Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Necessity of Greed

No, this isn't a blog about Capitalism in the 21st Century. It's actually about creativity, and about what feeds the creative impulse. KP mentioned in the last thread that he once avoided reading in the fear that he would unintentionally copy the things he read. It's a theory I've heard a lot, and never much liked (so I'm glad KP left it in the dust;)). The most obvious problem, of course, is that it's not good for a writer in a technical sense, as it leads to a lack of exposure toward the basic craft of writing. It's like being asked to build a cabinet out of a hunk of wood, a hammer, and three nails. But, beneath that problem of craft, there is another concern: this avoidance theory fails to grasp the basic dynamics of the creative impulse.

So what is that impulse? Where does that creativity come from?

I'm gonna break the creative theories down into two camps (though this will be an imperfect analogy, as all such generalizations are). The first camp usually believes that creativity is an inward thing. They don't want to read, because then they'll be forced to steal other ideas. Better to stick your head in the sand so that you can sink into yourself. Find your originality deep within and pull it out, some pure and perfect thing.

The other camp believes creativity comes from outside. You have to find it and pull it in. Read those books, and read lots of them. This is the grist for the mill.

There are problems, of course, with both, but I think the greater danger lies within the ideas of that first group, who hold to the belief that creativity is an entirely inward process. Dig deep enough and you will find something unique and true... and yet if you bury your head too deep in the sand, and keep it there too long, all you might find is a void, a wide abyss of nothingness.

Creativity, I think, comes from the mind's interaction with things outside of itself. Creativity arises from the heat of friction, as the mind rubs up against the outside world, against all the stories that are propagated in and of that world. New ideas do not come out of the inward nothingness of isolation, but rather out of the carcasses of old ideas. Creativity, to me, is an organic thing, a growing thing, and the natural world of ideas is not so different from the natural world of our little terrestrial plane. Things die, they decompose, and then they are used to build something new.

Human invention is a tower built endlessly on the backs of old ideas. If some of Einstein's solutions have been proven false or inadequate... well, the better solutions were only possible because of those first attempts by Einstein to understand the physics of the world. And his own ideas came out of his studies, out of the imperfect theories of others. He read and learned the math, worked out ideas and solutions, and in so doing found something new. This is creativity, drawing in the world around and making something new from it. Seeing something new in it.

And so writers have to be greedy. They have to be greedy for personal experience (no, they don't have to sky dive or rob banks or see a war up close and personal... but they should observe the world around them, recording and remembering), and they have to be greedy for other stories. Read those stories, let them decompose into the mental soils... and then grow something unique and different out of that rich loam. And the more a writer has decomposing up there the more elements they have to play with, the more building blocks with which to build. Feed that soil and the garden that grows there will be the richer and stranger for it.

Yes, this outward idea of creativity has its faults and dangers. One of the greatest, and most common, is rooted in that Romantic idea of inspiration as something mysterious and otherworldly, a blessing of metaphysical grace without which a writer cannot work. This, I think, is an illusion, though for some that illusion might be helpful. Too often, though, it seems harmful, ceding control to an outward source. It's an abnegation of responsibility, of the need for effort and work and continual learning.

But, despite the dangers, I think creativity requires us to open ourselves. Let it in, let it all in. Let it churn around inside you. That friction, that heat of contact, is the driving force of the creative impulse. Our brains are like particle acclerators sending molecules winging around, banging into each other, propelling motion. Shy away from this and you'll fall into slow stasis. The void. You'll search, and search, and search...

Don't reach inward, but outward. Be greedy.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Art Imitating Art?

