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Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Hiatus, episode a jillion

You know how, every so often, I go quiet on here for a while, then come back with talk about all the writing I’m planning to do but have been too busy for, or haven’t been in the right headspace while I’m in the middle of moving house, or how I’m feeling bad that I’ve been kinda lazy but I’m itching to get back to it any day now?

This is, like, half one of those, because I haven’t posted in ages and I guess I’m sort of apologising. But it’s half not that at all, because I’m not actually remotely sorry, I’ve just not even been trying to write anything for a while and it’s really nice.

I mean, I’m not totally giving up. I still want to engage with the world, including discussing politics and ideas and stuff, and sometimes that’ll involve lengthy rants and rambles on here. And there’s a good chance I’ll have another sincere go at churning a book out at some stage.

But lately I’ve had the longest stretch I’ve allowed myself in quite some time of not giving a shit about any of that. I’ve been tidying the house, and learning to cook a bit more, and playing the piano, and reading, and binge-watching kick-ass female-oriented Netflix superhero shows with my wife in our cosy basement, and basically having a nice time.

I do seem mostly to be better at having a nice time when I’m not trying to be a writer.

It’ll be a shame if I can never find a way to reconcile those two at least a little more than I am right now. But… I’m starting to think maybe not that much of a shame.

So I’m not gone, but I’m not back either. I’m more active on Twitter and Tumblr right now if for some reason you don’t want to keep missing out.

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Rejection

Well, it finally happened. I am officially now that wanker who, when you tell him “Hey, I liked your blog post, you should pitch that to Comment is Free,” actually goes and does it.

They didn’t take me up on it, but maybe I’ll keep trying once I’m more regularly producing words. For now, one brief thing that’s been on my mind.

I have no truck with “-isms”, and I won’t be a part of any movement that defines itself in that way. From fascism to feminism, they’re dogmatic, tribalistic, and offer a narrow and prescriptive view of the world. They encourage strict black-and-white thinking, and don’t allow room for nuance and complexity. Isms define everything in relation to the strict bounds of their set-in-stone doctrines, and demand rigid adherence to a predefined code, in a way that stifles genuine freethought and curiosity.

And that’s why I utterly reject on principle any set of ideas which share this particular suffix.

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Man, this place has been turning into one big, clunky obits column lately. Stay with it though, I’m making a different point this time.

Jay Lake was a widely acclaimed and fairly prolific sci-fi and fantasy writer. He won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction the year he turned 40, cranked out ten novels and literally hundreds of published short stories, and died today of cancer, just shy of his 50th birthday.

This isn’t another of those “personal reflections on death” posts that I’ve done for beloved pets in the past. I didn’t know Jay at all; my reaction on learning of his death was an “Oh yeah, that guy… I think.” I’ve not read his books; I vaguely recall quite enjoying some of his stories being read to me in the past, but I never explored him enough to call myself a fan. He’s remembered with admiration and respect by people whom I respect and admire. By all accounts he was a great writer and a fine chap, and my thoughts are with his family.

Some of my thoughts, anyway. Other parts of my brain are more self-interestedly and internally directed right now.

***

I’ve been saying for a while now that, whether or not writing is the thing I truly and honestly want to dedicate my life to and try making a career out of, I’m determined to at least give it a go. To spend six months or a year seriously putting the hours in, devoting myself to actually working on this as if it were something I were passionate about, and see where it takes me.

It may not work out, and I may just officially draw a line under it after a brief burst of effort. I might decide, you know what, it’s a fun pastime, there’s some pleasure to be had doodling a few paragraphs of a germ of an idea now and then, but it’s not worth making this The Big Thing. There are other things I’d rather be doing with the bulk of my time.

That could be the end result – but at least then I’d have tried. Not even having a go, to see if I could make a success out of it, is what I feel I’d regret most, years or decades down the line.

Sometimes I think this is a more intellectually honest approach to going about finding one’s vocation. Other times, I feel like I’m hedging, downplaying things, in case I try and I fail and I feel embarrassed at how much I talked about committing to my creative dreams from which I’ve now bailed out in shame and ignominy. Eh, I dunno. The point is, wherever it goes, I’m going to try and do this.

Starting, like, now.

***

I’d been putting all this off until after the move. We’ve been waiting months for the solicitors and mortgage underwriters – and all the other hordes of people who apparently need to get involved when you decide you’d like to go and live somewhere else – to get their shit together, and things are definitely making progress. But my plan to wait until I’m all settled into my nice new study, to arrange everything neatly once life has calmed down a bit, and then start working on the stuff I want to achieve with my time on earth, is a bullshit idea and I’ve always known it. This is the broken, backwards logic of people who buy exercise equipment and then start trying to induce in themselves a habit of regular exercise.

