Fiction about not writing fiction – Vol. 3

// – You can read Part 1 here, or Part 2 here. Or just dive right in, go for it! – //

Identity Crisis

Can I call myself a writer now? Am I a proper writer if I’ve never been published? Is it weird to tell people I’m a writer when I only have a blog post about my failed NaNoWriMo attempts to show for it?

These are the sorts of questions that all writers (or whoever) grapple with at some point in their life.

Eddie Mars was grappling with these very questions while he tried to update his Twitter bio.

“Writer, gamer, biscuit lover” 

He mashed the backspace button in embarrassment.

“Science fiction aFICTIONnado”

Stupid – backspace.

“Aspiring author. Fan of Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica. #MountainUnbeliever”

Aspiring – the word felt accurate, but flimsy. Insulting. He deleted the whole thing.

“Can’t think of what to say here, existential crisis, lol send help”

That was the most eloquent summary of his Twitter-self he had thought of all day.

‘Can you even call yourself aspiring if you’ve only written 200 words in the past month?’

Eddie froze. If he’d had hackles they’d have been raised. He had definitely heard it that time. ‘Hello?’ he called as loud as he could. One of his housemates called back, but they were too distant to have been the original culprit. ‘Who said that?’ he hissed. There was no verbal response, even when he repeated the question. He eyed the glass of wine that sat beside his laptop, and wondered if that was the culprit.

‘It’s not.’

Eddie grasped the edge of his desk and closed his eyes. His head started to spin slightly. ‘Ok…’ he said, unsure how else to respond to an unplaceable ghostly remark. It had to be a glitch in his perception, that was all. A product of alcohol, a creative mindset, and probably also something to do with the blue light in the computer. He threw an old used tissue into the wine glass to stop himself from drinking any more of it, and his eyes fell back on the empty Twitter bio box. The cursor was blinking at him, mocking him.

He closed his laptop and –

‘Well if you can’t even write a Twitter bio…’

‘Right!’ He wrenched the laptop open and hammered his password in. “Writer-ish”.

‘That’ll do!’ he snapped, to Twitter, to the empty air, and to himself. The only sound left in the room was Eddie’s own wheezing breath above the tired whir of his laptop. He strained his ears for any whisper. ‘I need to calm the fuck down,’ he told himself.

Still, despite their probable non-existence, the words had dug at something sore at the back of Eddie’s mind. Can you really call yourself aspiring…?

He jammed his headphones as far into his ears as they would go and stared at the laptop screen before him, blinkering his eyes with his hands. He was still on his empty Twitter feed. He’d read an article somewhere – about a dozen of them in fact – that said authors need to be social now, even if it is just online. Gone are the days of hermitage and creative isolation; no more recluses, no more Salingers or Pynchons. The marketplace is crowded; she with the most retweets wins.

Eddie knew, of course he knew, that you can’t promote a novel that doesn’t exist. But you can damn well promote yourself. And was that definitely a bad thing?

‘Fuck it.’ He switched to a more electronically aggressive Spotify playlist and went to WordPress.

‘What are you going to blog about that hasn’t been said a thousand -‘

‘Shut up shut up shut up!’

Writing is writing is writing, I suppose. I hope so, anyway. Maybe we should both get going now back to Word or Scivenger, or whatever you’re working with.

At least when I hit that ‘publish’ button I can call myself a writer again for a bit. A blog post gets you a week, I’d say. But the year I got from that short story is due to expire.

 

JJ.

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Fiction about not writing fiction – Vol. 2

// – You can read part one here – //

Delusions of grandeur.

What keeps you going when you’re writing? What makes you spend your precious free time staring at a glaring white page, or agonising over whether to use a more descriptive verb than ‘he said’ this time?

Let me guess – you just have to write to get the words out? Or maybe you’ve wanted to do this since you were a teenager, and since you can’t really think of an alternative it just kind of stuck? Maybe you have a story that just needs to be told, or you’ve already told your story to several people and it would be weird if you didn’t actually write it now?

Eddie Mars had a way of reminding himself why he started writing. It helped him get through the day. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower and, as he does most days now, he talked to himself.

‘So Eddie, thanks for joining us,’ he muttered, safe in the assumption that if anyone was pressing their ear to the other side of the door they wouldn’t be able to hear his voice above the running water.

‘That’s no problem,’ Eddie responded back to himself.

‘So, I want to talk about your new book, Tale of the umm…  somethingsomething. So where did the idea come from?’

