Shaping Unreality With Intangibility: A NaNoWriMo Story

The end of NaNoWriMo is approaching. Seven days remain between thousands of writers and 50,000 words. At first it seemed such a daunting task, but at over 39,000 I now realize that fifty thousand words is achievable. When the word count in my document registered only 600, than 2000, then 8000, I was still consumed by panic that I would fail. I tried to ease my mind with complacencies, like I wanted to finish so I would, or the point is to make the attempt.

For 23 days I have walked in another world—a place where black lines stack upon black, up and up, taller and taller, forming a ladder towering into infinity above me. It’s a world littered with empty bottles of melatonin, scattered about my bathroom floor, in my fruitless attempts to soothe my worsening insomnia. It’s a world built on the bones of my ragged thesaurus, paper wearing thin where my fingers slip and slide over pages. It’s a world where I am consumed in another world outside the real world, but still encased within the real. It’s a world where I want to convey the meaning of a thing while the meaning itself is still coalescing.

The Christmas tree is up, snow blankets the ground, and the lights glitter along the porch railing. Yet my nights are consumed by a place where Christmas doesn’t exist, except in the remembered halls of the past. My children run around me like wild things, while I write about a place where parents don’t have children. I am immersed in an unreality shaped only with the intangibility of words.

I first heard about NaNoWriMo way way back, when I was 15. NaNo was in its infancy then, just entering its fourth year. In the depths of an online secret society, I was surrounded by ambitious creatives who told me about this strange thing called NaNo. People who I knew were striving to surmount an obstacle that seemed a million times more impossible than it does now. I perceived it as insanity, yet there were other people my age who were going to try to reach the lofty goal of 50,000 words. I think one, maybe two even did. It blew my mind to think what my peers could realize with only passion and persistence. Then they did it again the year after, and the year after that. And always, I knew November meant NaNoWriMo and I never tried to do the thing that always hung in the back of my mind.

A novel was something I read, not something I wrote, and at 15, at 16, at 21, I wasn’t a writer. I didn’t envision a future where I was a writer. I was a reader. Some people are writers their whole lives, from the first moment they can scribble letters on a page. I scribbled lines on a page, not letters, I splashed colour on canvas, not characters on blank screens. I have no idea when I became a writer, though I remember the first literary thing I ever wrote. I was just shy of 18-years-old in Grade 12 English. Mrs. Honsberger revealed what words can do. She was the first person who showed me how to wield them and take power from them. A mouse, scrabbling over bare wooden floors in a small-town grocery shop. That’s about all I can recall; I’m sure it was total crap but she gave me an A and encouraged me to write more. It was the description and detail that I enjoyed and that’s where it began, I suppose. Writing became a reality with a rural newspaper editor who saw potential in me, or perhaps was just in desperate need to fill an always vacant position.

When I interviewed for the magazine they wanted to know what my five year goal was. I told them I wanted to write a novel in the next five years. I mean, vaguely yes I had a desire to one day write a novel, but I wasn’t making hard and fast plans or doing anything concrete to bring that quiet aspiration about. That was less than three years ago. If I can finish NaNo I didn’t lie.

When I browse the forums on the NaNoWriMo website I see some people who are dead on track to win, some people who have surpassed 50,000 words and climbing, one person with over 100K written down on paper. But, what I see a lot of is 2516, 5833, 16999, and so on. People who have petered out, or given up, or lost their drive, or put NaNo on the back-burner for the insanity of life. It’s kind of sad to see all those hopes just sitting there forgotten. The first day of NaNo there were 12 people in my region’s chatroom. For the past two week there have been zero. Winning is hard.

I want to make it to 50,000. More than that, I want to finish the story. I have seven days.

 

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Over Editing and The Creative Process

Editors are often great at what they do and they are an essential cog in the editorial machinery, but sometimes editors are not so great. Sometimes editors become micro-managers. Sometimes editors over edit, again and again, without justifiable cause, because a writer said something in a way, they themselves, would not have said it. Over editing puts artistic diversity at risk and is one of the greatest detriments to a productive editorial process.

