Wednesday, August 30, 2017

0 8/30 WoW: Linsey Miller

If you're like us and MASK OF SHADOWS (now available from Sourcebooks Fire) is at the top of your TBR pile, then today we have a treat for you. Linsey Miller is here with a very special guest post on writing while teaching and how having an academic mindset can both help and hurt your writing process. Stay tuned after the guest post for a bit about MASK OF SHADOWS and Linsey Miller.

Writing while Teaching Writing
By Linsey Miller

I didn’t study writing in college. Two poetry courses counted toward my writing requirement, letting me escape undergrad without the usual ENGL 101 class. I could write fantasy without so much as a second thought between organic chemistry and zoology because they were so different. However, when I began teaching English last year, despite all of the orientations and syllabi, I was caught off guard and had no idea how to switch my brain from writing Mask of Shadows to short stories for my graduate classes to academic essay samples.
And believe me when I say Mask of Shadows made a very boring research essay and spectacularly weird grammar quiz.
People talk a lot about voice in writing—the cadence, the word choice, the feel of the narration—but that’s usually only an in-depth discussion with fiction. It’s in the textbooks for composition and English courses, but I wouldn’t say it’s something we keep at the forefront of our minds while grading compare-contrast essays or writing seminar papers for school. However, it became painfully obvious that the voice of my school work was creeping into my drafting after a month or so of 2016. I needed to separate my writing mindsets from each other.
But it’s odd because all of it is writing, and I think that was the problem—all I was doing every day was reading, writing, and thinking about writing. My literature classes were just similar enough to the course I taught and the drafts I wrote that the lines of thought got crossed in my mind. The similarities between my three different writing tasks meant I couldn’t switch so easily between them. I have the same issue with tenses if I’m not paying attention: reading a book in present tense complicates my ability to draft in past tense. So I used the same solution. I set up designated places and times for each sort of work.
I’m very lucky because I have a shared office at school and an office at home. This meant I could do all of my school work at school and all of my writing and publishing work at home. Because the papers I grade are very different in voice from the papers I write for school, I decided that the majority of my teaching work would be done in the morning and my own work as a student would be done in the afternoon. This does mean I spend a lot of time in a windowless office, but it works. In the morning, I’m able to get into the flow of reading students’ papers, and by that afternoon after my graduate courses, I’m back in the mindset of what I need to write. It’s also much easier, mentally, for me to work on my own schoolwork once a stack of grade-less essays isn’t looming over me. The setting of my life helps shape my mental preparedness.
And since I’m not trying to draft chapters while at work, I no longer attempt to grade what I write which is an added bonus because that gets tiring. (A for effort, C- for overuse of “while.”)
This separation also means that I write fiction for my classes while at school. I don’t feel quite the same blur with those drafts as I do with my fantasy works, and since I attend a workshop every week, it’s often easier to get into the mindset of writing short stories. My young adult fantasy drafts I mostly work on at home.
I think this was necessary for Mask of Shadows because of Sal’s particular voice. It’s based off of the southern accents I grew up with in my family and the one I have in my head, and it’s exceptionally regional. There are odd contractions, dropped words, and multiple aspects I’d consider grammatically incorrect as a teacher and student. Whenever I tried to write from Sal’s perspective, I found myself unintentionally removing this dialect from their voice. It was like I treated Sal’s voice as a student’s paper if I didn’t properly separate them in my mind. My academic mindset bled into my writing when I tried to tackle both in the same time period. Spreading out my work kept this from happening.
That said, this isn’t a highly regimented schedule that I stick to exclusively. Things happen, work piles up. I still have sticky notes of plot ideas scattered about my school desk and even though I’m at home right now, I still have to write a short exercise for class to turn in tonight. Class schedules change twice a year for most, so adjustments come with the territory of scheduling days like this. Sometimes you have to break out of whatever rules you set for yourself. It’s not a flaw to adjust your life to fit your needs.
Physically separating my school life from my writing life has helped me mentally stay focused on my various works, but I don’t hold myself strictly to it. This loose schedule works for me right now; however, I know there are tons of different ways to handle writing while teaching (I read so many when I first started last year). I’m sure I’ll have a whole new approach by the time I graduate, but for now, this works.

And I’m ok with anything that gets me to stop grading my Mask of Shadows 2 drafts.

Sallot Leon is a thief, and a good one at that. But gender fluid Sal wants nothing more than to escape the drudgery of life as a highway robber and get closer to the upper-class and the nobles who destroyed their home.

When Sal Leon steals a poster announcing open auditions for the Left Hand, a powerful collection of the Queen's personal assassins named for the rings she wears -- Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, and Opal -- their world changes. They know it's a chance for a new life.

Except the audition is a fight to the death filled with clever circus acrobats, lethal apothecaries, and vicious ex-soldiers. A childhood as a common criminal hardly prepared Sal for the trials. But Sal must survive to put their real reason for auditioning into play: revenge.

About Linsey Miller
A wayward biology student from Arkansas, Linsey has previously worked as a crime lab intern, neuroscience lab assistant, and pharmacy technician. Her debut novel MASK OF SHADOWS is the first in a fantasy duology coming in September 2017 from Sourcebooks Fire. She can be found writing about science and magic anywhere there is coffee.

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