Refresh the plot

Like kill your darlings, refreshing your plot is just as vital. In this post I cite two examples, a draft novel and short story. The novel received feedback that led me to rethink sequence of events and reinforce particular themes in the story. An indirect result was that I rethought a short story, and had the insight to reorganise a stagnant plot. This highlights the importance of critiquing and feedback, and particularly taking that feedback as a positive opportunity even if it appears negative.

Embracing criticism

I’m a social worker, so by the very nature of my practice I should embrace critical thinking. In reality, I don’t like accepting fallibility, so I hate having new perspectives introduced, even though I aboslutely need them. It’s very much a love/hate relationship.

So it is with writing then, that I need to get new perspective, put myself out there. I have written about the power of critiquing before. It’s a process that can be awkward and difficult, but so rewarding. 

Recently I sent out sections of my first draft novel to a critique group. Their feedback was in depth and thorough, and provided me with the external, from-the-outside-looking-in perspective I needed. There were many errors I made – some I might never have noticed, others schoolboy type errors (two characters with names so similar the critique group thought they were a typo and the same person!).  Nonetheless, after giving myself a kick in backside I needed, I was also pleased to get the responses. It energised me and gave new direction.

Here’s the interesting thing though, not only is critique in itself a useful process, but it’s a type of writing exercise that I have found I can develop over time. What I mean is, I am becoming more conscious of common errors I made in the past, which inhibit the story, and I’m able to correct these before the work ever comes before any external perspective. It helps minimise errors, and provide focus where it is needed, on the finer detail. 

This doesn’t negate the need for a critique of course – this process is VITAL for writing – but it does help develop my writing, so below I give two examples. The first is the lessons I drew from the novel I put forward. The second is a short story that, having reflected on the critique process, I have begun to rewrite extensively.

Bastion

Bastion is a novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo last year. It’s story about a group of hunters that live with their tribe in the desert. There are lots of these tribes and they are ruled over by floating fortresses called Bastions. After witnessing a devastating attack on these once seemingly indestructible castles, and the resulting destruction of their tribe, the hunters are forced to flee on an adventure that opens a new perspective of their world and a fresh understanding of the Bastions and the reality of their lives.

The chapters I put forward for critique were the first chapters. This was a deliberate choice. The first chapters set the tone and the story to follow. They also contained some of the most pertinent moments to introduce the central characters. 

The feedback I received from my writing companions boiled down down to some standard themes – too many characters introduced too quickly, unclear motivations for the characters beyond simple survival, too much repetitive actions and sequences, staid dialogue. Although it wasn’t mentioned so specifically, I also took from it that the events themselves weren’t effective at moving the story forward (or boring, as people might say.

The benefit of this, so early on in the process, is huge. As I start to rewrite I can measure against expectation throughout the whole book. I’ve gone back to basics in many respects, trying to sift through what makes a story interesting and distinctive, against something prosaic and cliched. Rethinking whole sequences can be difficult, but it’s a necessary way forward. I think of it like drawing a map from memory, and forgetting the various pitfalls and challenges that you take for granted, but an external observer would not know about. THey travel the path using the map, but find all kinds of delays and deadends. When you think about it, it seems natural that these are issues, but over familiarity breeds contempt as they say. 

Darken Path

An indirect benefit was to reconsider the plot line for a short story I wrote (which has now been three years in the making…ugh!). 

Woman being chased by a mob, flees into haunted forest, trapped by daemon – simple plot. 

This story suffered from too sharp a contrast between early fast paced flow, and then sudden stop and slower pace in the second half of the story. Taking on board the feedback for Bastion helped give me focus on this short story. Now I’m in the middle of re-writing the whole middle section, to give a greater flow to the plot and drive the characters forward a bit more. Maybe I might have realised this change in the future, but it was the critique that set of my train of thought. 

Hopefully as I review other work and start new stories, this will become more second nature. Think about the basics early on, rather than writing something at any cost. It pays to take time to think about what is happening, what I’m doing, and why. With hope, my writing will become stronger, and it will be because I’m willing to take critical feedback to improve my work.

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The Art of Rest: the importance of rest and healthy working principles for your writing

Writing is a rewarding art form, interest and activity, but it is susceptible to stress and tensions like anything else. There are some simple strategies to help recharge your batteries, find an environment conducive to productive writing, and importantly give yourself permission to rest once in a while.

Stress isn’t just work bound

I took a long weekend off the other week and pretty much did nothing the whole time, including writing. I opted for a cruisey weekend to replenish my batteries and relax. To rest properly I needed to detach myself from anything looking like ‘work’. I did very little the whole weekend. I didn’t feel guilty about it – I just wanted some rest and that included from writing.

