Well today has been one of the most hectic days in my writing career to date.
I wrote an article about Australia’s Same-Sex Marriage situation, which is pretty awful. Basically the whole country is going to (voluntarily) vote (by mail!) on our rights, and the results are not even binding. It’s set up so that if the ‘no’ vote wins, the government will take it as gospel and try to quash marriage equality; if the ‘yes’ vote wins, they are not bound to even consider it.
My article was picked up by the Huffington Post and received a massive response! It’s taken me hours to get through all the replies, which have been so overwhelming. I’m really glad I wrote it now.
Last year I tried to do a thing, and I failed spectacularly.
The thing was NaNoWriMo – a wonderfully kooky-looking acronym that stands for National Novel Writing Month. Thousands of writers – from amateur to emerging to published and prolific – attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the thirty days of November.
I tried my guts out last year, but it was just a hot mess.
Hell, I was a hot mess.
I’d just been told I was losing my job in a restructure; I had nothing concrete to fall back on; and I had something like eight or nine major projects or events to deliver in the space of six weeks.
And I thought this was a good time to burn the midnight oil and churn out that great Aussie novel.
I got just a little over half way, which is not too bad given the gauntlet I was facing at work. But I crashed and burned, and that manuscript – which was a YA Thriller, and which I actually really like – is collecting dust in a drawer. Or more accurately, succumbing to the early stages of data rot on my hard drive. In my head, it’s more like cake batter: I fully intend to bake a delicious sponge with it and the guests are going to love it, but the oven isn’t preheated yet.
In non-overly-extended metaphor terms: I have a few other writing projects taking priority.
One of which is my second novel.
So, July saw the latest outing for Camp NaNoWriMo, which is billed as a virtual summer camp for writers. We even had cabins, where I got to chat to my fellow writers and we could share our joys and frustrations.
Because I wanted to make some massive headway in July, I set my goal as the traditional 50,000 words and set off on Day 1, which is a good start as that doesn’t always happen in NaNoWriMo. Some writers – past me included – have a tendency to rock up late, like day 3 or 4, and then play what feels like a Sisyphean game of catch-up from there. You know you’re not off to a great start when you’re limping across the starting line.
Despite the demands of work and publishing THE BLACK FLOWER in mid-July and other life stuff, I managed to track ahead of my goal word count every day of November, which I am pretty pumped about.
And on Day 30, I finally passed 50,000 words and reached my goal.
I have said it before but I will say it again: the benefits of applying an artificial and entirely arbitrary deadline to your creative practice can never be undersold. I take off my hat to the people at the Office of Letters and Light who make NaNo happen. It is, for me, the most productive way to write. I thrive off both the stress and the sense of competition.
Maybe it’s masochistic, but I work best when I know I am suffering intensely for a real, tangible and nearby reward: a completed manuscript.
And suffer I did.
This manuscript is the most personal thing I have ever written, and I am including my Honours thesis story ‘Full-Forward’ which genuinely drove me to drink.
This manuscript required me to tap into so much of my past suffering: the very worst of what others have done to me, and the very worst of what I have done to myself.
This manuscript demanded brutal honesty. From the first chapter, there could be no sacred cows, and so I refused to let myself have any. Nobody and nothing is safe from the torch beam of this manuscript. I forced myself to see it all, sit with it all, and most importantly, to speak about it all.
And I found I had so much to say.
I’m still working on this novel. There are a few chapters left to go. I’ll hopefully complete them within the next few weeks, and then the joys of editing will kick in.
Meantime, I’m enjoying the honest introspection – and extrospection – this process has offered me as a creator and a storyteller. The dogged honesty this work requires is forcing me to spear-tackle some demons, identify hard truths from chimeras, and valiantly step into marching boots I have held in the cupboard for years but have always been too terrified to lace up.
I really can’t wait to share this book with the world. I’ll be posting here about it from time to time over the coming months, so make sure to follow my blog and keep an eye on my social media channels, too.
Okay, so I’m going to start this with a disclaimer: I totally love Twitter.
I didn’t used to be such a fan. When I first started using the microblogging platform in 2014, I really didn’t get it. I was naturally inclined to be a private person anyway, so the idea of sharing every infinitesimal thought with a bunch of strangers didn’t just jar with my world view – it was also a vulnerable act. To the uninitiated (me), it also just seemed like a giant waste of time.