I've been toying with this concept a while and it seems to follow logically from the cliché discussion so I figured I'd give it a spin. I mentioned in an earlier post that I've been in a tribute kind of mood with my writing lately and I'm currently working on a piece that pays homage to a classic sci-fi/horror story. Hopefully some of you will give me some feedback on it when I get it posted. But when Ms. Kitty mentioned ERB's Martian stories, I began thinking more about this whole concept of art imitating art, specifically with reference to a particular story—but I'll get to that in a moment.
I want to put two examples out there of stories 'paying homage' to other stories and get your reactions and opinions. The subject of the discussion is, when does 'paying homage' cross the line from tasteful and fresh to downright copycatting? Orson Scott Card mentioned on his writing website that in his Alvin Maker novel he included a dream sequence that basically was a scene out of LOTR, and he goes on to explain how this should and shouldn't be done. As I've said, I like the concept of bringing a fresh spin to classic stories, but where exactly is that line between the right and wrong way to do that? Here are two examples that are, in my opinion, the opposite extremes of this concept:
I don't know if the similarities were intentional in this case—it's hard to imagine that they weren't but the Wiki article doesn't specifically mention it—but for me Independence Day the film, is a modern retelling of War of the Worlds. Alien invasion with an end-of-the-world scope. Seemingly invincible aliens who are eventually destroyed by a virus, in the modern version's case, a computer virus. Whether the similarities where consciously or subconsciously created, I think it's a cool and fresh take on a classic story.
The other example is a story by Lin Carter. Now, this isn't a Lin Carter bash—I wouldn't want to offend any Lin Cater fans, but my limited experience with his work is his (mis?)treatment of Conan after Robert E. Howard's death and this one other story, Lankar of Callisto. Lankar of Callisto is a shameless derivation on ERB's Princess of Mars that simultaneously fascinated and appalled me when I read it years ago. Not only is it blatant in its annexation of ERB's concepts but he makes himself, Lankar=Lin Carter, the main character. Evidently this was common for Carter and he didn't shy away from this particular philosophy in his writing.
So, what are your thoughts on this? Do you believe that all writing should be completely original? Difficult, in my opinion—see previous post on clichés. Or, is it OK to 'pay homage' to past classics? And if so, when does writing cross the line between cool and fresh to fanfic?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Comfort of Cliche

Cliche is the enemy... right?

We're taught this: be original. Kill those cliches. Find a new way to do it, a new way to say it. Do something different and unique and you'll break into the market, or so we're told.

Except what if the market ain't quite what we're told it is? Because I look around and, well, cliche sells. There's that old saying "we want the same, but different." And yet, looking around, there's a lot of stories that seem to be much more "the same" than they are "different".

People lined up to buy Christopher Paolini's books. How might we explain this? Yes, much of his readership is quite young, and so these readers simply might not have been exposed to the preceding stories yet, and thus remain unaware of the fact that the stories are highly derivative. But many experienced readers snap up his books, too. Are they unaware? A few, perhaps, but on a mass scale? It seems unlikely.

The conclusion I come to is that a portion (a surprisingly large portion) of the market wants it. They want the cliche. Cliches are familiar and comfortable. You know what you're gonna get. A boy, a dragon, a quest, a battle of good against evil (and maybe a pretty girl thrown in for good measure). Great literature? No. But people seem to want it.

I think a lot of readers want a certain experience. They've had it before, and now they want it back. Simply rereading the old story won't quite do it... so they want something mostly the same, but slightly different. Just different enough so that it's not identical... but same enough that they know what they're gonna get. A situation: a documentary that looks really interesting is on at 8 o'clock... at the same time as your favourite sitcom, the one you watch every week. How many people, do you think, will choose the sitcom? It probably won't offer anything new, anything challenging or life changing. But you know what you're gonna get. A couple chuckles, some familiar faces. You know, what if the documentary is boring? Am I going to miss Favourite Sitcom just for that?

This is the triumph of the common and familiar. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush...

There's a lot of cheesy romantic comedies out there (I watched one last night). Why are they continually in demand? I think they evoke a particular feeling, a particular experience, and so people will watch irregardless of stock characters and obvious plot devices.

An original story, a unique story, is challenging. It demands something of the reader. You have to experience something new and come to grips with it, interpret it and then assimilate it into your own understanding. It takes work, and though this is, I think, the work of art, it isn't always what people want.

Perhaps there's a nostalgic element to cliche. This use of cliche is connected to this other use of cliche, which is connected to this earlier one... and so and so on. It's a way to tie personal experiences together into an inter-connected history. Perhaps these cliches are appreciated not simply for what they are, but rather as symbols for a summation of similar experiences. They are mental triggers waiting to be pulled.

Now, maybe it's not just any old cliche that works... or maybe it's simply that cliche can be handled well or poorly, much like any other writing technique. Do it shabbily and people will drop the story in a heartbeat (oh yes, those cliches...). Do it well and the cliches offer comfort, a pleasing frame of reference. Do it the same, but different. Maybe that's wrong, though. Maybe for many writers it's Do it the same... but do it well.

