Wednesday, December 4, 2013
It all started way back when I was a young lad exploring the weird, wonderful worlds of wonder which fantasy had opened up to me. At some point in that long expedition, it entered the conviction of myself and my family that there was a particular piece of fantastical literature which was wrong, bad, even evil, if you will. So we avoided it, like it was the plague. And that came to extend not only to the one work, but anything which used the term magic.
As often happens, as we grew older and began to venture further out into the world than had been done previously, we came into contact with those who disagreed. Most just expressed their opinions and then left it alone. But there were a couple of individuals who outright defied our beliefs. Loudly. It was seriously irritating how insistent they were that they were right in what was for many people a controversial issue. My thanks goes to them, however, but only because their argumentation made me think. I wondered why exactly it was that I was rejecting this one thing, and yet wholeheartedly embraced a number of other works that were uncomfortably similar.
I searched for the answer a long time. I think I've finally gotten it boiled down to a basic principle. I like to call it my Universal Magic Theory, just 'cause I can. The basic point of UMT is that the more realistic a form of magic is, the worse it is. The less realistic, the better.
Take for example, spell casting, a common device in many fantastical works. Generally, I would put this on the bad/wrong scale, since there are real life practices that attempt to do this. People actually do try to put spells, or curses, or hexes, or whatever on people. It's an evil practice in real life, and it's an evil practice in fiction too. On the other hand, things like, say, Cinderella's fairy godmother or Glinda from The Wizard of Oz are completely fine, since no one actually believes that any such person exists, or that anything they do is feasible.
In the end, conscience is king. If it pricks me, that's because something is wrong. If I feel in my gut that something really isn't bad, without a whole intellectual analysis, then it's OK. I would advise in this matter that you let your conscience guide you, and when that doesn't work, ask someone else. Most of what I just said comes from what my dad has told me at various different times. So long as you truly seek to know what is good and right, you will not be unanswered.
Magic is like many other things in literature, fantastical or not. If used correctly, it's harmless, and even good. But if used improperly, it can be harmful and wrong. The trick is knowing when that happens. Ultimately, it's up to you. I hope my theory can be of some use, whatever you find.
Monday, December 2, 2013
This brings me to another thought on writing, namely, the process that comes afterward.
When I was young and starting out in this trade, there were few things that seemed to me more ridiculous than rewriting. Editing made sense, since I was likely to make a few grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors. But to sit down, as my dad proposed, with a new, blank document and write up the whole thing all over again? It seemed ludicrous. I already went through all the work to write a story. In my mind, the next thing to do was publish.
Fortunately, I didn't get my way. The story drafts I'd begun remained in the closet, while I worked with other things. I didn't forsake those drafts; I was just sitting on them until I could finally publish.
Then, the time came when I thought I would do it. I pulled one of them drafts out of the closet, brushed it off and looked it over. And then it became apparent. It was bad. Awful, even. Things began to make sense then. My old draft was stinky, practically unsalvageable. To redeem it, I would have to pull off a complete overhaul of the plot, characters, everything. A rewrite. So, with much fear and trepidation, I began. And it turned out much better.
Rewriting is an incredible thing. I've found that through it, wimpy, half-baked pieces of work can be transformed into stronger, more thoroughly cooked piece of art. Metaphorically speaking. Granted, for me that doesn't happen after I sit on a draft for a while and wait for newer, wilder, more exciting ideas to come.
Every writer's system for writing is different, of course. But rewriting is one of the most indispensable tools in the toolbox. With it, you can rework old plotlines, invent new, more interesting characters, create grander, more incredible worlds, and make your story the absolute best it can be. (Thanks, Dad!)
Monday, November 18, 2013
Monday, November 11, 2013
"What does this have to do with writing?" you ask. I don't know. I started thinking about horrors that visit me at night and found this little memory, one of the terrors of childhood. But it does have a kind of application with the rule I was trying to write about.
When I say stop trying, I mean don't try to force creativity. That's easy to say, but harder to practice, especially if you're-ahem- trying to write a whole novel in the space of a month.
You can't be creative by forcing it. The more you force it, the more likely you are to come up with something that has already been done, or even done to death. This is where my little childhood memory comes in.
I sat down, trying to find something to write about since I haven't published in a week. I was lacking inspiration. I figured I would try this, since it pertained largely to what I was trying to do. Then as I typed away at a metaphor, I found myself reliving a fearful memory from my distant past. And now that I think about it, it makes a nice analogy for what I'm saying.
Your works, your creativity, are like the bear, Marco. You want the bear, obviously, so you're in my place. The demon is the fear that you are not creative, and that most of what you do is in imitation of others. Every night (when you sit down to write?) the demon comes and haunts you, actually threatening to take your creativity away. Then you're caught in a tug-of-war, you pulling your creativity hard toward you, the fear pulling it back. The harder you try, the easier it is for the nasty sucker to pull your creativity away.
So the answer is to keep that creative mindset with you all the time. Constantly go through the things in your imagination, analyzing them, exploring them, trying to understand them. Don't let the fear get a hold of you. Keep that creative instinct close. Cherish it like it's a childhood friend. Trust it. You can only really be original once you stop trying.
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Even as I race to get all the ideas from my head onto paper, though, I wonder what the point is. I mean, it's obvious even at this stage of the game that my storytelling is very rocky, my characters are not developed (in print), and there are whole gaps in the plot. What's the point?
I believe it has to do with Rule 1. The point of disciplining oneself to write a whole novel in the space of a month is to get one's ideas on paper, no matter how raw and unrefined they are. That's step one. From there is the usual going back through, revising, rewriting, redreaming things. Eventually you have a nearly finished draft.
