Tag Archives: Creative Writing

Panopeia Begins

I’m pretty excited about the latest developments at my collaborative writing site Pan Historia.  Traditionally Pan has always maintained a high level of privacy for its membership – it’s a place to feel safe in the maelstrom of the internet where you don’t know who is reading, who is watching, and who might make off with your most prized piece of prose.  It’s also allowed people to feel free to experiment with personas and characters that they might not otherwise feel if using their own names on a site freely available to be viewed by all. While this has always fostered a deeper sense of community with our writers and role players, as well as safety and trust, it has made it a lot harder for people new to the site to see what we’re doing and to feel like they’re welcome joining in.

A few weeks ago we decided it was simply time to open up our community daily postings to the general public (i.e. it is not necessary to be logged in or registered to the site to read these posts) to better give possible newcomers a chance to savor the flavor of the site.  Of course this led to our wonderful volunteer administrators to discuss the best ways to increase the activity on the dailies and how to make them more representative of the site as a whole.  This led to the creation of Panopeia, a new collaborative story play that happens outside the context of the rest of Pan’s novels (collaborative story lines that can include anything from two to a hundred writers working together on one theme/story), that allows people to use their creativity and their current characters.  It’s also totally open to newcomers to the site.  Of course it’s possible to read without joining Pan, but if you want to write you will have to register.

Some of our admin, staff as we call them at Pan, are portraying characters that are holding the keys to the mystery of Panopeia, which is currently taking place in an strange and supernatural hotel, in order to help guide the story, and keep all the elements straight, but otherwise the possibilities are pretty wide open.  This is a great way to get an introduction to what we do at Pan, and from there I am genuinely hopeful that people will find their way deeper into the site to enjoy all our other features and stories.  One of the greatest pleasures I have at Pan, as I stretch my writing muscles over dozens of stories, is finding new writers to interact with.  Instead of writing being a solitary lonely business at Pan it is a social one, where new lifelong friends have been made (and a few marriages too!).

As Panopeia grows and develops I’ll report more on this social experiment in writing and its impact on Pan.


Writing Need Not Be a Lonely Business

Good fellowshipOne of the sweet deals I have noticed in working collaboratively with another writer (or even two or three in the case of Pan Historia, my writing and role play community where I have honed my skills over the years) is that I need never really suffer from writer’s block.  If you’re stuck you can get together with your fellow writer and start serving a few idea balls back and forth until you get a good volley going.  Some ideas won’t work, but usually, and pretty quickly when you have two creative minds at work, you’re going to get something good going.

Even if you’re not planning on writing a collaborative novel talking to a trusted friend could still help you.  Present them with the situation, ask them what they might do under those circumstances.  Perhaps something they suggest will surprise you.  Chances are coming at something from an entirely different point of view might spark off something in your brain.  Interestingly I have played this game with author friends of mine, people who write brilliant stories, and while I seldom end up using their ideas, just the fact that we batted it around gives me inspiration for something uniquely me, and that works with my characters, my plot.

In other words even disagreeing with suggestions can be fertile ground to break through a virtual barrier that is hold you back from writing.  I don’t belong to any writing groups but I imagine this is why many writers join them: to get ideas going, and to have trusted sounding boards.  Ultimately you make the final decisions, or if it is collaborative, the two of you will have to agree, but the process can be full of help and support, much like the Hero’s Journey.  Writing need not be a lonely business.


My Writing Apprenticeship at Pan Historia

I earned my writing chops at Pan Historia.  Day in and day out, for more than ten years, I have logged in to my alternate self.  In the halcyon early days I am quite sure that I was averaging probably a thousand words a day easy, some days more, some days less.  The stories were numerous and varied.  I like a lot of different genres, and sometimes I found that what I liked to read was different from what I like to write.

I wrote historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt, the American West, and sometimes Rome.  I wrote science fiction, particularly beloved was the now sadly lost in time and space, “Forever is Far Too Long” (please forgive me if I slaughtered the title).  Forever was the brain child of one of my closest friends, a writer of amazing imagination and craft.  It was a real challenge not only to occupy a world created by her, but to occupy a character created by her.  I hope I rose to the occasion.  I know I surely learned a great deal.  I feel like it was a sort of apprenticeship.  I also wrote noir detective fiction with a fun bunch in our grand “Marlowe Detective Agency“.  That was an idea of brilliance, if I say so myself.  When I look at the way that people’s attention spans have shortened, even in the last ten years, it’s probably impossible to do now, but basically each episode was a complete mystery.  One person wrote the detective, and it was the detective’s job to actually solve the mystery the other writers crafted for him. Later on I moved to horror. I have never been a big fan of horror movies, but I have always enjoyed horror fiction from Edgar Allan Poe to Shirley Jackson to Stephen King.  I found great joy in crafting tales of dripping ickiness to disturb and creep out my readers.  I discovered I have something of an ability in creating villains that people love to hate.

