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. 

Winter Write-up or How I’ve neglected my writing and I need to change

Something happened. Something snapped. I’m hoping it wasn’t a muscle. I’ve been working out more, so that might explain it. Then again, this is a mental thing. 

Let me start again.

Last night I was writing. Well, rewriting I should say. Any hoot, in the midst of my literary lat pull downs it occurred to me that I don’t write often enough these days. 

There were a group of us talking about how much time we commit each day, often to unnecessary futile tasks. If we committed just 7 minutes a day to writing that would be 200 words a day (assuming 30 words a minute). 365 days x 200 = 73000. A novel.

I like my morning preparation for the day. The routine works. Early bus. Arrive I. Plenty of time for a coffee. No rush and easy start to the day. Time on the bus to listen to music, get in the mood. It’s almost meditative.

No doubt it has its benefits, but in the meantime important words are being left unsaid. Or, rather, unwritten. I do two bus journeys each day. 20 minutes or so each. Even if I was to reduce my writing time to 20 words a minute, that would be 800 each working day. In 6 months that would be over 100,000 words. 

Writing can also be meditative. And I exercise most days so I think I am sound in mind, spirit and body. I definitely need to rethink the routine. 

I kinda persuaded myself that university work was a good excuse to set aside the blog, but I’m not so sure. Seems like a cop out to me with hindsight. I reckon I could easily have made the time for both.

So the blogging is back, each weekday, and maybe the weekend if I get a chance (fuck, I just need 7 minutes). In the meantime, I need to reacquaint myself with writing projects, which I’ve handled with kid gloves for the past few months. Not acceptable. Bad mental-projection-of-myself-as-a-writing-slave-monkey.

Looks like the bus has nearly arrived.

Remember, 7 minutes.

Taking a thought and running with it

In the first stages of my blog writing I used to write the everyday things I saw on my journey to work. Over time the blog has involved into something more focused. This morning though, fighting off the remnants of a cold, I’m feeling a little unfocused. So today I’m going with observation, an initial thought, and running with it.

As I approached the bus stop, I could hear the voice of a man behind me. He seemed to be talking at length to someone and it was one sided. As he passed I saw he had a handfree mic and ‘phones. As I heard a little more of his conversation, and realised he wasn’t waiting for acknowledgement from the person he was talking to, I began to get a little suspicious. 

He started to wander the bus stop area (Canning Bridge, so a few stops and the train station). He walked past me, walked back, went down the lift to the train platform to catch the Perth. Moments later he reappeared on the other side of the road, coming up the steps from the same platform. He then went over to the other lift to go diwn to the other platform for the Mandurah train. This whole time he still seemed engaged in conversation.

When he came back up onto my side again I was not surprised. I watched him walk all the way down bus port past a waiting bus, realised he could walk no further and then boarded the waiting bus. My bus arrived at that point.

Was he really talking to someone? I know some people prone to auditory hallucinations use mobile phones to disguise the fact, so that it looks less unusual. If he was experiencing such an episode maybe it works for him. On the other hand, maybe he was just an over zealous talker who got too distracted to pay much attention to where was going. 

Which would be more compelling? Sure, auditory hallucinations sound more interesting on face value, but consider the whole picture. If he was talking to imaginary person then it is simply a manifestation of his own mind. On the other hand, if he was having a conversation with a ‘real’ person then what about the person on the other line?

Who might they be, that would be willing to listen to a rambling monologue? Is it a friend? A family member? A social worker? Maybe some kind of helpline and the operator at the other end wondering ‘why am I doing this job?’ 

Now I could think that person’s response, their motivations. What if it’s a distant relative, who feels sorry for this guy having no immediate family? That would be an interesting relationship. 

I wish I could write more, but my bus stop beckons.

Rewriting Dialogue in a short story

I am tantalisingly close to finishing a short story. After going a year without finishing one, it feels good to start getting some completion. 

So the story is about a woman being chased by a mob of men. She flees down a haunted path to escape, but then becomes ensnared by the evil spirit residing there.

I’m happy with the structure of the story, and the general flow. Some of the description needs tidying up, but this is minor polishing now. 

The big thing is the dialogue. The interplay between the two main characters (indeed the only two characters) is a crucial part. It opens up the protagonist (and thus the reader) to the realisation of her situation. 

Unfortunately the dialogue thus far is a little stilted, as I still need to adapt the story to meet the antagonist’s point of view. I’m definitely proceeding from the perspective that the antagonist’s actions fuel the protagonist’s actions. The difficulty is representing that in dialogue.

I’m going to focus on developing the antagonist’s motivations a lot more, so that this will enhance the dialogue and so propel the story. There are three sections of dialogue, so I need to work on tying those together. Separate moments of the same narrative.

