Can We Talk About Pronoun Declaration Best Practices?

I want to have a conversation about pronoun declaration and best practices around it sparked by this aspect of the issue coming up 3 times in the past month: that asking or semi-requiring people to declare their pronouns in public can be harmful to non-cisgender people.

This is not an aspect of the issue I’d come across before. In all other discussions of declaring pronouns (usually in the context of convention badges) the general idea I got was that non-cis folks declared so that people wouldn’t accidentally misgender them and folks who are cis or cis-passing were encouraged to declare to normalize the practice and not put all the work and markers on the marginalized group in this equation. This all seemed reasonable to me.

I don’t remember how long ago we started, but for at least a year I’ve been asking Writing the Other students to declare their pronouns where their name appears in discussion areas or video chats. Just before the last class I got an email from a student concerned about this practice because they’d had discussions with nonbinary and trans friends about how pronoun declaration made them uncomfortable in situations where they might not want to be out to people about their gender. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to do with that (my initial thought was that students didn’t have to put pronouns that matched their gender if they didn’t want to, but then realized that’s not an actual solution), so I kept it in the back of my mind and decided to discuss the issue with smart folks I know in person.

About two weeks ago the issue came up again in a private forum that’s mostly cisgender people, so the discussion wasn’t as useful as I hoped.

And then this week a friend on Facebook posted a status saying that all people should put their pronouns in their email sig and social media profiles. I happened to check in on that discussion a little while ago and the issue of pronoun declaration making some trans and nonbinary folks uncomfortable came up again. This made me think it was time to have the discussion about it, even if it happens online, because it keeps coming up. Plus, there’s a Writing the Other class starting at the end of this month and I want to have a firm understanding of the issue so I can craft our policy for that and future classes.

For that specific scenario, I would like to craft the pronoun declaration statement in a way that does not isolate people or force them to out themselves in ways they find uncomfortable. I still want it to be clear that I don’t only want non-cis students to declare. Maybe the classes aren’t the right space for this, anyway, and I should drop the ask. I’m not sure.

For scenarios outside of this, I’d like to be able to speak knowledgeably about why pronoun declaration might be a problem and ways to mitigate it or, at the least, understand the objections to it.

Before I open this up to discussion I want to stress that this is absolutely not about cisgender people feeling uncomfortable or resistant to the idea of declaring pronouns. That’s a separate issue and discussion altogether. And one I’m frankly not here for.

I welcome all ideas and thoughts and even disagreements on this topic as long as you follow the rules of constructive discourse. No using slurs, no bigoted language or attitudes, no punching down. Also, the way I have comments set up on this blog, the first time you comment it automatically gets sent to moderation. Once I release the first comment from the queue others will post immediately. It may take me a while to go through all comments in the queue, please be patient. Thank you.

February Microfiction The Locket

February Microfiction: The Locket

“This makes no sense,” Tulla said. She’d said about five times up to that point, as if repeating the statement would manifest someone who would then make it make sense. But that wasn’t going to happen because it did not make sense.

The locket on the sidewalk was not a picture. It also wasn’t a mirror, yet it was a reflection. Just of someplace that didn’t exist. Click here to read the rest of the story

Mette Harrison On Revising The Right Way

Posts in the Writing Wisdom category are primarily for my creative writing students. Most consist of quotes from others that I want to pass along and sometimes I offer up the things I’ve learned as well.


In a Facebook post titled “You’ve Got Revision All Wrong” author Mette Harrison breaks down where many writers go wrong with thinking about revision.

When I was in high school and college, teachers would talk to us about revising papers and focus us on fixing sentences, rearranging paragraphs, and choosing better words. Which is definitely revising on one level. The problem was that when I became a professional writer, I realized that this was the very last stage of revision, basically the copy-editing level.

The revisions that I do before I get to copy-editing are massive. MASSIVE. Like, every single word of the manuscript changes. Sometimes all the scenes are in the right order (Ha–this is never true, but we’ll pretend it is for a little while). It’s just that I have the voice wrong. Or the point of view. Or I change the rules of magic. Or I have to tweak a character’s motivations. Or the setting is now historical–or isn’t historical anymore. Or I’m now writing a series instead of a standalone. Or a thousand different changes that probably sound like they’re small in terms of scope, but in fact change every single word of the book. Because my descriptions are going to change based on how my character changes. And how I introduce the magic or offer setting details changes if the point of view is different.

