Magma

I’ve said many times –in many places– that I don’t write because I want to, I write because I have to. It’s a compulsion, which if it’s blocked off, leads to something close to clinical depression (my name is Colin, and I am a creative junkie….)

Ever since I ended a particularly brutal bout of writing a couple of weeks ago, with the synopsis and sample chapter for a new novel, I’ve been concentrating on administration and blogging.

Which is a pain, but keeping adequate financial records is a legal requirement as well as a particularly time-consuming chore; the other time sink has been completing an application form for an MA, which has taken up most of the last two weeks.  and of course, there’s the blogging, which takes more time than you might expect from the haphazard way I seem to throw words onto the page.

In theory then, no time for writing fiction.

Which would seem to contradict my theory that you need to write every day. Except that by blogging I am writing (although it’s not fiction), and I’ve racked up enough experience (I have written over a million published words) not to need to write every day as much as a novice does. But still….

…the urge to write fiction runs deeper than even I realized. I awoke on Saturday morning with the scenes from an unfinished story called Razorbill Island running through my head.

For a variety of reasons I’ve needed for some time to road test the Scrivener package, and this was the perfect opportunity.

I only got a couple of hundred words written, but I’ve worked out what to do with the story now (the problems were as much structural as of writing the words).

Which just goes to show that even when I think I’m okay with my schedule, my subconscious knows better; that like magma beneath the Earth’s crust, the words are always ready to ooze out any time.

• August 8th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

End Games

People are always talking about the openings of stories. It’s an often quoted truism -especially by me!- that the first dozen lines of a story are critical. They are the unsolicited writer’s escape from the slush pile, or the path to a sometimes bewildered rejection. For the story that has been sold, a poor opening is a potential return to be To Be Read pile, from which there may be no return.

Perhaps as a reflection of that, half of the workshops that ran at alt.fiction were about beginnings, openings, settings, and establishing characters. It’s as though if you get the beginning right, the ending will take care of itself.

But if the beginning is important, how much more important is the ending? If the story works, it’s what the reader remembers. Think of Paul Atreides’ mother standing beside Chani and uttering the line, “history will call us wives,” or –no, better you go and read Alfred Bester’s “The Pi Man,” or John Varley’s “Air Raid,”  or Gardner Dozois’ “Morning Child” — because I’d hate to ruin the ending.

Because to get to the ending, you have to go through the story. The ending isn’t something a writer just tags on the end; it flows organically out of the story, and should tie the threads together and leave the reader with a sense of completion. Context is everything, because the ending isn’t just about the ending. Maybe that’s why the topic is often ignored.

How the writer gets there, of course, is a journey that has as many routes as there are writers. That’s for another time.

we’ll talk more about this later.

 

• August 3rd, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Why Your Brain Is Like A Battery

One of the most commonly asked questions that writers are asked is “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?”

Cover for Damage Time by Chris Moore

Before I answer that, I’m going to digress:

Ideas are the easy part, a lot of the time.  Writing stories is harder. A story requires a narrative arc -that’s the fancy term for beginning, middle and end- adequate characterization, and a plot (the resolution of the conflict you’ve created in your story), as well as your idea.

That’s why I always tell budding writers they should write a lot, and write every day. You should write a lot, because that’s how one learns any skill. Musicians, sportsmen, writers – anyone who wants to get better at something, needs to practice. You think a concert pianist just plonks themselves down in front of the piano on the big day? Really?

It’s dangerous of course to be too prescriptive, but I really don’t know anyone who -on a long-term basis- works in a different way.

So write 30 minutes every day than to write nothing for six days and splurge out with three or four hours of intensive writing once a week. Imagine that your brain is a car battery (you wondered when that was coming, didn’t you?). If you park your car in the garage every day for weeks on end, it drains it, so that the car  won’t run. Writing for a while is like running the car – it does it good to get out and about.

