Tag Archives: creative process

The End

15 Jan

Finishing a novel is a little like breaking up with someone. You’ll see each other again (you still have stuff to work out/rewrite) but the main part of the relationship is over. You’ll no longer be around each other every day. At odd moments, your mind automatically turns towards working on the ‘problems,’ only to realize you don’t have to anymore. It’s done. You feel both relieved and lonely. You wonder if you’ll ever have the strength do it again, but deep down, you know there won’t be a choice. The next time, just like this time, it’ll hit you out of nowhere and captivate you and you’ll think this time won’t be as hard and you’ll fall headlong once more.

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Initiative

17 May

INITIATIVE
The Story of My (Creative) Life

Δ

d6, d8, d12, and d20

d6, d8, d12, and d20

You open the door.  You see a ten-by-ten foot room.  There is an Orc, guarding a chest.  Roll initiative.

<> <> <>

The door is massive slabs of wood, bound in iron.  You throw your shoulder into it and it gives with a loud groan and opens.  On the other side, you see a small chamber, dimly lit by a rusted oil lamp.  Across the room, secured to the stone floor with thick chains, is a sturdy, wooden chest.  In the center of the room, however, stands an Orc with a sword.  It raises its blade and grunts a guttural challenge to you.  Roll initiative.

<> <> <>

These corridors go on forever, it seems; a never-ending labyrinth of tiny rooms, dead end passages, and horrible monsters.  The air is foul, as if it were carried into the halls inside a bag of rotten meat.  The door you find is the same as all the others you have seen.  You heave, strain and the door budges, creaks in protest, and then swings open.

The room on the other side is drawn from one your lesser nightmares.  A slavering Orc stands in the center of the small chamber.  A chipped sword swings from its meaty hand.  Under its thick coat of bristly hair, pale pink skin is wrapped around thick cords of muscle.  It twists its face into a snarl, showing off its yellow tusks and sharpened teeth.

Behind this thing – this half-man, half-monster – is a sturdy chest, chained and bolted to the floor.  The Orc steps between you and the treasure and growls, both as a warning and an invitation.  As if to say, “Come on then! Come and die!”

Roll initiative.

<> <> <>

You could have been anything.  Everyone always told you that, growing up.  Your prowess was apparent from a young age and even your opponents have given you their grudging approval.  They said you had potential, a higher purpose, a destiny even.

So why are you here, chasing some fantasy of fame and fortune?  Slogging through the underworld, nearly dying day in and day out – what kind of life is that?  It’s a life of the perpetual grit and grime that covers every square inch of the place.  It’s a life of that infernal smell that penetrates your clothes, your food, and your skin.  It’s a life of no sunlight, or any bright light for that matter.  It’s a life of not knowing what time it is, or what day it is, or what season it is.

Beneath your worn down armor, your clothes are in tatters and your skin is chaffed and sore.  Your bones ache from the continuous chill and the constant battle.  There are wounds too, stitched up the best you could manage.  The hideous beasts and outright monsters that you’ve seen have slowed your progress – have broken your stride with their fangs and talons and blood – but they haven’t stopped you.  Not yet.

Another turn in the corridor, another dead end, more stairs, more, more, more…  You’re grateful for the monsters, because otherwise this place would kill you with its monotonous, repetitive grind.  On several occasions, you thought about death.  Not while you were in the fight, but after, when you lay alone, in the dark.  Huddled in a barricaded room, as you gnawed on a small bit of food, you thought you could imagine being dead.  Again and again, the fire in your belly shook you from this daydream, and you pressed on.  What would be worse than dying in this hellish underworld?  Giving up, making a retreat, running away.

And so there is another door, no different or worse than any other you’ve seen here.  It opens and you take in the details.  Small room, secured chest, and a large, armed Orc, standing guard.  The Orc puffs up and gets ready for a fight, while time stands still for you.  Just a moment in time, as you assess your options, weigh the possible outcomes.

You wonder what’s in this chest, and why is the Orc is guarding it.  You want to know who is in charge of these Orcs.  Why don’t they put all the Orcs and chests together in one room?  But, not for the first time, you are grateful.  If you had to fight all these Orcs at the same time, you’d be doomed.

