Tag Archives: Writing

Immortality – Mortally Stupid

I’ve been silent here for a few months for two reasons. One is that I’ve been struggling to find something to say. The other, that I was too busy enjoying the sunshine enjoyed by the otherwise rain-sodden isles I live in this summer. I’ll leave it to you to decide which factor was overwhelmingly dominant. Either way, I’m back at university – thrust back to thinking ‘intellectually’ if that is at all possible. What follows was sparked off by a lecture on Joyce.

I’ve put (into Ulysses) so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”

(Joyce, Ulysses Annotated).

Joyce is right, professors will be busy for centuries over what he meant, but not that he’s ensured his own immortality. I’m not going to leap in and say everything we do, ultimately turns to dust. That’s a given, and an easy way out. That argument takes time in its entirety, it doesn’t recognise a span of time, just that it will happen in the vastness of time.

The flaw with Joyce’s idea here, is that he can hope to achieve literary immortality. When it comes to reading, there have been plenty of shifts in thinking that deny Joyce his immortality, but the main one is a change in the way we should read a text. Instead of trying to think what the author meant, we read the text purely as a text. It’s reader response, and personally, it’s a great recognition in literary and academic circles that what the reader thinks, and interprets, is important.

But Joyce has some sense of immortality. We’re talking about him. There’s no smoke without fire – and there is smoke here, but I’d say it’s more smoke and mirrors than a blazing pyre.

We’re complex,

Let’s consider death differently. It’s change epitomised. The ultimate change, the transition from life, a sea of constant changes, to death; a change that is such a paradigm that there is no change for those that experience it. Each present moment passes one after the other. Each moment is a passing; a death. I am not the same person, if you want to be really technical, as I was when I wrote the previous sentence. I’m not the same person I was yesterday. Stasis, in that sense, is impossible. Thus, since mortality is change, immortality is stasis. And that isn’t possible. Of course, we don’t change radically from day to day, but it accumulates. We’re not the same person we were ten years ago. Things have changed, we have changed. So how is it possible to preserve some immortality, when change isolates it?

Dreaming of immortality is ultimately, so stupid, because it ignores a clear lexical message. The word itself gives you the clue. Mortality cannot become immortality. Really, I think the ancient Greeks got it right. In classical mythology, Achilles chose to die and become immortal through kleos instead of returning home; nostos. Kleos is not immortality or living forever; it is simply to have great renown, enough that people still speak of him. What survives is the Kleos of Achilles, not Achilles himself. Regardless, Achilles is now a shade anyway. So when Joyce speaks of his immortality, his boast that scholars would be still trying to figure out what he meant, I’d say that’s more Kleos too than actual immortality. We’re not going and seeing a living Joyce when we read his works, or debate ‘him’ critically. We’re talking about something detached from the actual person that lived. What has survived so far to us is the work, not the author. Joyce hasn’t achieved that immortality. He just has renown.

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Ideas – They Don’t Just Pop Into Your Head

I’d say the greatest challenge for a writer is quite a simple on actually. It’s not writing well, or getting published. Even at a push, I’d say it’s not about staying motivated either. It’s having lots of ideas.

When we think about writing, we have this notion that ideas are the one thing you can’t change. Either you have a good idea or you don’t, either you can think up of many ideas or you can’t. It’s a bit of a naive attitude though, because it relies on the fact that ideas for writing simply stroll into our heads, that we have sudden moments of creative genius that happen outside of our control. It’s sensationalist, and encouraged because of its appeal, but it doesn’t do much good in reality.

If a writer were to say the idea for their entire book just walked fully formed into their head, I’d tell them to stop being overly dramatic. What are ideas? They’re by no means so tidy or obedient even. When you pause to break it down, the idea for a work is more of a single one, a stub, a starting point. One idea might be something very simple, and as you think about it, you come up with more. Whenever I write, I start with a small idea in mind. It’s my goal for what I’m going to do. Then as I continue, I get more ideas the more I think. I don’t just sit there waiting for inspiration to hit me, I ask myself questions about the idea I’ve had. Sometimes I get answers. Sometimes I don’t. But it creates more ideas for you to play with, rather than struggling with just one.

In reality, a story is an amalgamation of many ideas. One idea starts the process off, but then others join it. Some contradict each other, and some turn the story away from your original idea. But as you ask yourself questions, you build up a single, cohesive story. It’s like building a rubber band ball. You start with the first one, and as you add more the ball takes shape, until all those rubber bands behave like a single ball, rather than a pile of them.

So, you can think creatively by asking yourself questions. That’s a start, but it’s still limited in boosting your imagination. I’m not going to launch into a long paragraph about reading other books, because that’s a stock response. I’d say, read a selection of books. Ones that interest you, ones that you know nothing about. Even ones you think you won’t like. Don’t stop with contemporary fiction, but go back in time. Have a dig. Don’t limit yourself to fiction, but look at non-fiction. History is a very good place to come up with ideas, as you ask “what if” questions as you read. What if Rome didn’t fall? You can have some fun with that. Even then, I’d encourage brave writers to read philosophy. Stories will give you ideas for events, and philosophy will give you understanding of different modes of thought, which means, better characterisation.

