An Interesting Woman

I am an interesting woman because I am a woman of story. I have been created from stories; the stories told to me by others and the stories I tell myself. <<read more>>

The Well Written Woman has informative and entertaining articles written by interesting people. Writing this article was a beautiful opportunity for reflection. What makes you an interesting person?

Advertisements

At least my Mum thinks I’m cool …

“Hey …” I look at my sister cautiously, knowing that I need to phrase my next question carefully even though my little sister is the person least likely to judge me.
“Yeah?”
“Is it OK to like Dubstep?” She swivels her head to look at me and my heart starts racing. Oh no, I’ve said the wrong thing.
“I guess,” she shrugs. “I like Dubstep.”
“Really?” I breathe a sigh of relief. “OK. Cool.”

I’ve never been one to follow fads and fashions, and fortunately my sister isn’t the only person in my life who doesn’t give a damn what music I listen to and how I style my hair. For years my sister scowled darkly when I drove around with Metallica blasting from the car’s speakers, and then – a couple of years later – she informed me that “they were alright”. Her taste in music has vastly improved since the days when all she would listen to was Ministry of Dance CDs, though I’m not one to judge.

Alas, I get confused about what is cool these days. In fact, more than anything, I get confused about what I’m supposed to like and not like. I’m constantly being bombarded with memes referring to bands I should and shouldn’t like, and status updates that indicate the sentence I just used in my text or the thought process that just skipped through my mind are either outdated, uncool, or only used by a certain type of person who is regularly ridiculed for being that type of person. I’M SO CONFUSED!

This is what I can only describe as a “hater” culture. We take pride in not liking something, even if we secretly do. It’s “uncool” to like Justin Bieber, and yet we talk constantly about how much we don’t want him to be famous that he gets even more famous. I’ve never listened to a single Bieber song and yet I know the chorus to at least three. Seriously.

I think the best example of this is Nickelback. You heard me.

Here is a band that everyone loves to hate. Saying you like Nickelback provides instant ridicule and jostling about your “cool” status. I don’t actually understand why I’m supposed to not like a band who, for years, were actually deemed pretty cool. But this was before the Internet, before the birth of the meme as we know it (and back when the term “meme” referred to a bunch of questions posted on LiveJournal sites in which you were tagged and had to answer on your own site and thus the meme was passed on), and before it became cool to hate.

Yeah. I’m so cool, I hate everything! Nothing is good enough for me!

From what I understand, it’s cool to hate Twilight, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, Hipsters, Instagram, Apple (iPhones in particular), and people who can’t spell or structure Facebook updates in a coherent manner. In fairness, I have a strong preference against two of those things. The rest …

I don’t understand this new aspect of society, this celebration of hating stuff for the sheer thrill of being able to say “Ergh, I hate that.” It’s an aspect of online culture that I find terribly frustrating and fascinating. More than anything, I’m worried about being cool. I’ve never worried about being cool, but I worry about it now because it seems that being “cool” is just so darn hard these days. Can someone just give me a list of who and what we’re hating this week? Please?!

How much is this culture stifling creativity? I admire writers and artists who get their work “out there” because they are exposing themselves to this culture of hate, this culture of trolling.

The thing is, we seem to have lost a sense of ourselves when it comes to online persona and how we present ourselves. It’s like high school all over again, but this time we’re competing over who hates XYZ the most. We have this desperate need to be cool … or is that just me, in my delayed adolescence, yearning for some kind of group I can fit into?

The truth is, I don’t hate Justin Bieber. Kid’s doing pretty well, so who am I to judge? Do I like his music? Well, no. Not what I’ve heard, anyway. But hey, for a while there I loved listening to The Spice Girls, so let’s not be too hasty with our judgements.

Here’s another confession: I like fiddling with photos on Instagram. I appreciate the artistry that photographers put into composing an image, and I have absolute respect for photographers who don’t use digital editing techniques. I, however, am not a photographer. I don’t understand the first thing about filters and … stuff. What I do know is that if I press the button on my camera, an image of the scene before me magically appears on the little screen on my camera. Sometimes my photos turn out looking pretty good. I also know that sometimes using Instagram makes my photos look fun and quirky. So there you have it, I like Instagram.

I’m not sure the world is ready for me to reveal my feelings about Nickelback, but let’s keep in mind that Chad Kroeger has had a few little liaisons with the Santana, so he can’t be all bad, right?

Am I cool? Maybe not. Do I care? Well … The jury’s out on that one. What I am becoming very certain of is the fact that I’m too tired to hate, and I’m too tired to have memes and social media make my descisions about what is cool for me. Maybe I’m not cool, and maybe I never will be. I am, however, happiest when I’m not worrying about what I’m supposed to hate this week.

Partying with Punctuation

Proofreading and editing are terms that I often see used together and sometimes I’ve seen people refer to one when what they really mean is the other. I am, of course, guilty of this charge myself. I often say “editing” when I mean “proofreading”, partly because the general word “editing” is more recognisable than “proofreading”. Regardless of how we use them to suit our own lazy conversation needs, editing and proofreading are two different words because they are two different processes and not interchangeable as some might lead you to believe. Both processes are important to your writing.

