I’m tired of boring writing.
I have been reading a lot of non-fiction articles lately and the largest, most annoying fly in that ointment is that a lot of it is just boring.
I place the blame on several things.
One, grammar checking programs that “suggest” changes in grammar that are plain wrong. (An Aside: Dear Microsoft: “to who” is incorrect. I have aggressively turned off your grammar checker for years, so I don’t know if you’ve bothered to *fix* this annoyance yet. But please, if you run across this, fix it.)
Two, teachers who, for years, battered into our heads that we should not write above an eighth grade level and even that was pushing it. Anything for public consumption should be readable by your average tween. Unfortunately, I internalized this and my writing now sounds like Hemingway. I hate Hemingway’s writing. I keep trying to expose myself to more unusual styles, like Cat Valente, and China Meiville, and poetry. It doesn’t generally creep into my writing though. I still have hope.
Three, “assistant” programs that make you “write better.” By “better” they mean that you now write like a journalist for Buzzfeed. These assistants will suggest word choice changes, eliminate “redundancies” even if they are placed for emphasis, and in general will dumb down your writing so that it fits into the rules of journalism. This might be helpful if you’re churning out articles for content mills. It is not helpful if you’re trying to write the next lyrically beautiful novel that will bring tears to the eyes of all who read it.
Four, the internet in general. Writing for the internet and trying to make a living at doing that is hard work. There are a vanishingly small number of writers who can make blogging (or its cousin content creation for sites such as Medium or Vocal) a paying job. Out of all of the blogs in the world, how many do you actually read? How many of those can actually pay the rent with the money they generate from the ads on their blogs, tips, and such? Not nearly as many as we’d like to believe. It’s hard work. And for every Boing Boing, there’s something like Willful Wanderer (my theoretical travel blog that’s dying on the vine because I haven’t actually gotten around to making content for it.)
Five, social media. We’ve gotten to a point where everything needs to be expressed in extremely short forms. “tl;dr” which, to its credit, uses a semicolon correctly, is the short form of “too long; didn’t read.” This can be applied to anything: Stories, meditations, social media posts, emails, epic poetry of long-forgotten battles, and political rants. Especially the political rants.
I don’t think I have any advice to change this prevailing inability of authors to really make non-fiction lift off of the page. Except, maybe to stop reading earlier?
If you have a solution, please let me know in the comments below.
(See what I did there? That’s called a “call to action” and is required for all media these days. So, like, comment, and subscribe or the blog police will cut you off from the net for three hours.)
All Out – ed. Saundra Mitchell
Appalachian Folklore – Nancy Richmond & Misty Murray Walkup
The Mask of Sanity – Hervey Cleckley
Creativity, Inc – Ed Catmull w/ Amy Wallace
The Happiness Advantage – Shawn Achor
The Leader’s Bookshelf – ADM James Stavridis and R. Manning Ancell
Radical Inclusion – Martin Dempsey & Ori Brafman
The True Believer – Eric Hoffer
AI Superpowers – Kai-Fu Lee
Dawn of the Code War – John P Carlin w/ Garrett M. Graff
- Down Among the Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire
- Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire – Neil Gaiman & Shane Oakley
- Space Bandits – Mark Millar & Matteo Scalera
Driving home from Maryland the week before Thanksgiving is nerve wracking, frustrating, and infuriating. If there is a moon, it’s hidden by cloud-cover. And the only things that look like stars are actually the lights on the top of radio towers.
The few streetlights that exist are stuttering out a weird morse code that translates to “I have a fault in my wiring. Please help.” But they are not my responsibility. And I cannot help them regardless.
The street is illuminated by headlights and tail lights and the occasional painting of blue and red from a police car on the side of the road. I have been watching as cars weave and forget that the 18 wheelers can’t actually see them hiding next to them. I’ve seen too many close calls as people forget that physics tells us that two items cannot exist in the same place and time. Or maybe they’re just pure scientists and want hard data more than theories.
Or perhaps they’re experiencing time slips as alternate timelines coalesce and merge making it possible that they didn’t see the car there. The car that in another lifetime they crashed into, stopping the traffic dead and ruining multiple lives.
