No matter how readers feel about erotica, scifi, or fanfic, they cannot deny the passion behind each sentence that Tan has written nor can they deny the strength of her voice. And when she says hello, it is not as a stranger, but as a friend, and her demeanor is genuine, without hint of judgement or fear. Her confidence is contagious. We are at the 2016 Arisia Convention in Boston, and it is past midnight, and these stories are worth staying up late for. Tan is a writer and the founder of Circlet Press and she is driven.
I interned in the Circlet office five years ago, and that was when I met Tan. In her natural habitat (ie: home and work) she is a mostly quiet tea-drinker and the mother of more than one cat. She lives in a many-floored house in Cambridge with her husband. She teaches her interns and friends many things, but the most powerful advice she ever gave me was this:
Write what you are on fire to write.
As writers, we can learn anything that we put our minds to--through Google searches or interviews, taking classes or even doing a job that will teach us what we need to know for a story we're dying to write. Writing isn't about what you know, it's about learning what you need to know.
For instance, I told myself that I began waitressing because I wanted to write about it, when what I really wanted was to get away from everything I'd ever known. I planned to go out and live these wild adventures, and I would put them down in articles, and sell these to big-name magazines and make a fortune as a travel writer. But waitressing turned into a good way to make money and I learned about frustrations and injustices that made me want to write about my experiences even more.
There was a man at Cracker Barrel, who asked for unsweetened tea. When I brought it to him, he said, "Now stick your finger in it and sweeten it up for me." I smiled at him, thinking fast about how to break his irritating flirtatiousness without destroying my tip.
"I'm sorry, Sir." I said. "But I've been working so hard, that I'd probably just make it salty." And with that, I opened my notebook and said, "Can I take your order?"
Or while I was working at a bar, and this man asked me to take my glasses off. "What?"
"Just take them off."
"Just for a second. I just want to see your eyes."
And a $60 bill later, he left me a $30 cash tip. I was beside myself with confusion. Had I just sold my eyes, like some women sell other parts of their bodies?
Or when I'd been working at this new, huge restaurant/entertainment center, and one of the teenagers who had been hired at the same time as me, asked if I'd received my first paycheck yet. It'd been about month, and I realized that I hadn't. Upon confronting the managers and the accounting department face-to-face and receiving no results, I finally sent a message to everyone on HotSchedules, where the boss replied to everyone and called me a liar. I got my check the following week. These stories infuriated me, and I wasn't sure what to do. I felt the fury of someone who feels completely incapable at helping new workers, and even myself.
I was so focused on the workplace that I had no thoughts of fiction. Like love, passion can make you lose your appetite and any thoughts about sleep. It can keep you going for months without any other friends or activities to keep you satiated. If you let it go for too long, you'll start to feel a longing deep in your soul.
What are your passions? If you are someone who struggles with coming up with ideas, think about all the things that you love to do, discuss, or dream. Make a list of all these joys (and perhaps miseries) and choose just one. Set an alarm and write about that subject for a full ten minutes without stopping to think; writing is your thinking. If you get bored of your interests, then pick up the newspaper or ask a friend what they do for fun. Research. Read.
Whatever you do, remember to write what you are on fire to write.