Finding The Joy Of Writing

Over recent months, I’ve found myself fighting with the first major writer’s block of my short time as a blogger. My enthusiasm for writing in itself hasn’t diminished so it’s been a very confusing time in all honesty. A number of stories still swim through my head and I hold onto them as best I can but when it comes to putting them into words the way I’m used to, something always stops me.

I’ve written about writer’s block before but this has, by far, been the most mind boggling situation to find myself in. At first, I just tried to break through it and began experimenting with methods that would take me outside of my usual routine in order to stimulate a change in my mentality. From repainting my home to spending a weekend camping alone in the middle of nowhere, I was willing to try anything to break the block. Often I would think it was working but when the time came to write, even logging my experiences felt like a struggle.

For those who don’t know, I was a full time carer for someone when I first began blogging. I spent a lot of my time housebound and in a way, writing probably saved my sanity through that period of my life. I didn’t discuss my life as a carer but it gave me a focus other than what was right in front of me. I had no expectations for myself other than to love the very process of writing. The recognition and feedback of others was surprising but gratifying and over time, I began to hope that I could make something of this. Writing has been a passion unlike any other for me so finding myself unable to write has been infuriating and at times, even depressing.

Then I stopped being a carer shortly after the block began. I got a full time job and started to wonder if writing had just been an outlet to get me through a difficult phase of my life. I wondered if I’d be happier just stopping. And for a while, I did. Not once since then have I stopped wanting to write but it’s always ended the same way – with frustration, anger and usually a hasty surrender.

This post, on the other hand – and hopefully all future posts – is different. I’ve dwelt on the reason for these difficulties constantly and asked myself time and time again “How do I beat this?” with no answer in sight… That changed when I started asking a different question.

Why Do You Want To Beat This?

A creator is someone who makes something that starts as nothing but a mere thought. Through the creator that thought takes shape and with a bit of time, commitment and sometimes a little luck, it becomes something more. The end result can be whatever the creator decides they want it to be and because of that, the possibilities are limitless. A few words can be more powerful than a thousand and there will never be too many stories or songs in the world because the process in itself can take any shape or form.

There’s a joy in that process which can’t be clearly described. That may seem pretty rich coming from someone claiming to be a writer but that’s exactly the point. Creation isn’t definable, there’s no rule book to it but more often than not, we try to write the rules. It doesn’t take muck to see from my past posts that I’ve attempted just that.

When you focus more on defining the process than just enjoying the process itself, you stop creating. My theories on writing are just theories but I began to see them differently. They became rules that I had to abide by and through sharing those rules I put pressure on myself to get it right every time which goes against the very nature of a writer. I don’t want to be right all the time, but I want to write all the time. Forgetting that is what stopped me in my tracks for this long.

I’m writing publicly today with confidence for the first time in a long time because I’ve let go of those imaginary rules. I’m not going to get it right every time and neither are you. Writing isn’t about getting it right, it’s about expressing your passion and turning your thoughts into something you can take pride and joy in. If it gives that same joy to others then it’s a bonus, nothing more.

Don’t prioritise your work succeeding over the work itself. The creative industry as a whole is an amazing industry that all creators want to be a part of, we just don’t need to be. Love the process and hope that others around will enjoy it. If you create something with true love, chances are they will.

I think this post is written with love and I know it’s been written for me. I want that to be the case with everything I post going forward.

I’ll still hope you all enjoy it though.

Igniting Creation: The Productivity Experiment (An Introduction)

Feel free to correct me in the comments if I’m wrong… but I think it’s safe to say that we all have those phases in our lives where we just don’t feel like being productive at all.

It can be for long periods or short periods and it can happen for any number of reasons. Maybe you’re occupied with other hobbies or events. Maybe you’re having some personal upheaval in your life that puts your creative work further down on the priority list…Or maybe you just can’t be bothered at this moment in time.

It’s totally natural to have days or even weeks like that but there’s a certain point where it starts to feel like you’ve been unproductive for WAY too long and that can be worrying. Worse yet, that worry in itself can make it even more difficult to get back into the swing of things since you begin to force yourself to work out of a sense of urgency rather than genuine passion for your craft.

