Saiun - technicolor Reishin

Killing the Soul

Or: working in retail/food service.

Making it "Retail: Killing the Soul" felt even more melodramatic, but on second thought, the title I stuck with is not much of an improvement. Relevant, though, because this is all about writing, even if it doesn't seem like it for the first few paragraphs.

I don't remember if I talked much about writing while working at Starbucks, and how it basically didn't happen at all. I worked there for about a year and a half, and during that time I wrote once or twice; plenty of story brainstorming went on in my pocket notebook during breaks, but when it came to actual prose, i.e. stringing enough words together to make a story, the practice didn't exist for me. Why?

Because I was so fucking tired.

When people--myself included--talk about the soul-killing nature of working retail, I think we're usually referring to the corporate element, or the customer service element, both of which are miserable. Every day brings good people, tons of neutral people, and one or two bad ones, so not everything is bad... although you always remember the bad ones, especially when they're outrageous about it. And everyone complains about the dictates that come down from "corporate," many of which are dumb and tone-deaf on the local level. Barnes & Noble, for instance, used to insist on mimicking their New York displays in every single store, even when the topic wasn't necessarily relevant anywhere else. (They might still do this, but I don't know anybody who works there right now.) Starbucks insisted that we push the current hot variety of coffee bean (example: the Anniversary Bled), even on the morning shift when customers were emphatically not there to buy coffee beans for any reason. District managers will ding you for not up-selling.

Never mind not getting paid enough for this shit, the lack of control over one's schedule, absence of sick time, and the trouble one could make for oneself clocking a piddling five minutes of overtime.

So yeah, all of that is shitty. None of that made me feel so bad I couldn't write, however. Asshole customers suck in the moment, but become epic stories later on. And, in the end, you don't have to take your work home, because you're definitely not getting paid enough to worry about it off the clock. What sucked, what killed my ability to write, was being tired. All the time. I hesitate to call it exhaustion, because I could still get up in the morning and function, but... it was a cumulative effect, like a gathering avalanche. Miss an hour of sleep here, two hours there, get up most days at four in the morning and try to sustain eight hours of constantly moving, lifting, talking, smiling, smiling again when some asshole thinks you should know how many pumps of mocha it takes to make something "super sweet" (anything from the regular three, all the way to the twelve I should've told the barista to put in there, because fuck that dude). Smiling again when another asshole asks for pastry recommendations, and then looks me up and down when I say I don't know (couldn't eat them for allergy reasons), and says, "yes you do," implying I was too overweight not to know every pastry in the case. Smiling some more every time I was called "sweetheart." And then being told by management that I don't smile enough and should work on that for the next review cycle.

I was tired all the time. I got home and went to sleep, got up to make dinner, and then went to bed again, and got up tired the next morning at four to show up for another eight hour shift. Lunch was at eight AM, unless the timing was wonky that day and I had to take it at six instead, which meant I didn't get to eat later when I actually needed it. Every once in a while I got scheduled for a closing shift and then an opener, precisely eight hours apart...but not always. Technically you're not supposed to do that (which might be a state-level law, and not the same everywhere), but it happened. All the time.

Starbucks treats employees surprisingly well, but don't be fooled by all of their publicized effort on behalf of employees: they still don't pay their people enough for the effort they're expected to put in for the customer, and the philosophies they're expected to swallow and then parrot back. You still can't live off of your earnings, at least in NorCal. Most of my coworkers had second jobs, or lived with their parents, were in a relationship with somebody who made more money, or had a roommate or two. More than you might think had advanced degrees, some in fields like chemistry, that made me wonder why the fuck they were working at Starbucks when they could have a real career. Only, it was for the same reason I did: there weren't any other jobs.

Eventually, I had to quit because my knee wouldn't stop hurting, and my insurance didn't cover shit like that. It wasn't a work injury, so Starbucks wouldn't have done anything about it--and that's fine, I didn't expect them to. For what it's worth, I know that the company does step up when necessary, because coworkers of mine have been hurt on the job. I just didn't qualify.

