The Uneasy Question of Why I Write

Salutations once more dear reader.

Upon the return from a little holiday I found that the postman had left some extreme technical black metal in the post box. Not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but a part of me always feels a sense of awe at the effort that lies behind being able to perform such musical gymnastics.

Such an aural assault requires, surprisingly, skill……

Anyhew, as I mentioned I had the good fortune to have a holiday, a feat only made possible via friendships and those small windows of opportunity where busy people can organised a respite. I hoped I would finish the basic draft before hand but with the finale playing hide and seek I couldn’t quite close it. However, the end isn’t far off now and then I can begin one last round of edits and alterations before Christmas. Then into the New Year with the first round of test readings.

Updates aside, I thought I’d write a little something regarding a conversation I had during my sojourn. I became (inadvertently) embroiled in a grilling about my goals and aims as a writer, partly because of my attitude towards JK Rowling and George RR Martin (no, I’m not a big fan of either). What interested me were the notions of fame, envy and pride that came to my mind. I found these worthy of consideration as I wended my way through the wine sodden days.

What it prompted was a question I’ve considered before: why do I write? For fame, for fortune, for recognition or some sense of superiority? Do I care how much money either of these authors made? Maybe I have some romantic notion of “seeing myself in print.”

Let’s start with the money, and the obvious; If I wanted to be rich then writing probably isn’t the best option to making my millions. There are certainly less risky endeavours. But that isn’t to say I don’t believe it unreasonable to consider it as a means to securing some kind of financial harvest at the end of the day. After all, we all have to pay the bills.

Still, I’m certainly under no illusions that I might never be a big earner. Let’s just say that money isn’t the driving motivation, more of a back seat driver. That isn’t to denigrate anyone who writes professionally as a career. We all have our place in the world, but I would suggest that if all of us only created with the aim of profit, then it would certainly stifle creativity to a point where every creative endeavour was completely homogenous. With reference to the above video, there would certainly be very few bands like Inferi. It would no doubt dull the palette and we would never get see such quirky gems for us fantasy/sci-fi readers like: The Iron Dragons Daughter, Little Big, The Anubis Gate, The Year of Our War, Lord Of Light, Rogue Moon, Roadside Picnic, To Stand On Zanzibar, the Blue World etc.

Otherwise every book would be dystopian futures and medieval swords and sorcery…….

(Curious thought here – sci-fi is perhaps far less generic than fantasy in that respect and with regards to the public arena………)

Anyhew, so if I’m not in it for the money, why do I write? One idea that came to me was that, as a fan of the genre, I care about it. I’m in a relationship with it. It is why I feel bad for fans of Game Of Throne who started reading the books  and wondered if they’d ever get a written conclusion. No one likes to be left hanging, suspended, just as in a relationship where you’re waiting for that resolution to the moment, for that message that says,  “I’m safe”, “see you at 8” or “I do.”

And we get passionate about it just like anything that we care about, and yes, maybe there is a sense of egotism, a superiority to me that says I can do better, but moreover I want to bring something to the table that’s worth reading, something that as a fan I would enjoy reading myself, something that would invest me in the characters and their exploits, in their highs and their lows.

So maybe there is a sense of self satisfaction to my creative endeavours. I like to think that my ideas are, if not special, at least good enough to praise – otherwise there’d be no point trying to create something.

Now, I’ve already written about the origins and inspirations of these stories but I’d like to add to it. Bill Fay (a bin man turned musician) once said that good songs aren’t written; they are discovered, that the musician is in themself an ear to the cosmos listening for melodies to write down.

Begging the essential question: “Who is the sender?”

This seems to me to be salient as  to where my ideas come from. When I’m writing I’m in a flow and often it all just seems to pop out of me into existence. In this moment of creation, there is no sense that my objective is fame or money or recognition. Nor is there, initially, a sense of a plan, and so I wonder if I act like a vessel waiting to be filled, an antenna to creativity, a radio operator waiting to hear the crackle of signal over the cosmic airwaves.

Which leads me onwards to the (perhaps overdue) conclusion: the question is itself irrelevant. All attempts to answer it require raking over the muck of vanity and egotism, over notions of accomplishment and respect, over fame and material accumulation. To me the question is moot because writing is something that I have done and continue to do as a process now as natural as breathing. I might be better at breathing of course, but I’m getting better at writing every moment I spend working on it.

So maybe I act as a relay for the stories floating around in the aether, catching them and transform them into words that can be delivered to those that want to read it, hoping that I might get paid and just enjoying the creative act.