Take the pressure off. I'm a little too perfectionistic for my own good. I need to divide up my focus. First, get the really rough part written, and see what's good there. Then go back through and cut everything but the best stuff. Rethink. Repeat.
There will always be room for improvement. Right now, the focus must remain on the necessary struggle through decidedly imperfect work to get to the good stuff. To borrow my favorite analogy, use your pickaxe to start hacking through the dirt and hard rock to get to the gold. That's the first step in this great journey of (at least) a thousand miles.
Friday, November 1, 2013
But it can't stop at the first idea. Especially in the storytelling realm. And even in nonfiction too. I started this rule to comment on (complain about) some overused plot devices that I found annoying. Now I'm talking about first ideas. Without that first idea, this entry wouldn't exist, but without long and hard thought about it, it would still be an unfinished page in my closet.
What do I mean about being wary of first ideas? I certainly don't mean to put down any idea you have just because it was the first thing that came to mind. But be careful about those first things. Think and develop on that first idea to see how you could make it more original and unique. Sometimes it works to focus on trying to solve a difficulty with the idea, and other times it's good to let your imagination wander until it finds something you can use.
Oftentimes, it won't do just to sit back and stare into space. I do my share of daydreaming, and at times it's productive. Other times, I'm just going back through what I've already decided before. That's not very useful at all. In those times, it's good to go through a process of brainstorming. I like to think of it as jumping through these multiple universes and exploring the differences between them until I find which one really interests me.
For example, a first idea (or first "universe") would be to have Adam meet a girl named Beatrice, fall for her and pursue her, only to be thwarted by the Reaper himself, who takes her home prematurely, and now Adam has to struggle with loneliness and anger at fate. OK, that might make an alright story.
But what if we hop into another universe and find something else, like maybe instead of Adam chasing Beatrice, she goes after him. That's different, but not what I'm looking for. On to another universe. Perhaps in this one Adam dies, leaving Beatrice only able to wonder what their relationship might have been. Or maybe in yet another world, neither Adam nor Beatrice die, but Adam has to move away because of his job and asks Beatrice to come with him, leaving her with a terrible choice: to leave her home and friends for this guy, or to deny him and stay where she's comfortable. Or maybe Adam doesn't ask, and deals with his heartache privately. Or maybe he quits his job so he can stay where Beatrice is. Or, perhaps he has to move to take care of his dying mother, so his emotions are even more out of control.
What if, instead of being lovers, Adam and Beatrice are brother and sister? Supposing Beatrice falls for some guy and Adam investigates him, only to find out he's one of those no-good, dirty, rotten...types. How then does he deal with Beatrice and her emotions? Or perhaps Beatrice's sweetheart is a very fine, upstanding individual who makes Adam angry because he wants to find fault with him but can't. Or maybe Adam feels a bittersweet heartache knowing that this guy will be better to her than Adam ever was. What if Adam is the one who's in love, and Beatrice the one who's uneasy?
Supposing Adam is twelve and Beatrice is seventeen. How do they relate to each other? Are they best friends or mortal enemies? Are they the only siblings in the family, or is there another brother or sister hiding somewhere, eager to appear? We could bring death in here again. Was it Adam or Beatrice who died? One of their parents? Their unborn baby brother? How do they react?
I didn't tell you this before, but I'm only really writing this because I enjoy thinking through all these situations with Adam and Beatrice. But my point is still the same. Any of the proposed scenarios above could probably make an interesting story. The purpose of going through them all is to find the best one--that which interests you the most.
Don't discard your first ideas, whatever you do. But think about them long and hard. Don't take them at face value. Ponder the possibilities, wondering always about how to make your work better. Even the mere willingness to do so will improve your writing. Let the first ideas come, then explore them for all they're worth.
Monday, October 28, 2013
"What?" you cry. "And what about all that stuff right up there in your very own banner? You talk up there about touching, helping, blessing people with what you've written. Now you're saying you don't think you should write for other people. What kind of hypocritical hack are you?"
One who would like to explain. I don't think that my main focus should be on doing those things that I hope my writings will do. That is, I do hope that I can have an effect on others through what I write, but I don't think my main focus should be doing so. If I spend all my time trying to write what others will enjoy, I'll get stressed over whether or not I'm actually doing so. That will suck all my enjoyment out of the process, which will in turn damage my writing. It appears that I can't do my best work until I write what I enjoy; in essence, for myself.
There's also a hesitation that comes to me when I say this. Isn't that a little self-centered? Arrogant? All those things you really don't want to be and others don't want you to be either? I hope not, and I don't really think so.
It might actually help me be rid of those things. I would become arrogant if I thought I was producing something so wonderful that every human being could benefit from it. I'd be self-centered if I considered my powerful sermons something that everyone needs.
In addition, I've seen what can happen when you try to force teachings, into stories, particularly. There have been two separate occasions where I experienced a fantasy novel with very apparent messages. I didn't disagree with them, for the most part, but it annoyed me how obvious it was. It was like they were trying to make their own Narnia or Middle-earth. I know, because I've been there. For a long time my book in progress has been a Narnia/Middle-earth look-alike trying not to be a Narnia/Middle-earth look-alike.
The key, in sci-fi/fantasy writing in particular, and in all writing generally, is not to write to affect others. Write to affect yourself. If you're into speculative fiction, write to explore the places and situations your imagination dreams up. If you're in the more mainstream realm, write to understand what life is like. If you write nonfiction, write to explain the ideas you have. Is it selfish? Maybe. But at least it's selfish with the possibility of positive side effects, as opposed to altruism with little chance of reaching its end goal.
