Today I have a workshop…

Today I have a workshop with David Mura; he sent some pre-workshop questions that he wanted us to write out answers to and bring to workshop. I thought the answers might interest some of you, and/or that those of you who are writers might want to try answering them yourselves.


What are helpful questions? What are the questions I need to engage? The questions you ask can shape your perception of who you are, what you're capable of, and what you're willing to do to achieve what you want.

What do you like about your writing?

I like my descriptions, sometimes. I like my characters for the most part, though occasionally they start feeling a little too similar. I like the times when I can uncover and subtly address complex emotional dynamics. I like the cleanness of the prose.

What do you like about your writing process?

When I'm writing, especially when I have a clear idea in my head of where I'm going, I can write pretty fast and smoothly. I generally have a readable first draft, and occasionally, a first draft that's close to publishable.

How does a lack of confidence hinder your writing process?

Hm. I'm scared of novels. I get very skittish every time I try working on one, and become prone to fits and starts, probably because I can't hold the whole thing in my head the way I can with a short story. Although I've done some book-length work, I still haven't written a novel, and I don't have any faith that I can. That probably makes it harder for me to work on them.

How does that lack of confidence reflect some way you identify or characterize yourself?

Um. I'm not sure it does. Other than the fact that overall in my life, I do better with small, goal-oriented tasks. I haven't taken on so many longer-term things, unless grad school counts. I'm not done with that one yet, though.

How can you change that?

Take on more long-term projects and complete them successfully? I think I'm heading in that direction, actually. Considering studying Tamil intensively for the next year, for example, which scares me because it's going to be a lot of work and really hard, but it's also clearly worthwhile in all sorts of ways. I think I need to suck it up and just do the work, trust that if I sit down and do it every day, even if I often can't see the light at the end of the tunnel, eventually all that work will lead to a worthwhile finished product.

What do you want to change about your writing?

I'd like to write some material that moves away from the very clean style I've been using for the dissertation project. I miss ornateness, language play. I haven't done much of that -- "Johnny's Story" is the only example that actually comes to mind -- and I'm not sure I can. But I'd like to try.

In the dissertation novel, I'd love to have much more historical richness in that book -- which means research, which I have historically been scared of. But it's clearly lacking in the book as it stands, and even if I'm not looking forward to the work, I need to do it. It's weird that I'm so resistant to doing the research, since when I'm actually reading historical material, I often find it quite interesting. I think it may be partly a getting-started, lack of clarity about where to begin issue. If someone would just assign me ten books that would cover the relevant time periods, I'd be a lot happier.

What do you want to change about your writing process?

I want to be way less lazy. I want to write every day, instead of every week (if I'm lucky). I want writing to be my default activity, and the rest of my life -- cooking and cleaning and decorating and editing and publishing and running SLF -- to be secondary to that. I only tend to act that way when I'm on deadline, and I don't have any good excuses for it. I don't have kids, I don't have a day job. Every day, I should write.

How do you define yourself as a writer?

Not sure what the question's asking; I guess I define myself as a still-young writer, definitely still-learning, climbing out of the erotica ghetto -- and it is a ghetto, as much as I love it.

How would you like to change your sense of yourself as a writer?

I would like to have confidence in my mainstream literary writing, that I can talk with those people as equals. That sense comes and goes (mostly goes), and it's a little exhausting.

What do you see as holding you back as a writer?

Laziness. Fear of taking on difficult stuff. Comfort in the genre ghetto, which already loves me.

How can you overcome those limits or blocks?

Work harder, be braver, trust the process. That appears to be the answer to everything, by the way.

How could a change in the way you identify or think of yourself help you to overcome those limits or blocks?

I think I'm already redefining myself as a writer, rather than an erotica writer. I think that's an essential change, though I don't want to lose my willingness to deal with sexually-explicit material, and to occasionally celebrate it.

How do I react to criticism of my work?

Eh. It sucks, but I cope fine. I usually put it aside for a bit, until I can react to it with sufficient distance to evaluate its merit.

How could I employ criticism of my work in a more useful way?

I do fine here.

How is your writing limited by the ways you say "I can't do that" or "that's not me"?

Already addressed above, I think.

What are your goals for the next few years as a writer?

Finish the dissertation novel-in-stories. Finish the YA novel, my first real novel. Write the threesome novel, which will be an actual mainstream literary novel for adults with sexual material and South Asian material, but will not be primarily erotica or an arranged marriage story.

Start being taken seriously as a mainstream literary author.

What is your image of the writer you want to become?

One who is respected by the writers I respect -- I want Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, Dorothy Allison, Salman Rushdie to read my work and like it. And at the same time, I want the freedom to write about sex, or about dragons and rockets ships if I choose (though I don't do sf often), without being recategorized as a genre author.

What are the subjects and themes you want to explore next as a writer?

I want to really address poly issues in an adult novel; I've never seen it done well, and I think it's important. I want to explore sexual pressure and responsibility in the YA novel. I'd like to move towards a more complex understanding of race and ethnicity in America -- I'm on fuzzier ground there, since I think I don't understand it well enough to write intelligently about it yet.

Oh, and I want to keep writing more essays, addressing all these issues more explicitly than I can in fiction. I think if I can get all my pontificating out in essays, I can do a better job of keeping it out of the fiction, so the fiction can remain true to itself.

Where do you think writing about these things will lead you?

To be seen as one of the most insightful fiction writers of our generation? To win a Pulitzer? A girl can dream, can't she? :-)

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