After all, it’s all out there, and all I need do is keep listening with the volume dial turned up a notch.

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to hear some thoughts on the subject.

DJC

 

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Kat’s Manuscript Revival and the Denouemont

Greetings Reader,

Last week I mentioned that I was working for the Council as an ‘electoral canvasser’, the goal of which was to visit homes and verify the names of the residents against the electoral roll. According to the handout I received it’s an “interesting and rewarding job”. Mmmm hmmmm…..

It’s also a lot of walking.

Well, chasing up people who haven’t filled in their Council paperwork wasn’t the worse job I’ve ever done – at least I’m not sitting in an office – the last time I did that I got harangued for “making [the job] look too easy”. Surprisingly, menial labour and data input wasn’t exactly a challenge compared to my lunchtime spent creating the original material for my current project.

Back to the canvassing. I’m working a road and I come upon a housewife with her little boy and I introduce myself – she asks to see my I.D. card and I explain that although I sent the Council a current photo they seemed to have given me an I.D. card with my old picture on it (three years younger, no beard, long hair). This conversation drifts into topics like centralised computers and the inefficiency of bureaucracies, how the left hand doesn’t talk to the right hand (Council departments don’t seem to share and correlate data). When I explained that I was a part timer and my real job was writing fantasy it turned out that she too was a fantasy writer. We talked for about an hour (all part of customer service right?) and she explained that her manuscript had been dormant for a two years.

She’d let it rest and then just couldn’t get the impetus to go back to the beginning and start over on it. It can be tough, and I don’t doubt that it’s a common problem for writers the world over, to know that your work isn’t finished after putting all that effort in.

As I near the denouement of the draft, that grande finale! I too can feel that spectre hovering in the shadows. I’m sooooo close, one final chapter to shape out of the wet clay of my imagination etc etc….. But I know it’s not the end because there’s always more work to do despite my confidence in my own writing. It’s going to need to go through some rewrites, to be edited and proof read, to be checked for consistency and tightened up before being re-editted and rechecked. It’s just something that’s got to be accepted.

Of course, there is help at hand in the form of YouTube videos. Take the one I’ve posted below for example. It came up randomly in the side bar and after I’d given it a watch I took a section of my own work for a little test drive. Sure enough, there was tightening up to be done.

The question of whether your work is ever finished might be another matter entirely, but we’ll never arrive at that question unless we go back to the beginning and start over.

And this was what I hoped that Kat did,  that she got that old manuscript out and resume work on it. I’d like to think that our chance meeting was one of those moments where a random event or meeting might turn you around or inspire you. After all, who knows what masterpieces lay in the raw material that’s been stashed under a bed or that are lingering in digital purgatory, just waiting to be rediscovered?

We certainly shared the opinion that there were some real turds out there that had actually made the shelves, so if we believe that we can do better, why not give it a shot. What have we got to lose, right?

DJC

Zero Point and The Self Publishing Dilemma

Salutations Reader,

Way back when in June I explained that I was working on a prequel for the simple reason that it filled in a narrative gap and allowed my work to be split into a much neater trilogy. As the months rolled on I’ve been hard at work getting it drafted before sending it out to the Chosen Few for test reading.

That point, delayed by working once more for the local Council, is getting ever so tantalisingly close now.

For me, this book has become a zero point, a sort of literary fulcrum that turns the corner on the past two decades of material that I’ve accumulated. All the character, plot lines and world building that has taken place in my imagination now lie as sketches along a path that I’m about to return down. There is no need to create anything new, it’s all there just waiting to be worked through.

So, forward and ever forward, returning as it were.

A similar sense came from finishing my work with the Council. I hated doing it, found it stressful but the money was a necessity. However, finishing was itself a similar feeling of something changing, that now this was over it was time to move on with my career. Now, I’ve never really been career minded, and that was perhaps a side effect of never working anywhere I thought was worth my time, but now I find that as I push to define myself as a writer I have come to think of it as a career. Importantly, the dilemma of how I go about bringing my work to the marketplace was spurred on by a video that I watched recently, and which in turn reminded me that one of the reasons I started blogging about what I was doing was to create an online presence.

With all my time spent working on the book, for the Council and other affairs I have only scratched the surface of how to proceed. What panicked me in this video was the idea that it might take four/five years to get published. So the question then became, if I self publish and I’ve got plenty of work then how far can I get on my own in that time. I could probably have published the whole trilogy in that time.

