Saturday, March 15, 2014

Post-Dissertation Writing Projects

I sent my dissertation to my professors about two weeks ago. Since then, I've been doing another kind of writing, one that I've been putting off for a long time: fiction. Specifically, literary fantasy.

I can hear the gasps from here. But I've wanted to write fantasy for a long time. I had ideas, and I puttered around with them, and I shelved them for schoolwork, housework, travel, and play rehearsals, but mostly I shelved them because I lacked the confidence to write and the willpower to work.

But if there's one thing I learned from writing my dissertation (and let's just get this out of the way: I learned a lot more than one thing), it's that I have the willpower and ability to see a long project with a lot of moving parts through to its conclusion. Tapping into this willpower feels a bit like magic itself; it's amazing, when I look back on it, how much work I accomplished despite rarely feeling like working.

This ability to make myself do something I dread, not just once, but day after day after day, is miraculous (and largely due to the Pomodoro Timer, praise be its name). And now that I know I have it, I am putting it to use, and writing all the things! In two weeks, I've finished one short story and begun writing another, both with specific publications in mind. Once I defend, I plan to finesse a couple of things I have lying around into critical articles, send those out to journals, and then get back to writing short stories. For the next couple of years, I'm going to try to write four articles a year, and one short story a month--basically three short stories for each article I write (I respond well to the reward system).

The other thing I've noticed since finishing my dissertation is how much clearer my mind is when it comes to craft. Like I said, these fantasy ideas have been knocking around my head for a while, but mostly confined to their own room while the dissertation had the run of the house. Now that I'm letting them out to play, I find that they've developed. I have much more defined opinions now about what I want my narrative voice to sound like, about what I think makes a good story, even about the idea of magic itself.

For example, we went to a cookout today and a bunch of kids in the house were watching the movie Enchanted. I'd seen the movie before, but I watched the Central Park musical scene between Amy Adams and Patrick Dempsey. I found myself admiring the tension the movie creates around the incursion of magic into the real world. Here is this cartoon princess, earnest and innocent and sparkly, whose very presence causes supernatural events like choreographed singing and dancing, and on the other side is the real-life cynical guy who comments on the fact that everyone seems to know the words to the song, even though he's never heard it, and how unnatural it is that everyone is suddenly dancing. But even he is caught up, at the end, in the magic; he bobs his head to the music before he catches himself and shakes it off. I like that; that's how magic, if it were real, would be--it would catch us up before we realized it, but it would be, should be, obviously alien. And, in a world less kid-friendly than Enchanted, a little (or a lot) scary. (Even evil magic in Enchanted is just bumbling and foolish; the poisoned apple eats through the biker's helmet and gives him an oddly placed bald-spot, cue the laugh track.)

The point is, things that used to generally annoy or delight me are sharpening in focus. I'm able to articulate more clearly what I like and don't like--in media at large, but specifically in speculative fiction. I'm not only developing my taste, I'm theorizing it. Which is fun, and which I hope to (at some point) work into a writing class lesson or two. Voice and style are really hard to teach, but they're so fun to talk about.