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Max Gladstone made a great post today about friendship and Agent Carter which I had a few quibbles/addenda to. I tried to explain them on twitter while at work which, predictably, failed. So here is my new attempt.

(Longish )
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At this point it's been AGES since twitter-people were talking about this but whatever, I'm still gonna talk about it. (Also, someone on my tumblr dash was asking about revisions, which kicked me back into thinking about it.)

So. Revisions. A lot of common advice about revising comes from a specific emotional experience of the revising process, ringed around with caveats sometimes but solidified into cultural touchstones that reify a particular emotional landscape. All of these must work for some people, or they wouldn't have come into usage, but none of them work for everyone—case in point, they don't represent my experience. But we have this idea that these are The Right (Easy) Way To Put Things, and that makes it seem like it's the Only Way To Go.

Here are some of those cultural touchstones of revising:

Take "Kill your darlings." It implies brutality, pushing past caring, doing the best thing for the story even if it's hard. But "doing the best thing for the story you want to tell, even if it's hard," doesn't have to be violent. You could frame the same thing—take out the lines you love if they aren't contributing to the story—as looking at the forest, not the trees; as focusing on the big picture; as lots of other things.

Take the idea of "tearing everything apart and starting over." Think instead about throwing clay on a wheel. I have not done this since I was much younger but according to my memories of it: if you are trying to make a specific thing, and it doesn't work, sure, you push it down into a lump again. Sometimes you put the clay aside and start with fresh clay, working toward the same goal. But reworking clay, to get at the same structure or shape you were trying for the first time, bears a very different emotional weight from "if it's not working, just tear your story apart!"

Take the inner editor. NaNoWriMo (and plenty of other people) tell us to "turn off our inner editors" for the first draft—implying that then you can let them out for the second draft. It is sometimes possible to just type and not think about it. My favorite (least favorite) of the things I've done this with is the "novel" I wrote in 24 hours for NaNoWriDay when I was in high school. It is about spoons carved out of cheese, road trips, and a performance of the musical CATS. It is completely and utterly awful and I am glad it got lost somewhere on a hard drive years ago, because I am never ever going to show it to anyone. Ever.

....okay, tangent. Anyway. Inner editors! The idea that, emotionally, you can and should separate out the part of your brain that critiques stuff as you write it...is an interesting one but in the realm of wish-fulfillment fantasy for me. It sucks to be writing something and have your brain telling you it's terrible. But for me, that's not an inner editor; that's an inner troll, the youtube comments section of the brain. The youtube comments section of the brain is pretty much never helpful—in drafting or revising. The bit of your brain that says "This description isn't working, let's come back to that later" is, for me, not really turn-off-able and is also somewhat helpful. I'm partway through drafting a novel first draft right now and I have lots of piles of Stuff I'm Gonna Fix Later.

But if I treat that part of my brain as Inner Editor Do Not Touch, Ignore, then when I go back and look at the first draft I'm probably either going to fall over under the weight of noticing all the terrible stuff all at once, oh my God, so much, or...my brain's going to be in the habit of ignoring the terrible stuff and will continue to not notice it. Both of which don't work for me.

Take the phrasing that you have to "develop a thick skin" for critiques. "Don't take it personally!" is another of these. The secret is that for many, maybe most, writers it is impossible to not take it personally. Stories are your babies except better, I mean, I'm never having actual babies, that would be far too much responsibility, what? (Practice does help. It doesn't make perfect. Practice getting short story critique and rejections kind of carries over to novel critiques and rejections but not really.)

As far as I can tell, this means, don't vocalize your first automatic defensive reactions about what people say about your story—to the people who are saying things about your story. This is because they are doing you a favor by taking the time to read your work and think about it and tell you what they think, but (unless you have that kind of relationship) they did not sign up for also helping you deal with your emotions about revising. (See also that Night Vale quote: it is not Monday's fault you are emotionally unprepared for your professional life. You can complain to your friends about this lack of emotional preparation—it is arguably impossible to be prepared—but don't blame Monday for its opinions about your short story! Er.)

...but that says nothing about what your personal internal emotional life has to be.

Putting that all together? I think we need a change in language. Because the way that I revise stories is, emotionally, more like carving stone (polishing down to the story I want to tell) or re-throwing clay (shaping and re-shaping a story until it comes out just right) than it is any of those phrases above.