Smokers are more likely to quit successfully if they just arbitrarily pick a moment and say “Right, I’m done,” than if they plan for some point in the future after which things are going to change, and imbue that moment with significance (New Year’s Resolutions are the worst, you guys). Well, this is my arbitrarily chosen moment, somewhat inspired by Jay Lake’s passing, in a way that I hope isn’t crass or insensitive to connect to him. I’m not setting myself up as some kind of spiritual successor of his; I’ll consider myself gloriously lucky and undeserving if I ever approach his levels of success and productivity. This isn’t really about him, after all, and the eulogising should be left to those who knew and loved him.

But it so happened that he was the final domino which stirred me to action. Regardless of what prompted it, I think it’s about damn time. I’m convincing myself I’m busy making other plans, and meanwhile life is happening to me. So I’m starting this today. Because it’s not quite as good as yesterday, but it’s better than tomorrow.

***

It’s important to note that I still mostly suck as a writer. I might be able to decide spontaneously that I’m going to start trying hard, but I can’t apply the same resolve to instantly become good. I’ve got a lot of work and a lot of learning to do, and chances are good that the first results anyone will see of this bold, energetic, self-indulgent tirade about committing to this project, will be a few more badly thought-out blog posts a couple of hundred words long, and regular complaints about how I’m tired and everything sucks, none of which will in any way justify all this hot air.

I will be entirely with you as you inevitably ask: “Really, that’s it? You bluster about grabbing your creative energies by the allegorical balls, and this is the output you were so excited about?”

I’m going to write a lot of unremarkable shite, which should have everyone wondering if I wouldn’t be wasting my time less if I were studying for a qualification that might further my accountancy career prospects instead.

I anticipate that I will be asking myself that a lot, over the coming months.

And I’m going to keep writing it anyway.

Because what if I can fight my way through the amateurish quagmire of mediocrity, and make it out to the other side? What if, after putting in enough effort, I could eventually approach that glorious realm, that promised land: the world of being a writer who occasionally stops feeling like they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing, and whose output is total crap only like ninety percent of the time, maybe even eighty-five?

I can’t pass up the chance to at least try reaching for such a beautiful dream.

***

It starts here. I’ve read enough books and articles on procrastination and creativity to know all the tricks and mind-hacks, at least on an intellectual level, and I’ve made enough notes to remind myself of them whenever I fail to put them into practice (which will be always).

I’m going to get myself a notebook, so that I can always be writing wherever. And also, I don’t know, bigger pockets to carry it in, or something. Actually I can probably type on my phone as fast as I can scribble awkwardly on a notebook while hunching over to lean on my knees as I write. Scratch that one.

I’m going to stop letting thoughts go unrecorded, no matter how banal. Following through on the banal is how you nurture your capacity to pour out the barely above average.

I’ve deleted Candy Crush from my phone exactly two days after installing it, because I’ve learned for about the seventh time that I can’t be trusted to use things like that solely for passing idle moments which would not otherwise have been productively spent, without letting them turn into time-sinks of their own. (See also: Kongregate. Or rather, don’t, if you have anything you need to get done ever again.)

I’m going to have a grown-up and useful and awesome conversation with my wife, about adapting our shared daily routine somewhat around my new stupid obsession in a way that suits both of us, because we totally win at being married.

And most importantly of all, I’m going to reward myself for writing all this with a cup of tea and a biscuit right now.

And then I’ll come back and write something else. And so on.

Seeya.

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Still alive

I’m not writing anything at the moment.

Not working on a book. Not scribbling notes of any short stories. Not blogging about the many things that have interested or annoyed me in the past couple of weeks. (One obvious exception notwithstanding.)

I’m not doing any of the “making sure I always find time to eke out some words every day” thing. I’m not staring blankly at the scene-by-scene layout of a half-baked zombie detective novel, trying to organise all the sub-plots and ongoing threads in a way that’ll let me tie all the scattered fragments together into a continuous narrative. And I’m not wishing I had the energy or motivation to do all these things with all the free time I’m currently spending on the sofa.

I’m painting the kitchen. I’m watching Game of Thrones. I’m reading graphic novels about Nazi cats. I’m failing to train my own probably-not-a-Nazi cat not to bite my ankles or start knocking things off the dresser at 5.30am, because if you spray her with a water pistol she looks at you curiously and then comes over and licks it, even if you keep firing it right in her face at point blank range. I’m having a pretty quiet family life at home while not in any way being a writer.

It’s quite nice.

This isn’t some especially dramatic shift. Clearly I’ve not given up entirely, and clearly it’s not been completely off my mind this whole time, given that it’s the first thing in ages I’ve been motivated to write about at some length. There’s still a lot I feel I could achieve in that direction; there are many stories I don’t just want to leave unfinished; it feels incredibly rewarding when it’s going well; and there are times when my contribution feels like it has the potential to even matter a little bit.