Everybody suffers from moments like this and that’s perfectly normal but there really is no definitive answer on how to break the cycle. Must we force ourselves to perform our craft despite a temporary lack of enthusiasm for it or must we wait for the thrill of our work to return before we can continue the craft?

While I’ve previously written about “The Creative Mind: Battling The Block,” the article was written as an untested theory based on previous experience and the opinions of like-minded individuals. However, after acquiring an artist for my primary illustrated project, I have been finding extreme difficulty in preparing the next installment of a story I have been working on for quite some time and this recent writer’s block is feeling particularly burdensome. Therefore, I’ve decided to take direct action in order to bring back the excitement for writing that led me on the path I’m walking today.

Over the next month, I’m going to experiment with several methods that can potentially reignite the enthusiasm and creativity of those who are struggling on their personal path as a creator. I will be making changes to my personal life in order to test what affects the mindset of a creator, both positively and negatively.

 

I will then be documenting my findings for you all in the hope that some of it will be relevant to your own personal dilemmas as creators. I will update as frequently as possible to report my findings… whether it yields helpful advice, disappointed ramblings about zero results or just hilarious experiences, I will make sure that you know it all.

The general aim of these experiments is to partake in activities that are:

  • Low budget.
  • Accessible to anyone.
  • Easy to organize.
  • As far from my own personal comfort zone as I can manage.

Rather than posting my to-do list, I’m just going to pledge to begin these experiments beginning Monday 1st August and present my findings as I go, as quickly and coherently as possible. Generally, I’ll be testing new experiences, both alone and in a social group which will preferably not be a group I am familiar with.

 

So for my final words I’d like to give a quick thank you to the 40 followers I currently have reading my ramblings and for anyone new tuning in, I hope you stick around long enough to read my findings! While the first experiment will begin Monday, it may take a few extra days to put up a post stating whether or not I’ve become more or less productive after my experiences. Hopefully it’ll be the latter!

Wish me luck and I hope you enjoy the results!

 

 

Culture Talk: Is Superhero Cinema Here To Stay?

First and foremost, there’s something I should admit: I bought my first comic ever yesterday. I’ve had a love for on-screen superheroes since the original X-Men cartoon series but when it came to comic books, I felt intimidated.

I mean X-Men alone has been around since the early 1960’s! That’s over 50 years worth of issues to get through for just one of the hundreds of beloved superhuman series out there. Some of the greats like Captain America span back as far as the 1940’s, catching up now seems like an investment of time and money that I don’t have, no matter how much I want to. Luckily, I’ve never been short on alternatives.

x-men-apocalypse-trailer-screenshot-26X-Men Apocalypse keeps the film series going strong, despite mixed general opinion. 

My superhero knowledge stemmed from typical children’s cartoons but as the years have gone by, more new superheroes have broken onto the big screen. As the times have changed, these films have catered to a larger audience and have even captured the hearts of an older generation than my own.

Comedic stars like Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito and Jim Carrey once took up the roles of some of Batman’s most well known villains (not to mention the chillingly terrible puns of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr Freeze) but today, those same roles are played with a much darker tone. A sense of grittiness and realism has come to superhero cinema that leaves audiences on the edge of their seats and has steadily dominated Hollywood. This is no longer a market just for children and in many cases, can be rated strictly for mature audiences.

109832157-bm3_316787bJim Carrey played the part of The Riddler incredibly…for it’s time at least.

It does beg the question though; is there an end in sight for this superhuman success? The old favorites are crossing over into a single cinematic universe for both Marvel and DC, the two big greats of the comic industry. Over 25 new superhero films are scheduled for release between now and the year 2020, not to mention the countless TV shows that we can expect to see more of. Even Netflix has an exclusive superhero schedule for the foreseeable future. When will we be done with superheroes?

In truth, some of us already are. There’s more than one article out there that believes that the market has been flooded with a trend of sub-standard, predictable films that are poorly written and leave an audience wondering “How many times does the world really need saved?”