No, I'm not writing for others, exactly. If what I do write could help someone else, that would be absolutely incredible. The paradox is that I can't really accomplish that goal until I stop trying. Only then is the pressure off, the ideas free flowing, and I'm free to create as I was meant to.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
This message has been going around since I don't know when. Maybe the end of the Industrial Revolution. It has become the theme of countless Disney movies, not to mention Disney's competition, and other movies that have nothing to do with Disney. But for some reason, it's treated as an unusual thing. A great thing, yes, but a rare one. And why is this?
I have been very blessed not to know pressures that swerved me from my final goal. I was pretty young when I first settled firmly on the goal to write. And I mainly kept it to myself. No one was really there to discourage me. Others, I know, haven't received such grace. But why should that sway us from doing that which we love, which we often feel we were born to do? I have a guess. As I've said before, It's hard.
Nothing is as discouraging as difficulty. Not that I know of. I was discouraged when I wrote Rule 2, as you may have noticed. I imagine the biggest obstacle to folks' doing what they really want to do is difficulty. In my case, I found my aspiration to write back when I didn't know how difficult things would be. That was good, because if I knew then that I would still be rewriting my first book for five + years, I think I would have thrown in the towel and given drawing another chance. I've begun to realize the dangers and difficulties of this trade now, even as I am more in love with it than ever. I think that's the key.
Disregard all the obstacles, because they mean nothing. If you have been given a heart's desire, then it's your job to pursue it. And if you really love this goal of yours, you'll be willing to endure the difficulties of it. You'll want to do it to the best of your ability, so you'll work at it harder than ever before.
I'm not saying to be completely drastic, to quit your job and become whatever you want to be. I am saying that you should find what you love, and do it, in whatever way seems best to you. Unless I'm mistaken, there will be difficulty in that somehow.
I'll admit that this is easy for me to say. I haven't been thrown out into the world to sink or swim yet. What I do know is that things are hard. But that's exactly the point. Sure, our dreams are hard to attain. But that's why we love them: because they're worth it.
Friday, October 18, 2013
I've spoken of this before. There comes that horrible feeling in the middle of the day when I haven't really written anything, and I feel like the whole day has been wasted. And despite all that I'm tempted to give up and just read.
That's still going on. Here's me, sitting here, trying to produce something publishable. Don't know that it's going too well.
This is maybe not so much a rule as an observation. Writing is work, and that work is hard. I don't care who you are. You can't seriously look at me and say that you've never had trouble writing. If you haven't you probably aren't working hard enough, not taking it seriously.
It's the same as all work, really. I'm lazy and ready to find any excuse I can to step away from the workplace and go relax. I imagine that others probably have not sunken to my degree of sloth, but I do know that there's an element to human nature that doesn't like to work.
I can't offer much other advice than what I've said already: Keep doing it. Keep going. Keep working. Despise the distractions and put to death the protests. Fight to work harder. Don't worry. Victory will be yours, with hard work, effort, and not a little time. Your mountain will fall.
I think I hear the sound of one falling now.
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
"There it is, Thomas," Geoffrey said. "Somewhere in there the dragon is holding the king's daughter captive."
"Indeed," Thomas's unusually high, nasally voice and his stubby height made him a very comical figure standing next to the taller and more rugged Geoffrey. "It's your last chance to turn back."
"I can't do that, Thomas," Geoffrey said with determination. He looked down at the pile of armor he and Thomas had dragged to the top of the hill. He couldn't tell which piece went where on his body. "Can you help me put this on?"
Thomas sighed and helped his friend climb into the lustrous metallic garb. "You know," he said. "You really don't have to go through with this. Just think about it reasonably."
Ho boy. Thomas had lectured Geoffrey like this five times on the journey thus far. It was likely that he would do it several more times before everything was finished.
"I've heard this princess is astonishingly beautiful," Thomas was saying. "I understand. But what's the point of throwing your life away for that? That's why we have painters make portraits. You could look at her all you want in the castle gallery. Of course, it might still be hard, you being a peasant and all, but it would be better than risking your life!"
"It's not that," Geoffrey said, trying to stand still so Thomas could strap on the armor.
"OK, so the reward," his friend went on. "You can make money doing any number of other things. Feed someone's cattle, or the pigs, or chickens, or something. Why, you could even raise chickens and sell them at the market. I hear it's not that hard."
"I don't want the money, Thomas." It wouldn't do any good arguing with him. Thomas would keep going on and on about how dangerous the mission was. Geoffrey would go ahead and do it anyway. It just had to be that way.
And Thomas would probably come along, regardless.
"Fame, then? All you need for that is to tell your landlord that you quit, and run away and join a band of wandering troubadours. You'll be the talk of the kingdom for at least a week!"
"I'm going to do this, Thomas. You can't stop me."
"More's the pity." Thomas strapped Geoffrey's sword belt on tightly. "But you won't get me to go any farther. I don't want to be fried to a crisp and served up for dragon's tea time."
"Well, that's really a shame," Geoffrey said, picking up a bag of food and starting down the hill. "I was going to give you half the reward money."
"Ha!" Thomas called after him, "Don't think you can get me with that old trick! I know how to practice what I preach! You can't--" He paused, and watched Geoffrey go. After a second's thought, he sped down the hill after him.
His breastplate was on backwards.
They found the dragon's cave without much difficulty. It stood forbiddingly over them as they climbed up into it. As they entered, Thomas began to mutter his lecture again. At the sound of it, Geoffrey smiled in spite of himself.
