Freedom of Writing, inspiration

Leaving the Comfort Zone

How ambitious are you? If I traced my ambition on a graph over the course of my writing life, it would look something like this:

I won’t go into a boring explanation – suffice to say that I turned my mid-life crisis into mid-life hubris, worked on a novel for 26 years, and eventually found a very enthusiastic publisher who barely a year later went bust. I like to think that’s not a cause and effect relationship. 

Naturally, the ambition took a nose dive. But it takes more than that to cure a writer’s compulsion, so I was perfectly happy to start again from scratch. And why is the curve creeping upwards again? Well, it’s partly due to a remark on this site by GD:  The easy formulas grow stale. I’m bored by antagonists still damaged from childhood trauma. Antagonists fighting others because they want something only one can have are maddeningly repetitive. Antagonists who can’t get along with others who are different from them annoy me. And don’t get me started on stupid conflicts arising because the antagonist simply misunderstands reality. It’s time for better antagonists.

At that point I was undecided what I was going to write next, with the favourite being a science thriller centred on virtual reality. Nothing wrong with the theme itself, but looking at my outline, it struck me that it didn’t break new ground, let alone develop a better antagonist. Scientists with a hidden agenda – what’s new in that? Virtual reality might be fascinating, but the conflict at the heart of the story has been done time and again. The Island of Dr. Moreau was written in 1896.

So now I’m planning a trilogy set on another planet. The possibilities are endless. It so happens that the planet bears an uncanny resemblance to Earth, so although I’m having great fun with the world building, it’s not really another planet at all. You may be thinking, ‘OK – but again, what’s new?’ Nothing probably, but it gives me a space in which to develop a large cast of characters, several different story arcs, and deeper issues than those of a crime novel or thriller. So yes, for me at least, it’s more ambitious. In fact I’m pitching it (to myself) as Lord of the Rings meets Animal Farm with a hefty dose of Game of Thrones thrown in. (Did I mention hubris somewhere?)

When I say ambition, I don’t of course mean sales or readership. Sure, that would be nice, and it’s certainly something to aim for, but we all know better than to have any expectations. All the more so as from a marketing point of view, leaping into a completely different genre is probably a leap into oblivion. But I don’t write in order to repeat myself. I once read a rather snarky comment to the effect that Danielle Steel hasn’t written 140 novels but the same novel 140 times. Which is fair enough. If you’ve got a formula that works, why change it? She’s found a comfort zone and is very comfortable in it. But I suspect most writers don’t have a comfort zone – every book is a new beginning, beset with anxiety and doubt. Which I’m all too happy to embrace, because even if I did find a comfort zone, I wouldn’t want to stay in it. That’s not what writing is about. So I’d like to conclude by thanking GD, who without knowing it rekindled my ambition.

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Freedom of Writing, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op, writing prompt

A Writer’s Life

Where do your ideas come from?

Seriously, what sparks your ideas to create? From a blank page/screen flows a myriad of words, strung together in just the right way to evoke emotion of every kind. To stir the ability of every reader, to forget where they are and immerse themselves in imagination.

When I think about this, I really understand the power of language. Writing is a superpower, especially in the hands of a Master. Ok now I am humbled. I have a long uphill climb to reach that lofty peak. Will I make it? Who cares, the fun is in the journey … right?

So that journey. That’s where the ideas spark, bake, incubate, grow, die and flourish. (Not necessarily in that order either.) You hone your craft, realize your style, and find your voice. I wish it were so simple! Angst, doubt, and fear cloud reason. They insist you’re a hack. That tiny voice nagging in the background, you know the one; it tells you the story on the back of the cereal box is more brilliant than anything you write! (I haven’t read a cereal box in years.) Yet, you keep writing. Why?

Personally, if I don’t, I’ll have an aneurysm from the pressure of the squirrels multiplying in my head. Or a heart attack from bottling up my emotions. So I write. 

My oldest son messaged me the other day. “Mom, I had a four-day weekend. In my head I finally worked out what was wrong with my story, but I didn’t write a word. I’ll never make it as a writer. I’m too lazy.” Did I mention angst?

This made me think why writers don’t write. It’s not lazy. It’s working forty-plus hours a week at a job that has nothing to do with a writer’s life. It’s being surrounded by people who don’t write unless they must and people who don’t outwardly show creative curiosity. I told him I get it. When you write, you immerse yourself in that process. It’s difficult to get started when you know your life is going to interrupt that process multiple times.

Personally, it took nearly two years of full time writing for me to enter a space where I could immerse myself, yet keep a bead on the world around me. It took stepping out of the working world. It took distancing myself from the people who distract me from my purpose. It took surrounding myself in an environment conducive to unleashing my creativity. My son doesn’t have that luxury… yet. His time will come. Until then, it’s all fits and starts.

Yet, I know not every writer or creative requires this, or do they? I know experiences, travel, interaction with the world, produces the ideas. But the time spent typing the words (or handwriting) requires stretches of solitude. The immersion into the process. 

Definitely the writer’s life isn’t for everyone, but I’ll be damned if I go do something else ever again.

SLRandall, writer and artist
https://awriterwrites.org/
https://artistbyaccident.com/

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About Writers, Freedom of Writing, marketing, Uncategorized, world-building

Should writers care?

While complaining to my lady about the quality of successful TV shows – one of my common complaints she commonly ignores – it ocurred to me what I was really complaining about. The protagonists are complex; they have depth of character and they become easy to identify with. But the antagonists are cartoons.

The easy formulas grow stale. I’m bored by antagonists still damaged from childhood trauma. Antagonists fighting others because they want something only one can have are maddeningly repetitive. Antagonists who can’t get along with others who are different from them annoy me. And don’t get me started on stupid conflicts arising because the antagonist simply misunderstands reality. It’s time for better antagonists.

Obviously, real world conflicts arise from all of the above situations. But conflicts also arise when good people in opposition to one another are both right. The new antagonist should have all of the depth and the likeability of the protagonist. That lends the story a background of realism right out of today’s world. The reader is presented with three choices: Choose a side, toss the book for not being escapist, or learn from the ambivalence.

According to thinkers, philosophers, and mathematicians like Marshall McLuhan, Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead, the greatest invention of the 20th century is the art of suspended judgement. We don’t seem to have much of that these days. Important issues are divisive and everybody is urged to takes sides, to become an automaton.

So, the question is, should we give our readers whatever side we think they want, avoid real world conflicts altogether, or encourage them to get along with those with whom they disagree?

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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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