Once I left, I started writing again. Once I didn't need to sleep so long, that is. Once my life wasn't work, sleep, do all the cooking and shit, sleep some more, work some more... Some people can write through that, but I just kept getting sick. I don't think I do my best work when I'm sick or exhausted. I did what I could, when I had a few moments awake that didn't also involve some kind of work, but for a year and a half I didn't produce a story.

I don't feel bad about it. Or, to be more truthful: I do feel bad about it (or I wouldn't be writing this entry), but I am determined to kill that guilt, because I think it's misguided.

Fuck anybody who doesn't like that, in fact. I'm not interested in showing myself mercy most of the time, but in this case, I have to admit: it's awfully hard to write when you're asleep or in constant pain. By the end I couldn't straighten my right leg (too stiff, too much pain), and that took a few months to clear up and stop hurting. I once was forced to take a week off because of intense abdominal and/or back pain that they never found a reason for, but which inspired my doctor to tell me to find a different job. I caught every flu virus making the rounds via ringing people up, because god forbid anybody sanitize their hands after they sneezed into them, but before they handed their credit card to me. I never got enough sleep, and was always on my feet. I was so fucking tired it took me a month to learn how to function like a normal human being after quitting, and even then I couldn't walk without pain. So yeah, about that writing?

I decided it could wait.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

Projects are nice. I like them.

Things to Decide:
  1. Should I post once a week?**
    (For the sake of discipline, keeping ideas moving, etc. It's easy to fall into a rut.)
    • If yes, see list #2.

    • If no, what can I do to engage with people not in my head?
      (Which, for the record, is not something I'm good at. See: how I fail at characterization.)

    • If yes, still wondering if I should continue the "100 Things" tagging or just retag as "pretentious writing posts."
      (Don't get me wrong; I could write 100 posts about writing, but the question is whether I should.)

  2. Big projects: good idea, Y/N? Blog, or resource, or hahahahaha updating the rest of Guardian Angels (but I like the misleading update text. It makes me laugh)?

** Edit 05.21.2018: more like post once a month. How the fuck is it almost June?

God, nesting lists is ugly.

Things I Could Do:
  • What about that Heian-era-for-writers resource thing. Some kind of resource probably already exists, but it would be fun.
    (Also, it would make me read books. And Scrivener is actually a great tool for world-building documents...)

  • Replay and blog... Xenosaga. Or some other game, but I feel a nagging guilt for the way I talked about it back in the day.

  • Actually move down my Steam list and play/blog new games.

  • Be a good student and do some marketing research, e.g. analyze Starbucks internal marketing vs. external, the disaster of the Villainess relaunch, etc. This would not be on DW.

  • Slink back into my corner and do nothing productive.


Been thinking of playing NeiR: Automata. Friends want me to play The Witcher 2 and 3, and there are a ton of visual novels on my list that I should read if I intend to write a script for one. (Not for any official purpose--just a personal project.)

Someday I should finish Fire Emblem: Fates. I want to, but I also don't want to. The last time I played it, bad things were happening, and it's hard to kill the associations. On the other hand, I could start over and fucking marry Xander! I mean. Hold me, big brother. I doomed myself searching for fan art just now.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

And then I'll be free.

It's funny that The Writer's Guide to Beginnings doesn't have a terribly compelling opener. Beginnings ARE hard, but I mean... good job.

I picked the book up because I need some inspiration. Writing books tend to remind me of things I already know, but for some reason have forgotten. Over time I've discovered that the only two books I really need, if I'm having craft issues, are the same two books I've had all along. Everything else is just a new way to say an old thing--and that's why they're such effective reminders.

