Tempest Challenge #18 – Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Next up on the Challenge: Uprooted. This novel is on the Nebula ballot for best novel and I am thrilled that this is so. The book deserves it. I’m still trying to figure out how Naomi Novik squeezed an entire trilogy’s worth of worldbuilding, plot, and action into a single book. It’s a thick book, sure. Not that thick, though! And yet it feels like in the hands of a less skilled writer this would be a sprawling trilogy with a middle book that leaves readers frustrated until they read the end. Skip all that and just read this.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Uprooted on the #KTBookChallenge tag on Twitter and Tumblr or the comments here or on YouTube. And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy Uprooted from Powell’s or Amazon.

Gods of Egypt is a Racist, Whitewashed Failure of a Movie

Gods of Egypt has been a problem since the final casting was announced and people started petitions against it. And yet Lionsgate Films and the director chose to ignore people’s upset over a whitewashed Ancient Egypt pantheon of gods. And now their movie is a big, fat financial bomb.

Good.

Serves them right.

When reviewers got ahold of this movie they tore it to shreds. It has a 13% score on Rotten Tomatoes (up from 10% a couple of days ago. Progress!). Everyone with sense is saying this movie is not funny haha cult following bad, it’s horrendous.

Charlie Jane Anders’ review on io9 is titled “Murder Is Legal and Torture Is Mandatory, Because Gods of Egypt Exists” and opens thusly:

The moment I walked out of a screening of Gods of Egypt, I set about building a massive throne out of human pelvises. I worked feverishly through the night, barely pausing to listen to the sounds of the city fracturing into seven brutal revels: a chainsaw maze, a great pit full of vengeful lobsters, a poisoned rave, and so on. As I climbed at last atop my pelvic majesty, I had a perfect view of the inundation of viscera that had turned the very streets into canals: For even if nobody else ever saw this movie, its very existence was enough to sunder every human relation for once and ever. There could be no language, no society, no kindness, after Gods of Egypt.

How did this happen? Why didn’t somebody involved with the creation of Gods of Egypt realize what they were setting in motion, and that this movie was not just bad, but obscenely, devastatingly bad?

There are so many wonderfully funny bits in this review that I can’t quote them all. Here are a few more, but read the whole thing, please:

Gods of Egypt has been justly criticized for its policy of casting white people as almost all of its Egyptian characters—to the point where it might be the first movie whose director apologized months before it was released. But the casting is just one of the many problems that eat away at this movie, which seems to have fed slices of Egyptian cultural traditions into a typical Hollywood “Save the Cat Goddess” structure, to try and create something familiar and comfort-foody, with an exotic veneer.

…loosely based on Egyptian mythology, if the Egyptian gods were mostly white people who could turn into animal robots, sort of like Transformers.

…every few minutes, the movie asks us to care about stakes-raising weird ideas like …“Set has stolen the glowing blue brain of the only black person in the movie!”

…you don’t get the impression that any of the human characters actually worships these gods or considers them more than just oversized people with random powers.

But for the most part, Gods of Egypt feels like such an abdication of story, and such a bastardization of culture, that the only sane response is to abandon sanity, and enlist in the murder-police of the senseless new era.

Good.

Serves them right.

Some other reviewers also mentioned the whitewashing thing, but didn’t make it a central part of their review. Not like Scott Woods, who just went in with “Gods of Egypt is the most racist film ever“:

For the record, I’m going to spoil the shit out of this movie because a) you have no business seeing it even for free, and b) fuck this movie.

Gods of Egypt is the most racist film in the last one hundred years. It is the most diabolically conceived, politically incorrect, and unapologetically racist film since The Birth of a Nation (the 1915 white one, not the 2016 black one, and how cool is it that we have to clarify that now?). It is more racist than Song of the South and Soul Man, which is no small feat. It is more racist than Mississippi Burning, The Revenant, The Help and Dragonball Evolution. It is more racist than the eye-rolling Bringing Down the House and The Last Samurai. It manages to somehow be more racist than Blendedand Dances With Wolves. It is more racist than Dangerous Minds and its didn’t-bring-shit-to-the-party cousin, Freedom Writers. It is magically more racist than The Green Mile. It has unseated my standing favorite, The Lone Ranger, for most racist movie, and I thought Johnny Depp’s Tonto was going to get us to at least 2020.

