Thursday, November 13, 2014

Writer's update: the importance of writing badly

I thought of the idea for this post earlier this week when a friend of mine who is participating in NaNoWriMo read a scene from mine and told me he didn't like any of the stuff he'd written. This November, I'm actually finding it quite hard myself to like what I've written so far, but a few minutes ago I hit the 25K mark on my word count and I feel like my story is finally starting to take shape. 

The thing with writing is that, unless you're freakishly amazing all the time, you're not always going to be able to write well. Not every word you put on the page is going to be something you'll be proud of. Actually, a LOT of what you write is going to be really, really, really shit. Right now, that's how I feel about 15-20 thousand words of what I've written in the past thirteen days. So why do I keep going? Because if I don't accept the fact that sometimes I will write badly, then I will never have the chance to write well. 

I have several friends who aren't participating in NaNoWriMo because they think the rules are stupid (Holmes, I'm looking at you). And that's okay too, because everyone writes their stories differently. Everyone has their own creative process. For some people, that means word-vomiting into Google Docs as fast as you can, including for NaNoWriMo, and for other people, that means staring at the computer screen for hours on end and only getting out a few carefully thought out and worded paragraphs at a time. Regardless of which approach you take, there are going to be days where you write shit, an days when you realise you're shitting gold. Sometimes it comes out somewhere in between and you know what you've got in front of you has potential. Even some of the worst stuff you write could have potential and that's the thing--being a good writer isn't about always writing flawlessly amazing words every single time and becoming a bestseller overnight. Being a good writer is about being able to identify what parts of your work are good, what parts are bad, and what parts are okay. It's about being able to identify where potential lies and bring that potential to the surface. It's not just about the first draft. It's about the editing process too. It's about redrafting. And sometimes it's about making a hard call and moving on to something else even though you've already put a lot of work into what you've already written. 

Sometimes, it isn't about which approach you take (QUITE-WRITE-A-FIRST-DRAFT-HURRY vs staring-at-the-screen-and-being-pedantic-about-every-word-I-write). Sometimes it's about which approach your story wants to take. At the moment, my NaNoWriMo is my first attempt at novel-length literary fiction. Yes, yes, crucify me and tell me what a snotty bastard I am for temporarily turning my back on genre fiction. The thing is, my attempts at literary fiction in the past have used the process that does not work well with NaNoWriMo and at times I've stopped and wondered if trying to write this particular novel for NaNoWriMo was a bad idea. And maybe it was. Maybe this would have been way easier to sit down and nut out slowly. But I started something and now I'm going to finish it. And even though it's probably going to be one of the worse novel-length pieces I've ever written--what with it's inconsistent voice and inability to STAY literary and not slip into one genre or another--the fact of the matter is that at the end of the this project, I'll have the first draft of another novel, which I already think has potential, even if it's only in the story and not so much the way it's been written. At some point, maybe later in 2015 or 2016 when it's been put aside for a little while and I've worked on something else and I can return to it with fresh eyes, I'll return to this novel and see if the writing can be salvaged or if I need to write it all over again. And I'm okay with writing it all over again. I am a writer. It's okay to press delete. And it's okay to hit the backspace key. And it's okay to abandon a project completely and move on to something else. As long as I maintain that I am a writer and I don't give up on writing. 

Writing badly is also important so that you can get it out of your system. It's more ideal to do this when you're NOT working on a big project that you're trying to take seriously, but beggars can't be choosers. Once the bad writing is out and on the page, what else is to follow but the okay writing and the good writing? And that's why it's important that we allow ourselves to write badly sometimes. And I don't mean to encourage anyone to be lazy in the way they write and then use this as a justification. I'm just saying: it's okay. 

So even though I hate most of what I've written so far and I'm now halfway to the NaNoWriMo word goal, I'm going to keep going, because I think I've gotten the worst of it out of my system and things are starting to perk up a little now. And whatever I wrote awfully at the start is something I can return to later and write all over again. Because that's what I do. I am a writer. 

