Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Stories, writing prompt

What an idea!

Photo by Tracy Lee, Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Some years ago, after rejecting an author’s short story for the Book a Break Anthology, I received a reply in which she acknowledged that a weakness in her story was the idea itself. In actual fact, her idea wasn’t bad; there followed a discussion in which we agreed that while a poor idea brilliantly executed will always be better than a brilliant idea poorly executed, it’s better yet to have a brilliant idea brilliantly executed.  

I’m not sure how or when an idea strikes me as brilliant enough to be developed. The more that development proceeds, it will at some point, inevitably, stop seeming brilliant and turn into a struggle to find the words that will do the original vision justice. For that to happen, though, it had to come through all the previous stages of development unscathed – which means it must have been brilliant enough in the first place, right?

I currently have 72 files in the Ideas folder on my laptop, but the number of actual ideas is much higher because most of them are in a single document. They might run to a couple of lines or a paragraph; often they’re just a few words. Those that emerge from this survival of the fittest are rewarded with a document file to themselves; eventually, they may even get a folder.

The folder stage is reserved for the elite. By that time the text may run from 3000 to 20000 words. I currently have 16 folders, but half of them are gathering the substantial amount of dust that lands on my keyboard. That still makes eight active ideas to keep an eye on, by which I mean that any article I spot related to that idea will be read, sorted into the folder, and may lead to an addition or amendment to the text. But that’s a matter of minutes; at any given time there’s really only one idea bubbling away at the front – the others gently simmer further back.

Whether any of these ideas is brilliant is obviously debatable. And the point remains that it isn’t having ideas that’s hard, it’s doing something decent with them. But brilliant or not, all ideas start with a little spark in the brain that either gathers strength or fizzles out. Putting them in my Ideas folder means that some at least have a chance of surviving, sometimes emerging many years later, like Brood X (though rather less numerous).

As to where they come from, the sources are multiple, but I’m currently drawn to the zaniness one regularly comes across browsing the news. A few examples:

French police say they are building a case against an international gang of toy thieves specialising in stealing Lego – and they have warned specialist shops and even parents to be aware of a global trade in the bricks.

A mafia fugitive has been caught in the Caribbean after appearing on YouTube cooking videos in which he hid his face but inadvertently showed his distinctive tattoos.

In the flesh, Jeanne Pouchain appears very much alive and well. Convincing the French authorities of this has proven another matter. After being declared dead by a court, Pouchain has spent three years trying to have herself officially resuscitated.

A Welsh man has issued a public call to help find two Irish men who helped him return home from Australia in 1965 by packing him up and mailing him in a crate.

Whether any of these will be developed remains to be seen. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jeanne Pouchain eventually makes it past the next couple of stages, reaching the point where the hard slog begins.

And you? How do you handle your ideas?

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, world-building

Writers, Escaping

Readers have long escaped into fictional worlds to avoid thinking about events in their real world. Writers do the same.
The difference is that as writers, escapism is our vocation. Instead of dealing with the here and now, we regularly choose to immerse ourselves in alternate worlds, fictional events and imaginary conflicts.
– Rachel O’Regan

But that’s OK.
It’s more than OK: it’s necessary. I mean… have you been following the news lately? We need books that ground us in the unvarnished reality of our present, and books that explore the more horrific moments of our past. We need dystopias to warn us and poetry to challenge us. And we need escapist fiction to give us a freaking break.
– Charlotte Ahlin

And writing is a therapeutic form of escape.
According to Gustave Flaubert: “It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself, to move in an entire universe of your own creating”.
– Zoë Miller

Personally, I acknowledge elements of escapism in my writing. No world of mine comes to mind where a character traps young children in a school room and shoots them with an assault rifle. In my world, police would immediately risk their own lives and save the children.
That’s escapism.

SOURCES
Rachel O’Regan https://www.lifeinfiction.co.uk/writing-as-escapism/

Charlotte Ahlin https://www.bustle.com/p/escapist-fiction-is-exactly-what-you-need-sometimes-you-shouldnt-feel-bad-for-reading-it-8092788

Zoë Miller https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/reading-is-a-therapeutic-form-of-escape-but-what-about-for-writers-1.3644528

The Uvalde Police Chose Dishonor
https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/06/uvalde-police-robb-elementary-shooting-dishonor/661184/

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Freedom of Writing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

OPEN COMMENTS WEEK

Use the Comments section to talk about anything at all concerning the writing life. Here’s a few things that crossed my mind as I posted this.