"Do you think we should challenge the dragon?" he asked Thomas.
"Better ways to be famous," his friend was saying as he eyed the fearful darkness before them. "Like chickens, you know? You could sell them to troubadours or something."
"Right," Geoffrey agreed. "Best to go with stealth."
They hadn't gone far when they were confronted by the sound of a woman's weeping. They both advanced cautiously. A little further on, they came upon a small fire. Nearby sat a young woman in a once fine but now ragged dress. She held her face in her hands and was crying loudly.
Geoffrey cleared his throat awkwardly. "Um, excuse me? Princess Penelope I presume?"
The girl looked up in surprise, taking in Geoffrey and Thomas at a glance. Next moment she had thrown herself at Geoffrey and wrapped her arms tightly around his midsection. "Finally!" she cried. "You're finally here! You've rescued me! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!"
"Uh, you're welcome...?" Geoffrey looked to his friend in embarrassment. Thomas just shrugged and glanced about nervously. They both hoped that after a moment, the princess would let go and they'd all leave. But still she hung on, clutching his waist ever tighter.
"Uh, look," Geoffrey said, trying to extricate himself from her grasp, "I know you're happy to get out of here and everything, but we can't really get going until you release me."
"Oh! Right!" In an instant she had let go of him and was standing upright. "What are you waiting for? Come on, let's go. Hurry up!"
She didn't have to tell them twice. But still Geoffrey couldn't help but feel a little curious. "Where's the dragon?" He asked as they started toward the exit.
"What?!?" she practically screeched. "You mean to tell me you haven't slain it yet?"
"No..." Geoffrey felt embarrassed again. "We were hoping to avoid a direct confrontation."
Princess Penelope looked incredulous. "Really? You didn't slay the dragon first? What kind of knight are you?"
"A volunteer one," Thomas said.
"This is not the time," Geoffrey said to Thomas, trying to move them both toward the mouth of the cave.
But now the subject would not go away. "What are you talking about?" Penelope asked, her tone betraying a rising suspicion, and even anger.
Thomas seemed proud to tell her, "This good fellow here dropped everything when he heard that you'd been captured, rented some armor and a sword, and brought me to help, so he could come down here and rescue you. I'm his best friend, by the way, and I was with him from the very beginning."
Geoffrey rolled his eyes and said, "Of course. But we need to get out of here."
"You rented your armor?" Penelope asked him. "You don't have any of your own?"
"Well," Thomas admitted good-naturedly. "He's not exactly a real knight. We're both from the lower class, if you know what I mean."
"YOU'RE A PEASANT?!!?!?!!?!"
Thomas and Geoffrey both fell over. The princess began whining and sobbing and near-screaming while Thomas tried to help Geoffrey stand back up.
"I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!" Penelope was crying, "I can't be rescued by a peasant! I'll be ruined! My father will probably want to give me in marriage to you or something! And then I--I can't bear to say it--I'll be a peasant too!" She collapsed into an uncontrollable fit of hysterics.
Meanwhile, Thomas lifted Geoffrey to his feet. "You know," Geoffrey whispered to him, "That reward is looking better all the time."
At that moment, there appeared, looming out of the shadows, the large reptilian face of a dragon. Its eyes were the yellow and red of extreme age, and its skin was pale and dry, cracked like thousand-year-old parchment. Its jaws hung open and its tongue lolled out on one side of its mouth. It drooled.
At the sight of the creature, the princess fell into yet another tantrum. "AIEE!!!" she screamed. "The dragon! Kill it, slay it, destroy it. For goodness' sakes, kill it!"
These commands were lost on Geoffrey. As soon as the creature showed its face, he scooped up the princess in his arms and ran toward the cave's exit, Thomas close behind him. Just as they reached safety, Geoffrey set Penelope down on a rock and left Thomas to look after her. He charged back into the cave to face the dragon head on.
Thomas was about to go in after him, when there was a loud yell, a thundering quake in the earth, and a great ball of fire leapt from the mouth of the cave.
Geoffrey! Was he really...? There was no way he could have survived that, was there? Thomas drew off his cap and held it over his heart. He had been a good man. One of the best men that he knew. As good a peasant as ever there was, that was for sure. Thomas sniffed as a tear formed in his eye.
He was suddenly, painfully aware of the princess sitting on the rock nearby. Her wailing had not ceased. She was still there crying and bemoaning the facts that 1) she had been captured by a dragon, 2) she was soon to be eaten by the dragon, 3) that a peasant had come to rescue her, and 4) she had actually been touched by said peasant.
Thomas felt a burning anger come over him, hotter than the dragon's flames. "What in the world are you crying about?!" He exploded, "Don't you know what just happened? My friend Geoffrey just died trying to save your pathetic hide! Does that mean anything to you? Maybe he wasn't a real knight, but he was a better man than all those real knights put together. He knew what kind of spoiled rotten brat you are and he still risked his life to keep you safe. Do you understand what that means? No, it does not mean you're really special. It means he was!"
He was foiled in his rant as Penelope, who had been watching him pitifully, finally fainted dead away. He was about to go and shake her awake, when there came a tap at his shoulder. "Excuse me, Thomas?"
He turned to see Geoffrey standing there, his face streaked with soot, his dirty helmet in his hands.
"You're alive!" Thomas threw his arms around his friend and hugged him warmly. "But how? What became of the dragon?"
"He's dead," Geoffrey said with an odd grin. "I went back in there to kill him, but when I got in, he was already hacking and wheezing like nobody's business. He was coughing these little fireballs, so I took cover, just as he let loose that gigantic breath of flame. After a couple of minutes I went to investigate, and he was dead. Of old age, I guess."