How badly can you write?
Bonnee. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Writer's update: long time, no see

That moment when it's November and you realise you haven't blogged since August ... woops. I'm still alive, I swear! Well then, what the heck have I been doing? Yes, I've been asking myself this question quite a bit as well. And turns out, I've actually been up to a lot more than I realised.

Well first of all, I got a second job. Still at the university library, but a bit different to my job as a Student Rover. Throughout September, I was working 9-5 usually 2 or 3 days a week doing some writing and communications stuff for the head librarian. So that was pretty cool. I now have an access card to the staff only area and for a little while there I had a desk pretty close to all the offices of important library people. Then the head librarian was running out of time to give me stuff to do, so she got the service desk people to train me so that I can do all of that stuff too, so I've had a couple of shifts doing that in October. Now I'm finished with my second year of uni, so work at the library is a little slow. The Student Rover program won't run again until March next year, but in the meantime I'll still get the odd shift on the service desk during the summer teaching period.

But in between all that work in September and early October I was also still going to uni for eight hours on Mondays, meeting with the WORDLY production team on Wednesdays, and working on assignments. Well, actually, I kind of left all my assignments until the week before they were due, so in the space of one week I cranked out 3 essays ... and two of them were philosophy essays, so that made my thinker-box hurt quite a bit and I was filled with regret.

But before my assignments were all due, I was working both in the library and on the final edition of WORDLY for 2014 and I've got to say I am quite proud of what we produced for the Writers Club. We launched the final edition at the end of September and accompanied the launch with an open-mic spoken word event, and the Deakin Writers Club annual general meeting, where the new executive committee for the club and the magazine was elected. So, I am now production manager of WORDLY magazine and president of the Deakin Writers Club for 2015 and pretty excited about it. I have great faith in the rest of the executive team and I think we're going to work really well together to make 2015 an awesome year for all things writerly at Deakin.

So yeah, after all that and writing my assignments, I bummed around res for a couple of weeks while all my housemates suffered through exams (mwahahahahahaha suckers) and watched a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with various people because it's amazing. I went on a bit of a holiday with two of my best writerly friends, Watson and Holmes, and we did nerdy writerly things for a weekend and a bit. Then I got all of my marks back and I was pretty happy with them. It was a good trimester at uni, overall. Then I went back to my hometown for a little and managed to get my probationary drivers licence, drove back up to uni, and moved all my stuff off res because it was that time of year again. It was very sad saying goodbye to all of my housemates and other ressie friends, especially the ones I've known since my first year on res. It was sad saying goodbye to res in general, because it's been my home for two years now and such an amazing place. I'll miss it dearly, but the lease was over and it was time to move to another dwelling. I haven't moved far from the university, so I'll still be able to get in to go to work pretty easily.

And last of all, it's November! Which mean I've started NaNoWriMo again. This year, I'm taking the idea I used for my fiction piece in trimester 1 and turning it into a full-length novel. I don't think I'm doing a particularly fantastic job of it thus far, but hey, what are first drafts for if not for making an absolute mess of a great idea? But what happened to my project from last year, the one I blue-tacked all to my bedroom wall on res? Well, I had to take it down when I moved out, but I did finish the first round of edits a little while ago now. Last month, I finally started transferring those edits to the document on my computer. After NaNoWriMo this year, I'll be spending most of the summer editing that, along with the work of another friend which he gave to me back in September. I've been intending to write a story sins blog post about WALLS, but I guess that'll have to wait for a little while longer. For now, lets see if being on summer holidays can get me back into the swing of blogging.

Where have your writerly ventures taken you these past few months?
Bonnee.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

An Open Day Experience

WARNING: May contain ranting.

I was lucky enough to be asked by one of my teachers to work at the open day for my university last weekend. She wanted me to be a student ambassador for the Professional and Creative Writing major and because I am ridiculously organised and checked out the course rules and mapped out all my units for the entire three years the moment I enrolled I knew I wouldn't have a problem doing that.