I know that some writers manage to figure out these kinds of problems before they start writing a first draft, but I’ll tell you honestly, not many do. Even writers who outline extensively find a ton of problems that require massive, massive revisions. And the writers who aren’t finding their problems by writing drafts are spending just as much time (IMHO) figuring out the problems in their heads.

Almost always, when I see a writer who isn’t making progress from draft to draft it’s because they aren’t either willing or able to make these kinds of revisions. They hold tight to their original vision of a project because they think that’s what people mean when they say to “write the book of your heart.” Or they honestly don’t know how to reimagine everything from the bottom up and let everything go in order to rebuild something that’s even better. And do it again and again and again in order to get a manuscript that’s ready for publication.

Read the whole post, as she goes on to say many brilliant things.

Years ago a writer (can’t remember who) said that her revision process went like this:

  1. Print out first draft of novel
  2. Delete the file
  3. Start a new file
  4. Write the novel again using the paper draft (with corrections!) as your guide

I have not gotten to the point where I’m willing to delete old versions. However, I do take a blank slate approach to revision, especially with short stories. Sometimes the fiction needs that much of an overhaul, and so I sit with my marked up manuscript and maybe notes from my beta readers and I start typing. Maybe not every single word changes (I now have a DARLINGS file, though). But I’m not beholden to anything I wrote before if it doesn’t fit.

How do you go about revising? And how extensive are your revisions?


image credit: woodleywonderworks on Flickr

white man writing with chalk against green chalkboard

The Rules Won’t Save You, So Stop Looking For Them

A couple years back when I wrote about cultural appropriation for NPR one of the more intriguing reactions I got was multiple people saying what boiled down to “But you didn’t tell me exactly what cultural appropriation is and the exact steps I need to avoid it in every possible scenario!” and then demanding I do so on Twitter or other public spaces where they could get at me. I tried to say both in the article and in subsequent discussions that the issue was far too nuanced for the exactness people were looking for, which… wasn’t the answer they wanted. I thought about this again while reading Jeanette Ng’s excellent piece on Medium offering advice for writers who want to create diverse fiction but worry about culturally appropriating. She says:

Stop looking for rules. There is a tendency in humans to desire rules, of what should and should not be permitted. It is very easy, however, once you’ve reduced things to rules… for some to forget why something is bad. Some will begin to argue that the rules seem arbitrary.

YES to all that. Plus, I’ve argued with enough Rules Lawyers[1] to know that folks will also use the rules to look for loopholes or insist on rules so that they can get around them and then claim what they’re doing is okay because it wasn’t explicitly dealt with in Rules.

I know that this isn’t true of all people trying to work out how to deal with and avoid cultural appropriation. And I know some people are better with absolutes than judgment calls. There are some situations in life where that can’t be accommodated, and issues around writing inclusive fiction and cultural appropriation are an example of such. With these you have to develop discernment based on knowledge and understanding of the nuances.

This is why I’ve spent so much time putting together resources like the Cultural Appropriation Primer as well as many of the other links on the Writing the Other website. I want to make it easier for people to find information and grow their own knowledge. And I want them to get a sense of the complexities involved, which is why there are dozens of articles and sources instead of a handful. Hell, the resource list we give our students is around 200 links deep at this point, and still growing.

Even having read all those links I can’t and won’t create a set of concrete rules to follow because that wouldn’t be a solution. Writers could follow every rule to the T and still make mistakes that harm marginalized people[2]. So why even try? Because it’s not about following rules, it’s about doing your best to reduce harm and, if you don’t get it 100% right, apologizing, learning from your mistakes, and doing better in the future. That’s it. Most people aren’t looking for perfection. They are looking to see that you care, that you’re putting in a good faith effort, and that you’re willing to listen and learn.

So listen to Jeanette and stop looking for rules. They won’t save you.

Footnotes

  1. My usage of this term closely aligns with what TVTropes calls Obnoxious Rules Lawyers/Rule Sharks.[]
  2. I address this in my LitReactor essay on representation when talking about Neil Gaiman’s Sandman: A Game Of You storyline.[]

Breakable Rules: You Must Write Every Day!

