From Essay to Fiction [en]

[fr] Exercice d'écriture: une aventure à la recherche de personnages pour porter ses histoires.

It’s an adventure. The adventure of a mind bubbling with ideas and things to say and write. The adventure of a mind which would like to bubble with fiction that makes people dream big things, and read on in wonder at the worlds created.

But all she can come up with are disasters and worst-case scenarios. And she wonders: do people want to read about all that will go wrong? Should she give in to the dystopian fantasies her mind produces on a daily basis?

She’s not that sure about the dystopia bit, either. Because on the flip side, she has hope, hope so huge and solid that it smothers everything else. Beyond all reasonable hope, she hopes, and imagines things working out against all odds.

She has imagination.

What she lacks is characters. She needs characters to fall in love with and to pull her along through her stories.

Her adventure will be the adventure of conjuring up characters to carry her stories.

She will delve in herself and those around her, clumsily at first, cobbling together patchworks which will barely stand on their two feet. But with practice and patience she will grow nimble, and her characters will breathe life and love. They will dance through her worlds under sunlight and starlight, singing the stories their lives will weave.

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The crow yelled at the cat [en]

The crow yelled at the cat and flapped its wings. The feline retreated.

The next day, two cats. The crow crowed louder and flapped her wings faster. Her mate swooped down and nipped a kitty tail.

Third day, three felines: not a chance for the outnumbered crows, their babies eaten.

This is a 50-word short story. Read more by me on CTTS or by others too on Facebook.

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Don't You Tire of Real-Time? [en]

[fr] Tout ce temps réel sur le web me fatigue. On néglige les expressions plus profondes que permet le web, sur nos blogs par exemple.

I find that I’m increasingly tired with real-time. Keeping up with the stream. Living on the cutting-edge. I like diving into deeper explorations that require me to step out of the real-time stream of tweets and statuses and IRC and IM conversations.

I like reading and writing.

I’ve never been much of a “news” person — and I know that my little self and my little blog have no chance of competing with the Techcrunches and ReadWriteWebs and GigaOms that seem to be all over the place now.

Life is real-time enough. I like spending time on the web like in a book.

I still love Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all the transient stuff that’s floating around — but sometimes I feel like I let myself get lost in it.

Once again, I’m back here, on my blog.

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Writing: Source of Income or Marketing Budget? [en]

[fr] Ecrire pour gagner de l'argent (en tous cas en tant qu'indépendant) ça ne rapporte pas des masses. Par contre, écrire est un formidable moyen de promouvoir ce qu'on fait (indirectement). Je propose donc de considérer l'écriture comme "budget marketing" plutôt que "source de revenu" (si on arrive à gagner de l'argent, tant mieux... mais ce n'est pas le but premier!)

A couple of days ago I was talking to a friend, who amongst various activities she juggles as a freelancer, is a journalist. Lately, she’s been less satisfied by her journalistic work, which ends up not paying much, and was wondering whether it really made sense to keep on writing. But actually, her work as a journalist is what gives her contacts and leads for her other activities: so it makes sense for her to keep on being a journalist — but not for the money, as a marketing investment.

Come to think of it, I’ve only very rarely earned money by doing actual writing. I did an article for a local paper once, but honestly, the amount I was paid for the work I put in just made no sense. So, yes, as a marketing strategy, it’s interesting, but not for actually putting food on the table.

Even the work I did for Fleur de Pains, though decently paid, was way more work than expected and ended up being not that much money for the energy it took. Consulting, speaking and training are clearly better sources of income, or managing “my type” of projects (blog editing, coworking space, or conference blogger accreditations for example).

Most of what I’ve read over the last six months about writing fiction also points in that direction: writing for a living is insanely hard work and will not make you rich. We’re blinded by the black swans out there named J. K. Rowling and other successful writers. Most people who write for a living don’t become insanely rich, and most of those who try to make a living out of writing fail.

So, where does that leave us/me? I love writing, and I’m not too bad at it. Honestly, writing is its own reward, as far as I’m concerned. That’s why I’ve kept this blog going for the last 10 years (by the way: take a moment now to let me know what your favourite articles from CTTS are — the blogversary is less than 48 hours away!). And honestly, I think I’ll never stop writing. But I don’t think it makes sense for me to try to actually earn a living doing it. Which doesn’t mean I’m closing the door to earning *some* money writing — but if I do, it’ll be a happy *extra*.

