Guest Post: Process, Practice, and Learning

Today, I have the joy of introducing you to another guest blogger! (If you’re interested, it’s not too late!)

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing M. Fenn for almost exactly eight years. We met through a mutual friend over a comment regarding a joint interest in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It has been friendship every since, including nearly-weekly writing dates. She is not only a published author, but a lover of music, movies, and thoughtful conversation. You can also find her over at skinnier than it is wide, blogging about (you guessed it) writing, music, movies, and engaging in thoughtful dialogue.

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Steph’s call for guest posts caught my interest right away. Why? Because I love her and her blog. But when it came down to writing something, I wasn’t sure what to do. Steph told me she was curious about how I describe myself on Twitter (@MFennVT) and wanted to know more.

Turns out, I do, too. My tagline over there is: A speculative fiction writer who’s always learning, always practicing. The “speculative fiction writer” part is fairly self-explanatory. I write stories that wonder about things: science fiction, alternate history, horror, stuff like that. It’s fun… when all the voices in my head behave.

The “always learning, always practicing” part, though. Hmm. Besides that it sounds good? That I’m still figuring out. And it’s funny (to me, anyway); I was flummoxed by this post for the bulk of last week. It’s always a challenge for me to sit down and write about process. I think the reasons are multiple. Partly, I’m afraid that it will just be incredibly boring for other folks to read about. Also, there’s something in me that thinks if I point and say, “There,” with regard to what learning and practicing mean to me, it will be like pinning a beautiful insect to a board and all the life will go out of it. The process will die because I shone a light on it.

What’s popped into my head today is that the writing process may not be what I’m talking about, at least not in total. Let me tell you a story.

out of focus writing
I grew up in a dysfunctional family with an emotionally abusive, alcoholic father and a long-suffering mom. My dad was also a smart, witty guy who didn’t like to lose an argument, so getting into one with him was a serious matter. I had to know everything, so I could defeat him. There was no room for error, no room for vacillation. Weakness was pounced upon. And that was a habit I took out into the world with me.

What a big surprise to discover that not everybody worked that way and that it was a lot easier to learn (and to stay sane) without that wall of defensiveness. I learned that knowledge wasn’t a zero-sum game. I didn’t have to know everything to stay safe; there was plenty for everybody, and it was even fun to share!

So, the practicing that I do is to keep that communal sense of learning open, to not succumb to my old habits of survival. Old habits die hard, and sometimes they never do, they just linger in the background, convinced they’ll be needed again someday. It’s not always easy to keep them quiet either, because there are a lot of folks out there who do play that game and it’s easy to get sucked in, even now, thirty-one years after my father died.

What does all this have to with my writing? I think it’s that my desire to share what I write combines both sides of this metaphorical coin. I want my stories to be as perfect as I can make them: accurate history, accurate tech, every set-up paying off. All that and more.

Also important, though, is the relief that I don’t have to know it all. Every story of mine is a better tale because of the other people who have touched them, sharing what they know with me. There is arguing at times, certainly (with them and with myself), but there is no defeat.

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5 thoughts on “Guest Post: Process, Practice, and Learning

  1. I’m struck by the different senses of knowledge and even argument here– that “argument” can be battle, that you go to armed to the teeth, or it can be a convincing case, something built carefully to all hang together, and maybe even built collaboratively. That opening up not only makes knowledge more plentiful, but that it changes what it fundamentally is.

    • It does, indeed. My dad taught me that knowledge was important for its own sake, but also that it was a weapon. Knowledge is power, right? Not necessarily incorrect, but not the whole picture.

      • I really appreciate this thread, and something I’ve been pondering what it means to have knowledge, and what various ways we can use it. (This also comes out of some of the end of semester conversations we had at school, about what we do with what we know.)

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