Writing to get the bugs out.

When I first started this blog, I set myself a few writing-based goals. The first of those goals was ‘to write one short story every fortnight’.

Progress so far: I totally forgot I was going to do that, and so haven’t, even though it seems like it would be a really good idea.

Now observe, as I masterfully construct my excuses!

I had revision and final exams, which I think are pretty good reasons to put personal and creative writing aside for a bit. After that I embarked on a new schedule made up of equal parts sleep, Netflix, socialising, and job-hunting – activities which had also been forsaken in the run-up to finals. Now I have found myself some employment and a place to live, I can finally turn my attention to my true ambition:

I will write all the words!!

Although I haven’t kept up with my targets, I have been writing since I set that initial goal for myself : I’ve written two fairly long but incomplete SF shorts, and one much longer, completed slash fic (I was really bored, and why not?). The slash fic is actually the best thing I’ve written in a while, and not just because… y’know, sex!! but because of actual proper quality of writing (if I do say so myself).

My idea notebook has not been neglected, though, and has been dutifully filled with every scrap and whisper of creative thought that my mind has created.

There is a point to this post.

I did learn one thing during this period of inactivity – writing is a very powerful tool for emotional expression. Duh, I hear you say, but let me elaborate.

Recently I have had a few stressful nights – pacing room, muttering to self, tearing hair out, that sort of night – and found myself ill-equipped to deal with the bad emotions. You see, I am usually very good at dealing with stress: I would say that the word stress is not in my vocabulary if I hadn’t already used it a few times. However, my methods for dealing with stress are not the most constructive, and so I have been trying some new techniques recently. These new techniques are nothing more elaborate than actually feeling my feelings rather than suppressing them, but it means a whole lot of alien emotions for me!

Hence, stress.

Writing your feels.

When the pacing stops and the boiling pot of emotional soup has cooled a bit, I have found myself getting the urge to write – more accurately, I have found myself getting the urge to articulate and explore the bad emotions via keyboard bashing. So I sat down and allowed myself to be completely honest and write unfiltered, with no consideration of audience and no expectation of sanity.

The result scared the shit out of me. I produced some of the sickest (in all senses of the word) writing that I have ever produced. Articulating my thoughts showed me how desperately confused and scary they were. I found myself being incredibly scathing towards anyone whose face dared to flicker behind my eyes while I was busy venting; I found myself being especially scathing about myself.

It was the first time in a long time that I wrote with ease and with true passion; even if the emotion was negative, the writing was electric. Maybe it was because the scraps I wrote were definitely going to remain private, or because there was no need to consider plot or editing, but those words were honest and frightening.

Much catharsis.

I am probably sounding quite melodramatic, but it was like that thing that people sometimes do on TV when they tell someone to respond to a question quickly without thinking in the hopes of getting a truthful response. I think that little trick is complete bullshite, but writing without any of the pressures of audience or quality produced the mythical response that quipping sitcom folk seek.

How does this relate to writing short stories or longer bits with the intention of sharing? Well I personally feel a similar release when drafting stories on paper with pen before typing – it allows the mind to say what it wants with no little red squiggles or autocorrect to put you off. When you’re typing you can edit as you go. When you’re writing in pen you have to just let it all spill out unless you want a confusing mass of lines crossing your page (which can, in themselves, actually be quite satisfying). No one is going to read the first draft of a story when it’s scribbled at the back of a notebook, so there is no need to filter. Just get it down.

Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is that I feel like I have found a way of writing that allows me to be totally honest and just get to the point of what I want to say (you couldn’t have used it when writing this post? I hear you ask). I feel like the staleness that sometimes comes with committing yourself to a writing project has been shaken off. Maybe I was just putting too much pressure on myself before, but sometimes hitting that flow is difficult, and turning off the critical part of your mind is impossible. It took me a while to find a way to stop quivering in front of my screen, thinking Oh God, what will my yet-to-exist audience think?; now I have learned how to just grab a pen and scribble, and not be afraid of the consequences.