There is a frozen turkey in my trunk and a crumpled styrofoam cup that held warm cider a few minutes ago.
The internet radio is pumping out dark blues and rock that’s going through an emo phase. It’s filled with murder ballads and broken hearts that spiraled into anger rather than sadness. There’s sinners and vigilantes and a world of stories that want to be told.
My brain spins with stories and characters. An old character I haven’t really thought of outside of porting into fanfiction because I didn’t think he was actually viable. I think that’s wrong. He and his wife and his child and his adoptive father who thinks he’s a vampire. And who knows, in a different story he might be, but for now, he’s just a nightclub owner who never gave up the goth phase and agreed to let his son get enamel fangs when he was a teenager because he never heard of appropriate limits.
And stories or scenes from works in progress.
Anything to not be tensingly anxious about being surrounded on all sides by cars that want to be going much faster than they are and following closely enough that a stunt driver would be cautioning them that they need more safety gear if they’re going to do that.
I swallow my cursing when a car almost cuts off my front bumper because they’ll get a whole car-length ahead if they cut me off. I slow down to have at least a minimal ability to stop when the next idiot tries to commit suicide and take me with them.
I take the express lane and feel my shoulders loosen, even as I have a pang of white-girl with a good salary guilt. I revel in the privilege of not being surrounded and feel as though I can breathe again as I barrel down the expensive drive. Is it worth the money to pay for it? Once I would have snorted and told you no. Now, though, now, I am okay with paying to drive and wishing social distance meant cars as well as people.
It’s dark and the music is throbbing and maybe, if I weren’t navigating through a minefield of other vehicles, if I were instead rolling through a deserted desert moonscape, or abandoned city streets, I might even enjoy it.
If you enjoyed this, please buy me a cup of ko-fi.
There is an electric kettle in the office breakroom. I don’t use it every day. (Luckily, I can still work from home once in a while.) But I always make sure it’s got at least a liter of water in it. (Yes, I’m American. Yes, I know what a liter is. Deal.)
There’s a reason. I want the other people in the office to do the same, so I model the behavior.
I want other people in the office to leave water in the kettle so that I don’t have to fill it on the days when I’m feeling dragged out and just want my tea to start steeping.
I also know that if I get my tea steeping, I will have time to fill the kettle to the 1 L mark and put it back on the base well before the tea is ready to drink. But I will have accomplished the step of “making the tea” that required there to be water in the kettle.
Let’s follow this into the realm of creativity. My kettle has been dry for a few months now. Writing has been hard and keeping up with a blog was not going to happen.
Because I took a job that required all of my emotion, worry, and care to maintain. I was in that job for three months and it was already stressing me out, using up my mental health resources. I realized that I was heading head-first into burnout.
Because I hadn’t been hired to do actual counseling, and suicide interventions, and triage. I’d been hired to check in on people once a month and make sure that they were taking their meds and making progress on their goals.
But that isn’t what I ended up doing. I ended up being a life-line for people who needed real therapy, but couldn’t afford the plans with the real therapists. I didn’t mind the conversations with the CEOs and creatives who needed someone to help with hacks. I didn’t mind the stoner who needed to talk about limits and making a new start with her relationships. But the woman who wanted to die and needed me to make a safety plan with her? That was not what I wanted.
Keep in mind. I have a MA in Psychology. I am a trained, but not licensed counselor. I have the skills to do the job and I’m ACE at it.
It just kills me.
It drained my kettle to the point where I was barely able to scrape up enough creative energy to start a craft kit that came with everything I needed. (We don’t talk about WiPs or UFOs.)
It’s taken a few months away from that job and the application of just, doing nothing productive, and reading a damned book once in a while to start to refill that jug.
Just the other night I got a new story idea. That hasn’t happened in ages. I’ve been picking and prodding at old projects in hope, but a new story idea. That’s hope. Even if it never goes anywhere.
My kettle is filling up again. And maybe it will actually hit the minimum fill line and I’ll be able to get back to work at the things I love.
Pour the water.
Fill the kettle.
Drink the tea.