The long-time fans who have spent their youth reading about these heroes are happy to see them get the publicity they deserve and will defend them against those critics to the death. They declare that the critics just don’t understand comic books and that they have no right to criticize something they’ve never tried to follow. All the while, they themselves criticize the films for not staying completely loyal to the comics.

As for me…I say “Oh, please shut up! You’re both wrong anyway!”

What I admire more than anything about the comic book industry is it’s flexibility and durability. We’re talking about an industry that has maintained itself and evolved longer than a lot of us may even live! For it to grow into what it is today isn’t just a trend, it’s been inevitable for quite some time!

Even then, the cinematic world of superheroes manages to clearly set itself apart from the comics. I’ve flipped through the pages of what spawned Captain America: Civil War and seen superheroes that haven’t yet been introduced to the cinematic universe. With that in mind, how can an audience be expected to follow groups of superheroes they’ve never met for the sake of pleasing the long-time fans?

Instead, the scriptwriters have proven their worth by giving fresh introductions to these heroes for those like myself who were previously unfamiliar with them. They’ve managed to turn these strange, superhuman individuals into characters that I genuinely care about.

Naturally, there are unfortunate exceptions. Batman vs Superman received a lot of negative criticism and I’ve yet to watch a Fantastic Four or Hulk film I enjoy but there isn’t a genre out there that gets it right all the time.

For the most part though, I’ve been blown away by the superheroes that hit the TV or big screen. I’m excited for new character debuts such as The Justice League, Luke Cage, Black Panther, Doctor Strange and Iron Fist and I remain eager for the next installments of the heroes I love such as The Avengers, Deadpool, Arrow, The Flash and The X-Men which have maintained a good track record of dramatic action epics that I’ll happily watch time and time again (except for X-Men: Origins…we don’t talk about that one).

captain-america-3-civil-war-artwork-fight.jpg-2428×1216-.pngBlack Panther’s debut in Captain America: Civil War has spurned excitement for his upcoming film.

There’s more stories written for these heroes than Hollywood may ever manage to provide us so you can be sure that superheroes aren’t going away anytime soon. I’m sure they won’t always dominate the market the way they do today but you may as well get used to their existence.

They’ve earned their place and I couldn’t be happier for them.

Getting Inside Your Protagonist’s Head

The Protagonist Is Always The Most Important Character…Even When They’re Not.

How often do you read a story and imagine yourself in the shoes of the protagonist? Did you have a character or superhero that you wished you could be when you were younger? Or perhaps you would read about their adventures and ask yourself if you would have made the same choices they did if it was happening to you?

Chances are this happens all the time, even when the protagonist is nothing special. No matter what perspective somebody writes from, readers will usually experience a story from the same perspective as the main protagonist(s). It’s the most natural viewpoint for them to imagine things from and in many good stories, they’ll imagine it as if they themselves are that character. It’s natural, and it’s the sign of a good protagonist that readers can relate to.

Therefore it’s important when writing a story to ensure that you understand the way your protagonist thinks and acts. This is important for any character central to your story really.

Now this can come naturally but sometimes it can seem daunting, especially if you’re writing about a personality that doesn’t coincide with your own. It’s harder to emulate someone who is introverted when you yourself are extroverted and vice versa.

You may not be able to base a character like that off of yourself but there’s always someone else you could base them on?

The Whole World Is A Reference

There are over 7 billion people in the world today and every single one of them is unique.There can be similarities in their appearance, personality, dressing style, culture, sense of humor and so on and so forth but when it’s all combined into one person, it’s always a brand new combination. Isn’t that amazing?

We only engage with a small fraction of those people throughout our lives and yet we will still encounter at least tens of thousands of unique personalities. Some we’ll get to know over a matter of years and some we’ll only know for a few moments but each one will be new in some shape or form. You’re having trouble finding a reference for your next protagonist? There’s references all around you!

You may not understand these people fully but you can still question what influences and motivates them from a distance. When you think about it, that’s all we really do in life; Question what drives the people around us, even ourselves. You don’t need all the answers to create a protagonist that readers relate to.

Characters Don’t Need To Seem Real To Be Understood

Writers spend a lot of time trying to create “believable” characters but what does that even mean? Usually it comes down to what the writer (or society) views as normal but yourself have probably met a few people in your life that don’t fit that criteria.