It was worth thinking about even though once I started watching other videos it might only be six months before a book gets published. You can’t tell until you start submitting, and suffice to say there are plenty of videos on Youtube all about it.

For the time being I’ll focus on finished, then we can talk about writing submissions – it’s going to be fun, doing all those things like writing your bio and your pitch.

So I hope you’ll stick with me and I’ll try to be a little more consistent with the blogging.

DJC

 

The Joy of Restraint

Salutations dear readers.

Following my standard pattern of doing some blogging and then just disappearing for months on end it seems that the cycle has come around and here we are in June with an update on what’s been happening.

Well, for a start I stopped going to the cafe to work, and while it is certainly important to find somewhere where one can work, I opted to make a space in a spare room where I set up a desk and my old record player. The upshot of this is no more stress trying to get to the cafe in time to claim my preferred seat before the cycle brigade make their sprawling conquest of the shop. As a result I’ve been listening to plenty of vinyl and am currently in the depths of an afrobeat binge – I don’t remember how I came across Fela Kuti, but his story was fascinating.

Anyhow, more importantly I started to double up on my day to day sessions where I could, writing both in the morning and the evening and sacrificing some of the less virtuous past times. The pressure, you see, is on.

For a start the book was becoming huge. Not necessarily a problem for fantasy, but a potential problem for a first novel. Publishers see BIG and think COST! A good friend of mine asked if I could not break it up, but it didn’t seem likely. Pondering the problem I thought I would remove the first chapter of about 4k words as it was somewhat disconnected (but still vital to the story). Realising that there was a small story between it and the main bulk I decided that I would fill it in. Two months later and I’m in the final arc of what might have been a prequel, but now makes the whole thing easily split into a nice trilogy of moderate sized pieces.

And the title of this post? Well, it wasn’t to do with my accidental clicking on something called Shibari You Can Use. Consider me enlightened, but I now have bondage rope appear in my recommended items thanks to those pesky algorithms.

No, what I refer to here is that working on this previous segment, there was a sense of limitation to the story. There was no chance to go wandering down creative tangents, or to deviate into grandiose plot sequences. It didn’t mean I couldn’t be creative or inventive, but rather there was a simple joy in just filling a gap that already had a size and shape.

The aim now is to have it revised within a month or two and sent out to test readers. Then begins the work of writing the proposal for it – one element of which is the bio for yourself, something that I have played around with. I wrote a new one recently late at night for this blog by way of experimentation.

For now it’s back to the grind as I wait for the postman to bring some more vinyl, this time offerings from Fela’s son Seun.

And as the year swings into summer, I’m certainly feeling a surge of optimism. Until later then, dear readers.

 

The Origin Of An Idea, Part 3: Research and Serendipity

So I got over the hump. Pity I got Noro virus. Just another hurdle that was going to put me out of action for a couple of days. There’s nothing quite so wretched as that span of time when you know you’re going to hurl but you just got to wait it out. It was taunting me, keeping me dangling on the verge, hour after hour…..

Anyhow, it’s thankfully in the past. I’m moving on with a nice solid couple of days aggressively editing part 2. Nearly there. Only five more parts to go!

Meanwhile, whilst reflecting on what I was trying to say last time, I remembered a prime example of something that had slipped into my subconscious and found expression years later. When I was a child I, at some point, saw some episodes of Ulysses 31 (a sci-fi/fantasy retelling of the Odyssey for those that missed it or are too young to remember). I can say with certainty that this took root in my imagination, and unconsciously I would replicate the little floating islands of the cosmic Olympus as a dumping ground for all the spare ideas that I couldn’t work into my main projects.

Thus did the idea itself became a recepticle, the cauldron into which I could throw ingredients. What came out has so far included one Nanowrimo project that’s waiting to be turned into a series, the project I’m working on now and also a little something else that’s waiting in the wings to be fully realised.

So, in this last part lets just talk a little about where else we might come across ideas that we can throw into our cauldron. I’ll present two: one is down to your own volition, the other not so much.

Research: This can be done at any time under your own steam. Even if you’re just looking things up on Wikipedia, it’s never wasted because it will give your voice more authority. Whatever fiction we’re writing, we’re bound to find books that can help, from psychology and cultural thinking to descriptions of equipment and practices. For fantasy I’ve found that there is a wealth of information to be had delving into anthropology. It doesn’t have to be heavy going either. One of the first books I ever read in the field was The Forest People (Colin Turnbull) about the pygmies he lived with, told in a very straight forward, narrative style. Other topics I found useful (and are common to fantasy) were theories about kingship, sorcery and myths, as well as attitudes towards life, destiny, marriage, death and children.

