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Run by Ashpaw Longstripe, with the assistance of the mysterious "Lord B.A. Chess", this scroll provides an opportunity for the Tasakeru Outcasts to share their stories with the outside world.
I’ve felt sorry for Amtrak for a long time. Economic pressures and the unique problems of any rail system based inside the US (where automobile travel has too long been the be-all and end-all) have turned it into a faint shadow of the formerly great passenger and freight rail lines that helped define the 19th and early 20th-century history of the US.
But I’m finished feeling sorry for it as of now. It’s no crime to have fallen on hard times. But offering people what seems to be something wonderful and then ripping them off the minute they start trying to take advantage of it? NOT GOOD.
#AmtrakResidency was designed to allow creative professionals who are passionate about train travel and writing to work on their craft in an inspiring environment. Round-trip train travel will be provided on an Amtrak long-distance route. Each resident will be given a private sleeper car, equipped with a desk, a bed and a window to watch the American countryside roll by for inspiration. Routes will be determined based on availability.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by a panel. Up to 24 writers will be selected for the program starting March 17, 2014 through March 31, 2015. A passion for writing and an aspiration to travel with Amtrak for inspiration are the sole criteria for selection. Both emerging and established writers will be considered.
But then you read the terms and conditions, and the alarm bells go off big time. Go read them: I’ll wait. I’m not going to reproduce them here: they give me the pip.
Clause 5 is where the trouble starts. Clause 5 essentially says: “When you turn in your application, gee, anything can happen to your original writing. Who knows? We have a billion PR people working for us whose work yours might be [airquotes] confused with [/airquotes]. By signing this you agree that should this happen, you have no recourse, and we never have to credit you or pay you one thin dime. [But you’re so desperate, you won’t care, will you?] #lol #loser”
Clause 5 by itself ought to be enough to make you walk away, it’s so slimy. But then comes clause 6, in which you assign to Amtrak the irrevocable world rights to all the data in your application including your writing, forever and a day. And the day after that.
I learned the lesson long ago both from other freelance writers and at my agent’s knee, and the lesson is as important now as it ever was — in this day of the effortless digital ripoff, perhaps way more so. The lesson is this: Never give anyone world rights to any of your writing. Ever. Ever. Because who knows if that one piece of writing is the one that would have made you famous worldwide and rich beyond the dreams of avarice? I wouldn’t sell anyone world rights for a million dollars and that necklace of flawless cabochon emeralds I saw in the window at Harry Winston that one time*. But give away world rights to something for a single lousy train ticket? I don’t think so. They could plate the inside of that sleeper with platinum and lay on catering from Dallmayr and I still wouldn’t do it if it meant they got to keep world rights.
Better pay the ticket price yourself and keep the rights to your work in your own pocket than swap those rights for a single train ride, sleeper or not.
…Now, I hear they’re fixing clause 6 in some way or other (doubtless already having heard the first wave of complaints). That’s all well and good. But I haven’t heard a word about clause 5, which stinks to just as high a heaven. And they tried to get away with clause 6 as it was. That says way too much about their concept of good faith as it applies to writing, and writers.
It’s not worth it. This thing is poison. So please, I beg of you, step away from the very large diesel-powered vehicle. I too am “passionate about train travel and writing”… way more than most people might guess on the first count. But this is not the way to go about it. If they’re willing to try to take this much off you before you even win, what happens when you actually get on board?
*I leaned my forehead against the window right there on Fifth Avenue in the twilight and moaned like a broken thing. Ah God those emeralds. They didn’t have a single inclusion, not one of them. (sigh) …Never mind.
Writing on the train on one’s own nickel: the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise, 2004
ALL WRITERS SHOULD READ THIS AND READ THIS CAREFULLY. DO NOT APPLY FOR THE AMTRAK RESIDENCY, NO MATTER HOW GOOD IT SOUNDS. YOU WAIVE YOUR RIGHTS TO ANYTHING YOU WRITE ON YOUR TRIP TO AMTRAK. YOU WILL NOT OWN YOUR WRITING, OR BE ABLE TO SEE ONE CENT OF PROFIT FROM IT, EVER.