So, in times like now where I’m giving quite a bit of thought to all I do for free and which ends up bringing me business, and also (given right now business is going pretty well) cutting back a little (not too much though!) on what does not earn me money directly, I am realising that I need to make it my priority to have enough time to write.

You know these blogging crises I go through regularly? “OMG I’m not blogging much I need to write more?” Well, here we are. If paid work keeps me from blogging, so be it — it means I’m earning lots of money right then, and I can live with that for a while. But if unpaid “marketing budget” stuff keeps me from blogging, something is wrong.

So this is what my hierarchy of priorities could look like:

paid work > blogging > other writing (“for others”, or requested by others) > other marketing/networking/promotional activities

What about you? Where does writing fit in the “stuff you do”?

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Tulalu avec Paule Mangeat [fr]

[en] A literary meetup with a local author, and some considerations on what language I write in as a bilingual person (answer: way more English than French).

Mon “petit homonyme” Stéphanie, comme je l’appelais affectueusement il y a une quinzaine d’années déjà, co-organise depuis plusieurs mois les rencontres littéraires Tulalu ?!. (Oui, ça fait beaucoup de signes de ponctuation à la suite. J’ai un peu de mal, mais j’essaie.)

Cet après-midi, au détour d’une conversation branchée “écriture” (je suis en train de lire “On Writing” de Stephen King, après avoir dévoré “Bird by Bird” de Anne Lamott, à l’origine de ma révélation du mois de février), elle me propose de venir une fois à ces rencontres. Ou deux, peut-être. Et bien justement, il y a en a une ce soir.

Après moult tergiversations internes (et externes) dont je vous passe les détails, j’ai foncé en bas l’avenue de France pour aller m’asseoir autour d’une table au Zinéma, en compagnie d’une bonne douzaine d’autres amateurs de littérature du coin et de Paule Mangeat. Paule, je ne la connais ni d’Eve ni d’Adam, et son nom ne me disait même rien. Mais il aurait pu, Michelle ayant parlé d’elle en termes fort élogieux il y a quelques années.

Je suis à présent en mesure de vous confirmer qu’elle écrit de fort jolies nouvelles (elle nous en a lues (lu?) trois), en plus d’être une personne tout à fait sympathique. Je suis repartie avec une copie de son ouvrage dans mon sac, que je me réjouis de finir prochainement, entre un chapitre de Stephen King et un autre d’Anne Lamott (oui oui, j’ai entamé son roman “Rosie“, qui me donne envie de me mettre à écrire de toute urgence à chaque fois que j’en lis une page).

Parenthèse: clairement, j’abuse autant des parenthèses en français qu’en anglais, mais un peu moins des tirets, on dirait.

J’ai appris avec intérêt que quasi toutes les nouvelles de son recueil, “Côté Rue“, ont été écrite d’un jet. Moi qui suis une horrible écriveuse du premier jet, j’ai trouvé ça très réconfortant. Je ne prétends pas écrire aussi bien que Paule, et celle-ci avoue d’ailleurs avoir maintenant évolué au-delà de la tryrannie de ce premier jet dans son processus d’écriture (c’est moi qui formule ça comme ça, hein, n’allez pas la citer avec ces mots). Mais je peux vous dire qu’à force d’entendre (et de lire!) tant de personnes écrivaillantes autour de moi sur les bienfaits et les affres de la réécriture et du travail d’édition, je commençais à me demander si je n’avais pas des branchements qui manquaient. Eh bien, ça me rassure de savoir qu’il y en a d’autres que moi avec le même genre de branchements (ou leur absence).

Une de mes motivations pour ce soir, c’était de me reconnecter un peu avec la littérature francophone. De ce côté-là, mission accomplie. Etre bilingue ce n’est pas si simple, quand on aime écrire. Je me rends compte qu’au cours des dernières années, l’anglais est très clairement devenu ma langue numéro un à l’écrit. J’ai toujours lu surtout en anglais, même s’il y a des livres en français que j’adore — j’ai d’ailleurs un point faible pour la littérature romande.

Et ici, même s’il y a des phases assez francophones, je me rends bien compte que j’écris surtout en anglais. Avec les chroniques du monde connecté, j’ai une excuse pour écrire au moins une fois par semaine en français, mais bon… ça ne fait pas le poids face au reste. Pour vous dire à quel point l’anglais est devenu ma première langue à l’écrit, quand je prends des notes à usage personnel lors d’une conversation en français… oui, vous devinez juste. J’ai tendance à prendre des notes en anglais.

