One Night in Taxco: Beyond Faith and Reason

This is the second post in a biased two-part discussion of the paranormal, religion, skepticism, and spirituality. Discretion is advised.

It’s Not Just a Clever Name

Altar atop the pyramid of Tepozteco in Tepoztlan
We’ve been using science to build monuments to faith for thousands of years.

Aside from being an allusion to Beyond Good and Evil, penned by my favorite philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, “beyond faith and reason” sums up my worldview: lots of people identify as pro-one-or-the-other and look down on the other team, but everyone uses both to interpret the world around them. Scientists favor certain unproven theories over others for no particular reason, and theists use logic to debate the meaning of the words of their gods, even if the words themselves are never questioned.

As discussed in part one, Venezia and I (Evaric) recently had an experience in a presumably-haunted hotel in Taxco that made us question the boundaries between faith and reason. Inspired by the experience, we sat down to discuss and reflect on our deep-seated beliefs.

Coolness Bias

A table board at a cafe made to look like a ouija board
In defense of witchcraft: isn’t it awesome?

I’m skeptical about everything, but open to the idea that anything could happen. There’s a lot more about the universe that we don’t know than what we do. Of course, I have to check myself sometimes when it comes to the topic of the paranormal due to the fact that I kind of want to believe. I don’t necessarily think, for example, that witchcraft, tarot cards, or other occult arts work, but I love and am fascinated by them. Same goes for ghosts and the Loch Ness Monster. I don’t have any evidence they exist, but I’d probably be happier if they did.

Venezia shares my interest, but she’s more cautious about it. She would try innocuous forms of the occult, like reading tea leaves, but gets nervous about some of the darker stuff. She was raised Catholic, and even though she stopped buying into Catholicism a long time ago, some of the fears the religion instilled in her as a child are hard to escape. Venezia draws the line somewhere between tarot cards and ouija boards: she would try the former but not the latter (I always remind her that Hasbro invented the ouija board as well as the word “ouija” itself, but more on that later).

In contrast to my blanket skepticism, Venezia is pretty confident in some of her beliefs. She believes in forces similar to magic, and while she doesn’t believe in ghosts due to a lack of solid evidence, it wouldn’t take much to convince her. In fact, she thinks she is only hesitant to believe in a lot of things like that because so many people have ridiculous beliefs surrounding the paranormal and she doesn’t want to be like them. I can relate: I think there’s a good chance other sentient life exists somewhere in the universe, but don’t bring it up because to a lot of people, the belief aliens might exist and the belief that aliens built the pyramids and have been secretly manipulating the human race ever since are the same thing.

What Does It All Mean?

Abstract drawing of vague figures embracing
Your guess is as good as mine.

As you might have guessed by the fact Nietzsche is my favorite philosopher, I’m a nihilist. I don’t think there is a point to anything, and the only meaning in life is that you choose to create. That said, I won’t have much to add to this part of the conversation, so let’s jump right into Venezia’s theology.

Venezia believes in a cosmic force that could be referred to as a god. It isn’t as involved in human affairs as the gods of most modern religions, but it does want people to achieve their “purpose”. There’s an opposite cosmic force that enjoys suffering. People can’t necessarily control these forces through prayer or magic, but it might be possible to attract certain forces via ritual or traditional practices. If you attempted a tarot reading, for example, you might attract some force that is aware people have used cards to try and predict the future for thousands of years. You can’t make this force help you, but it might choose to help you and cause the right cards to fall where they should.

Her theory is the main way to attract these forces is through will. The tarot cards are largely a prop; the cosmic forces respond to your desire to know what you should do next. That said, they may respond to certain rituals. If people have been using similar words and actions to evoke a certain outcome for long enough, the forces of the universe might learn to respond to them.

Or, maybe it’s the humans who are learning…

The Pseudoest of Sciences

This is where Venezia’s and my beliefs link back up. That’s ironic, because I expect we’re about to lose any skeptical readers. Bear with us…

I might be hesitant about the idea of God or of each person having a predetermined purpose, but I can get behind the idea of ritual. As mentioned above, this is as least partly me wanting to believe it, but maybe there’s something to it.

