notes on a read-through of my manuscript

It’s that time of the year again! I have some spare time, and I say “Alright, let’s work on these manuscripts!” only to run into the same issues again, as I have already talked about in an earlier post. Yet, as I read my work over and over again, and grow older with it, I am becoming more and more aware of the things I do as a writer and why I do them. So I’ve compiled some observations.

I read my own work differently than I read a book. I suppose this seems like a rather self-evident statement, but I noticed that when I read my manuscript on my computer or in print, I find that I am way more focused on editing and pruning that I would be with a book. I suppose this is because I can edit my work, while I can’t edit Native Son, but I also find that when I am reading, I am less concerned with the author’s convention, or the crafting of the narrative voice; I am less concerned with the craft of writing as it pertains to a faceless, eternally different author. I find that I am the same way when reading my friend’s work. I can’t help but read them into the text, and I don’t like this, because I don’t want people to read me into my texts, although that’s going to be impossible for the people I know closest who are reading my work. Without knowing the author and having a window into their mind, texts seem to exist only as consumable forms of media, and do not carry with them any contextual weight regarding their production.

Having Microsoft Word read me my manuscript helps. I suppose it makes things feel a little more real? There’s a function on Word 2016 (I’m not sure if it’s on older versions) that lets you read a document aloud. I ran Protean through it while I was a little down and self-reflective, waiting on my friend (who’s already on the path to writerly stardom) to respond to my rather anxious Facebook message. As I listened, I put away my laundry, and found that I was sinking into the story, less focused on that narrow, indistinguishably hairline boundary between good writing and overexpression. I just let the story unfurl, and I found that my anxiety was shifting from being weirded out by my own writing to being immersed in one of the anxiety-riddled sequences of the book. My works are imbued with a dark humor which makes me laugh (and I suppose that’s all that matters?) but this is to lighten a text which is nevertheless about being anxious. The entire story is about miscommunication, miseducation, mismanagement of emotions, of relationships. The sequence that the robot-person read aloud was quite heavy, but also quite immersive. I wonder if this is how people read texts… the robot voice put a distance between me as writer and me as reader, a necessary middleman. I find that I quite like the manuscript now. I just wish that I could find a voice that’s a little better at pronouncing the words and making them sound like human text.

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winter blues

It’s taken me eight semesters of college for me to realize that I don’t like the spring semester. My emotions are all over the place because of my seasonal affective disorder, and I have a hard time being focused. I described to my friend today that fall semester is usually imbued with this excitement, and charged by the prospect of new beginnings. New friends, new classes, new experiences, new adventures. Yet, the spring is more or less biding time – waiting things out until the weather gets warmer, or until I have concrete summer plans. I am less inclined to make new friends, and feel almost ambivalent about maintaining the relationships I’ve built. I have these light therapy lamps (they’re not; they’re LED lamps which I was told “are just like light therapy”), and I sit under them often, but it doesn’t help much.

Time for some updates.

I have not been writing as much I had hoped. Lol, New Year’s Resolutions. I wish I could tap into that fount of creative energy from junior fall, when I first started this blog, and posted something every other week. It’s not necessarily because I have a lot going on right now. This semester, as I said, has been a little odd emotionally, but it is what it is. Right now, I’m fine, which is why I am writing to you all, and not to myself, as I had done last week. The manuscript project(s) I’ve been working on have been put to the side, although I do occasionally glance over it/them when I have the time. I have been rereading old work in between studying and writing my thesis, which is productive, and my ability to read without trying to change everything has gotten much better. Nevertheless, I feel creatively stifled right now, and I’m not sure why. I have all these cool ideas for blog posts, like this one I’ve been mulling around for a year now on race as a visual culture, or other posts which would be a little less monumental like a piece about Marxism / Marxist cultural studies, a piece about cultural ideology, and more posts about doing research & being a student, but I haven’t sat down and said “Let’s write this thing.” Hopefully in the coming weeks, when I am not so busy working on my thesis, I’ll be able to focus more on this, but that’s what I was hoping for for this semester, since I was done with grad school apps. Hm, I’m sure the spark will come back.

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learning to edit

Editing is difficult. It requires a sense of introspection and analysis which forces us, in many ways, to lay ourselves bare and open to the scrutiny of our biggest and most hurtful critics; ourselves. When I was younger, I often didn’t edit my papers out of laziness. After having written an entire paper in one sitting, having ideas race through my head for hours, the last thing that I’d want to do is sit down and reread what I’d just written. And I’m still the same way, even today. Although I don’t write in one sitting (unless it’s a short composition), I do find that I allow my work to “sit” for a while in order to allow my ideas to ferment. This is not supposed to be literal; my words aren’t literally cooking in the Word document, but my ideas are growing slowly in the stew of my thoughts. As I go about my day or do my readings for the next class session, I keep my argument at the front of my mind, looking for information or approaches I can use to make my opinions more effective. Then, after a few days, I print my work out, and start the editing process.