Writing, like many outside interests, can be like work. We can take it for granted in many respects; usually with artistic ventures you are your own boss, no team to worry about, choice of working environment. In truth though, the application of work principles applies just as much to artistic ventures.

Stress isn’t work bound. It can occur anywhere. Writing might be a side interest or it might be a full time gig, but it’s just as prone to stress, tension and fatigue as anything else. In fact, there’s some speculation that writer’s block is the product of the depression. The importance of looking after yourself is just as applicable to considerations of writing as it is work.

If you’re into writing, you won’t just consider it a chore. It must serve a better purpose. It certainly needs emotional value. The problem though is that its potential is utterly dependent on yours. If you start to flag, for any reason, chances are the writing will flag too.

Getting rest is important to recharge and rejuvenate. It helps provide creative fuel. Of course, you need to be disciplined about it. It’s all too easy to say that you’re resting when in fact what you’re doing is procrastinating. That shouldn’t detract from the need to take a break, just be mindful of it.

Self-awareness about your stressors and triggers helps immensely here. Be conscious of how you’re tracking and the warning signs. You might even find that these indicators appear through leisure long before they manifest at work. This all helps keep your writing on an even keel, and get rest when it’s needed.

A healthy environment 

Rest isn’t the only consideration here. When writing, consider the factors that make for a more positive work experience. You’re in a fortunate position because you have a great deal of control over your time, planning, priorities and environment. 

Choose a place with lots of natural light. I can’t over emphasise this enough. Where I work, I am stuck in a windowless office with virtually no access to natural light. I have to leave the office building to get some. I would give a lot for a window, even if the view was relatively mundane.

Keep yourself warm. You don’t want to be stifling, but make sure you are comfortably warm to work without distraction. 

Speaking of comfort, make sure you’ve a comfortable chair. Keep moving and stretch periodically.

Break up your work – Pomodoro technique is fantastic for this. Have a separate activity for those spare moments, so that you are not distracted. Keep off the internet for the duration of the whole session. If you write something and realise you need to research something to make the scene work, take a note and move on. You can complete that research another time.

Set the tone of the location as to what works best for you. What this means is, if you know you work better with classical music over, say, pop music, then that’s what you play. If you know that you get too distracted with music don’t play it. Work to your strengths, not a romantic ideal. Coffee shops are interesting ones – I hear lots of things to say that they conducive to good writing because of the background noise. For me, I’m not so sure, because it’s not the type of background noise I savour. I also find the coffee very strong in coffe houses and I’d feel compelled to keep purchasing things to justify my presence there, so it would be quite expensive. All in all I find coffee shops exhausting because they’re so busy. I guess my point here is to ignore the romanticism that is often applied to the idea of the writer, and instead apply what works best, for you. If you love coffee shops for writing then go for it.

We all get ill

People get ill. It’s a fact of life. We suffer from physical and mental illness. The reality though is that as a society we are really poor at managing illness. There’s a long standing stigma associated with mental health, and many misconceptions about how we can simply shrug these things off. Even with physical health though, we apply poor standards. How often do we have colleagues coming into work with a cold, potentially infecting the whole office? Many employers don’t offer paid sick leave, forcing low paid workers to struggle into work even though they are clearly unfit.

The point I’m making here is not to allow this societal form of employment masochism to impact on your writing. If you’re ill then recover and rest. Don’t force yourself to write because chances are you won’t be that productive. Give yourself permission to lay off the writing. 

If you’re worried about getting your grove back, then consider a set plan to re-build momentum. We suffer lots of unintended setbacks or delays of one kind or another, so having provision for delays in general is a good thing.

Ultimately, writing is a process like any other. You benefit from organised routine, and have the right environment to work in. Being aware of the impact of stress, and taking appropriate action to minimise it, will deliver benefits. Most of all, give yourself permission to rest, recharge body and brain, because in the longer term you’ll gain more for your writing.

How Reading Can inform the Writing Process

Last weekend I managed to finish three books I had been reading at the same time. I don’t mean Data-like abilities to process information simultaneously. No, I started one book, hadn’t finished it before I started another, and then, just for kicks, thought ‘fuck it I’ll read another.’ Finally they converged to all end at the same time. Quite an achievement (it’s not really – procrastination can surface anywhere).