I mean, I’ve met a man with three sets of headphones around his neck and a luminous safety jacket dancing on a bus despite the headphones not actually being on his head! I’ve had a drunk try to hit me because she didn’t like my choice of Chinese takeaway food and I’ve watched a performance of acoustic love songs dedicated to Jennifer Aniston by a green haired gentleman who introduced himself off-stage as Hybrid! He also invited me to join him on a trip to London to bring down Parliament, what a nice chap.

My point is, some people are more unique than you’d expect but the only thing different about them is what influenced them to become who they are today! The unpredictability of human beings is the most obvious and believable thing in the world, it doesn’t matter if that uniqueness is caused by a person’s biology, culture, upbringing, health, personal experiences or in my examples, probably drugs!

What’s important is that you question the motives and influences of these characters you aren’t familiar with and try to see things through their eyes.

Understanding Growth

You have to be honest with yourself as to how you yourself have changed and grown as a person over time, for better or worse. Question what influences made you the way you are, for better or worse and compare that to someone who completely different to you.

What would it have taken in your life for you to turn out like them? Would it need to be something big or just a small series of events that could have turned you in a different direction? How would you act differently in that life?

When you begin to answer those questions you start to get inside the head of your characters and understand them better, even if you don’t have all the right answers. Try to dive into the shoes of the character that stems from those questions because it’s from those same shoes that readers will perceive your story.

Some people think that this requires some knowledge in psychology but I think it’s simply a case of developing some empathy. The world is all about people and our stories are no different. It benefits your writing – and your life – if you try to understand them.

 

Do Cliches Prevent Original Writing?

There’s generally a negative mentality towards the overuse of the classic ‘tropes’ in all forms of storytelling. It doesn’t matter if it’s on television or in writing, it seems that the majority of aspiring writers either look down on stories that enter the realm of cliches or they judge everything they write with the fear that their story will seem unoriginal.

Professional Fantasy Author Brent Weeks (a personal favorite of mine) even makes a joke about this in The Night Angel trilogy by having an antagonist claim to be the protagonist’s father as a jest. Until the jest is revealed, it is intentionally reminiscent of the classic “Luke, I am your father” trope from the original Star Wars movies. Whether he would have preferred to use the cliche seriously or simply wanted to make the reference as a joke is always up for debate but in the end, he used it in a unique way that entertained his readers.

This particular example was a jest but does that mean that cliche moments can only be used in jest for them to seem vaguely original? Before we can decide that, we should look at what’s considered “cliche” and what isn’t. The only problem is that while I was researching this, I found that the difference in opinion is staggering when it comes to a specific definition.

It didn’t just extend to common story tropes like “the hero with a tragic past” or popular match-ups like “vampires versus werewolves” either. Simple phrases like “pot calling the kettle black” and even the words “cool” and “awesome” were targeted by some people as overused cliches. The definition seems so broad these days that the term “cliche” is becoming meaningless to some people. The question most writers seem to be asking is more often “What ISN’T cliche?”

However, I finally found someone that provided a definition for what cliche is that made sense to me. Creative writer/artist/youtuber Cy Porter states that an effective event in writing becomes cliche when it is overused to a point that it is no longer effective to the audience.

Rather than narrowing things down, this led to me asking myself many more questions. It’s widely argued that writers as a whole may have already tried every genre or scenario possible at least once already. Does that mean everything can be cliche? I like to think that’s not the case.

In many situations, there are actually logical reasons for something to be used frequently other than how effective it was the first time around. A tragic hero would be less likely to set out on his heroic journey if he was completely content with a happy life at home. The same applies to the villains of our stories, would they antagonize our hero if they didn’t have something trigger their descent down that dark path? Readers enjoy these common characters because they can relate to them no matter which side they’re on.

