mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Meditation on yuletide

The yuletide request challenge, or whatever its correct description is, presses all sort of ancient buttons with me, ones I thought I'd left behind in high school. I write them here to see if they can be umm short-circuited, to keep the metaphor, or at least to see if the loud alarm bell can be changed to a gentle tinkle.

My first instinctive reaction to the list of requests (and my third, fourth, and on into the thirties) is sheer blind panic and nauseating anxiety. There's no reason for it. I'm not going to write someone's challenge. But the mere thought of 'Suppose I were going to write on this theme' makes my throat close up and my hands go cold and my stomach churn

I know that one. I had it from fourth year high school through third year university. It went away in fourth year but only because four years intervened between junior and senior year. At 26 I realized that what my profs wanted wasn't brilliance, it was readability, and if I was entertaining on top of it I'd get an A. I was and I did. I still sweated the papers- written on a typewriter, BTW, since PCs were in their infancy then- but it was nothing like the frozen despairing suicidal nothing that greeted my attempt to write in my first three years.

Note that I had no trouble writing personal essays in high school, which was all we were required to do until fourth year. But a research paper stopped me cold. I couldn't be me nattering on about what interested me in this subject. My work had to be objective and factual, and the result was going to be judged according to an outside standard that I myself knew nothing about. I myself had no way of judging if my paper was a good research paper or not. (Yes you think they might have taught us how to write research papers as they taught us how to write personal essays, but they didn't. They just assigned us topics wham out of a clear blue sky.)

So why does a stranger's request start the term paper panics in me? They don't want brilliance, they want readability...

Or do they? They're strangers. They have standards quite different from mine. /Probably/ they have standards quite different from mine. The stuff that gets recced, the stuff that BNFWs produce, leaves me blinking. This is supposed to be good? This is what everyone likes? So the chances seem excellent that no, they won't like what I produce because my stuff isn't like what's generally popular. (I'm bemused by mikeneko saying that animanga fen wind up writing non-animanga fandoms. I wouldn't dare write a non-animanga fandom. At least I understand some of the conventions and rules in Japanese-based stuff. The rules in western fandoms have never made any sense to me at all. To my ears, Metafandom sounds like anthropological field reports from Papua-New Guinea when the live-action fen start talking about rubrics and reactions in their end of the world. 'Slash is another country. They do things differently there.')

And quite apart from disagreements as to what constitutes readability, I'm not so sure the requesters do want that and not brilliance, as they define brilliance. So many of the requests sound the alarm bell, the one that goes 'Maybe you should write this yourself, dear.' This person has a definite story in mind- she knows what she wants to see and she tells you what it is in fairly close detail. She doesn't want sappy romance? But who defines sap? And what if your definition of bitter snarkiness (for 'Lots of bitter snarkiness from Alec, of course') or biting and arch (for 'It should be very sexy, and the wit of Valmont and de Merteuill should be very biting and arch') differs from hers? We won't get into is she talking book or movie Liaisons Dangeureuses, which is the problem that stops me from telling people who've asked for Onmyouji that I have these Onmyouji fics if they're interested.

The thing about New Years is you get to pick your story. You can go stalk the requester and see if her notions of a story are generally compatible with yours, so you know from the start if this relationship is a go. (I'm tempted to do the Ageha one: because the requester is in my age group and is modest about what she hopes for. And because I have an Ageha story in the back of my mind and have had for eight years now. Didn't write it because a detail was subsequently cancelled by canon. But. Equally I'm not going to write another Seven Samurai story, for someone who doesn't remember that she requested one.)

However the yuletide challenge assigns you your person. You have to please a total stranger whose tastes, interpretations, preferences and what-all may be completely different from your own. You can't write as yourself. You have to write- yes, here we are- according to an outside standard that you yourself may know nothing about, and because it's foreign to your own way of writing you have no way of judging whether the story is a success or not- not as a story and not as a gift.

And that is why yuletide causes me panic and anxiety and flashbacks to high school writer's block.
Tags: writing
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