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Catching My Excuses

I’ve been on a bit of a writing hiatus. Okay, more than a bit. I haven’t written anything other than technical docs at work and the occasional small Facebook post for at least six months, and really it’s been a lot longer since I wrote regularly. I’ve been asking myself why, and for a while I felt like writing was so much of a chore and a guilt-trip that I had been mistaken in my young aspirations to write. That I’m not capable of writing anything good, and that the encouragement I got from other people had just been them projecting their ideas on me.
I always thought that I was above this kind of self-doubt, especially about writing. In high school, I decided I was going to be that person that actually followed through with their writing ideas and got something out into the world. In recent years I’ve felt like I’ve let myself down, since I haven’t continued writing much since then. I’ve been confused whether it’s my interests changing, or me falling into that too-easy trap of making excuses.
Slowly I’ve become less hard on myself about it all. I’m in the beginning of my professional career, in the middle of my twenties, and still figuring out what I want out of life. Over time, I’ve found that I’ve missed the overwhelming glee that comes with creating new stories, and I even wrote down a story idea the other day on the bus home from work. But it’s just been sitting on my phone.
This morning, a friend of mine commented on an old blog post I wrote a couple years ago when I was having a hard time handling critique on my writing. She was glad for me that I was getting back into writing, and encouraged me to keep going. When I first read the comment, I found myself making the excuse that it wasn’t relevant anymore, that it was a shame I’d let writing go for so long. But, I caught myself. Why not make it true? Why not get into writing again?
My second excuse, and probably every creative person’s favorite: Do I really have time? I have a busy life, people I want to spend time with, and other hobbies that I don’t want to let go of! I don’t have time to write. Again, I caught myself. I know there are people that fit writing in wherever they can, even if it’s fifteen minutes every other day. Why can’t I do that? I don’t even have kids to take care of. I have a fair amount of spare time that is not dictated by anyone else.
Then my last line of defense: I don’t want to give up any time doing something fun for something less fun. If I get back into writing, I want to be sure that I’ll enjoy it. I am tired of getting back into it, only to be overcome with self-doubt or boredom and then stop again.
And here’s the part of my friend’s comment on my blog post that hit home the most: move on and try writing something else for a while. I had even had this same thought a while back when I wrote that story idea on the bus. I’d realized I didn’t like where the story I was planning was going, and that perhaps if I backtracked, I could fall in love with it again. There is no rule saying that you have to finish the first story idea you think up. In my mind, I went back to that first experience that sparked an idea, of a dim, quiet subway station in Scotland, train approaching with headlight-eyes, breaking like a wailing ghost, and thought of a possibly better–and very different–direction for the story.
Thinking of writing a novel again still daunts me, so my plan is to try out a short story and see where it goes. In the past I’ve been afraid of short stories, thinking if I wanted to write sci-fi or fantasy that it wouldn’t be enough “story” to be interesting. But deep down, I know that’s not true, from the myriad of amazing short stories I’ve read by even my favorite authors. I want to try it.
And finally, I want to remember that I’m doing this for myself. Only for myself. If I focus on the idea of getting my writing out into the world, then I fall in that rabbit hole of asking, what do people want to read? Will they like what I’ve written? Then my inner critic starts hating everything I write, and I don’t even have the chance to write crappy stories in order to get better. I just stop. I don’t want that to happen this time.
So, I’m going to go write a crappy story about a train, and enjoy every bit of it.


My Struggle with Work-Life Balance

I’ve been learning a lot over the past year about what it means to work as a software engineer. What “work-life balance” means to me–and how difficult it is to get there–is my current biggest challenge. I have a great job and a boyfriend that I love, but what does that leave time for? My introverted nature means that most of my social life involves spending time with my boyfriend and my cat, and the occasional excursion to visit my friends, most of whom live at least a little far away.
Spending time with these people means I get to do some of my hobbies: playing video games and tabletop games, watching movies and tv shows, and going hiking and biking. This does not leave me a lot of time for those hobbies I need to do on my own: reading and writing. The main time I have for reading is on my lunch break, and hopefully I will get more time after I switch back to taking the bus to work later this summer. I will occasionally go to a cafe with my boyfriend on one of our “coffee shop dates” where we work on our own personal projects, and this gives me time to write.
Sometimes though, even though I make it all the way to the coffee shop, all I feel like doing is reading. I did this last weekend and started reading the Naruto manga from the beginning, cause I hadn’t read manga in a while ( is awesome, by the way). I thoroughly enjoyed my day and don’t regret it. In the back of my mind though, I feel like I am neglecting my writing–but whether this is my inner critic talking or whether I do actually want to write more often, I don’t know. Lately it’s felt like a chore whenever I don’t have a bit of inspiration or when I feel like doing something else, and this makes me feel like a failure. What kind of writer am I if I can’t push myself through the imaginary “writer’s block”?
My job tires me out. When I get home, all I want to do is chill out, but there’s laundry and dishes and a cat to take care of. When I have housework-free time, it’s most often taken up by things I feel like doing in the moment, which is not often writing. Today is one of those rare days when I feel like it, and it’s not a chore.
As I venture into the adult world, I feel like my priorities are shifting. It’s really hard to let go of what feels like my childhood fantasy of becoming some great, famous writer. I know I don’t have the bandwidth right now to work on that dream to the level I would need to accomplish it. Maybe someday I will be able to. Bit by bit, I know I will keep writing, because I keep coming back to it as my favorite medium for self-expression. Having big dreams is what keeps me going, and I know that deep down I would be devastated if I ever completely gave up those dreams.
Given all of this, I need to find a way to be okay with the minimal time I have available.