You hope this chest isn’t rigged with a trap.  You hope it’s filled with gold this time.  Maybe if you hit the jackpot, you can pack it in.  There’s no shame in leaving, once you’ve made a small fortune, something to show for all your efforts.

How long have you been down here, with all the ghouls and demons?  How many doors have you broken down?  How many Orcs have you killed and how many chests have you opened and how many traps have you avoided?  Does one more have any meaning?  Is there anything about this door and this room that is not ubiquitous?  There: the door.  There: the room. There: the Orc and the chest.

You heave a sigh, with a resignation so final and quick that you doubt the Orc even noticed.  What do you do?  What can you do?  Roll initiative.

Δ

each square = 10 feet

each square = 10 feet

Δ

(please click ‘Continue Reading’ to read some thoughts on this piece)

Continue reading

I Accidentally A Word

21 Apr
blind spot

blind spot

 

Why does this happen to me? I’m good to my loved ones. I brush my teeth before I go to bed, every night. I even eat my vegetables. What did I do to earn this terrible curse? “What curse?” you ask? Well, let me tell ya… it’s the second worst affliction that you can suffer as a writer: the blind spot. (I don’t wanna talk about the worst affliction right now; it’s a sore subject)

At least, that’s what I call it. It’s an error so glaringly obvious that you’d have to be blind to miss it. And yet, that’s exactly what happens. I’ll be in the middle of a story and write something like:

“Jerry walked up to window,” he said.

Which should have read:

“Jerry walked up to the window,” he said.

I do this kind of thing all the time and it drives me insane. The real horrible part is that I’ll miss it on my first read-through. Hell, I might end up missing it every time. I once left this kind of error in, only to find it after the work had gone to press.

It’s embarrassing enough, even when no one else will read it. Imagine how terrible it feels when you include in something that is for sale. “Yes, please, pay me money for my idiotic typos.” I’m sure it is understandable – forgivable even – but it feels SO very bad to do.

At least some of the time, these blind spots will be caught by the grammar check in your word processor. But there have been plenty of times that I have blown right by the squiggly green lines under my words. I’m sure we’ve all had that kind of arrogant reaction, “Oh, Word – you just don’t understand my cool, hip grasp of the English language.” Well, maybe it’s just me. I do spend an awful lot of time talking at my computer…

The blind spot will happen to me, over and over. I’ll find one, squash it, only to find another in my next read-through. It gets so bad in longer manuscripts that I want to break down and cry. I get paranoid too, which only magnifies the problem. In fact, I’m pretty certain there a few hiding in this rant I’ve written. I have to force myself to go on, to ignore the impulse to review and edit right this minute. It’s tough.

I’m sure it’s all due to pattern recognition. The act of mental closure helps our minds fill in those gaps. It’s why you can read those stupid chain emails from your grandma. You know, the ones that go: “If yuo cna raed tshi yuo aer srmat.” Yeah. You feel pretty clever when you plow through that. It’s not so nice when you send the protagonist of your novel says, “What is problem man?” Grr.

If you’re like me, and you’ve carried out this kind of self-diagnosis, what can you do? How does a writer recover from – or compensate for – this kind of weird ailment? I have found only two things that help.

1. Readers: Whether it’s your significant other, or your mom, or your writing group, you need people to read your stuff. If you can arrange it so your proof-readers are helpful to your editing process, you are living a charmed life.

2. Inertia: You have to keep on, keeping on – as they say. Do NOT stop writing, even when you see these terrible… ‘goggins’ rear their ugly heads. Shut that internal editor up and keep writing. Tell yourself that you can fix it later.

I know that not all writers have this problem, but I bet all of us have similar issues. Some of my best friends can’t spell correctly to save their lives. Hell, even I rely on spell-check more than I should. Others have bad habits with sentence structure, or the way characters speak. And the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad truth about all of it is this: We are probably stuck with these problems. We can tame them to a certain extent, but I fear these faults are just a part of us.

Well, they’re a part me, I should say. I assume that everyone struggles, because my fragile ego couldn’t handle the existence of a perfect author. And I’m neurotic/cynical enough to believe that I’ll never kick my problems entirely.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Because I don’t think we find meaning or purpose in ‘perfection’ but in the pursuit of perfection. It’s not the destination that’s important, it the journey.

φ

*Yes, I meant to do that.

