The thing is . . .

. . . while I know that I am responsible for my own media consumption, for policing what I can and cannot consume lest it set off a bomb in my brain (thank you, mental illness), while I never hold anyone else responsible for the task of policing my media and keeping me safe, it’s exhausting.

It’s also isolating.

So, hi, I’m gonna talk about something that frequently gets skipped over in the debate about trigger warnings, and that is how much fucking work those of us who have triggers–especially those like me who have a shittily unfair number of them thanks to craptastic life experiences–have to put into policing our own media. And how hard that job can be. And, also, how unfair it is to tell us “just don’t watch/read that!” if we DO consume something that winds up being triggering.

Because here’s the thing: when you have triggers, you have to be careful of every single piece of new media. You have to look up spoilers, or ask friends who’ve already seen/read the thing if it’s safe territory for you. You have to avoid outings with friends to the theatre unless you’ve researched ahead of time, you have to decline starting a new TV series or watching an old film you haven’t researched if you’re staying in, and, if you’re as sensitive as I am, there are some topics and media that can’t even be talked about, never mind consumed.

Over time, you stop watching trailers. You stop reading about new media coming out. Chances are, you won’t be able to enjoy it anyway–not with how dark, gorey, rapey, dystopian, and all-around angsty mainstream media has gotten in the last several years.

And, I get it. Fiction is the safe place to explore the things that scare and fascinate and haunt us. But when you’ve already lived through horrors, large or small, that exploration ceases to be entertainment. Some things are only fun to read/watch if you’ve never had to live through them.

So, yeah. Sometimes, that means we read or watch something we shouldn’t, or regret. Because we’re tired of always saying “no”, of putting in the time to research, of having to avoid common social activities for the sake of our mental health. Because we think that, hey, if my best friend likes it, I probably will too, this should be fine. Because we’re tired of trying to dig for “safe” media to consume, because maybe we want to feel normal, just this once.

So, no–I don’t expect anyone to police my media consumption for me. But I do wish that there was more media I could enjoy without risking my sanity, because entertainment is everywhere and is a common topic people bond over. Because it stings, just a little, every time someone mentions a TV or book series, a movie they have watched and loved, and I can’t discuss it with them, can’t let them share that love with me; every time someone asks “Have you seen [y]?” and I tell them, “Just assume I haven’t seen anything you’re talking about.” Because it’s one more obstacle my mental illness creates for me, one more barrier between me and finding positive common ground with the people I care about.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

The Trouble With “Safe Spaces”

Most of the people who have stumbled their way to my blog have probably heard the term “safe space” before. The concept is relatively simple — a safe, inclusive space without discrimination that provides support to those who need it most. But while it sounds great in theory, it is endlessly problematic in practise.

I have never seen a safe space work as intended. My experience has been with safe spaces for LGBTQ people, and those who struggle with disability, mental illness, and/or trauma. In many cases, there has been overlap between these categories.

Safe spaces are riddled with logistical problems, starting with the fact that everyone’s idea of what constitutes a “safe space” will be different. The way the space is moderated or run is another issue, and one that frequently sounds the death knell for the effort, as hosts lean more towards a model that establishes them as authority figures rather than leaders, and creates an uneven power differential among a group of people who, often, have suffered poor treatment or even abuse at the hands of those in power. For a safe space to function properly, everyone must be treated as an equal, and conflicts need to be managed and resolved from a place of mutual respect — otherwise, one or more members walk away feeling like a scolded child, which leads to resentment and distrust.

The other major issue safe spaces face is trying to balance the individual needs of members with the safety of the group as a whole. This gets harder to do the larger a group grows — but no one wants to turn away someone seeking a safe space. As a result, they often buckle under their own weight as interpersonal conflicts simmer, and those who feel wronged have to be civil and make nice with people they want nothing to do with.