Token lolcat to make this post more interesting. More to come.

Editing

This is done first, usually as soon as you’ve finished your manuscript. For some, it’s an ongoing process as they write. You know those moments when you discover the pace is just a little too slow and you need to speed it up, or when you realise a whole chapter is incoherent and needs to be rewritten? That’s editing.

Editing is the process of revising and rewriting your work to ensure it is coherent, flows smoothly, and uses language and technique appropriately.

You will find that as you edit you also correct spelling and move punctuation marks around the page, however the main goal of editing is to ensure coherence and structure. Editors will often come back to writers and say things like, “Bob could do with a bit more background information to help the audience better relate to him” and “the meaning of this sentence is unclear – rephrase it”.

It is believed that editors are violent because of the coffee shortage in Brazil.
What? There’s no coffee shortage in Brazil?
THEN WHERE IS MY DAMN COFFEE?!

Proofreading

This is done last, the final hurrah before you pop the champagne and cheer. While editing focuses on form and language, proofreading makes sure that the protagonist remains blonde throughout the entire novel (unless she has a sordid affair with a box of hair dye), and that there are no stray commas wreaking havoc across the page.

Proofreading is the checking for and correction of grammatical errors, spelling and punctuation, and format.

Proofreading is the final “look-over” to check that spelling, punctuation and grammar are perfect, and that format is tidy and consistent. In a formal environment, proofreaders don’t usually communicate with authors as they’re not suggesting changes or making comments about the content of the work. They just make your manuscript look good.

Proofreading Cat also says that if you rely solely on spellcheck, you deserve every painful stroke of the red pen.

Proofreaders use funny symbols (because most proofreaders are a little funny themselves):

Proofreading and editing are some of the hardest processes in producing a piece of work. They require you to revise, rewrite, and question your love affair with commas. If you don’t have a cat who can edit and proofread for you, pay a professional. This leads me to a wonderful analogy (you know I love analogies).

Your manuscript is a party. And because your manuscript is a really, really awesome manuscript, this is a really, really awesome party.

Editing your manuscript is decorating the function hall – it’s organising the colour scheme and sorting out the menu. Don’t seat the five vegetarians at the table next to the roasted pig (and don’t offer them the apple from its mouth). There’s a lot of coordination here – you’re making sure everything comes together to work smoothly. And on top of all that, you have to remember not to let Aunty Mary near the open bar!

Proofreading your manuscript is doing a quick scan of the room before your guests arrive to make sure the champagne fountain isn’t overflowing into the chocolate fountain and the Chippendales are lined up in size height order.

Party hard, my friends.

Read to Write

Read, read, read.

– William Faulkner

I love reading books and I love writing books (of dubious sizes and completion rates). I’m going to be honest right now: I think reading is integral to writing. I’ve heard writers say they don’t have time to read, or that they don’t “need” to read, and while I like to think that I’m open to new things and willing to debate and discuss and listen to the opinions of others, I have a deep-rooted belief that writers need to read, and it’s a belief that has been challenged many times yet has not wavered. Here’s why I think all writers need to read …

Read to understand

The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order. Constant reading will pull you into a place (a mind-set, if you like the phrase) where you can write eagerly and without self-consciousness. It also offers you a constantly growing knowledge of what has been done and what hasn’t, what is trite and what is fresh, what works and what just lies there dying (or dead) on the page. The more you read, the less apt you are to make a fool of yourself with your pen or word processor.

– Stephen King

I don’t always like to read books that are similar to what I write because sometimes I discover my ideas already there on the page (dammit, must write faster), or my ideas pale in comparison (pass the wine, I’m not writing tonight or EVER AGAIN). On the odd occasion, however, I read something and think This? THIS?!

When we read to understand we are reading to understand the books we want to write. Reading books helps us understand:

  1. What is currently working in the market – what is popular and what is going on the discount pile, and what is (and isn’t) working for different audiences.
  2. Changes that are taking place in what is being published and by who – you’re not doing to send a picture book to a cookbook publisher, are you?
  3. How writers are using and manipulating traditional genres and styles of writing, and what it means for your writing (what was obscure ten years ago might be flourishing now).

Even better than reading in the style and genre that matches your own is reading in a style and genre that sit beyond your “comfort zone”. If you’ve got a passion for Fantasy and have never read anything else, how will you come up with a unique voice if your brain is completely awash with the intimidating voices of Tolkien and Eddings and Feist?

We can analyse what we’re reading on a deeper level. Why am I interested in this and will readers, in turn, be interested in my book? What did I hate about this character that made me want to stop reading halfway and how do I prevent these flaws in my characters? Who is this book suitable for and how will that change my target audience?

We can generate great ideas if we challenge the boundaries of tropes and “writing rules”. Read to understand what works and what doesn’t work. It’s really quite simple.

image from: blackeiffel.blogspot.com

Read to research

If you steal from one author it’s plagiarism; if you steal from many it’s research.

