Let Me Go

I’ve been pushing for the past three weeks to complete a revise-and-resubmit from a year ago. Yeah, I know. I suck. In the end, though, the R&R turned out to be more like “totally rework the damn thing from stem to stern”–including rejiggering it into an unfamiliar online format– which led some of the ugly truths about my writing process to hit me full in the face.

1) Every project will take me 7-10 days longer than I estimate.

2) I tend to regard deadlines as flexible. This is a mistake for many reasons, the least of which is: see above.

3) The last few days of a writing project are akin to binge drinking: I eat badly, I don’t sleep, I walk around in an anxious, semi-coherent daze.

4) I become more of a self-absorbed asshole than usual. Can’t be buggered to answer emails or talk to anyone other than my keyboard.

5) In such moments of crisis, I write good stuff.

6) In such moments of crisis, I write complete and utter dreck.

7) Only reading my stuff out loud helps me even it off to some sort of workable middle ground.

8) I will never be pleased with the final product.

9) ..except in the first two minutes after submitting it to the journal, during which I think I’m a genius.

10) After which, all I can see, whether I wish to or not, is all that is wrong with the piece.

11) Depression and self-flagellation ensue, as does singing along loudly to mushy George Michael songs.

12) And then I think, how lucky I am to have the chance to write about this stuff, stuff that I care about, that I think is interesting, that I’d love for other people to read.

13) Maybe one day they will.

Meanwhile, back to the diss.

writing is hard.

So I got a new tattoo this week, one that speaks to me at a fundamental level:

photo (7)

In retrospect, I can’t figure out how these words will strike my students, exactly, or my clients in our writing center. I wonder if they’ll think: dude, I already knew that or really? writing’s always been easy for me or oh crap. is it too late to switch sections, to find a class with a real professor, one who’s mastered writing and can teach me to do it, too?

And at some level, yes, I can see it sounds strange coming from a) somebody teaching college comp and b) a nascent scholar who freaking studies writing for a living, but man: this is a reality of which I need to be reminded every time I sit at the keyboard.

Writing is hard, and it’s coming out of my ears lately, even more than as per usual.

In particular, my brain is big-wheeling over The Writing Process; or to be more specific, the process that’s supposed be mine. I think it’s because I’m preparing to teach composition again–for the first time in a year–while writing collaboratively with a friend and fellow fic writer on a piece we started about a year ago.

Can you see a pattern here, perhaps? It feels like my writing’s been on hold for a while.

And now, too, staring down the barrel of my dissertation and all the very particular kind of writing that will entail, again, it all comes back to The Process.

One thing I’ve learned in grad school is that, as a writer, I get into trouble when I wander away from the data, from the content of whatever it is I’m trying to say. I can tie myself up in theoretical knots–frame, unframe, and matte–through page after page and not say a freaking thing. Worse: I’ll write myself into a ditch, a mental one, sure, one that makes me feel like I’m drowning. Like I have nothing useful to say.

And sometimes, of course, that’s the case: I really don’t have anything insightful or interesting or even halfway amusing to add, and that’s fine.

No. It’s annoying as hell and flip-the-table frustrating, sometimes.

Writing, that bastard, is so fucking hard.

Yeah, that wouldn’t fit on my arm.

What I’m always chasing these days is that balance between consideration and production, between turning ideas over in my head or on the backs of Starbucks napkins and sitting in front of the screen and putting that stuff on the page.

I write to learn, yes, I write to figure out what I’m saying–there’s no question about that. But since I’ve been in PhD world, I’ve realized how much of my writing process, for better or worse, still goes on in my head.

Often, it’s background noise to something else I’m doing, or should be; working through a story as I code data for my dissertation, or chewing on data as I try to write two beautiful, fictional men into bed. The result of this being that, sometimes, when the goddess Rhetorica is on my side, I can sit down and seemingly dump out a lot of text at a rapid pace–a lot of it’s crap, sure, but it gives me a good place to start.

If I think too much, though, I’m screwed.

Not enough, and what comes out come back from my advisor or kindly editors with comments like you can’t just say that. you need some actual proof.

It’s like getting a tattoo, in a way.

It’d had been two years since my last tattoo, and I’d both forgotten and was dreading the pain, the little snip snap jab of the needle into my skin. So the first few minutes this time? Very unpleasant.

But I calmed down, got Zen, and made it through the initial outline pretty damn well, if I say so myself.

Then the artist hit me with numbing gel and let it sit for a while.

When he returned and went back to work, I couldn’t feel a damn thing. That was almost as bad as the initial, terrible pain.

It was only in that interval in between, after the first jabs but far enough away from the last, when I was focused and breathing and singing along to Stevie Nicks on the stereo that everything felt good, felt right.

