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Summoning The Daemon

 

The title does not contradict my previous statements on inspiration. It is inconstant and should not be relied upon as part of a writing process if you want to achieve a regular body of work. I do, so I don’t rely on it. I write through all the different shades of feeling.

Feeling ill? Still writing

There’s a new season of that show I like on Netflix that I have time to binge watch? Still writing.

However, inspiration is pretty wonderful and when it lands upon you, it is like mainlining the universe. In Ancient Greece, they referred to it as a spirit called a daemon. Inspiration, in that context, can be seen as summoning it so I will use that metaphor going forward. Sit down, kids, this is going somewhere interesting.

Sources of inspiration:

The most obvious one is reading. I include audiobooks amongst this, as the science supports that listening to one resonates in the brain in the same way looking at words on a page or screen does. I will break that down for you into some further definitions.

Fiction – I say this and it is kind of hammered into you that if you are a writer, you should be reading. The why of that, to me, is the following reasons. It allows you to see the possibility of what can be done on the page. There are no right or wrong books to be reading. A good book can inspire envy as well as  much as a bad book can inspire contempt.

Reading as a writer is different from reading as a reader. You want to see what effects are possible, then you look at how and what the writer uses to convey that effect. Don’t see this as an adjunct to dry, literary analysis, think of it as figuring out what they did and how you can reproduce it in your own writing. It is not plagiarism, which is stupid to do in the days of software that can analyse and point it out, although people still do it and even sell books online with it. Warren Ellis, the comic book writer, offers this up in terms of comic books. Tear it apart, use the entrails to see a possible future for your work. Chuck Palahniuk has a lovely quote that I use.

“Nothing of me is original. I am the combined effort of everyone I’ve ever known.”

You should do the same with bad writing too. What that means is subjective to you, but if you get that faint sense of ‘I can do better than that’ or not even the faint sense where you resolve yourself to a vigilante crusade to burn every copy of that book in existence, then you can still learn something useful from it. Bad books have a malign sense of energy, and some of the subjectively worst books have been the most popular. Slag Dan Brown off all you want, he won’t hear you from atop the massive pile of gold and escorts that he sleeps upon.

So, read, listen to fiction. It gives you scope for your own work.

I also add that it is good to read outside of your genre. If you want to work in a particular genre, it is arrogant not to read the leading proponents of the style. Who those are is also subjective, but I believe that if you read outside of that, then you can incorporate elements to make your voice unique. It is healthy and lends itself to original work, if you can do it in a natural way. What matters is that you look to make those elements organic, not some Frankenstein’s Monster literary hybrid that lurches from the slab with lightning running through it’s decayed veins.

Non -Fiction.

I will refer to Tom Clancy for this:

“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

I would argue that any written non fiction is fictional in construction. Actually it is not me who argues that but Steven Pressfield because you are still choosing which moments and perspectives form your account. Reality television is not, because it is not a dogme 95 camera trained on a fixed point and neither is non fiction writing. I digress though.

Non-fiction is a mine of inspiration for me. It is an education awash with pleasure because you can pick up a great deal of images, incidents and story prompts from the stuff of life itself. You can change the names, details but keep that little spark there alive and you have something that resonates whilst still having the plausibility of real life.

Pick a subject, look for the good stuff and let it wash over you.

OBSERVATION

I work a day job, lots of us do. Your colleagues, your customers are all potential sounding boards and sources of inspiration. Listen, ask questions that relate to whatever you were working on and need some juice to pump into your writing. Anecdotes are everywhere, and you should use them wherever possible, legal issues and ramifications withstanding.

I hope these points are of interest, and that they help. Feel free to disregard what does not work for you, and please offer up your own points in the comments or to me via the contact form at the bottom of this post.

 

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Silk – A Cocoon Falls.