A writer using only approved words and phrases writes propaganda.

If you think you cannot forge your own life, you haven’t met my rangemaster. Lou grew up behind the Iron Curtain. To make a long story short, he decided to come to America. He walked across Europe, worked on a ship for passage to America, and lived in a boxcar in Florida until he met a guy who gave him a job on a shooting range near me. Today, Lou drives a new Corvette and owns the shooting range. I admire Lou.

Jobs that can be done from home can be automated.

Empirical science, the real science that allowed us to land on the moon, is based on observation and measurement. One cannot observe or measure the future. “Science” predicting the future is just someone wanting something from you.

A writer committed to “show-don’t tell,” to quote Thornton Wilder, “…believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it.”

Our solar system has so far moved 1 trillion, 627 billion, 700 million miles through space in my lifetime. I was outside looking up on a clear night during so little of this trip that I am personally embarrassed to write stories of interstellar travel.

“This is a site where we swap and share news, opinions and experiences about writing, from first paragraph to finished product and beyond. …So here in the Co-op we try things out, see what works and what doesn’t, and tell each other about it.”
– Curtis Bausse, First post, April 26, 2016

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About Writers, blogging, book promotion, book sales, editing, Freedom of Writing, Literary critique, marketing, Publisher's Advice, show case, Welcome, Writers Co-op

OPEN FOR BUSINESS

The Writers Co-op Show Case allows any writer to receive feedback about their writing. Click “SHOW CASE” for details.

The Rabbit Hole anthology is accepting submissions for our fifth annual publication of speculative fiction. Click “THE RABBIT HOLE” for submission guidelines.

Your blog may be featured here. You, your writing, editing, marketing, or publishing would be of interest . Keep it around 1600 words max and submit it to GD(at)Deckard(dot)one.

Got a question about anything related to the writing life? Feel free to ask it in the comments section.

The Writers Co-op includes fiction authors, poets, editors, illustrators, magazine and book publishers.

You are most welcome to join us.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op

JK Rowling Loves Minecraft

Novelist, screenwriter and film director Alex Garland is a big fan of BioShock, loosely based on Ayn Rand’ self-interest-championing philosophy of objectivism as outlined in her novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

Harlan Ellison collaborated with Cyberdreams and game writer David Sears to create “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream, “a PC horror game based on his short story of the same name.

Tom Clancy is well-known in the gaming industry, especially for his Rainbow Six military and espionage games.

Authors play video games for the same fun & relaxation reasons others do and they sometimes pick up tips on world building, scene progression, and character differentation.

I play video games to push thoughts of what I’m writing aside, to someplace in my mind where they’re free to evolve without me consciously picking at them. For me, much of life is like swinging through trees. You have to regularly let go to make any progress.

Do you play video games? Which ones do you prefer? And, do they in any way contribute to your writing?

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book promotion, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Writers Co-op

Goodbye Facebook

In 2017 I discovered Facebook as a mecca for networking. Recently, Facebook has become a censored banality. In between, I was fortunate to find over 3,000 “friends” living the writing life. Many taught me, some edited and published my stories. I cannot thank Facebook enough for the opportunity to interact with so many talented people. But all things change and now the politicians have infested Facebook to get around the First Amendment and promote their own agenda while censoring that of opponents.

“U.S. Code § 230, (2)Civil liability, permits social media to censor content “whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.”
https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/47/230
Yet, the First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Politicians have used their regulatory and financial relationships with big media to exert a control over public opinion that is otherwise denied to them.

The result is a leveling of public discourse to the lowest common denominator.

And then, of course, Facebook algorithms ensure that writers who don’t buy ads get scant exposure for posts promoting their books. I left Facebook after scrolling down my feed to find any “friends” book promotion to share on my own timeline. I spent literally forty-five minutes enjoying posts of pets, whines, humor, look-at-me-chit-chat, amazing science (I’m a sucker for amazing science,) and feel-good platitudes. Abruptly, it dawned on me: Not one book promotion! This is all gossip! Critical thinkers have crept away while I wasted my time pretending that I was still networking.

What a waste of time. Goodbye Facebook. Gossip bores me.