Books are fuel for the brain. They are not the only source of creative energy. Artwork, music, exercise, healthy food, passion, narcotics (obviously legal ones…) are all means to get the creative juices flowing. Books are great for writers though. They provide so many benefits. Last week, I wrote about the different kinds of books and how they might help the writing process. In this session I am more thinking about their overall benefit in how they stimulated me artistically, but also gave me ideas for my own writing.

AD 500 by Simon Young

This is a fictional mock-factual-historical novel, about a group of Greeks travelling the British Isles in 500AD. It was a great read about the different ways of life in each part of the isles, and decline of the Celts as the Saxons began to take over. At this point in time, there are many influences in the British Isles, leading to a rich description of culture and society.

From a narrative point of view, the Greeks take a winding journey up rom the south, through Ireland, Scotland and then back through England. There’s little over-arching ‘story’ or characters, but the gradual decline of the Celts and the hint of Saxon dominance is the main theme I think. 

From a writing point of view, I don’t think it necessarily aided in structure, but it helped provide some sense of the depth needed in description. The author had done his research, so the descriptions of events and local customs is highly detailed. I actually had an idea for a alternative-history novel set in a similar time, and this book was supposed to be the foundation of the background research. It left me with some pretty big questions about how much research I would need to do first, and the scale of the different cultures even in such a small area of land. 

Starswarm by Brian Aldiss

This was an ageing paperback I’ve had on my shelves for some time. It’s actually a collection of short stories, which are ostensibly given a connecting theme (each story relates to a part of a collection of star systems called the Starswarm). In truth, these stories had little connecting them, and the theme seemed more of a contrivance, rather than serving any narrative function.

As science-fiction stories go they were intriguing and well developed. Brian Aldiss is a famed science-fiction writer, so I expected nothing less. They raised interesting posits about existence, and human life (particularly being set so far into the future). 

I must admit I was quite interested in the micro detail. The structure of sentences and formulation of the action. This is the kind of detail I struggle with, particularly in first drafts. I want to get to a point where this sort of thing is second nature in a first draft, because it’s this detail more than anything else that causes delays and slows me down. 

It also helped with the breakdown of different characters and providing distinctiveness. This is another area I struggle with. Aldiss clearly gave some thought to his characters, even though these were short stories. I wasn’t left wondering about who was who, or felt they lacked an edge or depth. Very effective.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Now this classic was a challenge. Partly on account of the central chacter’s using ‘Nadsat‘ (although easier to understand than you might think), but also because I had seen the film already. I didn’t really like the film, and there was little in the novel that made me want to watch again or reconsider the story. I got the premise and theme, but the story seemed remarkably uncomplex compared to its potential. Then again, maybe I’m viewing it with the reader’s desires, rather than the author’s intent. It’s not like Burgess was trying to showcase a dystopian future in detail and failing, simply that he focused on other matters.

Indeed, that may be a strength, in that the dystopian future is implied, rather than specific. It may even be, that beyond the selfish world of the main characters, the wider world continues much as normal. Beyond that though it left me cold. I had a similar reaction to Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Maybe some books do it and some don’t.

In terms of my writing, what struck me was theme and how consistently Burgess applied it. He maintained the narrative without getting sidetracked with irrelevant actions or uncessary diversions. It’s a lesson in conciseness. Some books (particularly fantasy) can become grotesquely overlong and bloated to maintain narrative. Any kind of theme disappears, and even the story telling can become lazy if the author relies on reader familiarity to make the story continue (that is, the story is no longer compelling, just the question of what the character is doing in a particular place). 

Maybe a classic novel like ACO should entice me more, but then again everything is in the eye of the beholder. It was compelling enough that I read to the end, but not so much it has become life changing. Then again, if it helps propel change in my own writing perhaps it will turn out to be quite important.

That may be the power of books. Seemingly inconsequential in many respects, but having an impact that may take many years to come to fruition. I’ve already started on my next novel – The Walls of Byzantium by James Heneage – and I’m a third of the way through that already. It has a nice intensity of story and character without being too complex. An easy read, but very much in the grain of a novel I’m working on. The more I read the richer I become, and after prolonged spurts barely reading any fiction, it’s good to be delving back into it again.

Write a book in 8 minutes…(a day)

Don’t have time to write? Think again. Some people set aside hours each day – lucky buggers – while others cram in maybe a couple of 30 minute blitz sessions. A few might just manage one such session. What they all have in common is that they write everyday, and they manage to organise their day to fit in their writing. They can do it, so what’s stopping you? You don’t even need 30 minutes. Write for just 8 minutes a day and you’ll have a novel within a year.