Anyway, there's this story that's been a weight around my neck for seven or eight years. I've mentioned it once or twice. You wouldn't be interested because I'm not willing to tell you enough about it to catch that interest, but let's just say that I actually like the way it turned out--I've liked the direction it was going for quite some time--and that feeling is the most paralyzing problem I've ever encountered when working on a story. It means either a) the story is shit, or b) it's decent, but will probably still get rejected by everyone and rip my soul apart in the process.

Either way, I don't really want to know. That makes finishing it very hard.

I'm also paranoid, because I put the story up for critique once, in a locked community that I believe was built of trustworthy people, but... still paranoid.

tl;dr, someday soon I'll make myself declare the story finished and start sending it out, and then there'll be a post about revision, and how you should never do what I did, or at the very least never let yourself end up on the same kind of timeline.

I just need to get the beginning where I want it.

And no, I'm not nitpicking; it's the last part that really does need work before I can tweak the language and say good-bye.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

I don't remember how to write.

A search on “writing and grief” turns up some interesting stuff. Not the “how to write grief in your novel” stuff, which is all cookie-cutter and boring, but the links here and there about using writing to work through the experience of grief. The New York Times turned up a conversation between Joyce Carol Oates and Meghan O’Rourke about their respective memoirs on their own grief, and how they came to be written, which was pretty interesting, but also out of my area of expertise. (This journal excepted, I have no plans whatsoever to do autobiographical work. DW is just a place for me to whine, not an attempt at memoir.) I only perused the first search page, because I’m the embodiment of typical consumer behavior as researched by marketing firms, which insists that worship of the SEO gods is the only way to get read--i.e. get your link to appear on the first page of search results. Which...yeah, it’s true sometimes.

So anyway, some writers use writing to deal with tragedy. Many of the writers I know say they started writing for reasons like that. I feel like an alien for not doing that. I know that I’m not; lots of us wanted to be princesses or space commanders (or both at the same time), and started writing to make those dreams come true. Only, it seems like most people eventually get over the urge to write that and start trying to express deeper emotions or issues in their stories, and I never did.

So basically, all I’m good for writing is Mary Sue.

There might be some trauma behind that. Someday I’ll give in and start seeing a therapist, and those sessions will reveal that I write Mary Sues because I felt powerless when I was younger, and needed a way to deal with it or get away. Or--something like that. I’m not a therapist, so who knows.

It’s possible writing is my way of dealing with emotions and situations I didn’t fully know how to handle. Maybe it still counts. I can’t pick up my emotional ball-and-chain and use it to produce work, though--or even journal entries meant to clear my mind. Some things can’t be cleared out or dealt with that easily. If I sit down and think, today I’m going to write about so-and-so’s death, or today I’m going to talk about what it was like to do this hospice thing, it’s not going to happen. Nothing will come out. When I sat on the couch to watch my mother-in-law, just in case she woke up and needed water, morphine, whatever, I could not write. When I got home at the end of my “shift,” I couldn’t write. Had no desire to write, in fact. I didn’t write when she was in the hospital and we weren’t sure what the outcome would be; I didn’t write when we brought her home to start hospice care; I didn’t write when she died, or after, for a very long time. All I could think about when I tried was the sound of the oxygen unit, with that rhythm we all agreed was the perfect nightmare fuel. And the fact that she wasn’t here anymore. Two years later there are still moments it doesn’t feel real.

Everything stops when someone is going to die. During the six weeks we cared for Dash, I read twenty books because I couldn’t stand to think, but stopped listening to music, stopped talking to people, and did not write a single word. We didn’t watch anything, go anywhere. The silence got to the point where turning a page sounded as loud as ripping up a cardboard box or dropping a pan in the kitchen--a phenomenon I had always thought was a shortcut to writing these exact feelings in a way that “shows” instead of “tells,” only now I know it’s real. The sound of my pen on paper stopped me before anything like writing happened. Not that this made a difference, because there was nothing to say. “Yesterday was better. Today he won’t eat. Last night we discovered he couldn’t see when he tried to reach the water fountain.“

Even writing that much hurts. I don’t know how to use it to work through the emotion; I don’t need help crying about this. Normally I don’t cry, but rules are temporarily suspended, and it’s hard to stop.