‘Well, Jonathan, it’s a funny story,’ Eddie said, rubbing conditioner into his hair. ‘I was lucky enough to get my first big break with Clarkesworld. They published a short story of mine, Neil Gaiman retweeted it, and, well’ he paused to smile, for effect, ‘it all just took off from there.’

Eddie paused, and revelled in the giddy swoon his daydream produced. This feeling of expectation, and the drive to be someone who affected others through the simple act of stringing words together – this is how he knew he wanted to be a writer.

Eddie didn’t have time to write anything before work that day, and at lunch he opted to stretch his legs in the park rather than get a chapter in, but the conversation that morning had inspired a feeling of importance that lingered throughout the day. Pride in the intention, belief in the artistic value, and identity in the daydream; those are what make up a writer. Written words are simply physical evidence, we get around to them.

When he returned home he rushed up to his room, turned on his laptop, and sat himself in front of his mirror to practice his Hugo Award acceptance speech.

And I know what you’re thinking. Cart before the horse and all that. But you try working 9-5 in a job you don’t like, and come home and be ready to simply produce. Writing is time-consuming and difficult, and sometimes-

‘I read somewhere that Jack Kerouac wrote his novels during his lunch breaks.’

That voice again – Eddie kicked the mirror with a start and just caught it before it swung down on his head.

‘Hello?’ he asked, hands shaking as he replaced the mirror against the wall. ‘That’s not funny.’

There was no response, and Eddie was afraid to speak again. He looked at his own reflection and saw a pair of wide, watery eyes, irises ringing by too much white. He sat there for a few moments, sharing a moment of mutual confusion with his mirror-self, until enough time had passed to forget the immediacy of the voice and rationalise it again as an unfortunate collision of personality and environmental factors. The pipes are squeaking. The house is settling. I’ve drunk way too much coffee today.

‘I need to get to work,’ he thought to himself, finally sitting at the desk.

Truer words were never spoken. But really, I like to think that Jack Kerouac spent at least 90% of the time that he wasn’t writing or thinking about writing, thinking about being a writer. You can’t really call it your dream job unless you actually dream about it, right?

My mirror-self agrees.

JJ.

Fiction about not writing fiction.

Procrastination Station.

Are you struggling to get a single word on the page today? Have you been sitting in front of your laptop for the past two hours googling fan art of your favourite bi-monthly podcast or Netflix original series? How many times today have you muttered ‘I really actually work better at night anyway, this is pretty normal for me, just need to get all the distractions and weird impulses out of my system..’?

At least one time, I bet.

Eddie Mars is just like you: a victim of procrastination. He was handed a Golden Opportunity – a bank holiday weekend – and he woke up on Saturday morning absolutely determined to make the most of it. To be the fabulously productive writer he dreamed of being.

His aims were vague but ambitious. He wanted to get a few more chapters written in the old first draft. He was going to edit a thing he wrote a while ago, get it all polished up for publication, maybe try a few prompts or free-writing exercises to change things up a bit.

‘It shouldn’t take that long to edit the short story, really,’ Eddie said. That was several hours ago, in the murky unused depths of this morning. ‘But maybe I’ll just watch a quick episode of OITNB first.’

And now here he is. Still sitting at his desk three cafetieres of coffee later and the only thing he’s achieved today is a bad hand-drawn sketch of a character he hasn’t written a single thing about in days. He’s not even an artist – literally, no knowledge of how to draw – and the whole stupid attempt just made him feel worse about not doing the thing he is supposed to actually love and be sort of sometimes good at. Unfulfilled good intentions are becoming the norm for Eddie.

‘And you can’t even blame it on writer’s block, Eddie Mars.’ 

Eddie jumped so violently his knees hit the underside of his desk and sent his pencil rolling to the floor.

‘Wha-?’ He listened for the ghostly voice to repeat itself, knee throbbing and fingertips pricking with a confused rush of adrenaline. But all he could hear was the familiar tinkling of his ‘#amwriting’ Spotify playlist, and the damning sound of his own not-typing. He cautiously settled himself back into his seat and brushed off the disembodied criticism as too much caffeine and an overactive imagination.

‘But do you know…’ he mused, ‘I might have like, attention deficit or something.’

He knew he didn’t, but he typed it into google anyway.

Don’t be like Eddie. Get something done today. Have a glass of wine or go somewhere public maybe – a cafe or something, where people can see over your shoulder and judge you for coming to a cafe only to scroll on Facebook for half an hour. Or maybe write a blog post about yourself as a fictional third person instead, I don’t know, just get some words down.

(Or, y’know, just do it tomorrow instead. The world won’t end if you get nothing written today. Not even the fictional one you’re holding in your head.)

JJ.

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.