On tumblr, I posted a lot of things to a personal tag, “Literalchemy.” It was a tag I used for thoughts about writing. For privacy reasons, and because a lot of fucked up people on tumblr hate me for no reason, I decided to remove my tumblr from search engine indexing. Because tumblr is a bad website this has also prevented me from finding a lot of good shit I posted about writing on this tag. So I have turned indexing briefly back on, so I could find some Literalchemy posts, and cross-post them here. I will be calling these particular crossposts “Expressions of Literalchemy” because I am obsessed with personal dramatics.
Anyway, here we go, I hope these prove useful or interesting to you.
The “But Why Is She Gay” Vexation
I find the idea, particularly in writing, that people do not authentically exist unless they were formed in reaction to something that “explains” their behavior to be pretty pernicious. Often the implementations of this concept involve defining vulnerable people by their victimization and oppression. So many times a non-queer writer of a queer character will answer why are you queer with the despicable somebody hurt me.
A non-queer character is not seen as requiring an explanation for their non-queerness. They can just arrive in their totality, in that regard.
This judgment accepts a priori that there is a “natural state” that a human will take in a vacuum and anything else is a deviation from it for which explanations must be conjured. People are formed from a complicated array of influences – you can certainly abstract things like “shy nerd” to have resulted from “sheltered family that owned a commodore 64” or something. But I bet you nobody will explicitly demand an explanation for why a character loves the commodore 64 so much, while they will definitely ask up and down about what happened to this woman to make her a lesbian. They want an explanation.
As writers, it’s important to consider whether such explanations are ever warranted. We accept without question certain maxims of character “development” that we cannot apply to every case without considering their implications. Critique your craft often.
Your Bukowski Professor Sucks
I hate it when people shout down a serious commentary based on the perceived value of the cultural object they are examining and not based on the actual content of the examination. People can definitely say incredibly stupid things while analyzing fanfiction or about why people cosplay, etc. Not all theory and formulation is worth the same.
But it is not worth the same because of its content and not because it’s automatically pointless to talk about fanfiction or cosplay because it’s not taught in an academic course alongside some masculinist jerkoff from the 60s who wrote about wanting to fuck a cigar box.
It is incredible to me how ostensibly progressive spaces surrender so abjectly to the (often classist, racist, misogynist, homophobic) notion that only “literature” as produced by a few historically appointed ubermensch is worthy of being seen as reflecting a society or an idea worth studying, and everything else is just mindless vomit.
Writing For 8 Hours A Day Will Kill You, Not Enrich You
I would view with suspicion (of the “is this person an old man who yells at clouds” variety) any advice that posits you should focus 100% on your art to the exclusion of all else if you want to improve. This is a privileged position – for most of us we can’t spend 8 hours drawing or writing every day. And in this day and age actively foregoing the digital world is more harm than good especially for marginalized people.
For me, if I had “ignored social media” and decided to bash my head against a word processor all day every day for the past few years, I’d probably have the same amount of writing done due to my mental issues, but I’d have no readers and no money, because I’d have met none of the wonderful like-minded people supporting me now.
People at large will in my experience not support niche art just ‘cause it’s good and you try really hard. They’ll support mainstream-leaning art for that if they can find it, but not art dealing with the subjects I deal with. I feel like niche artists should definitely consider finding a circle to share their work with and people who relate to their experiences.
Americans Cannot Write About Soviets
WW2 ostfront media made in the west always depicts an incredible, almost cartoonish lack of any empathy between officers and soldiers – every officer is a paranoid NKVD commissar who wakes up to shoot a dozen people for insubordination. Every soldier is an upstanding non-communist who puts Russia above political ideals but tragically falls to bloodthirsty communist evil. This is so ungodly simplistic and boring.
Contrast the strategy video game Company of Heroes 1 with its sequel, 2.
In 1 you get a ton of heartfelt stories of officers beloved by their companies, even in the campaign where you play as the nazis and your officers are evil war criminals; in 2 the framing story is an NKVD officer contemplating suicide after incarcerating his subordinate and sentencing him to be executed. There’s not really any idea toward even beginning to craft a sympathetic story when it comes to the ostfront. It’s really very grating from a storytelling standpoint, and a historical one.
It happens over and over and over. This is every story told by westerners about the Eastern Front. And it’s wrong in every way.
Western stories of the Eastern Front try to define the ordinary soldier as a good, non-communist, and the officers as murderous, hated ideologues, without variation. It’s absolutely facile propaganda that pushes hollow cold war stereotypes and ultimately damages the story.
Gays In My Fiction? Say It Isn’t So!
One time a guy told me regarding the Solstice War that he didn’t understand “why the queer stuff has to be such a big part of it.”
It made me a little depressed about the future of the story – I’ve poured my heart into it and I’d like it to be a successful project that reaches a lot of eyes and it made me think like. Maybe people read it and what they see is a lesbian in the first chapter and a trans person in the next, existing, unapologetically, “without reason” in the parlance of the belligerent media consumer, and they check out just for that.
But it also more than that made me mad at what a fucking tool he was.
Stop Killing Your Darlings And Start Building Them
I think another very important lesson in writing is just learning to keep things and building on the things you keep, come hell or high water. This is something that committing strongly to the serial format helped instill in me. I can’t afford to write and edit for perfection. I have two deadlines a month. I promised 8-10k words a chapter twice a month. I am asking for money for this, so there has to be a balance of actual writing being done, writing that is strong and entertaining but only “good enough.”
Because I don’t know what “great,” or “perfect,” looks like in front of me as I am working. I only know how to produce something I find interesting, internally consistent as much as possible, and hopefully entertaining and revealing. I have to produce; I work in production.
Technical writing books always tell you to cut, cut, cut. “Kill your darlings,” “use a find+replace to remove all adverbs,” “Cutting These 10 Words Will Improve Your Writing” etc etc. Books promise these things because convincing you your writing is broken is how they make money. They sell a method and for a method to be lucrative there has to be something wrong with you. It’s good to be aware of these things – these are tools that can help you. Sometimes there are too many adverbs, sometimes you gotta kill darlings etc. But they’re just tools.
Yet there’s no counterforce in the biz telling you what writing is good and worth keeping. There’s, overwhelmingly, a force telling you that slashing your words to the tiniest bits will nebulously improve them.
What this leads to, at least for me, was just getting nothing done – I cut more than I built. Good writing was an abstraction that was laid bare through aggressive editing. I didn’t know what level of aggression was actually necessary to lay it bare, however. So I just stumbled.
Keeping writing you do is also an important tool. Learning to do the best you can and then to persevere with what you’ve done. I’ve written tons of scenes that looked amazing in my head and didn’t look as amazing on paper. Everything looks amazing in my head. If I can get it good enough on paper I’m ok with it. Shearing it down will not make it any closer to my or your platonic ideal. You have to learn to be ok with it.
More importantly, you have to create the writing you want to see. We all have ideas about what makes good writing, but then a Fifty Shades will come along and still sell more than you. In the end, you have to find what you like, what you want, what is good to you, and just do it.