Writing Q&A

I tend not to write about the fact that I write. Nevertheless, when writer/editor Christina Vasilevski and SFF author Benjanun Sriduangkaew were kind enough to include me in this bloghop that’s been happening across many writers’ blogs, I agreed to answer some questions about my writing process.

What is one thing you’ve learned about writing that you wish you knew when you started?

That it isn’t a completely solitary activity. Yes, there is plenty of sitting alone with the text (or blank page, as it were) – but getting feedback is a crucial part of the game. Partly because you can’t deliver your best writing without it, but more just because writing is a communicative act. It is important to feel like you have an audience – and I mean people who actually want to read what you’re writing. Critique partners/groups are valuable, but it’s not enough if the only people reading your stuff are doing it in the hope you’ll return the favour. Not least because criticism and publisher rejections will be tremendously painful if you aren’t validated in your writing elsewhere. (They may always sting on some level, but it makes a world of difference when you feel that there are (other) people who believe your writing matters.)

What are 3 things you don’t write?

1. Real people as characters in fiction. Representing real people in a way that does them justice carries a burden of responsibility that I just don’t want. Also, I want the control to tailor my characters to the story I want to tell, which I can generally only achieve with my own creations.

2. Stories that happen through the filter of modern people trying to uncover historical or folkloric mysteries (cf. The Call of Cthulhu or The Da Vinci Code). I enjoy doing research but I’m not into writing (or reading) about other people doing it!

3. Sweeping epic narratives. I’m more interested in exploring individuals than groups.

What are 3 things you do write?

1. Humour. Not everything I write is funny, but half the fun of writing for me is the freedom to be random and see what sticks! And I confess I am not above the occasional in-joke, especially across languages. But I’ve also found that some of the most profound things I’ve written have come out unconsciously between the lines of being silly.

2. Stories of people who get something they really want, only to find that the reality of that thing doesn’t match up at all to their expectations. (I don’t consciously seek to write this theme, but I find it comes up a lot.)

3. Unusual combinations. Often, but not always, related to being funny. For instance, my present project is a sort-of-cyberpunk Mughal courtesan novel

If you could go back in time to witness one particular historical event (knowing that your presence wouldn’t alter the timeline), what would you choose?

I’m not so interested in events that make it into history books. But I wouldn’t, say, pass up the chance to watch the original performances of ancient Greek drama.

If you could delete 3 words from the English language, what would they be?

For some reason, modern abbreviations in the vein of “totes” (totally) and “deets” (details) really annoy me. I can’t explain why; I usually enjoy the expressive-play possibilities of new slang, but this one just gets on my nerves!

More seriously, I would strike out the words “harem” and “barbarian”. When you look at the terms closely – at their origins as well as how their present connotations compare to their real-life referents – they turn out to be steeped in some really degrading interpretations of foreign cultures.

What is one piece of writing advice that you think is really overrated? Why?

The vilification of any particular writing feature, be it adverbs or “telling” (vs. “showing”). I grant that it’s more common to see adverbs or “telling” used badly than well – but all the advice out there to avoid them has given rise to a problematic mentality that they are inherently weak things for a writer to do. They aren’t. They weaken writing when used in unskilled ways.

In turn, I’m tagging another writer I know who’s fun, has a great imagination, and employs it with sensitivity. Go check her out:

Amelia Aldred was raised in Indiana and eventually wandered north to Chicago. She works as a researcher by day and writes fiction and creative-nonfiction by night.  Amelia prefers to write with a Uniball Visio black ink pen, but in a pinch she’s taken notes with lipstick and ketchup.

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