Posts in the Writing Wisdom category are primarily for my creative writing students. Most consist of quotes from others that I want to pass along and sometimes I offer up the things I’ve learned as well.


Write Every Day is an oft-given and basic piece of writing advice. If you want to be a Real Writer™ you must write every day, no matter your circumstances, no matter your lack of inspiration. Put that butt in that chair and sit there and write. Every day.

Even Jerry Seinfeld agrees, and he’s a huge success. (He has a productivity trick that helped him accomplish this that I use myself because it is quite motivational.)

The problem with Write Every Day as a dictate from on high is that it creates a huge amount of pressure. And, as author Daniel José Older explains, that doesn’t work for everyone.

Here’s what stops more people from writing than anything else: shame. That creeping, nagging sense of ‘should be,’ ‘should have been,’ and ‘if only I had…’ Shame lives in the body, it clenches our muscles when we sit at the keyboard, takes up valuable mental space with useless, repetitive conversations. Shame, and the resulting paralysis, are what happen when the whole world drills into you that you should be writing every day and you’re not.

Yes to that. Not everyone is motivated by deadlines and hard goals. For some, writing on your current work/s in progress every day might not be feasible, might not even be what you need to do. Older again:

Every writer has their rhythm. It seems basic, but clearly it must be said: There is no one way. Finding our path through the complex landscape of craft, process, and different versions of success is a deeply personal, often painful journey. It is a very real example of making the road by walking. Mentors and fellow travelers can point you towards new possibilities, challenge you and expand your imagination, but no one can tell you how to manage your writing process. I’ve been writing steadily since 2009 and I’m still figuring mine out. I probably will be for the rest of my life. It’s a growing, organic, frustrating, inspiring, messy adventure, and it’s all mine.

For myself, I find that I can’t always move forward in my work progress every day. Sometimes I need to work out why a scene isn’t gelling or a character isn’t behaving in a way I want in my own head before trying to do so in words. Sometimes I find I really need to get a bit of research out of the way to make the next chapter or scene flow. And sometimes I’m really busy with work projects.

The problem that arises for me is that I can’t not write for too long otherwise I run into trouble. Author Justine Larbalestier is the same:

If I don’t write for a month then I find it very very very difficult to get back into it. And the longer I’m not writing the harder it becomes. My writing muscles atrophy. I need to write—not every day, but at least three times a week—to stay limber.

In his book About Writing, Samuel R. Delany compares writing to an addiction:

…your mind becomes… addicted to the pleasure of writing. …while the pleasure is there (it’s unique; very real; all writers experience it), the truth is, it isn’t that great. You need lots of it to effect the “addiction” that will keep you at it. Though the practice of writing has the structure of an addiction, it’s a mild one–one remarkably easy to wean yourself away from, even accidentally or through inattention.

The way I reconcile this with the idea that you don’t have to write on your work in progress every day is that I make it my goal to do one ten minute writing exercise a day. Ten minutes is not a large chunk of time, so even in a busy life I can find the moment to sit down and do it. Even a short exercise keeps my creative brain engaged enough to make it easier to get back to writing on my work in progress when I can. And on those days I do an exercise right before I get to the main writing in order to turn off my horrid little internal editor.

This is why I did the Writing Exercises class last year and why I started The Picture Game a few years back. That one is simple: find a picture, get out a notebook or open a blank word processing document, set a timer for 10 minutes, take no more than 30 seconds to take in the picture, then write until the timer dings. No stopping to correct spelling or to think, just keep your fingers moving.

There are plenty of places[1] to find different writing exercises that keep you limber but won’t make you feel pressured. Find your level and what works for you and do that!

Whatever you do, know that there’s no one right way to be a writer, no one thing you must to, no one path you must follow.


image credit: photosteve101 on Flickr

Footnotes

  1. Some of my favorites:

    All with great exercises to do alone or with other writers.[]

Broken antique stairs - by Simon Agozzino

Not Everyone Can Skip That Missing Stair

I posted a version of this a year ago on Facebook and, a few days ago, it came up in my On This Day. I decided to refresh it for the blog because this issue continues to be a problem.