"Wowee. That's amazing. I'm glad you're back, though." Thomas looked to the fainted princess. "Now, what shall we do with her?"
Geoffrey shrugged, then took a step forward and regarded her kindly. He sighed, then handed his helmet to Thomas and picked her up gently.
"We'll take her back to the kingdom where she belongs," he said. "Come on, let's get going."
He started down the path, back through the labyrinth of cliffs and tunnels. Thomas halted where he was, watching him go. He shook his head in amazement at his friend's character. Then a smile forced itself over his face, and he set out after him.
His breastplate was still on backward.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
This may not be news to you. You may be sitting there going, "Well, DUH!" Or you may be stuck trying to discern what exactly I mean by such an odd statement.
One of the greatest pillars of success is the ability, and even the willingness to make mistakes. I only know because someone told me. I'm terrified of making mistakes, what's worse, making them publicly. But that's the only way to go.
This is somewhat related to what I was saying last week in "Plowing Through." To do anything well, you're probably going to have to do it badly first. Unless you're Perseus or Anakin Skywalker or something. Just so long as your mistakes are in an upward trend, you're making progress.
By making mistakes, and even more horribly, making them publicly, you can begin to learn what works and what doesn't. That's why I'm going to publish this thing after only having written it once, and not having gone back and rewritten several times as I usually do. It's scary for me. But it's good. It will probably be helpful. I hope, anyway.
Unless you're Isaac Asimov, you probably can't get away with your first draft of anything. I know I can't, and as you can probably see.
Of course, along with making mistakes, you also have to be willing to correct them. I wonder if I'm going to have to come back later and update this entry because I found some glaring error in the midst of it. Maybe I will. It's likely.
What I'm trying to do here is get over my fear of being wrong. It's a hideous creature that lives to some extent in all of our closets. And we all need to take up arms against it, if we're ever going to succeed in our pursuits. And let me tell you, it's a hard battle. It will not be easy for me to release this half-baked piece of work like a flock of ungainly pigeons.
There's something of a conflict here. Here I am telling you not to fear doing something wrong, in a document that is supposed to be wrong. Yeah, uh, I didn't think about that...
All I can really say is that I clearly didn't think things through quite enough. But in a sense, that's good, since it fits well with the theme of the whole entry. And if it's a bad idea, then it was a bad idea. But I'll probably only know after I try it.
So in closing, I have these two words of advice, mainly for myself, but hopefully you'll find some use for them: One, Don't be afraid to make mistakes, in anything. Two, When you do make mistakes, admit it, apologize (even if it's only to yourself), and fix it.
I, um, I guess that's it. Thanks.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
I hope rather that my motive is that I really love exploring this whole world of writing that has opened before me, so much so that I want to share my discoveries with others. I'm learning each technique even as I write about it. I like to think about it more like I'm exploring this incredible world along with you, my readers. I'm discovering new things even as you discover new things. In a sense, we're in this together.
Also, I've been learning that writing is not all that different from most other "regular" jobs, or even from life. Sometimes it gets really hard. I get tired after doing it for a long time. Sometimes I wonder what the point is. Sometimes I just don't want to do it because my brain feels like a smashed pear. I just want to put my laptop away and watch TV. So I don't think writing is all that different from most other occupations.
My hope is that these rules will be useful whether you're a writer or just a reader. No doubt there will be some that are more exclusive to the writer's field, and some that are more general. My goal is to help however I can by sharing my thoughts and observations.
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
I can't say I have any particularly deep insight into what to do when this kind of thing strikes. I haven't been afflicted with it very much. That's probably a sign I'm not working hard enough. All I can say is what I've been trying to do. Keep going.
That's the typical, used up, trite, bland, hackneyed, cliché, boring, stale, worn out, same old, same old answer. I know. But I don't know of any better method. It certainly hasn't helped to sit out on the back patio and meditate. A quick break is helpful, sure. But before and after that break there have to be periods of significant struggle toward the goal. Plow through the valley, and eventually you'll make it to another hill.
All last week, I was struggling to produce a remotely acceptable draft of a short story. I likened doing so to pulling down a great white mountain (the blank page) and replacing it with a vast black valley. By days 3-5, I could barely get my pickaxe swinging in the right direction. But I kept chipping away at the rocks as best I could, hoping for that moment when I would get a big breakthrough and half the mountain would just fall. It happened, but not until after two days of trying to work and feeling useless and hopeless.
What am I trying to say here? Stick with it. I know it's tough. You don't have to tell me twice. I believe you. But, if you really want to succeed, to achieve your goals in whatever field you experience difficulty in, you need to keep going. Yes, it's hard. But that's what makes it worthwhile.
So my word of encouragement for you is that I know to some extent how you feel, and that if you keep plowing through, you will succeed. The mountain will fall if you keep on swinging.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Most people will tell you that love is an emotion, like anger or happiness. It's a fickle, capricious thing that flits from one person to another. It may burn strongly for one person for a long time, but after a while the "magic" departs and settles on someone or something else. But that's not the whole story, because there are hundreds of examples of what everyone would agree is love in which there is not that caprice, that changeable unpredictability. Do parents ever stop loving their children? Do dedicated husbands ever stop loving their wives? What about good friends who stay by your side over hill and through valley? Their love doesn't just float away after it has remained planted for years. There's another element to love.
There's another side of this coin. One side says love is an emotion, the other that it's a choice. An intellectual choice, a decision. Love is deciding to give altruistically for another's good. You could feel nothing toward the person you're giving to, but as long as you remain dedicated to that person's good, you're loving him. Until very recently I thought that way was correct. There is an element of choice in love, but that's not all there is to it. Even if you choose to dedicate yourself to the good of others, you could still not love, or even hate them.