Individuals seeking safe spaces walk in with a number of needs, behavioural quirks, and issues unique to them. This can make them tricky to accommodate, and even downright frustrating at times. No one wants to violate the premise of a safe space by asking them to stop doing that thing that’s annoying everyone, but at the same time, truly disruptive or distressing behaviour has to be addressed. The fact that someone is working at a disadvantage does not give them the right to upset or harm others without second thought. Managing those kinds of situations is difficult, and is when respect and a lack of judgement become invaluable.

No talk of safe spaces would be complete without mentioning triggers. Triggers are topics, experiences, memories, and/or words/phrases that cause deep distress to the person encountering them. Distress severe enough that it impacts their ability to function. Those of us who have them have to deal with accusations of “oversensitivity” often, which is profoundly unfair. No one wants to live their worst memories over and over again, and wishing to avoid being forced to do so is understandable, not oversensitive.

The trouble with triggers comes in when you have a moderate to large group of people who have a various assortment of them. Trying to keep everyone safe becomes a priority, but is one I have never seen achieved. One of three things tends to happen:

  1. Someone is told that they cannot speak about their experiences/ seek support or must leave the safe space because they are triggering others. While avoiding hurting others is important, there is an undertone of shame to this approach that defeats the purpose of a safe space, because it requires censorship. It also sends the message that your emotions and experiences are so ugly that they should not be spoken of, which is not only problematic, but deeply painful, possibly even (re-)traumatizing
  2. Someone has to leave to protect themselves, because they are constantly being exposed to triggering material/talk
  3. Infighting over the validity of triggers and individuals’ right to speak about their experiences and seek support cause the group to fracture into smaller subgroups, or for the safe space to cease existing altogether

I don’t have any neat, tidy solutions to this problem, probably because any effective solution will need to be multifaceted. What I do know is that identifying the issues with safe spaces is the first step towards working out how to solve them. And, really, it’s important that we do. People need to be able to share what their lives are and have been, and seek needed support in a way that isn’t strictly clinical (counselling, therapy). A support network made up of friends and/or family is absolutely vital when dealing with any number of issues that might drive someone to seek a safe space, because the goal is not to stay in counselling/therapy forever. Ideally, there are people in our lives who can and will help us if we tell them how.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

A New Year

So, it’s 2017. I didn’t start this year with any resolutions, because I think the concept is ridiculous — if I have something to accomplish, I’m not going to wait for a specific date on the calendar to start working toward it.

But, that being said, New Year’s Eve does tend to make me reflective. This year I had a lot to reflect on. I know this post is kind of late, in that regard, but today is important to me — because one year ago today, on January 15th 2016, I started writing my novel. A year ago I started down the path that led to launching a career in publishing before I’d even had my 25th birthday. My novel still isn’t published, but that’s okay. I still accomplished a lot.

And a lot of that a lot was writing. I haven’t finished totalling up the poetry yet, because it’s scattered in different notebooks and scrap bits of paper and .rtf files on my computer, but I have already compiled 15 poems — one of which was published — as ones that I will polish and keep as finished products. I still have pages to dig through, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that number reached 25.

I was even more prolific in my fiction writing. I produced 137, 896 words of fiction this year. 53k of that was my novel, and about 11-12k was short original fiction. 73.5k was in fanfiction.

That’s a lot of writing. When I added up my totals, I couldn’t believe it. How could I have produced so much, when on a day-to-day basis I was always disappointed in how little I’d managed to produce? When I wasn’t writing every day?

I think part of it is that every bit matters. It all counts. I think the other important factor is that this was the first calendar year I didn’t have any scholastic responsibilities to fulfil. I was able to devote my primary focus in 2016 to my writing.

As much as I want to be able to do the same this year, to meet and even exceed the output I managed last year, I don’t know if that will be possible. I suspect it won’t, for a number of reasons. The primary one being that I enter 2017 only to leave my family home. It’s a big change, but one I’m looking forward to. That does not mean, however, that it comes without it’s anxieties or time-consuming tasks. It’s a major life change, and those always make it harder to write.