– Wilson Mizner

In 2002 I finished high school. It was pretty cool, especially as I had to write a short story as a major work for one of my English subjects. It was a year-long writing extravaganza during which I had to produce a short story of 6-8000 words. I mucked around with mindless Googling of fantasy tropes (yes, we had the internet back then – it was slow and I had to use the school computers because we didn’t have it at home) and then I finally sat down and wrote a 7000 word draft.

“It’s a good story,” my teacher shrugged and I breathed a sigh of relief. “It’s a good, standard fantasy story.”

Uh-oh. It’s not good in the way I want it to be good.

“Now go and make it yours. Make it unique.”

I researched the bejeesus out of that story. Every aspect I had mentioned in the draft of the story was subjected to brutal revision. Hey, I mentioned a mountain, let’s research mountains. And, oh look! A generalisation: “Every mountain has a dragon.” That’d be cool – I want a dragon in my story. Oh, according to Christopher Vogler I should have a gatekeeper. Bingo.

See the connections that took place? Whether you need to check the historical accuracy of the Civil War (whichever one that may be) or remind yourself exactly what a troll typically looks like, we need to read to research. Research gives our writing backing and makes it more than a flippant remark – what was a simple mountain in my story became a core part of the narrative because the research I did led me to transform elements of the story. I’m still very proud of that piece because it represents a significant lesson in my writing life – research, revise, and write it again.

And I got a damn good mark, by the way.

Read to enjoy

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.

 – Oscar Wilde

In 2009 I put down yet another book I was reading for university and sighed. Then I realised I was sighing because it was yet another YA book and I was kind of over the angst and anguish of the teenage experience – I’d been through it myself and was at a point where yelling at the characters to get over themselves and grow up was more indicative of my age than my love of YA fiction. It was also indicative of the fact that all I had done was read a very narrow selection of books from the massive assortment that exists in the literary world … I had stopped reading for my own enjoyment and hadn’t done so in years.

Fortunately, I’ve overcome that dry spell. I still read a lot of YA fiction yet now it is interspersed with “grown up” books and books that I wouldn’t normally read but have seen a review for or had it recommended by a friend. Reading for enjoyment also means that where I once persevered and slogged through books just to finish them, I now read a book and persue enjoyment and entertainment rather than knowledge and enlightenment (or decent quotes for my essay due in two hours).

There is excitement that happens when you open the first page, delight when something lovely happens to your favourite character, sorrow when things don’t go the way you want them to, and an ardent wish to jump into the pages and sort everything out with the arrogance that can only be had by a reader who has watched everyone stuff everything up through miscommunication and inaction.

As a writer, I want my readers to read my work and enjoy it. Some might take away profound lessons or new understanding, others might float around on a cloud before coming back to earth … ultimately, my test of a good book is enjoyment. Enjoy reading – it’s not a chore, it’s a thrill.

5 Things I Learnt from Travel

Washington D.C. (USA), Oingt (France), Mexico City (Mexico). Photography by Stef Thompson

Pack Light

The wisest packing advice I have ever received is to lay out everything you think you need, and then halve it. You never need as much as you think – there are plenty of Laundromats to be found and, unless you’re going to the darkest jungles of the Amazon, you can buy an extra bar of soap at most convenience stores. Instead of making room for an extra pair of shoes, make room for souvenirs and memories.

Be Flexible

Perhaps one of the more important lessons for any person to learn in life is the art of being flexible. Flights get cancelled and trains run late, museums have obscure opening hours and hotels aren’t always located as centrally as you thought. Sometimes the best laid plans don’t just go awry, they go completely bonkers. Knowing where you’re going and having accommodation booked (especially in peak seasons) ensures you have a direction to aim for and a bed at the end, but be open to spontaneity. Say ‘yes’ to everything (without compromising your health or integrity) and be open to change. Everything is an opportunity.

Memories Can Buy Happiness

A lot of travellers mind their pennies when they travel and adhere to a strict budget. This can be very restrictive when it comes to being flexible with your plans – you might dismiss an activity because of the cost, or refuse a fancy meal because a tin of tuna for dinner tonight means an extra trip to the museum tomorrow. Spend money on things that delight you – don’t scrimp when it comes to making memories. When is the next time you’ll be in Paris sipping coffee by the Eiffel Tower? When was the last time you hired a car and drove around Sicily? Go home with memories, not spare change.

Tread Softly

Thich Nhat Hanh writes: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” This is never more true than when you are travelling. Practise responsible tourism and tread lightly – you are a guest in this country; others actually live here. Some travellers can be inconsiderate, rude, and plain obnoxious – don’t be one of them. Wherever you go, research the country, language, and culture so that you can be open to practices to which you are not accustomed. Celebrate differences and appreciate that every individual has a story to share. When you come home, appreciate the visitors who demonstrate the same respect for your home, your culture, and your language.

A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words

Learn how to say ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ in the local language; a genuine smile communicates everything else.