Behind the Wall – Colin Thubron

It’s been awhile. Between all the traveling, the accompanying jetlag, the holidays, and getting sick twice in December, life has not been all too productive. And now I’m up late, unable to sleep, as I just found out a friend of mine died today. So we have that going for this blog.

Also, please understand that this was an awfully boring picture, so I have “enhanced” it in order to make this blog post super dramatic and exciting.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about Mr. Thubron’s Behind the Wall, partially because I read it almost a month ago, but I’m going to see what I can do.

Thubron suffers (well, what I would call suffering) from an excess of scenery. My writing suffers from a lack of it, so it was interesting to see what a surfeit looked like.

If one was to highlight all the scenic descriptions within Behind the Wall, most of the book would be bright yellow. But what is interesting from all of that is, no matter how much he told me how places looked, I never felt as though I was there, experiencing things with him. It was all quite detached, almost as if he was describing a picture, rather than a space he occupied.

This was not, fortunately, true all the time. Sometimes he would go into physical sensations, smells, or the emotion of a place. Those passages stood out for me, an oasis of experience anchored in a photo-spread in a travel magazine.

Another thing I noticed was that I often felt adrift in time. Thubron traveled throughout China and, even though he would name the city or area he was in, and often how he arrived there, I never quite knew how long he had been there or how long the journey had taken. Even at the end of the book, I was unsure if he had been in China for weeks, months, or years. It was surprisingly disconcerting. I do not know if I hadn’t noticed a lack of time stamping in other travelogues before, or if it stood out to me in this book alone.

What I did enjoy was Thubron’s companionship. Not during the scenery, but during his interactions with locals, with his stories and experiences. He was a little goofy, but charming enough and self-aware. Unlike Theroux, Thubron was open to being… wrong. Wrong about values, wrong about ways of doing things.

Perhaps “wrong” isn’t the right word.

He was open to things being different. He could observe–usually–without judgement. He could experience something unpleasantly different and still understand that just because he found it unpleasant or uncivilized, didn’t mean that it actually was.

One has to appreciate that. Immensely. Enough that I would read more of his work.

But that’s all I’m going to say on this book. Other things are afoot.

What’s afoot? An appendage attached to a leg, of course!

Sorry, sorry. Still here? Man, that was awful. Blame it on it currently being 1AM and my headcold.

With much encouragement (nagging?) by my partner, I created a… SYLLABUS.

No, I don’t teach. I wouldn’t turn down a teaching job, but no.

I created a syllabus for myself. See, last year I tried making a sort of project management sheet/business plan in order to get through editing my book, but it just didn’t take. I was overwhelmed and uninspired and I really, really didn’t know how to motivate myself to execute the onerous task of editing my first book.

Then I had an Intelligent Moment.

In this Intelligent Moment, I realized that one of the things I’m best at is school. Weird to say, I know. But I’m really, really good at school (side note: the humanities side of school, not so much the science or math side). And writing/editing a book can be approached a lot like school. You have to do a bunch of research and homework assignments, write a bunch of essays, then edit said essays, and so on.

So I sat down and made a syllabus for 2018. One that combines an editing method I learned at a Writer’s Digest Conference, reading my comp titles, reading appropriate research and/or reference books that go along with where I am in the editing process, the editing process itself, and all the little tasks one must do in order to prepare for the agent hunt, querying, and all that other good stuff I spent last year learning about.

I’m feeling really good about it. I’m pretty confident that I can get the editing finished this year, be familiar with the bulk of my comp titles and the travel writing industry, and be ready to query before the end of the year.

Which means you should be seeing more of me at this blagh as I progress. Hurrah!