There are also times that something is labelled as a common cliche just for being normal. LitReactor posted an article that listed “10 Storytelling Cliches That Need To Disappear Forever” and included “blaming bad behavior on bad parenting” as one of the worst cliches in writing. As much as I respect the writers of Litreactor, I couldn’t disagree more with that statement. Blaming bad behavior on bad parenting was never an idea conjured up in a story. The reason it’s used so often is because it’s such a common opinion in actual society. That can’t be considered a cliche in storytelling, that’s just a typical occurrence in life!

I suppose when it comes down to it, it just depends on how much you decide to generalize things (or how much you want to nitpick). A horror story about a group of students on a trip that goes horribly wrong might be considered cliche but the events themselves and the way that the story is portrayed can still be unique. There’s a big difference between a theme that’s considered cliche and the story itself being a cliche.

If you enjoy certain genres or tropes and you’re feeling inspired, why should you avoid writing your own unique story for it? Instead of shying away from something popular, why not focus more on proving there’s still original stories to be found there?

After all, there’s a ton of typical zombie flicks out there yet I still keep watching them. Some stories don’t even need to be good to stay unique…

 

 

There’s Never A Bad Time To Write

I’m lying in bed with my laptop having yet another recovery day thanks to an unfortunate incident with the sun that’s left me feeling, quite literally, burnt out. On top of that I’m battling a throat infection after just recovering from a stomach bug which is possibly the longest series of ailments I’ve had to deal with in years. I think it’s safe to say that this hasn’t been my luckiest month so far.

On days like these, it can be very easy to lie around doing nothing. If there’s ever a time to justify spending your day in pyjamas (or less) and watch bad TV, play computer games or just scratch your sensitive spots then it’s probably now. Whether it’s sickness, fatigue, laziness, grief or the dreaded writer’s block, how can you possibly hope to produce content that matches your usual standard?

You certainly won’t bring out your best if you’re not feeling your best but that’s not to say you can’t still use that time being productive. When working on larger projects over a long period of time, it’s pretty common for us to pressure ourselves into maintaining a certain standard. All writing revolves around that one project and it begins to feel more like a duty than an expression of our creativity. It’s easy to forget sometimes that writing is something we love, not just something we do.

That mentality is damaging and counter-productive but it’s hard to define the methods that can help you “switch off” without completely abandoning writing for the duration of your recovery…but if you look at things from a different perspective, you may find that this is actually the PERFECT time to unwind as you write.

This isn’t a nonsense piece about “exerting your willpower” or “going above and beyond to achieve your dream.” Maybe I’m just too laid back but I don’t think you’re going to be able to write a heart-wrenching chapter in your upcoming novel if you have to force every word. The writing I’m talking about here is much simpler.

Practising your writing is always beneficial so treat these unfortunate days as potential training days.Lay in bed with your laptop or notepad just like I’m doing now and write whatever comes to mind, even if it doesn’t particularly make sense. Whether you’re writing an improvised short story, a series of new story pitches that might never get put to use or just your thoughts and feelings, all that matters is that you’re spending some of your day writing.

It might seem like a waste of the downtime that’s been forced upon you but you’ll feel more positive knowing you’ve at least been partially productive with your day. 100 words can feel just as valuable as 1000 words (even if you’re writing completely random nonsense) and doing this daily while you recover eases the pressure a little for when you go back to your professional project. Your health will improve much quicker without all that self inflicted stress too.

Of course, this kind of exercise isn’t for everybody. If you want to do nothing for a day or two then you’re perfectly welcome to it and in most cases, you’ve probably earned it…but if you’re a passionate writer then it can be frustrating and stressful when you struggle to focus on your writing. This exercise should hopefully help you to relieve that stress and come out feeling readier than ever to bring out your best work!

Then again, there’s certain exceptions where this doesn’t apply. If a piano crushed both your hands then you’re totally off the hook.

That being said, how did you click this post? How are you using a computer right now, I don’t underst-

Brainstorming 2: Relevant Writing

This is a continuation of “Brainstorming Your Idea.”

So now you have a basic outline for your story, enough so that you can pitch the idea to others and you’re starting to get excited for your new creation. On the other hand however, you don’t have nearly enough to begin writing your first chapter. All you know is what kind of story you want to tell and a few key points about the journey you want to take your readers on. Now it’s time to flesh things out a little.