Writing Again

This past week, I've felt the need to have something I focus on in my spare time. I may not have a lot of spare time these days, but I don't have nothing, and I'm happiest when I spend that amount of time doing something fulfilling. I thought about getting into a video game I played a few years ago, and I even tried it for a few days, but I quickly remembered the reasons I put it down and decided against it. I've felt sad that I haven't managed to do much writing these past couple months, and I figured, why not try to channel this new-found energy I have into writing again?

I've decided to put aside my novel for a while, and start on this new story that's been nagging me to be written. Don't know if it's a short story or a novel yet. If it's a novel, probably not a series. I figured, though, that the first thing I should do before I get too far with it is re-read those critiques I posted about last time and try to apply any good writing tips to this new story.

The time away really helped. One of the two critiques (#1, referring to my previous post) was the most helpful, giving me a lot of good advice. The main points seem to be that I needed more well-defined characters, settings, and more attention to staging detail--they suggested drawing a map of the area for use when you write a scene, to get locations of things right. It's not that I didn't have any of it, I just needed more of it. They pointed out where I did well, so I get an idea of how to do it right. It's just a rougher draft than I thought. Most of the benefit would be from planning before actually writing... so that's what I'm doing, with a new story. Why work on an old story that doesn't excite you anymore?

This whole process has given me so much energy to write and get this story out that I've fit it into my spare time any way I can. Maybe half an hour to an hour a day (and longer this weekend). Not sure how long it'll last, but I'm gonna try my best to keep it going. I'm positive that this perfect setting and tone in my head for this story won't be as perfect once it's on paper, but I can't stand not trying to get it out.

One great idea I've had is to keep a Pinterest board of images that inspire me, and it's really helped get me in the right frame of mind for this story. Take a look here, if you're interested:


The Problem With Critics

In February this year, I entered my book in a writing contest. I sent in two copies of the first 30 pages and a 1-page synopsis. The best part about it was that I'd get two critiques, no matter if I ended up a finalist or not. I hadn't had an editor (let alone two) with no relation to me take a look at my work and give me honest advice before, and it was a great opportunity.

I found out sometime last week by email that I wasn't a finalist. I was a little let down, but not heartbroken. There were 900 entrants, and they had to pick 10 finalists for each of 12 categories (two from each category actually win money and a chance to chat with agents and editors at a conference). I can't imagine having to choose between so many people. I didn't let it bother me. They said the critiques would be mailed out the following week, and would be scored out of 50.

The critiques were in the mail today. Interestingly, so was the next issue of the New Yorker, which happens to be entirely fiction this time. Today I also received two old issues of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from a coworker as a suggestion of a place I could submit short stories to if I wished. Turned out to be a day to face where I wanted to go as a writer.

To be blunt, the results were not what I was hoping for. Critics can be harsh, it's true, and not all of them are good at giving both negative and positive feedback. But these ones are honest, and not affected by their relationship to me. They weren't even shown my name when they critiqued it (and I wasn't shown theirs). They likely didn't see each other's critiques either.

Both of them are of the opinion that it needed a rewrite. The whole thing. Their overall reasons appear very different. Critic #1 (who gave me a 31/50) says I need to either change my story somehow so that it stands out from the rest of the fantasy genre, or make the writing much stronger (many suggestions are given for this), but says it cannot succeed as is. Critic #2 (who gave me a 22/50) says my main problems are that I rely too much on dialogue to carry the story, and that the world I've created does not have enough of a fantasy setting.

From the time that I've spent in critique groups, I know that the best way to really get use of critiques is to notice where multiple critiques all point out the same issue--even if they suggest different ways to fix it. The important thing is to see where they end up agreeing on a problem. If you understand what they mean, you can fix it in the best way for you, rather than them. It's going to take a lot of re-reads and dissections to find that here. I've got a full 6-7 pages from each critic. Of course, first I need the stomach to sit down and read it carefully.

I don't know what I'm going to do. Do an entire fresh rewrite? Ignore the critics and submit to agents anyway? Take a break (not that I've spent a lot of time in the past few years working on it) and write something else? Maybe short stories for a change, if I can figure out how to write them? How much of what they're saying is opinion, and how much should I listen to? Do I really want to continue with this story? And, how much longer is it going to take me to do a rewrite now that I have a full-time job?

