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.

 

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I am a genius, just look at my glasses!

In late February I went along to listen to a talk given by Baroness P.D. James called ‘Murder and Mystery: the Craft of the Detective Story’. She gave us a brief history of her life, focusing on how she developed her Adam Dalgliesh series and Death Comes to Pemberley, which was recently adapted by the BBC. It was an interesting insight into the thoughts and creative process of such a noted author, but one thing which James said really stuck with me:

If you are an author, you will write.

It’s not a radical idea. It’s the genius paradigm: you couldn’t stop Shakespeare writing plays, Mozart lived for composing masterpieces, painters gonna paint. The idea that true creative souls must find an outlet is precious to those of us who believe ourselves to be creative souls. The question ‘why do you write?’ has been polled a hundred million times on every writing site which has ever existed, and the response ‘because I need to’ (or something along those lines) is always popular.* Creativity is a force of personality, not something which can be learned from WikiHow, and for unpublished authors and poets in particular the idea that writing is a compulsion rather than a skill makes us feel less like lazy, feckless wannabes and more like tortured but time-restricted geniuses. Stephen King probably has probably been quoted saying something to support this idea, so it is law.

*Super scientific research: my writing site of choice (Critique Circle) asked the eternal question in February, and 54.6% of those who responded answered, ‘Writing is to free the stories trapped in my head. They will not let me rest until I get them out’. I am going to scientifically refer to this category of response as the ‘genius category’ because I’m not entirely convinced I used the word ‘paradigm’ correctly in the second paragraph… (Here is the page the poll is on, for your viewing pleasure. You need to be a member to view the page).

Fake it ’til you make it.

While I completely understand the thinking behind this idea and often feel the romance of creative passion and the oppressive drive of imagination myself, I also think it’s a horrible way to think about writing. When someone says ‘I know I am a writer because I need to write all the time or I’ll go mad!’ it turns creativity into a pissing contest. Every other Wordslinger in the room examines their own drive to write, and if it’s anything less than ‘Dangerously High’ then ahhhhh… Hobby writer.

There are two ways to respond to the call of the genius category:

  1. Acknowledge you aren’t motivated by a constant and unrelenting urge to write;
  2. Pretend that you are.

Lots of people choose option one, and I don’t blame them. There are plenty of other great responses to the question, ‘Why do you write?’ which may not place you in the genius category, but hold a different and equally valid sort of pride. For example, the second most popular response in the aforementioned poll was, ‘Writing is for people to enjoy. I want people to laugh, cry, think, be comforted, or be challenged’ (29.2%). This category of creative – and this, I think, extends to all of the creative arts – has the audience in mind. They are the storytellers, concerned about creating art to be shared. It’s a motivation I think we can all understand. Some want to entertain, some want to provoke; it’s difficult not to consider how your work will be received, and so we tailor the style, the content, the meaning, with our particular reader in mind.

Personally, I hate it when people put so much emphasis on the entertainment side of storytelling that they scowl upon those who deign to think about meaning (see my previous post which includes a mini-rant on the subject) and so I am suspicious of anyone who calls themselves a ‘storyteller’, but I can see what they are getting at.

‘Art without an audience is simply an act of mental masturbation’ 

– Couldn’t find a source for this, lots of people have said it..

On to the second way one can respond to the challenge of the geniuses: fake it. This is what I do.

I don’t simply mean that one should proclaim oneself to be a creative mastermind at all opportunities, Wilde-style (I mean, if one wants to do this one can but I doubt one’ll make many friends). What I do when faced with the problem of wanting pure author-ness to pump through my veins but not really feeling it – whether this be due to writer’s block, distraction, or feeling like writing is becoming a bit of a chore – is try to get into the ‘author zone’. I suspect many of you will already get what I’m saying.

For me, that means putting on my glasses, busting out my fancy pen and notebook, and dressing in my ‘lounge jammies’ in an attempt to play the part of the sloppy but sophisticated young soul who will write many future novels. I even call myself by a different name while I’m writing, because if I adopt the character and look the part I am much more likely to get in that zone and finish that story. Starting this blog was part of constructing that role, because ‘Jude Jones, Author’ is a modern writer. I even read more now than I did a year ago, because ‘Jude Jones, Author’ is aware of what the market is doing.

The cake is a lie.

So, when the polls are busted out and I’m asked ‘Why do you write?’ I hit the button that says ‘Because I have to’ because, rather ironically, I feel I have to. And it’s all a lie – there, I’m breaking rank, I said it! Day-to-day me has a dangerously vivid imagination, yes, but it’s usually occupied by characters that I have no intention of writing about. To produce short stories, chapters, or even blog posts, I need to put on my costume and adopt a persona – I need to convince my mind that it belongs to an author before I can start producing the kind of ideas and standard of writing which I aspire to someday publish. I split myself a little, maybe, but only to separate the useless Netflix-addicted slob from the inspired literary mastermind which I know is in there somewhere. And it works. I’m not saying that what I produce is genius, but at least I feel like I’m producing something which fits the image I want to achieve.

As my idol, Dr Frank N. Furter, once said, ‘Don’t dream it, be it’. Well, once a day I put on my corset, draw on my eyebrows, and perform the fabulous number called writing. I just hope I don’t get shot with a beam of pure anti-matter at the end. I might break character.

JJ.