I’m confident it will all be done by the weekend, along with some final polishing. Then it’s time to submit it, somewhere, and move onto the next project.

Time, but time; the difference between professional and personal time management 

Why is my spare time management so woefully inadequate compared to my professional day-job organisation? 

I had a conversation with a colleague yesterday about organising work, time management etc. and the difficulties people have in general organisation. We also work in the social work sphere, an area of work renowned for lack of resources and work pressures. I understand the struggle, and training is woefully inadequate in these areas of planning, organisation and timekeeping.

I’ve prided myself on my ability to organise my work and effective time management. It wasn’t easy getting to that point. As a case worker I struggled for a long time to get organised, being sucked into the death spiral of child protection casework anarchy. Eventually though, I got to a point where I finally got on track, and this grew and developed as I moved into middle management. Now I feel firmly in control, even in crisis.

With personal projects though, I am a little more scattered. The most succes I had recently was with my NaNoWriMo, and that was at he expense of everything else. In terms of actual projects, the one project at a time approach is good, but I have a range of interests and a range of mediums. It sometimes seems more than can be possibly managed. I imagine I am managing my projects quite well sometimes, and perhaps it’s a case of setting the bar too high with unrealistic expectations.

I feel I need to rethink my priorities and about how to manage them. Some aspects, like photography, have been woefully neglected. I have some impending personal changes as well, including university and moving house, so some allowance will have to be made.

Centrally though, I think the biggest problem is that I have not yet fully worked out how to market myself. I have yet to find a way to tie together my professional and personal aspirations into something cohesive, so that’s where I need to start. Having diverse interests is good, but it’s about tying them together into something productive, marketable and consistent. Only then will it be easier to organise my time outside of work like I do at work.

Book Worm: researching a new personal project

You’d think, with all the masses of other writing to do, I wouldn’t be keen on taking up a new project. Maybe give it a few months, hold off, focus. Well, yes, it does make sense, but I’ve always been restless, and this is a project that’s been on my mind for a few years now.

So what is it?

Here’s the one liner – It is a book about Australian country communities and how the decline of rail has changed them.

I need to work on that. It imparts the dry, objective, description, but it lacks sexiness. It’s frumpy. It needs spark.

The working title is ‘The Beaten Track’.

The why’s and what for’s? I suppose I first had the idea living in Mount Gambier in South Australia. There was a derelict station and train line running right through the city (I believe some of it is now converted to public pathways – very smart). There were lots of little towns dotted about that at one time or another had a busy railway, mainly servicing industry. One little town, Kalangadoo, certainly caught my eye.

After travel in Tasmania, with disused train lines weaving their way up and down valleys, and the Western Australia, I came to see that the trains represented an era gone. At that point I began to think about these small communities and how much life must have changed since the industry, and the trains with it, vanished.

So my aim is to develop a book, using interviews with locals and photos, to tell the story of some of these small towns. For many towns the railways vanished decades ago, so if I’m still to reach those who were around at the time now is a good time to start.

Firstly, I need some research. I have zero knowledge about trains, their history or the context of Australian history. I need to know if it’s been done before, or whether there’s an avenue to introduce something a little different. So tonight I paid a visit to the state library in Perth. My little collection of books I reckon constitutes the near entirety of what has been written about trains and their communities. I’m sure more written material is available, particularly online, but the library was a good place to start.

I’ll need to look at the practical elements of a book like this, how to organise it, get testimony, interviews etc. All in good time.

For now I’ve got plenty to get me going, and start the project off. Choo Choo! 🚂🚞

The Big Read: Reading through my novel first draft

I had a moment of empathy for despairing USA citizens and, bizarrely, Cory Bernadi, asking myself “How did this happen?”

While US voters get to wonder about their political naïveté leading to the election of the orange demagogue, and Cory asks himself “how did I misjudge President Trumble so badly?”, I read my novel and ask “How did I write this?”

As the first part of the rewrite, I am reading through my novel. I’m making no corrections or changes at this point, as I’m only making broad notes about themes and issues cropping up. I spend about half an hour reading, then make some notes, and then another half hour and so on. As I read I get to see all the little errors I made, the confusing sections where attribution is severely lacking in dialogue, and sections where I clearly lost my temper and gave up (one line said [what happens here? Fuck.]).

So far I’ve got through about a fifth of the novel, and I’m barely past the inciting incident. It makes me wonder how much I may have underwritten the later sections, but I’m getting ahead of myself. You can’t judge a piece of art by only seeing a section of it, so I just need to be patient. Perhaps the story will organise itself.

I see some strengths. I like the flow of the story so far. There’s action and crisis. I could probably do with more conflict amongst the main characters, but there’s enough. I hope by the end the spirit of the story is holding up. There’s still a long journey ahead.