From branch

Cocoon falls to ground

Empress looks

Threads float

Thought sparks a

Change to a

Empire with

Secrets prized

Holds power to

Trade for treasures

Idea more precious

Than material wealth

Smuggled out

Into foreign hands

Idea loses worth

Empress looks up

At branch

Waits for cocoon

To fall

It

Still

Falls

 

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Spark

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Trials lie in wait

On every corner

I hold within

A spark of purpose

I am earth, air, fire, water

And all things

Within it

Undefined

By anything

Beyond will

And purpose.

Each quiet hour

Before dawn

Pen makes

Love to paper

Fingers seduce

The keyboard

If you would

Find me anywhere

Find

Me

There.

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Muse (Audio)

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Muse

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Always striving

Never complete

I make art

In so many ways

With a focus

That robs you of breath

If you let yourself 

Consider what it is

That you might

Be it’s inspiration

Come to me

Every ounce of courage

Hold nothing back

You might settle

Out of fear

But here in unknown territory

You might find

Beauty marks your soul

When seen through my eyes

And you will be a stronger

More passionate woman

For the experience

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Two Pages (28/10/16)

 

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I am making good progress on the new book. It took a little adjustment but the changes in setting and language have allowed me to develop in ways that surprised me this morning. It is a balance between serving the story, avoiding cliche and not doing service to the culture that I am using to give colour and texture to the story.

Fortunately, I know where I am going with this, and although there is room for exploration, which I always allow myself in order to give a maximum amount of expression to the work, the path is clear and I walk it each day, two pages at a time. I know that I am wilfully vague about the details, but it’s been my experience, that if I tell you what it’s about, then I lose the incentive to write it.

It is important that the work I do, reflects the influences and person that I am at that particular point. The amount of reading I do influences the quality of it. I do not plagiarise, because it is pointless and too easy. I feed off the reading that I do, see how a particular writer goes about achieving an effect or works out a sequence and then look at it in the context of my own writing. The old maxim of ‘write what you know’ is oft-discussed and misinterpreted, it can be an effective block of the creative impulse but I think that it’s a nuanced discussion.  I write whatever is in me at the time, about the things that can sustain interest for an entire book. I know who I write for, and that allows me to focus on the simple act of turning up each day and doing it.

Thank you for reading.

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Two Pages (27/10/16)

joy-shame

I wrote another two pages of the new book this morning. Yesterday, I worked on the structure of it, using Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid so I know where the beats and obligatory scenes are. I also did quite a bit of reading for research purposes. It’s not historically accurate but I like to work in some nods to the culture, and where it doesn’t work, I just make it up. I’m aiming for plausibility rather than accuracy with this, atmosphere and also working in an entirely different setting without some of the touchstones that have informed earlier books.

Technology, essentially. Although, as Arthur C Clarke said, any advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, so it’s all the same thing, just portrayed in different ways. The language I am using is different, still english, still hopefully in my voice but it’s meant to evoke different effects and another sort of atmosphere.  I am making overtures towards finishing off The Ogden Review, as we’re deep into the third act and it’s a bittersweet experience because I’ve enjoyed writing them.

I finished a couple of books yesterday in addition to the research material, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which was gorgeous and moving, Matthew Quick’s The Silver Linings Playbook, which was a different experience on the page versus the (very enjoyable) film, which is always present with adaptations. I also finished Spark by John Twelve Hawks and Night Music by John Connolly. I also took a lovely long walk with the dog as well, went out into the marshes and just took everything in.

Thank you for reading.

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The Ten Perfections Applied To Writing

 

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So, if you’re a long term reader of the blog, then you might be aware that I am interested in spirituality. I’m not a magician or anything like that, but I do take an interest in certain philosophies, mainly Eastern but I do appreciate stoicism and have been reading Marcus Aurelius and Seneca but the one set of tenets that I do return to quite often is Buddhism. I like it’s rooted in human behaviours, that there’s no external deity to worship and I draw comfort from the attempt to aspire to an ideal. There are buddhist bigots out there, Myanmar is a sad example of such but nothing and no one is perfect, which Buddhism allows for. I also like Taoism and Zen as well, most religions are fascinating to me, and there are rich seams of poetry and sensuality within each of them.

