Monthly Archives: August 2013

Politics – It’s Dead To Me

There used to be a time that whenever someone told me they didn’t vote, I’d think that it was a waste. How could you then complain about how the government acts if you did nothing to oppose it? A vote was a piece of paper that was your say, it gave you power. It’s a naive idea, ignoring the reality of the political system.

When you look at it realistically, what is a vote? Does it give you a say in government? No. It gives you the say in choosing a person to have their own say, or more often than not, to follow and vote for what the party leader says. So every six years, you’re electing who’s going gain power, rather than represent the will of the people. The reality is, you have very little say. There are many recent examples of politicians making promises to gain support in elections and then breaking them. The greatest one for a person my age, is what happened in the last general election regarding tuition fees. The pledge that tuition fees would not go up. Voters gave those MP’s their mandate over that promise. We legitimised their power by voting for the promise they made. Long behind, tuition fees went up to £9000, up from £3000. To say people were angry is an understatement.

It’s examples like these that make me now so cynical to power. My attitude? No one should have power over you. I’m recalling some obscure political philosophy by Locke and Hobbes. To paraphrase, once an assembly gives an individual sovereign power, you can’t take it away from them. We can’t throw politicians from power if they break pledges they make in election manifestos, we have to wait another six years before we have another chance to make a real impact on the political landscape. Whoever we vote in pretty much has license to do whatever they please for that term, often on a mandate they lied to gain.

So how does that vote reflect the will of the people? It doesn’t. So what if you don’t like that candidate, vote for someone else. It doesn’t stand up when the change you’re looking for is not being represented. Then whether you vote or not, you’re not getting your say. So you might as well not vote.

But my question is what do you think of politics? Is the word a synonym for liar to you, or do you believe it carries out the will of the people.

 

Travelling – The Worst Part Is Going Back

For about two weeks, I’ve been out of the country. Away, travelling, on holiday, vacation – whatever you call it. I’ve seen some amazing things, gone to some far-flung places and had my fair share of surprises. That’s what makes travelling great. Everything you see there is for the first time. You learn from it, you make memories and meet new people. You learn a few things too.

And then you’re back home.

Back to the familiar, the routine, the ordinary. Back to a job, back to your life, as if the one you just had on the road was some sort of dream. All you have for those experiences are withering memories in your mind, and photographs that never seem to show what you saw.

You’re back home, and it seems to have none of the life of the place you went too. In some ways, life is being on the move. You don’t want to stay too long in one area, because like a new piece of chewing gum, the longer you chew it, the less taste it has.

You then start to catch up on what you’ve missed. You can read the newspaper, watch the news and get back in the loop with what’s happening. But what you see on the TV isn’t the same as what you saw elsewhere. In many ways, what you experienced while away was realer than what you’ll read now. I never missed reading the newspaper while away, they always seemed to bring bad news. It should concern me, but in reality, does it? Debt crisis in my country? To be frank, there’s nothing I can do about that.

Anyway, what’s your least favourite part about travelling? Lost bags? Cramped long-haul flights? Drinking too much of the local booze?

Responding To Criticism

Oh, this is one of the ‘fun’ bits of writing that should come with a warning. How do you deal with criticism?

Firstly to use an apt cliché, writing is a school of hard knocks. It’s true. You’ve written something, you’re sure you’ve perfected it, and then some person comes and insensitively points out all the things you’ve done wrong. It’s not nice, and there is no softening it. The first time you receive criticism like this, you might cry. You’re very likely to discount it, to push it out of your mind.

So how do you cope with it? We all know that criticism is ultimately good for us as it helps us improve in the long-term, but that doesn’t make you feel any better at the time.

I think the first thing to set straight is your mental attitude. Realise that the reason criticism affects you so is because you care about what you do. You take pride in it, and you’ve worked hard. You haven’t produced some half-baked attempt and tried to wing it. Once you’ve seen the feedback, don’t dwell on it. Try to take your mind off it, go and unwind. It never helps to undertake something when you’re upset. So recognise how you are feeling and don’t do anything until your emotions are in check. Only then will you be able to respond positively and logically.

When reading through criticism, you need to determine what stance the person has taken. Is it feedback, or is it criticism? I was misleading you with the last sentence, because feedback and criticism are the same thing, except we interpret criticism as negative.

Feedback, criticism or critique should mean to you anything that is measured, positive or constructive. It might point out your mistakes, but it should do so in a way that is not a personal attack on you, or treats your work in a derogatory fashion. It should give advice and point out flaws, but don’t mistake honesty as an attack on you. It never helps to read sugar-coated feedback, and sometimes things just have to be said as they are.