Thankfully, I decided to give it another go in 2016, and I am so glad I did. What I discovered was that there is an incredible community of writers and readers on Twitter who are happy to support each other. I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to do enough to reciprocate in supporting fellow authors, which kept me from interacting for a long time. Like, if someone asks me to read their work, I start wondering when the hell I will be able to fit that into my schedule and panic that I won’t be able to.
But I’ve found Twitter’s writing hashtags to be replete with fellow writers who are similarly time-poor and exhausted, but also aspirational, driven and optimistic.
We don’t all necessarily have time to read each other’s work. But we chat, like office workers around a water cooler (or these days, one of those lightning-fast hot/cold taps they install at the sink). We relate the struggles of our day jobs and the challenges we face with our writing. We favourite, we retweet, we reply to each other and celebrate one another’s achievements and successes.
As an indie author, Twitter is a nice place to be. I’m stoked I gave it another shot, because I really enjoy interacting with the new people I’ve met through Twitter.
So, why would I suggest in the title of this post that Twitter could be toxic?
Well, not every corner of Twitter is such a cool little oasis in the middle of the Sahara.
Some hashtags are nicer than others.
Some segments of the community are nicer than others.
And, unfortunately, some segments of the Twittersphere are really bloody negative places to be.
They’re the rest of the Sahara: fiery swarms of hellish heat and fury; sand that burns your feet and stings your eyes; chilling, icy wind that cuts your skin at night.
An article on Vulture by writer and journo Kat Rosenfield got a lot of people in the writing and publishing sector talking about Twitter culture this week.
Rosenfield’s article “The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter” discussed the phenomenon of mostly adult users subjecting new YA novels to some pretty nasty critiques.
No, critiques is the wrong word. Critiques are useful and are written with the author, the reader, and culture in mind. The idea is to provide a critical assessment of the book and its’ worth and contribution to the literary canon.
What Rosenfield identified – and linked to – were not critiques.
They were actions by some pretty nasty activists – nay, professional bullies.
These people are mostly activists concerned with the typical angles of cultural Marxist critique: gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability.
While those discussions about representation and portrayal are so important, and valid, and happen all over the internet and in discourse in various forms (and rightly so!), these particular activists have taken it to another level.
Rosenfield talks about “callout culture” on Twitter. Users will scour new novels for the slightest indication of content that could be deemed offensive to anyone in any way, then decide to shame, blacklist and pile-on the poor author who has finally got their novel published. (Or in some cases, before they’ve even read it – they’re just assuming it might be offensive in some ridiculously confected way.)
The stuff described is basically mob mentality stuff: angry adult activists – universally on the left – band together to slam the author into oblivion. They callout and shame publicly; they tweet and retweet; they jump on Goodreads and Amazon and wherever else and give a slew of one-star reviews to attempt to annihilate the author and short-circuit their success.
I mean, this is nasty shit.
I really valued Rosenfield’s article, because this phenomenon is probably the worst trend in the literary community in the last decade.
There is now such a toxic culture online of not just shouting down ideas you don’t like, but actively seeking to destroy the reputation and name of both the offending book and the author, too.
I believe literary criticism – and, along with it, cultural criticism – should always be fostered and discussions about representation are valid and needed and must continue.
But this trend goes far beyond reasoned critiques or discourse: it is schoolyard bullying ramped up to eleven.
This kind of toxic callout culture is anti-art and anti-fiction, quite frankly.
As both a reader and an author, this has a chilling effect. The literary agent quoted in this article who says ‘spare yourself’ is quite astute. Most halfway decent people avoid these cruel, destructive pile-ons like the plague to save themselves. Sadly, this only means that the campaigns of hate and bullying come to completely dominate the discourse.
It’s a really disturbing trend, but I feel like Rosenfield’s article – and the ensuing online response to it – is a promising sign that people are recognising this toxic culture more and more.
I think it is important for all of us, as readers and writers, to speak our mind and say our piece. We must keep doing this.
We must also treat each other like human beings. We should engage in challenging dialogue when we disagree, but ultimately respect one another.