Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Rant

I have no idea why anyone would feel motivated to get a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. I think the fact that many young people do so is indicative of widespread fuzzy thinking and incompetent guidance counselors.

Creative writing BAs do not guarantee publication. Publication does not guarantee that you can make a living writing. Creative writing BAs do not give you marketable skills that will keep you employed while you try to write.

I have met a recent graduate with an Honours BA in Creative Writing who had interned at respected, award-winning magazines and who had no idea the difference between proofreading and copyediting.

I have met a recent graduate with a BA in Creative Writing who thought that a BA qualified her to be a professor, and was bewildered when that job did not appear before her.

I do not know any additional Creative Writing majors, because I make a point of cultivating friends who are not going to be crippled by debt for years for no more valid reason than fuzzy thinking.

Creative Writing, as a major, gives you more of an appreciation for good writing. This is all very well, but it doesn't teach you marketable skills: Journalism requires people skills, the ability to work under pressure, and basic spelling and grammar. This means that you finish a journalism program with marketable, transferable skills.

I know of no graduates with Creative Writing BAs who were able to translate their degree into widely-useful skills. I know of no recent graduates with Creative Writing BAs who became employed in their field just after graduation. I do not consider it fuzzy thinking to infer a correlation.

Creative Writing seems an eminently practical degree if you:

  • are only looking for self-improvement, not necessarily a job
  • are already published and raking in dough at a rate that will pay your tuition and living expenses, but trying to improve your skills
  • are actually pursuing an MRS, but need a BA as a cover
  • are going to inherit a solid family business and already have a sibling who is an accountant

I do not see the practicality of it outside those and related circumstances.

And I do consider practicality eminently relevant to higher education. It's expensive, so if it is a bad return on investment, it doesn't make sense to do it until you are financially stable enough that tuition will not require onerous loans.

"But!" you cry, "how will I improve my writing to the point of perfection if not by majoring in Creative Writing in university?"

By not stopping writing? By diligent practice? By learning critical thinking skills that can be applied to everything? By learning about things that inspire you to write and equip you to get jobs that will inspire you to write and also support you while you do so?

Creative Writing BAs are like the little blue pills: they both seem like a good idea and a way to jump-start something good, but really you're just fooling around, because practice and critical thinking will both affect the end result far more than the artificial aid ever could.

- Additional reasons majoring in Creative Writing is terrible.
- What you majored in/are majoring in, and how you have applied it to your writing.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


There are words like saudade that refer to explicit emotional states, and convey a wealth of meanings. In English, we have many and varied words for nearly everything, but we don't have anything that means the same thing as saudade. The closest we can get is nostalgia, or love for something that has gone and can never be again. They convey nearly the same thing, but not as precisely or neatly.

We have a lot of emotional vocabulary, because language is about communication, and nuance of feeling can be difficult to convey. A great deal is conveyed by facial expressions and body language.
Usually more than this. Art by
Part of the emergent vocabulary Tumblr exposes me to includes the word 'feels' as a noun. Usage includes such phrases as 'all of the feels' and 'right in the feels.' A literal definition would be something like 'heart,' but this carries more of a connotation of addictive heartbreak. Something that hits one right in the feels might make one cry every time one reads it, but one revisits it often anyway. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In which I talk about memetic density

This entire post is going to be a deconstruction of the title.

'In which' is not merely an informative phrase to indicate the contents of the post: it is a reference to the way Diane Wynne Jones, amongst others, starts chapters in her books. Each chapter title doubles as a summary of the chapter, and adds amusing context, such as "In which Sophie talks to hats" and "In which Howl expresses his feelings with green slime."

By the way, I love my roommates. I wrote this while still in Victoria, sitting in Starbucks. It had been a couple of years since I read Howl's Moving Castle, and I'd forgotten whether the introductions to the chapters were the chapter titles or separate headings. Google searches and Google Books and Amazon and Kobo were all turning up blanks: all I wanted was the first page.

Both of my roommates are bibliophiles who don't get rid of their books, so I just got on Skype and asked out of the blue whether they had a copy and asked them to check for me. Only one of them had a copy, but between them they both had a copy and knew what I was looking for and were able to answer without checking, and then able to link me to the TVTropes page discussing the wider use of the convention.

It is stylistically striking enough to stick with a reader, and allusion to it both establishes formal context and informal social context: by title this post in this way I am affirming that I read, that I read for fun, and that I retain it and consider it important to the way I interact with the world. Using descriptive titles, particularly with the 'In which' format, is language that establishes personal context as well as the explicit context inherent in a descriptive title.

Seem like a lot to try to communicate with two words?

Yeah. And I'm not done!

The title of this post is first-person. Normally, descriptive titles are presented third-person. Using first person here does a couple of things:

  • Establishes that this is a meta-contextual post examining the linguistics involved in addition to participating.
  • Avoids referring to myself in the third person, which is awkward at best and impenetrable and pretentious at worst.
  • Let's me avoid choosing which name to refer to myself as: I go by Eileen because it is my name and using anything else in an even semi-professional setting would feel really weird. But I also answer to Chiomi, which is a nickname I've had since high school and still go by among close friends. I am also called PK in some writing contexts, as an abbreviation of phantomkitsune, the username I win stuff under in Adam's contest. On the website where I am known as PK, I've made several contacts with people who've become good friends and with whom I discuss writing a great deal. Using first person lets me bypass that issue completely.
Now to the verb. I used 'talk' as opposed to 'discuss' or 'write' because, given the dearth of comments here and the fact that I'm mostly unpacking a sentence, discussion does not seem a sure thing. 'Write' I discarded because the tone I use in my blog is a lot closer to the tone I use in casual speech than what I would use in an essay. Pontificate, which would have served just as well, was discarded because of reasons.

The preposition, I feel, is reasonably straightforward and does not require exposition.

Memetic density has to be addressed as a compound to make sense. A meme is a unit of culture. For example, I have an extremely pedantic coworker, through whose influence all of us who work with him have become more linguistically precise. I have on more than one occasion called him a memetic disease because of this effect. So memetic density is how many ideas are communicated by a word or phrase. Memetic density and the effectiveness thereof is, fairly obviously, culture-dependent. I was able to understand a fair number of the references in Terry Pratchett's Soul Music because my dad introduced me to classic rock. If I didn't have that context, I would be missing a lot of the references in the book. The memetic density would be lost. is one of the best resources for making sure that modern references aren't lost, because it catalogs widespread memes.

As this entire post suggests, a lot of meaning can be conveyed in a few context-specific words. It's just a matter of knowing the context.

Note: thoughts like this are why it takes me forever to finish many of my writing projects.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Project Update #1

I'm starting to seriously work on a project I had the initial idea for over two years ago. It started with a vivid image, of someone walking home in the dark in the rain. They were walking past trees, and they were resigned to the wet, and they were accompanied by a God.

At the time, I wrote it down, but I didn't think I had the skill to do the idea justice.

It's my active project right now. I have other images - of standing on a hill in a thunderstorm wearing a fedora, of characters throwing things at deities for being thwarted romantically - and they're starting to come together. I'm editing the first couple of thousand words fiercely, because my skill has grown in the past couple of years and I am better able to see where I'm missing my mark in tone and voice and pacing.

With all of the critiquing I've done in the past couple of years, I'm much better able to cut to the heart of the matter, which has led to a new style of outlining for me: I just write down what happens as briefly as possible. It's like the blocking run for a theatrical performance: none of it is costumed in prose, there are no microphones, the set's in place but not finished being painted. The second run is what's going to let me fill in the blanks, but right now this is looking like it'll be a much faster and more efficient way for me to write.