How 8 minutes a day equals a novel

We live busy lives, inundated with demands on time like work, family, social media and a myriad of distractions we’re told we need for some abstract purpose of marketing conformity. It might be easy to think we can’t manage to fit in artistic and creative ‘luxuries’ like writing.

The truth is if you want to be a writer you’ve got to write. It takes time to write, so you have ensure you fit in enough time each day to get something written. 

8 minutes a day. What are you doing each day that means you can’t spare 8 minutes?

Why 8 minutes you ask? Well, simple maths.

Imagine your typing speed is a sedate 30 words a minute. After 8 minutes that’s 240 words. Mulitiply 240 by 365 = 87600

Eighty seven thousand six hundred words. 

That’s a novel. 

That’s a short story anthology. 

It’s a few novellas. 

Just 8 minutes a day. 

Forget the romanticism of writing; these idea of lazy days writing thousands of words, taking long walks to boost your creative flow, and leisurely rewrites and edits of what you’ve done.

If you’re independently wealthy or already a successful writer, you might have that luxury. Most don’t. So 8 minutes a day is the best you might be able to summon.

Keeping a Routine

Now there are some realistic issues here. 

It can be difficult to get yourself going for the sake of 8 minutes. I find a five minute warm-up write does wonders, but then I fit in longer writing sessions anyway. So you need to get a habit going to seize that energy. This is about routine, selecting the same time each day to write. 

Maybe add a bit extra to your work time if you drive – write for eight minutes in your car when you arrive, or before you leave. Public transport? If your journey is longer than 8 minutes it’s sorted.

However you do it, turn it into a routine and keep doing it.

Keeping the flow going

There’s also a question of narrative flow. Inevitably it is easier to write a stream of events or even a single event when you have more time.8 minutes might challenge you to keep that flow going.

Having a good sense of structure or planning ahead can help. Planning each week can help provide the impetus you need to write an hour a week (8×7=56).

If you’re reading this thinking there’s no way 8 minutes is viable for focused writing, then I’d ask “what about 15 minutes? Is that really stretching it?” That’d be even more advantageous – nearly double the amount or half the time (6 months instead of a year).

My point here is that time is pliable if you’re willing to make accommodations. If you accept that usually writing a novel isn’t a quick process then you surely accept the capacity to spend a year on writing your book, short stories etc.

It’s not enough to claim there’s no time. You have the means, with some organisational effort, to contribute a little bit each day to making a writing project come together. For even a short spell and minor sacrifice, you can find the time to make it happen.

Blog Writing: the Neverending War of Time, Organisation, Priorisiting, and Managing Expectations

Writing seems like an endless journey of organisation and reorganisation these days. It’s too easy to say that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and in fact this would be untrue. What matters is the organisation of time, prioritising my blog, and managing my own expectations. 

Organising Time

Faced with the resumption of university, I can now take an intelligent guess as to where a lot of my time is going to be used up for the next few months. It’s easy to take an instinctive reaction and retreat from writing, but I did that before, and I reckon I paid a price for it. In fact, my last retreat had nothing to do with university. Becoming overly focused on a NaNoWriMo project, I ended up finding my time being all spent on that, even after November, and simply decided to ignore my blog. There was no particular reason why that should happen, but I figured I wouldn’t have time to write the blog. Without testing the hypothesis, I simply stopped. Now, months later, and I’m still struggling to reorganise everything to get back into a regular habit of writing each day.

Time is finite, which is fortunate, because you know how much there is going to be. Time is also, conveniently, organised for us, into 24 hour blocks to make days, and 7 days in a week (well, in Western society anyway). Assuming one is sleeping an average amount of eight hours a day, that leaves 16 waking hours each day to do something. 16. I should be able to fit something in there. I won’t reflect too much on this topic of time right now – I’m actually going to cover it later in the week. The point I’m making here is that if you know there are a fixed number of hours in a day, you have structure as to how you organise your daily writing.

For me, this means considering where my free slots of activity are. These are generally points where I’m not working on something. I should be able to find spare time in there to write a blog post. 

Managing Expectations

Another thing to consider is how much I write. I did a quick check of Chuck Windig’s excellent blog Terribleminds. One blog post, that didn’t seem particularly lengthy, was about 250 words. Another was 1000 words, and that was a lengthy piece about healthcare in the US (good reason to write longer). Even so, 1000 words is not particularly epic in the grand scheme of things – maybe 40-50 minutes of straight writing. 