As Venezia was telling me her theory of the universe, she mentioned there could be cosmic forces or other entities that, for whatever reason, respond to the stimulus of a certain ritual by creating what we would perceive as magic. If this were the case, wouldn’t people learn these rituals over time, even if they didn’t know how or why they worked?

This struck a chord with me, as I’ve had a similar thought before but felt to embarrassed to ever say it aloud. The idea works in terms of both cultural and biological evolution. Let’s say a long time ago, a culture decides the sun is a god and decides to worship it. One priest worships by chanting, another by shaking a stick. The second priest consistently brings fair weather and good harvests. Now, maybe he’s attracted some cosmic force that has no affiliation with the sun and responds favorably to the shaking of sticks for completely arbitrary reasons. Even so, that culture is probably going to adopt stick-shaking over chanting.

On a biological level, it’s basic natural selection. If we take it for granted that magic does exist and can be influenced by humans (and I know that’s a lot to take), then it would be absurd for natural selection not to favor individuals who are able to harness magic – seems like a clear evolutionary advantage to me. Again, genes that caused people to perform certain actions or worship in certain ways would be favored, even if the individual who carried those genes had no idea he was practicing magic.

Okay, we’ve clearly gotten pretty far-out at this point, but the magic-as-biology theory has a little more of a place in science than you might think. Not a lot, but at least a bit. I recently heard a discussion about the overlap of biology and architecture that kind of blew my mind. The very first buildings arose because humans had a biological need for shelter, and had evolved the brains and the opposeable thumbs to construct that shelter. Buildings got bigger and fancier because of a biological need to assert dominance and attract mates. We even find certain shapes and colors pleasing in architecture due to what those shapes and colors signaled to us in nature thousands of years ago – green is a lively color because it usually meant food, poison, or a hiding place for predators, and either way your brain knows it needs to be on alert when it sees it. Some biologists would argue there’s little difference between a modern city and the shell of a hermit crab. If certain genes led us to build skyscrapers, couldn’t other genes help us tap into, well…something?

So, the question stands. What do you believe?

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One Night in Taxco: Hotel de La Llorona

This is the first post in a biased two-part discussion of the paranormal, religion, skepticism, and spirituality. Discretion is advised.

View of Taxco and surrounding landscape
For those who haven’t been, Taxco is a beautiful example of a colonial pueblo in modern Mexico.

Last weekend, Venezia took me (Evaric) to Taxco de Alarcón for her cousin’s quinceañera. The beautifully bizarre celebration that is the quinceañera is a whole other discussion, but this post is about the hotel I stayed in overnight: Hotel Victoria, a charming little bungalow on the edge of town which nobody told me was haunted until we arrived. That was fine, since I don’t believe in ghosts.

Alone in the Dark

Arched hallway in Hotel Victoria in Taxco
Seems ghosts appreciate a tasteful interior as much as the rest of us.

“I don’t believe in ghosts” is something I like to say when I’m at home in the daytime, surrounded by familiar comforts and faces. It’s easy for us skeptics to laugh at supposed accounts of the paranormal: unlike those who experience strange events, we have the luxury of responding only with reason, rather than emotion.

A funny thing happens to reason when you find yourself alone in the dark. Let’s back up, though. Leading up to that night, everything was aligning just right to make me feel I was living in a poorly-written horror movie. Entering the Hotel Victoria, Venezia recounted the stories of family members who had seen and heard strange things while staying there. We noticed crude crosses nailed to the front gate; the hotel’s proprietor unironically explained that La Llorona, a popular Mexican folk, had been coming by the past few nights and he was trying to ward her off. As I settled into my room, I noticed I had lost cell service.

Pool surrounded by plants in Hotel Victoria in Taxco
Beautiful, in a haunted sort of way.

A storm rolled in during the party, and when I returned to my room the lightning was so close that the walls literally shook with the thunder. The hotel is up on a hill a little outside of town, and being an old-school rural pueblo, Taxco gets dark at night in a way even small-town Americans aren’t used to. The second-to-last thing I noticed before turning out the light (and plunging myself into pitch darkness) was a cockroach half the size of my hand crawl out of the wall. I wish I’d gotten a picture – didn’t seem a priority at the time.