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, Uncategorized, Welcome

Welcome To My Coffice

by Scott D. Vander Ploeg

As I write this, piped in music is playing in the background. On some occasions, live music happens here. I look up and see some of the art works of my friend, Carl Berges. Around me there are people reading—books or newspapers or magazines or online feeds. Kids sometimes open up board games and play them with gleeful abandon. Politicians sometimes arrive to ask for voters’ opinions. In one corner, a small group of people are planning a business venture. The staff’s culinary efforts have made available a variety of breakfast items, and made-to-order lunch sandwiches. On one wall, people have created a multicolor inked communal graffito. A little over three years ago, a history professor and a literature professor lectured here, about solar eclipses. Poetry has been aired here.

I’m an advocate for the humanities, the subjects that involve the celebration of our most human activities: music, art, literature, philosophy, languages, drama, sculpture, architecture, and more. Often, a person who wants to experience one of these will go to a particular venue or event and experience that one kind of humanities subject: drama in a theatre, music at an auditorium, etc. Where, though, might people go if they want a mix of these wonderous arts?

The savvy reader will already know that I am at a coffee house, in particular: Madisonville Kentucky’s Big City Market Café. If in Owensboro, I might be ensconced in an egg-shaped chair (channeling Mork) at The Crème Coffee House. If I was in East Lansing, MI, I might be admiring the tattoos of the baristas at the Espresso Royal. Back in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, in my youth, I sat for hours at Atz’s Ice Cream Shoppe, guzzling cup after cup while reading the Riverside edition of the complete works of Bill Shakespeare. The downtown coffee shop adorned its walls with used burlap coffee sacks.

While wintering in Florida this year, I spent time at Cocoa Beach’s Juice and Java Café, and the Osario’s in Cocoa Village. I prefer independent coffee houses, but am pleased that Panera and Starbucks provide alternative locations. In the environs of Vernon Hills suburban Chicago Illinois, I rotate between four different Panera’s Bread Co. shops. According to the anniversary email they sent this Spring, my Unlimited Coffee Subscription saved me $338.52 over 138 cups.

Currently, I have succeeded in getting a dozen of my writings published since I began this effort last September, nine months ago. I have another twenty under consideration at various journals. All of these, and more, were written at coffee houses. I know many prefer to write at home, but I think there is an argument for not doing this work there. It hasn’t become popular yet, but I offer the word “coffice” for those like me who rely on the coffee house to conduct business.

At the coffice I am not distracted by laundry, food preparation, and having to straighten up after myself. At the coffice I can focus on my writing. There is just the right amount of activity to keep me awake. And then yes, I like coffee.

Coffee was discovered in Africa in the 9th century AD. Its use became common in the Middle East in the late 1400s. Turkey and Morocco became deeply invested in it. It arrived in Europe in the 1600s, and the English coffee house became a fad in the 1700s. Turkish and/or Greek coffee is a particularly strong drink made from a powdered coffee, found like a muddy estuary at the bottom of the cup. I like mine “orto”—slightly sweet. One of my favorite memories is of ordering an espresso at an outdoor café in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris, France, under the shadow of the Tour Montparnasse. In homage to Hemmingway, I sipped a cup at the Café du Dôme, which was just around the corner from the apartment where I crashed for a few months at my cousin’s apartment in the early 1980s.

While the tavern had an earlier history of drawing people together for discussion and predictable argument, the coffee house encouraged more serious and sustained discussion, as the patrons there were stimulated by caffeine rather than depressed by alcohol. Today’s version of the coffee house is augmented by technology—so that wireless internet access is mandatory, and people are commonly found staring at laptops and using their smartphones while slurping down a cappuccino or frothy latte.

So the coffee house is the bastion and bulwark of the humanities, to an extent. I note that the addition of coffee shops in some places indicates a gentrification effect, suggesting a kind of cultural invasion, or an economic upsurge—good or bad as that may be, depending on who is losing or gaining as a result. I have been to the original Starbucks, in Seattle, WA, and have my obligatory memento: a Pike’s Place coffee mug. It’s huge! While I’m pleased at this, I know that some believe that the Starbucking of America is a kind of blight—and that “baristas don’t let friends drink Starbucks.” I would bet cold cash money that more people recognize the Starbucks logo/image than they do the Presidential Seal.  

After a hectic day, there is nothing better than sitting back with a cup of coffee at my local coffee house. This is when I can reflect on a variety of subjects, such as coffee houses, and write about them! I soak in the ambience—art, music, whatever I’m reading—and the caffeine—and walk away refreshed, ready to take on the rest of the day’s challenges.