Ce genre de réflexion, sur fond des nettoyages de printemps que j’ai faits aujourd’hui sur Climb to the Stars, ça me donne aussi une furieuse envie de rendre un peu plus facile le tri des langues pour les 10 ans d’écriture passés qui sont plantés sur ce site. Si j’avais une journée ou deux à disposition…

Enfin bref, assez radoté. Il est temps que je réinvestisse un peu mon côté francophone quand j’écris.

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About my Writing [en]

[fr] Mon écriture souffre généralement de trop de parenthèses, de tirets, de phrases trop longues et... de mots, simplement. Ça m'ennuie mais j'avoue que je suis paresseuse lorsque j'écris: pas de relecture, pas de réécriture, j'écris et je publie, voilà c'est fait.

After reading Bird by Bird, I am now reading On Writing by Stephen King. And it’s making me think about my writing.

I’m a lazy writer. I don’t proofread, I don’t edit, I don’t even plan much outside my head. I just write. It’s never been a problem for me.

Reading King (and in parallel, Anne Lamott’s Rosie, which is so beautifully written it makes me want to drop everything and write my life away) is making me think about my style. There are a certain number of things I do that bother me, and that I don’t seem to manage to do differently. (Though, as I said, I’m a lazy writer — if I actually put a little effort into changing things, maybe I would.)

As you’ve certainly noticed if you read this blog, I overuse dashes and parentheses. I always have. I think it’s because my way of thinking is digressive. I start on something, and have to add some little explanative digression before going on. I do that when I talk, too. I start a sentence or an explanation, stop mid-way through, and add some extra background information that’s needed to understand what’s left of the sentence or explanation.

Anyway, I’m not trying to find excuses. It annoys me that I do that, and I think it probably makes what I write more cumbersome to read than it could be.

Another thing I’m guilty of is long sentences. Sometimes I feel they just want to go on and on and on and on and then I catch myself and chop them in half. I also think I use too many words. I’m not a very concise writer. I ramble. Like I’m doing now.

So I’ll let you go and read something else while I go and write a shitty first draft of something that I’ll never show anybody.

Are there any of my bad writing habits which bug you when you read me?

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Not Writing, Again [en]

[fr] Clairement, un autre phase de non-écriture. Ça passera.

Another post on writing/blogging, yes, another one. I am in a “not writing” phase. I actually want to write. Ideas keep flapping around in my head. But the idea of actually disciplining myself to focus on writing about them just makes me want to hide under the covers.

I go through these phases regularly, as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months. They last for a moment, and then I get back into writing.

I haven’t yet clearly identified what sets them off and what makes them end. I know there is a vicious/virtuous circle effect involved. The less I write, the more stressful the idea of writing again becomes, because all the things I have wanted to write about — but haven’t — during the “no writing” phase have piled up in my mind, and I feel that blogging regularly again means that I have 20 posts to write, and that they all need to be long, documented, enlightening masterpieces. It’s as if the “idea of blogging” or the “idea of the blog post” grows like a weed in my mind when I’m not actually doing it, and that makes the process much more scary than it actually is.

On the positive side, I know that “blogging again” always starts with publishing a blog post or two — which is what I’m trying to kick off here. Never know.

This is a pretty boring post. My apologies.

I’ve gone down the rabbit-hole of blog-reading on Penelope Trunk’s blog. Go read her. (And follow her on Twitter if you’re so inclined.) I’ve finished reading the Saga of Seven Suns by Kevin J. Anderson (not this Kevin Anderson! another one!) who is also on Twitter, I’ve just discovered. I love the idea of being able to follow SF authors I’ve enjoyed on Twitter. Cinema-side, I recommend you go and see The Hurt Locker if you haven’t already done so. It’s a beautiful — and hard — movie which rattled me a bit in the same way that the essay “I Miss Iraq. I Miss My Gun. I Miss My War.” did. (You might want to read that one with Readability to make it a more comfortable experience.)

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Wrong Place, Wrong Time [en]

[fr] Un autre récit de rêve -- double, celui-ci. Je suis navrée, mais ça sort toujours en anglais...

A dream.