The point I’m making here is that it isn’t necessary to write lengthy polemics for every blog post, so I shouldn’t set the bar that high. Do I really need to write hundreds and hundreds of words, if just a few paragraphs will do? I know I’ve started on subjects and become dismayed that they only fill a few blocks of text. In retrospect, I should fixate less on the length and more the breadth of the subject matter (…now there’s a double entendre I realise, but I’m sure you get my point).

Prioritising my Blog

So, my new approach is to plan out the subjects ahead of time, create the draft articles with a few notes for basic structure, and then complete over the course of the week. A single spurt of text, and a re-write, shouldn’t require a great deal of time, and by managing my expectations of my work (i.e. How long it needs to be), it should still allow for me to complete the other stuff that needs doing (like studying for example).

I already go to a writers group each week, so that provides for fiction writing time. With some reorganisation at a weekend, I can do similar then, interspersing with my university studies. It should be a nice counterbalance to my academia to have some fictional writing highways to travel. 

I won’t deny, I’ve been here before. I am a perennial planner and re-planner – called procrastination in some quarters – and this isn’t the first time I’ve tried to restructure my writing strategy. On the other hand, I reckon I’ve become better about this stuff these days than I used to. I’ve always reflected on how, at work, my day is well organised and work completed on time. Somehow I have yet to bridge that gap between work place efficiency and general efficiency in my life. They shouldn’t be that different in honesty.

It’s about getting into the habit of writing. Like exercise, making it a daily ritual. This week I have four more subjects planned to cover the other week days. The key will be creating five new ones in time for next week. Small steps, but they’ve got to be made.

The Curse of Being Organised at Work, or Facing Up To Leadership Errors

I’m going on record as saying ‘WTF?’

Seriously, what happened? 

Yesterday was all terrible rush…tired…too much work…Monday’s. Today was…bored out of my skull. The very antithesis of yesterday.

It’s not that I don’t have work to do – I was still able to build up a task list, and it wasn’t all done by the end of the day. It’s just that I do thrive on having a challenge. The work I had to do today was not the most stimulating. It’s that crappy administrative work that lays untouched for weeks or months that sooner or later need completing, but no one’s that bothered if it waits. It certainly doesn’t keep me fulfilled, like I’ve completed a big piece of work. It’s just stuff.

What’s worse, is that I know my team are busy. There’s a lot of work out there, and they’re all beavering away. So it occurred to me that perhaps I’ve got this wrong. Maybe I need to reassess how I evaluate my team’s workload. You see, I’m often busy with the normal routine of work, so it fits in with everyone else sense of daily pressures. Right now though, I feel like my camouflage has been lifted, and I’m a sitting duck exposed.

I like to think I’m organised. I keep my inbox empty, placing emails in their correct folder, flagging the ones that need follow up work. The casework waiting approval is zero. No major deadlines are waiting. The most critical cases are waiting for key tasks to be completed; it’s not that they’re just waiting there to be written up. 

So I have to think, how is it the work seems less busy for me, but not for my team? I could take the easy way out, and say it’s an organisation thing. For sure, there are some tips and tricks I could pass on, and I have done in the past, but ultimately I think it’s a cop out. In fact, I worry that it’s victim blaming. You see ‘frontline’ workers, particularly caseworkers in child protection, have significant pressures heaped on them. They’re typically at the lower end of the pay scale, but the collective responsibility is much higher. Large organisations, particularly government departments operating on an outmoded neo-liberal economic basis, lose sight of the very real complexities their workers face. In other words, it’s not a system catered for efficiency. 

So now, seeing that the work my team hasn’t diminished, even as mine has, I feel compelled to reassess what I’m missing as a team leader. Am I providing all the available time and ability to help my workers out? I don’t necessarily mean completing tasks for them – I dislike this as it infantilises and people can become dependent on that sort of thing. What I mean is providing the space for them to complete their tasks. Help relieve their pressures.

For example, do they have clear case direction? A lot of times I’ve seen workers (in different locations) put off particular cases simply because they haven’t received any clear direction. Many government organisations operate a command-and-control style leadership process (ironic for a profession of mainly social workers), and so workers have a habit of waiting until given specific instruction. Sometimes leaders can fall into the trap of thinking clear direction has been given, or even forgetting to give any direction at all. Regular supervision can help minimise this, but for some case matters they simply progress nowhere, in a kind of indecisive stasis. The more rigid the hierarchy, the more pronounced the problem.

So in this instance, is it an opportunity for a wider dialogue with workers? Not just asking them how they are going, but clarifying that they know where there are going with each case? Is it about encouraging them to re-assess where they are? 