Damn, son.

Here’s how Gods of Egypt beat the high score:

When you do something wrong and you don’t know any better, that’s a crime of ignorance. You don’t know or understand the ramifications of what you’re doing, or you’re too stupid to see how what you’re doing is wrong. Matchbox Twenty singer Rob Thomas joking that he drinks until he becomes a “black Australian” is a racist act borne out of his ignorance. He says he didn’t know about the history and politics of the association, fine, you’re ignorant (and racist). The KKK, on the other hand, is willfully ignorant. It is not a group of blissfully unknowing individuals. There is nothing accidental about their racism. They know that the things they do are uninformed and illegal and wrong. They just don’t care.

This is the way in which Gods of Egypt is racist: the filmmakers know that the film is wrong. Not historically inaccurate…flat-out wrong. They knew that people would gather and point out that it was wrong. They did not care that it was wrong. They made the film the way they wanted to make anyway.

And he’s not wrong. The director knew from jump what he intended to do. Perhaps he got a little worried at one point and called up Ridley Scott, who was in the final stages of filming another racist whitewashed epic set in Egypt, and asked “Should I abandon the idea of casting white people as leads in my movie?” and Scott probably said to him, “Nah, son. You can’t mount a film with that budget and say that your lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such.[1]

You need to go read all of Scott Woods’ review/essay as well, as he breaks down all the reasons why the racism, the whitewashing, and even the token casting of one brown dude is a huge and serious problem[2].

All of this is enough, really, to condemn Gods of Egypt for all time. And so I feel silly even mentioning this. But… it makes me mad that this movie messes up Egyptian mythology so badly.

Not even on the I’m Black And Ancient Egypt Is My Heritage level[3]. As a person who has studied mythology and other aspects of a few ancient cultures, it fills me with rage when media properties treat mythologies as interchangeable. The first time I saw the trailer for this trasheap of a movie, my second thought (after ‘goddamn whitewashing!’) was: Horus is not Odin, you douchcanoes.

After reading the plot summary on Wikipedia, I am even more enraged. Ra is not Odin, either (nor as terrible a father; what the hell). Set is not Hades. Hathor is not Aphrodite or Persephone. Horus IS NOT THOR FROM THE MCU. Egyptian Sphinxes do not tell riddles! The Egyptian afterlife is not Hell!

I think I discovered why all but one of the main characters in this movie are white. Because someone thinks that Egypt is in the suburb of Greece where the Norse gods come to visit on holiday[4].

Honestly, Egyptian mythology and cosmology is far more complex and less straightforward than Greek mythology seems from the myths most people know. And attempts to make it straightforward and just like the myths we know result in crap like this. It could be cool for some movie to attempt to translate some of that complexity to the screen. For someone to use film to show how Egyptian spiritual conceptions were quite different from the other folks in nearby regions.

This is too much to hope for, I think. Especially in light of the fact that white Americans still put tattoos of Ganesha on their bodies because that’s rad, dude, and Hinduism is a living religion.

It’s only a small consolation that this movie is going to bomb and the studio has lost massive money and the bad reviews will chase the director for a while and maybe make him cry on his pillow at night. Too bad a slew of shit reviews and the loss of money won’t be enough to stem the tide of racist whitewashing in Hollywood.

Footnotes

  1. This is based on Scott’s real life explanation of why he cast all white folks: “I can’t mount a film of this budget, where I have to rely on tax rebates in Spain, and say that my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such. I’m just not going to get it financed. So the question doesn’t even come up.” I am not making this up.[]
  2. Don’t read the comments. Here, I’ll summarize them for you: Egyptians are not Africans and never have been and anyone who thinks Egypt had black people in it is stupid and arglebargleN-word.[]
  3. Which, to be honest, is not where my feelings about Ancient Egypt are based. I mean, since I don’t have the ~luxury~ of being able to trace my ancestry back to any specific location on the African continent, I embrace all ancient African knowledge, art, and culture as being part of my in general heritage as a human person whose near ancestors came from the place. But I don’t think my 10 times great-grandfather was a Pharaoh or anything.[]
  4. Imma stop all you BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PTOLEMYS folks right here. Because while there is a ton of cultural crossover between Egypt and Greece and Macedonia and other cultures in the region, it was the distant past people who we collectively call Greeks who were influenced by Egypt first. Also, I do not mean to imply that the Greek peoples are white, only that the Western perception of Greeks, or at least Ancient Greeks, as white, is what drives the nonsense behind Gods of Egypt.[]