So open day came around and I got a cool blue Deakin shirt that all the other student ambassadors were wearing. I stood outside the little stall set up for the PCW major. We were sharing a stall with Children's Literature, which I know a little bit about through my minor study, and Literature, which I only know of through a few friends doing it as a minor study.

I was having a fantastic day. I love my course and I was really happy to have the chance to share my experiences and knowledge with potential students for next year. I'd start each conversation by telling them which units they had to complete and what they entailed. I'd tell them how amazing the lecturer Dr Pont is for the first unit they would have to do. They seemed so amazed by the flexibility they could have in choosing units and the opportunities for networking with other writers and chances they'd have to get published if they kept their ears and contacts open. I was impressed with myself for being able to answer so many of their questions, even the parents who would pipe up and ask me something seemed satisfied by my answers, especially when they'd ask something like 'what's your goal at the end of your course? What career opportunities will you have? What will you be qualified to do?'

Then this one guy was standing in front of our stall, looking at the names of the majors we were representing on big signs on the wall behind us. He stood there for a few minutes and eventually I stepped up to him and asked if there was anything I could help him with. For all I knew, he was a mature aged student, or the father of some kid who was about to finish high school with no clue of what they wanted to do next. At first he said no, he was just waiting for someone. Then he asked me what course I was representing and I held up my little info flyer and pointed to the Professional and Creative Writing heading.

I won't say he laughed. He didn't laugh. But he may as well have.

He made one of those sounds of disbelief that I never know what to call (I don't always want to say scoff, because it has some mean connotations, but it's probably fitting in this case). And he did it with such condescension that I physically had to force myself to keep smiling and appear unfazed.

His body language changed. He started casually hopping from foot to foot as if he was bored, and started throwing and catching the little stress ball in his hand. While he was doing that, he asked said, 'Alright, sell it to me.' Then he said something to the effect of, 'Why should anyone bother with this course?'

I was mad. Who the fuck did this guy think he was, knocking my course right in front of me? But I'd been selling this to people for two hours already and doing a damn good job of it. So I started listing the skills one could acquire and improve if they did the Professional and Creative Writing major. I told him how much better I am at writing, both professionally and creatively, and how I could edit other people's work like no one's business to make it better, and every business, company, corporation, institution etc. put out any sort of publication (text advertisements, information booklets, video campaigns which need scripts, etc.) needs a good writer and/or editor to do that sort of thing for them if they want it to look professional.

Then he cut me off and said something to the effect of, 'Wouldn't it be better if they just taught kids all that stuff in high school? I mean aren't you just creating a bureaucracy?'

He didn't care to listen to my defenses. Every time I started speaking again, he just cut me off and started going on about bureaucracy and speaking to me in such a pretentious way that frankly he was lucky I was working, in a uniform, with my peers and superiors nearby. Under different circumstances, I probably would have referred him to the My Vagenda article I wrote for the Awkward edition of WORDLY, to give him an idea of what I thought of him.

We were interrupted when his wife came over and I realised she was a staff member at my university. She was working at the next table over, representing the journalism, media communications, and public relations side of things. I had thought it was interesting that both of our stalls were together under the Writing and Communications banner, but not only were there two separate tables, we had taken up different colours to distinguish the obviously more creative majors under that banner from the more serious (for lack of a better word) majors.

In that moment, I knew that there was no way this man would ever be convinced that my course was worth undertaking. There are a lot of people I know who ask me what I'm studying, and when I tell them I study writing they immediately turn around and say, 'So, like journalism?' It ticks me off, probably to an irrational extent, that so few people (except those also doing my course) consider what I'm studying to be substantial, to be worth studying if I want to get a job at the end of it. I spent the rest of open day refraining from shooting this jerk dirty looks as he hung around the journalism/communications/public relations table and trying not to let it get under my skin.

Later, when I had some time to myself, I sat there contemplating all the things I could have said to this guy to shut him down and prove that my course isn't as useless as he makes it sound. I knew his argument had holes and then I could make them bigger if I poked them. If it weren't for the sake of maintaining professionalism while I was working, I wouldn't have let him cut me off so easily. I probably would have cut him off at a few points.

