I realise that this is perhaps a little off-topic for my blog of late, but I just had to share this wonderful new discovery. They have found a new dinosaur which they have called Dreadnoughtus schrani, and it’s a seriously big beast. As the scientist in the video says – “It had a really big butt.” 😉
What I love about this is that even now, when we think we know so much about the world, there is still something as gigantic as this to discover. Writing fantasy or sci-fi is really about imagining new worlds for me, and if we start to think that there is nothing left to explore and discover, inspiration can evaporate.
Knowing that there are still 26m long dinosaurs out there to find is a truly wonderful thing. 🙂
One of the greatest challenges I seem to face as a writer is managing transitions. As I work and have a toddler, my ‘spare’ time is intensely, painfully precious, and the pressure to use it fruitfully is keen. However, my frustration is that my creativity doesn’t seem to want to work like that. It is a lazy beast, and doesn’t respond well to whipping. In fact, it flips its top lip and sneers at the concept. It needs time to lumber thoughtfully into it’s stride, and I just don’t have that luxury. We need to go from 0 to 60 in under an hour.
My beast may look a little like this, but he is elusive… Image by Sargon the Dark at DeviantArt
I feel like when those opportunities to write do come along, I should be sitting down and pounding out as many hundred words as I can, but somehow mundane things keep getting in the way. Following a terrific suggestion from readers of this blog, I carry a little notebook with me at all times, and that has been wonderful for poetry and jotting down ideas as they occur. That little notebook is like the slice of ‘me’ that remains just ‘me’, without any other hats heavy with responsibility. However, ideas are building up in there without the time to bring them to their full dreadful glory. Any other suggestions as to how to manage these transitions better? To go from ‘worker’ to ‘Mum’ to ‘Writer’ in the blink of en eye?
Founded by School of Life member Roman Krznaric, it’s a fabulous new on-line resource to help us to walk in mile in someone elses shoes. It seems an idea very much in the footsteps of what the School of Life has been pioneering: a new and more considered way of thinking about the big issues of life, free from the traditional ways of teaching. If you’ve read any of the books by the philosophers and writers involved, you’ll know just what I mean. In an increasingly ‘blip-vert’ society (extra points if you get the reference! 🙂 ), their work is refreshingly well considered.
The Library contains more than just philosophical works though. As they say:
“What might it be like to be a child growing up in Tehran, or to be born without sight, or to be a soldier fighting someone else’s war? The Library takes you on journeys to these unknown worlds.
The Library is founded on the belief that empathy can transform both our own lives, and the societies we live in.”
Beyond my personal interest in trying to understand other people, which is always a challenge, I think that the Empathy Library could also be a terrific resource for writers. I want my characters to be believable, and ring true. My imagination, although pretty broad, probably can’t extend to all walks of life without a little guidance, and so I’m looking forward to browsing its shelves. Maybe you should too.
‘The Milk of Female Kindness – an Anthology of Honest Motherhood’ is listed in the Empathy Library, in the hope of helping people understand what the experience of being a mother is really like for a range of women around the world.
I’m back at work now, pretending to be all grown up. My partner is taking some time off his work to be a full-time Dad, which is wonderful for us all. I can go to work knowing that my lad (who we have dubbed The Beast) is going to have a fun day, and my partner gets some time with our little guy while he’s still little, which is something I suspect many dads miss out on.Sounds great, right?
It is, and yet, and yet…
I suppose it’s part of human nature to not be able to bask in the glow of contentment for long. Don’t get me wrong – I know I am incredibly lucky, in so many ways which I won’t enumerate here. But take yesterday, as an example. The chaps went to Healesville Sanctuary, and had a lovely time looking at Australian animals in the sunshine. I was bored out of my brain behind a computer terminal. Work just isn’t that interesting. It’s a ridiculously middle class, privileged viewpoint, but I’m interested in discussing what the implications of that boredom are.
I remember quite clearly that in all honesty, I was pretty bored some days when I was at home full time with The Beast, as well. Am I easily bored? My mother would say so, but left to my own devices, I am more than competent at filling in a day. There are an awful lot of things which I’d like to be doing, which engage me and which I can totally lose myself in. The experts apparently call this state ‘flow’.
I watched a documentary on the weekend about the pursuit of happiness, and how having a profession where you are in a state of ‘flow’ much of the time is a big help. All of us who write, or paint, or draw, know that blissful feeling of being carried away to the extent that you forget to eat, and hours zoom by win the blink of an eye. Some people get it through running, or cooking. It is, in many ways, the antithesis of boredom. Instead of time dragging, it evaporates. You emerge tousled, exhausted, and yet joyful.