Expect More From Your Regional ConCom

There are so many conversations going on right now sparked by Mark Oshiro’s report[1] detailing what happened to him at last year’s ConQuesT convention that it’s hard to just focus in on one aspect to talk about[2]. There is one thing I want to jump in and speak about right away, which is what should be expected of con staff and ConComs. I decided to write this post after reading Rachael Caine’s post on the situation, in which she says:

But you know what? It’s not necessarily the fault of the volunteers throwing conventions. Audiences and panelists must hold each other accountable if fandom is going to continue as it began. ConComs are not gods. They can’t vet moderators, they can’t interview panelists about every panel topic to see if they’re qualified. They are organizers of a show for which they don’t get paid, and while they do shoulder the burden for responding to bad behavior, WE are responsible for responding immediately to the bad behavior in the first place.

I agree with the overall point of Rachel’s post: that fans and panel participants and pros all need to look out for each other. Many of us already do that because we long ago figured out the importance. It’s the bolded bits that I take issue with. ConComs are not gods, but they sure as hell can vet moderators and can put systems in place to up the chances that panelists are qualified to be on the panels they’re assigned to. I speak from experience as a programming volunteer myself.

I work on the programming committee for WisCon and am most familiar with our system and workflow. I also know a bit about how ReaderCon does things. Both of these cons are relatively small, just as ConQuesT is, both have a volunteer staff, and both have very involved programming.

WisCon programming is a highly collaborative process. We solicit panel ideas from WisCongoers and allow the members to vote on which panels they want to see based on the list of all qualified panels submitted[3]. You can read an overview of the process on the WisCon blog, if you want more details. After we figure out which panels will happen, we have to decide who gets to be on them. Again, this is a collaborative process. Folks volunteer to be on, to moderate, and the Program team uses a combination of database wizardry and hand selection to get all the panels staffed.

In past years, there have been big mistakes made in this department, such as having a panel about [insert marginalized identity] with only one person of that identity on it (or none), or panels with problematic descriptions, or panels with moderators that just made everything terrible and harmful and triggering. One of my goals in joining the Program staff was to help this not happen–and I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that all of us on staff have that as a major goal. To that end, we’ve asked for, and received, changes to the programming database that help us identify which volunteers would be best for a panel or, hopefully, which people should not be on certain panels. Some of it is still a function of knowing the folks at WisCon since we’re all long-time attendees as well.

Though our system is very useful, it is not perfect. It’s still evolving, too. We still make mistakes. We try hard not to make the same ones, to be aware of problems that could crop up and nip them in the bud–such as by making sure we mark panels to hand staff so the database’s random assignments don’t put a cis person on a panel about trans people talking about trans issues, for example. We strive to be proactive because we want our attendees and guests to have as great a time as possible.

conventions

This is what it looks like when people are having an awesome time on a panel

This is a lot of work, yes. This is necessary work. It’s work that fan cons should do–yes, even if the staff is all volunteers. Because this is important.

Just look at what happened at last year’s GenCon Writer’s Symposium. A dude who is well known for being a problem, especially about women’s issues, was allowed to moderate a panel on women in comics even after The Mary Sue pointed out that the original panel was made up of All Men. ALL MEN. Even after that bit was addressed–hurriedly–Bill Willingham was still allowed to moderate. Marc Tassin, the Writer’s Symposium Track Director, should have known better. Willingham’s viewpoint and attitude are not a secret. And yet.

