Nano and writing what you know

So I’m doing Nanowrimo (and I recommend everyone has a go at least once, even if you only end up with a thousand words by the end of it, you’ll have more than you started with) and have been trundling along at a reasonable clip, managing to keep up so far. But the other day I was writing a scene with the crew of a spaceship chatting about something, what to do next or some such, and I realised that not only was that boring, but it was too nice. So since my Captain, Laura Shields, tends a bit towards the irreverent and stupid on some things, I decided to do what all writers must do.

It was time to be mean.

Now I tend to agree with the consensus that, on the whole, the job of a writer is to be an asshole to their characters, to be the one who makes their life hell so they can come through it stronger, or weaker, but either way definitively changed. In some cases, dead, which I’m sure you’ll agree is a hell of a change. So I decided that it was time for the Captain to screw up on a tiny bit of interaction with the ship’s AI, and since the AI is a full fledged person this was enough to actually hurt her.

What has this to do with writing what you know, phantom people who may exist only in my fevered hallucinations are no doubt asking? Why that’s the very thing, I took the interaction from one of my very own fuck ups of this sort, and I think the scene is better for it. Like me, Laura didn’t realise what she had done because she was thinking about other things and generally being an inconsiderate dumbass. Also like me, she was immediately called on it by her crew and, I hope (there’s still a long way to go just on this first story with them) has learned from it. Now, I didn’t need to use my own experience for this, I could have just made something up that made sense and gone from there.

But it was a hell of a lot easier, and more convincing, to write from what I’d experienced.

Also, in an odd way, it gave me a kind of final ownership over my fuck up. Recognising I’d been shitty, owning up, then showing how it can happen have helped solidify the checks needed in my mind so that it won’t happen again. I hope. We’re all human, mostly.

So yeah, writing what you know, useful in a whole range of ways and for more than just the writing. But, I think the phrase ‘write what you know’ is a bit problematic, since it seems to imply only ever writing about what you’ve experienced.

And I’ve never insulted an artificial intelligence.

A better (in my opinion, which you can take, leave, or fling away in the desperate hope to never see it again but know this: like a boomerang it will come back to haunt you) way of saying it might be: ‘know what you write’ which, while still somewhat ambiguous, at least puts the impetus on ‘knowing’. And I can know all kinds of things without experiencing them, just from reading and watching and generally taking notice.

Basically I’d prefer it if everyone felt safe to write whatever the hell they liked, and if you don’t feel like what you’ve written about is convincing, just read read read until you think you understand it, check that by explaining it to someone else, and then fix your writing appropriately.

No, this wasn’t me justifying my wiki walks and tv tropes traversals, shut up.


Back in something, probably not black

Time to restart, methinks.

Ugh, I hate that word.

This blog has been neglected for the various reasons people neglect blogs. I won’t bore you with details.

I finally finished last year’s nano story, and by finished I mean it has a beginning, middle and end. All of which are too thin and require a metric tonne of world building to work properly; I really need practice with fantasy writing.

It’ll get done, just needs to simmer for a while.

I’m editing Only Human, a previous nano story which needs more work. But the difference is I know what it needs now, enough time has gone by for that to become clear. Editing is it’s own kind of slog though, so that’s fun.

Write write and write some more, that’s what we’re aiming for.

Enough gibberish from me, I’ve got a first line to figure out for a Chuck Wendig friday flash challenge 🙂

Work it, make it, do it, makes us..

Daft Punk at O2 Wireless Festival, cropped fro...

Daft Punk at O2 Wireless Festival, cropped from larger photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I do love daft punk, could you tell?

More than just being great music (mostly), daft punk is one of my go to groups for work music, hence the specific title. After I’d picked that line, I realised there was an extra meaning that I happen to like, but I’ll get to that in a bit. This post, like most, is about writing but, more than that, it’s about work in general and how I go about doing it.

I, like a lot of people, cannot work in silence.

I’m sorry to all those who prefer the silence, but my brain is not wired to be sat around with nothing happening, it’s just wrong and I will never understand you. I will make every effort to try, so long as it doesn’t interfere with work.

Now I’ll admit to having set myself up with a double edged sword here, if my favourite song comes on I’m bound to end up distracted, it’s not guaranteed and doesn’t happen every time but is a fairly safe bet. There is also the problem of playlists repeating and they always get tiresome juuust as something happens to get particularly irritating, or goes very wrong. These are the main downsides.

But the upside? Oh boy oh boy.

