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.

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Rebooted?

Restarting something doesn’t make it easier; once the habit is broken it can be a chore to get it back. Getting it back makes it feel like the first time all over again and starting is most times awkward, done with reluctance and often lacking in style. Yet in his time of seemingly perpetual reboots it’s  time to jump on the band wagon and reload back into the game.

So first you might want to know: Where the hell have you been?

Everything went on hiatus due to first moving out of our flat and into a bell tent, then out of a bell tent and into a yurt. With the break in my work pattern everything all became too disjointed to do any concentrated writing and there was a series of little issues, such as learning about what kind of woods you can burn in a stove. Turns out that the pile of readily available fir tree was a huge mistake as it left thick, resinous deposits in the flue which caused the smoke to start blowing back inside. Cue the chimney sweeps and a bill we could barely afford…..

Compounding this were a raft of other family problems, Christmas and general stresses. So, there you have it.

The other thing you probably want to know is: What happened to the mythic content?

This is still something that occupies the corners of my mind. Initially it seemed like a good idea but it all became too convoluted and burdensome so I ave removed it for now. At its core the concept of myth as a ‘narrative with authority’ holds true – everything is a story, from science to religion to history etc, it’s just that some story tellers are more important than others and it is their vision of reality that informs us of the de facto natural order of our world.

So for now I’ll chalk up the attempt to experience and move on. Most likely I’ll make related observations as I go along and return to it proper when I can devote the proper time to focusing on the specific elements that can be found in popular media, specifically film. For now, with the limited time available, I’ll be focusing on finishing my primary narrative.

And to that end…..

Countercrastination Is In Effect

As I stated earlier, starting out on a new venture can often be done with reluctance, and so it was that the morning came and I said ‘I don’t really want to go.’ But as both my other halves said (my partner and my conscience) ‘you know you have to.’

So off I cycled to the cafe, and it seemed that the sunshine and open air bolstered a newfound sense of purpose. Still I was nervous and that first visit was indeed suffused with a sense of awkwardness. Yet the next time was easier and so the snowballing began. It reminded me of ethnographic fieldwork as the anthropologist pitches up with the locals. At first comes the suspicion, then the curiosity, and then the acceptance. You probably know the last part – it’s when you walk in and the staff just ask you if you want your usual.

Now it’s costing me a small fortune in coffee but it’s certainly easier to focus on work. There’s no temptation to do odd jobs around the yurt or fiddle with a guitar when I reach one of those writing pauses where you have to think about which way to take the narrative. For now it’s all going in a notebook until I finish the first draft. One of the big problems I have had in the past is getting ahead of myself and trying to type up as I go along. This tends to cause problems. I’ll discuss what I think is the cause of this tendency and its other impacts in a future post.

My only concern now that I’ve started to plunder the cheese list for names is that I’ll be sued for using a copyrighted fromage inappropriately……

So, If I’m Not Procrastinating…..

….. does that mean that the name of this blog has become redundant?

And the answer should be never! For as I have said, the ways of procrastination are without end. I can find infinite ways, infinite…….

What we need to do is stay on guard, stay inspired and creative, and keep focused on the objective. This blog was originally intended to be an accompaniment to my writing of fantasy, and so with that in mind, I’ll mostly reside within those boundaries.

I’m sure they’ll be plenty to explore along the way.

#1 The ways of procrastination are endless

No more excuses. No more writing the kind of introductions that I’ve read everywhere else a millions times about the long road to becoming a writer etc etc. The fact is I write stuff, and most of the time I don’t finish any of it. I should probably write a book about not writing a book. The title of this blog could be a strange paradox then, begging the question is it even possible to finish writing a book about procrastination? Who knows, but maybe we’ll find out. So far this week I’ve encountered these three:

PROCRASTINATION #1

Perhaps we might construct a category of dominant or root procrastinations. I don’t know about anyone else, but I got to say that there are times where this one is nine tenths of the problem, and that is:

Perfectionism.

Nothing is ever good enough, and as such this blog entry has been written about ten million times and never published. It gets to the point where you’re so disheartened because there are just so many ways it could be done, so many other ways of expressing the idea or writing that dialogue, that you feel like giving up. One of the things that a writer should remember is that it’s never going to be perfect the first time round. Or the second. Or, if you’re like me, ever. Truly it is a procrastination to worry over whether each chapter is actually how you want it. This probably is a confidence thing as well. It will never be good enough right? Well, no.

PROCRASTINATION #2

Peeling a sticky label off the front cover of a vinyl record is far more important than actually doing anything constructive because, goddamit! that sticker is covering up the artwork! And it tricks you, yes it does, because at first it starts peeling off nice and easy. You think you’re going to get it all in one hit, carefully working around the edges with your nails and oh so slowly peeling it back until disaster strikes and the label itself starts splitting, leaving behind the adhesive that needs to be worked off with lighter fluid.

This takes some time to accomplish.

The music remains in no way effected by this procedure.

PROCRASTINATION #3

Bass porn:

Having not accomplished anything it is always good to fantasize about all the cool things that you aren’t going to be able to afford. The fact that it’s out of reach doesn’t preclude you from doing the in-depth research on it because it’s always best to inform yourself of all the options when committing to serious window shopping.

If all this sounds exhausting then kick back and put on a little bit of this:

Better? Good. The question now is, did I get anything done? The strange thing is that while you’re aware of how much you’re prevaricating, there is also the opposite which is that you’ve been chipping away at something for a fair few weeks now. Having shelved the meta-narrative intense novels and series whilst working and looking after my son (going on 8 weeks now) I’ve been working on putting a few old characters together with a few new ones and a missing map. The icing on the cake came over the past week or two while I was working and a little observation made by the Shingle Street posse about the name of a cheese came back to me. Brillat Savarin. What a name for a truly suave villain instead of a hero.

This leads to PROCRASTINATION #4

Contemplation of just how many cheeses exist, and if there’s one thing a prevaricator can do, it’s click the endless links found in Wikipedia.

Here’s their list of cheeses.

And for those that suggested that you could write a book where everyone was named after a cheese I say this – never could a fantasy writer have such a great stock of names to use!

Anyhow, I’m inclined to discount that one as a proper procrastination as it’s more like research…… and I did it while I was sitting around bored at the office. Shhh, don’t tell anyone that I got paid to indulge in fantasies about cheese.

It was about this time that I came across both the hilarious review of the new Coldplay album at The Quietus which might make you feel a little bad when reading it because it has the merest hint of shooting fish in a barrel, and also the foul mental excretions of Richard Dawkins. It’s as if the man is trying to piss me off enough to hunt him down, dowse him in petrol and set him alight at the stake for heresy. I was going to fill up several pages ranting about how he doesn’t think children should be told fairy tales, but what’s the point. The man is a fool, and an intellectual bully who gets off on outwitting creationists.

And if he wants to foster a health scepticism in people then that’s going to include his own theory about selfish genes, a just so story about how we all came to be capitalists. The irony that a fairy tale might be masquerading as a reflection of cultural norms doesn’t seem to have reached him yet. Perhaps the notion that we are essentially nothing more than genetically determined, selfish individuals all alone in the cosmos is nothing more a reflection on his feelings of being a modern man in a godless universe where we are all strangers.

It doesn’t matter anyhow. The crusade to end human ignorance is a false one, destined to fail, just as his attempt to put me out of work will fail. As for the children, well, should we really feed their imaginations with things that are blatantly false? Shit, there goes CBeebies!

As for my own son, Three Hearts and Three Lions here we come!

Strange to think that a piece of classic fantasy was written by a scientist………