Hello and welcome to the first Wednesday of the month, otherwise known as the official meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG). The IWSG is a super secret, crazy exclusive group of writers who band together to support each other. If you’d like to get to know the other members, read about their writing adventures, and perhaps sign up yourself, click here to discover everything you need to make that happen.
This week my mind is full of Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass. I plan to review the class here when I’ve completed it, but I’m taking my time to glean as much of Neil’s story sorcery as I can. I’m on Lesson 4 of 19, a week from beginning and I am buzzing with quiet inspiration and small thrills of discovery. This is a sensation I often get from taking writing classes, which I get to do every few years and not often enough. The alchemy of immersing myself in writing craft with a guide I admire is a delight.
There are such nuggets of Neil gold in there too. I’ve probably worn my readers’ ears off raving about Neil Gaiman. Fun fact: while he is my favorite writer, I do not love, or always like, everything he writes which somehow makes him stand out all the more.
Two quotes from the class have made it into my notebook, to be tattooed across my writing desk’s wooden flesh in some distant future. The first, has elicited a few gasps in conversation, and let me tell you, packs a wallop in the lecture, is about showing vs telling:
“I’m not going to tell you to feel sad. I’m going to kill a unicorn and break your heart.” – Neil Gaiman.
That line got to me. Wow.
From another lesson, this quote helped me pick myself up on a day with multiple rejection letters, which always gets to me. I can handle one per day. Two hurts.
“You learn more from finishing a failure than you do from writing a success.” – Neil Gaiman.
I have written multiple failures, and I’ll write many more. It’s good to be reminded that those stories do have a purpose.
(FYI that line does ring a bit familiar from an essay in The View from the Cheap Seats, but there is little regurgitated material thus far in the class).
In terms of output, I’ve outlined a new short story from the assignments in Lesson 3, and I will have to complete another before moving onto Lesson 5. This second one I’m expected to write in a single setting but as a toddler’s mother… I expect it will have to be flash fiction for me to pull it off. Unless you’re willing to babysit, hmm?
This is the most writing heavy course I’ve taken before, which is perfect for a hibernation-friendly month like February in Canada. It’s going to be an inspiring month.
A story is born in my mind and scribbled out on the pages of my notebook.
I tingle with excitement. I love this.
Words get crossed out. Notes appear in margins. Something is circled – should I delete this? Characters disappear. New ones take their place, or not.
I suppress a thrill. This is becoming an excellent story.
I type it into a document. Hmmm. That part doesn’t sound right. Words get rearranged. A new sentence replaces an old one. A plot hole is revealed. I fill it in and try to smooth the edges.
Oh, I don’t like that. This is awful. What was I thinking?
I put the story aside, but I still think of it. My subconscious mulls over possible solutions. It might be days, or weeks, or… months.
I know it will come. I acknowledge it might take a long time. Deep down, I worry. How will I build a body of work if the quality I’m working toward takes this long? When will my process come faster? Surely it doesn’t take other writers this long.
It does, though.
I work, I read, I follow my favourite writers. Quite by accident I come across a dozen statements in a single day, writers I admire mentioning the few years it can take to birth a story from start to finish. From that first draft to the one which gets accepted. I am normal, I realize, surprised. I am on the right track.
Welcome to the first Wednesday of December! Its time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG), a blogging group created to support and encourage fellow writers. If you’d like to join in and/or see other IWSG posts, click here.
This month I’m feeling insecure about this whole Climate Change Apocalypse. What’s the point of honing my writing craft in the face of mortal peril? Scientists can land Insight on Mars but they can’t make people save their damn planet. Ugh. We should have focused our collective imaginations on this apocalypse instead of the zombie one. Why are we still struggling to gain an audience, write our stories, and put them out there if we’re all going to die?
Here’s the thing: we’re not all going to die.