For a long time I was so involved in my exploration of the American West through the eyes of Wyatt Earp and his brothers that I had great, and rather grandiose, plans for writing a fictional autobiography of his long life that was going to be so historically precise, and so magically astute as to his psychic and emotional landscape that it was going to be the final word on the subject.  The desire to take what I had learned from my near daily collaborative and role-play writing to a novel has always seemed to be a natural progression to me.  But for a long time I couldn’t get started. It seemed like I had this great idea, enough passion for the project, and yet I continued to divert myself with the small episodic posts in the collaborative environment.  The good was that I was writing everyday; the bad was that I wasn’t moving forward on my long term goal.

Finally I realized it was the project itself that was bogging me down.  My scheme was too research laden, too definitive, and too constrained by my own expectations and the structure of history.  My character, Wyatt Earp, couldn’t breathe. I simply knew too much about him, and yet too little at the same time.  My version of Wyatt Earp, the one I have now been writing for ten years, is not the same as the historical.  He’s grown into a very complex, and intelligent man, with a gift for the gab – which the real Earp never had.  I realized that I didn’t have to finish this project just because I had decided on it years before. In fact, after finally writing a version of the shootout at the OK Corral for my collaborative version on Pan, I realized that I had already written volumes on the man, and that my legacy to him was there – on the boards.

I was free to pick a different project.  Now I’m fifteen chapters and over 30,000 words into that novel, and I feel great about it.  My writing is solid (but there is always room for improvement!).  My ability to structure the novel and plot it has been aided by ten years of collaborative writing, but I’m missing the collaborative element.  With that in mind I am considering a coauthor, someone that has worked with me on this story as it existed on Pan Historia.  I’m hoping that another set of eyes will rectify the mistakes, point out the inconsistencies, and increase the liveliness.  What better way to build upon the many positive foundations that Pan Historia has provided me with?


Discerning Between Your Inner Critic and Your Inner Low Self-Esteem

From Wikipedia:

The critic is considered to be the dialectic of genius. This insight was formulated early by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing as “not every critic is a genius, but every genius is born a critic…genius has the proof of all rules within itself.” Kant scholar Jane Kneller has read this to indicate that, as opposed to the externally oriented and culturally dependent critic, “genius demonstrates its autonomy not by ignoring all rules, but by deriving the rules from itself”.

Derivation:

The word critic comes from Greek κριτικός (kritikós), “able to discern”, which is a Greek derivation from the word κριτής (krités), meaning a person who offers reasoned judgment or analysis, value judgment, interpretation, or observation.

Every November I get a little queasy and uncomfortable.  That’s because it’s National Novel Writing Month.  It’s not that I’m directly opposed to the concept of writing a 50,000 word novel in a month – after all it can pull you out of writer’s block, or any other self-imposed hurdles that keep you from actually producing a body of work, instead of just talking about it, and it could turn writers into authors.  It’s the emphasis that it puts on just throwing words at the page, seemingly without discrimination or concern for the finished body of work.

I put out a tweet a few days ago stating my concern:

I think one of my main objections to nanowrimo is that writing a novel isn’t just about throwing words at the page. Sometimes you need to take scissors to it.

I got some flack there.  Apparently there is plenty on the nanowrimo forums about it being a draft, etc., but that’s not my point.  My point isn’t that you produce a finished polished work in a month at lightening speed, because that’s rarely possible, unless maybe you’re someone prolific like Stephen King.  My point is that the whole flurry of tweets, posts, blogs, and so forth creates an atmosphere that seems to negate the self-critic.  It doesn’t focus attention on the hard work that needs to be done to create a book, ready for public consumption.  It’s part of the whole, to me disturbing, lack of discrimination that I see, as if producing art was easy, something anyone can do anytime, and that it doesn’t take dedication, commitment, and a hard long apprenticeship.