So, I have been listening to an audiobook by Jack Kornfield which talks about The Ten Perfections, virtues of the religion, all delivered in his soft, warming voice, interspersed with parables, jokes and illuminating stories. I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of faith because there is a lot you can learn from considered and informed voices without a dog in the fight.

I thought about how it would apply to the practice of writing and how they might be intertwined with the Ten Perfections. Here are five or so, that might be interesting.

Equanimity – A balanced, even mind applies in respect of how you portray your characters. If you can understand that no one considers themselves a villain, that ‘good’ people are flawed and duplicitous without diminishing their goodness. Establishing and practicing this is a good way to achieve depth in your stories.

Compassion – Unsentimental is the caveat here. You show your love for the characters by making them suffer, setting them challenges between them and their goals. Their reaction, their desire is what fuels the engine of your story.

Generosity – To yourself, in terms of caring for you, physically and emotionally is a form of generosity. When you’re giving everything away, be sure to keep something for yourself in order to maintain and empower yourself. In terms of your writing, take delight in what you are creating, it’s the cheapest form of entertainment to tell yourself a story and yet the most powerful. Be generous to your characters in how you tell their story, protagonist and antagonists alike.

Morality – Your passion and genuine emotion are what will draw the reader in and keep them there. We can forgive clumsy writing, inconsistent plotlines and bad cover art if we sense that we are reading something genuine and heartfelt. Your morality informs your writing, either in opposition or consolidation. Explore that on the page – write about a homophobic nurse forced to care for a dying gay man, or a white nationalist who finds themselves working alongside a Puerto Rican. Depending on your point of view, try to explore different viewpoints with the same passion and insight that you would confirm your own.

Renunciation – I characterise this as the fear of missing out or chasing trends in writing. Renounce the voices of others only when you have found yours, be the best version of you on the page that you can be. Don’t be JK Rowling or Stephen King, they’re already out there and they got there through hard work , luck and determination. Be the best version of you. It can also refer to the discipline of a writing practice, or making sure that you read more, and to do so consciously.

           Wisdom – Your life is source material. If not the objective experiences, then the emotions that you have experienced or the things that you have learned from them. The life you have lived and live has all the colours you need to paint a masterpiece, sometimes you will need blend colours and nuances to get the shade that you need. You have lived, and learned, the difficult part is in the translation sometimes. Imagination is that path, but it is the wisdom of experience that will give you the strength to walk along it.

 Effort. There is the effort required to write, or develop a sustainable practice of writing and maintain it. There is the effort required to research and improve your craft, the effort to read rather than watch television or play videogames. There is the determination to market your work as well. Effort is important to the development of an approach to writing.

 Patience. Writing for a reply to an email that may offer success or feedback. Replies to enquiries or about submissions that seem to take their sweet time in arriving. Seeing people get deals, retweeting fan art and glowing reviews whilst you’re still waiting to find out if what you’ve written is actually any good. Patience is important but do not be passive about it. Work on your material, seek to improve in some small way to ensure that the time spent in patient anticipation was not wasted.

Truthfulness. Honesty on the page is everything. Yes, writing is a series of entertaining lies interspersed with truth. Tell the truth through the observations and actions of your characters. It is free therapy, and earnest, unvarnished truth resonates with readers in a way that the most elegant, glorious language never could. If it is uncomfortable, keep a straight face and say that it is just fiction. Stick a hobbit or a ninja in there to distract them. Yes, you’re making things up and having a fine time doing it but hold some measure up to the light of the truth within and about yourself.