I have a gift for ending up at the wrong place at the wrong time. For example, think of the day Obama broke our beautiful lake in half by blowing up a huge bomb under it. I was in Saint-Tryphon, the lovely town at the end of the lake, and watched as the water ran out of it through the crack, as swimmers tried to reach the shore, and as the first rows of buildings in Saint-Tryphon toppled over in slow motion under the afternoon sun to come and lie down in the receding water.

We spent the rest of the afternoon checking out our boats, which were moored in mid-air, lowering them so that they would be back in the water again.

At some point I fled. I ran through Saint-Tryphon, watching the wobbly buildings by the shore and praying that the people would get out before they fell. I climbed into the mountains, found an abandoned village, and spread the word. “The lake is draining itself!” Nobody really believed me.

Obama had smilingly assured me that the lake would stop bleeding out sometime in the evening, and that everything would be back to normal in a few days. He didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with what he had done. I was just horrified.

Or another time, shortly after that, I had taken a trip to some middle-eastern country just in time to witness the explosion of a nuclear device under the sea near the coast. I saw birds fall out of the sky as they feebly tried to fly away. Why I was alive, I just couldn’t understand. A car with two military stopped and picked me up. We went to the command centre where for some reason, most of my luggage was waiting for me. There were some nice people there, but it was out of question to let me go back home.

I swallowed an iodine pill, and wondered why on earth we all had to be exposed to so much radiation. My life doesn’t always make sense to me, as you can see.

I was relieved to meet Cecil in the command centre. He was a friend of mine, and we plotted our escape together. Julie, one of the assistants, would come with us — she was a nice girl and also felt that she had nothing to do there, that her life was supposed to take another path. The trouble was packing (we had many belongings) and finding a way out of the country (that was Cecil’s job, being in a position of authority).

Amongst my most precious belongings was some jewellery, and a set of teeth (I know this sounds funny, but they were ivory and polished, and worth quite a lot in those days), as well as some pearls. Trying to get everything to fit in bags and boxes was a nightmare, especially as we couldn’t afford to have the other people in the command centre figuring out that we were going to make a run for it. They must have, because we even got comments on the size of our boxes, but they pretended nothing was wrong. Maybe they hoped it would go away if they didn’t confront it.

So we packed, and repacked, and repacked, and as days went by I became more and more anxious about leaving. We almost managed, once. Robert took us out to his helicopter. There were four of us, but Cecil was nowhere to be found. I was a bit worried, because Robert was completely loyal to those in charge, and I really wondered what the deal was with him taking us away. Maybe he was actually going to take us to a reeducation camp or a prison, and all our precious belongings would be taken away from us.

We never knew, because as he was fuelling up, he never passed the DUI test — and the helicopter was not up to standards either. I heaved a sigh of relief as we returned to the base, but went to bed certain that we had been found out and absolutely had to leave the very next day.

It didn’t happen the next day, or the one after that. It was agonizing. Cecil disappeared, after a long phone call to his family where I heard him tell his son he loved him very much. The day after that, Simon came up to me and gruffly told me that I was leaving, that Cecil had left instructions, and that he was my driver. Simon was not happy about it, but followed orders. I initially expressed surprise but decided to go along with it.

He scowled at me while I put my big box and bag in the boot of his tiny car. I climbed in, and we drove off. I didn’t need a Geiger counter to tell me how radioactive we were, and I hoped that we would not set off any alarms at the airport. I already had too much luggage and getting on board without attracting attention was going to be a tight squeeze.

As you can see, I made it out in one piece. I had to leave some of my things behind, but the precious teeth and pearls travelled in my jeans pocket (you know how TSA are with precious items in checked-in luggage: they just tend to disappear). I went through long and painful anti-radiation treatment, and thankfully today’s medical technology is keeping at bay all the cancers I should have developed as a result of such important exposure.

What was going through the minds of those people at the time, it really beats me.

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Raconter une histoire [fr]

[en] I write a weekly column for Les Quotidiennes, which I republish here on CTTS for safekeeping.

Chroniques du monde connecté: cet article a été initialement publié dans Les Quotidiennes (voir l’original).

J’ai eu une révélation ce week-end. Elle concerne l’écriture, et plus particulièrement la fiction. On sort donc aujourd’hui un tout petit peu du domaine de la technologie, mais on y reviendra, vous verrez.

