Tag Archives: inspiration

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.

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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.


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.


Jerk that Pistol: Firing into the New Year

I was talking with someone the other day about New Year’s resolutions.  The person I was talking to was negative in response – citing their unwillingness to succumb to peer pressure to state unattainable goals.  I made some kind of blithe return that I didn’t necessarily believe in ‘resolutions’ as such, but I did try and set myself some goals.  Here is one right now:  I resolve not to talk out of my ass so much.  The concept of resolutions and making goals are so similar as to be totally interchangeable.

 

Having stated I would make no resolutions (but would have goals, insert eye roll here) I immediately started making resolutions.  This got me curious.  Where does this tradition of New Year’s resolutions come from?  A quick google around the internet revealed that it goes back to Roman times, and involves making promises of good deeds to the Roman god Janus.  Janus is the one with two faces, one looking back and one looking forward.  Ok, I can totally get behind a Roman tradition.  Romans kick ass (please don’t tell my Egyptian characters how much I love Romans).  Of course for hundreds of years New Year’s resolutions were quite attainable: I will a pile of gold to the poor, I will return the chariot I stole from my neighbor, I will marry the girl I knocked up, etc.

 

Somehow, over the years, the resolution came to be some personal goal of self-improvement.  Which is, apparently, the reason that fewer and fewer New Year’s resolutions actually get followed through on, with most people giving up after just a couple months.  Giving a charitable donation is a very achievable goal; becoming a better person is not.  Just think of all the people determining right this minute that they will lose weight, write every day, be nicer to the people they despise, or exercise more?  Are you going to be one of them?

 

I resolve to write a novel this year.  I already started it.  I have the books I need for research.  I’m not going to tell you how many hours a day I plan to write, or any other writerly self-improvement resolutions that I will probably break before I get a week or two into the New Year.  I am simply going to set myself an achievable goal: I will finish my book.

 

There.  Done.

 

What about you?


To Publish, or Not to Publish, That is the Rub…

back cover art for Panthology artwork by Jack KnightHaving spent quite a few months working on the Panthology it’s time to ask myself: what’s next? I’m happy to get back to reading and writing in my collaborative novels at Pan Historia, but ultimately I thrive on goals and projects that can yield tangible achievements. Writing on Pan is the most pleasurable form of exercise I know, but I still consider it exercise. It’s social, it’s fun, it’s interactive, but the end of the day it’s building things that last that I enjoy the most. Tinkering with the structure of Pan is something that gives me great satisfaction and joy as I strive to increase membership and participation by increasing the ease and functionality of the site. Of course I’m only a tinkerer when it comes to site construction but I believe that Pan reflects its users to a large degree. It’s not so much about bells and whistles and high tech apps, but about being a comfortable place to express one’s imagination. Writers just need to write, ultimately.

Perhaps that explains my mild obsession with publishing Pan Press books? I mean the logical conclusion of a writer’s work is to be published. It’s as old as the hills—or as old illuminated manuscripts anyway. To be published is to be real, genuine, accepted, legitimate. Technically it’s considered a form of publishing to post material, such as this blog, on the internet for others to read, but both you and I know it’s not what WE mean, as authors, when we say we are “published.” Even when we boast, as I have done, of my status as a “published” author deep down in my heart I want that book with pages of vellum, binding, rabbit skin glue, and black ink. This is probably why authors, as a group, are the most resistant to the idea of eBooks. It’s not quite… printed… is it? Of course it is, and I would be thrilled to be selling millions of copies of my novel in eBook format, but that will never cure my schoolboy crush on the first object of my desire: the book; either paperback or hardback.

So what is next? Besides going back to work on my own novel, a supernatural/horror adventure, I think I will prepare one of my collaborative novels, FLESH, from Pan for publication. Like the Panthology it will be a collection of writers, but this time we will bring the whole stories. It will be a challenge to edit the pieces together in order to tell each story (it will be a collection of about 4-5 stories set in a post-apocalyptic world where a virus has turned people into zombie-like killing machines). Zombies are hot items, and some of the stories are really very good with some great writers from the site. This is a piece that I feel has merit beyond the site, and can engage a larger audience of readers from hardcore zombie fans to general horror lovers. I would love to see if I can expand beyond members of the community and engage the interest of other readers for our publications. If it’s even mildly successful it opens the door for any number of such projects for any number of genres represented at Pan.