But what about the negative, the feedback that clearly is written with no intention to help you? I’ve got a word for that. Rubbish. You laugh, and you leave it. Why? Sometimes it’s clear that the person has no idea what they’re talking about. Other times, it’s blindingly obvious that they’re just trying to hurt and insult you. It’s perfectly legitimate to write some people off – don’t feel obliged to take into consideration everything everyone says.

Now, what do you do with the feedback that you haven’t thrown in the bin? Read it carefully, read it slowly. Be logical and objective. Remember, if this person has taken time to point out the problems in your writing, they want to help you. But what if they aren’t using the critique sandwich? Start with the good points, then move into the problems, and then finish with what was liked. What if it’s just all about the problems?

Well, I’m that type of critic. It’s not because I want to belittle the writer, make them feel bad, imply that there is nothing they did well or even try to impose my own authority upon them. It’s simply because when I read critically, I spend my time writing on what can be done better, not what is already done well. If you’re strapped for time, you probably will do this.

This is a small tangent, but it’s something I think both writers and critics should understand. Sometimes  when you’re giving feedback, you just don’t have anything negative to say. Stop the presses, that’s something a good critic should never do right? Wrong. There is no shame in standing up and saying to someone “you know I’m sitting here reading through your work and I can’t find anything wrong“. In fact, I was asked to beta-read a story for a friend this summer, and while I had a slight pick at the first chapter, I’m waiting until he is online again before I tell him that he doesn’t need me to critique it. It’s good. It doesn’t make you a bad critic. It doesn’t mean you weren’t being critical enough. I believe it makes you more legitimate in your feedback by saying this, instead of proceeding to talk about non-existent problems.

Let’s get back to the main point then. How do you cope with feedback? To summarise, you leave it, you get yourself in order. You then read it carefully. You decide whether the feedback is legitimate or not. Then you act on it.

You should never, never, respond to feedback when you first receive it. You’ll be emotional, you won’t think straight. You’ll misinterpret, and you could go to the nuclear option. That is, you could delete your entire work and say you’ll start again.

Never delete anything you write – that is the cardinal sin as far as I’m concerned. You have the ability to re-draft as many times as you want. So don’t got and delete your work – because all you’re doing is reinforcing negative emotions about your writing and destroying any progress you’ve made.

Deleting an re-writing is not progress. It is not re-drafting. It is undoing the progress you’ve made. It is quite literally, trying to write something perfect from scratch. I need not tell you how silly that is.

Consistency In Worldbuilding

One of the best things about being a writer is creating a world. You get to create something that no one else has, and as you work on it more, you bring your vision to life. World building is satisfying, but it’s tricky too. You can easily build a world, but how do you make it believable, how do you draw people into it? I tend to find that some worlds suffer quite generally from what I’d call cultural inconsistency. It means what it says on the tin, quite bluntly, the cultures existing in that world don’t add up.

The best example of this is in language and place names. When creating the world map, it’s hard to resist letting lose the floodgates and going with any name you think of. On the flip side if you struggle with names, you can be clawing at your head to come up with one name, let alone a bunch of them to choose from. One of the results is that your map seems to just have a random selection of names on it. Names need to be consistent – for example you wouldn’t have two characters from the same culture with two vastly different names. Does that sound picky? Perhaps a bit, but if we take a look at a map of our own world, you see similarities between the names of places in that country. I’m British, so I’ll see Warwickshire, Yorkshire, and so on. They’ consistent.

When to comes to that fantasy world, you’re ideally looking for the same consistency. Sure, there can be exceptions, as there are in real life, but they aren’t numerous. Some readers will tolerate a lot; especially because fantasy might be the genre that they love anyway, but others won’t. As a writer these days it doesn’t work to make your writing fit into too small a niche. For me, seeing a fantasy world that is consistent implicitly tells me that it is well constructed and thought out. Readers can be picky, and believe me, if you world looks, sounds or feels like it’s some sort of Frankenstein’s monster, readers can lose their suspension of disbelief.

It’s all easily remedied though. Instead of leaping straight into your new world, plan it. Figure out what the fundamentals are for each culture you introduce. Standing back objectively is hard to do when you’re passionate about something, but paying close scrutiny to creating a world that is consistent will pay off the effort you put in. As a final little example, take a look at a map of Middle-Earth. Now, because it’s the cultures are consistent, it feels like a real map someone made for the world, not a map that someone made of a world.