June 2020 Book Update

“How’s the writing going?” Well… About that…

Guys. A lot has changed in the month and a half since I wrote my May update.

Something I first really noticed in November of 2016 is that current events have a significant impact on my ability to write. It takes me a great deal of time to contemplate and process everything that’s going on in the world. The most recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests has been no different.

Imposter syndrome (or the fraud police, to use Amanda Palmer’s fitting term) has been a friend to me these last few weeks. Who am I? Who am I to write a book? Who am I to follow my dreams and smash my goals when so many people in our country are unable to do the same because of systemic racism? Because they are dying?

But recently, my friend Elisabeth reminded me via a blog post she wrote for the San Francisco Writers Conference blog that the world needs my story. Yes, the world also needs the stories of Black authors, especially Black women, but that doesn’t mean it does not need mine. Just like saying “Black Lives Matter” doesn’t mean white lives don’t matter, amplifying Black authors’ stories doesn’t silence my own.

That said, I took a good look at the novel I’m writing and knew something was wrong. I had tended to avoid describing any of my characters’ physical characteristics in a stupid attempt to avoid whitewashing. What I didn’t realize is that by doing so, I had given them what Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward call in their book Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, an “unmarked state.” True, they weren’t completely unmarked, but their lack of race was enough to trick my brain into picturing them all as white. Because in our culture, in fantasy and science fiction especially, the default is white.

So these last couple of weeks, I’ve taken a break from writing. I’ve been reading and listening and thinking and journalling. I’ve been working through my own biases, prejudices, and “reptile brain.” I’ve been working through Writing the Other, doing all the exercises, and thinking hard about how to include more varied characters and what that looks like in the fantasy world I’m creating for my novel.

This book will not be perfect. Not after the current draft, not after revisions, and not after it is published. I will not portray all of the “others” in my book perfectly. I will not have the perfect balance of white people to people of color. I am not a perfect ally, and I never will be. But damn it, I can do the best I can. I can make mistakes and learn from them.

Once I’m done with Writing the Other (I’m about a third of the way through), I will return to my novel. I considered taking a longer pause and reading more books, recommended by the multitude, but I know that would be a method of procrastination for me. I will never know it all. I will never be perfect. I will continue to learn and grow as I write.

July is Camp NaNoWriMo. Let’s tell our stories.