But like a battery, your brain needs constant recharging as well, in this case through reading other writers -as well as maybe going to the cinema or the theatre, travelling, or just having a change of scene — anything that provides fresh stimuli, but especially other writers. Read beyond your genre wherever possible, because when you absorb other people’s ideas and styles, as inevitably you will, the wider the source you have, the less limited you will appear.

 

And that, dear reader, in a very roundabout fashion, is where I get my ideas from – from reading a lot of books and internet posts, from walking a lot, and from constant, constant practice.

 

I’ll be coming back to this at some point in the future.

• July 27th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

The Future In Blogs

I like to see what other writers are doing on their blogs. Three of my favourite blogs all deal to some extent with the future. (There’s a surprise, I hear you mutter – you’re a science fiction writer.)

Actually,  SF is often as much to do with the present, and much though I love the genre I’m not really a scientist.

But Gareth L Powell has a clear view of what may come, and in thi

s excellent post he deals with the implications of a future that looks increasingly influenced  by Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Meanwhile, Madeline Ashby is working on various projects involving the futures in media, and is also blogging for Tor about the differences between her fiction and her futurism work.

Charlie Stross is perhaps the pre-eminent blogger in this area and generates more ideas in a couple of weeks than some writers do in a year. Here he blogs about obsolete threats to the world, while here he posts about potential new ones.

• July 4th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Workshopping at Alt.Fiction

As I posted about three weeks ago, I’ll be one of about a dozen or so writers conducting one hour workshops at Alt.Fiction on the 25th and 26th of June.

Others include Dan Abnett, Tony Ballantyne, Paul Finch, Graham Joyce, Paul Kane & Marie O’Regan, Kim Lakin-Smith and Juliet E. McKenna.

It’s going to be left to the individual tutor what subject they cover, and what methods they use.

At the moment workshops are predominantly fantasy or at least cross-genre oriented, so I’ll be focusing on SF. The workshop will be titled ‘Creating A Science Fictional Setting’ and (subject to change)  will run between 3 and 4 p.m. on Saturday 25th.

I’ll be happy to workshop previously written pieces, specifically from the perspective of how the setting is worked out and explained (although time permitting, we’ll look holistically at the entire story), but if you’re attending and you don’t have any previously written work, I’m quite prepared to collectively workshop settings from scratch.

You decide. If you want to go, here’s the link to the membership page. I hope you come – the more brains we bring to this the better!

• June 15th, 2011 • Posted in Appearances, Events, Writing • Comments: 0

New Article on Suite101

In which our intrepid blogger reneges on a commitment he made to himself and friends…but he has his reasons…

Some time ago I decided to stop writing for Suite101. I’d become increasingly frustrated with the poor returns, and saw no way -short of working myself into the ground, or hitting the blogging equivalent of the jackpot- that I was ever going to earn more than three or four dollars a month however much work I put in, which was frequently ten hours a month or more.

I didn’t make a general announcement, but did tell some friends, which left me with the chance to keep my options open. But now, as part of my decision to optimize my blogging that I talked about yesterday, I’ve looked again at their demands.

Now Suite have cut their  quota of targets, and since I have a couple of articles left over that probably won’t get past the gatekeepers of most magazines, it seems to be a good time revisit that decision, even if it is for only a few more months. And for the first time, posting one article a month will give me the clarity I’ve been seeking for a long time.

Sometimes in business, one has to look again at previous decisions.

• May 31st, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0

Blogging: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Revisiting the topic of improving blogging and blogs – including this one.

 I’m a member of the Codex writing group of pro, neo-pro and aspiring professional writers. The group, which has at least 130 members, includes one of last year’s Hugo and two of this year’s Nebula winners amongst their ranks; they are collectively and individually, a formidable group.

Perhaps arising out of the Codex Blog Tour which I’ve been participating in --along with Aliette, Gareth, Alathea, Gray and many, many others—there’s been a lot of discussion just lately about the quality of blogs, and how to improve them. And change starts at home; that is,  here.