Life experience is a great asset too. You know how looking back at your past work is almost always something that makes you cringe? That’s greater experience talking. How can you make your work better? By going out and living. Gain experiences, don’t just slave away at the keyboard. You can draw inspiration from the experiences you’ve had yourself, and the great thing about this is that it is free, and it’s going on all the time. If you can travel, then do, but if you can’t try to experience other cultures. Books, encyclopaedias, TV, these will all give you experience.

Ideas aren’t just a solitary affair. Have willing volunteers read your work. Discuss ideas. It’s always good to have friends that are writers for this purpose, and even better if you have a mentor. So in short, there are things you can do to have more ideas. It isn’t just about creativity on its own, because it is extremely hard to pull something from nothing, even if it is in your head. Experimentation is key, and you must not limit yourself by sticking to only what you like.

My question is how do you come up with ideas? Do you struggle, or do you have too many?

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.

Flash Fiction – Revelry

The darkness crept. Every creature slipped underneath tides of slumber. Eventide rolls overhead, pinpricks of light meddling between dark waves. Blackness paints the forest with its dye; the looming branches harbouring greater darkness underneath once green leaves.

Piercing through; inklings of white starlight dot the celestial canvas, but all laud the rise of the luminous orb, shimmering silver shingles between skeletal trunks. The light acquiesces, waxes, softening the dark, mixing their dyes,  but rendering the light brighter and the dark far darker.

My lunar mistress rises high, taking upon her centre stage. The curtain falls, our first act beginning. I gaze up on high, the surround stillness itself; dead of night. Now, away from prying eyes in the night, my revelry takes hold; a transformation into something wild. She bids me dance, and on all fours I oblige. I leer upwards at the silver dots, weaving between darkened trunks, my mind as changed as my body. She beams brighter upon me, imploring me to dance further.

I bring my voice to laud her, words fall away to sing the lunar melody. I beseech her journey across the dark tides, my song fading between my lips as I speed after her on silent feet. As we reach our peak, the frenzy continues, others joining to revel in our moonlit sonata.

But the night of full celebration wanes on the celestial tides, my mistress’s hold over me weakening. The waters recede, my madness lessening. The tendrils of dawn lap away at the final pools of darkness. And, with a withering scene, banishes my mistress.

Update Everyday – How Many Posts are too Many?

I’m aware that it’s been a while since I’ve actually posted something here, and in terms of blogging that would be a cardinal sin. From the various tips I’ve read, the general rule is to post regularly to keep things moving. However, I don’t think it actually does you any good to be continually blogging material every day.

I write when something catches my attention, and some days I have nothing to say. I don’t believe it’s helpful for anyone following me to have to wade through posts that have been published for the pure purpose of keeping to a schedule. The fact is really, a blog is made by its readers, not by the person who reads it. I think it puts off people to continually spam their messages with posts that aren’t of any real interest. We’re all busy enough these days, and we don’t appreciate it when our time is wasted.

I think part of the issue is simply that once you start a blog of any sort, you then try to find things to talk about in order to fill it up. Yes, you need to keep your page up to date, otherwise no one will bother with it – and that’s the motivation behind positing regularly in the first place. When I look at it, I think there’s a good middle ground here, as there is with most problems. Post some things, but don’t go overboard. If I find I suddenly have lots of ideas one day, and then none the next, I just choose one and then save the rest as drafts for other days.

Anyway, schedule to you keep to for blogging? Do you post regularly every day, or once a few days? What works best for you and your readers?

Still Write?

A few days ago, I met up with some old school friends for the first time this summer. It’s quite bizarre meeting people who you haven’t seen in months, and then remembering that you used to see them everyday almost without fail in the receding past. One of the comments that stood out though, was from a friend who is also a writer. He’s more a poet and playwright, and to speak generally we’re almost total opposites of each other. It’s uncanny.

“Do you still write?”

That’s the question that’s prompted this whole post in fact. From one writer to another, I was asked whether I still wrote. I don’t blame him, I never really posted much, or sent anything too him. All he knows is the evasive answers I once gave when pressed about what I write. Anyway, my reaction was to say of course I still wrote, and proceeded to tell him in more detail about the latest series I’m working on.

What struck me at the moment was how apt the question was. To me, I interpreted it not simply as a straight question. When it registered, it provoked me. Of course I still write, though I should actually talk about it a lot more in person. But, it helped me understand why I still write. Writing is something we can all claim to do, whether it’s a short story we wrote ages ago, or something you’ve continuously worked on for the past few years. Being a writer is something that rejects distinctions between past and present. Simply, if you’ve written something, regardless, you are a writer. Yes, I write, and I know why too. Not for some idea of instructing or simply even telling a story. I write because it’s fun.

 

Turning My Back on Writing as a Career – Does This Make Me Less of a Writer?

I wonder, does it make me any less of a writer now that I don’t pursue writing as a career? It’s been at the back of my mind. Does it make me a lesser one, because I’m not saying I want to solely make money out of writing? Or do other writers, published or aiming to be, consider it to be giving up?