I remember I was teaching drawing some years back at a college, and I had a difficult student.  She was sullen, reluctant, and didn’t want to do the work.  The quality was poor, even though she was coming to class and doing the homework.  I asked her what the problem was, and she replied that she was a painter, and she was forced to take drawing, but there was simply no point to it!  I feel the same about the writer that only emphasizes self-experience and getting the words out at the cost of actually honing the craft, learning what works and what doesn’t.

That is where I listen to my lovely self-critic.  The muse may inspire, but the critic gets out the scissors.  I love my critic.  He walks with me every step of the way.  Sometimes I override him, but we have a good collaborative relationship, so he doesn’t take it hard, or say “told you so” when it all goes wrong.  Sadly, all too often, the critic gets the boot from people’s writing practice because he gets blamed for that which he is not responsible for: the nagging negative voice of low self-esteem.  The critic believes you can do it, but just wants to help you do it better.  Low self-esteem doesn’t even want you to try.  Critic will tell you off for wasting time playing mindless games, always pushing you to achieve your goals, reminding you that time is finite (don’t kid yourself it’s not), and that the best time to get your dreams accomplished is now.  Low self-esteem is always telling you that a game is better, or cleaning, or laundry, or you can do it tomorrow.

Critic is willing to tell you the hard truths: that page is crap – do it again.  Low self-esteem will say: that page is crap – just toss it out and go back to bed.  If you are truly listening to your inner critic, and now your low self-esteem, a lot of time the news is good: this idea rocks; you are doing great; don’t listen to that agent that doesn’t think your work will sell; wow, didn’t you write a lot today.  Critic misses you when you’re not writing, and tries to remind you to do it.  Low self-esteem just tells you you’re a loser for not writing.

Discerning the difference can be tough, but it’s worth the challenge.  One needs to be ignored, overridden, and combated.  The other needs to be taken on as a partner in the endeavor, for he has many words of wisdom to impart.

Back to nanowrimo – it’s fine idea, as long as you take your critic along for the ride.


I’m Just a Rambling Man

The writing has been kind of slow for the last week.  There has been a 50% improvement in the chaotic conditions of my family obligations, but finding that still eye of the storm is still proving to be difficult.  As soon as I feel like I’m close to it I get caught in an updraft and find myself hurtling away at impossible speeds from what I would really like to be doing.

That said – I have mastered some plot threads that needed tying together.  My iPhone, unlike the previous clunky yet small Blackberry, is proving a bit of a helpmate.  I was able to download a pages app for it that allows me to edit the most recent chapter on the go.  I don’t foresee any solid writing time on it unless I get the keyboard that I mentioned in the last post, and I am waiting for my finances to improve for that, but I can edit, add ideas, and not lose rolling trains of steamy thought.

One of my plotting solutions involves a famous historical character, Harry Houdini, who has now gained importance in the novel, and thusly I am forced (oh what terrible pain and joy!) to read the recent bio of him that I got.  Sadly it is not available on the Kindle… wait, it wasn’t but maybe it is now… let me toddle off and check…

Back. Ah, wonderful.  I feel like a walking, talking, typing advert for the iPhone, but I am a convert.  So I have downloaded the Kindle app to my phone, and my copy of the Houdini book is now there, on the page I was last reading, and I’m ready to snatch minutes from my workday to learn all I need to know about the amazing magician, contortionist, and escape artist.  Amusing note on the side: on my wall, by my desk, is my Houdini Action Figure.  It was a gift from one of my relatives – the same year I gave them one.  We exchanged.

Ok, well I was away from this for about an hour because my cat pissed on the laundry again.  It’s such a joy to be able to add the mental and emotional and maybe physical aberrations of an animal you swore to look after and love for all his days to your list of distractions from writing.  Mostly he’s been urinating on the wife’s things, seems he’s pissed off at me now too.  I am also hearing about the chores and programming/design tweaks I need to make at Pan Historia… it never ends.  And just when I have the list all organized, and all the things I have to do on it, I’ll head to work for nine hours, because that’s how I pay the bills.

Tune in next week to find out more about how my iPhone helps me to conquer the madness of modern life, and enables me to write a novel in the middle of it.  Or not.  You choose how you distract yourself from your own writing.

Perhaps you might join a revolution?


