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Oct. 7th, 2013

tree, nature, autumn

Always too long or too short...

I seem to have taken a bit of an accidental break from serious writing lately, and the result is that I've been bouncing between projects and only writing a little here and a little there.  In a way it's relaxing, since I'm getting a break from my own self-imposed standards (which tend to be a little harsh), but I also find I'd like to be a *little* more productive.

At any rate, sometime during the last academic year I decided that it was okay to focus more on short stories, since those are (in theory) easier to manage while juggling all the other aspects of Real Life.  What I noticed at first was that my standards for those were in some ways higher --- I'm so used to longer projects that anything that counts as "short fiction" is clearly something I should be able to write in one sitting.  At least, that was my mentality for a very long time.

It makes sense in many ways --- part of the difficulty with novel writing or any more long term project is that it's much harder to hang onto the initial shininess until the end.  With short fiction, it's a little easier to ride the wave of that initial idea and keep going until you've written the whole story.

With really short fiction, that works fairly well for me, and in many ways better than the longer projects which always seem to be what I do.  But my maximum one-sitting word count tends to fizzle out around 2k, maybe 3k on a really good day. (I think I once wrote 4k in one go, but that was some kind of super human anomaly --- still not entirely sure how I managed it.)  And when writing stories of around 4-6k (which seems to be the average length that my short stories like to be) I find I'm pushing the limits of just how far I can ride that idea wave.

One of the drafts I have now (still very raw and something that's nowhere near ready to see the light of day) currently numbers at 4,034.  That was one sitting. (Okay, so maybe I did manage it more than once...)  And on the one hand, great, I sat down and by the end of my writing session I had something ready and waiting to edit. I should be happy. I really like editing! (Yes I know I'm weird.)  But the first thing I notice when I read that draft?  It's rather clear that in the beginning of it I was happy to be writing and trying to do it well, but by the end I just wanted to be DONE with the whole thing because I'd been sitting and staring at it too long.  The last scene (which is arguably the POINT of the whole story) reads as contrived, cheesy, and far too abrupt.  Yes I churned out a draft in one go, but I had to sacrifice quality to do it and I don't love editing that much.

So is it better to let myself take breaks? Maybe. I can't really say, because with another story I'm working on I finally gave myself permission not to write it all in one sitting (much of this was borne out of a necessity for proper research in between scenes) and I have now been working on it for about 7 months, and it currently clocks in at 5,266.  That's not the whole thing either --- I've written pretty much right up to the climax, and there's probably another ~1k to go.  I don't think it has taken me 7 months to write 5k since I was about 13.  Even for one month, that number seems pathetically small to me.  Granted, if I had forced myself to write all of this in one sitting, it probably would have ended up a lot shorter (and the draft would have been much more lacking in quality to boot --- not that this thing is without the need for editing).  As it is now, I actually feel like it's fairly decent.  Some things need tweaking, but overall it's much cleaner than that other monstrosity that deteriorated into velveeta land.

Really, I just need to find a happy medium between productivity and quality (or rather, maintaining enough brain power to produce it) but I find this problem somewhat sneaky --- it was the last thing I expected when I decided it would be easier to be productive if I stuck to short fiction.  On the bright side, I do now have two editable drafts plus one that's nearly done, and that makes me very very happy. :)

May. 29th, 2013

tree, nature, autumn

Of pockets and bras and body image...

On the off chance that anyone currently reading this thing doesn't actually know me in the real world, it's time I let y'all in on something: I'm a feminist.  Oh, sorry, does that scare some of you?  Too bad. I've never understood why the notion that women are people is frightening to some people.  Hence why I'm a feminist.  I've never been the burn-your-bras type, but some things really get under my skin and that is what makes this woman roar.

And in this case, it has to do with pockets and bras.