I used to say I wanted to become a published author, and make a career out of my writing. The first statement is true still, but the latter has been removed. The reasoning isn’t that I’ve become disillusioned in my work. I’m more confident about that than I ever was. I decided against writing as a career for practical reasons.

I never entertained the idea that I’d be able to make a living out of writing. Not out of any pessimistic thought, but just realism. A career in writing for me would be writing books; anything other form of writing, say journalism, isn’t what writing means to me. Of course, if you do that you don’t have much security at all. If you self-publish, you’ve got to be the one promoting your book, demanding that you both sink more money into your book while promising anything but a return, let alone one that is consistent. If you aim down the road of traditional publishing, you’ve first got to be accepted, and then hopefully get a decent advance. It’s just a lump sum, and if you want more money, you’ve either got to sell more than they first calculated for you advance, or write a new book and get that accepted too. Then you’ve got to write more. Lots more.

Talk about having a secure income; you’ve got anything but that. Practical reasons aside and before you start accusing me of selling out, the main issue is my own idea of being a writer. I don’t want to end up having to churn out books in order to sell. It makes a mockery of writing in the first place. What could be more soul-destroying than feeling you are devaluing your writing by having to write so many books out of financial necessity. I must say, I don’t know whether that would cause the quality to suffer. There’s nothing like pressure to spring up some new ideas, but I don’t want to try. I feel like I’d be goading myself, that eventually during it I’d just stop one day, realising I’ve come to hate writing because of it. Where would I go from there?

I think these are the questions you’ve really got to ask yourself about writing. I’m not cutting the career idea because I don’t think I’d make it, or that I’m discouraged by how difficult it is.

I just thought, this isn’t for me. This isn’t how I want to be a writer.

So what does that mean? The plan isn’t one I hate. I’ll get a job. Do something during the day that pays a wage, then I’ll write. You can always find time for the things you enjoy doing. Yet to come back to the question I started with, does this make me less of a writer? Go on, let me know what you think!

The Freedom from Names – Why I Write Under Alias

I’ve never been drawn at all to using my real name on the internet, or as a writer even. It’s not born out of any conscious desire for security, but instead to keep me free from names. What do I mean?

Well, if I don’t use a name it leaves plenty of factors out entirely. Try as we might, we do form an opinion of a person from a name even. It’s just part of how we build a judgement of that person. It’s also a way people can categorise what you do. To be honest, I don’t even want my writing to be associated with my name. It allows my work to stand out on an individual basis and solely on their merit. There can’t possibly be any notion that because I wrote X, Y must also be good too. It leaves no room for presumptions – and doesn’t allow you to build a bibliography of my work up. That, and it also makes my life as a writer easier, as I don’t have to worry about expectations being placed upon me, and it keeps my writing firmly apart from myself. Once I finish writing this, it can’t be put to my name. In short, my writing can’t come at me when I’m not writing.

The best aspect of alias are that it’s impossible to pin down a gender on my writing. You can’t point at my writing and say “this is a woman’s writing” or “this is a man’s writing” because there is no name to give you a hint. Tying anything down to a gender is pointless – because what influence does it really have? I don’t want you to know, because I’m wanting you to read what I’ve written for what it is. Rather than try to break it down as a work of a female or male writer.

As for myself, it gives me freedom to write anything. Do readers place expectations upon author’s based (either fully or in part) by gender? I believe we all do, even subconsciously. Remaining an Alias means that I can write whatever idea enters my head.

As a quick question, do you believe writing under alias are a good or bad thing? Do you think gendered expectations are placed upon writers? Should literature be influenced by the gender of who wrote it? Discuss!

 

Sitting on a Story – What Frustrates You Most About Writing?

The question is, what is the single most frustrating thing about writing? Is it writer’s block? Motivation? Staying positive? What is the the absolute thing that makes you gnash your teeth or your stomach turn?

For me, it’s sitting on a story. And I hate it.

By default, I’ve always thought myself as a novelist. My very first forays into writing were not short stories or pieces of poetry, but attempts to flesh out entire novels from the start. I just leapt into doing it, and it feels right for me. I’m a sucker for character driven narratives, so when it comes to developing characters I’m straight out there using the longest format that allows me to develop them. In fact, the very first novel I finished (just in terms of writing the first draft) was a first person present narrative that took over 140,000 words to get to the final word. Writing that was tough, it had its issues, but what irritates me most is now having to sit on a completed work, either editing it or just leaving it to gather virtual dust on my computer.

Part of the reason I write is because I enjoy telling people stories. I quite simply like it when people like what I write. Sometimes I have an idea that I’m really buzzing about, but I’ve got to sit on the story for various reasons. I want to hear what people think. It’s what makes writing rewarding for me.

The solution should be simple. Post it online. Publish. Self-publish. I should have no excuse to sit on it. But there’s a number of reasons why I’m not. I’ll be brief, but my head tells me to wait. I want to finish my course and university without having publishing ventures worry me. I also want to wait for all the issues going on within the publishing industry to work out.

So in the mean time, I’m here writing novels that no-one else can read.