What I did get a picture of was the last thing I noticed: the little square hole cut in the blanket of the bed beside mine. I’d already made myself antsy by imagining waking up in the middle of the night to see someone else in the other bed looking back at me, but usually I’m a little too old for under-the-bed nonsense. I didn’t have any explanation why someone would cut a window in the blanket, though, or why when the bed was made it just happened to fall to the level where something could peer out at me from a hidden spot beneath the bed.

A square hole cut in the blanket of a bed
It opens its eyes when you close yours.

The Cold Light of Reality

Sun setting behind a mountain over Taxco
I didn’t take any pictures of the sunrise so this is actually a sunset. But shhh, don’t tell anyone.

I had a brief scare when I woke up. Before going to bed, I’d closed all the curtains and the door leading to the other room. I was awoken by light streaming in through the cracks in that door. For a horrible minute I was convinced something else was in there with me – something had to have turned on the light in the other room. It turned out that the sunrise was in fact so brilliant that it shone bright enough through a curtain and a door to wake me up. I laughed at myself and went back to sleep.

My experience didn’t make me a believer. Nothing happened that I couldn’t explain, and if nobody had told me the place was haunted, it would never have crossed my mind. Only with that in mind did I begin to form a narrative out of ambiance and coincidences.

I did rethink the way I look at believers. If anything even slightly spooky had happened that night (and I had survived the ensuing heart attack), I doubt logic would hold much sway over how I interpreted things.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Venezia, who has earned most of a degree in Molecular Biology, is one of the smartest and most rational people I know, and didn’t even experience staying the night in the hotel, admitted she was nervous about leaving me alone there. There we were, two highly-educated people raised in an age of science and reason, still ruled by the same primal fears as our caveman ancestors, ten-thousand years ago.

Science and Scienceability

Family attending Catholic Mass during a quinceañera
The quinceañera that afternoon involved attending Catholic Mass at a local church. Maybe that saved my life?

Inspired by this experience, Venezia and I sat down to discuss our perspectives on science and religion, skepticism and the paranormal. The conversation was full of surprises: not only did we not know everything each other believed in, we each believe in concepts that the other had never even considered. We both came away with at least small changes to our worldview.

We’ll share our discussion next week – stay tuned. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you in the comments. Are you a believer, and have you had any experiences, paranormal or otherwise, that shook your deeply-held beliefs?

The Curse of the Calling

After a bit of a hiatus, Desdenada is back. Rather than sticking to a theme, Venezia and I (Evaric) will talk each week about whatever happens to be on our minds.

IMG_20161108_144652
When you’re doing what you’re meant to do, you’ll know.

I do a lot of weird stuff, but my latest project is a high (low?) point. I listen to a lot of podcasts, many of which are part of the interconnected FrogPants and Diamond Club networks (viewer discretion is advised for the latter). At some point, I got it into my head that I could write a Game of Thrones-style fantasy epic, with the characters and events based on the personalities and interactions of the hosts of the aforementioned podcasts. Bizarre right? I agree, and for a long time I tried to ignore the plots and settings brewing in my head.

In the end, I caved. I’ve written a good chunk of the story and intend to see it through to its conclusion. Not because I necessarily want to write it, but because in a way I have to write it. Why? Because writing is my calling. Specifically, writing about and sharing the experiences of my life. I never consciously realized it until recently, but the podcasts I listen to have impacted and shaped my life in a major way. If my calling is to write about my life, I have to accept that means writing about the disembodied voices in my ears.

To be fair, it’s not the worst use of my time. At least I’m writing. Plus I’m writing about characters and interactions I never would have come up with on my own, which makes for a nice writing exercise at the very least. In sharing the story with other listeners, and some of the hosts, of those podcasts, I’m getting comfortable sharing and promoting my work in a way I’ve never done before. (Speaking of which, I will include a link at the end of this post, but I can’t emphasize enough that if you don’t listen to the podcasts in question it will not make any sense to you).