Have Keyboard, Will Travel

I’m glad to say that after my last update I made some time in my life for writing my novel again.  This is quite an achievement because the distractions and tornado keeps on building around me.  The whole world seems to want to go up in flames, and perhaps it should, and I’ve got wandering random family members in transition in this funnel of frantic windy energy needing a couch to sleep on.  Thusly I have no private space where the mind can be fertile and still enough that it suddenly freely sprouts words, one upon the last, building and building, until there is a tower of words, wobbly, but upright.

As a matter of fact I am writing this now instead of working on my book in the precious morning I have before work because I can manage this kind of personal writing with the distractions, but not the real hard work of writing a novel.  I’ve set myself a quota of words each day: a measly 500.  This can count towards that goal, as well as the collaborative posts I do at Pan Historia, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying anymore, not as compelling as getting into the heads of my characters.  I miss my book when I’m not at it.

I just took a break from writing this to browse computer tablets.  I started to wonder, since I have lacked a private space of my own, a space with a door that shuts the world out, if I were to go fully mobile could I pick up stray pockets of time and privacy from my maelstrom days to dash out those few measly words, make those notes, build that tower…

Nope, they lack the essential tool that I crave: a keyboard.  I could go retro and try the notebooks, and I have done that before, but unlike those folks that love freehand and the pen or pencil, I’m a sucker for the keyboard.  I can type about 50pm if I factor in the mistakes, or maybe faster by now, and I need the speed because that’s often how fast the words flow.  When I write by hand I miss words, phrases, even passages, skipping over them as the next word crashes into me.  I paint the same way.  I can’t do it slow.  Which of course begs the question: why isn’t my output greater?  The answer is frustrating: I fritter away much of my free time (little and precious though  it is) in frivolities.  I resolve, every day and every minute, to do better, but when you’re a speed freak, like the hare, you need a lot of breaks.

I have seventy more words to find… then I’ll have fulfilled my quota for the day.

Oh my god… had another idea, took another break – could this be the solution:

 Freedom Pro Bluetooth Portable Folding Keyboard

It’s a bit pricy, but so far the reviews are good.  I can whip this sucker out of my backpack, hook it up to my phone and be on my way.  Hmmm… this could work.  Have keyboard, can travel.  It seems I’m on the eternal quest to be completely hooked up until my excuses have no where to run and hide anymore, and either I write, or I admit that I’m not a writer.

 

Haha.  556 words.


Spinning Out of Control

Spinning out of ControlLife has a way of getting in the way of art.  It sometimes seems to me that either you make your life all about art, and to hell with the rest, or you valiantly struggle through your life, crossing all your t’s and dotting all your i’s, and you never get a sodding bit of art done at all.  And then there is all the drama and chaos.  I’m feeling hemmed in right now.  I, me personally, am fine.  But between the time I spend trying to live a sane sustainable life, and the shit storm that is constantly battering the glass walls of my personal bubble, I’m finding it harder and harder to be creative.

And it’s like this shit storm just keeps getting bigger and bigger, picking up debris in its wake and spreading it across the face of my world.  You know when you buy a new car (new to you) and say it’s a Volkswagen Beetle or whatever (you pick) and suddenly you just see them everywhere on the road – or it’s because you’re playing Punch Buggy, but the point is that they go from being invisible to almost all you can see?  Is that what this storm of disaster is all about? Or is the world really going to hell faster and faster, like the spin cycle on a washing machine?

I don’t honestly know.  For me things are very much the same as they have always been: slightly better maybe, but with slightly less time.  I’m trading time for comfort.  But that’s just me.  Everyone else and everywhere else seems to be blowing apart at the seams, or at least in need of a few denim patches.  Oh yeah, and that time thing, it’s a bitch.  It brings me back to the first thought.  I spend more time working, more time fretting about things I cannot change in the lives of people who seem bent on destruction, and less time doing the things I really love: making stuff.

For me, making stuff is a huge area.  It’s writing, it’s creating Pan Historia, it’s painting, it’s learning new skills, it’s books, and museums, and pulling in inspiration from all around me to turn it into moments of insight and art.  But when life starts to feel like a buzz saw, saw dust flying until it chokes, and your eyes start to blink and tear up, where is the time to be found for the creativity?

My reaction?

Take a nap. Play a mindless game.  Lose myself in some meaningless movie made for TV.

Waste the precious moments even as I scream about losing the time: it was so hard to find, and as I get older it is an ever vanishing resource.