I can also examine collective approaches. Sometimes, everyone in a team is busy, and assumes everyone else is, so they don’t ask for help, and put off undertaking home visits, meeting clients etc. Again, I wouldn’t seek to complete those tasks myself, but rather examine how, as a team, we are organised. I can encourage a team dialogue – what is everybody doing today, tomorrow, next week? Are we able to re-organise our calendars to accomodate each other?

This is about active engagement with the team. I could just sit back and wait. Feel that I’m on top of my work, and in so doing I’m making myself available for my team when they do start to send work through for approval, or when a crisis hits. This is passive availability – it’s good to have, but it doesn’t engage with the needs of the team. In fact, it could grow resentment because it might be quite apparent I have little to do, and looks like I’m not helping.

I’ve already cautioned against helping with specific tasks, because I don’t want to infantilise, and it’s also inefficient. If I was helping with specific tasks, it would be like being an extra worker,  but I can only be in one place at a time like that. As a team leader I need to be available for everyone, and be in a position to prioritise as critical issues crop up (and this being Child Protection, they will). 

So having little to do is not the self-congratulatory slap-on-the-back it might seem. Assuming there’s a lack of ability in the team to organise can be destructive, because such a perception ignores the wider complexities of workload and how organisations are structured (and so becomes victim blaming). It leads to an uncomfortable question – am I not so busy because I have been ignoring pressing, underlying, issues in my team? Critical reflection can be difficult sometimes; facing up to errors and mistakes can be uncomfortable. This is an opportunity to correct particular team wide issues, and help my team by being present in the moment to help them, and facing up to challenges I might have decided to file long ago, when I really should have tackled them head on.

Writing under strain or How Monday Can Rain on Your Parade

It gets really difficult sometimes. I had a subject all lined up for today’s blog and then WHAM! Monday afternoon hit me like me Agent Smith doing his power punch thing in the Matrix.

Long and short of it is that I was already tired, before work crisis intervened and destroyed my lasts vestiges of stamina. Ok, so I’m writing this I guess, but it’s not prepped or researched or anything. I’m tapping out words on my smart phone to get some semblance of writing and it’s all off the cuff. 

It’s frustrating because I had a few bits and pieces ready to write up, but there’s nothing like life to heap shit on you. I’m too tired to concentrate, so I have to write something, anything, just to ensure I’ve had some kind of productivity.

I’m knackered. And the problem is, when I get tired I get more prone to depression and anxiety. That means irritability (more than normal), sensitive to loud noises (including music), and a general morose thought process. I should be fresh and invigorated at the start of the week. Now I feel like I usually do by the time work finishes. What a drag.

Still, writing something’s better than nothing. It’s helping to chill me out a little but nothing is going to help me feel less tired except some rest. Hopefully tomorrow will go better.

I woke up this morning to find the dog had taken a wee on the carpet, the day of a rental inspection 😱 Looks like it was just the beginning 😂

Literary superfood versus literal garbage – how to keep the creative juices flowing

It’s a struggle these last few days. My brain feels dry. Like a giant leech has sucked the very essence of creative juices from my mind. It’s a sign of tiredness maybe, but it’s also a sign, I think, of not reading.

Now let’s be clear. I read. A lot. My life is an endless stream of report reading, news, Twitter feed and amusing 30 second videos on Facebook…no, wait, I think I diverted there. Dogs on mops. That’s what’s amusing (see, I didn’t even have to issue the rhetorical question to lead you into the answer).

No, I read. The trouble is, I don’t read enough of the right stuff. Reading is like eating. There are healthy superfoods, reasonably healthy, a little naughty, and downright garbage. 

Healthy superfoods, in reading, are the classic greats, not just oldies like Dickens, but new blood like whoever won the Booker Prize in 1965. What’s that you say? There was no Booker Prize in 1965? Oh, well, OK, 1975 then (it was around by then surely). There are non-fiction too, the kind of books that completely absorb you and drive into a philosophical journey of epic proportions, traveling the imagination highway at warp fucking 9. ‘Give me more Mister Crusher!’ yells Picard. ‘Give me more!!’ (Being a Star Trek TNG fan I must hold up my hands and admit that was never in any episode, but I’m sure it probably appeared in some form of fan fiction, depending on how you read it).