I can't say it's for me. I think I need newness. If it's not new, what is there to explore? To find and discover? Without that, for me, I think the stories would come out stillborn. But I do think it might be interesting to look a little closer at the market, and to really see what it is many readers want. We might be surprised...

So what about you? What's your relationship with cliche?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Writing Gimmicks?

Hey, I didn't mean to clog up the blogalanche by starting my little writing game. Ideally, we can continue the game whilst blogging, so I'm gonna keep things rolling.

This would probably fit in with several other posts--writing quirks, distractions or spaces--but I thought I'd just start fresh.

I've been having a lot of trouble getting keyboard time in lately, probably due to the holidays and general business of the time of year. Regardless of the reasons, my writing's been suffering. I realized after reading the distraction post that the internet is a big problem for me. So after lots of internet research (chuckles) I bought myself an Alphasmart Dana. Basically, it's a small, highly portable word processor that is PC compatible. It runs for a week or more off of three batteries and seems fairly durable. When you're done writing you just hit the on/off button and it automatically saves your work. Then, when you hit the on/off button again--an hour, a day or a week later--it resumes right where you left off. internet.

I've found so far that it allows me to focus on the story by taking the temptation of the internet away and also giving me almost instant access to my work. Maybe I'm just lazy but it's working well so far.

Someone wrote something about writing in different spots around the house, and so I thought I'd try that out. I like it. Now I can move around the house and even sit outside while the Jack Russell does her thang, and get some words in.

But that's just me. I know many of you guys like the comfort of a home writing base. I do too but I guess I'm expanding my horizons and in the process I'm getting more writing done.

Technically this post isn't about writing places, though. What I'm interested in is writing gimmicks. Is there anything that you do--mystical rituals or imagination-stimulating excercises--or even real exercise, that helps you to get more writing done? I'd like to know cause if it doesn't sound too crazy, I just might try it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Let's Write!

This blog's about writing, right?

OK, three easy rules:

1. Five sentences at a time, no more--no less.

2. No back-to-back posts--wait for someone to post a paragraph before you go again.

3. As much as it's possible, build upon what's been written. In other words, make this a coherent story--but one that takes unexpected twists and turns.

Anyone can participate. Here we go:

It was a dark and stormy night (ha!) that greeted Jane as she stepped off the intergalactic transport onto an empty landing platform. Turbid clouds of black and grey stalked across an emerald sky, obscuring the abandoned structures of Cirellus Iv's largest city.

What killed these people?

She grabbed her bag and took a step foreward, but her foot struck something. A black chest sat in the middle of the platform, a note pinned to its lid.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

I Stole Your Life (And I Ain't Giving It Back)

I steal people. I watch them and I take their lives, half-real and half-imagined, and make them my own. I co-opt. I borrow them for awhile, take 'em out for a little joyride. Who knows where?
I don't. But I'm going anyway. I'll bring 'em back, you have my word...

You ever sit on a bus (or a train, or maybe waitinig in line, or sitting in a cafe) and hear a bit of conversation between two people... and suddenly find yourself writing a script in your head? Extrapolating a story out of that bit of dialogue, out of happenstance, out of the random observation of people met only by chance? I do. I stumble on these little fragments of life involving unknown people and I find myself following them home (in my head. Really, I swear...), hypothesizing events and relationships, navigating trials and conflicts. An affair, a fight, a murder, a sad little suicide...

Is it a writerly thing? I have a feeling it might be. I have a feeling writers see the world in stories, and they see these stories much more clearly and often than most folk. I could be wrong, but I don't think I am. I think writers often have a natural drive to organize things into narratives. Maybe to better understand these things... or maybe just because that's the way our brains are wired.

I steal my own life, too. I'm always rewriting the past, fictionalizing it in ways that might be more interesting, more dramatic, more filled with the conflict and tension that any good story should have. Simple curiosity, perhaps... What if I'd gone with that girl to that place...? What if I hadn't left that building just in time...? And if the past is open for reconstruction, the future must be open, too. A little pre-writing, anyone? It's like overly imaginative life planning. I always wanted to be a secret agent...

So, am I right? You a thief? Stole some lives, did you... so how was the joy ride? You take 'em anywhere shiny and new?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Propulsion Systems

This post is about engine systems that manipulate solar winds for FTL drives in sci-fi stori...