Author Sandra Taylor, has started posting on the topic, while Amy Sundberg has started a series of posts titled Get A BackboneThis has led to me to do some more head scratching about my own blogging.

Based on stats that internet usage drops by 40% at weekends as people spend their time doing things rather than sitting in the office surfing the net, I’m going to drop one of the weekend posts, and perhaps one of the weekday ones.

I’m aware that this blog doesn’t really have an identity – in that respect, my earlier blog -Random Mumblings- was probably a good title for this one.

Is that eclectic nature a strength or a weakness? Do you prefer specilist blogs rather than my grasshoppering across subjects? Short blogs every day or long ones once a week? (Madeline Ashby and Tania Hershmann are examples of the latter sort, whereas the former is more the default setting)

If you’re posting a comment and your website has a commercial orientation (ie Wolverhampton computer repair dot com) you might want to leave your website off your comment, so that the ever hungry spam filter doesn’t eat it.

I’ll post more on this whole topic in a few days.

• May 30th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 2

Glass Walls

This morning has been a real battle, in stark contrast to yesterday morning when I laid down a good four hours and ended up with about eight hundred words.

It shows how variable a writer’s output can be. This morning I feel like one of those birds that you sometimes see trapped in greenhouses or conservatories – they’ve flown in, and at every attempt to get out they fly into a glass door or wall.

I awoke with plans to do three or four jobs, and at every turn I’ve thudded into an invisible wall; that, or I managed to finish the job, but after several times as long as it should have taken. The delays have been tiny, but niggling; a phone call at an inopportune moment, a notebook that locks up and refuses to respond, a chequebook that isn’t where I think it should be and which takes ten minutes to find, my own inability to concentrate.

It’s probably that last factor that’s the real cause of the problem.

I may have had one beer too many, last night (the monthly meetings are on the whole becoming ever better attended), or that I’m tired. It may be that without the constant relentless pressure of assignments, but also without the structure that uni provides, I’m adrift. Whatever it is, it’s only with typing this that I’m starting to regain some clarity. That’s one of the many reasons why I blog – talking about it to someone helps me see where the problem is.

Years ago, on a course run by Bruce Holland Rogers*, he (or it may have been co-organizer Eric) observed that sometimes writers procrastinate, finding a million and one things to do rather than actually write. “That’s fine,” he said, “but you have to be honest with yourself. If you’re not getting much done, give yourself the day off.”

So I did. And since I gave myself the day off after I finish this post, the pressure and confusion has lifted. I have no idea why, but I’m just going to go with the flow; if I write one word today, it will be one word more than when I started this blog.

* I don’t normally link to Wikipedia, but Bruce has so many sites that it seemed sensible to link to a hub – you’ll find his websites at the base of the article there.

• May 24th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 1

Time Flying

I had so many plans for this morning; read the paper, then blog, before knuckling down to assembling Transtories.

I managed to get the paper read (it’s not as self-indulgent as it sounds; I find newspapers helpful for generating ideas, not for what they write, but how they write it, with less immediacy and more analysis) but then I remembered a couple of jobs that needed to be done. A couple of pitches later, and three and a half hours have gone by.

Partly it’s in the nature of the job – facts need to be checked, sources tracked down, websites lock up and machines crash, but it all adds to the sense of dislocation. I feel as if I’m aboard Poul Anderson’s Leonora Christian - with the elapsed time, in my head it’s barely eight o’clock, but in the universe outside, it’s ten past eleven…

• May 17th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 1

Books, Books, Everywhere…

At the last count, I have eleven of them scattered across my dining room table. Jestse de Vries’ Shine, The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin, Gothic Romanced by Fred Botting, Julian Symons’ Bloody Murder.

They’re all of them staring at me, silently urging me to pick them up. That I can only read one at a time is academic.

It’s Genre Textual Analysis time…so blogs are on hold (this one’s been frantically typed in five minutes prised from Moorcock and Roberts’ cold, still hands.

Back later.

• May 11th, 2011 • Posted in Writing • Comments: 0