Shit like this pisses me off to no end. Thanks, Amtrak. Enjoy swindling poor, gullible writers out of their hard work. I’m sure all the inevitable lawsuits, public outcry, and horrible publicity will be way worth it.
askoutcasts asked: Okay, Mrs. Duane, this has been bugging me for some time: Is it a straight up-and-down rule that you should never, EVER use passive voice in writing? I try to avoid it whenever possible, but sometimes it feels like the narration just... *sounds* better when using passive voice, like it's more natural. Do you have any advice on what to do about this? And if it really IS that bad, do you have any tips on how to avoid using it?
Here’s the problem with the passive voice, from where I’m sitting.
Optimal sentence structure (in English anyway) has a subject and an object: something that does something to something else, in the foreground. But sliding out of the active into the passive makes that “something” harder to discern. It is, in its way, a sneaky way of not having to take responsibility for what’s happening in the moment, the scene, or (taking one step back) in the sentence. The passive clouds the issue; it’s almost as if the writer wants to distance him/her/whateverself from responsibility for whatever’s going on in the narrative. Cf. the interesting line from the behaviorist Sydney Harris: “We have not passed that subtle line between childhood and adulthood until we move from the passive voice to the active voice—that is, until we have stopped saying ‘It got lost,’ and say, ‘I lost it.’”*
The active voice is about agency. Use of the passive at worst can strip the agency right off the character or the point of view. At best it still partially veils the proceedings and the issue of who’s responsible for doing what… and most likely leaves your reader at least partially uncertain about what’s happening. It’s the equivalent of purposefully smearing Vaseline on the camera lens or adding (in digital mode) a 5-pixel Gaussian blur to everything.
Mostly you should avoid the passive voice because (a) keeping your reader clear about what’s going on** is very important, and (b) if you let yourself commit it too often, you will find it easier and easier to let yourself off the hook when writing sentences or scenes that should be hard to write — except you’ve allowed yourself to become habituated to the easier-and-less-thoughtful/mindful method.
…Now then. Of course sometimes passive voice will work better for some sentence or some sequence. But you have to be rigorous with yourself when you find yourself using passive more than sparingly. You need to look carefully to see whether you’re using it as a special effect, to a specific given purpose, or just because it’s easier to do it this way for the moment, or “as a placeholder, I’ll fix it when I line-edit”***. When you catch yourself getting ready to elect to use passive voice in something written, pause and make yourself restate it at least a couple of times in active voice; consciously require yourself to explain to your inner writer why this is a better choice than keeping it active. If you’ve tried the experiment and genuinely found that passive works better, fine. Do it. (If it’s an error, you can always burn it later.)
But if you find yourself doing it more than two or three times in, say, a page? Then alarm bells should go off. Stop, sit back, distance yourself a bit. Do something else for a few minutes, and then return to the page and ask yourself, Why do I keep wanting to go passive on this? Is there something about the character business that’s bothering you? Have you got an underlying structural problem? Don’t obsess, but — as a temporary corrective — do another page or so where you stay rigorously in the active. Then come back and review the page where the passives started cropping up. Normally a reason will present itself. Correct the problem and move on.
…That’s all I’ve got on this. I fail at this more than occasionally, and have to go back and fix passages where the passive crept in because I was in a bit of a hurry. Just keep an eye open and make sure you’re using it because it is genuinely the proper tool for that particular job.
*Not that I necessarily agree with the sentiment, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is the marked difference of voice.
**Even if you’re dealing with such issues as an “unreliable narrator” or otherwise skewed or slanted POV. At such times your reader needs clarity more than usual, not less. Otherwise they’re going to start thinking you’re not playing fair with them, which is A Bit Not Good.
***No you won’t.
Reblogging writing advice about passive voice from the wonderful dduane, who has my thanks. XD
Just a heads up, this article is not going to earn any awards for niceties. It’s going to get real, and a bit harsh. Why? Because when it comes to creating, you need discipline more than you need hand-holding. Gentle nudging can maybe encourage you to a brief period of dedication, or to fulfilling a small goal or two. You’re not here for that, though. You’re in this for the long haul. You want to write, to create worlds and characters and stories for the rest of your life.