This, then, is the idea that I stumbled across. Love is the estimation, the evaluation, of the worth of a person or thing. The more worthy the person is, the more you love that person. This conviction is reached through choice or through emotion, or both. Devoted parents feel emotionally the worth of their children, and therefore they choose to love them, protect them, and nourish them. A man could be at war with a bitter enemy, but if at some point he decides that his enemy does have worth, some value, then if he truly believes it, he will begin to love his enemy, both by choice and emotion. This belief leads ultimately to the conviction that the person loved deserves something from the person loving. It results in the self-sacrificing care that everyone longs for.
Love is a mysterious thing, one that can't be figured out completely. But it is a good mystery. We see the fruits of it in daily nobility, in humility and self-sacrifice, in the grand heroism of our dreams. Love is a dark well from which countless good things spring.
And by the way, if you, readers, happen to have any good insights into the roots and nature of love, I would be glad to hear them. Thank you.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
I struggled over this question for a long time, theorizing about the effects of greatness and the hero's use of greatness. That theory didn't go far. The answer finally hit me yesterday as I was gathering motivation to write. It’s love.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
Chances are, if you live in the present culture, you have fallen into one of two insidious traps in what you believe about yourself. Two prevalent mindsets that are cultivated among people these days are either 1) that you in particular are in some way inferior or inadequate compared to others; or 2) that you are superior to other people, perfect just the way you are. You're either better than others, or worse.
Lies, I say! All vicious, horrible, evil lies! One is self-deprecation, the other is arrogance.
Both these beliefs function on the denial of a basic truth, one of the most basic truths that there is. All men are created equal. The mindsets above deny this. They say either that some people are worse than others (and I'm one of them), or that some people are better than others (and I'm one of them). How do people fall into these mindset traps? It's all because of a misunderstanding regarding equality.
People have come to assume that "equal" is synonymous with "the same." So people are not equal if they are not the same as everyone else. The effect this has on our beliefs about ourselves is that we tend to look at our weaknesses or flaws, and say that if we don't have the same ability as another, we're inferior. Or if we see that we have a strength that another doesn't have we say we're superior. In the school system, if you're great in English, but poor at science, the usual assumption is that you're not as good as the person who does well in both, and the person who does well in both is better than others who don't.
I've got news for you: that ain't right. The only place "equal" also means "the same as" is in mathematics.
All people are not the same. Anyone who says different needs their eyes checked. No two human beings are the same. But all human beings are equal. My point is this: You are no better or worse than anyone because you have any advantages or disadvantages that others do or don't. So you were born into a good family. That is an immense blessing, but it doesn't make you any better than the person who was born into a family torn apart by poverty and violence. So you have trouble speaking in public. So do most other people in the world. You're still no worse than the couple of folks who face their fears long enough to deliver a speech. We're all different people on even ground.
Allow me to propose a new belief to adopt. It's my way to escape these mindset traps.
You are a human being. That means that you have been born both with advantages and disadvantages. You are no better and no worse than anyone else because of that fact. Rather, you are unique, in a class all your own. You are equal with everyone else out there, but you are not the same as everyone else out there. You are an individual.
From this line of thinking, there come certain responsibilities, if you truly believe this. First, you will humbly accept the duty that comes with being you. You will be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, realizing that they don't make you better or worse than anyone else. You will work to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses, to be the best that you can be. And you'll rest assured in the fact that you don't have to be like everyone else because you are you.
This entry in my log is as much directed to myself as to you, my readers. I'm trying to answer my own challenge and work to become the best, the strongest person I can be. I hope you will join me.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
"Read that," he said, handing the dusty book to me.
I looked from him to the book in my hand, and back. "But--"
"When are we going to travel to the worlds in the sky?"
"You'll learn everything soon enough," he said. He was surprisingly brusque. I wondered if he was getting tired of my company and trying to occupy me with something else. "In the meantime," he was saying, "read."
I sat down against the tree, grumbling in discontent. I opened up the book. The look and feel of its dry, yellowed pages added to my tiredness. I began haltingly to read the first sentence. "Dyra had lost..." I started back awake after drifting off briefly. I read the next words. "Dyra had lost everything, and..." It was too much. I yawned and closed my eyes.
I opened them to see the storyteller standing over me, his arms crossed and his lips downturned.
"So how was the book?" he asked.
I was silent, judging that it would be best if I didn't say anything.
He sighed, and muttered something under his breath. To me he said, "Alright, I understand. You want excitement, adventure and wonder, right? Get up. There's something I need to show you. Close your eyes."
I did as I was told, and felt him grasp my shoulder. I waited. Nothing happened. I continued to wait. Still nothing. I was getting impatient, but worried about the consequences of opening my eyes before he told me to. I kept them shut and waited.
After what seemed like several hours, I heard him say, "Now you can open your eyes."
I did. The world had suddenly changed. Rather than the sunny sky which hung over us earlier, the sky was now dark, and filled with hundreds of the stars. What was more odd was that it seemed to be wrapped around us, as though we were standing in a round room and the sky formed the walls. I looked down and saw that we stood on some rocky formation that didn't have any visible foundation.
"Where is this place?" I asked, in quiet amazement. My breath formed vapor in the air as I spoke.
"The Library. It houses every story, every book, every world that exists. Look," he took a few steps farther out. He stretched his hand out and took hold of a piece of the sky and brought it back. Upon looking closer, I realized that it was a book with night blue covers and a bright star on the spine.