Ah, who am I kidding? I'm not writing about that. What I've actually been thinking about is something Book said the other day, about how writing serves as a sort of cathartic process for him. This meshed with a conversation I had with my wife about poetry and got me thinking about art as exorcism... and how this isn't me.

So, propulsion systems... what drives the words onto the page for you? We've touched on the reasons we write, yet how do we go from a want or need to actually writing?

I'm gonna jump back to that poetry conversation for a moment... We were talking about how writing poetry is often cathartic (at least from our subjective observations). My wife often writes her poetry out of emotion, out of feeling something, out of an experience that brims up and overflows, and so to keep yourself from drowning you scoop up some of that excess, some of that overflow, and plant it on the page. The poem, if you will, is a translation of emotion into language. I've found this sort of process, this propulsive drive, is really very common among poets. Confessional poets, of course, but many others too. It seems natural... a feeling, a release of that emotion onto the page... a cathartic moment. Poetry is language at its most expressive, a short form that can be completed quickly while the emotion (whether recent or remembered) is still closely felt... and poetry thus seems perfect for this sort of cathartic experience. The few poems of my own that were ever any good (the very few...) were the ones that enacted this translation process in some way, growing themselves out of a sharply felt emotion or emotional experience.

And people write fiction with this sort of drive at its heart (as Book suggested of himself). This realization, though, was shadowed by the realization that this process was not my own, that this is not what drives me to get those words on the page. So what was my process? What propelled me to turn an idea into a story, into this odd thing woven out of words and sentences? What I realized was that, in many ways, my drive is the opposite of my wife's poetic process, sort of an invert of this need for exorcism or release. My propulsion system is, I think, explorative.

It's less about having something, and needing to get it out, as it is about wanting something, and needing to get it in. Ideas, characters, stories... they float about and intrigue me, draw me toward them, compel and fascinate me... and so I ask, What is this? What's the true nature of this idea, its beating heart? My need is less to share something than to try and inhabit something, a need to explore and understand, to feel and experience... Something grabs me, and I see its surface... but to really understand it (or at least attempt such an understanding) I need to write, I need to delve in and find the depths.

My newest novel manuscript, The Terrible Weight of Gravity, is the story of a woman who is kidnapped and held for ransom in a cell. I knew nothing, really, about this sort of thing, nor was I trying to represent some other aspect of my life or experience, some other aspect of my emotional terrain, by portraying this story. When I started writing I didn't know anything about the subject that I had to share, I had no experiences that gave me any knowledge or understanding worth repeating... but I wanted to know. I was drawn to it, I think, precisely because it was alien, precisely because it was so far from anything I had experienced. What is it like to be trapped in a cell? Aside from actually trapping myself in a cell (no thank you), the only way for me to come to some sort of understanding was to 1) read about it, and 2) write about it.

It's a bit like acting, maybe, a need to put on a new face, to feel a new experience. Maybe writing stories, for me, is sort of like an Acting Method for Introverts. I can't climb on stage (or into a film) and transform myself into a woman trapped in a cell (I don't have that gift), but maybe I can do it inside my own head. And maybe my fingers can translate that slow exploration of character and scene onto the page, finding a form that might allow me to share this interior experience with others... just as my favourite books have shared experiences with me.

Pay it forward. I've been given many beautiful and important stories over the years, stories that have shaped who and what I am, and so perhaps it is only natural that I want to return the favour, to offer my own stories as payment for the gifts I've received. Hey, it's Christmas, right? What better time for giving?

So, anyone listening in, what drives you? You an exorcist or an explorer? Or something else entirely?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sniffing the Giant Glue-Stick of the Brain

How do stories form?

I've been thinking about this since the inspiration post yesterday, wondering at the alchemical processes that go on in my head while a story is forming. For me, I think, it's a sort of agglomeration process. I have lots of individual little ideas floating around my head, and they come from almost anywhere: films, books, technical ideas, memory, photographs, pictures, events, news, dialogue, music… almost anywhere. They're not stories, not yet, just little sparks. Ideas… little somethings trailing a few "what ifs?"

