Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The truth in the lies

I have a pile of words on the desk in front of me. Most of them are other people's - books I want to read because in my head there is some sort of connection between them, and the book I am working on. Well, I'm not quite working on it yet. Some of those words are mine, the printed out draft of my book in progress, and the notebook where the roughest version is scribbled, and the pages of revision notes I've made for myself.

You may notice that instead of working on that revision, I am writing this post.

I have been reading a lot of memoirs lately, because I am very interested in the process of honesty in writing. This may be odd, coming from a fiction writer, and a speculative fiction writer at that - I get paid for making things up, after all - but I believe that, at a certain level, to be good, a piece of writing has to be true. Not mimetic, but true.

I was talking with one of my friends this weekend, and mentioned feeling very emotionally strange recently. I get teary, it seems, at the least thing, which isn't customary for me. She asked me what I was writing.

And that's it, of course, and it's also the reason that I keep finding things to do, rather than picking up the pen and that stack of paper (my kitchen cupboards need cleaning, I know they do.) It's not nonfiction, what I'm writing, but there are parts in it that are requiring me to look back at moments that were hard. To live in past relationships and places that I walked away from on purpose. And if it's going to be good, if it's going to be true, I have to be honest about those emotions.

Which is a hard thing to do. Because I want to protect myself from the hurt, but if I do that, I can't write this book. I need to write this book.

My kitchen may get very clean in the process, but I need to write this book, and to write it honestly. To put the truth in. To make it matter.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

On the occasion of finishing a draft

One of the tags on this blog is "the words on the page are the only ones people can read." I don't have it as an affirmation for others. I have it as a reminder to myself.

I have a problematic relationship with perfection.

When asked, I say that I began writing five years ago, when I applied to Clarion. This is exactly true - my application portfolio was made up of the second and fourth short stories I ever wrote. (I wrote four, and picked the two best.) But I had tried a couple of times - once in college, and once just after law school - to write a novel. 

I don't have the pages anymore, or if I do, I haven't refound them, so I don't know how far I got. But both times, I stopped writing when I stopped feeling like I knew what happened next. You see, I thought that's how writers worked - they got a story in their head, and then they told it, beginning to end. If I couldn't do that, obviously, I wasn't a writer.

I know. I know. And maybe there are some writers who do work that way. And I am happy for them. But I was so convinced I had to be perfect the first time out, I let that get in my way. I let it paralyze me, and keep me from trying.

The hardest thing for me, once I did start really writing, was letting go of the need to get things perfect in order to keep writing. I mean, I know all the things I need to say to myself, that finished is better than perfect, that sometimes you need to write the bad stuff to get to the good, that that's what revisions are for. That no one will ever see the shitty first (and second and seventh) draft unless I let them.

I know these things, but it's hard. When I feel the story going wrong, when I doubt my words, I shake and I sweat and I get sick to my stomach, sure that whatever talent or luck I had before has left me. I go and run until my head clears, or until I'm exhausted. 

The first time I finished a book-length draft, I printed the manuscript out, and set it up on the table, ready to read through and revise. I heard a funny noise, and I turned around to see that one of my cats had climbed onto the table, and was peeing all over the manuscript. I have no idea why. For a moment I lived in a metaphor. 

(One of my friends said exactly the right thing: "Well, Kat, there's your worst ever review sorted, then.")

I finished a book-length draft yesterday. As yet, no one has peed on it.

Five years ago, when I started writing, I couldn't have written this draft. Not for the "I'm a better writer now, and I needed to be better to write this story" reason, though I do feel both of those are true. But because the draft is full of holes - scenes that are noted only in brackets of [x needs to happen here], or scenes that are just dialogue. I already have notes to myself of things that I need to fix, and once I finish typing everything out of my notebook, and going through all the notes I wrote to myself while writing, there will be more. It's such a hot mess of a draft it's not even going to my agent or my beta readers before it goes into revisions. But I'm proud of myself for scrawling "ENDS" after the last sentence, and, more importantly, I trust myself to be able to fix the things that need fixing when I do revise.

Not more or less proud than I was the first time I did this. Just happy to recognize that sometimes things change, and that I was able to let them.

Monday, July 1, 2013

On not naming names

One of the reactions I've seen to the recent discussions of sexual harassment at SFF cons is the question of why don't people report - why don't the people who are harassed or the people who witness it name names? After all, so the conversation goes, it seems like the harassers have histories - they've been doing this for years, if you know about it enough to tell your friends and make rescue plans, why not say the names in public, and protect future victims?

It's a conversation whose heart is, I firmly believe, in the right place, and a conversation that makes me deeply uncomfortable. It is shifting the responsibility away from where it belongs - on the creeps, on the harassers - and putting it on the victims. They didn't speak up, they didn't report, so they share responsibility for every victim after them.

No. Wrong.

When someone has been sexually harassed, their responsibility is to themself. They may choose to report, either to con staff or to the harasser's employer, or both. They may choose to report to the police. They may choose to get far away from the harasser, and surround themself with friends for the remainder of the con. They may choose to leave the con. They may do a combination of those things, or none of them. But we do not get to decide how they act, and we do not get to judge their choices.

And if you witness an act of sexual harassment, the proper response is not to pressure the victim into reporting, but to support the victim, in whatever response they choose. Third party reporting (where you were not the victim, but a witness) may be possible, but do not name the victim's name if they do not want it to be revealed. Even if you are acting with the best of intentions  - protection of potential future victims - you are not helping the current victim by taking away their choice again.

Because let's not kid ourselves: there are consequences for naming names. Last year, at ReaderCon, Genevieve Valentine was sexually harassed. She reported her harasser, and she named him publicly. Genevieve is an established, award-winning writer. She is someone with power in the field. Yet, in this post, "Dealing With It" she talks about the consequences for reporting. Not only did she have to deal with the usual kind of bullshit - the discussion of her appearance, her clothing, her behavior, all of them being evaluated so that the crowd could decide whether she was "really" harassed (even though her harasser admitted the actions) - she received death threats. 

Death threats.

Really, the wonder isn't that more people don't name names. It's that anyone is brave enough to at all.

Again, I am closing the comments.