Determination. Better work than yours will be ignored, lesser works than yours will be feted and celebrated. Some people will do less to get further and faster than you. Your work will sometimes feel like a trudge through a muddy path. Your family will demand more of your attention, at exactly the point that your second act falls to shit and phone calls will interrupt your most sublime reveries. This is where determination comes in. It applies regardless of whether writing is a hobby or a career for you. A strange fact is that the more effort you put into something, the better you will get and then your enjoyment of the hobby will gain depth and find new meaning. There’s something almost perverse in developing a level of aptitude for no other reason than your own pleasure. We’re encouraged to get better for the salary increase, the title but when we do it for the soul’s reward, there is something truly sublime in that.

When your heart is breaking, writing makes sense. It takes determination to write through your pain but it makes it easier to bear it all.

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Two Pages (09/10/16)

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This morning’s pages were good, took on the challenge of showing a little more description of the protagonist’s love interest/ally  and their house. It is something that I may lift entirely and place earlier in the book but sometimes insights arrive when they’re ready to be written down, and so long as you know where you are and what you are doing, then that is half the battle. I also looked at my list of obligatory scenes and made some notes as to which I have done, and where they are, as well as started to sketch out some of the major ones later. Yes, you can skip back and forth, but I like those scenes to come to me with the force of momentum and a sense of being due, rather than overdue.

I did not work on Until She Sings last night but will do so today, spent some time giving feedback on a friend’s short story that took some detail. Feedback is a potentially dangerous thing, which is why so many people are reticent to give it. Too honest and it appears cruel, too soft-spoken and it appears patronising. I aim to strike a balance between the two. You cast bread out on the water, you get back cake and who doesn’t like cake?

This next part is the rest of the Ten Perfections as applied to a writing practice.

6. Wisdom – Your life is source material. If not the objective experiences, then the emotions that you have experienced or the things that you have learned from them. The life you have lived and live has all the colours you need to paint a masterpiece, sometimes you will need blend colours and nuances to get the shade that you need. You have lived, and learned, the difficult part is in the translation sometimes. Imagination is that path, but it is the wisdom of experience that will give you the strength to walk along it.

7. Effort. There is the effort required to write, or develop a sustainable practice of writing and maintain it. There is the effort required to research and improve your craft, the effort to read rather than watch television or play videogames. There is the determination to market your work as well. Effort is important to the development of an approach to writing.

8. Patience. Writing for a reply to an email that may offer success or feedback. Replies to enquiries or about submissions that seem to take their sweet time in arriving. Seeing people get deals, retweeting fan art and glowing reviews whilst you’re still waiting to find out if what you’ve written is actually any good. Patience is important but do not be passive about it. Work on your material, seek to improve in some small way to ensure that the time spent in patient anticipation was not wasted.

9. Truthfulness. Honesty on the page is everything. Yes, writing is a series of entertaining lies interspersed with truth. Tell the truth through the observations and actions of your characters. It is free therapy, and earnest, unvarnished truth resonates with readers in a way that the most elegant, glorious language never could. If it is uncomfortable, keep a straight face and say that it is just fiction. Stick a hobbit or a ninja in there to distract them. Yes, you’re making things up and having a fine time doing it but hold some measure up to the light of the truth within and about yourself.

10. Determination. Better work than yours will be ignored, lesser works than yours will be feted and celebrated. Some people will do less to get further and faster than you. Your work will sometimes feel like a trudge through a muddy path. Your family will demand more of your attention, at exactly the point that your second act falls to shit and phone calls will interrupt your most sublime reveries. This is where determination comes in. It applies regardless of whether writing is a hobby or a career for you. A strange fact is that the more effort you put into something, the better you will get and then your enjoyment of the hobby will gain depth and find new meaning. There’s something almost perverse in developing a level of aptitude for no other reason than your own pleasure. We’re encouraged to get better for the salary increase, the title but when we do it for the soul’s reward, there is something truly sublime in that.

When your heart is breaking, writing makes sense. It takes determination to write through your pain but it makes it easier to bear it all.