I expect GenCon to do better, and that con is far, far bigger than ConQuesT. Kansas City fans have pointed out that it is the very essence of a local con. Most folks running it and putting people on panels know each other well and know the panelists. Robin Wayne Bailey[4]  is a local and, from what I can gather, a regular at that con. Selina Rosen, who pulled down her pants, is apparently a serial pants taker off-er at that very con. Yes, this is a small local con. That means it’s probably even easier for programming volunteers to know that they’ve staffed a panel about diversity and erasure with one person of color and a bunch of problematic white folks who are prone to undressing at the slightest provocation.

It is certainly not possible to predict the behavior of every person, to know the specific background and identity details of every guest and panelist. And there is always room for error. I really need us to not pretend that there aren’t ways to be better, that we shouldn’t demand better while also saying “I will be an advocate and activist about this, too.”

ConComs and programming staff have to be proactive. They have to know what the potential problems are, where the common pitfalls lie, and pay attention to what has happened at other cons so they can avoid making the very same exact mistakes. Nothing that happened at ConQuesT regarding those panels Mark talked about hasn’t happened elsewhere many times[5]. All of it was avoidable.

Large con or small, the ConComs and program volunteers absolutely must be proactive and address these issues. When they do, it helps to empower the kind of personal response Rachel talks about. And I’ll reiterate: I agree that this is important, too. We, all of us, con staff and guest and attendee, have to look out for each other, speak up, create the kind of spaces we want at our fun community gatherings.

 

Footnotes

  1. Mark posted about his experience as a Fan Guest of Honor at ConQuesT in which he was treated so horrendously by staff, other guests, panelists, and attendees he was triggered into an anxiety attack, among other things.[]
  2. To wit: here’s one of my Twitter rants about the cost of publicizing bias in the community. That’s just a small smidge of what we talked about there and on Facebook today.[]
  3. By the way, the program survey is now live. Go tell us which panels you want to attend and be on![]
  4. Did you see his comment on Mark’s Facebook post? Here it is.[]
  5. Maybe not the thing with the undressing. What is wrong with people??[]

Tempest Challenge #17 – Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson

After many months away, the Tempest Challenge videos are back. I’m doing a bunch of new things around these videos this month and next, and the plan is to keep going on a regular basis for at least another year. I’ll need some help from you (yes, you!)–details on that to come.

Meantime, my latest challenge is Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love is the Drug, a YA Mystery told from the perspective of a voice we don’t often see in fiction: an upper class black teen girl.

Would love to hear your thoughts on Love is the Drug on the #KTBookChallenge tag on Twitter and Tumblr or the comments here or on YouTube. And, as always, you can support me making Tempest Challenge vids by clicking the links below when you…

Buy Love is the Drug from Powell’s or Amazon.

New JEMcasts: “Aztec Enchantement” and “Music Is Magic”

Good news, bad news time. Good news: there’s a new JEMcast out! Bad news: I am not in this episode.

Cue weeping and rending of garments!

Never fear, Alex and Aleen did a great job. And even more good news for me: I didn’t have to watch “Music Is Magic” and suffer through all that bad animation. Wow, such terribad animation.

      The JEMcast: Music Is Magic

JemCas Aztec Enchantment

More good news: I was on last week’s episode where we talked about “Aztec Enchantment.” A decent episode that managed to not be as offensive as the china episode. This is the measure we use for these things on the podcast.

There are some facepalmy moments of WTFness balanced out by moments that show the writer truly meant well, even while still coming from a place of privilege.

Listen to the episode below or subscribe via  iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or RSS.

      The JEMcast: Aztec Enchantment

Who Needs Handwriting? The Write Gear vs Freakonomics Radio!

Write Gear episode 3 The Whole Body Is The Mind A conversation with Andrea Hairston

This week’s episode of my new podcast The Write Gear is almost the entire raison d’être I finally got this project off the ground. I recorded the conversation therein several years ago at ReaderCon, and ever since that time I’ve said to myself “I need to make this podcast happen so everyone can hear what Andrea Hairston has to say about writing by hand and creativity and journals and fountain pens.” After much help from my producer over at Hologram Radio, it’s finally out in the world.

