A Thousand Tiny Slights

I understand the desire to just ignore politics and social issues. For most of my life, I was completely ignorant of just how deep issues like racism and sexism ran in our society—part of the privilege of belonging to the “majority” groups. I suppose I was aware of some sexist factors in our world, but I was young and naïve enough not to really care.

Then I started learning more, reading more articles, understanding more about politics, and suddenly it was everywhere. Racism and sexism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism and ignorance—they exist all around us, ingrained in us so deep we don’t even see all of it (of course, those suffering from its violence feel it every day).

There is so much complexity in these issues, particularly when it comes to political action, and I’m only just beginning on my journey to challenge my own privilege and ignorance, and I still fail all the time. I will always continue to try, though.

And the way I want to help change the world is through pop culture—because the issues above are ubiquitous in media… in a thousand tiny slights.

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Random Recommendations

You can tell I’m not fully sure what to post today… so I’m going to list a few random recommendations for things. I already recommended Pinterest on Monday, so I figured I’d add some other things that, if you’re bored, you might want to check out!

Music

Pandora: I mentioned this in one of my fact lists, but I really like Pandora for finding new songs and for putting on random music while I write. Start with a single song or artist, and it will find more songs that fit a similar genre or mood. “Like” a song to get more like that, “dislike” it to probably close off others like it, and eventually you’ll have a channel that’s perfect for you. Sure, you can only skip so many times, and they have ads every few songs (for me, less than Spotify, not sure for others)—but when my own playlists aren’t working for me, Pandora works great.

Film Soundtracks: I’m definitely not the first writer to say this, but I find instrumental film soundtracks to be great for writing. My favorites are: “The Fountain,” Clint Mansell; “Inception,” Hans Zimmer; “The Host,” Antonio Pinto; and “The Village,” James Newton Howard. I also have a few songs from “Sherlock Holmes” and “Mission Impossible: 2” by Hans Zimmer (yes, I know, random). For instrumental music, you also can’t beat Zoe Keating.

Blogs

Foz Meadows: I discovered this blog recently, though I’ve been linked to it before, namely over the SFWA kerfuffle. I find her posts and reviews insightful, beautiful, and thought-provoking (and sometimes rage-provoking, not at her but at what she rants against). Definitely has a feminist/political bent, which I love, and views pop culture and author-dom through that light. A true nerd and fan full of passion and intellect!

N.K. Jemisin: In a similar vein of genre meets politics, the site of the brilliant author N.K. Jemisin contains many blog posts and writing suggestions that first set me on the track to understanding more about the world. I learned more about diversity, inclusion, and the racefail of pop culture (SFF specifically) from her website and the links she posts on Twitter than in all of my English classes. But be sure to check out her amazing books, too—they are original, complex, gorgeous, and great examples of interesting worldbuilding and melding of genres.

Life

The Library: This may be already a part of your life, but if it’s not, it should be. It may seem counterintuitive as a wannabe author to tell people to go get books (and movies, and music, and everything) for free—but I have discovered so many new authors and new must-buy books this way. And if you still want to support authors, then just use the library for books you wouldn’t otherwise read—for me, it’s been a huge source of writing books that look sort of iffy (and often are). And with Interlibrary Loan, you can get anything—they’ll ship it in across the country if you want (for a small fee). With patience, you can get any new movie, any CD, and any book for free—but the key word is patience. (Get here FASTER, Orphan Black Season 2!!!!) You can also check online for free language-learning software, free database access, classes (and free ACT practice tests), all sorts of stuff. Support your local library and save some money! :)

And this has been your daily edition of “J. Sevick tells you to do random things.”

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Fostering Unpredictability

Similar to unoriginality, there is a certain amount of automatic backlash when something is predictable. This is mostly critical backlash, as opposed to mainstream backlash, as predictable stories like romances and action films can still be hugely successful.

But someone, somewhere, is going to sniff and say, “I knew what was going to happen.” And they’ll ooh and ah over a story with a twist they “never saw coming.”

