A Year of Writing: Days 201-210

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Day 201 of #ayearofwriting and from notebooks to desks, or offices. Ray Bradbury wrote his stories in the basement of a library, Fahrenheit 451 was written there. Harry Potter was originally written in a coffee shop. The list of writers admitting they wrote classics anywhere but in the stereotypical image of a writer at their desk is long. My first stories were scribbled on the back seat of number 617 to Wigan. I did my worst work at a desk. A desk is what buggered my back up when I wrote for the BBC. I have an office though, it’s in the process of being remodeled from little old lady land into what can be seen as a trip through the square window (for those of you old enough to remember that programme). Some writers want peace when writer, Ian Rankin wants Tangerine Dream, I like my bed to write because of my back and because some of my best ideas have been in bed. I have spent a lot of time since the age of 29 in bed, due to my disability. Frida Kahlo’s office was her bed. George Simenon wrote from his bed. I am in good company. I have yet to fit a mirror to the ceiling though. An office again is another romantic myth of the writer, the simple truth for me is that my office is an extension of my notebook. In the sense that it is a place to store things that stimulate ideas. Ray Bradbury did this, objects, clippings, trinkets that appealed to his creativity and filing cabinets for the business side of writing; which is the flip side of the office. Tomorrow, we will look at what makes creativity. Christ on a bike, why did I choose that?

 

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Day 202 of #ayearofwriting and like the biggest moron in the world I opted yesterday to talk about creativity. Creativity is a many headed thing but when most new writers and readers ask about it what they tend to be asking about is INSPIRATION. I get mine from a shop where I queue with other writers, we chat in line and the shop keeper frowns at us; he marks us down the more we chat and gives us only the poorer ideas from the lowers shelves when we get to the front. Seriously, you want the key to creativity, don’t you? You want to know how I write and how I sell things, and you know what the truth is? I write, I send off, I get rejected, I sell. I do not hold a grudge. I once knew a poet, yes I know you are all getting that sinking feeling, who point blank refused to submit their work to any publisher who rejected them. They soon ran out of publishers and vanished into obscurity or the suburbs, one of the two. I know writers who early on have massive success and then nothing. I know writers who plod along, suddenly have success, and then nothing. I know writers who you would think as never having had any success. Therein lies the problem, if you measure your career in terms of success, and the term here means money and exposure, and being in magazines and having people know who you are, you have to accept the flip side, obscurity. I’m not being nasty but if you court fame than fame in fickle. The road to writing is long, hard and has it’s ups and downs, we are creative, we are inspired, we are lost. We are different. Find your own creativity and your own space. Anyone telling you how to write something that will make you rich or famous is selling you farmyard fertiliser.
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Day 203 of #ayearofwriting and yes I have been rude about creativity. Yah-boo-sucks-to-be-you. Go away if you want me to tell you that you are a good writer. I am not here to do that, believe in yourself. That is not some self help poster but a reality. Christ, you wouldn’t want to be treated by a Doctor who did not believe in themselves, you’d lose a leg. Writers have this tendency to worry and that is a good thing. However, the culture of narcissism that has pervaded the twentieth century and has eroded into the cult of celebrity in the twenty-first century has meant that we now worry more about whether we are valued. Can a book change the world? No, but it can change many individuals who will go on to change the world. A book that changes the world against it’s will is fascism. I am not a fascist. I am a socialist/communist. There, send me to McCarthy and tell me I am a naught boy and how so many millions have died under communism. How many millions have died under capitalism? And so, and so on, and so on. Same old story, same old bullshit arguments that neglect to ask questions. Therein lies your homework today, what big question should you be asking as a writer? If it is big enough you won’t give two hoots about being valued.
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Day 204 of #ayearofwriting and you have your question. Is it burning in your pocket? A good question that you want addressing is great. Mine is: why are we such fucking idiots when it comes to change? Think about it. As a species we adapt but we hate change. Seriously hate change. I mentioned communism yesterday and the hate emails I have had are amazing. I am being preached to by people who know nothing about communism. They know the failed models of it and that brings us back to change. We hate it. We destroy it. We do it from the weather to our jobs. We accumulate things, emotional and physical, and drag them behind us. Isn’t that a fascinating idea when we were originally a nomadic species. Now isn’t that a fascinating question when you start to drill down into change we accepted and who they benefited? This is not a journey into fake news or conspiracy, it is a journey into why we have done what we have done, and for the strange reasons we have done them to maintain the illusion of the status quo. No surprise that I am drawn to writers who also look at this, from Kafka to Mitchell, to Dick and Bradbury. Look at the wonderful novel Amatka by Karin Tidbeck, I recommend it.