Apparently, people have started wondering whether keeping cell phones in the "Victoria's Secret compartment" can cause breast cancer. My own response to this was, "Oh, someone other than me finally thought of that?"  I'm afraid I lost track of the exact source there, but really the source isn't the issue here.  The issue is why women feel the need to use the Victoria's Secret compartment in the first place, and the idea that there's even a possibility that this is detrimental to health only furthers my annoyance.

So let me tell you a story.  Once upon a time, there was a girl named Autumn who went to Catholic school.  She wore uniforms from Kindergarten until the day she graduated from high school.  And though those uniforms changed several times over the course of her schooling (three, to be exact), none of them had anything resembling proper pockets.  In elementary school and even middle school this wasn't too much of an issue.  Small children, or at least this one, never seem to carry too much junk around them.  What first grader needs to carry around a wallet and keys and phone all the time?  But once she reached high school, she found her uniforms increasingly annoying.  The only pockets available to her were in the uniform pants, and she didn't own a pair (they were horribly uncomfortable and never fit right --- another, potentially related issue which I shan't go into here).  Even those pockets were pathetically small.  And while she had always found it a bit weird that some women kept stuff in their bras, now she found herself in an environment where the entire student population was female, and they were all doing the same thing.  And if everyone else was keeping their phones/wallets/keys in their bras --- for there was nowhere else to keep them --- why not join them?

Now, if it strikes you as weird that the practice was so widespread, good.  Maybe you're on track to enlightenment.  I won't say it was everyone, but it was common and no one ever thought to question what was going on when you had to reach into your bra for something.  It was that normal, and that necessary.

Here's the thing though.  If this problem were limited to Catholic schools with stupidly designed uniforms, I might be willing to let it go.  But now, having left those uniforms far behind me, I find I'm still faced with the same problem.  I get to wear whatever I want now, and even so I find that I don't own a single garment with what I would call adequate pockets.  The most common defense of this lack of pockets seems to be, "But women carry purses! You don't need pockets."  And it's true, I carry a purse, but has no one considered that the reason for the purse is that I can't fit what I need in my pockets?  And given that one of the worst offenders here seems to be athletic wear, which more often than not has no pockets at all, does it really make sense to keep a purse with you at all times?  Who carries a purse when they go running?  So then, Victoria's Secret compartment it is, and some people think that's weird?  Well, if they can come up with a better place to keep their keys while they go for a run and there are no pockets to be had, they should let me know.

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I find it absurd that people think that any of this is a viable argument.  I can decide for myself whether or not to use my pockets, but I refuse to let the clothing industry --- or the idea that women have to be perfect and skinny --- make that decision for me.  And if we're giving ourselves breast cancer* all for the sake of fashion, I think we need to reexamine our values.

*Note: I do realize that it's been suggested that keeping phones in any pocket might cause cancer.  Obviously this isn't the whole issue here, but it brings the question of how we carry things around into the spotlight, and that's a conversation that needs to happen, for this reason and others.

Apr. 20th, 2013

tree, nature, autumn

More linguistical geekery...

Today I was working on a paper for my French Lit. class, and I found myself posing an interesting question.  In the course of this paper, I had cause to reference the tree of knowledge from the book of Genesis. The paper was in French, and only having read any part of the Bible in English, I had to do a little translation.

And that's where I hit a wall.

The thing is, French essentially has two words for "knowledge."  The first is savoir. It connotes concrete information, facts, literal things.  I "sais" that 2+2=4, just as I "sais" that I am writing a paper about Voltaire.  The second is "connaissance," or connaitre in verb form.  That one connotes a sort of understanding or familiarity.  I "connais" my friends, I "connais" my hometown.  I "connais" the route I take to work every day, but I "sais" the names of the streets I take. And so on.

So the question is, which type of knowledge supposedly brought about the fall of humanity?  Is it supposed to be knowledge of petty facts or a greater understanding?  And what might each of those imply about the writers' view of the human condition?  Do you know literally and factually what is right and what is wrong? Or do you familiarize yourself with the concept, understand it, get to know it?