I used to call this feeling writer’s block. It’s hard or impossible to write; no ideas, no words, hard to string sentences together in an aesthetically pleasing way. No desire to do so.

But this isn’t a block. Writing more doesn’t help the words flow, and my feelings aren’t blocking them. I just don’t want to write. Why should I write when someone important to me just died? Fuck writing. I don’t want to escape from it and I don’t need a story or journal to understand how I feel; I want to remember this person, this cat, and feel the hole their passing just created in my life, and learn to live with it. I need to cry my way through two boxes of kleenex.

After about a week I made myself start writing again every day. It isn’t hard, in the sense that I have ideas. I don’t feel “blocked” in that way. I often wonder if I have any future in this field because ideas I can turn into stories are hard to come by, or feel like they are, but that isn’t abnormal, or a sign of grief or block. I’m just not great at stories, and when I feel like this, staring out the window is much more appealing than trying to write one, and it isn’t necessarily an imperative to overcome that and start typing.

I’ve been forced before to learn, the hard way, that sometimes writing isn’t always the answer, no matter what Goldberg or whoever might say. Everyone is different. Sometimes it’s better to stop for a while. Feel things. Stare at things. If not for that time, I wouldn’t have realized how silent my world became when Dash was sick, and how that felt, how it was echoed by my feelings, and how that might be useful if I’m dumb enough to try to write about the experience later.

To be honest, writing feels pointless and unimportant right now, but it’s what I do, supposedly, so it’s getting done.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

Vindicator of Divine Justice

There’s a story I found during my university days, early in that period when I had nothing better to do than spend four hours in the library between classes. I lived too far away to go home. I spent most of that time on the fourth floor, seated by a window with a lovely view of the quad, where grass, pines, and windswept cypress made layers of green between banks of fog. This was early in the morning, when the sky was still gray and, sometimes, the orange lights still hadn’t gone out. I’d stare out there for a good long while, still half-asleep, before I started looking at books. My table was right next to the shelves with obscure religious texts. By obscure, I mean apocalypses like The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness (not as epic as it sounds), excerpts from The Zohar, wide volumes of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. That sort of thing. Even several volumes of the Talmud, which arguably isn’t obscure, depending on who you are.

In one of these books, I found a story about Elijah after his ascent to Heaven. He has a reputation for running around amongst rabbis and other citizens and variously helping or punishing the deserving. Once, he wrestled with the Angel of Death. He’s an interesting figure who unfortunately is used often to tell moralistic tales.

There’s one in particular running through my head on repeat right now. I will probably retell it badly, but here goes. Read more...Collapse )

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ToB - Perfect World

The Perfect Critique (Elements of Critique, 4/4)

Last in the series. Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source.


Obviously, there's no such thing as a perfect critique. But I wrote three entries about critique habits I hate. My suggestions for good critique habits are in there, but perhaps harder to find than my complaints, so it's only fair that I take the time to outline them more clearly.Read more...Collapse )
Saiun - technicolor Reishin

The Elements of Critique, 3/4: Unsolicited Commentary

Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source.


The message here is, essentially: consider why an author has decided to show their work to you before you comment.

Imagine you have just finished a story or article you’re proud of. You take it to your nearest friend or reader, ask them to have a look at it. What do you think? you may ask. You might be interested in their initial thoughts, or maybe you just want someone to see what you created. That’s okay, by the way.

Instead of delivering a few comments, your reader launches into a full-on critique of the work, complete with discussions on how it can be improved. That’s awesome, because we want our criticism to be delivered with ideas on how we can address the problems being outlined, right? Right.

However… maybe you weren’t ready for that level of commitment. There is a difference between asking for someone’s opinion and asking for a critique. Read more...Collapse )

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Saiun - technicolor Reishin

The Elements of Critique 2/4: Stream-of-Consciousness Criticism

Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source.