"You've heard me say that every star is also a world," he said. "Well, every star is also a book."
"Every book is a world?" I reasoned.
"Yes." he spoke with a kind of silent awe, the same kind that filled me as we both stood in this place. "You must understand that books are our link to these worlds. You cannot access them without first having an understanding of and respect for the written words. On the other hand, if you do have that understanding and respect--" He took the book in one hand and opened it. The book's shining golden pages held words stamped in ebony ink, which faded into illustrations painted in living, breathing color, that moved and shifted and changed. "This is what you find," the storyteller breathed.
We stayed there, gazing fixedly into the book for a long time. But after an hour or more we had to leave. The storyteller closed the book and returned it to its invisible shelf along with the hundreds of others like it.
We returned back to my land, though I still didn't know how. Upon arriving, the storyteller picked up the old book and addressed me. "Alright, now, boy--" He hesitated. "Say, what's your name, son?"
Up till then I hadn't realized that we had never been formally introduced. "My name is Rakseld," I said, bowing respectfully. "Well met, sir."
"Indeed," he replied, some of his former pleasantness returning. "You'll know me as Teacher or Sir for the time being. Now, Rakseld, I want you to read this book carefully and think about it. Pay close attention to the construction of the world in which the story takes place. Write down what you liked and what you didn't, what was good and what wasn't. Analyze the characters and the situations they encounter. Write all this down and give your report to me. And have it done--" He paused to think. "By this time in two days. Understand?"
He handed me the book and I took it. He sat down quietly with his notebook again. Before sitting, I turned to look out toward where the sky met the horizon. The night sun was beginning to rise, and stars had begun to appear in the darkening sky. I remembered the Library, the millions of stars that shone in the sky, and every one of them, a world.
I sat down beneath the tree and began to explore.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
The men sitting around the fire had similar thoughts, but they weren't willing to wait. "Let's have a tale," one of them said. "We're all in the mood for hearing a story."
"Of course you are." The words were uttered very softly, barely distinguishable above the crackle of burning wood. The storyteller stroked his short beard in thought, never once moving his eyes from the fire. He said nothing else for a long time.
Another man broke the silence. "Well?"
The storyteller looked up and met his eyes sharply. "Yes?"
"Are you going to tell us a tale?" the other man, Nob, returned.
There was a silence, then, "Look up at the sky." He pointed upward.
We all craned our necks and gazed into the night sky.
"You see all those points of light? Some call them stars. Each one is a world apart from ours. I've been to many of them. They are my stories. I go to them and find the tales that you love so much. You might as well call me a traveler, rather than a storyteller."
It was hard to believe. The heavens were covered with the bright teardrops. There was no corner of the night blue canopy that starlight didn't touch. I gazed upward in awe. What unbelievable and wonderful things could lay out there? What were the other worlds that fueled the amazing stories I loved? How could I find out?
We remained staring up at the sky-worlds for a while, before Nob finally said, "So?"
The storyteller--the traveler--sighed. "I have walked across universes, and what do you ask of me? Something nice and simple to tickle your ears and thrill your hearts. I imagine you don't care much for the worlds I visit, as long as they get you a good story. Go on back to your homes. You'll hear nothing more from me tonight."
The men slowly rose and returned to their huts, their wives, and their children. Nob was the last to go, muttering moodily under his breath. I remained, having neither home nor wife nor children to return to.
At length the traveler addressed me. "Are you still hanging around, boy?"
I nodded. I wanted to venture a question, but didn't know how. It wasn't right to interrupt this man's thoughts.
"What do you want?"
I swallowed. "How do you travel to the other worlds up there?"
He looked at me, not seeing much of anything. There was thought behind his muteness. It was almost as though I'd surprised him. "How do you imagine I do it?"
I thought for a long time, then said, "Perhaps there's a bridge somewhere?"
A slight, barely noticeable smile graced his features. "There is, though not as you might think of it." He bent down and withdrew a book, a blank page, and a pen from his bag. "These are the bridges between worlds. Read, and you cross them. Write, and you cross them."
"Oh." I felt disappointed. "So you don't actually visit other worlds in person?"
At that, a roguish smile spread over his face. "Ah, son, the things I've seen 'in person'!"
"Then," I ventured, but stopped.
"Could I ever travel to those worlds in person?"
"Do you really care about the places up there?" He indicated the sky.
"They sound incredible," I said. "I'd love to see them if I can."
"You'll do more than see them," he said, stepping across to me and offering his hand. "Come with me, and you'll tell their stories to every corner of the globe."
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
They don’t want what I do.
It seems that what they like I don’t;
I don’t want what they do.
I think myself a curious being,
And others think me very weird
To shun their interests' lure
See, I don’t like what others do,
And what they love, I don’t.
They don’t like the things I do,
And what I love they don’t.
An old eccentric is this man,
A strange, odd man is he
Or perhaps it's they who are,
They're eccentric to me!
Friday, August 23, 2013
I was surprised, then, when I happened upon a few "sacrifices" that didn't appeal to me. They didn't seem like they were true noble sacrifices. After mulling it over for a while, I finally came up with a group of reasons why I felt so, and a few guidelines as to what a noble sacrifice really is.
1.) The surrender of health and wellbeing must be intentional. An accidental death which benefits the hero is obviously not a sacrifice.
2.) All other options must be exhausted. There's no point in dying to save your friends when you can just push a button and do it.
3.) Since the loss of life is involved, the sacrifice must do something, it must have a purpose. It is certainly not powerful if a hero, say, jumps off a cliff after someone he cares about. If nothing else, it provokes an immense sadness at the hero's premature demise and his stupidity in bringing it about.