I’m also embracing some other changes in 2017, small shifts that have already had a big impact on how I experience life. Little things, like deciding that I don’t have to “earn” the after-dinner cookie, or the really good loose leaf tea, that I can just have them because they make me feel good. Making the decision to take the odd night off dish duty to just relax, and catch up the next day. Putting effort into getting good sleep not only because it’s important to my health or medication schedule or grades, but because I deserve to wake up feeling rested and alert, and to not feel the deep-muscle aches that come with too little sleep for too long. I’ve stopped pushing myself to do more than I should — decided that, even though I could, technically, do [x] chore before bed, it would leave me aching and struggling to sleep, so it can wait until tomorrow.

I seem to be in the minority of people for whom 2016 was not a raging garbage fire. In all honesty, I broke even last year, with the good balancing out the bad. This the first time I can remember that being true. But in 2017, I’m aiming higher than “even”. I have a lot of hope for this year, and I’m going to do what I can to make it a good one.

I wish all of you the best of luck in 2017, too.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

Well, This Sucks

So . . . shitty news. Specifically, on the writing front.

Turd the First: the publisher I submitted my novel to sent me a rejection letter last week. They were pretty awesome about it, made it clear that it probably wasn’t because I suck at what I do, but it was still a form-letter and it absolutely sucks.

I’m still hurting about this one. I wrote that novel specifically for this open call. I knew it was kind of a long shot, but still. I hoped.

Regardless, I’m not giving up on it. I’ll need some time to feel shitty about it, but then I plan on re-reading, revising if needed, and sending it somewhere else. Maybe some other publisher will be interested in it. I can’t say “it doesn’t hurt to try” because, actually, it does hurt, but I’m gonna try anyway.

Turd the Second: apparently Torquere LLC, the publisher that first told me “yes” and published my short story “Closer”, is going under. There has been a lot of talk over several months that’s made me uneasy, but I chose to have faith in the owners and editors. I decided to move forward with the contract I signed. It turns out that that was probably a mistake.

This makes me feel absolutely heartsick. I feel like I was taken advantage of, because I was so very, very new to the publishing world. This, combined with the rejection, has me wondering if my dream of being a writer is laughable. The idea of submitting my works to other publishers and finding out later that they’re untrustworthy is not only exhausting, it’s disheartening.

I don’t know what, exactly, my next move will be here. I’ve contacted someone in the industry with experience, and plan on reaching out to others. I’m going to try and get more information before deciding what my next move is. The only thing I know for sure, though, is that I won’t stop writing. I can’t. I’m simply not capable of it.

I might, however, take a bit of a break from it. Just for a little while. Maybe. More because I have a lot of other things going on in my life right now — upcoming holidays, the anniversary of Motherunit’s expiration, sorting out my health — than because of this whole debacle, but still. Putting pressure on myself to write when I’m overtaxed and my heart isn’t in it is a bad idea.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

It’s Official

I’m a writer. Not just in the sense of “this is who and what I am” but also in the sense that I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED. There is a career trajectory, now.

Which. Exciting! But also scary. I haven’t heard back on the book, but I’ve had a piece of poetry published in ImageOutWrite Vol. 5, and a piece of my short fiction was just published by Torquere. The short story is part of the Harvest Moon anthology.

Getting here wasn’t easy. There were a lot of speed-bumps and obstacles along the way, and I know that this is just the beginning. I have to hope that my writing catches people’s attention, and that I can build a readership. I have to keep writing, even when my insecurities whisper that I can’t do this, that the publications I have only happened through luck, that I’m not actually that good. I have to keep telling the stories that make my heart sing, even when it would be easier to follow trends and convention.

But you know what? For right now, I’m just going to celebrate a little.

~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

 

Writing Confession:

I have never, ever, not once in my life, written a second draft. I honestly do not understand the concept.

Looking through most writing guides, you hear over and over again that “good writing is rewriting” and that you should expect most of your first draft to be shit. That the second draft is where you fix plot holes, cut out unnecessary scenes or chapters, where you fix problems with your structure and add more to the parts that are lacking. It is, supposedly, where you do “the real work” and where your piece of fiction or poetry becomes more authentically you.