Illustration by Jack Knight


Let’s Get Playful

I started this blog post earlier today. If I had finished it would have read very differently. I would have talked about being ‘present in the moment’ and my observations of human behavior and how we have all, mostly, lost touch with the present in our fast-paced, constantly evolving, sound-byte, multi-tasking world where everyone is rushing to ‘get ahead’: literally and figuratively. It was a dry post, and I didn’t get far with it; a couple of paragraphs and then I started boring even myself. This is never a good sign. If you can’t get your own interest as the writer of the piece than what are you readers going to do? Stop reading that’s what.

End of sentence. Full stop.

So I came to the end of a sentence and I took off for greener pastures, which in my case, today, was writing some fiction at www.panhistoria.com. I really love to write collaborative fiction. Lately it’s been incredibly hard to find the time to do it. In fact my whole movement towards going slow and being present in the moment has really just revolved around one thing: I don’t find the time to be playful and write like I used to. Problem is that I didn’t realize this until about thirty minutes ago.

My community site, Pan Historia, is all about being playful. Collaborative fiction has few lofty ideals. It’s not striving for acclaim and publication beyond the publication of being online where people can share and read, or the acclaim of your friends and co-writers. It’s the writers version of reentering childhood where make believe is the order of the day, and playing dress up is all you have to think about.

For me, of course, as site owner and developer, Pan has developed into a much more serious business – in fact – a business. I have been letting that get in my way. My life is just more busy than it was a few years ago. That’s a fact that won’t go away. I have a relationship to maintain (an enjoyable distraction!), I have a full time job because during these tough economic times I can’t get away with less, and I live in beautiful part of the world that demands I enjoy time outdoors. These are not bad things, and yet I have been letting them freak me out because it has become harder and harder to juggle the different areas of my life and make them all work together.

It’s time to stop battling it. It’s time to take my own advice: go slow, breathe, cook my own food, write for pleasure, and be present in the moment. I don’t have to spend every moment doing something productive. I don’t have to be a marketing DIY pundit. I don’t even have to write in this blog if I don’t want to. I have many blessings in my life, but I need to pay attention to them, remember the job, and be playful. I’ll simply get more done that way – without even trying. Because I’m not working: I’m playing.


Bombs Bursting in Air

I suffer from multi-taskitis and project-overload. No matter how I try to trim down on activities and interests and procrastination it seems I keep on piling them on my head until I’m in danger of drowning. When that happens I find myself stuck on mindless distractions (anyone that is a FaceBook friend of mine will know exactly what I mean) to turn off the anxiety or napping, but of course both of these end up giving me twice as much anxiety in the long run because I become more self-critical of myself for wasting valuable time. I feel like I’m on that proverbial treadmill at the gym, going nowhere fast.

Another symptom of my over-involvement and the impossibility of focusing on one task at a time is the increasing tendency towards losing the thread, brain stutters, and memory lapses. When I sit down to work I make repeated resolutions that this day I will start to focus my energies, cut out my time-wasting activities, and structure my day. I never follow through. The miracle remains: I still get shit done.

I’m like a poor mule beaten about the back to keep on pulling in the traces, but the whip hand? That’s my own. I beat myself black and blue every day just to get through the day and get something accomplished of the long list of projects I have set myself due to the incredible firing of my brain. Basically I get ideas. It never stops. Day in day out, night time too, I’m getting ideas. I find almost everything interesting. Inspiration sparks me where ever I go, from the slow times when I actually walk somewhere and have time to smell the gardenias, to the crazy overload times where my fingers are racing across a keyboard to get the ideas down somewhere before they vanish in the ether.

Of course the key to all of this is two-fold: make a plan and stick to it; and pick less projects. Maybe even schedule projects to be consecutive instead of all at once? How to reject great ideas though? It seems such a shame to consign interesting little tidbits to a murky “might never get around to this one” file.

Hey, I know. I could gain 32 hours a week if I quit my job.