There may be some reading this thinking that it’s all very obvious and that I’m over-thinking, and to that I say fuck off! Over-thinking is natural, even necessary in writing! But so is letting go and just writing without placing any expectations on yourself.

Is creating art more about letting go or over-thinking? Are both processes mutually exclusive? These are the questions we must ask of ourselves. Or maybe we shouldn’t.

JJ.

 

Advertisements

Short (HA!) stories.

Like most wannabe writers, I intend to write a novel at some point.

It’s all planned out – mostly in my head, but some parts on paper too – and I’ve already knocked out a few chapters here and there. The problem is, I don’t have any time to commit to writing it. At least, that’s what I tell myself and anyone who asks about it. The real problem is, I’m lazy and impatient. I love writing, I love my someday-novel, but I’m easily distracted and have a tendency to not finish things (see last post on ‘The first bad idea I ever had’).

This is the main reason why I decided to try my hand at writing short stories.

I can usually bang out a thousand words or so before my mind starts to wander, so short stories seemed like the perfect way for me to work within the bounds of my short attention span and actually maybe someday possibly finish something. All I would have to do is come up with a concept for a story and I would be golden.

Now, I know that there is a huge difference between writing a novel and writing a short story; when you’re trying to fit a whole narrative into 2000 words every single one of those words has to be doing something. What you can take a chapter to say in your epic sprawling trilogy, you can only afford a few words in your magazine piece. The technical aspect of writing a shorter piece of fiction is something which I went off and tried to learn through a summer a flash fics and Asimov’s SF magazine, and I found that it suited me. I’ll write the novel someday, but for now short stories are to be my children!

Short stories are awesome. 

In theory, anyway. The problem I find myself running into is this: where do you start? Coming up with an idea that you can fit into 2000 words is difficult, especially when you’re used to breaking out the A2 paper and developing the shit out of everything. From reading the short stories of other writers it seems that shorter fiction can, at its best, convey a huge amount of poignancy and emotion in the most efficient way possible. Edgar Allan Poe only needs a couple of pages to spook you, and J. G. Ballard can turn your brain inside-out in only a couple hundred words.

I want to write something which is meaningful or thought-provoking in someway, but it feels inorganic to start with the thought and build a narrative around it. On the other hand, when I come up with what I think would be an interesting story or plot I feel compelled to try and drag a ‘point’ out of it, whether the point is there or not. The situation is made more difficult by the fact that on any of the writing forums I use the general feeling is anti-thought, pro-plot: writers should be concentrating on telling interesting and exciting stories, not trying to say anything in particular. I don’t mean to suggest that anyone is saying that stories shouldn’t have a message or a meaning behind them – just that admitting to thinking about this message is not the done thing. It’s not cool. You seem like a pretentious asshole if you’re putting meaning before storytelling.

Of course the best stories are those in which the meaning is subtle and emerges from the story effortlessly, but how the hell are you supposed to create meaning consistently if you’re not allowed to think about it? At the same time, however, ‘I want to illustrate the dangers of reading too much Philip K. Dick’ is not the easiest of starting points, and can require the same sort of mental exhaustion to pull a story out of as… well, reading too much Philip K. Dick.

So where do we start?

With the creative ignition or the resulting thought? Is starting with a message like going outside before you’re fully dressed? Is not thinking about the message like trying to make your breakfast with your eyes closed?

I’m probably over thinking this. Who says you can’t come up with both simultaneously? No one. Both story and message evolve together, along side each other, to eventually become a coherent whole.

But it’s a frustrating process. Sometimes you have a point to want to convey, but you can’t figure out how. And that sucks. Sometimes you have a story you want to tell but you can’t help feeling it’s a bit pointless or vapid. That sucks too. Do all stories need to convey a message? No.  But as a reader the stories I enjoy most are those which force me to put down the book and just think about that for a minute. Page-turners are brilliant, but I’m a fan of the thinkers. Those are the kind of stories I want to write.

Basically, I wish I was Philip K. Dick.

JJ.