And doing some proper, serious writing, enough to actually maybe get fairly good at it, is the thing I can most imagine regretting if I never got around to it, decades down the line. If I never touch a piano again, maybe I’ll miss that from time to time, but there’ll be no particular heartbreak there. But if I give up on all my half-started books, and never really have a proper go at being single-minded and crazy enough to make some notable progress at being a writer… that seems like something that would make me sad, looking back.

I might try an experimental few months next year, of being a properly secluded crazed hairy creative type. My other responsibilities will be few, I won’t be in this lethargic semi-hibernation which is how I apparently react to winter, and I’ll give the wife strict instructions to hide the cheesecake and withhold further lasagna until I’ve been sufficiently diligent at words. After a few months of actually committing to that, I ought to know whether I was getting enough out of it to keep some sort of routine going, or whether I’d actually be happier if I just relaxed with all this lovely spare time instead.

Because, you know, not putting any effort into it at all, for a nice long stretch of more than just a day or two in between forced bursts of activity, is really nice.

So, I don’t know. My wife’s been telling me I need a hobby. Something to do with my hands, something that’ll occupy my brain while she’s crocheting a hat on the other end of the sofa. I’m not arty at all, but I like having something to do with my hands. I’m enjoying painting the tiles in the kitchen, for some reason.

Oh god. I’ve become one of those people who doesn’t post to their blog for ages then updates with some self-indulgently pointless musing about why I haven’t written much lately or the nature of creativity or some shit like that. I used to be topical and share crafted opinions or sensibly balanced reporting on interesting news. Now look at me. I’m probably going to title it “Still alive” or something insufferable like that, aren’t I? Christ, I’m a wanker.

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But it’s important.

But it sucks.

I write short stories, and every so often I go through a brief phase of submitting them to a few professional markets. I’ve started getting quite good at being rejected. It’s something I seem to have a real knack for, in fact, when I apply myself.

Anyone with even a modicum of professional writing experience in any comparable field will tell you that rejection is an important part of the process, even a positive part. And of course they’re right. If you’re getting rejected, it means you’re putting yourself out there, and if it keeps happening, it means you’re demonstrating the kind of persistence which sometimes gets rewarded with success. Ploughing on through the “no”s is a crucial part of making it to your first “yes”.

Harry Potter was turned down by I can’t be bothered to look up how many publishers before Rowling sold her first novel, Edison proudly discovered ten thousand ways not to plagiarise the lightbulb, you get the idea. Failing means you’re on the right track. It’s kinda obvious, but can be difficult to take on board.

It’s a philosophy I’ve repeated many times, and embraced in theory, but I’ve not really examined how well I do at it in practice. How much do my instinctive thoughts and reactions, in the moment, actually match up with the ideal?

The particular example of writing rejections doesn’t cause me too much neurotic stress. But some kinds of perceived failure have a much greater tendency to rankle. Sometimes getting it wrong really doesn’t feel like useful progress.

One of my problems seems to be with an unhelpful aversion to wasting my time. For instance: I’ve been trying to untangle and organise the plotting for a mostly second-drafted novel lately. (The one about a zombie and a vampire who run a detective agency, of which I bashed out a first draft a couple of NaNoWriMos ago, if you’re interested.) One thing I’ve done this week, in an effort to organise all the chapters, is to print out a series of short scene descriptions onto small bits of paper, and to blu-tack them to a whiteboard, so as to arrange them into some sort of coherent narrative.

This may all have been a colossal waste of time.

I’m still getting confused over what makes narrative sense to happen when. It hasn’t instantly resolved any of my structural or pacing issues. I’m not sure it’s going to be of any more help keeping track of future changes than the notes I’d already made on the computer. It looks pretty, I suppose, and it’s all neatly colour-coded, but I’ve a suspicion that may all be a load of toss.

This isn’t one of those times when I’m using pointless distractions to avoid actually writing, and really I just need to just sit down and get the fuck on with it. I do need to do something to figure out the sodding structure of the thing, and just staring at walls of text doesn’t seem to be helping. Sticking notes to a board is as valid a way of having a go as any other. But it still really bugs me that it might not have been a useful way to go.

I’m finding it especially hard to put the whole “failure as a learning experience” idea into practice in this particular scenario. It just feels like I put in some effort and made zero progress anywhere, and this is deeply infuriating and off-putting.

What’s really ridiculous, though, is the way I keep falling back on the worst coping strategy ever.

It’s taken me a while to even get as far as the whiteboard, because rather than struggle with something that seems likely to end in failure – rather than even contemplate it seriously, sometimes – I’ll just do something else that isn’t even meant to be productive. Those same minutes I’m worrying about wasting on some pointless wall-chart writing aid, turn into half an hour on Kongregate, or watching TV, or something else equally passive.