And so they float. I don't usually try to force anything. I twiddle around, sometimes, but mostly I just let things simmer, let my subconscious play with these sparky little floaters. Except they're not really sparks, as I tend to see them as something sticky… like sticky bits of pollen floating around, looking to germinate and seed themselves. I let them float… and inevitable they bump into each other, ricocheting about… and sometimes these collisions lead to ideas sticking together. And still they float, but now they have a greater mass, they bump into more ideas, picking them up one by one. So that stickiness is the giant glue-stick of the brain, the sudden agglomeration of ideas.

It's then my job to go sniffing about and see what I have (are stories so different from a chemically induced delusion?). Usually I know what I have right away: when a bunch of separate ideas hook up together I usually experience one of those little "eureka" moments. With sudden clarity I see how the ideas fit together, a new cohesion (a story) forming out of what seemed random chaos.

And then comes the conscious part, or half-conscious part: first I dream, trying to see and feel the story, letting characters and events have a little free rein to play themselves out. Where does that take me? Do I have the heart of a real story? If there's something there, then I set my rational brain to work a little, trying to solidify a few things: conflict, story arc, plot. If I can get a rough shape that's to my liking I can then start writing. Things are still pretty open, pretty fluid, because the writing, for me, is as much about exploration as revelation.

So I write until the story is done, and then I can revise… but that's another post entirely.

That's me. What about you? How do stories form and ferment inside your head?

Monday, December 15, 2008

What inspires you?

What kinds of things inspire your stories? Movies? Books? Real Life? All of the above? Other? I'm going through what I call a tribute stage. I've got a sci-fi'd testament to 'Night of the Living Dead' half written, waiting for the zombie-muse to show back up and my current WIP is a twist on what some have called the first fully realized science fiction story ever. Care to take a guess? Ah, well, soon to appear at a writing crit site near you. My point is, I'm inspired by other works. Movies and books, mostly, although the occasional newspaper headline will send plot bunnies hopping through my brain. How about you?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Which Would You Rather Have?

Hypothetically speaking...

Would you rather sell a short story for professional rates, to appear in a small circulation ezine, or virtually give it away, but to appear in a print anthology?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Writing Quirks #1

We all have quirks, and I'm guessing most writers have writing quirks. I'm no exception. The one I've been thinking about lately is my need for story privacy until a first draft is done. I like to think of it as the Drawbridge Policy. And my drawbridge is up until that story is on the page.

Do you like talking about a work in progress? I don't. I don't want to share until the story is ready to be shared, and that means, at the least, that it's complete. So, no one reads until the draft is done. In grad school I didn't always hold to this, out of necessity, but it's what I prefer. No one reads it, except me. I don't even like talking about it. If I have to talk, it's the barest minimun. Oh, it's this, about x + y = w. My wife might get a few more words, if I want some reaction or confirmation concerning the validity of the idea. Otherwise, it's basically staying in my head until the full story is available to read. And then, of course, I'm a glutton for an audience. I have to keep myself back from peddling it on the streets. "Hey, man, you lookin' for some fiction? Free, man, I got me lots. You need a hook-up in the future you come by, right? Just a taste, you'll see, it's some good shit. You be back, I'm telling you. Heard it here first, man. I got the goods."

But before... Nope. It's in the vault. Or maybe it's a pressure cooker, boiling away all the fat, all the excess, and slowly blending all the flavours together. Part of this need for secrecty, perhaps, is simply not wanting to try and summarize the story, an always deplorable task... but more of it, I think, has to do with keeping the idea fresh, keeping it clearn and uncorrupted in my head. I don't want to waste creative energy explaining it to people, especially if it's not fully ready. And I don't want outside influences in that initial creative phase, where the story is a dream inside my head. It's my vision, and I want it to remain my own. I don't want people saying, "Oh, that's weird, you should do this instead..." I don't want to be shaped by the doubts or affirmations of others. I just want a chance to make my dream real. Once it's real, well, it has its own sort of weight and gravity, and can stand up to the thoughts and words of others all on its own.

But I gotta protect that baby until it's ready to face the world. Whether you're a lamb or a wolf, you ain't seeing that story in progress...

So, what's your policy on showing your writing? You have any weird writing quirks you're looking to drag out of the closet?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Writing Spaces

The "Distractions" post made me look around at my little writing space, the odd little corner of the world that's become my writing home. It's a physical place, but it's oddly connected to a bodiless interior space as well, the world I enter when writing.