It’s for this reason that I can’t take on board the prescribed wisdom that to write, you must do so every day, whether you feel like it or not. For me, creativity is a great form of pleasure, and one which should be indulged as a spoilt child – frequently, frivolously, and without imposed rules and schedules.
What are your thoughts? Is being bored a privileged position? Is it necessary to experience boredom to appreciate the joy of ‘flow’?
If you’re looking for something to change your perspective on things, take the time to read this article. Not only have they found organic life in space, they think that all life on Earth may have originated from space. Curiously, I wrote a short story on this basis a while ago, but now it looks like it might be true after all.
We’re aliens after all. Great thought for a Friday. 🙂
I’m sure you’ve all heard of that psychological test, where the audience is asked to count the number of times a ball is bounced by a team, or the number of girls in blue skirts, and while they are concentrating on their given task, they completely fail to notice that someone in a gorilla suit has been dancing around in the background. There are various clips on You-Tube if you haven’t seen it, like this one:
The first time you see this test, it comes as quite a shock that you could have missed something so out of place, so significant, as a loon in a gorilla suit. It’s a principle that they take into account all the time when performing magic tricks, where they call it misdirection. The point, however, is one which is really worth considering when you write. People notice details – whole series of snapsnots of small things – and from these things the world is created.
When I’m not working, I work as a designer, and the same is probably true. For some designers, the art is actually in making all those small things, that they have thought hard about, as invisible to conscious notice as possible. If you’re designing a ‘natural’ garden, for example, the art must be concealed, or it the artifice will make it appear a pastiche of itself.
In writing, slipping in those small sensory details are what, I think, will create a time and place much more strongly than anything else. There was a lovely piece I read recently from Bluebird Boulevard, where she talks about the light that comes through the ivy crowding around the kitchen window, and the bright red lipstick on a nonagenarian. Those are the things we notice. They are what evokes the feeling of place.
I’ve been thinking about what a skill it is to notice those small details consciously, both as a writer and a designer. I think that perhaps it’s a question of being both within, and without.
Within, in the sense of being in the sort of headspace where we have the mental time and space to observe and record things. For me, that takes a certain peace of mind, a little out of the day-to-day whirl of obligations and deadlines. I suppose you could call it being in the moment.
Without, in that we are open to seeing these things. I saw an interview on the television recently where the interviewer really wasn’t listening to the answers of her subject. She just kept firing the questions she had written down without thinking on her feet enough, and allowing herself to become absorbed in the other person. Get out of your head and into someone else’s.
If you’re going to have more than one character in your work, then you’ve got to work a little outside yourself, I think. To really empathise, and understand what a stranger will say and feel and do, you need to leave the comfort of your own persona.
So by noticing all the details, being both within and without, you may just notice not only the gorilla, but that it is wearing scratched silver earrings, and feeling slightly sheepish about them.
I’m starting back at work next week, after about ten months break to look after my bub. This week, I went back for a three hour workshop, and a few things really struck me.
First, was the introversion of most of the people I work with. Two asked how the baby was. No-one asked how I was! One person greeted me with simply the words: “Heathmont is a nightmare. I hate it.” Heathmont being a project I was working on before I left. No doubt they think that they’ll hear my news in time, and are perhaps too shy to ask. Either that, or they are too wrapped up in their ‘nightmares’ to give a damn. Never mind. I’ll enjoy hearing what they have all been up to.
The second thing was the situation with projects. Many of the same projects are still going on, after all this time – but people have become more cynical and depressed about them. It’s like I’ve just been away for the weekend, not most of a year, but everyone else had a shocker of a weekend.
I don’t feel particularly worried about going back to work, despite this. It will be a nice change to work a couple of days a week in an office, and I’ll do my level best to resist the negativity.
It did lead me to reflect though on what I’ve been doing while my work mates have been in their hamster wheel. It’s a chance to draw breath before I dive headlong back into the corporate world. And I find that breath is rather sweet.
I’ve done such a lot this year. Brought new life into the world, and nurtured it. He’s learning and growing all the time, and changing all the time, and so am I. I’ve learnt an awful lot about him, but also about me, and my partner, who is an awesome Dad. I’ve learnt that I have an angry flash now and then which I need to learn to contain. I’ve learnt to live in the moment. I’ve learnt an awful lot about patience, and sharing, and giving myself freely, and without reservation. I’ve learnt that I can still do a lot, but squashed into a much shorter and more intense period of time. I’ve learnt to do a lot of stuff with one hand!
