the tamago report

Eggs benedictated

Month: April, 2013

The dangers of redrafting

by MDY

Never save attachment. Any love you hold for your words is incidental at best, and fatal at worst. It distracts from your primary purpose: instilling feeling in the cavities of others. Like a surgeon, cut away at the flab and scar tissue that tethers itself to your prose; your job, after all, is not to anaesthetise the reader but to electrify their synaptic connections. Neurons that fire together, wire together. The more you cut, the more you can cut.

Go for the easy targets first. Adjectives often add unnecessary ballast, so jettison them. Adverbs should be treated like benign cancers: seemingly harmless, but why would you take the chance? Avoid alliteration. Go for the harder targets not first. Superfluous sentences will feel too heavy, or not enough. When hunting paragraphs, know that the weakest targets are the ones whose absence would go unnoticed in the pack. Spare them no mercy in their febrility, for your readers will afford you none. There is only one question: Is this really necessary?

Violence, even to your own creations, can become an addiction. I was trained to cut, and cut hard, but I one day found myself burning fertile exposition along with its descriptors. It’s often advisable not to hunt alone. My reader is critical, but generously so: she helps rein in my destructive excesses without dulling them, not because she constrains her praise (quite the opposite, sometimes), but because excesses remains an instinctual understatement. Balancing self-pride with self-loathing is akin to placing a soul and feather on a set of golden scales: you’ll have to keep making adjustments if you want the exercise to work. You’re only done when your prose is as sharp a blade as you are, which is never.

Writing when you don’t want to

by MDY

I’m currently in the middle of the first piece of short fiction that I’ve written in close to five years. Just like love and blood transfusions, too much writing will drain you and leave you quite tired. Add to that some rigorous exercise and meteorological inconsistencies, and you get perfect conditions for can’t-be-bothered-to-post. The story is about something that I am not quite ready to disclose, only to say that it has its roots in reality but is probably nothing like the truth. I have been writing a lot with pen and paper lately because it is better for my eyes (apart from reasons that I have gone into before). The only problem is, the notebook that my father got me is one half lined paper, one half blank – which means I end up only writing on the lined pages and squandering 50% of my exploitable resources. I blame the designers, because they should assume that all writers are neurotic. I believe that you can only really find your voice once you become particular about your notebooks. Personally, I’m not that fussed about the make or paper density, but once I start with one notebook I will not use another until it is complete (except between different life compartments, say for example work and everything else). “Stream of consciousness” is a misnomer: if mine is anything to judge by (and I really have no other available referent), consciousness is more like a volcano erupting with chunks of lava and not-so-dramatic methane that kind of end up scarring the landscape and anyone within three degrees of separation. Or a DEATH STAR. The trick to writing against your volition is to just do it, and remember that everyone is watching.

Writing kind words

by MDY

The next morning, she told me that no-one apart from her parents had ever done something like that for her. “不用谢,” I replied. That night, while it was still just us, I told her why:

I used to think that writing was a technical exercise. My training was long and sometimes brutal. It taught me that good writing must be done without the presence of ego, which at the time I interpreted to mean myself. So I elided all sense of me from my words. Perhaps that’s why I took so effortlessly to professional writing. The assassin must feel nothing – neither love nor pity nor sacrifice – towards his weapon.

I was working in my homeland while I was still a boy. At the end of those three months, I received a letter of recommendation. It said that my work “shone with intelligence”, but more surprisingly that I had integrity and personality. The curse of proficiency is that you sometimes – often – forget that you are not the sum of your skills and kills. You become what you do instead of who you were. I’ve never used that letter for its intended purpose. Far better, though, as a reminder that words do not always make us who we are. Sometimes, the converse still holds true.

She’s been working with me for seven weeks now. I know because the “next steps” chat happens at the end of seven weeks and we had it just two days ago. I’m decaying before my time. She’d stepped in the day before, when my proficiency hadn’t been enough. Her writing was faultless, her sense of duty even more so. I hadn’t taught her well. Nevertheless, she hit the target like an assassin many years sadder and wiser. She reminded me of me. So that’s what I said to my superiors, all the way to the top. I said she went beyond expectation and beyond her years. I said it’d be remiss for me not to say so,

“Because someone once gave me my big break, and now it’s my turn to give you yours,” I explained, when it was finally just us. I didn’t say it was because I think she could one day eclipse me, or because I care deeply about her, because I’m fundamentally suspicious of explaining things through feelings. But I’m improving.

Learning to write is hard. Learning to be kind is harder. Both ideally take a lifetime.