That said, it is certainly not the best use of my time. I have other stories to work on, novels I actually plan on publishing and making a living off of. Or I could be working out, or learning Spanish (I’ve only lived in Mexico for 7 months now…). If having a calling means you sometimes have to waste time on bizarre side projects, is it worth it?

You Don’t Have to Like It

Sad Monkey
What “follow your dreams” really looks like.

Venezia doesn’t listen to the same podcasts I do and might not get the story, but she understands why I have to write it. She’s always known she was destined to be a writer, even though a lot of the time writing is her least favorite thing to do.

Nine times out of ten, she hates what she writes and ends up feeling down after trying to write. The tenth time makes it all worth it. Like a lot of writers, she doesn’t feel like she’s making up the stories she writes. It’s more like the story has already happened, and she’s struggling to retell it correctly. That’s why, when it’s good, writing doesn’t feel like work to her.

I asked Venezia if she thinks the 9:1 ratio is permanent or if it would get easier with practice. She does think it will get better, but there will always be a high ratio of bad to good and that’s something she has to accept.

Why does she have to accept she’ll spend most of her life frustrated? Because writing is her calling. Not just writing, but writing the stories she’s always carried inside her. “There are stories that have to be written,” she says, “and I have to be the one to write them.” In other words, she could try to do something else than write, or try to write simpler stories that give her less trouble, but knowing she failed to rise to her calling would make her feel even worse. “When I’m not writing, I doubt if I could even make a living out of it. But when I start writing I know I could never do anything else.”

Her options, then, are to feel like a failure nine times out of ten, or to do something else and always be unfulfilled. Sound like a terrible choice? Maybe. Or, maybe, she’s the lucky one.

Can You Hear It?

IMG_0226.JPG
We all have one. What’s yours?

Having a calling feels like a curse. Venezia and I have to write, even when we hate it, even when it feels like a waste of time, even when we feel compelled to write stories we’d rather discard. But it’s a blessing, too, because we never feel lost. We never wonder if we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Well, not anymore.

We’ve both been through times where we doubted what we were supposed to do, tried to find a different calling or give up on having one at all. We can both point to those times as the most miserable periods of our lives, and our shared experiences led us to formulate a controversial hypothesis:

Everyone has a calling. Most people even know what it is, but the majority never pursue it.

What stops people from doing what they’re meant to do? Societal factors, ego, and practicality.

Case study: we have a friend who is always saying she feels lost. It’s time for her to go to college and settle on a career path, but she has no idea what she wants to do. Except she does. Several times she’s confided that she dreams of being a stay-at-home mom, raising a ridiculous number of kids while her husband supports her. Unfortunately, she’s been raised in a society that tells her women are supposed to be strong, independent, and career-oriented (which are all great, but not for everybody). She’s ashamed to admit her calling, even to herself, because it’s not what her calling is “supposed” to be.

Venezia points out that, especially in the case of stay-at-home mom but also in general, there’s too much pressure in our society to be special. A stay-at-home mom might be the most important person in the lives of her immediate family, but she isn’t important to the world. She won’t go down in history and she’ll never be famous (barring a reality show, but getting a reality show probably means failing at being a good mom). A lot of people in my generation want to be YouTubers and Instagram models. Nothing wrong with that, if you’re calling – the one thing you can’t live without – really is video editing, or posing while wearing branded clothing. But if those didn’t happen to be the best path to stardom at the moment, would those same people still be interested in editing or posing?

Again, neither of us are saints when it comes to staying true to our purpose. The hardest period for me was when I attended the University of British Columbia. It used to be incredibly important to me that everybody know how smart I am. In university, I had better grades than anyone else I knew. The problem was, I studied English and Philosophy. My peers insisted good grades in those courses don’t really count, that an A+ in an English course is the equivalent of a C- in Chemistry or Psychology or International Relations or Women’s Studies or whatever else they happened to be majored in. I cared so much about how people perceived me, I actually considered switching majors (in my last year!) to something “smarter” just to prove myself (okay, I also am legitimately interested in a lot of sciences, but it was definitely part of it).