What's your writing space? What's good and bad about it? How does it affect that interior space, if at all? And what would be your ideal writing space (if anything were possible)?

I'm in the back of my shop, sort of cut off from the world. My sales counter (dark wood) is on my right. My desk is an old one, something I've stripped, stained and refinished myself (dark wood - note the emerging theme). It varies between cluttered and clean, somewhat randomly based on my mood. My laptop sits on the desk, though the keyboard is broken and so I have to use a plug-in keyboard. A little laser printer, a phone (and my cashbox - shhhh!). Above the laptop are a couple shelves (yes, dark wood...), mostly filled with books. Reference books for a writer (a Word Menu, a Synonym Finder, my lovely and huge Penguin Dictionary, and two Slang Dictionaries), as well as a number of others: Snoopy's Guide to the Writing Life, The Withdrawal Method (a book of short stories written by a gradeschool friend - motivation?), a few books on writing and editing, and a bunch of books on my To Be Read list (History, Memoirs and Fiction, both Literary and Fantasy). A couple shelves (of, you guessed it, dark wood) on my left for filing, and for my ipod and speaker. And, of course, I have the bookshop spreading out beyond my sales counter, bookcases (made of... need I say it?) stuffed with books. Mostly fiction in the main room (Literary, Classics, Mysteries and Popular Fiction, with a bit of True Crime thrown in). Above the bookcases are framed pictures, all of them photographs I've taken myself on various travels.

So this is my space, this is where I write. Customers interrupt me. I can't really see outside, except through a fragment of window far to the front that shows three metal poles and a small panel of the grey building across the street. Yet I've become used to writing here. It feels somewhat enclosed, a little more private than a place in a shop might be, and that's good. I like the illusion of seclusion if I can't have the actual thing. And I have books. Books are good, as books are what I'm trying to do. It's a nice frame for writing. I can usually focus here, though I dream, sometimes, of a place solely for writing. A place that has no other purpose in the world than to exist for me to write in.

I think that ideal place would be at home, or an offshoot of home. Home, but not too caught up in the web of the family's activity. Just enough separation so that I can think. It would be quiet, unless I occasionally wanted to play music. It would have a view of the fields and trees. Nature, something still. Something without people and cars. My eyes would be able to focus in the distance as I dreamed of things to write, and dreamed of things for nonexistent people to say. A pool table would be nice... something I could get up and play by myself when I wanted a moment to think. The geometrical movement of the cue ball reflecting the angles of my thoughts, the slanting roll of the words in my head.

Though a view overlooking a Norwegian fjord or the mountainous coast of Ireland wouldn't be too bad either...

So what's your space, or would-be space, and what does it mean to you?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Still Not Happy With This!" - The Editing Process

Close to Ink's heart with this one ;)

When it comes to editing, one of my biggest committments is in the area of doing nothing. I'm not just being fatuous: one of the most useful techniques I find for editing is to leave a story aside for a while. Maybe a few days for a short, maybe a few months for a novel. 

Some phrases, or paragraphs, some little elements of prose bug me, and I 'fix' them, and then come back and go 'that still isn't smooth enough'. I can get quite caught up in tickling and adjusting the flow of just one sentence, and a bit of obsession can creep in. Then my 'leave it aside' thing gets thrown out of the window and I go hacking away. Other times, I look, think I see what it needs, make the adjustment, and move on. This often leads to a recurrence some time later when I trip over that same part. 

Partly, I think, this is because sometimes we can edit a thing to be smooth with the juxtaposed sentences, but yet it can still sit awkwardly in the whole paragraph. 

I love the idea of 'swooping' for editing. I like to think that a novel can be written, then have an editing swoop, catch up all the little hiccups in one thorough pass. Obviously, this does not sit well with my experiences of short term obsessions and coming back to find that something didn't really work, even after I edited it. 

My committment to 'swooping' is almost paramount, and paradoxically enough, that same committment sees me 'tinker and move on', leaving behind a number of problems and necessating another 'swoop' to catch them. 

It could go on indefinitely, but there must come a time when you say 'enough! I'm finished here.' Obviously, the more accomplished a writer you are, the easier this will be, but when it comes to editing I guess everyone has a different system. Mine is basically: write; swoop to straighten/order more effectively; swoop to neaten the prose. That's the ideal, anyway. In reality, I often make multiple passes and a short story can bug the hell out of me on a short term basis and I'll go hammer and tongues at it until I can't see the wood for the trees. 