IDEA – Abandoned Works

20 Apr

Abandoned, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

a-ban-doned

  1. Deserted; forsaken.
  2. Exuberantly enthusiastic.
  3. Recklessly unrestrained.

(that’s a pretty sweet definition; two-thirds of it sounds like a party!)

I have more good ideas than bad. This is a natural state of affairs and I’m blessed with the uncanny insight to be able to distinguish one from the other. Well, most of the time, anyway. I don’t want to go off on a personal rant, so I’ll just keep this relevant to my writing/editing skills.

So many times, I’ll put together the seed of a story or a novel, but it doesn’t go anywhere. I keep an ongoing file of ideas that I want to nurture, or meditate about. Often, though, nothing ever comes from it. Then I got the notion that I don’t need to do anything important with these things. Why keep ‘em locked up in a notebook?

This is the plan: I’m going to post up some story seeds. Sometimes, it’ll all be fleshed out, with characters, setting, and all that good stuff. Other times, it’ll just be bare bones – maybe some dialogue and some notes. And I’m going to use a creative commons license to make it a ‘free culture’ product. That means that anyone can use it, for anything they want, with little/no restrictions.

Maybe someone will come across these ideas – these deliberately abandoned works – and make something of them. More likely, they’ll just languish here, in this weird corner of the internet, forever. At the very least, I’ll get the opportunity to kick out some dead weight, get some mental exercise and have some fun. Of course, there’s always the chance that I’ll get very, very lucky and you’ll enjoy reading what I’ve got.

I’ll be posting up my first abandoned work shortly. I hope you enjoy it.

-Patrick

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My Own Worst Enemy

11 Apr

The worst thing about being an editor is (surprise!) reviewing your own work. As Alexandra delved into in her Psyche Fiction piece, if you try to write while you’re in the wrong frame of mind, you will screw yourself up. A lot of writers that I know have the same problem: their Editor is louder and has more control than their Muse. I am sadly, no exception.

I have often characterized my muses as hard drinking, morally delinquent, unforgiving and cruel mistresses. This is profoundly unfair of me, I know. It’s okay to have a love/hate relationship with your creative process. Hell, it’s better than no relationship, right? But if I step back and really look at my creative head-space, it’s much more playful and innocent than all that. My muses just want me to play – to let go of my worries, stop being so uptight, and just fucking CREATE. They assure me it’s a simple thing. Ha.

photo by David_B

photo by David_B

I try not to take myself too seriously. It helps that I’ve gone down that road before. Yes, I have written lots of poetry and angst-filled love letters. Of course, I have set out to pen the very finest prose the world has ever seen. In other words, I really tried to show the world the colors of my rainbow. Once you’ve done that – and come back down to Earth for a bit – it’s easier to laugh at yourself. We all must breathe the rarefied air of the highest self sometimes. But if you can’t poke fun at your own over-inflated ego, you’ve got real problems.

That’s really what it comes down to, for me. The proof is in the pudding. “Did you get any work done today?” I’d rather write five thousand words, only to throw out 4/5ths of it, than only write a thousand to begin with. And it all starts with shutting up that goddamn editor. The editor stops me from writing in my journal, keeps me from trying out new perspectives and narrative techniques, and experimenting with style. The editor is all business and no fun. And you had better not screw up on the easy stuff, ‘cuz the editor will never let you forget that time you published “form” when it was supposed to be “from” – ‘cuz the editor is a world-class JERK.

But just like a bad habit, the editor serves an important role. You can’t just “fire” the damn fool – you’re going to need a jerk when it comes time to get serious. My own creative process is a bit confusing these days, but the editor stays in his freaking office most of the time. I trick him, with busy work and simple distractions. Anything I have to do, just to let my muses out to play.

Maybe it’s a holdover from when I studied early childhood education. We learn through play. And we’re a lot like our primate cousins in that regard. Games with rigid rules help us sometimes, but unstructured play is when we expand our minds. Whether it’s writing haiku, or playing surrealist games, or coming up with the silliest flash fiction we can come up with, it’s all good. It rewards us – immediately – which is pretty damned important in this line of work. Rewards are few and far between. You have to count your successes and fudge the results from time to time.

So that’s my takeaway from this week: Let your brain out to play. Have some fun for a change.