sounds good when spoken. Great writing is as much about the ear as it is about the eye”

This I am neither good nor bad at.  I don’t think I’ve ever really given it much thought.  But it’s certainly something I need to start taking into consideration, and it ties nicely into the standard advice that you should read your drafts aloud.  Of course that is usually when I decide they suck hard core and stop writing.  Must get through the draft before I do this in the future.

“Passive Constructions Were Killed By Me, In The Study, With A Lead Pipe”

My number one weakness right here ladies and gentlemen, the passive voice.  It’s not that I overuse it, it’s more that I don’t even know how to *recognize* it.  Wendig explains it, and I’ve heard about using the phrase “by zombies” or something, but I still don’t get it.  At all.  Someone help me?

And that leaves me at the end of the book! There are lots more tidbits in there and it’s only 99 cents!  Highly, highly recommended.

Cultural Appropriation in Fiction

So I happened upon this transcript of a speech given by Lionel Shriver (Author of “We Need to Talk About Kevin” amongst others).  While initially invited to discuss the theme of “community and belonging”, Shriver instead decided to discuss cultural appropriation and identity politics as they relate to fiction.

To bring it down to one over-generalized sentence, it seems we’re all just too sensitive.

Sigh.

So, here I am reading this article as not only a person of incredibly diverse backgrounds but also as a person who works in the field of diversity.  Diversity is my profession.  And while I agree with a lot of Shriver’s points, there are several that get my back up.

Shriver states that without so-called “cultural appropriation” that there would be no fiction at all because the author would be restrained to their own lived experience.  “The ultimate endpoint of keeping out [sic] mitts off experience that doesn’t belong to us is that there is no fiction.”

And she certainly has a point.  Fiction is about telling a story that isn’t true.  It uses characters who (usually!) aren’t real people.  If every white person never told a story from a black POV, yes, we would definitely be worse off in the end. But that is not what people who talk about “Cultural Appropriation” mean.  Ok, it’s at least not what I mean when I talk about the phrase.

Shriver says that cultural appropriation says “you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.”

No one says you can’t try on other people’s hats.  But it’s about doing so with the proper respect those hats deserve.  Because sometimes a hat isn’t just a hat, it’s a symbol, a tradition, a memory or a gift. Yes, fiction writers are paid to try on other people’s hats.  Try on all the hats you choose to. I am not saying writers shouldn’t or can’t write about another cultural or identity.

But have we ever thought about the fact that maybe it’s time to let the people with those identities do some of the writing too?  Or even first? For years white, privileged authors wrote about the Other with good will and good intentions.  Hurray.  But I must question why there weren’t more authors discussing their own identities? Maybe because writing and publishing is still such a game for the privileged.  It’s only fairly recently (from a historical POV) that women started writing under their own female names, for crying out loud.

“Membership of a larger group is not an identity. Being Asian is not an identity. Being gay is not an identity. Being deaf, blind, or wheelchair-bound is not an identity, nor is being economically deprived” (Shriver).

I couldn’t disagree more with this passage.  Being Asian IS an identity.  It may not be the only aspect of a person’s identity, but it is still a valid one. I am disabled.  That is one of my identities.  And to have Shriver attempt to take that away is insulting.  I have pride in my identities, don’t try to diminish them because they aren’t “enough” for you.  It’s not our job to make sure our identity is interesting or “enough”.

Shriver’s perspective is thus: “both as writers and as people, we should be seeking to push beyond the constraining categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth. If we embrace narrow group-based identities too fiercely, we cling to the very cages in which others would seek to trap us.”

That is easily said by someone who appears to be of a white, privileged background (yes, I could very easily be wrong).  It’s easy to say “Don’t let your disability, race, etc. define you!” when you haven’t actually worn that hat.  You may have tried it on, but you haven’t worn it for decades like many of us have.  Any hat can get heavy.  And besides, I prefer this perspective:

“Never forget what you are, for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.”

Cynical? Perhaps.  But also true to my lived experience.

All that to say, no one is stopping you from writing about the Other.  But maybe those of us in these marginalized groups want to hear and see our own voices out there, to see more diversity in the publishing and writing world. Is that so wrong?

Bucket List – Canadian edition

Been married: No.
Fallen in love: Yes.
Gone on a blind date: Yes.
Skipped school: Yes.
Watched someone die: No.
Been to France : No.
Ridden in an ambulance: No.
Been to United States: Yes.
Been to Europe : Yes.
Been to Toronto : Yes.
Been to Vancouver : Yes.
Been to Montreal : Yes
Visited Disney Land or World: Yes.
Visited Niagara Falls: Yes.
Seen the Grand Canyon: No.
Flown in a helicopter: No.
Been on a cruise: No.
Served on a jury: No.
Danced in the rain: Yes.
Been to New Brunswick : Driven through it.
Played in a band: No
Sung karaoke: Yes.
Made prank phone calls: Yes.
Laughed so much you cried: Yes.
️Caught a snowflake on your tongue: Yes.
‍Had children: No.
Had a pet: Yes.
Been sledding on a big hill: Yes.
Been downhill skiing: Yes.
Been jet skiing: No.
Ridden on a motorbike: No
Travelled on a bus, train & coach: Yes, yes and no.
Jumped out of a plane: No.
Been to an outside Movie: Yes.
Ridden a camel: Yes
Ridden a donkey: No.
Been on TV: No
Been in the newspaper: Yes.
Stayed in hospital: Yes
Donated blood: No.
Had a piercing: Yep.
Had a tattoo: Yes.
Driven over 100 mph: No. I don’t drive.
Been scuba diving: No.
Ridden in the back of a police car: Yes
Had a speeding ticket: No.
Broken a bone: Yes.
Had stitches: Yes.
Traveled Alone: Yes.