the dispatch #2
This term is absolutely flying by—there are just three weeks left, and then I’m officially done with classes for this master’s program. (I’ll still be in London for a few months longer, though—after my final exams and papers are wrapped up by early June, I’ll be spending the rest of the summer working on my dissertation.)
I felt a similar way about last term, which also went by far quicker than I had expected it to, but something about this term feels different—I think this is due in part to the fact that unlike last term, we’ve lost so many days of teaching due to strikes over the last several weeks. I support the strikes wholeheartedly and unconditionally, of course, but I’d be lying if I said that the lost instruction hasn’t done a number on my perception of time.
A few weeks ago, during LSE’s reading week in late February, I took the train up to North Wales to spend six days at Gladstone’s Library—the UK’s only residential library—for a little self-organized writing retreat. I’ve been working on a novel for the past year or so, and while I still have a ways to go, the end is drawing ever nearer (at least in terms of the first draft), so I thought it would be good to get away for a few days to work on it.
The retreat was incredible, and far more productive than I could have ever imagined. Over the course of 6 days (I’d originally planned to spend just 5 days there, but I ended up extending it), I wrote over 13,700 words—13,760, to be precise—and I had so many lightbulb moments and breakthroughs about various aspects of the story that I’d been struggling with for a while. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but something about the library just gave it this uniquely magical vibe that made it almost impossible to not write furiously. No doubt due in large part to my hectic schedule (I was working full-time when I started the novel, and now I’m in grad school), I usually only manage to draft a few hundred words at a time, typically in the morning before I leave for campus. In other words, working on my novel for hours at a stretch, several days in a row was certainly out of my comfort zone, but I was genuinely amazed to find out just how much I’m capable of writing under the right conditions.
Given that I was able to write more than twice as many words in the span of a single hour as I normally do, I’d hoped that this experience would unleash something in me that would allow me to continue working at this rate even after the end of my retreat, but sadly that has proved not to be the case—since returning to the Real World™, I’ve slipped back into my previous, considerably less prolific pace. Unfortunately, it seems that I’m just not destined to be the kind of writer who can churn out thousands of words at a stretch.
With regard to that last point, now that I’ve been working on this book for about a year (that’s about how long I’ve been seriously drafting it, although the earliest version of the idea for it came to me during the early days of COVID), it’s been really interesting to observe the countless lessons this process of novel-writing has taught me about myself as a writer—my preferred working conditions, the way ideas come to me, my approach to outlining, etc. I’m dead set on seriously pursuing this project and seeing it through to the end (even if it feels at times like that’s never going to actually happen), but regardless, it’s nice to know that even if nothing ends up coming of the endeavor, it will have been worth it just for the incredibly valuable (and largely unexpected) lessons it has taught me about myself and my creative process.
This is the first time I’ve mentioned my novel on here—it feels weirdly vulnerable to share something like this with such a large audience, but it also feels motivating in a way. Perhaps I’ll provide more updates in future installments of The Dispatch!
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what i’m reading
I’ve been drowning in course readings since returning from my retreat, so my leisure reading has unfortunately been crawling along at a slower pace than normal, but I’m still doing my best (with mixed results) to use my free time to read instead of mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or TikTok. I recently finished reading Personal Writings by Albert Camus, which I’d bought several weeks ago at the London Review Bookshop because I thought that personal essays would make for a lighter Camus read than his other, more explicitly philosophical work. To be entirely honest, I was a bit disappointed—I found the prose truly stunning, but much of the text’s actual substance went over my head and often felt like a series of beautiful but impossible-to-follow sentences. I think this book will warrant a reread at some point in the future, perhaps with a pen close at hand for annotations.
After finishing Camus, I read Hua Hsu’s 2022 memoir Stay True, which I adored—I read it in just a few days, 60 or 70 pages at a time. The book was given to me as a Christmas present by my dear friend Jess, and I didn’t know anything about it going in, but I was absolutely blown away by Hsu’s writing. Since finishing Stay True a few days ago, I’ve been reading Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. I’ve read Baldwin before (The Fire Next Time when I was in high school; Giovanni’s Room and Another Country last summer) and I really, really love his writing. This book has been on my list for a while, and I’m finally getting around to it.
This isn’t so much “what I’m reading” as “what I’m writing,” but I thought I’d take this opportunity to engage in a little shameless self-promo—a few days after my last installment of The Dispatch, I published this piece in The Drift, about the Koh-i-noor diamond and the reduction of anticolonialism from a radical political ethos to a hollow, defanged aesthetic. Do check it out if you feel so inclined—this is also my first time ever appearing in print (!!!), so if you’d like to read a hard copy of the magazine, you should be able to find one at your local independent bookstore!
I’ll wrap things up here—I’ve got a few essays in the pipeline that I’m really excited about, so keep an eye out for those in the coming month or so!
Until next time,