I finally looked it up, and according to Wikipedia, the word used is "connaissance."  This makes sense, given that right and wrong are hardly concrete things, and also given that the problem was supposed to be that the knowledge in question made humans too much like the gods.  I can't imagine that the gods concern themselves too much with the question of whether or not 2+2=4, but they may have a certain wisdom/understanding of the world.  Even so, it begs an interesting philosophical question, inside or outside that context.

I don't pretend to be a biblical scholar.  I'm not overly religious, and most of what I know I learned from Catholic school, which was long enough ago that I've forgotten a decent portion of it.  But now my philosophical side is wondering what the original word was.  I don't really know anything about Hebrew or Aramaic or Greek or any of the other Biblical languages.  My main area is the domain of Romance languages (I'm a French major.) and I've dabbled in the occasional Celtic language (mostly Irish and Welsh, although Irish and the other Gaelic languages are similar enough that I can read them about equally --- which is to say, not much).  None of those will really help me here.  But in learning all of the above, I've learned that each word has a slightly different meaning in each language.  So I'm wondering, was it originally something closer to savoir or connaissance or knowledge or all of the above? Or something else entirely?  And how, I wonder, have different translations affected the interpretation of that passage?

And now I shall stop, before my inner philosopher runs away with herself...

Mar. 22nd, 2013

writing

Ramblings on language

I've been thinking a lot about language in the context of literature lately, especially how that notion has changed over time.  As a language geek myself, there are a lot of times when I find it easier to convey an idea in one language rather than another (and the language in question isn't always the one I grew up speaking).  The thing about languages is that they're all different, far beyond basic vocabulary.  Even words which supposedly mean the same thing in two different language can have vastly different connotations.  And there are other words which just don't exist in one language or another.

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I don't expect that the world will suddenly decide it's a good idea to write everything from novels to PR copy in at least five different languages to convey the proper meaning, but I think  it pays to notice that there is always another way to say what you're trying to get across.  And sometimes, it pays to look beyond your "langue maternelle".

Oct. 18th, 2012

writing

Brain go 'splosion...

Me: Revision time! Huzzah!

Map: *geography implosion*

Me: Whaaa...?

Plot: KABOOM

Me: Wait, wait! How did that just happen...?

Politics: Hi, nice to meet you!

Me: Umm...

You know, I'm not sure what it says about this story or my writing process that what started as a minor geography glitch just caused a chain reaction that made the whole plot explode.  I'm not entirely sure how I could explain how that led to politics either, but that was what happened.  Generally, politics do seem to be a good plot medium (when they're fictional, at any rate) but that completely switches around so much of the way I see this thing. Granted, I may wake up tomorrow morning and say, "Autumn, you idiot, what the heck is wrong with you? All you had to do was this."  But then again I might not.

There was a time when I was lamenting the lack of political plot in this story, especially given that its main catalyst is rooted in politics.  And now I have the aftermath of an explosion on my hands.  Be careful what you wish for, dear brain. It might come true and get very messy.

Jul. 21st, 2012

tree, nature, autumn

Some journalistic integrity please...

Whenever something as terrible as the recent shootings in Colorado occurs, we're filled with what-ifs and whys and other questions which may never have satisfactory answers.  It's truly horrifying, and it's no surprise that a lot of us feel compelled to know why.  But as horrible as this is for the world at large, it's still worse for the victims and their families.  I can't even begin to fathom the horrible grief this must cause, and I send my deepest condolences to all of those involved.

The horror of this unmeasurable, and it has affected a vast number of people on a very deep level.  And that's one reason why certain behaviors of certain factions of the news media make me so mad.