As I’m getting older, and beginning to see school less as the completion of arbitrary tasks and more as the formulation of a certain way of thinking and interacting in academic and public space, I’m realizing that there is a lot of information which students are expected to acquire by themselves. Whether this be how to write a cover letter or how to find books in a library, much of the information which a student needs remains relatively obscure and difficult to locate. Most students resort to googling these bits of info due to a lack of institutional instruction. What I want to do here is offer a way of approaching the editing process in a way which proves productive towards crafting a solid argument or comprehensive analysis. The key to editing, as I mentioned earlier, is a sense of introspection which may come easily to some and quite arduously for others. Nonetheless, it is this level of reflection which separates a subpar work from something worthy of publication.

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in limbo

trap doors that open / I spiral down

I’ve been trying to write a book since I was in high school. At first it was a novel, then it became a collection of short stories. Several scrapped chapbooks, an Amazon Prime novella and a failed attempt to serialize a narrative poem and I haven’t reached this goal. Currently I’m trying to put together a working selection of novellas that seem to represent a certain moment in my life. Regarding my writing, these novellas seem to represent an authorial peak in terms of narrative pathos and storytelling. Each narrator is complex and flawed, a raw yet heavily adulterated permutation of myself, and I look at their emotional honesty as a sort of testament to my own personal development. Nonetheless, every time I read over these works, taking them out of the “resting” period I afford all of my longer works before beginning the same self-deprecating editing process, I realize how much more I need to read, how much more I need to grow before I am ready.

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For about a year, I’ve had my anxiety under control. For a brief moment sophomore year I was on medication for it, but I stopped after realizing the medications weren’t really doing anything. I had to, at the moment, find an alternative way of fixing my crippling anxiety attacks, bouts of mental turmoil which I could sense coming like a storm. I cannot describe my anxiety attacks, and I’ve spent a long time trying to write my feelings into existence, only to realize that human language can only do so much to describe the nebulous, undefined spaces of our minds. After a tumultuous sophomore year, I spent the summer tending to my developing stomach issues, seizing in silence about my life and all of my decisions. Junior year was remarkably quiet – for half of it, I was at school, although I knew that my mind was really elsewhere. I was biding time, waiting to go abroad. I found it increasingly difficult to be present at Swarthmore, and when I was abroad, I found it just as difficult to be present in Senegal. I have described my abroad anxiety as a constant noise in the background, something I could tune out most of the time. It seemed to have solidified into a general malaise that my mind channeled through my GI tract. Now, I’m in North Carolina, working on a research project, and my anxiety is slowly mounting again.

I was talking to a friend that I made in the program about my conduct and my behavior and I expressed to her that I feel as if my anxieties are related to the ways that I orient my life around the acquisition of certain goals. I’ve been somewhat aware of this since high school, when my English professor would call me a “grade monger” almost as an insult, and I would smile, because I didn’t understand how “grademongering” could be seen as a negative characteristic. I have found great satisfaction in being a high-achieving student; I have very few other metrics other than my academic accomplishments to determine my self-worth, a horrible reality I am still in the process of correcting. I find that my mood is greatly impacted by my grades and the responses I get on my papers. When my comments in class receive minimal acknowledgement, I become insular, I cut myself down, and say “You are no longer allowed to speak because you were wrong.” A destructive desire to please others, for I have never been taught to determine my own value, mixes disastrously with an unhealthy sense of perfectionism and a dangerously disparate self-perception; my mind is a persistent calamity of self-affirmation and self-deprecation.

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why I can’t write an asian narrator

Du Boisian double-consciousness applied to writing narratives. 

I have been reading James Baldwin’s Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone for the past three days now. I’ve been absorbing such heavy doses of the stuff that my mind is spinning around literary questions. In this book, Baldwin is actually speaking from the perspective of a Black narrator, unlike Giovanni’s Room, where the narrator is a white man. Yet, I wonder if there are any Baldwin books – I have not read them all, sadly –  where the narrator is not a Black or White man. A Latina woman? A Black woman? An Asian man?

It is striking to me to think of the various first-person narrators throughout literary history and to see how closely their race reflects the race of their writers. Nick from The Great Gatsby, Yunior from The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Janie from Their Eyes Were Watching God, Jim from My Ántonia – all of these characters belong to a specific racial narrative, the likes of which is hardly crossed… and perhaps for good reason.

What does it mean for a white man to write from the experiences of a Black man? Of a Black woman?

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