 

Writing is so rewarding for me that the more I have aligned my life around it, the happier I have become. It has made me rich in terms of spirit and mind. If you can find a groove to set into and you are present with it, it’s a thing of genuine wonder to me, and I feel successful already. My ambition is to build a life that allows me to do more of that. I am investigating the process to get into teaching, with an aim to develop as a teacher of creative writing. I’ve spent decades doing things for other people all the time, and although it was not time wasted, I can see that a future where I am sourced in my wonder and craft would be a thing of joy for me. If that groove becomes a rut, then the solution is to keep digging until you find that the air is fresher underground.

Inspiration is like a moth, killed by the smallest casual nudge so learn to work without it. Then, when it does arrive, you can appreciate and enjoy it’s time with you.

Thank you for listening.

 

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Two Pages (04/10/16)

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  • It was a good two pages this morning. I’m always wary of these scenes, they’re important and I try to balance the need for pace and information with the tenets of solid writing. The one applied to this morning was that if you have two characters talking, they should not tell one another things that they both know. Revelations matter in the context of the book, and I have this nagging suspicion that the scene is too early in the book, but it needed to come out and so it did.
  • I chose the quote above, as much because I agree with it’s sentiments and Sarah Waters has become part of my lexicon of ‘go to’ writers, in that I will read anything of their work. I include:
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Stephen King
  • Joe Hill
  • Paul Tremblay
  • Alice Hoffman
  • Warren Ellis
  • Chuck Palahniuk
  • Don Winslow
  • Stephen Hunter
  • George R R Martin
  • Jason Arnopp
  • Justin Cronin
  • Neil Gaiman
  • John Connolly
  •  Benjamin Percy
  •  Gillian Flynn.
  • John Niven
  • John Irving
  • Barbara Kingsolver
  • In terms of writers who’ve no longer offered up work on account of, y’know, death I have started to explore Charles Dickens, Vladimir Nabokov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Jane Austen.  There’s so much to learn and I am finding new authors all the time. Yesterday, I found out that I can take up 15 books out at a time from the library and it was such a relief because I could do that twice over and still find things to read.

 

  • Non-fiction, the stuff that informs the books and hopefully shows that I am speaking from a place of relative confidence in the details, that’s more a matter of finding the material that gives me the best information. The quality of the writing matters there, because I don’t enjoy struggling through stilted, if earnest writing to find information. Google is a modern miracle but I retain information from books in a more organic way.

 

  • I am not a pretentious person. I can be quite stoic, I enjoy being a man, which is an odd thing to say these days but I do. I like how my mind works, I enjoy seeing my work progress, even the wrestling with doubt that afflicts me about my talent is still enjoyable because it means that I am progressing, I am fighting myself for an ideal that I may not achieve. There are amazing books on shelves that no one reads, no one can predict what sells and what doesn’t. I’ve said it before, but I make my success about the process for now rather than the outcome.  Making myself write every day is a pleasurable practice, as much meditation as work. It’s like gardening on a sunny day, sometimes all you get is scratched and dirty, but when it’s done and you take a step back, it feels wonderful to have done it.
  • Writing has changed me, and the writing has changed as a result. I used any number of identities when I was avoiding writing, political activist was one of them and when they all hit barriers, I gave up. Writing is, and I remember the comedienne Bethany Black, the thing that I have found that I don’t want to fail at anymore. I write for, and about women because that was what came out on the page and I like to leave a certain amount of the reasoning and process in my subconscious. If I started to truly analyse myself, there are limits that we apply in the journey. What comes up is what gets put out there, and so there are women of all types in my books, and there’s no manifesto to that other than to tell a good story as well as I can. To get good at it without necessarily defining what good is other than the reaction of the reader.

Thank you for reading. Please leave comments and questions below. You won’t because no one reads this but I do it regardless. We all need to create and sit in what Hakim Bey called ‘Temporary Autonomous Zones’, liminal spaces where we can think, speak and play without fear of judgement or scorn. This is mine. Tell me yours.