4.) The sacrifice must be effective in securing its purpose. It's pointless to give up one's life without the certainty that it will save your friends. It's almost like going to the altar or the volcano in the hope that you'll appease the gods and keep them from destroying your village. In some settings that might be effective, but there's no way to know.
The noble sacrifice is a great plot device. It contains immense emotional and spiritual power when used and crafted properly. There's no greater love than that which lays down itself for its friends
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Agent Nelson showed up yesterday and asked about everything. He was really curious about my paintings. You were lucky to get out when you did. The agents have been crawling all over the project lately, sticking their noses into everything. It’s maddening the way they look at me as if I’m a specimen in a jar.
Another envelope with a string of numbers came in the mail today. You were always better with those than I was. If you have any spare time and can take a look at them, I’d be grateful.
Monday, August 19, 2013
If that's so, then, why don't I read more? If I find reading so great, great enough to defy most of the social pressures that outside forces put upon us, then why don't I do it more? I feel somewhat ashamed when I find that most of my time is consumed not by active reading, but more passive TV watching, or worse, nothing at all. I ask myself, "Why aren't I more like one of those people who seem like they devour books like salad?" I've come up with two explanations.
The first is that I'm just too lazy. At present I am trying to work through some of the classics, to gain a better rounded literary knowledge. But that can be difficult, since there are a number of classics that are, quite frankly, not as engaging as some of the other things I might want to read. Then I frequently find myself arguing with myself whether or not I should start reading something else at the same time as whatever other book I'm engaged in, only to determine that I'll do that later, when I'm done with the present book.
Another possibility is fear. Perhaps I have too great standards and expect too much of books. I've always been a very picky eater, and I wonder if that's not the case in reading too. When the books I read don't meet my expectations, I get very disappointed and even gloomy. I hate it when I find a book bad, when it doesn't measure up to my standard of quality. Therefore, I'm leery about trying anything because I'm afraid that it will turn out badly, and then I'll be upset, dejected, and frustrated. A good recent example is Orwell's 1984, which I read for a literature class. I had often given thought to reading it and was somewhat eager when I learned we would be reading it for the class. But then it turned out to be one of the most discouraging books I've ever set eyes in. True, I liked the writing--Orwell is a very good writer-- but I absolutely hated the story. It could be that this is why I don't read so much, because the fear of disappointment keeps me from venturing out.
I can see only one solution to this problem, whether it's laziness or fear, or something else, or a combination of these, I need to stand in spite of all of them. If I do truly feel that reading is a good activity, one to be pursued, then I need to work at it, no matter what tries to keep me from doing it. I'm going to work at fighting fear and laziness, and keep a record of some things I read in this log. The writer is now on a quest to read.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
One of the many definitions of the word "good" is, "of high quality, or excellent." How do we determine what is excellent or of high quality? The only thing we can do is to measure it according to some standard, and with most things it's a universal standard. What's good for the goose is usually good for the gander. Measurements are a fitting example of this. The scientific community has agreed on a standard for their measurements, the metric system, so that they know that everywhere, regardless of location or individual, the measurements are going to be the same. However, this doesn't seem to be the case for things like entertainment. There's no set universal standard for what is a good book, movie, or song. You may have experienced a scenario like this example: You and a friend or coworker are driving in your car with the radio on. Then comes a little warning note, and the song you despise with a burning passion begins. You gag and change the channel. But meanwhile, your friend in the seat next to you has already begun belting out the chorus. Then you get into a heated argument over whether or not that's a good song. He says yes; you emphatically say no. Obviously, there is no universal standard for what is good in entertainment. How can this be? How then do we determine what is good?
Well, it's pretty simple. It's actually quite obvious, but I've avoided using words that will give it away. There are standards that people use in determining what's good. But those standards are personal, not universal. We call them tastes. People have tastes based on what they like and don't like, what they think is right and wrong, and what they've done in the past. They use these to determine what they consider to be good. So when people say, "That's a good song; that's a good movie, for heavens' sake, that's not a good book," what they really mean to say is, "I hold that to be a good song; I believe that's a good movie; good gracious, I don't think that's a good book at all." If the word gets overused enough, it even just means, "I like that...fill in the blank."
So the answer to my question is this: Looking at it from a certain point of view, those people in the van were right when they said, "That was a good song," and from another point of view they were wrong. The points of view were theirs and mine, respectively. It all depends on what the person experiencing the media holds to be good. So the definition of good has not been changed, but rather, it has remained the same but people have used it to define more forcefully their likes and dislikes. Good still means good, but people's standards for what they hold to be good are still very different.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
I recently found this book discarded and abandoned under my bed. It’s been lost for many months now. I’m sorry to say that a number of its pages have been torn out and the rest are blank.
I return to the log a much different person, a more sobered author, to be sure. The naïve aspirations of youth have begun to give way to a more realistic, disciplined view of the trade. I’ve realized that to do well, I need to write, and I need to do it a lot. I return to this book with that very purpose in mind.
While I began this log before with the thought that I would only use it for stories and the occasional poem, it now becomes clear to me that that was an immensely poor idea, and I would do much better to include my thoughts and opinions, reports on things I’ve read or seen, and possibly to insert an essay or two. I hope that these will not overcome my output of stories, but I do think that in favor of quality, the number of stories I do write here will be fewer, but better.
It’s a great privilege and responsibility to hold the power of words. This book will be my tool for improving my skill using such power. I also hope it will provide enjoyment and provoke thought for you, for that is the greatest measure of my ability.