Listen to TWG #3: The Whole Body Is The Mind – A conversation with Andrea Hairston right here or subscribe in iTunes

      The Write Gear: Episode 3

I’m happy it happened during the Month of Letters since this is the time of year I spend with my pen and paper people. And by total coincidence, it went out over the series of tubes the same week that Freakonomics Radio pushed their latest podcast, “Who Needs Handwriting?” Who, indeed?

The opening asks whether writing something down is “as outdated as saying that you’re going to “dial” a phone number…” The first person host Stephen Dubner talks to is Anne Trubek, former professor at Oberlin College who focused on the history of writing and writing technologies, and writer of the controversial article “Stop Teaching Handwriting,” which you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd. Dubner also talked to Princeton’s Dr. Pam Mueller and professor Daniel Oppenheimer, who co-authored the paper “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard: Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking,” which, again, you probably read or heard about if you’re a handwriting nerd.

Trubek is of the opinion that the trend of schools not spending time teaching cursive or penmanship is excellent, and that we’re better off in general moving on to newer technologies that are more democratizing. She feels this, in part, because of her son’s struggle with writing in the third grade. From the article linked above:

My son… spends much of his school day struggling to learn how to form the letter “G.” … Simon now fears taking up a pencil. Repeatedly being told his handwriting is bad (a fine-motor-skill issue) has become, in his mind, proof that he is a bad writer (an expression issue). He now hates writing, period.

That doesn't even look like a damn GI get that the emphasis on correct cursive can be detrimental, especially when you bring in the fact that some people may not have the fine motor skills to write the perfect G, and it’s silly to expect them to as long as they can write a G of any kind and recognize the letter and understand what it does in a word. And, let’s face it, the way we are taught to make Gs in cursive is ugly and dumb.

However, I feel like there’s a conflation with handwriting and cursive going on in both her essay and in the Freakonomics piece that I don’t think is warranted. One can write by hand and not write in cursive. One can get the benefits of writing by hand and not write in cursive. I agree with Kate Gladstone (handwriting cheerleader), who says:

Handwriting matters, but not cursive. The fastest, clearest handwriters join only some letters: making the easiest joins, skipping others, using print-like forms of letters whose cursive and printed forms disagree.

I do what Gladstone points out a majority of handwriting teachers do: a hybrid where I mix “some elements resembling print-writing, others resembling cursive.” I go for what is fast and legible.

Handwriting does matter, and even moreso for creative people. In our conversation, Andrea talks about why writing by hand at certain points in the creative process are key.

I believe that the whole body is the mind, and so when I write with the pen I’m using my whole body. There have been a lot of studies that say when you write cursive it engages your whole brain because it engages your whole body.

I want to get into the dance of the words and the dance of the words can happen when I have a fountain pen. When I have a piece of paper that’s sort of like parchment and it’s got textures… and I am basically conjuring the words.

When I go to type, I don’t feel like I’m conjuring the words.

Andrea is quick to say that she loves and uses all her devices for writing, including her tablet and computer. They each have a role to play in the various steps of creating.

Anne Trubek would have you think that the only reason people cling to handwriting is to romanticize the old or as a purity test for the authentic self[1], and that the entities behind studies about handwriting are just “companies that make their money off of penmanship and curriculum,” and that people should embrace new technologies such as keyboards and voice recognition because they’re better for people without fine motor skills. This leaves out two important aspects. The first is that new technology includes digital pens for writing by hand, even if you’re not writing on paper. The second is that writing by hand has an impact on how we process information; a different impact than typing.

That second point is illustrated by Mueller and Oppenheimer’s research linked above (which was not funded by the evil pen and paper lobby, thank you) which talks about how your brain processes more when taking notes by hand as opposed to on a laptop. From the podcast:

Mueller’s argument is that because handwriting is slower, you’re forced to decide as you go what’s worth writing down. And this gets your brain engaged in processing the information as you go.

MUELLER: And when you process something more deeply, it’s more likely to stick.

There have also been studies that scan the brains of small children just learning to read and write to see what happens when a child writes out a letter vs identifying and typing it on a keyboard. Andrea talks about this, too. How forming a word with your pen different from typing it on a keyboard. With keys, the motion is the same. With a pen, the motion involves much more of you and is unique to you.