Describing him with a few choice words aside, I would have argued that for him to suggest that we just teach kids the things I was telling him about in high school makes him an idealist. While in theory, yeah, great plan, it would be like communism once it's put in to practice: epic fail. In saying that we may as well teach high school students the stuff I learn in my course, he may as well have suggested we teach high school kids everything a university student is capable of studying and cut out the idea of university altogether. But that wouldn't work. Not every kid is an Einstein. And frankly, even the ones that are usually only excel like that in certain areas. The thing is, we do teach all those things to high school students: at a high school level. For me, the point of coming to university was to take what I excelled in during high school and study it at a higher, more in-depth level to make myself even better at it.

I suck at science. My maths is pretty average. But I am in my element when I'm writing (especially creatively) and when I'm editing. However, there are heaps of people who have it the other way around. They might be ace at science or maths or IT, but have terrible professional English skills. The thing is, because we all excel in different areas, we balance each other out. I'm writing a pantomime for a bio-medicine student at the moment! If that isn't a perfect example, then I don't know what is. Does this guy, and everyone who thinks like him, want to live in a world where there is no creative stimuli for them to take in? No great books to read, regardless of whether you prefer commercial or literary? Movies and television shows couldn't exist if someone didn't write a script, and all those pop songs you hear on the radio sure as hell don't write themselves.

I had a great time working at the open day. Not only did I get to tell heaps of potential students about my course: I realised how truly passionate I am about what I'm doing and how much faith I have in what I'm learning and my potential to utilise it. No one can convince me that my talents are useless and no amount of condescension and narrow-mindedness can make me change what I want to do with my life.

What do you want to rant about this week? 
- Bonnee.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Writer's Update: I'm Still Alive

So in my brain, I knew I hadn't blogged in a while. But in my brain, it hadn't been a whole month.

Turns out, having only one day of class does not mean I have all the time in the world for the rest of the week. I've been working usually once or twice a week. This week I worked three times and might be working a fourth on Sunday for the university's open day. I love working in the Deakin Library. I feel very in my element surrounded by all those books...

In the first four weeks back at uni, I managed to marathon the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender TV series with a few of my housemates. I feel so proud to have converted them to the fandom of the awesomeness that Nickelodeon has created. So... that was 20 hours and 20 minutes of cartoon watching and a lot of time spent not studying or doing anything else productive.

We just finished week five of classes, and had our mid-trimester break. Just before the mid-trimester break, I forced myself to get it over and done with and finally finished editing those last five pages of WALLS. My bedroom wall is still covered in the pages, which are now covered in highlighter, red pen, and an assortment of sticky notes. It looks awesome and I am completely used to it. I have to remind myself to explain what's going on in there when people come into my room for the first time. I've gotten a few 'WTF' looks.

My original goal for the mid-trimester break was to type up the edited version of WALLS and start the next round of edits. That didn't happen, because another project with a pressing deadline popped up instead. One of my best friends, a girl I lived with on res last year, is heavily involved with her hometown's local theatre company and wanted to direct a pantomime early next year, during our summer break in January. She asked me to write the script. So before the break we sat down and ironed out some details. And then over five days of my mid-trimester break, I cranked out a 10500 word Alice in Wonderland pantomime script. I'm quite proud of it, if I do say so myself. My friend is pretty happy with it. Fingers crossed the theatre company will give her the 100% thumbs up now that we have a script and the rest of the process of putting on a play can get underway.

I had to read the book Rash by Pete Hautman. Young Adult dystopian set in a future United Safe States of America. It was interesting, a little absurd at a few points. Overall, I enjoyed it.

Meanwhile, we've launched the 'Awkward' edition of WORDLY Magazine. I love being on the editorial team and working with the writers and other editors. This edition, I got super lucky and had two of my pieces accepted. Poem Fuckin' Poetry which I'd originally written for my final poetry folio last semester, and an article we ended up calling My Vagenda, in which I express and defend my love for the c-bomb.