Guess what? You’ve chosen a tough fucking life and you better get used to the concept that nobody really gives two shits or not if you succeed at this, except you. Encouragement and pithy phrases and gentle nudges are not going to make you stop procrastinating, or just finish that draft, or edit that damn story. Only one thing is going to triumph over the slumps, bumps, depressive states, periods of creative self-hate, and discouragement coming from internal and external voices. Only one thing is going to prove you a writer (or creator) of mettle over time. Only one thing is ever going to truly be the cause of your Getting Shit Done.
You can have all the great ideas, incredible characters, and mind-blowing stories to tell in the world, but none of them will ever amount to anything if you lack discipline.
You need discipline more than inspiration, more than creativity, more than connections, more than adoring readers. Without discipline, you might as well chuck it all in now.
This doesn’t mean you won’t have days or times when your discipline breaks down. Life happens to everyone. However, what’s going to keep you in the game is getting back your focus and retraining yourself as soon as possible, and sticking to it. Also, don’t beat yourself up about slipping out of your routine on occasion. Acknowledge it; see if there’s anything you can adapt or change your schedule to make it work better, and move on.
So how do you discipline yourself?
Well, the plain truth is only you can ascertain what works best for you. There’s a list of links at the end of methods you can try, but it’s going to take your personal energy, focus, dedication, and trial-and-error methods to figure out what works best for you personally. You may find one of these is ace, you may have to do a combination of several, or you may have to come up with something entirely unique. Point is, only you know yourself the best and only you can create the best method of disciplining yourself.
"But won’t a routine get… you know, boring?" Well, yes. It will. Sometimes it will feel like (holy crap) actual work to make progress and stick to your routine. Sometimes it will feel like an insurmountable mountain climb, far more daunting than just another day at the office. And sometimes it’ll feel like your brain just shuts down the minute you’re presented with a blank screen or piece of paper. That sucks.
Deal with it.
Stick to the routine and keep writing.
Can’t write? Like, really, truly, cannot find it within yourself to put words down and/or are too ill to do it?
If you can’t find the will, take a day off. Do something else that is still productive, but not writing. Try some editing of an earlier piece. Draw a picture. Do some research for your project. Do something that engages your writer’s mind but doesn’t require writing. Just don’t make a habit of using your writing time for this. This is the rare exception to what should be an everyday rule.
If you’re sick, you’re sick. Rest up. Get better. Take care of your body. But as soon as that fever breaks or those aches ease up a bit or you can last an hour without sneezing and/or puking constantly or that depression fog begins to ease off, start your writing routine again.
You can ask for nudges and reminders from friends, colleagues, family, significant others, etc, but don’t depend on them to provide your discipline. You are in charge of making your life work. You. Only you. And in case you missed it earlier, nobody really gives two shits or not if you succeed at this, except you.
If this is what you truly want, to become a creative person (writer, artist, performer, etc), you have to not only take control of your own voice and your own projects, but you have to be invested with them 100% every single day of your life. We all slip up, and life intervenes from time to time, but without constantly training and retraining yourself to be disciplined in your craft, the likelihood of this becoming your way of life is very minimal — and your chances of succeeding if you are disciplined and dedicated are quite good.
So how do you go about disciplining yourself and starting a routine? Again, there’s probably going to be a lot of trial and error to find what works for you, and it likely will change over time as well, but here’s some ideas:
Resources for maintaining a schedule/daily word count:
There are a lot of other articles with info on how individuals created and maintained their own schedules if you go looking, but it all basically comes down to the simple idea that you have to find what works for you, and stick with it.
I know this article has been rather blunt, but the honest truth stands that no one is ever going to be more invested or dedicated to your work than you are, and without the discipline in place to get you through hard times and rough patches and even everyday distractions, little is ever likely to come from just writing or creating when you ‘have the time’ or ‘feel inspired.’ It’s dedication and discipline that will get you where you want to go. So, give yourself a pep talk (and maybe even a mild panic episode about what you’re about to undertake), suck it up, and start dedicating yourself to being a writer/creator. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now.