This way, I don’t just risk getting nothing useful achieved with my time, I guarantee it. But I won’t get that feeling of having strived for something and then failed to achieve an immediately measurable result. So it feels like less of a loss.

You can see exactly what my brain’s doing. It’s trying to avoid that feeling of having wasted time doing something that failed. It wants to protect itself so much from that unpleasant sensation, that distractions which fail to achieve any of my goals become acceptable. Which is colossally unhelpful of it. I mean, this is not-opening-bank-statements level thinking. It’s lamentable.

And it’s going to take some serious practice before I get over it.

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Unimportant admin

My posting schedule was interrupted last week: I was away for a couple of days, visiting family and socialising with nice people, then I was recovering from all that, then I just didn’t have anything pre-written to put up here and wasn’t in the mood to come up with anything new.

I’ve been trying, for a while, to maintain some degree of discipline with this blogging lark, and have been fairly consistent in posting every day for some time, often twice a day with a Linksplat or a quickie. And I think I’m kinda done with that now. It’s started to feel like an obligation, it’s not as personally rewarding as it could be, and it’s a distraction from other things I want to be achieving.

I’m still going to engage with the interwebs on matters skeptical, political, and otherwise of interest. I’m just going to stop trying so hard. I’ll keep blogging, but only when I have something that I’m just itching to say, and the act of getting the words out of my brain and into a text file is a sufficient reward in itself. I’m not going to let myself feel obliged to be a good blogger for anyone else any more. I wanted to for a while, but I’m studying for a professional qualification, I’ve got a novel to redraft and a bunch of short stories to sell, and one of these days I might even have a job again.

My priorities could do with a bit of shifting around, is my point.

With luck, it’ll mean that on the selective occasions when I do post something, it’ll be more worth reading and less hurriedly dashed off (though don’t hold your breath). I’m hoping to engage in more depth with things on Twitter and Facebook too; subjects that would previously have gotten a brief write-up or a Linksplat mention you’ll now find me wittering about on there. Feel free to follow/friend me if you want to keep up with that.

(I’m feeling a bit disheartened with YouTube after the reactions to my last video – despite a lot of kind people telling me they liked it, the comments are full of oblivious idiots accusing me of being a religious lunatic – but maybe I’ll reappear there eventually too, if I can think of anything worth doing.)

Thanks to everyone who reads and comments and whatnot here. Hmm, it seems to add an unavoidably maudlin and melodramatic tone to start thanking people, as if I were retiring after twenty years, or straightening my affairs before heading off to Dignitas. I’m aware that I’m not announcing a dramatic lifestyle change for anyone, especially not you, but still.

I’ll probably be back with a rant about something that’s annoyed me before too long. But it’s going to have to wait its turn, behind learning how to bookkeeperise things and telling stories about zombie detectives.

(Ha – I didn’t notice until after writing all the above, but this decision happens to immediately follow my 1000th post here. IT’S A SIGN!!)

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Today, I am perfect.

Short of some spectacular advances in technology, this is the last year I’ll be able to say that.

Yesterday, I was a cube. That won’t be true again until I’m Paul McCartney.

In a year, I’ll be in my prime again. The last time that was true, I was living on my own in Bromley, and had started this blog a week and a half ago.

As regular readers will be aware, this convoluted load of nonsense is how I traditionally announce that it’s my birthday. I’m 28 today.

Last year, instead of New Year’s Resolutions, I compiled a list of things I wanted to get done while I was still 27. It almost amounts to the same thing, with my birthday being so early in the year, and it seemed like a good age at which to achieve things.

There were two things on my list. I managed neither of them.

In fairness, I did get justifiably distracted by one particular side-quest.

 

 

I think I’m entitled to shunt my other priorities back a little to make room for stuff like falling in love and getting engaged.

So, apart from continuing to be awesome, the things I aim to achieve this time while I’m 28 years old are:

1. I’m going to finish a novel. Writing and redrafting, start to finish, to a state where it could start being sent out to publishers, or at least to beta-readers. I’ve got several part-completed projects which could satisfy this one; at the moment my delayed NaNoWriMo project is at 31,000 words and coming along nicely. So, it’s looking tentatively promising.

And, alongside my efforts at completing a lengthy magnum opus:

2. I’m going to sell some writing. A novel, some short fic, a drabble, an article for a magazine specialising in snarky geekdom, whatever – someone is going to pay me moneys for some words I done wrote.

I’ve already written stuff which may possibly qualify here. But this is going to involve familiarising myself more with paying markets and the actual professional side of writering, beyond the simple bit of sitting down and typing words. (“Simple” in that, logistically, I understand how it’s supposed to work. The physical processes are relatively uncomplicated. This is not the same as “easy”.)

As an afterthought, I suppose I should tack on the secondary aim of getting a job at some point. But pfft, details.

So, that’s me. Happy birthday/un-birthday (delete as appropriate) to you. I’m off to eat more cake.

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