Last year, author Jon Del Arroz was banned from the 2018 WorldCon for reasons. Previous to this, I’d been aware of him and that he was Sad/Rabid Puppy-adjacent, thus probably someone I should avoid and block where possible. As the news spread about this banning, I came to understand that he had, for several years previous, been severely harassing several people in the SFF community. I knew about one of them, I didn’t know about the many others.

The reason I didn’t know is in part because of my scattershot participation on social media and also because the events in this community over the past few years have made it so my anxiety is often triggered by reading about the actions of the folks Del Arroz admires and rolls with, so I tend to just not keep up.

Thing is, it’s really easy not to keep up.

Continue reading “Not Everyone Can Skip That Missing Stair”

Meet Alethea Kontis | #FriendlyFriday

It’s #FriendlyFriday, the day I tell you all about my fabulous friends and the brilliant things they’re up to. Have a fabulous friend of your own? Share a link to their awesomeness in the comments or on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag.

I’m moving Friendly Friday posts over from Patreon to my blog. This is where I’m posting all content going forward and the design over here is better, anyway!

I don’t plan to repost the old Friendly Fridays here, though I’m making an exception today. Why? Because today is the birthday of the illustrious Alethea Kontis, who is not only my dear friend but also the person who came up with this great concept. Wish her a happy birthday by dropping a buck or two into her birthday fundraiser :)

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may recognize Alethea’s name from my frequent visits to Florida. She and I have ranted about fairy tales together, challenged people together, and had magical times at the Space Center as well as the beach. Most of the time when I tell people I know her they ask: “So, the princess thing–is she like that ALL the time?” As with most beautifully complex people, the answer is a complicated mix of yes and no.

Continue reading “Meet Alethea Kontis | #FriendlyFriday”

I Heart This Thursday

The Monster Cafe | #IHeartThisThursday

On #IHeartThisThursday I share the art, writing, music, performance, or other creative endeavors I love and admire. Want in on the fun? Share something you heart in the comments or on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag.

Last year around this time I was hanging out in Florida with a bunch of romance writers having a fabulous time at the beach. The Coastal Magic convention was a good time for many reasons, and the thing I remember best about it was the awesomely adorable Monster Cafe booth.

Monster Cafe Booth

I’m a sucker for some cute fuzzyness and big eyes just like anyone with a soul. However, there’s something extra special about these ones. The creator, Justine Birmingham, has an artist’s eye for what colors will work well together and creating creatures that have a definite personality. She doesn’t only make glitter-eyed fuzzballs. Oh no. Check this out:

She made my friend Alethea Kontis a teddy bear using the Marriott carpet pattern! Those of you who go to DragonCon will get the significance of this. OMG I love that bear.

Justine is an all-around crafting goddess and if I wasn’t a nomad I would be surrounded by her creations all the time.

You can see her latest stuff on Instagram and, if you can’t get to a con where she sells stuff, she has some things up on Etsy. Go forth and follow!

Dragon Bound

January Microfiction: Dragon Bound

“You’re not supposed to carry me like this! Are you listening? Kid! Brruughfft – this is so undignified.”

Tamar let the Dragon complain until his complaints ran out. He’d pay for it later when the Dragon got bigger. Didn’t take too long for that to happen, but maybe by then he would be a Dragon himself and nothing could hurt him.

“You think you’ll get to be one of us? Not likely.”

Click here to read the rest of the story

December Short Story: The Vagabond Cafe [Sneak A Peek Patrons Only]

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The Vagabond Cafe

The space where the Vagabond Café exists right now used to be the basement apartment at 7 Cornelia Street. Anyone who walks into the café has a hard time figuring out how it could ever have been big enough for a person to live comfortably. Or, at least, confused as to why anyone would agree to pay $7,000 a month for the privilege.

“It’s the West Village,” Brooklynites explain as if they know (since there’s no other way for a Brooklynite to say anything). “What do you expect? Rents are ridiculous and everything is too small.”

It is true that in the West Village rents are ridiculous on tiny apartments, but even at that $7,000 is more than anyone would pay for a studio with half a kitchen and a dubiously safe “bathroom”. Anyone but a musician. And the landlord knew it.

Patrons on the Sneak A Peek level, click here to read the whole story (you’ll need the password). Not a patron yet? You can read the rest of this piece and all the ones that came before by becoming one of my supporters on Patreon. Just click the orange banner above.