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 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.

The Origin Of An Idea, Part 2: Inspiration, Execution And A New Synthesis

Another week rolls around and this time I’ve been getting over that hump a little more every day, reliving some of those early moments in my own work that make me smile or give me a tiny ego boost. As I move through it I am also well aware of just what has inspired many of the ideas, characters and situations, and by a strange coincidence I came across one that was in an old comic book I found stashed away. Somehow the busty thief had been the inspiration for one of my own characters.

Yet where does one draw the line of plagiarism? Is it alright to use an idea that you found elsewhere? This is a thorny issue for sure, and it perhaps applies to many of the arts. Certainly in the realms of music there is a great debate about who copies who, who is inspired by who, about whether you can claim something as your own if you sample etc.

And just as a musician will be an avid listener of music, so too are writers avid readers. I can claim to have read a huge amount of sci-fi and fantasy, as well as a lot of non-fiction – politics, anthropology, science etc. Out of all of that I reaped many, many ideas that stuck with me, that I liked and thought about, situations in novels that touched me or thrilled me, characters and settings that could be explored in so many different ways there isn’t enough time in one life.

I would argue that at some point we all reach a form of critical mass, where everything that we’ve absorbed goes into the melting pot of our imaginations. There’s so much in there it all becomes indistinguishable from its original source, and as you write it comes out via the filter of you as a person, thus rendering it in your own voice. You are the lens that casts what came before into a new light: you create a synthesis which transcends any one thing of itself. This is what I refer to in the title as execution. How you execute the story, how you take all that was familiar, used up and done before and make it special. Take as an example Pulp Fiction, a movie that contains plenty of familiar characters from the pulp world of crime stories. I found this little snippet on Wikipedia:

Tarantino explains that the idea “was basically to take like the oldest chestnuts that you’ve ever seen when it comes to crime stories—the oldest stories in the book…. You know, ‘Vincent Vega and Marsellus Wallace’s Wife’—the oldest story about…the guy’s gotta go out with the big man’s wife and don’t touch her. You know, you’ve seen the story a zillion times.”[8] “I’m using old forms of storytelling and then purposely having them run awry”, he says. “Part of the trick is to take these movie characters, these genre characters and these genre situations and actually apply them to some of real life’s rules and see how they unravel.”[55] In at least one case, boxer Butch Coolidge, Tarantino had in mind a specific character from a classic Hollywood crime story: “I wanted him to be basically like Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer in Aldrich‘s Kiss Me Deadly [1955]. I wanted him to be a bully and a jerk”.[25]

What makes this movie so great was its execution – the unforgettable dialogue and the manner in which the movie was put together, the way the threads intertwine with each other. It takes what’s been done before (hitmen, crime bosses, a boxer reneging on thrown fight etc) and creates a new synthesis that transcends the original ideas into something special. Hopefully this is what we can achieve as writers, taking ideas that appeal to us, that inspire us or stick in our minds and forge them into something new and special.

 

(Briefly About) Dynamics, Clarity and Tension

Recently I came across some Youtube videos about action films which prompted me to think about certain scenes that appeared in my own work, such as the is the dynamics between characters, their interactions and the meanings that are generated. A key scene I had written was really quite flat until I introduced another character and highlighted the urgency of the task set for my protagonist, and as I proceed through the redrafting, I come across pieces of narrative that need attention. For example, the reluctant kidnapper scene near the beginning of Part 2 was really nothing special, but with a little adjustment and some exploration of how he lost his job, the scene becomes  tense (I hope).

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about this, but I think that the videos are in themselves quite interesting. I was particularly struck by how even the simplest cinematography can work so well to make the story clearer, more dynamic and give it more feeling.

By a strange co-incidence I had just been asked about the links between myth and cinema and having watched the video about the Terminator I was struck by what a great example it was of the principles that make up so many of the narrative structures of modern action movies. Having dug out the scraps of work about this that have accumulated I think that it might be possible for me to put a little book together about it. Terminator will certainly be a case study. To summarise it I would say that the core idea is that the central ideas revolve around Time, Marriage, Heroes (as saviours of fertile marriage and thus society) and something that seeks to destroy fertility and society (be it a robot, a shark or an alien). There is a lot more, but that’s for later.

Anyhew, these videos are worth checking out:

So there you have it. There’s plenty to think about in terms of narratives and especially the way that we convey tension, dynamics and meaning. To do it successfully, to do it with clarity, that’s one of the real arts of writing.

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.