Well I'm sure that contained a lot of useful advice. Who's next?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

More 'What' - What Distracts You and What Helps?

My turn! I don't know what I was thinking when I posted this latest question elsewhere. For shame! And just after the start of our lovely new blog. 

Anyway, here's my question and answer:

Sometimes, I get distracted from writing by my favourite crit site. Or, rather, I'm not sure what to write and that site magically opens in my browser and I begin posting things all over the place. 

But, on the other side of this coin, I often have Forward Motion for Writers website up when I'm writing. This might sound a bit weird, but I like to have it 'background' while I write. It's kinda like drawing support, like a comfort blanket, or holding someone's hand. Just having that little connection with a writing community somehow makes me feel more 'in the zone' for writing. Well, not always, but when FM is really, really, distracting me rather than helping I still keep it open, and that's kinda like when someone quits smoking, but keeps one packet as a trophy or will-test thing. 

The trouble with writing, I find, is that I do it at my PC and the internet, generally, is a huge distraction. Great for doing research, but YouTube also distracts me. Mind you, again, there's a positive, because I like to make little music vids and post them on YouTube, and that's my alternative creative thing for when writing gets a bit too much. Making the vids is pure fun, I don't feel I have to make them good, there's no pressure from myself to raise the bar, so that's a healthy distraction if I'm not going to write anyway. 

And then there's Kongregate - a gamers website where people develop and showcase free flash games. When I'm really in a funk with writing, that's the site that saps away frivolous hours. Very naughty, but I've been a bit of a gamer since the old Commodore 64 days and it's a nice way to either relax, wind down, or test the mental faculties. 

The cat distracts me, too. Little blighter jumps onto the keyboard table and throws itself onto its back when it wants some fussing. I kinda like the cat, it's a cool little beastie, but the whole 'writhing around near/on the keyboard' thing gives me palpitations. Sometimes, I stop to fuss the cat, other times I shut it out of my office. At least you know with cats that you can behave as selfish as you like, because they'd do the same for you!

I have a friend who hates cats on the grounds that 'if you were suddenly six inches tall, your cat would eat you. You dog wouldn't, he'd still be loyal.' Heh, true. Probably why I prefer the cat. 

I like to have music on, too. Either faves from my i-Tunes library, or the radio, just something to burble away while I'm typing, that helps, I think. Just animates the air a little, swings between moods which is amazingly non distractive. I've never found myself writing down a song lyric, or diverting a scene to reflect the mood of what I'm listening to. I don't usually hear the music at all, to be honest, but I like having it on so that when I come up for air there's something to bop to. 

Food is distracting, too. This is a plus/minus thing as well. I'm a sukker for chocolate and goodies and an impromptu trip to the local post office often happens when I'm supposed to be writing. And then, again, if I get carried away it's not unusual for me to forsake food entirely and wind up snacking on toast just before I go to bed. 

Sleep itself! Now that's distracting. I used to be one of these people who needed eight or nine solid hours per night. That seems to be dropping back and is more like six now, but I often forsake sleep to continue with a writing activity, especially if I'm reading back a whole novel after finishing or editing it. I can go right down to one hour of sleep, or none, sometimes. 

Talking of which, the blummin' cat woke me up this morning: decided to batter the side of my bed at some ungodly hour. Ungodly, because I'm working this evening, won't get back until around midnight, so the cat's six am exuberance wasn't entirely welcome. I have a glut of time on my hands now which I hadn't anticipated! So, lots of writing time then... or maybe I'll just check to see how my YouTube vids are doing...

Monday, December 8, 2008

after Why comes What

After thinking about why I write stories, thanks to Book's post, I started thinking about what I want from them. What are my goals or ambitions? I want success, of course. I want a career. What could be better than gaining financial security from doing the one thing you most love to do? And thus be able to devote your full time and devotion to it? And as part of that I want an audience, and I would like to hope the audience would appreciate me. If you spend that much time doing something I think it's only human nature to want a little acclaim for it, a little recognition of what you've done. An element of me wants respect. I admit it. Part of me would be tickled if I received widespread admiration for my abilities. It's the vanity within all of us (or most of us), and Ego is a tricky bugger.