I found it odd that the Freakonomics episode failed to include any discussion of digital pens and styluses for computers and tablets. The iPad Pro is relatively new, yes; the tech behind it is not[2]. I’ve been using a Galaxy Note to create digital, handwritten notes for years. And there are many ThinkPad users who’ve been rocking stylus input for over a decade. In less than 10 years we’ve gone from having to memorize Graffiti strokes for Palm Pilot input to natural handwriting recognition on phones and tablets and laptops, no training necessary for you or the machine.

This wouldn’t have happened if handwriting wasn’t seen as necessary or desirable by consumers and business users. All those iPad Pencils and SPens and whatever they call the thing that comes with a ThinkPad aren’t only for artists. People still like to be able to write by hand, and find it less cumbersome than on-screen keyboards. That you can now save your writing digitally as strokes or as regular text is a big deal[3].

I reject Trubek’s thinking that the march of progress is going to leave handwriting completely behind. Not because I see it as the pinnacle of human expression, but because it has tapped into something in our brains that appears to be a key element in our development right now. Something that just typing doesn’t. That need not mean that we won’t keep using keyboards of some kind, and it doesn’t mean voice recognition or direct brain downloads aren’t the wave of the future. I think what it means is that we won’t leave handwriting completely behind–not for a long time–just because it isn’t new.

Your thoughts on any of this are, as always, welcome in the comments.

Footnotes

  1. Real talk: she’s not completely wrong. There have been more than a few people who go full hipster when talking about this topic.[]
  2. Apple didn’t even revolutionize the concept, they just made a tablet that does what Galaxy Note tablets and smartphones have been doing for about 6 years now.[]
  3. I’ve written several pieces on this in the past and I still ride or die for my LiveScribe pen as a journalism tool. Looks like I need to make an episode of The Write Gear about digital pens and stylii.[]

Interview: I’m on Less Than Or Equal!

Less than or equal

I know I shared this on social media back when it happened. I didn’t share it on the blog, though! And if you missed it, you must listen.

Aleen Simms, who is on the JEMcast with me, has a podcast of her own called Less Than Or Equal where she interviews people. She’s an excellent interviewer, knowing just when to ask questions and just when to let people be brilliant. I was quite honored that she wanted me to be on the show.

If you don’t already subscribe to her show, you need to. But listen to the episode I’m on first, because it’s awesome and interesting. We talk about Jem, of course, and also music, and my college days, and Tempest Challenges, and other stuff.

New JEMcast: The Treasure Hunt

S2E8: The Treasure Hunt

In this week’s episode we talk about The Treasure Hunt. Not one of my favorites. However, Alex Knight couldn’t record with Aleen Simms and I and so we had to wing it. We didn’t have Alex’s deeply detailed show notes to go off of, just my snarky rewatch tweets. And the both of us giggled through the entire thing. It was fun, tho.

Sadly, the episode itself is not that great in my opinion. And Aleen and I both agreed that the songs were meh. But yay reading, right? Right.

Subscribe to the JEMcast on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or via RSS. Or listen below.

      JEMcast: The Treasure Hunt

New Episode: The Write Gear – Windows Tablets

The Write Gear Episode 2

The Write Gear episode 2 is out. This time I’m talking about Windows Tablets and asking the question: Is there any good reason to get a tablet over a laptop? If you want a tablet to be a productivity companion and not just a thing you play games on or read with, then you already need a keyboard and then you’ve got a de facto laptop, right?

There are some compelling reasons to go with a tablet, which I discuss in the episode. It’s less than 15 minutes! And super informative, though I say so myself.

Subscribe! Or stream below.

      The Write Gear: Episode 2

How We Write and How We Talk About How We Write

How We Write

For the past week I’ve been mulling over this excellent post on Neurodiversity, Writing Process, And Writing Instruction by Leah Pope of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She talks about how academia sometimes fails students by not making it apparent that there is no one best writing process and that if a student can’t follow a process proscribed to them by some professor or professional writer, it doesn’t mean they’re doing writing wrong.