We've been collecting submissions for the final edition of 2014, which does not have a theme. I'm really enjoying working on the team and hope I'll always be able to get involved with something like this.

Meanwhile, I've convinced myself that there is some sort of gap between the end of August and the start of September in which I will find time to write my two essays due in the first week of September. I told myself today I would stop procrastinating and start writing them... so naturally, the logical thing to do is write a blog post.

I'm going to try and get back into the swing of blogging, because I really miss it and I miss reading other people's blogs. So I'll aim for a post every two weeks at least.

What have you been up to for the past month? 
- Bonnee.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Back to Uni

Whoa, so I disappeared off the face of the blogosphere for more than a month... oops.

I'm back at uni now. In fact, I'm in the second week of the new trimester. Yay! I missed uni and res a lot, so I'm not sure how I managed to go the ENTIRE mid-year break without blogging excessively... But that happened.

So here's what you need to know:

1. I only have eight hours of classes per week this year. And I fit all of those classes into one day. In other words, I only have eleven days of class for the entire trimester (trimester=11 weeks). It also means I have a six day weekend as far as classes go. This is good because I now have optimum availability to work at the library as I am available for all of the shifts that aren't on a Monday. Yay! This also means I have a lot of time to study, edit, write, procrastinate, and socialise without getting interrupted by class. This could go one of two ways. Either, I'm going to utilise all this uninterrupted free time and be ultra productive for eleven weeks... or I'm going to melt into a pit of eternal laziness. I'm hoping for the former, but we'll see!

2. My units this semester are Power, Politics, and Texts for Young People (as a part of my Children's Literature minor), Editing and the Author (for the Professional and Creative Writing major), Ethics in Global Society (for the self-coordinated philosophy major) and Philosophy, Art, Film (also for the philosophy major).

3. I had to get an Australian Style Manual and Mackenzie's The Editor's Companion 2nd Edition for EATA. They are amazingly beautiful resources and I am going to keep them forever.

4. I read The Hunger Games again for the kid's lit unit. I maintain the opinions which I stated in this blogpost from early last year, though I would like to insert the word 'impersonal' to the part where I'm talking about the style of writing and the issues I had there. The class about it was pretty interesting and my first assignment is about the book, so I'll probably blog about it again in the coming weeks.

5. I didn't meet my own deadline for the WALLS edits. I was SO CLOSE to finishing it the night before classes started, but it was past midnight and I was really tired and I know I only had five pages left but I stopped and went to bed and haven't touched it since. I am a bad person. I really want to finish it. By the same token, I've enjoyed the task so much that I don't really want it to end, but I am eager to get into the next stage of edits and just generally keep improving the manuscript.

6. Although I still have five pages to go, my room looks pretty cool with all the pages covered in red pen and highlightings and sticky-notes stuck to the walls, if I do say so myself.

7. The next edition of Wordly magazine is coming soon with the edits well under way. We are expecting to launch in two weeks and start our call for submissions for the last edition of the year shortly thereafter.

What writerly things have you all been up to for the past month? 
- Bonnee.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Writer's Update: Subconscious Avoidance and Trigger Warnings

I've returned to res this week so that I can edit to my heart's content and do my first week of readings before  trimester 2 classes start next week. I'm very excited to get back into study-mode and also to see all of my uni friends again (Holmes, Watson, I miss you guys!). I'm also excited about my awesome timetable. I got all of my first preferences for my class allocations, and have ended up with all 8 hours I'm required to be on campus scheduled from 9-5 on Monday. I may not have a lunch break, but I have a six day weekend and optimum availability for work at the library and helping put together the next edition of Wordly magazine. Be jealous of my six day weekend.

But for this next week, I'm aiming to edit 10 pages of my manuscript each day in order to complete this first round of serious edits before classes start again. So far, so good. My pages (along with my hands and the cuffs of the sleeves of my hoodie) are covered in red pen and orange/pink/purple highlighter. On Sunday, I finished the first wall of pages, which just so happens to be the first half (70 pages) of the manuscript.