I’ve also managed to continue to write, which is of course an activity which takes a certain degree of concentration and a quiet mind. Not only has there been a lot of progress on my Anthology of Honest Motherhood, but also on my short story collection. It’s actually cemented in my mind that because I’m finding the time to still write, then it must be really important to me, as the need to prioritize has become more urgent.
So – will I still find time when I’m working? You bet. I’ll have all that lovely commuting time to fill in, when I can let my mind free without replying to raspberries and playing peek-a-boo.
How about you? Did something in your life change the way you see it? Did something crystallise your need to write, if you do? Love to hear your thoughts.
I read an interesting article in ‘The Age’ recently about the strange cult of celebrity which has risen up around writers. You can have a squizz at it here.
You could argue that there is a strange cult of celebrity around practically anyone (with a large enough voice and publicity machine) for no very good reasons, but in this case I’m fascinated by two ideas: firstly that people are genuinely interested in writers as people; and secondly that part of this interest seems to focus around the writing process itself.
I don’t know about you, but what interests me about my favourite authors are the things they write, rather than the people behind the stories. I’m happy to hear a tidbit of two if there is something genuinely fascinating about them, but if they are normal, middle class people, with a normal family and a nine to five job, well, that’s fine, but I’m much more interested in the strange and exotic fruits of their imagination. Frankly, even if they live in a commune, work as a bear trapper and moonlight as bellydancers, I’m still only going to be impressed by their writing if it strikes a chord with me. That said, I suppose one of the reasons many writers blog is presumably to feed the thirst for more information. 🙂
The second issue, that of trying to find out what “is the mysterious alchemy that transforms a hazy idea into 300 pages of gripping prose,” seems to be grasping at straws a little. It’s a kind of magic, and the best part about it is that it is a magic that’s unique to every individual. I understand that Thomas Wolfe wrote his work standing up, leaning his paper on the top of the fridge, but funnily enough, that’s not going to work for everyone. The wonderful thing about writing is that it is something wrestled from your own subconscious, and we need to find ways to make that wrestling as productive as we can.
I’d love to hear what you think about this. Are you curious about the people behind story? Does knowing more about them make you more likely to read their work? And have you found inspiration in hearing how others go about it?
This year, I’m entering two paintings in the Linden Gallery’s postcard exhibition. I entered last year, and was blown away when someone actually bought one of my paintings! Astonished that someone would hand over their hard-earned for my daubs.
The exhibition is open to everyone, the only restriction being that the pieces have to be 30 x 30cm or less. I did wonder what the quality of work would be like, but in fact it was very high. The variety of pieces was fascinating, and the different ways that people had embraced the small format.
Here are my entries for this year. Please don’t laugh too hard.
The abstract is a representation of different colours I’ve seen in particular landscapes, and overlaid with interventions – they might be people passing through, fire events or even fenceposts.
The other is a portrait of the tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle. It’s done all in colour (no black within his face), and in pointillist style to reflect the movement of a tattoo needle. The borders show flash on skin.
I suppose it would be quite appropriate to draw a parallel between this exhibition and Indie publishing. In both cases, the artists and writers do it for the love, rather than the money (usually!), and yet we choose to bare our souls and share that work with a wider audience. Does that make us overly self important exhibitionists? The old phrase “vanity publishing” would suggest so.
However, I would suggest that perhaps there is something more democratic at work. The Linden exhibition allows people who are not full time artists to show their works, in the same way that indie publishing allows people who are not full time authors to share their writing with the world. The good stuff will hopefully be well received. Either way, the public are allowed to choose which work they like, free of the conventions and prejudices of professional critics and publishing houses.
Image courtesy of lookupatthesky.wordpress.com
For me, I think it is also perhaps something of an act of bravado – a challenge to somewhat introverted self to lay myself open to a wider audience. It’s not an easy thing to do, unless you have a thick skin. I recall strongly the first time I did a dance solo, in front of about 350 people. I was absolutely terrified beforehand, but regardless of how it was received, afterwards I was proud that I had been able to do it. It’s a great feeling to challenge yourself and rise to that challenge.
How about you? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts about these subjects. Are Indie authors and artists just blowing their own trumpet?