Some of us will live, and when we’re holed up in our bunkers, a dirty collection of bored, dispirited individuals waiting for the world to end or maybe, just maybe, NOT, you know what’s gonna get the survivors through? Canned tomatoes, Spam, wool socks, and stories. Stories are going to pass the time and remind your fellow survivors to be heroes, that life has meaning, and everyday is another chance to save the world.
When the Spam runs out, your story skills might save you from getting eaten, too.
Let’s be honest. You’re going to have to find a way to be more important than say, the surgeon sitting across from you when its cannibalism o’clock. You can provide escape via stories on the daily, she can what? Fix a ruptured spleen? Pssh. How often is that going to happen? Think about it. Humans have been screwing up basic evolution in favor of the short-game for generations now. Ruptured spleens are long-game thinking. A story can make tonight bearable. Who cares if you’re screaming over a kidney stone in four or five years and it attracts starving predators that wipe out your village? Right now everyone misses TV and if they close their eyes, stories are kind of like TV without the pictures and the human brain will hold tight to something that feels like normal.
See? You can survive this apocalypse, but you’re going to have to nail your hook and build tension like a pro. I suggest you start practicing now, while you still have the internet to tell you when you’re doing it wrong.
You should also become a story prepper right away. That’s right. Stockpile concepts, practice whipping out a killer first line when you have a spare moment; in the shower, the toilet at work, those precious lost seconds in elevators.
Hone your craft like your life depends on it, because it does. On the other side of the Climate Change Apocalypse, your writing game is going to be AMAZING. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t going to be much of publishing industry, or any industry, left. Which is kind of the planet’s point.
The good news is that throughout history storytellers and bards have been kept around for one reason or another. You’re simply evolving the profession. Try to write on something which preserves well, like stone tablets, birch bark, and cave walls to assure something of your work survives now that the average life expectancy is probably substantially younger than you are in this moment. Don’t think about it. Just. Keep. Writing.
It’s November, and November is a magical month for writers. Its the month we all get together and stop talking about writing, complaining about writing, etc etc, and we write. The official goal of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is 50 000 words, or 1 667 written words per day. The point of the thing is taking up a challenge with a wealth of support around you, and that’s where the magic lies.
This year, I have a list of some twenty-five orphaned story ideas I gleaned from my notebooks. As many words as it takes, I vowed to my would-be stories, I will write you this November.
Now, every past NaNoWriMo I’ve participated in, I wrote by hand and tallied up my words on the corner of every page at the end of the day. I prefer to write this way, and I’d won NaNoWriMo enough times to feel confident doing it this way (if you’re curious how to verify, check the rules for ‘the Luddite clause’ for instructions). However, with this year’s goal I need to hit some serious wordage so I decided to type it on the laptop instead.
This is probably the moment in the story where the universe laughs maniacally and the heroine’s fate is sealed. Or it would be, if I was a heroine or a goddess and not a scruffy looking story hunter fresh from the woods.
I started off, ploughing through the first short story a random number generator chose from list. Everything was wonderful and that glorious creative high I always get from a November writing spree was settling into my brain, turbocharging my creativity when a storm with 100km (that’s at least a million mph) winds loomed on the weather forecast.
I backed up my project and I warned my friends to do the same. I can only hope they listened and no stories were lost.
Rain splattered the house, winds ripped at the roof. The power went out. Trees crashed down in the enchanted forest surrounding the house.
The howling and crashing woke both of the kids, frightened by the fury outside their windows. We pulled a mattress into the living room, far from the windows facing the wind, and snuggled into a groggy, sleepless night.
The storm faded by morning but the power didn’t come back on. My laptop battery was strong enough I didn’t worry that first day. I kept writing, twitching now and again for the lost ability to google facts in a pinch, but happy to have a distraction from the outage. The girls played with Lego and roasted hotdogs in our fireplace and thought it all a grand adventure.
I found a branch flung from a tree and lodged a solid 30 cm into the lawn by the force of the last night’s wind. It stuck up into the air, a failed assassin. I left it there and wrote it into a story.