Like many people, I heard about the shootings yesterday, though they happened too late to be incorporated into the newspapers until today.  And this morning I picked up my newspaper to find the story which the world was abuzz with yesterday splashed boldly across the front page.  That in itself doesn't necessarily bother me; of all the news stories in the paper today, that one clearly belongs on the front, and in case anyone happened to miss hearing about it yesterday it's important that they should know.  But the way in which they did it bothers me.  Perhaps it was that the headline was twice as big as headlines normally are, or that the entire front page was taken up with almost nothing else, or maybe it was the use of words like "massacre" and other inflammatory terms which, while not entirely inaccurate, distract from the cold, hard truth.  But the entire front page screamed one thing at me: sensationalism.

Now, let me be clear on something.  I work for a newspaper.  It's a tiny, student-run publication which only puts out an edition once a week, but it's a newspaper.  And because I know how the sausage gets made, I tend to be hyper critical of them.  I can read an article in a newspaper and tell you if it was written by someone new to journalism who had no clue what they were doing and was then restructured later by someone else.  I can read between the lines of those articles and see the process of creating them, because I've done it.  I've taken to copy editing some publications as I read them, because sometimes I find errors that are That Bad, even though most people wouldn't even think to notice.

The thing is, I also know it's not easy.  I can empathize with that new writer, as well as the person who had to rework the article because I've been in both situations.  Having to get an article out fast while still making it something people will care to read isn't a simple task. But there are boundaries.  There are lines you do not cross, and this is one of them.

I realize that print newspapers are losing ground in today's internet-driven market.  I realize that in the world of news media, it's all a giant race to get the story out before anyone else does, lest people look elsewhere for their news.  I realize newspapers have to go the extra mile to get readers, especially when the news in question has already been known to the public for almost 24 hours before it can be printed in the papers.

But here's the reality of it: when you sensationalize something like this, you do so at the expense of everyone who has to deal with it for real. When you try to "grab" readers with your flashy headlines and narrative-style, blow by blow, descriptions of exactly what happened, you're fictionalizing the reality of it and making your news story not much better than a trashy novel that people read only for the X rated scenes.  When you do so, you are belittling the actual experiences of the victims and their families to sell your papers, and that is just plain wrong.  If you think for one instant that it's okay to use other people's pain and loss to make money for yourself, then I think it's time to read up on a little something called journalistic integrity (or any integrity for that matter).  And if that doesn't sink in, I think it's time for you to seek employment beyond the field of journalism, because clearly you're not cut out for it.

Jul. 8th, 2012

research, library, books, reading

Autumn has found her happybook...

Yesterday, I finished reading Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair. There's one very important thing I have to say before anything else: it was amazing.  I loved it.  The whole thing.  From start to finish.  And that pretty much never happens.

Here's why:

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In other words, it speaks to my own particular brand of geekery in pretty much every way possible.  And that's hard to find.  It may not be for everyone, I admit; the boatload of literary references might be lost on anyone who hasn't read enough of the literary works in question, and while that's not the only factor in the story it's prominent enough that it might not be as good a read if you don't understand enough of them.  I admit, many of the Dickens references were lost on me, having only ever read A Christmas Carol --- and when I was 11 at that.  (Note to self: Read more Dickens.)   But even so, I found this book to be one of the better ones I've read in a long time.  There are very few books out there that succeed in making me go "squee" as much as this one did.

I must say, I'm glad it's the first in a series.  I didn't realize that when I first picked it up, but I'm quite happy to find out I was uninformed; otherwise, I'd be very sad about now that I've run out of book...

Jul. 3rd, 2012

writing

50k!!!!!!!!

Pardon me for a moment while I get this out of my system:

SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ahem.  So yes.  In about three years, I have achieved what most NaNoWriMoers achieve in a month.  Woohoo!

In all honesty, I'm quite glad I took more than a month for this.  While I might like to have been a bit more efficient with my time, I think this is a much better story because of it.  The earliest draft would have made for a rather dull read, methinks, and I like its current incarnation much better.  So yay.

Current Word Count: 50,513

Reminder of Free Will: My two protagonists almost killed each other just now.  I know I was trying to add more conflict, but really, guys, it makes things much easier for all of us if you both stay alive at least until the end of the story.