And, uh. I’m looking around thinking, You people don’t this on the first go-round?

Because here is the thing: by the time I sit down and start writing a story, I already know what kind of story I want to tell. I know what I want to make my readers feel. I know what structure I will use to achieve that, because I’m all about letting form follow function. Certain stories have more impact when told in a non-linear fashion, where other stories benefit from the crisp minimalism provided by drabble sets. Other stories are better told in past or present tense. Depending on what kind of story I’m telling, on who the characters are and what the primary conflict is, I might write from one character’s perspective, or two, or even head-hop. But I know all of this before I set the first word on the page.

Because by the time I sit down to write a story, I have pages upon pages of notes. I have notes about character backstories and world-building. I have a plot outline. I have a timeline to refer to, if the story is taking place over a number of days (or even weeks, or months) and the passage of time is important in the story. I have answered questions about potential plot holes. I have presented the basic idea to my writing friends, and then answered their questions in my pages of notes. I have usually brainstormed three different endings, and made notes about how each will play out and what it would mean to the story as a whole.

I take days to create an entire world inside my head before I set my fingers to my keyboard and start setting it free. I re-write as I go — I might change a particular sentence or paragraph five times before I move on. I go back and re-read, adjust word choices and tweak dialogue and cut sentences when I’m still in the middle of the project. I am ruthless as I write. Description is kept to a minimum — if it’s not important to the character whose head I’m writing from, then it doesn’t need to be there. Every interaction and scene has to serve at least two of the following purposes: 1) furthering the plot/ developing the primary conflict; 2) development of one or more characters in the scene; 3) exposition; and 4) drawing connections between cause and effect, past events in the story and the present moment, and/or between characters. Ideally, it should be doing all four.

So maybe the real reason I have never written a second draft is that, really, I’ve never written a first one.
~

I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.

Commentary on “Writing Advice”

Most of the writing advice I see coming from the so-called experts or prolific writers makes me so mad I could breathe fire. It’s things like, “a writer writes”, “you have to write every day”, “there’s no such thing as writer’s block”, “it’s all about butt-in-chair dedication”, “don’t ever look back on the earlier stages of what you’ve written, just keep moving forward” etc. And what all of these pieces of advice have in common is that they are trying to tell other people what their creative process should look like.

Newsflash: it doesn’t work that way.

I’ve talked to a lot of writers about their processes. And what I have found is that no two of them are alike, because no two people are exactly alike. One writer I know is able to produce two thousand words per day, every day, which is tremendously productive and also highly intimidating. Another writer I know writes long-hand, in a notebook, and types her stories out afterward. Another writer I know is able to write in coffee shops, secluded corners, libraries, you name it. One writer lets the story run away with them, while another has to plot everything out carefully, in another document. The method and process that produces a particular writer’s best work will vary by the person, which makes trying to give generalized advice to aspiring authors useless. More than that, it can be incredibly discouraging.

Because you know what else a lot of this advice doesn’t take into account? That not everyone is perfectly healthy in mind and body. One writer I know has bouts of crippling anxiety over words—and not just in fiction, but in emails and informal communication. Another writer lives in chronic pain, and sometimes that pain is so bad that they cannot write, or go to work, or even get out of bed. And then there’s me. If I have a PTSD event, it can take a couple of days for my brain to settle and go back to functioning as close to normal as it’s capable of, and I don’t have the focus or emotional resources to write during that time.

And that isn’t my fault, or something I should be shamed for. Writing is individual, like every other art. Sure, you can go to school for it—but that doesn’t automatically make you good. Just like practising and self-teaching doesn’t automatically make you bad or inferior to someone who got the formal education. Every writer will have a unique method or combination of them for getting their best stories out—because it’s not really about how fast you write or how many words you get out in a day. It’s about the quality of the story you’re telling.
~
I think this goes without saying, but as we live in a world of rampant asshattery, please allow me to state for the record: this is my intellectual property. As such, please do not copy, circulate, edit, alter, take credit for, or otherwise appropriate this material without my express permission. Thank you.