Over editing makes writers wary of submitting their work for publication, it makes writers lose confidence in their artistic abilities (stylistic and technical) and it stifles the diversification of distinct voices that speak to the multitude and variance of the modern human experience. Media outlets employ multiple writers for the sake of having multiple voices that appeal to widely disparate demographics. If all those diverse voices are channelled through one outlet, an editor who over edits work, then the voices coming out on the other end lose their authenticity. They become voices that sound too similar, saying things that are all the same. A unified voice is not the same thing as an identical voice.

I doubt there is a writer out there who hasn’t come across at least one editor who over edits. I do work as an editor. I myself, have fallen into the trap of over editing. It’s easy to become carried away. One of the best skills you can hone is to detach yourself from another writer’s work. To look at it objectively and pinpoint problem areas, that is a skill that helps everyone. Re-writing for the pure sake of style smothers artistic expression and creates hostility  in an environment that should be creatively productive.

Would you paint over another artist’s canvas?

Imagine if I was a painter and the curator of the gallery who displayed my work came along and said, ‘You know, I think this colour would have been better here, and if I were you I would have used a different brush stroke there… can you just move for a second.” Then, in the blink of an eye she’d whipped out a brush and palette and smothered a unique and irreplaceable utterance of my soul in fresh globs of angry pigment, obscuring the reality of my voice.

How would you react to that? With resentment? Anger? I would. I do. I boil inside when my work is over edited. I hammer at my keyboard and send scathing private messages to my Facebook gal pals about how I hate her hate her hate her (or him). I scribble nasty comments on my pages, envision stabbing said editor in the eyes with my vicious pen. After my initial rage burns away I’m left feeling empty, with a single unanswerable question hanging in my mind.

Why?

Why was your sentence, your new sentence, which spoke my ideas in the most unfamiliar of words, so much better than mine? It wasn’t grammar, I know my grammar was fine, if not impeccable. It was that my voice and your voice didn’t mesh. When you read my words, you only heard how your words would say it. You ruffled your feathers because I express differently than you. Then, you took your mighty pen and scribbled all over my text, inserting yourself—your voice—into my story. And, when I ask, when I am direct, the answer is always the same: I don’t see what you’re talking about, it looks fine to me.

Working with an editor should be about polishing, improving and clarifying your writing. It should be a mutually positive experience. It should not leave your writers feeling neurotic and emotional. It shouldn’t be disheartening and disempowering. The worst feeling in the world is receiving an email from an editor who has a history of over editing your work. Before you even open it you know whatever it says will be negative, know whatever you’re about to read printed on the page will be written with a voice that’s unrecognizable.

Grammar. It’s important. A sentence can’t possibly convey an idea accurately to a reader if it isn’t constructed properly. If a sentence is poorly constructed, the meaning can become twisted or the sentence can be construed in multiple ways, depending on how it’s read. Editing for grammar, that’s good. Verbosity. It’s, well, verbose. Words, for the sake of words; sometimes writers get carried away with language. Editing to make a work more concise, that’s good. Cohesion. Connecting paragraphs and ideas in the best order is important. Editing for smoother movement through a text, that’s good. The inverted pyramid. The subject and the most important bits first, because modern readers have a tendency to lose focus. Reorganization can have great benefits to a text.

Editing to rip apart a writer’s works, to extract their specific and purposeful choice of words, and insert your own words, your own voice, to make yourself more comfortable, that’s wrong. That’s bad. Your writer’s experience is unique, he or she brought something to their article or story that you could never have imbibed in it, and when you start meddling with their language and their imagery you impede the transmission of their intended message to it’s intended audience.

This is not a hate on editors. Editors are good. Editors make our writing better. Editors can be a guiding force that push their writers to greater heights. However, we should remain vigilant against over editing. Writers are artists too and there is nothing that protects our work from a micro-managing editor, except the singular choice to withdraw our story, or article, from publication. That’s not enough.

p.s. do you like my nod to Iain Banks?

I’d Like To Order A World Without A Side of Ads, please

Wherever you go, whatever you look at (books, TV, movies, magazines, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) advertisements have so insidiously integrated themselves into media that as our eyes flick at speed across the screen (or page) we absorb, and acknowledge, commercial messages almost as instantaneously as we move on to the next blurb of text waiting to be read. There is a world out there that doesn’t feed its users more advertising content than editorial content, but it lies under the surface of mainstream media. You simply have to exercise a little effort to find it. Recently I came across a brand new women’s magazine called Lucia Journal. Lucia is all about providing a millennial audience with millennial content, without millennial consumerism. Uhm yes, I’ll take a saucy magazine please, and hold the ads.