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Freedom of Writing

Is Writing Dying

  • by Michael DiMatteo

What is the essence of good writing? There isn’t one “essence” as good writing is simply, well, good writing. The author is able to pull you in to anything he or she is crafting, and the story or setting or subject is made compelling by said author to the point that the pages turn themselves and there’s nothing you can do about it. That is the essence of good writing. However….

As I peruse the social media pages of budding authors, wander the forests of Facebook, or peer through the lens of Instagram, I’m struck by a few things that are causing me to think writing—true writing—is dying a slow, painful, almost imperceptible death.

I see more and more people asking for permission to write on certain topics, topics that one would deem today to be triggering, a term I’ve come to loathe. Have we become so sensitive that we now need a warning of some sort before sensitive ears or eyes see something they may not like or might find offensive? The very idea of asking for permission to write anything is, to my mind, against everything our society stands for. So what if someone is offended, put off, or is bothered by your chosen topic. That’s their problem, and their burden to overcome, not the writer’s.

Case in point—on one writer’s group on Facebook, a person began their question to the group thus: “I’m sorry if this is triggering for some of you but my question is about my story which involves a cop. Is it hard to sell a story with a heroic cop?”

That alone isn’t the icing on the cake, but the responses were. One said, “Trying to find a hero among state issued killers is a tough sell…” Another said, “It’s harder to make believable now than 37 years ago” I still can’t figure out the 37 years ago thought.

The question alone bears examining. Why is someone is asking a question about selling a book involving any topic? I get it, if you’re writing for profit, as we all try to, but…write your book. If it doesn’t sell, so what? For some reason, that book was pushing to come out of your head and needed to be birthed, so write it and let the chips fall where they may.

I can’t imagine Voltaire, the great French writer, playwright, and social observer dithering over whether or not to write the Philosophical Dictionary or Candide. Did Erasmus ask around if he should write The Praise of Folly, a rather controversial yet humorous story poking fun at the Catholic Church in the 16th century?

I wonder, did Thomas Paine ask for permission as he penned his masterpiece Common Sense which actually advocated for revolution? Luther—well—he wrote critical works on the Popes that almost guaranteed his death, yet he not only survived but thrived in an age where papal criticism was truly a death sentence. I’d say Luther triggered a number of people, and we know he did—but pressed on despite said triggering.

Laura Cereta, the great 15th century feminist writer wrote and wrote and wrote, all the while being vilified for doing so as it was not a woman’s place during that historical period. Dante Alighieri penned the scathing The Divine Comedy, skewering with extreme prejudice his political enemies and causing a rather significant uproar during his lifetime. I’m sure triggering anyone was the last thing he was concerned with.

So, too, one must one take into account historical context. Without getting to philosophical here, dangers in previous centuries meant danger to life and limb, not cancelling. Those men and women were not deterred in their quest to write, so why are we in our time?

The very notion that some are actually parsing their words, thoughts, ideas, and notions of what is right and wrong in the world of literature is not only troubling, but disturbing. It would seem that we’ve reached the point where sensitivity by others is dictating to the rest what subjects are taboo and what are not. Those who’ve decided to act as judge, jury, and executioner in the world of literature if said writing does not satisfy their insecurities and insensitivities do worse…they silence…the death knell of any writer.

Furthermore, writers are becoming less bold, less willing to challenge those restrictions for fear of being removed from the libraries of thought; their words relegated to the cobwebbed basements of the unread, banished for all time because they refused to acquiesce to the over-sensitive voices who tremble at the very mention of just about anything.

It would seem we’ve reached the point of know return…and many willingly embrace it, intentionally silencing their own voices that otherwise would announce their presence with grand gestures and loud huzzahs, laying their stories out for all to see no matter their acceptance or rejection.

What have we become, this once open stage for the creative? What are we becoming and where are we going? To silence anyone is not to deny free speech, but rather to deny one’s ability to listen—to anything—the first step toward self-imposed totalitarianism. It is a slow creep, almost imperceptible in its movements, but moving just the same. It will be the death of true writing—just as cancer spreads silently throughout one’s body until too late.

So, write, write, and write again. Continue to write whatever it is that pleases you. It may sell, it may not and in the end, who cares? As so many have said more than once, it is the process of writing wherein the joy lies, not in the publication. Immanuel Kant, in his most famous essay What is Enlightenment? said it best: Sapere Aude—Dare to Know. The way to know? Write.

Joan Didion famously said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” What better motivation than those words?

The only way to know is to flesh it out…to write…and let the critics and now, the oversensitive, be damned.

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