Not a great photo, but you get the gist.
I had plenty of chances to finish this wall of pages before I went back to my hometown. I had five pages left when I departed res and since I've finally finished those pages and continued to edit ten more on the next wall, I think I've figured out why I kept putting it off. It's most likely just coincidental, but it's not like I didn't know what those five pages that I kept avoiding contained. Yesterday and today, I have edited fifteen pages, and it has been emotionally taxing. I knew one of the sad parts was upon me for edits and I might have been subconsciously avoiding it because I of how dark the story was about to get.

I've passed the worst of the emotional sections for now, but I know there's another part coming up towards the end that is even more intense. I wonder if I'll find myself avoiding those pages when I get to that part.

This all makes me stop and think about the things people read and write. I know I've put my beautiful character Mil and Kovax through some really traumatic shit. But where does a writer draw the line? I tend to go with the philosophy that nothing is off limits, but does that lessen my chances of getting published later? WALLS is something I'm going to want to stick trigger warnings all over because of how messed up some parts are, even though I'd rather let readers go into the book without knowing what to expect. I've considered being more subtle about certain things which are currently heavily implied, but I don't want to beat around the bush with the dark parts of this story. That isn't my style, not in this book anyway.

I had this issue on my mind the whole way through NaNoWriMo last year when I was cranking out that first draft, but I set it aside and told myself I could come back and reassess the situation later. Earlier this year, an old friend of mine who used to get me to edit her fanfiction work (oh those were the days...) got in touch with me again for the first time in a couple of years and we started working together again, only this time I let her read some of my work too. I was giving each chapter of WALLS a quick proofread and then sending it to her for feedback. I had just sent her the third chapter when I decided to mention that later in the story there were some darker issues. With most of my other friends who have read a few chapters, I never bothered to mention it, but I wanted to warn this friend because of some personal stuff involving people around her that I knew had contributed to our lack of communication in recent years. At first, she seemed alright with it as long as I warned her when she was about to read the sad chapters, but when she asked for a bit more detail as to what I meant by 'sad', I told her truthfully some of the darker issues that were going to be covered and she never replied. It could just be another coincidence and she's dropped off the face of the earth again and will email again in a couple of years, but I can't be certain that her sudden silence isn't related to the touchy issues I warned her would be later in the story.

So I guess to end this blog post, I'm wondering what you guys think about story content worthy of a trigger warning.  Have you ever read it? Did the book come with a trigger warning? Have you ever written it? To what extent of detail? 

- Bonnee.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Writer's Update: Holiday Blues

It's the last week of my uni holidays before o-week starts for the second half of the year, and I'm very excited for classes and work to start again!

My goal for these weeks without classes was to edit the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year, WALLS. I am still in the process of editing, but I've fallen behind due not having stayed on res for the whole of the holidays. I've spent about three weeks in my hometown, while the printed manuscript that I'm editing from is blue tacked to my room at res. But classes don't start again until the 14th, and I'm confident I'll be able to catch up to where I was to be before then.

I still feel like a crazy person every time I go into my room at res and see everything up on my walls. It's even crazier now that there's red pen and highlighters all over the first 70 pages, covering the wall above my bed.

But away from res, I have been working instead on submissions for the next edition of WORDLY magazine, which I'm having a pretty heavy hand in helping produce. After the 'time' edition came out at the end of last semester, we decided that the theme for the next edition should be 'awkward'. So I've been encouraging my writerly friends to share their awkward moments with us for the magazine. The 'time' edition was our best yet and so I'm really excited to be so involved in the 'awkward' edition.

Earlier in the month, I also submitted three pieces to Deakin's annual literary and arts journal, Verandah, which is scheduled to release it's 29th edition in August.

At the moment, I'm just sitting tight and waiting to get the last of my marks for the first half of the year. I'll be very happy if I maintain a distinction average.

What have you been writing lately? 

- Bonnee.

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