That’s the space I’m always chasing when I write: that interval between the pain and feeling nothing at all.

So I need this reminder on my arm to turn to, a inky compass on which to focus my anxiety as I chase that perfect space:

Writing is hard.

An Engine of Discursive Pleasure

This post is a metatextual exorcism: me trying to get the stupid out, as my directing teacher used to say, in re: my research project about the rhetorical tactics of the Overlord. It’s also an excuse for lots of pictures of Misha, so. If that turns you off, you know, I’d suggest you check for a pulse.

Ok, so. Here’s why it’s been hard for me to wax academic about Misha Collins:

It was easier for me to [gleefully] objectify the dude than it was to take him seriously.

Like, bro: I could write some smoking hot RPS about you without breaking a sweat, but put on a Random Acts video and I went all Crayola.

Fangirling over his body? Fine. Fangirling over what he actually did with that body in real life?

Oh hell no.

Continue reading “An Engine of Discursive Pleasure”

All In On The Slow Burn

As a writer, there’s something to be said for taking your time.

For crafting. For reflection. For musing over the words until each and every one is right.

I almost never do that these days.

But when I do, I go all in on the slow burn.

cas smoulder at dean

For example:

Last month, I wrote a paper in two days that it took me a year to write.

Continue reading “All In On The Slow Burn”

Start Making Sense

I’ve written in this space before about my relationship with writing, but I’ve never really considered how I write, how I get shit done. So using Lifehacker’s How We Work series as a Proust Questionnaire-type model, I’m taking a crack at chasing my workflow, so. Here goes.

Continue reading “Start Making Sense”

Real Ugly Like


I am caught up this week in the final, insistant rush that the end of each semester brings, each with its own particular kind of hysteria. This term, the due dates for my final projects are nicely spread out, which is allowing me [in theory] to give myself over to each of them in turn. It’s kind of nice, actually.

Though as Friday’s deadline–the first of two–begins to loom, I’m trying to shake free of the niceness and push myself more aggressively into the Cult of Done, so I can move quickly to the next project, which is due next Wednesday.

And then, of course, my students’ work lies in wait at the end of the tunnel, waiting for assessments that are due next Friday.

So another week or so of this, of this semester, of this first year of a PhD program. And then summer vacation!

But until then, I think I’ll stick to more immediate terms: today, tomorrow, and the next. Otherwise? Things might be looking real ugly-like.

Always Already Possessed

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Writing is a physical thing, for me. The closest thing I get to an aerobic workout.

I spend a lot of time flailing, when I write; gesturing and pointing and dancing along to whatever music I’m listening to, whatever music is stuck in my head.

I talk back, I talk to, I talk out.

I bite my lip a lot.

Try to avoid seeing myself in the screen.

Look away and type. Close my eyes and type. Think faster than I can type.

When it’s too fast, when I can’t catch up, I write things down on paper, shove the pencil across the page and sketch and suggest and get closer than I can on the screen, sometimes.

I shift in my chair. I pet the cats when they hop up, hold the little cat in my lap and poke at the keys with one hand.

I sing.

I watch the screen for signs of email or Facebook or anything that gives me an excuse not to write, right then.

I flip between my story and my paper and my exam–between I want to do, what I am doing, what should already be done.

I curse, when I have to. Cajole the words to come, sometimes. Try to hold them at bay, at others.

I spend a lot of time unconscious, when I write.

My friend asked: “How can you not see this, in this piece? What I see? Didn’t you write it?”

And I said yes, of course I did, but I wasn’t conscious, at the time. Not in the same way.

And that’s when it’s easy to write, times like that, when it’s necessary, when it’s not me. When the text just comes and I have to get out of the way and transcribe, just type, just let the letters form on their own, without me.

It’s awesome, sometimes, and scary. Writing like that. Like muscle memory. An autonomic function that just is. Just does.

So someone watching me write? Might think I was possessed, a little. And they’d be right.

And sometimes I feel as though school–the first 12 years of it, at least–was designed to exorcise those demons, to drive them out and pour clarity, obedience, respect down my throat, into their place.

And those things rested easier, I guess, gave me less of a hard time than the demons that drive my writing did. But wow, was I boring, and shit, was I unhappy, and I think I’ll take possession over that, everytime.

Keep the thesaurus in the woodshed

Words I tend to overuse lately when writing slash fic:

  • reeling
  • shoving
  • dark
  • full
  • groan/moan
  • cackle

Some of these words kind of make sense, but “cackle” and “reeling” are kind of awesomely weird.

I try to avoid using a thesaurus, but when I read the word “full” for like the 10th time in five paragraphs (which, ok, slight exaggeration), I am tempted.