Continuing with the theme introduced in the previous post - critique as a way of helping the author as well as oneself - we have what I call the "stream-of-consciousness critique," or the practice of taking notes as you go along and dishing that out to the author.

Like I said, the most well-meaning attempt at critique can be unhelpful at best, and destructive at worst. This is one way a critique can be misleading without the critic realizing how or why. Read more...Collapse )

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VP - Silmeria kicks your ass

The Elements of Critique 1/4: Giving the Good with the Bad

Take a look at the opening explanation if you haven't already. What I define as critique/concrit might not be what you expect if you've been pointed here from a fandom source. Granted, I'm several years out of date on fandom, so who the hell knows. Maybe now I'm preaching to the choir/totally wrong.


Critique and "constructive criticism" are--in my experience--contentious topics in online writing communities. I'm speaking mainly of fandom groups, but not just those. You could say I have ~feelings~ about it that I’d like to express in a pointed fashion. While I have never received a deliberately hostile critique, I have had several critique experiences that I found less than helpful, for reasons that I think can be fixed with some consideration from both parties. When you offer a critique to an author, I assume you’re doing it because you want to help them. I know I do.

So let’s be helpful! I’ll start the series off with an obvious point, which a whole lot of people still miss. Not everybody, just… a number of people that isn’t negligible.

Give the good with the bad when you critique.

No, this doesn't mean you should praise the author. (For some reason, this is always the first assumption. Why?) It means you should bring attention to the good things about their story in addition to the bad things.

Read more...Collapse )

I highly recommend taking a look at that Zen Habits article if you offer critique in any context. It's perceptive and definitely worth reading.


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Miang - I want to be myself

The Elements of Critique: Foreward, Explanations, Excuses

So, a while ago--maybe like, two years ago? Ha--I promised a post on critique. It turned into four posts, which I wrote some time last year to experiment with content marketing techniques. I needed something to talk about, and well, I have wordy opinions about critique that I firmly believe are the right ones, and I'm not going to let reasonable arguments get in my way!

However, since the series was originally written for a class exercise, the style is a little different from what I normally post on LJ/DW. I don't think it needs rewriting otherwise, so I'm slapping it up as-is. If you think it sounds arrogant, try to remember two things: 1) it is, and I'm not sorry which you should expect by now, and 2) you don't write the kind of article I was experimenting with unless you intend to sound like an expert. Based on my studies, it doesn't seem to matter whether that expertise exists or not. :P

Unfortunately, I've spent so much time in fandom that it inevitably crops up in my examples when I address things I don't like. Almost all of my fandoms have, at some point, had ugly fights (usually via anon-meme) about the right to deliver concrit and the obligation of writers to listen to their reviewers or have specific aims for their writing process. And I definitely have opinions about that.

Also, something to be aware of:

In this series, critique =/= fic reviews.

Confusion on this issue has cropped up in the past, so I want all readers to understand that I'm talking about a formal review process--the type you usually see in writing classes, circles, and so forth. I'm not suggesting that this process be applied to your average FFN/AO3 review. If it's applicable to anything fandom-specific, I guess you could draw parallels between this and the beta process, although again, it's been a long-ass time since I had a beta for my fan fiction. I do eventually criticize the point of view that cropped up in those anon memes, and I do it precisely because those commenters seemed to be equating the two types of feedback when talking about the importance of listening to their reviews, and in retrospect I don't agree.

tl;dr, this is the kind of topic that starts arguments. May as well get the most obvious potential misconception out of the way. I'm trying to define the good and bad things about serious critique, not just fic reviews or related concrit, but it comes up.




  1. Critique: Giving the Good With the Bad

  2. Stream-of-Consciousness Criticism

  3. Unsolicited Commentary

  4. The Perfect Critique

If there's anything else you'd like to see examined, let me know.


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