 

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Day 205 of #ayearofwriting and you have a question which forms an idea. I promise not to be rude today. However, you know what I am like about change and I am a filthy communist – as my wife can testify to but not the guy who emailed me. Anyway, back to the idea, you have an idea, it sounds great, it could make you rich. You tell friends your idea and they agree, it’s good, and then they tell you that they have some notes for you. IT’S YOUR IDEA, HOW DARE THEY. Hey, I am just putting it out there for you to agree with my genius. That’s what the sharing of an idea is, you surely don’t want notes that contradict your genius? Again, we hate change. I put it down to being kicked out of Eden. So, why did you share an idea? What kind of idiot are you? You feel like a right one, I know, I have been there. Rule #1 of NO RULES SHOULD BE MADE ABOUT THE CRAFT OF WRITING, is ‘Do not share an idea with your friends’. An idea is new, it isn’t fully formed, it won’t be fully formed until you go through several drafts, several bouts of crying and numerous head banging against the wall. An idea is the start of a story, a piece of work and as you write it will change. I remember writing a feature film that started out a comedy but by the time it made it to the screen was something I was thoroughly ashamed of. That’s what ideas do. This is what happens to ideas when done by a committee of your friends. Follow Rule #1.

 

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Day 206 of #ayearofwriting and you have your idea but who the hell will be in it? It’s a great idea but now you have to put flesh on the bones of that idea. You have to come up with characters. The problem with good characters is that they sometimes do things you don’t expect. Bad characters do what you tell them. They suck. Readers know they suck. You know they suck. Stop sending them out into the world. It’s bad enough that z-list celebrities get book deals without you sending bad prose into the world. Let’s get back to the flesh of the characters. You will have to know them inside and out, not because you will be tested on them but because YOU WILL BE TESTED ON THEM. You will be tested on them by readers. They will want to know why you did what you did. See George Lucas and Star Wars. Yes, he sold it off to Disney for a shed load of money but probably did so because he had 40 years of people asking him about every character and then he made those prequels and the guy who voiced Jar Jar Binks contemplated suicide, look at Lucas’s eyes, he just wanted out. How do you think other writers feel when they have a monster? You want a monster? You have one, it’s called your idea, own it, develop it, draft after draft, word by word, make it your own but remember the characters go where they want to after awhile and they may go places you don’t like. So, hold on!
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Day 207 of #ayearofwriting and holding onto characters is hard. Yes, I know they are not real but you will get to the stage where you think they are. That’s good writing or the start of psychosis. The problem is that some characters can take you to places that as a person you wouldn’t go but as a writer you say, ‘I’ll just get my pack lunch and flask’. We tread where six foot eight buggers called Killer Kinky Jones wouldn’t go. We go willingly. We go in our minds. That is far worse. You see, sometimes these stories never get published and lingers in your subconscious. Sometimes they get published and then critics, readers and the media blur the line between you and the story. Surely, if you write something horrific you’ve had some sort of experience or desire to do it? Agatha Christie would not survive in the modern chat show. Surely, she is a small Belgian man? Characters will go to places that you have never thought of, and it is thrilling when that happens, you are stood in their shadow. That’s good story practice, we’ll come to that tomorrow. However, a bad place, a good story, can mean you have to step out of the shadow to defend it. We live in that type of culture which is why you need to know your story inside and out. Remember that question, hold on to it, it will be your saviour or else you will be branded as something you are not. For the record, I’ve been there and it isn’t nice.

 

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Day 208 of #ayearofwriting and remember how I spoke about shadows yesterday. A good writer stays in a character’s shadow. The reason for that is simple, if you step out of the shadow then the prose becomes about you and your views. Remember, some of that will always bleed through but should be in that question and not in the dialogue. We see this in Dickens, the death of Little Nell, a wonderful,heartbreaking scene but then Dickens does this, he steps out and bemoans the poverty found in England. The reader is already thinking this but when faced with this fresh onslaught by Dickens steps back and says, ‘I don’t like this change in the story’. We do not like change. We like stories that take us along with them. That we immerse ourselves in. Which linger afterwards and change us by degrees without us ever knowing.

 

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Day 209 of #ayearofwriting and we have looked at notebooks, ideas, characters, psychosis and staying in the shadow of a character. Now, if only I could do what I preach. RULE #2 of THERE’S NO RULES IN WRITING, you never follow your own advice. For writing is like playing tennis, with no net, no racket and no balls. You think you’re confused, join the queue.

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Day 210 of #ayearofwriting and I am working on a story that fuses the idea of hibakusha (the survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and how plants compartmentalise when suffering attack. This is an alternate universe story, an alternate species story. There are certain elements of our body that compartmentalise like plants, cutting off infection or surrounding it with antibodies. In the worst diseases, such as unchecked gangrene, the body will sever at a limb. However, for us, the greatest virus or disease is how we feel, how we express or do not express emotion, what if that manifested in the body? As did the shame that followed the hibakusha, who lived a half life in shadows? This for me echoes how we are dealing with mental health, poverty and class in our society today. Want to talk politics and Brexit? Sure, but you are still flummoxed by why people voted to leave and trot out racist arguments because your politics and the people around you state what you think. We surround ourselves in ways that compartmentalise us from politics and the rest of the world, this is a very island way of thinking, and is very indicative of the English and to some extent, the Japanese. Now, following on from last week, there is a fascinating dramatic question there.

 

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