Rewriting the rewrite

Yesterday I was trying to decide which short story to work on at writer’s club. My choice was made, due partly because the story was already drafted, but also on account of not having other stories uploaded to my cloud…ok, I’ll admit it, the second reason was the real reason for my choice.

So my selected story was the Darken Path, a fantasy horror about a woman who flees into a haunted wood.

The story had already been rewritten a few times, but required some work on the dialogue, passive voice and some repetition. 

The dialogue was quite stilted. I’d originally opted to go for a more formal approach, but this had the impact of making the story seem like a costume drama (to quote some feedback). There were a lot of contractions to put in. There was also good opportunity to clean up pov and give some more description about the main character’s thinking.

I was able to scythe large sections of text that went on about the same thing, giving room for me to work on some sections that are underwritten.

I still have my seemingly endless battle with words like ‘suddenly’, ‘very’ and ‘seemed’. No matter how much I chip away, there always seem to be more.

So I think I’m at a point where I can wrap this one up pretty soon. I’d like to start submitting stories this year and force the pace on some unfinished pieces. With luck it’ll be the start of my publishing journey.

Which shirt shall I choose?

Which shirt shall I choose? That’s easy – black…to match my soul…

Ahem! The more pressing question today is, what short story shall I work on tonight?

It’s Writer’s Club (the first rule of Writer’s Club is, you do not write about Writer’s Club…I am a rule breaker). 

Shall I start again? The shirt thing was a ruse, a segway into a wider topic. So, tonight is Writer’s Forum (I just call it Writer’s Club for fun). We just sit and write. No doubt we look a little odd to onlookers. People come with different projects to work on, or sometimes not, winging it as they go. Some faces stay the same, others come and go. Sometimes people come once and we never see them again, often, I think, because they realise that it isn’t a group where we talk about writing, we actually do it. For many faux aspiring writers nothing is scarier than the idea of actually writing something.

Getting back on track, we write. We have a 5 minute warm up – sit ups, press ups, running on the spot, that sort of thing…not really (chortle). We write for five minutes on a random topic. This works. It helps develop creativity (which I think works well under pressure), and gets us into the habit of writing.

The rest of the writing is undertaken in 25 minute chunks of work, taking a break, and then another 25 minutes, and so on.

I can manage a fair whack in an evening.

Tonight though, I need to pick a story to work on. After weeks writing my novel I would like to take a step back and move onto something else. One of my disappointments last year was the long series of unfinished stories. That has to change. 

The stories on selection are:

The Red Door – fantasy genre – a story about a group of strangers who are forced, one by one, through a mysterious red door and return dead with horrific injuries of battle.

The Little Guy – abstract drama? – s story about a couple that find a small man living in their post box. As he starts to grow larger his importance grows, while the husband of the couple diminishes in stature and relevance.

The Darken Path – fantasy horror – a woman flees a mob into a haunted forest but it transpires she is being drawn towards a dark and malevolent spirit.

I’ll no doubt make up my mind by the time I get there, and I might have a couple more options as well. Tomorrow’s blog, I’ll let you know how I go.

Social Work 101

I was brainstorming some ideas yesterday for articles to write. While I’m keen to build a fiction portfolio, I would also like to maintain a professional one too. I’ve got skills and experience (I would like to think), and it seems sensible to make use of them. I suppose there’s also a small practical reason, and that’s writers don’t make a lot of money. Maintaining a professional career is sensible for all sorts of reasons.

I managed a short list of about 30 single or two word ideas. My next plan was to build on these and maybe merge some into workable descriptions. I thought I’d start with a one-liner (25 words or less description of the article) before expanding to a more detailed paragraph.

As it happens, while doing this exercise, I remembered that I had toyed with an idea for a social work book a few years ago, called Social Work 101. The idea was to write 101 tips for aspiring social workers, based on practical issues that arise soon after qualification. Usually the problem being a ‘they didn’t teach us that in our course’ issue.

I couldn’t find the list on computer, but luckily had a hard copy. More ideas basically. I mention this because it reawakens the idea in my mind to develop a book, but it’s also a rich stock of ideas I have ruminated on in the past. For now I’ll focus on articles, and this list gives me more options.

So, getting back to subject, once I’ve developed those paragraphs I can start researching online. It’s possible someone’s written about the topic previously (although social work is not awash with publications), or give me ideas for a new angle. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the ‘Top 10 tips for…’ type of article either.

I could publish the articles myself online, on this blog for example, but that’s not a direction I want to go in. This isn’t about a regular stream of work (I’m paid a good wage for that). This is about a professional project on the side.

I’ll peruse the 101 list to get some more ideas. I’m conscious that I’m more focused on planning activities right now than actually doing them, so I need to move this forward lest I get sucked into eternal planning and no delivery.