With the difference—of course—that whenever I finish a draft (whenever I've finished going around the sculpture taking bits off, whenever I've shaped the clay again) I have a deep-seated emotional need to get it somewhere that is Not Mine. Otherwise I get antsy, and sometimes start fiddling with it again, but that's a bad idea. That impulse to throw it somewhere Not Mine is the indication that I'm done with it for now, so I send it to a friend or a reader or two (depending on what stage of revisions I'm at) (readers are also friends, I'm speaking more of what I request from them—this is a thing I wrote vs. I want comments vs. please critique this thoroughly).

If I didn't have that emotional response, I'd probably fiddle with it forever, and I think that would be a bad thing. It's usually an indication that I've fixed what I can fix, and that I need a new perspective now. But it manifests in me as a desire to throw it as far away from myself as possible, a desire for it to exist somewhere off of my laptop.

Emotions are important. Sometimes they're telling us things that we don't or can't understand logically (or acknowledge consciously). So I wish that the language around revising wasn't organized to deny any emotions except the approved, significantly violent ones.

But we can't just change the language to what works for me. We need to acknowledge the variety of Things That Work for different people and also different projects (my experiences of revising novels and short stories are different from each other too). Unfortunately, there's no snappy way to summarize all that.
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Helpful hint: local offices of Senate/Congress members often still have (real, live) people answering phones when the DC offices are swamped. (Like, for example, today.) Look for a "contact" tab on their homepage.
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Long discourse. Phrase that annoys me. Classism! Confusing categorizations for nations! Goal-oriented, linear models of history!


The hashtag--and the phrase--"first-world problems" pop up frequently. You hear it about food that got too hot in the microwave, about brief technology problems thwarting some frivolous goal, about getting an iffy grade on a test.

Places you don't hear it: When houses got foreclosed on. When people lose their jobs to the tumbling economy. When people get PhDs and then, loaded with student debt, are quote-unquote overqualified for jobs. When people who can't afford health insurance ignore health problems or hope they'll go away.

These are problems in the USA, too. These fit every criteria for so-called "first world" problems.

I'd heard the phrase "first world" growing up, but I was in my senior year of high school before I learned of its origins in the Cold War. The first world was the USA's side, the second the USSR. The third? Everyone else.

When we talk about the "first world" today, though, we mean something more like a later word: "developed". The developed-developing-undeveloped system was invented at some point after the year of my birth, presumably--after the USSR fell.

What does "developed" mean? Well, that's under dispute. Most of the definitions involve economics, the industrialization of the country, or (apparently) a complicated measure involving life expectancy and average education levels.

The idea that a country can go from "undeveloped" to "developing" and then to "developed" tries to squeeze countries' histories into nice, linear, goal-oriented trajectories. More than that, it defines what those goals should be. First you're peasants scratching in the dirt, then you have Victorian London, and then if you rack up enough points eventually you get to be the USA! (Presumably after that there are little lights flashing around your display and a tinny song plays.)

Defining "first world" to basically mean "developed" clarifies how people use the phrase these days. They aren't saying "I got a bad test grade--issues of capitalism, guys!" but rather "we have a long life expectancy, we have lots of education, what am I complaining about a B minus for? We are still so much better off than those early-dying, illiterate, peasants scratching in the dirt."

Why haven't we picked up the phrase "developed" instead? Well, being the "first" world appeals to us. We're the best! We're "first"! Obviously.

Yet, if nothing else, the Occupy Wall Street movement is showing that a long life expectancy and lots of education aren't automatically win conditions. You can't sit back and say "hey, yeah, we won it! We won at the world!"

Thing is, you can't win at the world. Yes, the USA has plenty of advantages, but it has plenty of problems too. Problems that are problems of capitalism. Problems that happen regardless of long life expectancy and lots of education. (Some of them are even problems that spring, arguably, from long life expectancies and lots of education.)

First world problems.

If we keep lauding ourselves for having those long lives and all that education, if we keep comparing ourselves to those "undeveloped" people, if we persist in believing that our worst issues are burnt microwave burritos and blips in technology, we are never going to be able to solve the deeper problems of our society.

It might be useful to use the lens of the American Dream and the expansion of the phrase "middle class". No one wants to be categorized as "lower class"; the "lower middle class" goes down pretty darn low these days. People tend to emphasize the ways in which they are in a higher socioeconomic class bracket and de-emphasize the ways in which they belong to a lower one, possibly to impress others and possibly to make themselves think that the American Dream is working for them. (When in fact the American Dream doesn't work for most people.) Using the phrase "first world problems" is a way for people to emphasize the trivial issues of life, to suggest that those are the worst problems they have, and to implicitly make a comparison between those issues and the issues of the "third world"/"undeveloped countries". Even if worse things are going on in their life, they might use the phrase in lighter contexts to make all of their problems seem less terrible in comparison.