Venezia can relate. She spent years studying Molecular Biology, partly due to a childhood dream of creating the real-life Jurassic Park, but partly to prove she was smart (it worked, maybe too well: I almost didn’t ask her out because I was too intimidated).

The problem isn’t limited to callings, either. Piano is a passion of mine, but there was a time when it stopped being fun for me. Once I realized it was a way of showing off and impressing people, I got frustrated with the time it took to learn new songs and get better. For a while I stopped learning anything new and only ever played pieces I was already good at. Because I had an ulterior motive and got hung up on the end result, I stopped enjoying the music and missed out on the joy of learning. Lately I’ve relearned how to just play for me, and have fun with it.

“The most I’ve ever written is when I got there, when I was just writing for me,” Venezia says. “I get stuck when I think about fame and money, which are things I’d like but not really why I write.”

Until she said that, I didn’t realize the other reason I’m writing that ridiculous fantasy about the podcast hosts. Since I’ve moved to Mexico, writing has shifted from a hobby/dream to the way I make my living. I’m blessed to do what I love for work, but now I can’t help but focus on the end result. If I don’t sell something, I don’t eat. I slave over every word of my “real” novels so that when I release them, they’re perfect. Not so with this story: I can just have fun with it, and write for the hell of it without the pressure of anything else.

Here’s the story, by the way.

What’s your calling? Be honest. Do you know what it is? Are you actively pursuing it? Do you know what it is but aren’t pursuing it? Why or why not? No judgment: it’s okay if mastering reggae harmonica is what gives meaning to your life.

Meet the Malos

Just released Episode One of our Warcraft series, Exploring Azeroth! Despite some technical difficulties, it was a really fun time and a great introduction for anyone new to the universe.

In this episode, Venezia masters the controls, completes her first quests, and learns to slay her enemies with ice and fire. Meanwhile, Evaric suggests a backstory for the Malos, based on a true story. There’s also an awkward allusion to a Hemingway novel, because it just wouldn’t be us if there wasn’t.

We’re excited to have you along on the adventure!

New to Warcraft and need some background? Veteran player wanting to relive your first experience? Check out Episode Zero: Character Creation.

Camp NaNoWriMo and the Mexican Influence

This is the third post in a month-long series on Camp NaNoWriMo, in which Evaric and Venezia share with you the process of writing a book in a month. Last time we talked about writing really really fast (or not).

Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Estado de Mexico.
It’s no secret where I get my inspiration from.

The Mexican Influence

Since moving to Mexico City just over three months ago, every story I write has taken a turn for the Mexican. At the time I was writing a thriller set in an unspecified American city, but it took less than a week for me to realize it would be far more exciting if it were set here. Now for Camp NaNoWriMo I’m writing a fantasy adventure, set in what is essentially a medieval fantasy version of Mexico.

That’s not much of a stretch since Mexico is almost a fantasy setting already. Ancient pyramids rise from the desert, and in their shadow prowl creatures which could fell a man with a single bite or sting. Mexican history is a collection of desperate uprisings, unlikely alliances, and prophecies that came true.

Today we’re going to talk about how we, and all writers, can take advantage of where we come from and where we travel to create richer, fuller stories.

Ancient Inspirations

Statue of the rain god Tlaloc in Teotihuacan.
I don’t write fantasy. I live fantasy.

I’ve always been a sucker for pyramids. The first place my mind went when concocting the setting for A Memory in Indigo was pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the amazing societies that ruled it. My gringo compatriots probably think, as I used to, that the Aztecs and Mayans were the only real players before the Spanish came. Some of the most impressive pyramids in Mexico – like the one above – were built nearly 1500 years before the Aztecs existed. Here’s a fact that sends shivers down my spine: the time between the disappearance of the Teotihuacan (who built the aforementioned pyramid) and the rise of the Aztecs is over three centuries greater than the time between the fall of the Aztecs and the present day.

