Someone always says it better…

After my post yesterday I got some of my favourite regular e-mail this year – my monthly writing exercise from Matt Bell (If you haven’t signed up you’re missing out.)

This month he wrote about Choice and Complicity.

It was a fascinating read and the subject matter, though difficult to fully execute in prose, is something I’ve already started considering how to utilize.

Essentially, he’s talking about power structures. The ones in which we operate in and how we make choices within those power structures.

These are not always (perhaps, importantly so) the Perfect Choice but rather the Best Choice We Can Make Given the Situation.

All of these systems and power structures can and should and will be resisted, but at the same time many people have no choice but to live within them, with someone always benefitting even as others are injured, and of course I know that standing up against one power structure doesn’t automatically mean being able or willing to do the same against another. We all make choices from inside these systems, and for me, [Octavia] Butler’s novels are some of the best examples I know of how to depict those choices in fiction.

Matt Bell

It’s something I’m already interested in, generally, but I’d never considered how it could be applied to fiction writing.

Elsewhere in the newsletter he links to Charlie Jane Anders ‘s ongoing essay-series/book Never Say You Can’t Survive. I’ve only just started reading the first few entries but I think I’ll be reading the whole thing.

The following is an excerpt from the chapter, How to Get Through Hard Times by Making Up Stories.

“And escapism is resistance. People sometimes talk about escapist storytelling as a kind of dereliction of duty, as if we’re just running away from the fight. That’s some bullshit right there. In her 1979 essay collection The Language of the Night, Ursula K. Le Guin paraphrases Tolkien thusly: “If a soldier is captured by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? …. If we value the freedom of the mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape and to take as many people with us as we can.”

So yeah, escapist fiction is about liberation, and imagining a happier, more just world is a direct assault on the forces that are trying to break your heart. As Le Guin says, the most powerful thing you can do is imagine what if things could be different…

What if?”

Charlie Jane Anders, Never Say You Can’t Survive

Like I said, someone always says it better…

61 Days – Have I learned anything?

A small check in to say that I’ve just hit 40k words on my longer project -OPERATION MEZZANINE.

I’ve been aiming to write 300 words every day as a very small and manageable goal to keep me sane as I work from home Monday to Friday.

But, roughly, I’ve managed about 655 words a day on average for 61 days.

Nyaaaatt bad.

Ran (1985) - Akira Kurosawa : CineShots
One of the many cool shots from ‘Ran’

I’d hoped to be a little bit further ahead by now, but no matter, the work is still alive and each day I’m finding something new to excite me about the project and writing, generally.

I’ve also had time to pen a couple of much smaller things and submit them. So it’s been a very productive time.

Here’s a couple of things I’ve learned writing half (I’d guess) of my novel over the last two months, in no particular order…

  • I like rough drafting scenes and then trying to fix them the next day. Fixing sentences and nuances every other day makes me a fan of what I’m actually writing. I feel less like I’m jumping from plot point to plot point and actually crafting a story someone other than me might enjoy reading.
  • Characters need to want something (yes) in every scene (pretty obvious, Johnny) but giving them a reason to not satisfy that desire for something else they hope is far better in the long run makes scenes spring alive. (I assume at this point every writing manual in the world is moaning a prolonged duhhhhhhhhhhhhhh… but shush.)
  • Making characters lie is fun.
  • Being cruel to my characters doesn’t come naturally to me… but the writing is much better when I do.
  • I don’t seem to work well on Thursdays…
  • But Mondays are my JAM!
  • If I don’t read something for more than a day I start to feel sluggish on the page. I can still write and I do but words/ideas/images don’t spring as quickly into my head.
  • If I don’t write for more than 2 days I become incredibly irritable and begin to question what even is the point…
Baltimore, Vol. 1: The Plague Ships by Mike Mignola
  • Every other week I become obsessed with a new writer, director, or musician and they are fuel to me. This past two months, among others I’m sure I’m forgetting, there’s been Denis Johnson, Akira Kurosawa, Mike Mignola, Thundercat, Joe Begos, Marlon James, Michael McDowell, Blake Butler, and this week China Mieville with an emerging appreciation for Jeff VanderMeer.

What any of this means is oblivious to me at the moment. But I’m looking forward to the next 40k or so more words.

Hopefully it won’t take as long.