Reasonably healthy are the decent reads, the measured oddities that don’t quite reach greatness but keep us intrigued, interested and draw us in I like to class lesser known fiction by well known writers. For example, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is for me like kale. Cook kale in the right way and it’s delicious and healthy, read In Cold Blood the right way and it’ll do the same for your brain. His other novels though, like Summer Crossing, they’re more like chicken. Healthy in many respects, but cooked in the wrong way probably have some drawbacks. Not many though, chicken is awesome. You could just eat chicken, but you need something like kale otherwise you’ll get scurvy. OK, maybe not that bad. There are other foods out there that are nutritious and healthy without being ‘superfoods’. I guess though you set the bar lower for yourself if you don’t indulge in what’s best for you.

Slightly naughty, now there’s something. Chocolate. Tastes delicious, but death. Bacon, it’s as bad as smoking but it’s soooo good. So what fits in here? Well, it’s the slightly crappy novels that have some semblance of story, and character, but really they just go through the motions and you’re looking for simple trash you can enjoy. Here I might mention books of my youth like the Belgariad, or Dragonlance. Enjoyable fantasy romps (except Tanis – fucking shave you moping dick, it’s obvious you want to), but not exactly breaking literary barriers.

And the garbage. That’s Twitter. That’s news. That’s Facebook. It would also be Fifty Shades of Grey, but i haven’t read that so cannot comment (It’s utter shit – read Twilight because it’s the same story, and then read some Black Lace for all the “fifty shades of fucked up” FSOG will do you). 

But Twitter? News? How can these be so bad? I hear you cry. Well it’s simple. These things can be stimulating in a way, like a McDonalds Cheeseburger fills an empty spot in your stomach, but creatively it’s dead weight. Thinking Twitter develops your creativity is like thinking watching Naughty Lesbo Nurses 9 builds professional team building skills. Don’t get me wrong, I love Twitter and it can be stimulating – Donald Trump (senior AND junior) is keeping me quite occupied at the moment – but for my creative needs it’s not doing it.

So, I’m not reading. Not really. I still haven’t finished A Clockwork Orange, and at the same time I’m trying to finish off an entertaining faux factual book about some Greeks travelling in Britain and Ireland during the Dark Ages called 500 AD (it’s a ripping yarn, as Michael Palin would say). None of this is building good foundation for boosting my mind. I need some fiction; something structured and in depth. My penchant for reading recently has been for non-fiction, but everything I’m writing is practically fiction. I need better stimulation.

So yes, reading is important. It’s a type of energy that the brain needs. I exercise the brain through thinking, contemplating, wondering, and wandering (in my mind, not physically aimless because I have Googlemaps). Good food for the brain is critical. So I will set myself the goal of finishing Clockwork Orange and 500AD this weekend, and then start to rejuvenate myself with some solid fiction reading. 

I’m stuck on writing. Solution? Random short story.

Yesterday was a real struggle to get something together for my blog, and today’s no different. In search of some material I have opted for a random word generator to produce some kind of guide as to what to write. The story is short – I need to complete by the end of my train journey. That’s little room for planning or organisation or even too much editing, and I’m issuing a caution about language and content, so buckle in kids it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Four words are: band, mould, wriggle, ferry.

Gavin’s eyes roamed the cabin. Not literally of course, that would be insane. Roaming eyes, but the owner still sees out of them. Gavin had a new idea for a song. Being in a band, travelling to Tasmania for a series of gigs, Gavin was desperate for something to fill out their repertoire. Despite assurances to the organisers, they only had a few original songs to play. They needed inspiration.

Returning to the roaming eyes, Gavin caught sight of some mould on the wall, Gavin gave his nose a wriggle. Disgusting. It was bad enough being in a four bed cabin with three other male death metal performers. Good thing it was non-smoking; there was enough methane in the room to power South Australia.

The ferry rocked and vibrated.

“Fuck.” Said Pedro – real name Peter, but, you know, nicknames… – sitting up. “Maybe we hit something.”

“Mmphhh mmmh.” Said Danny, lying prone face down in his bunk. Gavin was inclined to agree.

“What?” Said Pedro. “I can’t understand you doucheface.”

Danny turned his head slightly.

“Stop worrying. Let me sleep.” He uttered.

“This boat isn’t safe.” Said Pedro.

“You’re the one that wanted to come by boat and not fly.” Said Steven, directly below Gavin.

“That would be way more dangerous.” Said Pedro.

The boat shuddered, and for a moment Gavin felt a queasy vibration in his stomach. Sea sick or hungry? Gavin opted for the later, and with a neat twist sat up on the edge of his bunk, legs dangling over the side. He jumped down, stumbling a little with the swaying motion of the boat.

“Any food left?” He said, glancing over at the collection of half-eaten savoury snacks.

“Hear.” Said Steven, passing him a bag of crisps.