The categories of "developed" and "first world" both imply we've gotten there, we're done, we're finished. Where do you go from "first"? "Zeroth"? How do you develop past "developed"? How do you measure a country without, beyond, past the current metrics?

There aren't easy answers for these questions. It's quite possible that there aren't answers at all. Any model which says there are easy answers is, in fact, a model that I don't believe. (I'm a physics major, we don't believe in easy answers.)

Part of the backlash against OWS that I've seen says, "They have no coherent demands! They don't have a solution! How can we take them seriously?"

You can take them seriously because they're asking. They are brainstorming. They are saying, there's a problem here. We have problems, first world problems, and they aren't going away.

Do you measure a country by how many of its citizens are employed? By the gap between richest and poorest? By happiness? How can we redefine "worth"?

Maybe there aren't any answers, but at least we're starting--finally--to ask the questions. To ask them publicly. To gather. To speak out.

To me, at least, that's something more valuable than any pat agenda.
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This is unfortunately not an "awesome things I did at WisCon!" post.

On Saturday afternoon, I went to the "Lesbians in SF/F" panel. I learned that basically without even trying very hard I have covered pretty much all of the extant lesbian characters in SF/F proper; and that I have no idea about "lesfic", which apparently grew out of Xena fandom and which I will probably look into now--it sounds like it's mostly erotica/relationship focused, so I'm not certain I'll love it to bits, but it will be interesting at any rate.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about being queer. )

tl;dr: Hi. I'm Alena. I'm gay. I'm going to go suggest a panel topic for next WisCon now.
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First, a rant about asthma and pharmaceutical companies! )
Writing news, however, is better.

150 words on a story that now has a main character, who even has a name. I false-started this one a couple of times, but this beginning feels way more solid than anything else I've come up with.

Also, I printed out what I now fondly call the "dead people in lakes story" to go through.
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(No, I still haven't written on the novel. That's my next task. People keep asking me good questions!)
(This is related to my previous post.)

[livejournal.com profile] mrissa asked me here about my strong identification as a teenager, and whether I thought it was personal or something generational.

I got a little off-topic--short answer: I think it's mostly personal--and it turned into an interesting introspective thing for me, so I'm posting it here and linking in a comment.

This is my answer.

I have always wanted to be taken as an equal by the people I look up to.

Part of that has been wanting to grow up, already, so that I can be an adult. But part of that is also knowing that I can't hurry time, and that people know I am young, and that I want to be a part of the community now. And I don't want to be a part of the community on false pretenses, even if I could get in that way, because that feels like lying, and to be a member of the community you have to tell the truth.

And it's all mixed up with the times when people have thought I'm stupid or lying because I'm a kid, and my righteous anger to show them that kids (and teens) are in fact smarter than you realize, sharper than you think, and will not let you off so easy this time. And with having chosen to go from homeschooling to school with my age-peers, rather than skipping grade after grade to find somewhere the academics were challenging, because I wanted to have friends.

In other words, I think it's probably a personal difference [between me and [livejournal.com profile] mrissa on this subject], but in any case, thanks for the opportunity to think about just why I have that strong belief. It'll be interesting to see what happens when I am not, in fact, a teenager any more. (If every generation does this, maybe I understand more about how older generations of fans act than I thought I did.)

[Related to [livejournal.com profile] shadesong's post: In general, though, I think that today's generation of fans can find more geeky friends--it's more okay to be geeky in a lot more places today, and there's also the Internet--which allows them to own their geek pride, but at the same time, there's no getting around the fact that they're teens; and sometimes the adult programming just doesn't give teens what they want. Often, perhaps.]
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Since I know there are some teens out there somewhere--

Here's a link to a post by [livejournal.com profile] shadesong about "Fandom: The Next Generation".

Ironically, so far in this discussion, [livejournal.com profile] aliseadae and I are playing the role of the Token Teens. So I thought I'd get the link out so that any other teens who are in fandom could chime in, too. ([livejournal.com profile] mlt23, I am looking at you!) And, of course, anyone else, but especially teens, given the nature of the discussion.
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1. I would totally read Tom Bombadil fanfic.

2. YA Panels at SFF Cons, How They Succeed and How They Fail )
I would be interested to hear opinions on this one. From people of any age, who have any range of interest in YA.

3. I need to start reading a lot more nonfiction.

4. Today is my official Day to Relax and Not See People. And, you know, keep working on the novel. (And slush.)

5.
37759 / 80000
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Lately I've been thinking about context in writing. My writing teachers from a while ago would do a context exercise with the Beach Boys' "Wouldn't It Be Nice"; first they played the song, and then they played a clip where it was used in a documentary, with clips of a town dying because the auto plant that had kept it alive was closing.