When something inspires you, it’s helpful to dig deeper and find out why. I know that pyramids make me happy, but if I just throw a pyramid in my story for no reason it will fall flat. After some reflection, I realized the appeal for me comes from the inherent, beautiful irony. Thousands of years before we were born, people created something we still find impressive today, but in the end it didn’t do them any good. Their society became dust, and all that remains of them are these structures that have long outlived their usefulness. Now that’s something I can tell a story about.

Mexico City at Night

View of Mexico City from a plane at night
I might have teared up a little when I saw it. Sue me.

I was a little disappointed when I first moved that I wasn’t able to pull off an insane Vancouver to Mexico City road trip and had to fly. Venezia told me the view of Mexico City at night would make up for it. She wasn’t kidding. Since that beautiful first impression, Ciudad de Mexico has continued to take my breath away at every turn.

When I started writing this month I didn’t think anything to do with CDMX would make it into the story. After all, it’s a medieval fantasy set in a fairly small town on a backwater archipelago, not a sprawling urban metropolis. Then, as I had with the pyramids, I thought deeper.

My first glimpse of the city was inspiring because each of the hundred million points of light (probably not even an exaggeration) represented some new experience or opportunity for me. The main setting of my story, the City of Fuscia, may be tiny by modern standards, but my main character wouldn’t see it that way. He comes from a fishing village with a population south of 20. To him, the modest harbors and ramshackle taverns of Fuscia are a whole new world.

Just this morning, as I was walking to the cafe where I’m writing this, I had another thought. An interesting quirk of this city is that each self-contained neighborhood is well-planned out, organized, and aesthetically coherent, but the way these neighborhoods are laid out in relation to each other is sheer nonsense. The result is a diverse and beautifully chaotic patchwork of a city.

My fictional city of Fuscia is constructed across a scattering of small islands linked together by bridges. With borders clearly defined by water, the city is unable to expand outward and new neighborhoods are literally stacked on top of old ones: second stories are added to houses and shops, linked together by catwalks. It seems blindingly obvious in hindsight, but until now I’d never thought about how the design would affect the feel of different neighborhoods. Now my mind is reeling with possibilities: you cross a bridge from a harbor neighborhood, packed with bustling sailors and fish markets, and after walking all of ten feet come to a somber island full of ancient government buildings, a neighborhood that has stood for thousands of years. Climbing a ladder up the side of one of these structures, you find yourself again in an entirely different neighborhood, a recently constructed residential neighborhood of wooden shacks strung with colorful banners where the air is full of laughter and music.

You can find inspiration anywhere. The old adage “write what you know” is both true and not true. You can certainly write about places you’ve never been, jobs you’ve never done, and experiences you’ve never had, but drawing from your own experience lends truth and depth to your story. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a medieval city ruled by pirates and smugglers, but I do know what it’s like to move to a new place and feel your life has suddenly begun.

Venezia has been very busy applying to and interviewing for universities so was not around to share her thoughts this time, but fear not! There is plenty more to come.

 

¿Y Tú Tambien?

What about you? How have the places you’ve lived or traveled shaped your creative works?

Feeling inspired? Check out our video series Exploring Mexico to see more of this beautiful country.

On Writing (Really Really Fast)

This is the second post in a month-long series on Camp NaNoWriMo, in which Evaric and Venezia share with you the process of writing a book in a month.

A daily schedule indicating to write 3000 words in 1 hour
Typical Monday morning.

By the end of yesterday, the second day of Camp NaNoWriMo, I had written nearly 10,000 words (9,666 to be exact). This is more than I’ve written in the entire month on previous attempts. This is not a boast, but an example of the results of making tiny changes to your mindset and creative process. The difference between my output this year vs. previous years has nothing to do with me becoming a better writer or receiving a sudden burst of divine inspiration (hardly). It has everything to do with definitions.

Redefinition (or: the Secret to Doing It is Trying to Do It)

A graph of word count stats for Camp NaNoWriMo
Just over 7,000 words – not a bad first day.