The second day my eldest left for school and the baby didn’t mind the lack of electricity once the sun came up. The freezer was failing. The fridge didn’t smell right. Despite only turning on my laptop for writing into a word document, the battery ran low. I missed that encouraging little bar graph on the NaNoWriMo stats page like an addict misses their fix.
We don’t have a generator, so I started our pick-up and ran an extension cord from the outlet in the box into the house, you know, just like grandpa used to do before electricity. I tell ya, we live in The Future, folks. I charged the laptop while I charged my phone in the cigarette lighter. The fridge and freezer got their turn and we weren’t any worse for the power outage. It was almost fun.
The third day school was cancelled, and the sun never made it through the clouds properly. The house was dim, the kids were bored and stuck indoors while a cool rain fell through thick fog outside. It stopped being fun. Tempers flared. The last hotdog was roasted in a hail of whining.
I kept writing. It seemed as though I wrote so much more with the power out, after all, there wasn’t much else to do besides read and after the sun set that was out (I wanted to conserve the flashlights for when the kids were up). A laptop, candlelight, and NaNoWriMo – is there a better date a writer could take themself on? I think not.
In the end, I didn’t actually end up writing any more than I did with power, probably because there wasn’t any way to distract the girls and focus on my work.
We bathed in pond water I heated on the woodstove. That’s going in a story someday. It gave me the best hair day I’ve had since becoming a mom, which makes no sense, because that pond feeds our well which feeds our… shower. *Shrugs.*
Tuesday night, last night, the power came back on. After so long without the internet I admit I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by all that social media out there, distracting me from my writing, but again, I didn’t write any more on days without power than I did with. If you’re looking for an anti-social media message, this isn’t it. I like the sense of community I get from my writer’s groups.
I didn’t, however, like missing Doctor Who. Best get back to writing so I can hit my word count and stream it guilt-free later.
Today’s post is a part of a monthly blog hop called the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) where writers can share concerns and bolster each other. You can see the participating blogs here. This is my first IWSG post. Planet Pailly’s IWSG posts about his muse inspired me to sign up and join the conversation.
I’ve been wrestling with the concept of why some stories should be written rather than filmed. Why it is we often hear “the book is always better.” Its easy to say, ‘I prefer to read, it’s a different activity than watching, I get to use my imagination’ and dismiss the argument as irrelevant, but I think writers have a vested interested to understand what books can do that films cannot. We should take advantage of those aspects, shouldn’t we?
According to a 2015 article by Carol Test, the reason the written word is unique is because of the ‘interiority’ of the book or short story. When we’re reading, we are able to follow the story directly from the character’s, or narrator’s, mind. We open a book, put on their perspectives like a coat, and watch the world from their eyes.
But consider movies like 2011’s Limitless, where the character’s interiority anchors the story. My partner watched Limitless over the weekend, bringing it to mind quickly, but a slew of others follow. Fight Club. Six Feet Under. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Most film makers chose not to use interiority as a device, but the fact remains that they can, and they do.
Words can be chosen to manipulate a reader into a certain frame of mind or expectation, but a movie score can do the same.
Where is the space where books remain unique?
I’m pulled back into those earliest of writing lessons, teachers rapping on and on about using all five of the senses. Movies, I realize, can only use two senses: sight and sound. Touch, taste, and smell are a void. Movies smell like popcorn, the touch of buttery fingers, and the acrid taste of buttersalt. They can show you the incense burning in a medieval church, but it takes the written word to fill your senses with musky, perfumed smoke thick enough to hide the smell of the congregation’s unwashed bodies. To remind you of how its half-forgotten scent clings to your woolen tunic and your hair as you walk home.
Can it be as simple as these three missing senses? I don’t know. My gut says there’s more, much more, and to keep hunting. Books hold space in our lives. There’s poetry and rhythm and so many things to consider, to experiment with.
That said, I’ll be extra conscious of writing touch, taste, and smell into my work this week. What do you think? What else can books do that films cannot?