Again, I’m not necessarily disagreeing with the value assessments here—but I am wondering why that is. Why is predictable bad and unpredictable good? And how do you create an unpredictable story?

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Embracing Unoriginality

There are two main things that got me to actually finish a draft. One was episodic structure (more on that… sometime).

And the second was embracing unoriginality.

There’s something very intrinsic-feeling about our reactions to unoriginality. Praise for a new novel will call it “original”; criticism will call it a “rip-off.” But why are these things necessarily good or bad?

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The Pluses of Pinterest

Pinterest  has become a bit of a new fad in “social media”–although I hesitate to use the term, because I think you can use it without a bit of social interaction. It’s a website of images, often attached to links which may show you how to buy or make what’s in the image, and which you can “pin” to various boards of your own making.

I think it’s a fantastic tool for writers, particularly in defining aesthetics of invented worlds. I use it primarily for fashion and architecture, not for me, but for my worlds and characters. It could also be used to choose foods, animals, etc.

Normal people use it to find arts, crafts, daily looks, wedding planning, etc. I also use it for cat pics and inspirational quotes and endless pictures of libraries and bookcases. :)

Looking for an outfit for your character? A room for your setting? Type a vague search term (“Steampunk” “Post-apocalyptic” etc.) and you’ll find plenty of inspirational images. You can also add images of your own or from around the web.

It’s a bit of a time-suck, if you can’t control yourself, but I think a strong aesthetic is great for fantasy worlds (and even for normal worlds–what’s your character’s fashion sense? How do they decorate their home?).

So this has been your daily plug for social media. :)

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Planning Ahead

[I’m going to start posting only on weekdays—I need the weekends to write. :) ]

For the commitment-challenged, there may be nothing more intimidating than planning a series. It can also be great fun, and for those of us who enjoy reading series, it’s a tempting project.

But is it a disaster waiting to happen?

I can’t count the number of projects I’ve planned, and abandoned. I don’t believe any time writing is ever lost, and that includes planning, but I can never say for sure that any project will make it all the way. I’m still not entirely sure how the last one made it, actually. And every time I start a project, I’m excited and I think it will go all the way.

And then it doesn’t.

So how can I say that I will write a trilogy—or more? How can I guarantee that I’ll be able to write the other books, when it’s such a struggle for me to write the one?

Obviously, if I never write the first, I’ll never be suggesting that the others will ever exist. But what if I do manage the first—and then can’t write the others?

Probably the best thing would be to write standalone books, which would be great. But my current idea (that I’ve worked on before… to complete failure, of course) is one that simply won’t fit in a single book. And as a fantasy fan, of course I love series, so it’s not that I don’t want to write a series. I’m just not sure if I can.

That’s why “commitment” is the skill every writer needs, I think. So no matter what the project, you can sit down and write it.

I don’t have that yet, proved by my second project which fizzled. I know, from the miracle that was my first project, that I can write a novel—a huge boost to my creative ego. But can I ever do it again? Or was it a fluke?

At this point, I think you just have to try things. I’ll plan out a series and give it a whirl. Part of me thinks I don’t want to even attempt to sell the first story (if I write it, of course) until I have all of them done, but that could take forever.

Because I wish for writing to be my livelihood, there’s a lot of pressure around the creative process that I don’t need. I’m trying to just live in this perfectly balanced world of denial in which I can try things, and fail, and try again—forever. When in reality, if I want to make a living at this, I can’t fail forever.

But I think, for now, I’m still in a space where I can just… try.

So I’ll plan for the world. And start with one step at a time.

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The Two Writing Skillsets

I find a lot of comfort in the idea of a writer’s growth into skill. I believe that if you write frequently, practice, never give up, and try new things, you will eventually attain the skill you are meant to have. I believe that anyone can be as good a writer as they want (though, I suppose, certain artistic deities among us may have a talent we can never claim).

But I think that there are actually two fundamental and different skillsets that a writer must develop, and I think that the way we talk about them—or don’t talk about them—has a great impact on how we view a writer’s skill.

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