The story that I'm working on right now depends on context. The trick, of course, is creating that context within what the readers get of the story. The first scene is one that has happened to the main character before: he is where he was before, seeing the same things and smelling the same things, but you can't step in the same river twice, and he is not who he was before. That context, that contrast, creates the tension between who he was, who he is, and who he's trying to be.

In some sense, all stories depend on context, certainly inside the story's action (we expect characters to be the same person the whole way through, bar revelations). Many stories also depend on exterior context--from actions taken just before the story starts, to backstory of characters, to the entirety of the genre. How much they depend on context, and how many layers of it exist to be unraveled, depends on the story and the writer.

---

Another observation about stories: usually, they leave out the waiting. (Waiting For Godot being the exception which proves the rule.)

In an unscientific study of two anthologies of short YA fiction about GLBT people (from the '80s and today), there are a lot of stories about "main character encounters gay parent/other relative/teacher/neighbor, has perceptions changed", and a lot of stories about "main character discovers he/she is gay through mutual falling in love with someone of the same sex".

The second kind irks me more than the first. Self-discovery is not always like that; in fact, probably it rarely is. (And the circumstance in those stories is not required by self-discovery, hence the 'self-'.)

This connects to waiting, I swear--due to proportions, if you're gay, you're going to spend a lot of time waiting. Even if you're straight, you're going to spend a lot of time waiting.

Waiting is boring.

We want to read the glorious moment, the moment when everything changes. But it isn't that 'nothing happens' when you're waiting. It's that other things happen. Still, the waiting goes on, underneath.

(I would feel bad about the relative teen-angst quality of this section of my post, but, after all, everyone who's here signed up for it. Hi. I'm Alena. I'm a teenager, as much as I like to deny the fact.)
(ETA: Okay, so waiting is what builds the context for stories. Still, everyone is always waiting for something; it doesn't go away just because the current story is taking place in some other aspect of life.)
---

School is, as always, school. As my last posts indicated, my big papers are in, but that doesn't mean that they're done with me. Oh, no. Never that. So we have projects to do, and presentations to prepare, but I am writing a story--well, I am writing this post, but I've written five hundred words tonight, which is more words of new fiction than I've written on any story for quite a while, and I'm not sure how the next scene starts.

I had an overnight at a college this weekend. It brought college crashing through "well, in September; that's a while away" right up to now. I wish that it were now; I wish all my hard choices were over and done with. But it's not, and it won't be for a while, and I have to take it one day at a time and move on.
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"Can Life Compete" -- Strange Horizons

I agree with a lot of what he says--even though I've never played WoW. Similarly, I found a group of friends on the Internet, and by talking to them, learned social skills that were applicable to that thing called "real life".

Admittedly, I did have a couple of quibbles with some of his points. In my experience, it isn't just adults who'll make light of internet friends and socializing--a lot of teenagers that I know also make these arguments. If I were to draw a line between people who "get it" and people who don't, I don't think it would be an age line. It would be between so-called "extroverts" and "introverts".

These teens who don't understand internet friends are usually averse to using the Internet for socializing beyond, say, Facebook and Myspace. This isn't a bad choice; it is perhaps wiser than diving into the depths of the Internet (in some ways; worse in others).

. . . but if you're a pre-teen, or a teenager, and you're lonely and you don't know anyone else who likes the things you like, if you're baffled by how to socialize, sometimes anonymity can be a shield. If you mess up (and this is the important part), no one will care. No one knows who you are. You can be someone else tomorrow. Different personality, different way of doing things--depending on the site, different clothes, different hair, different gender.

It's a freedom. It's a deliverance.

And, gradually, you learn who you are. You know that you're the kind of person who says this when that happens, you're the kind of person who does that when this is going on. You know what you can do, and what you can't; what you will and what you won't.

I'm very fond of my Internet friends. I've known a lot of them longer than I've known my 'real-life' friends, and I know that without the people whose real names I don't even know now, who are an avatar and a made-up name, I wouldn't have the friends whose names I do know. Who I can hang out with real life, who I can whisper jokes to in class.

Some people don't understand this. Some people can't.

On LJ, obviously, some of this is self-evident. But if this journal is my soapbox, then this is what I'm standing on it to say. Because this is why I am who I am. Because this is why I am.

Edited To Add: I believe life can compete. If I didn't, I wouldn't be here, under my real name, and I wouldn't have friends in real life. I do think there is something real life can give us that virtual life can't, but I think that both are necessary.

August 2015

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