For me work cannot flow anything like it can with music on the go. Distractions? What distractions? They have to get over the music first and the music keeps me in rhythm and just working on through. How anyone can get anything done in silence, where the slightest noise inevitably has your utmost attention, is something I’m not even sure I want to know.

I’d like to think that comes from the super stressed out parent, keeping everything around the house silent in the desperate hope that the baby will go to sleep. And so they can only get to sleep in silence forevermore, and every new noise is frightening or at the least grabs attention.

You think it’s the noise that keeps babies awake and screaming on airplanes? Nope, that would be the air pressure, just like the rest of us their ears are hurting. If you really think a child can’t fall asleep without silence then you haven’t noticed kids asleep in prams, in cars or just napping on their parents chest walking down the street. Not to say you should be deliberately noisy around kids, of course, but just don’t make special arrangements; they were fine in the womb with all that noise, they’ll be fine now.

….That kind of got away from me. Point being: I believe silence is not something we should really expose ourselves to too much, we’re not adapted for it. I work in an office with ten servers the other side of an insufficiently thick wall, the only time I notice is when a server reboots (or dies, touch wood).

Anyway, to the main thrust of the post here: I like having music around, I think it suppresses the crap and allows more real thought through, making writing and working that much easier. Keep it varied and always skip to a different track where appropriate, and music can carry you through the day.

Metalwings’ post over at Distantrealms on music for stories, and characters, may have helped nudge some of these thoughts loose, but I can’t be sure 😉

On the line from Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger: I’m reminded of just about every decent author/artist’s main point in how to be what they are: produce. Write, paint, strum that guitar, just stop talking about it (so much) and make it to the best of your ability. Work it, make it, do it, makes us: artists.

Also: stronger.

One more time now…

(For the three people out there who haven’t seen it yet: Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech: Make Good Art)

Inspiration and Writer’s block

Inspiration is a funny thing. (How many posts have opened with this line? Probably too many)

Lots of people talk about it as though it’s nebulous and almost mystical, personally I don’t believe there’s that much special about it. I will admit it’s fickle (no, having an idea at 3 in the morning when I’m too tired to care does not help, dumb brain) but I’ve seen this used as an excuse, and I’m sure everyone has at some point. If you’re lucky inspiration will strike when you’re ready to write (or draw, act, whatever really) and the ideas will just flow and it can be a hell of a high. I think that’s where the idea that’s it’s something more magical comes from and that leads to the thought that without the magic moment, nothing can be done.

I reckon a lot of stories go unwritten because of this.

As it turns out, if you’ve written anything (or done anything creative really) you soon find that there is a lot of time where inspiration has taken a holiday, and carrying on feels like work. Because it is. But that’s not a bad thing, you can prod inspiration into working by just working through, stubbornly getting words down even if they’ re not very good(Related: if you like writing and haven’t tried Nanowrimo, go get an account and get ready, trust me on this). They can always be fixed later, after all, and you never know what you might trigger after a couple of hours of slogging.

This is related, in some way I think, to Writer’s Block. Which is something I’ve never suffered.

Yes, I can hear you laughing, just give me a sec.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve wanted to write and not been able to. I don’t attribute them to writer’s block because it never felt like a ‘block’. I’ve had plenty of lazy moments, tired moments or I just want to smash things in a game moments. But when I really focus on the task, I can always squeeze words out, no matter how stubborn they may be in coming. I’d guess the lack of inspiration can combine with whatever stresses a person is going through, leading to hopelessness and giving up on the writing, but again, I’ve never experienced it. But I could just be that stubborn

This is not, of course, the whole story. I asked Metalwings of Distantrealms for her opinion on this, and she pointed out something I hadn’t thought of. The block, I now suspect, can be as unique as the individual. What if, for example, the characters stop talking to you? They refuse to give up what they think, what they would say, how they’re feeling, so writing them feels wooden and just… wrong. In this case going back over everything about the character can induce the block to shift, but not always. Most of the time you have other characters as well, so you can just jump to someone else for a bit (Related 2, the Relatening: Scrivener is wonderful for this).

I’m sure there must be other ways words refuse to drop onto the page, but I will always recommend putting down whatever drivel is necessary to break through the block and fixing it later. Crappy metaphor time: It’s like tapping a well, you don’t drink until the water flows clear and cold, so you’ve got to keep chugging the crap out until it’s clear.

Wait, that was a simile. I think. Crap.

Have you experienced writers block? What was it like for you?