“Where were you keeping that?”

“Who knows?” Said Steven. “People go there and never return. But they produce nice crisps.”

“Shit crisps.” Murmured Danny. He was falling asleep again.

Gavin opened the packet and munched a handful. Salt and vinegar. Great, now he’s need something to drink.

“We need some song ideas.” Said Gavin.

“What the fuck?” Said Steven. “Why?”

“I thought we could expand our routine.” 

“We just worked on some” said Pedro.

“Yeah, we need more.” Said Gavin.

“We have enough songs.” Said Steven. “Why do you want more?”

There was just the slightest hint of suspicion in Steven’s voice.

“We have Reguritate Cats Vomit on Your Mother’s Corpse.”

“Yes.”

S”Anal Fisting Angels in Heaven, Hammer Fuck to the Face, Napalm Scrotum, Deep Throat Zombie Jizz.”

At each title, Steven counted off on fingers.

“We’ve got enough dude.”

“We may need more.” Said Gavin. “I made promises.”

“What kind of promises?” Said Pedro, peering up at Gavin. 

A long snore drifted out from Danny’s bunk.

“I promised five gigs.”

“What!?” 

“What fuck you mean?” Said Steven. Gavin always knew when Steven became anxious because he started talking like a Neanderthal. 

“Five gigs in Tasmania?”

“Yeah. Five.” Said Gavin.

“It’s Tasmania. Fuck we’d be lucky to do five in Sydney.”

“Some bikie meet apparently. We’ll get paid more.”

Gavin reflected that he should probably have mentioned that part earlier.

“And you want one more song?”

“Well, let’s start with one and see where it takes us.”

“Any ideas?”

Gavin thought for a moment and looked about the cabin. His eyes rested on the mould. He smiled.

“Mouldy roaming eyes double-p your girlfriend.”

Steven and Pedro looked at each other. Pedro shrugged.

“Okay.” Said Steven. “But you’re writing the lyrics.”

Gavin held up his hands, in a show of acquiescence.

“Cool.” He said. “Now, what was your girlfriends name again?”

Anne Marie Morris, the “N” word and Malcolm Turnbull

A little light reading today – brief opinion pieces in the world of politics. 

Anne Marie Morris and the “N” word

She said it. She should go. Why? Her comments were disrepectful, crude and ignorant, and her casual use of the ‘N’ word indicates prevalent racism. Isn’t an apology enough? No, I don’t think so. She should apologise, and at time of writing I believe that she has, but ultimately there is an issue about normalising her language. An apology alone lacks sincerity of intent, and helps reinforce the idea that racism is acceptable as long as you apologise for it. Imagine how you’d fell if someone used derogatory comments about you, and when challenged apologised straight after – “I called you useless, but I didn’t mean anything by it.” This isn’t about ignorance of racial sensitivities, quite the opposite. Anne Marie Morris didn’t say the word in Parliament, rather in a closed meeting in which she probably didn’t think she was being recorded, so she knew enough to be selective.

What I find interesting is the swift reaction of condemnation and action of the government. I compare this incident to former Tory MP David Ruffley, who received a caution for a domestic violence related incident. Although the decision was made that he would stand down at the following election, there was no other action taken. Indeed, as an MP, he remained in Parliament with the potential ability to vote on women’s issues. He even received praise from that wonderful piece of human drool Michael Gove.

This isn’t a contest. Anne Marie Morris comments are significant enough to warrant her resignation, and Mark Ruffley should also have been sacked, but there’s a glaring inconsistency into how politics, and society, treat certain behaviours. This isn’t about politicians being on higher pedestals. We should all be on higher pedestals when it comes to issues of misogyny, racism, or homophobia (amongst many prejudices). Simply asking for an apology alone is attempting to mitigate the damage, while conferring only a loose acknowledgement of failure. The standard should be higher, regardless of whether you’re an MP or not.

Turnbull – Liberals aren’t conservative 
So today Malcolm Turnbull tried to re-centre his party. It smacks of desperation as he tries to find the middle ground. And really, it is somewhat laughable to review the record of Turnbull as PM. He has struck to the right as much as any of his predecessors. Maybe not to the same extreme, but it says a lot about the Liberals and how far to the right they have drifted that a conservative like Turnbull is considered liberal by his own party. In the grand scheme of things I don’t think it will resolve the underlying problem of his leadership, and it may provoke further aggressive moves by Abbott. Indeed, I have to wonder why Turnbull thought it would be a good idea to provoke the right of his party at all. This will simply create further division, rather than cement his position as leader.