Depuis toute petite, je veux écrire. Des histoires. Mais, contrairement à d’autres aspirants romanciers, les histoires à raconter ne se bousculent pas dans ma tête. C’est même plutôt le grand désert déprimant.

Je vous passe toutes les étapes de mon cheminement par rapport à l’écriture ces dernières années pour aller droit au but: samedi soir, en lisant un livre consacré à l’écriture (pas moins que ça!) j’ai enfin compris que les histoires émergent des personnages qui les vivent.

Cette prise de conscience m’a fait l’effet d’un électrochoc: je faisais tout à l’envers! Depuis des années, je me torture le cerveau à essayer d’inventer des histoires dans lesquelles j’insérerai ensuite, un peu accessoirement, quelques personnages pour leur donner corps. Il faut bien faire vivre les acteurs, après tout.

C’est bien joli, me direz-vous, mais quel rapport avec la technologie qui sert de fil rouge à nos petits rendez-vous du lundi? Les histoires, justement.

Le cerveau humain aime les histoires (c’est d’ailleurs pour ça que les anecdotes gagnent toujours face aux statistiques, et qu’on continue à avoir une peur panique des prédateurs sexuels sur internet et des accidents d’avion). Quand on se lance dans le monde des médias sociaux, en ouvrant un blog, par exemple, on aura beaucoup plus de succès si on sait y raconter des histoires que si on se contente d’y recopier communiqués de presse et autres informations promotionnelles.

A la lumière cette petite porte ouverte sur le monde de la fiction, je relis mes conseils d’il y a quelques semaines pour bien écrire sur un blog, et je réalise qu’il y a maintenant des clés supplémentaires à offrir:

  • lorsque je recommande d’utiliser la première personne dans un blog, c’est bien sûr parce que ça rend la chose plus personnelle et que ça aide à connecter l’auteur et le lecteur, mais c’est aussi parce qu’en se mettant en scène dans son article, on a plus de chances d’en faire une histoire — une histoire réelle, qui émerge de qui l’on est
  • raconter des histoires vraies plutôt que de les inventer, mis à part la question éthique, est une question de survie puisqu’écrire de la fiction crédible est un exercise vraiment difficile et périlleux (sauf peut-être pour les romanciers confirmés).

Donc quand vous écrivez, souvenez-vous: on cherche à raconter des histoires, et une histoire, c’est avant tout l’histoire de quelqu’un. Encore une fois, les êtres humains sont la clé.

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Plot Grows Out of Character [en]

[fr] J'ai enfin compris comment écrire des histoires. Les histoires naissent des personnages. Il faut partir des personnages et les développer et les écrire à la vie, et non pas partir de l'histoire elle-même.

“Plot grows out of character,” says Anne Lamott, author of “Bird by Bird (Some Instructions on Writing and Life)”, which I am currently devouring.

Today, February 20th 2010, I think I have finally understood how to come up with stories. The stories come from the people in them, the characters. Who they are, what they’ve been through, what they care about, the choices they make, the way they react to what happens to them.

I’ve always wanted to write fiction, but failed at coming up with anything resembling a story or a plot. I started writing 50-word short stories about 18 months ago to jog my creativity, and it has worked pretty well in demonstrating both that I am capable of coming up with story ideas and that it is possible to excercise creativity.

But so far, I have been concentrating on the story, and not on the people in it.

Recently, I have realized how very good I am at imagining explanations for the behaviour of people surrounding me, or people in general. I tend to have a pretty anxious personality, which means I have “Disaster Channel” playing in my brain 24/7 (fear not for my sanity, though, after years of therapy I have learned to turn off the sound and ignore it most of the time).

So, give me a situation, say, X. is late, and my brain will immediately and effortlessly produce half a dozen plausible and disastrous reasons for her lateness. As I have learnt, though, that Disaster Channel does not provide a realistic view of the world, I have also trained myself to come up with “reasonable” and “reassuring” explanations.

I’ll stop there with the dissection of my psyche. Suffice to say that I am really good at inventing a whole range of explanations for human behaviour. (OK, with a biais towards the disastrous, I’ll give you that.)

Today, at long last, I have realized that coming up with a plot is just that. A story is about people and their behaviour. Writing it is about coming up with characters that are believable, and listening to what they want you to write.

To prove the point, I have written no less than two “really shitty first drafts” over the last few hours.

I’ve unlocked something today.

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