The narrative we spin through the mainstream writing processes we learn and teach is not always an accessible one. As Rick Godden’s essay in How We Write demonstrates, not all of us have the option of following a model of daily writing or scheduled writing periods. Physical realities make highly regimented writing rituals impractical, even impossible, for Godden, as well as a not insignificant number of our colleagues and students. Preferring or needing to use dictation or screen-reading software in order to write might mean that recommendations about drafting or revision practices sometimes simply won’t work or will be excessively time-consuming within that physical reality. Such diverse groups of writers — at the undergraduate, graduate, even professional academic level — are often left on their own to sort out an effective writing process, frequently without resources like the standard Writing Center conference, which does not easily accommodate accessibility software.

I would suggest that writing is always a neurodiverse process. Regardless of label-happy diagnoses, one “normal” writer, if there is such a thing, will always be different in some way than another “normal” writer. We already acknowledge this with matters of timing: I am a morning writer, but that is considered no better or worse than my friend who writes best in the middle of the night. The logic behind accepting and encouraging our students to explore writing at different times of day (in different settings, in different media, etc) could be extended to make advice about writing processes more accessible to a more diverse range of students. No one (to my knowledge) is saying that having difficulty following one writing process or another makes a student a bad or ineffective writer, but I don’t believe we are saying often enough that there are endless possible ways to write by which a person can be an effective writer.

On that bolded point–Pope may not see that in the UW Writing Center, but it certainly happens among fiction writers.[1]

At the start of my short fiction classes I talk to my students about this Daniel José Older piece where he reads the idea that a writer must write every day for filth:

Writing advice blogs say it. Your favorite writers say it. MFA programs say it.

Write every single day.

It’s one of the most common pieces of writing advice and it’s wildly off base. I get it: The idea is to stay on your grind no matter what, don’t get discouraged, don’t slow down even when the muse isn’t cooperating and non-writing life tugs at your sleeve. In this convoluted, simplified version of the truly complex nature of creativity, missing a day is tantamount to giving up, the gateway drug to joining the masses of non-writing slouches.

Nonsense.

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.

wild applause

From here I do actually assign them a daily writing exercise for the duration of the class (I lay out the reason why in this post), but I hope I don’t make them feel like they have to keep doing it forever to be a Real Writer™. My hope is that they’ll figure out what works best for them and to try, at least for some weeks, to do regular writing each day.

Pope’s article has me thinking more about my approach as a teacher and whether I’ve thought enough about neurodiversity as I plan out classes.

I’m fully on board with the truth that no one way works for every writer and that the process that works for you is the best process. It can be hard to find a process that works as long as you keep hearing that things must be done this one way. I agree with Pope that this can be solved by more openness and that there’s not enough discussion about writing processes–discussion without judgment, that is. It would be beneficial for writers to be able to talk about what works for them without making it sound as though one way is a certified Best Way and also without having their way scoffed at by people who do things differently. There’s a fine line between advice or suggestion and a command from on high (which has less to do with intention and more with framing). It would be nice to find that line, make it thicker, and stay firmly on one side of it.

At the end of her post, Pope makes this call to action:

I believe it would be good for us… to talk more honestly about how we actually write. By sharing our psychological experiences of writing, we might just find our way toward happier, healthier, and more productive writing.

Let’s do this! I’d love it if working writers of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, stage and screen answered this “simple” question: How Do You Write? What processes do you find successful? What was your journey to what works?

I’d also love to collect these for my students. Not only as a guide, but also proof: There are many ways to make writing work for you.

You can do so in the comments of this post. Or share your process on Twitter with the hashtag #HowWeWrite. On Facebook, comment here. On Tumblr, reblog and comment on this post and tag it how we write. On Google+ tag your posts #HowWeWrite.

I can’t wait to see all the different answers and explanations.

Footnotes

  1. Whenever some version of this discussion happens I think of this old post by John Scalzi that I always think of as “Writing: Find the Time or Don’t… As Long As You’re A Comfortably Middle Class, Neurotypical White Man”. One of the major examples gives for a person writing under extreme hardship ignores many, many factors that made it possible for that writer to keep writing: a white collar job he wasn’t in danger of losing, medical care that was comprehensive and not tenuous, medical care he could afford, a vast support network of people specifically devoted to him. Not everyone has all of this, and that’s not even getting into different levels of ability.[]