In “Brainstorming Your Idea,” I did an impromptu brainstorming session of my own and I’m going to be working with that again today. So with that brainstorm session I came up with the following story pitch:

“A medieval fantasy about a boy named Blake who joins a circle of holy knights devoted to ridding the world of Esmiral of all the unnatural wild beasts that were created by an evil dark wizard long ago. These creatures prey on the unprotected villages and travelers they come across and feed upon their flesh. Only the magical blades of these knights can slay them.”

Now there’s a lot of things written there that are left unexplained which is a good thing (for a pitch) but no matter what you write you’re going to need to answer the questions posed by your pitch sooner or later. Otherwise, it won’t be long until readers just get confused and bored of reading.

The amount of preparation needed to avoid that will vary depending on the style of story and the writer themselves but there are several questions you should remember to ask yourself when working out the finer details of what you’re writing.

What’s Relevant To My Story

Now if you’re writing fantasy or science fiction then I’m sure you get as excited I do at the prospect of building wonderful and exotic new worlds to base your stories in. As a result, you can find yourself spending hours just writing about the many aspects that make up your world, especially those aspects that separate it so clearly from the world we live in.

When you get an idea in your mind it’s natural to want to fully cultivate it and understand everything about it. I feel naturally inclined to write about the magic of Esmiral that created these “unnatural wild beasts” I’ve included in my pitch. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time for me writing down the fictional physics of magic for a story.

However, a time comes when you’re building a world that you need to ask yourself:

“Will this have any relevance in the story itself?”

A portion of it might, sure. So why would you write pages and pages of information that won’t be relevant?

I can’t imagine why Blake and the circle of knights he joins would know the ins and outs of actually creating the beasts they hunt and if they were created by a “dark wizard long ago,” then it’s safe to say that the knowledge on how it was done is either long forgotten or a closely kept secret.

In fact, I think I could confidently say that magic will be poorly explained in this story altogether. These “holy swords” that the knights use are the only things that can kill the beasts so they’re clearly not handing out holy swords to just anyone. Magic and magical items are going to be a rarity in the world of Esmiral and that will be relevant information in my story.

There should still be hints of magic in the world and the knights should still have knowledge on how to combat against it but that knowledge will be limited. Therefore, the knowledge supplied to the reader will be limited too. With that logic I have just saved myself from writing several pages of unnecessary text.

When preparing your story you should always be aware of what information will be relevant to the continuation of your story. If you include walls of text containing information that doesn’t affect the progression of your story then chances are readers will either skim straight past it or just put the book down.

That’s not to say that your story should be completely streamlined though! Some information needs to be shared for readers to understand your world which brings about the next question:

 

What Do The Readers NEED To Know?

You may think this is just a different way of asking the same question but hear me out. There are certain things that won’t be relevant to the story but are relevant to a stranger in your fantasy world.

Try to think back to the first time you went on a holiday abroad; A new country that you’ve never experienced before. The culture could be completely different from what you’ve grown up in or it can have small, subtle differences that are barely noticeable. The language may be different; hell, there could be multiple languages in one country. Everything is new and exciting, right? Well…not all of it is exciting.

You aren’t excited about what they eat and drink there until you’re ready to eat. You don’t give a second thought about the religion unless it affects what you do there, whether it’s a law about what you can wear or you’re just on a tour around a famous religious landmark. You don’t care because they’re not relevant to your experience there.

How many people do you think go on vacation to Benidorm with the knowledge that King James I of Aragon reconquered the region from the Moors in 1245? How many would care? What you write should be dictated with that same logic in mind.    

If the sword Blake wields is indeed a holy sword then the reader will want to know what God (or Gods) the sword can be linked to. The reader will want to know some basic information about the religion that adheres to that God but they don’t want to read a brand new bible about it.

Your story should be the tour brochure that makes readers want to visit your world, not the history book that they’re forced to study. Consider these questions carefully and you’ll save yourself a lot of preparation time while coming a step closer to beginning a well planned out story.

This piece on brainstorming has focused mainly on the building of a new world, join me next time where I begin to discuss:

“Story Planning: Building Your Timeline.”