But these are all secondary ambitions, and they are pale shadows next to my true ambition: to write something great. Not to write something good, or very good, or even really really good... but something great. I'm a perfectionist, and I dream of making something as perfect as my talents allow. I want to write something worthwhile. I want to write something that resonates long after it has left me to venture alone into the world. I want something that can stand by itself and exist. I want something great.

And what is "great"? I suppose you could measure it in awards, in money and books sold, but these are always going to be somewhat subjective and artificial. They provide a sort of validation, but it's a validation that might be meaningless without that inner sense of having accomplished something. It's a feeling I'm looking for. A feeling I get when I know I've done something just right. I think I'm always looking for it, pushing myself, my writing, towards this. I want to do something as perfectly as I humanly can. I want to be able to read it and know. It may not sell, it may not be a success by any common standard, but if I can hit that mark and feel that story resonate in some way that's bigger than me, with a reach greater than my own... I'll know I've done something worthwhile.

I may not reach that point. But part of why I love writing is because it's not easy. I think I love the challenge of it, the struggle, the way a story shifts and turns beneath the words you choose. There is no right answer in writing a story, only, perhaps, an answer that is more right or less right.

When I was young I was a jaunty little math wizard. It came very easy to me, and I liked finding a solution, learning how to solve a problem. And after that it bored me. Math was about repetition, full of rote memory work to absorb formulas and theories. The joy of discovery faded quickly beyond a vast wall of repetitive questions, the same thing written over and over with only the numbers different, a simple game of substitution. It didn't fool me. It was the same question, and answering it once was enough.

I discovered that writing a story, though, was a constant act of discovery. Each one was new and different, and all but the most basic formulas shifted and changed constantly beneath my fingertips as I typed. There were no solutions, only journeys, only a long process where each step was as important as the final destination.

That's what I want most of all: a story that takes me one step further on the journey.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Why not? Why not cut to the chase and address the most fundamental of all questions?

Why? Why do we do it?

Let's face it. It isn't exactly normal for a full grown man with a wonderful family and all of the great outdoors calling to hide away in a dark room, plotting and dreaming and creating worlds and hoping some of what's in his head--the passion and emotion--somehow gets onto paper. Is it?

So why go through all that?

Financial success? Gimme a break. Most artists put far more financial resources into their work than they ever get back out of it. Writers are no exception. I grew up in a family of musicians who didn't quite make it. My uncles spent most of their lives chasing a dream that never fully materialized. As a result, I was, ahem, encouraged, to go to college and get a real job. So I did. I was thirtysomething before I picked up the guitar and shortly thereafter, the pen. (OK, the laptop, but 'pen' sounds cooler) In a way I'm glad I waited to chase the dream of writing because now I have financial freedom and monetary success isn't an issue. Of course, who wouldn't want Stephen King's bank account. But that would be icing on the cake.

So then why do I write?

I've heard some people say that your writing has to change the reader somehow for it to be worthwhile, that it has to be educational or maybe uncover some universal truth. I dunno. At this point in my 'career' that isn't a priority for me. If it happens, it's unintentional.

My greatest desire for my writing is to create interesting worlds that readers can enjoy getting lost in. I write to a large degree because I ran out of reading material that truly engaged me as a reader and now I seek to build my own. I've heard the term 'brain candy' used negatively to describe writing or movies that has no value other than that of entertainment.

Is that such a bad thing? I mean, doesn't everyone like candy?

I know you guys aspire to a higher calling when it comes to your writing. So tell me what you think Wanu. Ink. Anyone? Am I missing something? Why do you write?

In the Beginning...

...there was Book and Wanu and Ink. They wanted to be writers, and so wrote stories. And they wanted to write better stories, so they talked about writing and kicked each other in the ass. And, somehow, they enjoyed the experience, and thought maybe a blog was in order. Unless a hot dog was suggested, and everyone simply misheard.

So, this will be a place to talk about writing, a place to share opinions and fears, ambitions and beliefs, and a place to share that neverending faith in words that lies at the root of all stories. Talking about writing is important to us, and we hope it's important, and valuable, to you as well. If so, join in. We'll start talking any time now... unless Wanu and Book don't show up. In that case Ink will be sitting in a very lonely blog.

But I have faith. The words will come.