To win NaNoWriMo, you have to write 50,000 words. That’s it. Quality and coherence are not factors. This is not a loophole; according to the movement’s founder, Chris Baty, it was a deliberate decision to help writers get past hang-ups about quality and inspiration and just get words on the page. I, like thousands of other writers each year, approached NaNoWriMo falsely believing that I had committed to this quantity over quality mindset yet still finding myself unable to meet word count goals.

There’s no reason writing 50,000 words in a month should be challenging once you accept the rules of the game. You could literally type “dog” 50,000 times and you would win. The problem was I had not accepted this definition of success. Secretly, I still hoped to meet the 50,000 word goal and come out of it with a decent manuscript. I was setting myself up to fail.

But then what’s the point? Will typing “dog” 50,000 times help you improve as a writer? Okay, probably not, but that was an extreme example. As long as you’re trying to write a real story, whatever you come up with will be worth something even if it is barely readable. To prove this point, here’s an exercise you can try at home next time you have writer’s block: go to the point where you’re stuck and type “Then the dead dog got up and did a jig.”

I’m willing to bet money that sentence doesn’t work. Most likely there is no dead dog in your scene, and even if there is, chances are it does not make sense in the context of your story for dead animals to stand up and start dancing. What did you learn from this exercise? First of all, that you don’t have writer’s block.

Writer’s block is having no idea what happens next in your own story. If that was true, you’d have no objection to dropping that sentence into your scene. You have no idea what’s going to happen, so how do you know a dead dog doesn’t do a jig? The truth is, you have some guesses about what’s going to happen next, and you know for sure capering canine corpses are not involved. You just don’t want to write it down because you’re afraid it won’t come out perfect on the first try. And that’s just nonsense.

A Truly Shameful Excerpt

In case you find it hard to believe I can write 3,000 words of prose in an hour, or worse, you are impressed by the fact, I’m going to share a sample of my output (though it pains me to do so).

He found Armand asleep against the trunk of a jacaranda tree, with purple petals scattered across his face and chest. Nando stpked th\e fire back into some semblance of life and let him sellep.

WHne he awaoke they explored the island a little more. This time, rather than climbing the central hill, which was, in fact, a pyramid, they circled around the degs. Nando traced the pyramid form with his yes and an idea began to occur to him.

“We’re still on it, aren’t we?”

“What’s that, boy?”

He was gflad to hear some of the gruffness had returned to the old hunter’s voice; he must have been okay.

“The pyramid. I think, well whatg if the pyramid isnt on the island. WHat if the pyramid is the island?”

The old bhunter looked down at the gleaming white sand beneath his feet. “DOnt know about all that, he muttered.”


Even ignoring the spelling and grammatical errors, it’s not exactly Hemingway. This scene is so boring it probably won’t even appear in the final draft, but it took all of a minute to write and I came up with some ideas I liked in the course of writing it: rather than an island having a pyramid on it, the entire island is an ancient partially-submerged pyramid; and the health of the old hunter character can be gauged by the gruffness of his voice. I don’t know if I would have come up with either of those ideas through slow, deliberate writing or outlining.

We learn by doing. If you spend more time thinking about writing or planning what you are going to write than actually physically writing, you are not learning nearly as much about how to write as you could be.

At least that’s my take on it. Venezia has a different perspective.

On Writing Really Really Slow

Girl laying face down on a couch
My approach to writing.

Writing really fast would have helped when I started five years ago but I’m at a different stage of my book. I know where the story is going and most of it is written. It’s a matter of putting on the finishing touches and finding a way to say what I want to say.

I chose hours instead of a word goal so I can focus on getting the words right. 90% of the work I have left to do is reading and rereading my book as if someone else wrote it, making small changes until it feels right.

English is not my first language, so sometimes I feel self-conscious about the way my writing sounds. I write slowly because writing for me is a process of trial and error, writing and rewriting until I find the words that sound right. Knowing I can go back any make changes at any time helps me feel better and more confident about what I write.

Even if you choose an hourly goal, it is not an excuse to not get anything done. If you only have two hours a day to write you want to get the most out of them. For example, I write a lot better at night. Two hours at night counts for more than two hours during the day. Choose a writing time that works and stick to it.