It’s been a long time again, but it’s not been laziness that’s kept me from posting here. Without exaggeration, and without unnecessary detail, I can say that my world imploded. In the space of two days the life I thought I had, vanished. In the months since, I have started from scratch. New home, new job, new friends, new future.
All of us, I’m sure, have occasionally fantasized about picking up, moving on, and starting over. If only I could go somewhere far away, we think. Then I’d be someone new. As though a change of scenery could allow us to throw off our identity like an old coat.
But as William James so memorably put it, even “The most violent revolutions in an individual’s beliefs leave most of the old order standing.” Bumping up against that realization can be pretty disheartening, especially if you’re committed to self-improvement.
According to some neuroscientists, over 95% of the thoughts we think each day are the same thoughts we had the day before. In other words, our trains of thought go mostly ‘round the same old track, clickity-clack, clickity-clack. We think in habitual patterns, turning over the same fears, the same hurts, the same if-onlys as the day before, all the while imagining ourselves to be living in the present moment.
Just back from three days at the Surrey International Writers Conference. Three days of sessions on the craft and business of writing, as well as keynote speakers (Cory Doctorow! Chuck Wendig! Laura Bradbury! Others!) and a whole lot of networking. I listened to Don Maass describe how to write settings that readers will want to live in. Robert Wiersema gave his ideas on how to make readers cry and drove his point home by bringing his audience to tears. Chuck Wendig made his case for how to develop kick ass characters (we ended up outlining a story about a missing child whose parents opt to cope with the tragedy by CLONING the child). David Corbett steamrollered my brain with his rapid-fire erudition and thoughts on how writers can use various types of moral argument to develop plot and character. Larry Brooks and I had a wonderful chat about story structure and character (my notes from his book Story Engineering live on my office wall). Peter Rubie discussed voice and how you can make yours better (hint: practice the right things). By Sunday my brain was ready to hesplode.
The last session I attended was Liza Palmer’s “Your Voice, Your Career.” I expected another class full of tips, and there were plenty of those (including creating a Pinterest page for your characters!) but, for me, much of what made the session work was just Liza herself. She stood in front of her audience, laughing, digressing, talking a mile a minute, sometimes forgetting her place but then getting on with things anyway. None of the hiccups mattered.
Picture yourself voluntarily waking up at 3:15 am every morning for an entire month. Now imagine lurching around in the dark to find a notebook, flipping to a blank page, and writing whatever comes to mind. And now suppose I said this exercise could supercharge your productivity and make you more creative.
I know, I know… about as likely as a break-dancing squirrel. Right?
When I first heard about the so-called 3:15 Experiment, I shook my head. I mean, seriously, I have enough trouble sleeping as it is. Why on earth would I intentionally wake up in prime dreaming time just to scribble in my journal? What could possibly come of it, other than grumpy moods and a medical need for coffee? On the other hand, I’m very often awake at 3:15 anyway. So why not give it a go?
For the first few days I remained unconvinced. Sure, it was interesting to wake up and see what my semi-conscious mind had oozed in the wee hours. But the result was usually nonsensical drivel or a series of cringe inducing cliches. My heart longs for trampoline freedoms… Shudder.I stuck with it though and, after a few days, I noticed something unexpected and kinda cool.
My daytime writing was getting better.
Last week the amazing Danika Dinsmore invited me to participate in a “blog hop.” After much consideration (.00257 seconds), I said, “Abso*****lutely! What’s a blog hop?”
A blog hop, it turns out, is a themed pass-it-along blog post. The theme for this one is Writing Process and, specifically, these three questions:
Well, gird your loins folks because here are my fascinating and informative answers.
One of my favourite shows in the history of ever is Doctor Who. I remember a little of the original series and though I enjoyed it, it never captured me the way the new series has. Now I just need to hear the theme song and my mood improves. I get all dork-buckety and start speaking in a mock English accent. Ehlaoh.
There are a hundred reasons to love Doctor Who – the adventure, the humor, the wildly inventive stories – but I think the biggest reason I’ve come to love the Doctor is character.
I started with the wonderful Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor. His devil-may-care attitude and his ability to convey intense emotion with the merest shift in facial expression held me spellbound. Billie Piper as Rose Tyler was impossible not to watch, and impossible not to root for. She seemed human. Fragile. But also blessed with an intrepid curiosity that made us believe she would climb into that phone box with a Yorkshire-voiced alien. Rose and the Doctor were a winning team and I was ready to follow them anywhere across space and time.
But then the unthinkable happened. Christopher Eccleston left. Regenerated right out of the Tardis. Sure, it was part of the script but I was heartbroken. The role of the Doctor would now be played by some guy called David Tennant. It was a sad end to what could have been the best television series ever. No one could replace Eccleston as the Doctor because he was so perfect: muscular, energetic, occasionally manic. He was, as he would say, fantastic. Now I was stuck with a wispy Scotsman I’d never heard of. This would suck. This would be the end of the show…
Fiction writers are liars. Liars, thieves, and con artists. We make things up and try to pass them off as true. And thank god for that. (Tweet this.)
In our culture, lying is not often considered a useful, valuable skill (except in politics, but more about that later). For a fiction writer, however, whipping up a mess of lies and distortions is not just a skill, it’s a virtue.
Now let’s be clear, nobody reads a story hoping to be lied to. Just like no one drinks water hoping it will be wet – it’s expected. The word “fiction” means “a belief or statement that is false.” The irony, of course, is that people read stories in order to suspend disbelief and enter a world that seems… true.
Every reader has had that experience. You’re reading a book and you fall into its reality.
You can feel the heavy jeans sticking to your legs, hear the squeak of wipers on the bus window, sense the rush of water thundering through the tire wells.
It’s as though we’ve been transported into another reality and we willingly surrender our disbelief to enjoy it (or enjoy hating it).
So how is it done? How do storytellers make us believe in make-believe?*