On the other hand you might be writing a Game of Throne’s clone and all you need is a text book about medieval clothes and weapons.

Serendipity: Some of the best ideas can come to you out of nowhere. Perhaps you were chilling with friends, eating cheese and biscuits when you noticed that one of the cheeses was called Brillat Savarin. Commenting on what a great name it would be for a villain you married it up with someone who had a mysterious reputation like Keyser Soze, a great criminal underlord.

Or maybe you were flicking through the channels of someone elses tv and came across a programme about paranormal activity that had a Russian music box in it and married up the cliche with the idea that perhaps the Russian psychic warfare division had manufactured hundreds of them and sent them to the USA as part of a systematic attempt to destablise the country.

Anything might trigger you off, and as always, my advise would to always, always make a note of it, even if you can’t use it straight away. Pop them all in a box and when you’re running dry or you want to start something new you could pull out three, four, maybe five ideas and see how you can connect them up. Do a bit of research off the back of it, see what else might come up. Roll it all together and keep turning that kaleidoscope.

And sometimes you come across little research projects randomly that can do great things for the imagination. The video below was just in the Youtube recommendations and the sheer scale of what it shows made my brain hurt, a little like doing mental weights.

The only limit, after all, is how much we can conceive, and that’s a boundary that we should always be trying to push.

Editing and One Bad Line (Glimpsing Glimpses)

So it’s been a bit of a stalled week in working terms. Not a huge amount of editing done on the book at the moment as I’m trying to crack the the back of this particular hump. They come and go, and I’m thinking that the beginning parts of the story are perhaps a little more underdeveloped because they’re closer to the original draft, whereas the later parts became more developed as the ideas unfolded. Fingers crossed.

Perhaps the most mind numbing element of having to do all this editing and rewriting is that you end up reading your own work repeatedly, to the point that you just feel so tired you shut down and go and do something else. That’s what ousted me from the cafe and I went home where it was hard to get anything more done.

One piece of advice that I heard on editing your own work is to read it to yourself out loud. Apparently (I haven’t tried it just yet) it helps you to discern whether or not the sentence works, especially if you’ve been going over and over it until it feels like your brain is melting. I’ll certainly be giving it a try when I’ve finished the chapter I’ve been working on as its had a lot of edits and needs to be checked for how well it flows.

And as I said, it was a bit of a slack week work wise, but I did catch up some books that I wanted to read. Working my way through some fantasy series I came across an example of editing gone wrong, and this is not meant as disrespect to the author as I enjoyed his work. No, it was just this line jarred me hard:

“He could scarce blink without glimpsing some shredded glimpse of their ordeal.”

Given how huge this guys work was, there’s going to be a bum line somewhere, and as a writer you can’t be too careful about editing. Hell, I’ll probably be reading my own work for the tenth time and still find lines like this that aren’t right. It’s also probably a reflection on the fact that writers are expected to do their own editing more and more as the publishing industry looks to cut costs. It seems that these days, no matter what you do for a living, you have to make more effort than ever. So, edit edit edit.

July 2015 Update

Progress as of June 15th (and my first Youtube vid)

Away With The Fairies as of June 21st

So, yes, the week before the Solstice I had actually finished the first draft of my book – the vid was made just before that to show what can be achieved even by just spending a few hours here and there writing. I was going to write the epilogue parts about how things turned out for everyone after the events in the finale had been done, but I figured that these would be subject to change anyway and it would be better to begin actually typing it up.

Good Intentions

With the limited time that’s been on offer this blog hasn’t really been going anywhere, and so despite best intentions it’s not living up to previous standards. It’s also perhaps a reflection of the mixed advice you get about being an author. On the one hand you get advised to get involved in social media and on the other there’s the limited good it does you if you are unable to provide worthwhile content.

Of course being able to type anything requires a laptop and it was with sadness that I found my old Macbook has decided that it’s 8+ years of service would come to an end. On a tight budget I opted for the smallest, lightest word processor I could and got an HP Stream for £180, and because of the restrictions on Microsoft Office I went for the open source version Open Office. We’ll see how that all pans out.

So that’s all for now. I’ll be working on the new draft for the next month or two and then I’ll be heading for the End Of The Road festival for a break. Stoked that I’ll be able to see Jane Weaver live. This damn song has become a serious earworm.

Anyhew, until later, all the best.