I now give myself permission to go squee some more.

Jun. 15th, 2012

writing

40k!!!!!

According to the schedule I wrote up for myself and then promptly abandoned, I should have hit this lovely landmark about two weeks ago.  Oh well.  I've hit it now, and I hereby give myself permission to celebrate.  So then,

HUZZAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ahem.  Anyway.

At this point anything more that I write on this is officially more progress than I've ever made on any other story.  Still though, I'm happy, because I'm nearing the "twice as long as any previous attempt" mark.  I don't actually remember how long my last story was before I scrapped it, but I'm pretty sure it was somewhere in the vicinity of 20k or so.  I suppose, then, that this is sort of a double milestone: about twice as long as anything I've ever written before AND halfway to a novel (although probably not quite halfway done with the story, as I'm expecting it to be a bit longer than 80k).

And now I give myself permission to go find something involving chocolate by way of celebration...

Current Word Count: 42,393

What Makes Autumn Go Squee: Inventing folklore for this made up world really makes everything more awesome.  Just saying.
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May. 28th, 2012

tree, nature, autumn

A cure for the Summertime Blues...

It's officially summer for me now, which means one of the most incredible things ever: I have time.  I haven't had time for anything but school work since last August or so, and now I'm quite happy to pursue those activities which had to go on the back burner before.

1. Writing This is probably a bit obvious given my penchant for obsessing over such things, but I definitely want to make decent progress on writerly pursuits, especially since I don't have time during the academic year at this point.  Ideally I'd like to write something every day, at least 500 words, preferably 1000.  That should be fairly doable as long as I sit my backside down in my chair to do it.*  I already have a story well underway, and I know pretty much all of the plot at this point.  All I need to do now is get the words on the page.  And then revise the heck out of it, but that's a conversation for another time. :)

2. Reading This is the first time since I entered the school system at the age of five that I don't have anything specific I have to read over the summer, and that makes me happy beyond belief.  And it means that I have time to tackle the long list of books I've been wanting to read for an eternity.  Some of these are rather literary, others less so. There are also a number of books I started ages ago and liked but had to put down due to other activities demanding my time. (Note to self: Finish American Gods.)  I may end up blogging about such books as I finish them, but we shall see.

3. Learning Italian I'll be going to Italy and Greece next winter, and being a language nerd there's pretty much no possibility that I could go to another country without trying to learn at least a little of the local language.  And while I've never studied it, I can understand a fair amount of Italian when I'm reading.  Greek is another matter, and while I'd love to learn it at some point, I'm not sure I can make as much progress in the time allotted (having to learn a whole new alphabet slows things down a bit).  Hence I'm sticking with the more achievable goal, even though I'm sorely tempted to dive into both of them head first.

4. Not Forgetting French Going hand in hand with the above, I'd like to make sure I don't completely confuse myself this summer.  Since French is a huge part of what I'm studying right now, it wouldn't really be the best idea for me to forget all of it.  I also know myself, and I know that studying multiple languages at once creates some rather interesting conversations with me.  In my last year of high school French, I'd begun studying German, and there were many times when my French teacher would ask me something only to receive a "ja" in return. Hence, I'd like to do my best not to show up to French class next semester speaking Italian.  Or Irish.  Or Welsh.  Or any of the other languages I've dabbled in over the years.  We'll see how that goes...

5. Going Back to Yoga  Because I like it, and I've missed it.  And it's hard to find time for it during the school year, especially when it's a choice between that or sleep.  Sleep usually wins.

I'm sure I've forgotten something, but those are the big ones.  We'll see how much of this gets accomplished, since there are a few other things which demand my time, like, you know, working, but I'm going to do my best.  At the very least, I plan on getting some writing done, and if that's all I manage I'll still be happy.

* Easier said than done. Note to self: Find a more comfortable chair.  You are no longer using "But my backside's falling asleep!" as an excuse.

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