 

Have you read a magazine without advertisements? Watched a movie without product placements? If you have, how often does this happen? Once a day, once a month, maybe more like once a year or even less infrequently. For some of us it’s never. Especially if you enjoy pop culture. What if you could have your women’s magazine, without unnaturally beautiful models selling glossy products? We are so socially saturated with commercials and advertisements that they have become akin to the white noise of life — a constant humming of capitalism in the background. Our over-taxed brains, at least brains that function as they are meant to, are capable of filtering out the burden of contemporary stimuli. And so, the abundance of PR hoopla fades into the periphery of our day, rarely acknowledged but constantly and consistently present. It is like a shadow, not quite imperceptible and never far from hand; a digitized haze of information overlaying everything. No longer is it a right to live in a world without commercial bombardment or information overload. It is the right of successful high-profile companies to shovel information down your throat at every turn. That this is the reality of our modern world, is a “fact” so easily accepted we don’t even realize we ourselves are the ones who allow it to perpetuate.  Advertising is a simple and straightforward way to subsidize, or even eliminate, the cost of the cultural media we are so hungry to consume. It is sensible, and it is like drowning in sound you think you barely hear or sinking under the weight images you think you barely see.

and coffee is empty. but pages are full. a good morning. #handwrite #kickstarter #kickstartlucia #givevoicetoyourheart

A post shared by Lucia Journal (@luciajournal) on

 

We can choose to live differently. We can support cultural media that eschews commercialism, that strives to be inclusive and body positive, and speaks with a strong, clear and witty voice. We can partake in a media revolution by backing publications like Lucia, that turn to Kickstarter and crowd sourcing to launch themselves, even if its a struggle, even if it’s much harder than allowing advertising to infiltrate their pages. But, really, what is the difference between a magazine that costs you $6 and one that costs you $12? Aside from the equivalent of your over-priced soy latte, the difference is a series of moments without white noise buzzing in your ear.

Online Media Is Reviving The Writing Industry

Pussy+Pouch_Circular

Bustle.com is an amazing example of the success emergent online media has been experiencing over the past couple years. There was a time when journalism was seen as a dying industry and we were counting the days until writers were considered completely unemployable, but that’s no longer the case. Editorial media is experiencing wildfire growth. What I personally find great about websites like Bustle, or The Indie Chicks, or Bitch Media, or Jezebel, etc. is these websites are the very antithesis of aggregate content (cough huff post cough); every single article is original and it’s got a pure, authentic, upbeat conversational tone. At it’s heart, it’s one big conversation about our mutual experiences as an intensely connected culture. I mean we’ve never been more connected as a people than we are today. Where am I going with this. Oh, I am super delighted to have written three articles for Bustle this month!

Hysterectomies.

Bad-ass pregnant women.

Vagina purses

Nick-K/Flickr

Rihanna and Dior: A Black Mask On White-Washed Social Elitism

When Dior announced that Rhianna was going to be named the new face of the company’s Secret Garden campaign I immediately popped on email to let my editor at POSHGLAM know about it. When she heard my proclamation — let’s get a quicky news bit up fast — she was less than impressed with me. It’s always nice when your boss is disappointed in you.

I originally wrote this piece for one reason only: my black editor prodded me to examine Dior’s problematic racial and gendered history. She was always pushing for an edgy examination of fashion.

I have lots of love for Rihanna’s edgy lyrics and sweet beats. I’ve been tuning in to listen to RiRi since her Pon De Replay days. But, you know I have no real love for Dior since I actually dug into learning about the fashion house. It’s not so much that Dior has a shady history, because let’s face it, lot’s of long-lived companies haven’t always been socially righteous. What I was really disappointed to discover was how Dior has repeatedly failed to correct those past issues in its present day business operations.

So, no, I haven’t written another joyous exclamation of Rihanna’s amazing news.

POSGHLAM is now defunct, which is really too bad. The piece in question is now hosted on my blog. Read it here.