This is why I like science and computers; there's a right answer and a wrong answer, and no in-between. I'm so grateful that I enjoy my day job and that I'm good at it.

I love it to pieces, but writing is hard.


The Downside

I am in a very unique position in life, and I don't quite know how to deal with it.

Nine months after graduating with a BSc in Computing Science, I've moved country, got settled in a new apartment, and been hired into a well-paying, rewarding full-time job. This may sound great--and it totally is, mostly--but there is one big challenge that comes with it that I've really found difficult: my social life.

I am a young woman in a software development role. I am younger than literally everyone else at work (because I graduated a year ahead of most students in the US), and at least a few years younger than the average age. I am one of perhaps 10% of the women in the engineering department, half of which are managers. Both of these facts are why I'm sure it's difficult for people at work to relate to me about anything other than work. My 40-hour week and 30-minute-plus commute means that by the time I get home each day, I'm hungry and exhausted, which often means I'm in no mood to go out on the town and socialize. Being a geeky introvert also means that some days, when I interact with a lot of people during the day, at the end of the day I just want to wall myself off from other people with headphones. This doesn't mean I don't need someone to talk to.

The other difficult part of all this is that I'm "new" to the area. Even though I grew up near here, I spent three years away, and grew apart from most of my good friends. Most of the friends I feel closest to these days live in Scotland, which means they've all gone to bed by the time I get home in the evening. There are only a few people I can count on to be there for me when I need them, in my time zone.

This is not to say I don't go to (nearly) every social event I'm invited to. I do, and I enjoy it. I am doing my best to meet new people all the time, and it's fun. But I can only do so much. I can count on there being days where I come home and just want someone who understands me to talk to, and can't. I would say it's not such a bad problem to have, as problems go, and I feel selfish for feeling this way, but this matters a lot to me and it's not going away. Perhaps I have not given it enough time, though I have been away from Scotland for six months now. All I can do is wait, keep cultivating the friendships I have, and hope any new friends I make turn out to be kindred spirits.

When all else fails, I take myself out for sushi.



When I travel these days, it is often alone. Maybe I'm meeting someone at my destination, but the actual act of traveling is done alone. I don't resent this at all, in fact I think it helps me enjoy the journey more. I have so much more freedom to go at my own pace, visit shops and restaurants as I see fit, or linger in a place just to people-watch. My introverted nature can be at peace.

Something comes over me when I travel alone. No one I know is around me to judge, so I occasionally do things out of the ordinary, when it strikes me. Little things usually, like ordering food I haven't tried before, or going to a coffee shop I've never heard of rather than going straight to Starbucks, or wandering a bookstore without planning to buy anything, just because I can. Of course my options to do these things are limited in an airport, but I can still enjoy them.

On my flight to Phoenix yesterday, I read the recent issue of the New Yorker. The article written by Joseph Mitchell, as the first chapter of a memoir, made me feel a bit wistful. I got envious of his ability to wander around New York at random, ride buses all day if it fancied him, visit beautiful buildings whether or not he was allowed to. This was where he lived, too, not just somewhere he went to travel. Reminded me how much I love my own city, Seattle. I should explore it more.

I also love people-watching. I don't do it obviously, staring or clearly writing about people around me. It's more that I observe things happening. Perhaps I don't look at people directly, but I'm paying attention. The diversity of people on my plane to Phoenix struck me. I was in an aisle seat, and the guy in the middle seat to my right was an Asian man that seemed drunk when he sat down, but immediately fell sleep, and slept a bit fitfully through the whole 2-3 hour flight. The guy to his right was a middle-aged white man with a full beard, who mostly either looked out the window or played solitare on his laptop. A row in front of me to the left was a younger man with an army-camo backpack. I made the assumption that he had been in--or was still in--the military, since his hair was cropped short, and before the flight, the captain made a comment about thanking the men in service on board (and veterans).

To my left was a couple with their young toddler son, who was incredibly well-behaved, and also slept through the majority of the flight. There were other kids too, some of which wailed a little before the flight took off, but after that were pretty quiet, even making those cute comments only kids feel the freedom to make. When the captain announced we only had 30 minutes until we landed, a girl a few rows back started making a song out of the words. Later, when he announced the people on the left side of the plane could see the Grand Canyon, it seemed like everyone on the plane perked up and looked out the window. There was a gorgeous sunset out of the window near me, on the right, and I overheard another kid saying, "Is that fire?" I had to admit, it looked it.

I could not live happily without a bit of traveling in my life. It's my chance to eat and drink and see new things, to notice the beauty of the world, and realize that we really are all the same, as cliche as that sounds. There were so many different kinds of people on that plane, but as soon as the Grand Canyon came in view, everyone was interested. They put aside their unspoken social rules about not wanting to bother other people and leaned toward the windows, if only for a few moments.

I think once you travel far away once or twice, it's common to catch the traveling bug, and want to just keep doing it, go everywhere, see and try everything. If you haven't caught it yet, I highly recommend it.