I’ve never been one for making New Year resolutions, but the end of the year, and a few days holiday, do give one the time to reflect. So reflecting I am. This year I complained a lot about time, specifically, the lack of it. Sorry. In the interests of full disclosure, I have been reliably informed that 2016 will not be coming with more time. Nor will time expander packs be available. More’s the pity.
It would appear that the only solution is to do fewer things. Which is exactly NOT what I am going to do. Seriously, I don’t respond well to “slow down”, “take it easy” or “don’t do so much” and similar expletives.
Put one word in front of the other and keep on going until you get to the end.
Of course, some people walk better than others. And really, that is probably where the analogy finishes. Actually, I probably should have stopped before this whole thing got out of hand.
But I won’t.
Something I learnt as a scientist is knowing when to stop. At some point you need to admit to yourself that this is as far, or as good, as it is going to get. Maybe you won’t win the Nobel prize. Maybe you won’t write some literary masterpiece. This is the perfectionist’s dilemma. On the other end of the scale, there is the danger that you stop too soon. In science you can see this in a paper that lacks perspective and presents what is often referred to as an “epsilon” paper. Espilon being the greek letter usually used for an extremely small quantity in maths. Therefore, the paper is seen as a making a very small step forward. They stopped too soon in having the vision to do something really important; big. They also stopped too early in terms of writing and the lack of depth in the writer’s perspective gives them away.
Is your writing scaring you? I’m not calling out all horror writers but people looking to push themselves, find the limits of their writing comfort zone, and push through it. It is hard to do this because we are such creatures of self-preservation, but it is typically here/there, in unchartered waters, that we find that something special. As a writer, hell, as a person, I am always looking to stand out, to be different, to look at the world in a different way. What is the point of everyone being the same? If you’re starting to worry that this is some rant from a newly-enraged teenager, then you’ll be happy to know that I’ve been enraged for nearly half a century.
The other primary … primal?… thing that holds us back, makes us hesitate, is that we are also creatures of vanity – who wants to be seen to fail? Well, for a start, as a writer, you can fail a lot in private first, so no one can see you. Eventually though, you’re going to have to step out, stand up, and declare yourself.
This is me, this is what I write, and this is how I write.
You often see people/memes saying that anger is a bad thing. Anger is negative. Nothing good ever comes from anger. Bollocks! If you replace “anger” with the word “violence” then I agree, but most of the time people seem to confuse the two. Perhaps you could replace “anger” with “frustration” but only up to a point.
So, what am I angry about? Well, not everything – I think – but a lot. I’m angry at me, at the world, at people, sometime, maybe, possibly, even you. I am angry that we are not doing more to stop destroying the planet. I’m angry about equality. I am angry with organised religion for exploiting people. I’m angry at banks and governments … for exploiting people. OK, I’m angry at anyone exploiting people. I also get angry at people driving cars with headphones on, or who change the settings on the toaster. Mostly, I’m angry about people accepting this as the way it has to be. I’m angry with people for not being angry enough!
Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid is a french proverb that dates back to 1835 (dictionaire de l’Académie). A more or less literal translation would be: little by little the bird makes its nest. In daily speech, the lazy things that we are, this is often shortened to “petit à petit”. As in: “How is it going?” … “Petit à petit” – little by little. It is extremely useful in a wide variety of situations, for example, when you really don’t want to go into detail about what you’re doing. More often though, it is an admission that you’re probably struggling to make progress at all today and you just want it (the day) to end so you can start fresh tomorrow.
So it was that this made me think of the life of a writer. We run around collecting all sorts of bits and pieces of ideas, text, pictures and weave them like threads into ideas until, eventually, some form starts to appear. A story. A nest. I’ll leave the metaphor there for the moment, but leave it as an exercise for the class – yes you – to run with that metaphor and see where you find yourself!
If you’re not here to make the world a better place and leave something lasting, why not?
This was the thought that hit me recently whilst on holidays. I was sitting in a boat on a canal in England with an old – in both senses – friend. We met as students at uni, I was late twenties and he was nearly 60. We would regularly meet for coffee and it was on one of those occasions that he decided to be serious and ask me THAT question – What do you want to do? I don’t recall whether I paused enigmatically, puffed on a cigarette, or finished off another espresso before responding – I was quite good at all three… I was young… relatively. I had forgotten my response but after all these years he still remembered. The response was simple: “I want to make a difference. I want to leave something behind.”
Simple, yet completely ambiguous. Probably quite pretentious as well. Looking back, I love the response. It screams attitude. The problem in real life is pulling that off. How does one go out and make a difference. There were no courses on making a difference at the uni – I checked. Actually, I didn’t, I just threw that in there for effect. Not sure it worked though. So this is where I put my old person hat on – it’s not mine, I borrowed it off my friend at the start of this post. Pay attention! That was directed at me, not you.
For those that had noticed, or had been around here before, there have been a few things changing. In particular, on my journey to being an author it was brought to my attention that it might be useful if people could easily find me… Like all people, there seems to always be a namesake out there who is more famous. And so it is that I say ciao to the Modern Cave Dweller moniker for the web site. Well mostly. Given how popular my name is, obviously the domain name that goes with it is taken – although for sale at a ludicrous price. So by way of unique-afying my site, you must now all address me as
In shocking news just to hand, it appears that creativity has been killed in a senseless attack by another deadline. This is the latest casualty in a long line of deadline related incidences. Claims that it was premeditated are yet to be confirmed but if this is the case this is looking increasingly like this could be the work of a serial killer. Sources close to the creativity have indicated that there may have been previous attempts, again indicating that this is not just a random event.
Does this sound like your day? This year I set myself some challenges to ensure that my promise to myself to write, actually bears some fruit. In particular my 12 for 21 challenge. The downside is that I have often found myself running around like crazy at the last minute, or just after, trying to write something. This could be bad – I could waste your time, in which case I’m sorry. Alternatively, it could be good. Do a quick search for constraint breeds creativity and you get a huge list of responses where people scream out about how this is a good thing, a great thing, even a necessity. Jack white from The White Stripes makes a good point of it here.
The thing about constraining yourself is that it sometimes won’t allow you to express yourself the way you want, or as well as you want. But it often times forces you to express something you weren’t expecting, and that can be scary, but that’s when things can be really interesting. If you want to push boundaries and do something that is special, unique, you need to accept that you are the only one that can do it and you’re probably going to have to bleed to make it happen.
I had something to say. Oh, yes. Write like you own it.
I have been reading, mostly flash and short fiction, recently in an attempt to catch up on what is going on and get back to reading (fiction). I could now say something like – I don’t want to be critical but … but I am going to be critical and not because I have any authority but because I think that it needs saying. Some of you people aren’t taking your writing seriously enough. I know that’s going to come back to haunt me. It is not a question of style or grammatical errors, I am sure that if you have been curious enough to read this far then your abilities are far greater than mine. Indeed, most of it is impeccably written from a grammatical point of view, and even the structure is good – and more. Having said that, what I want to talk about is attitude.
Attitude, for me at least, is the single most important trait in absolutely anything you do. It is what defines you far beyond what you wear, the colour of your hair or your political views. Of course we could have the attitude of – who gives a shit – and while that tells me a lot, it also means I keep walking by. Similarly, as a writer, we could find ourselves saying – oh, that will be fine/nice/alright. Stop. The minute someone says something is “nice”, alarm bells should start going off. If you don’t think that your writing is as good as Vonnegut, Marquez, insert-your-most-revered-author, then why not? Seriously! You need to ask yourself what makes them so good while my writing remains “nice”? And you should answer – Nothing! Because there is no reason.