Escape Collective

Welcome to a New Idea in Publishing

Early Autumnal Digressions

Ah, chrysanthemums, the official flower of November

One of the first truly cogent thoughts I had this morning was, “Holy crap, November’s half-gone!”  In any given month there are many reasons why this might bring on a mild panic attack, but I’m doing pretty well.  Despite the craziness of the weather, the work that keeps piling up and looming deadlines, I seem to be remarkably sane.  Weird.

I have to admit, when the going gets rough I do try to step up my game – for a while – but I inevitably break down.  It’s the guilty pleasures that suck me in and destroy my productivity.  All it takes is one itty-bitty crack in my resolve and I’m lost.  It doesn’t much matter if it’s old, trashy pulp novels, or instant-view science fiction movies, or video games that are designed to play with my OCD tendencies.  It could be anything.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet good money that if I was lost in the arctic, with only my typewriter to keep me occupied, I’d find out just how fascinating ice can be.  Mm hm.

Ooh, look! Lots of ice...

Now is a good time to take stock though.  Halfway through the month and plenty of work left to be done.  Gotta tally up that word count, burn through some checklists, make a few ‘To Do’ lists and get a realistic grasp on amount of work left.  Is that the responsible, grown up thing to do?  I’m not entirely sure.  It seems to be working right now.

Here is the most important date on my current calendar:  December 1st.  That’s the last day we’ll be accepting submissions for our next anthology.  Go clickity-click over HERE to read the submissions guidelines.  With only two weeks left, we’re still hoping for a few more knock-out stories to pull the project together. 

And then there is the cover – we’re still accepting submissions for our cover art contest.  It is remarkable that we have had very few submissions.  Maybe we’re not very good at wrangling submissions from artists.  All I know is that when the first of December rolls around, I’m gonna start working on an old fashioned panic if we don’t have something to put on the cover.  Or I could beat the rush and start panicking now.

This is me, losing it

Nope.  Not feeling it yet.  Oh well, back to the grind for me.  We’ll see if things get better tomorrow.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he isn’t trying to work up a good lather of angst, he’s downloading Big Trouble In Little China.  No, wait, he’s working.  Yes, working very, very hard.  Yes.

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Work Spaces

Hemmingway: manly enough to wear shorts

For every writer in the world, there is a different ideal work space.  Of course, ‘ideal’ doesn’t mean that’s where we do our business.  In fact, I’d bet good money that almost every writer in the world actually does their work in something far from their perfect vision of a functioning work space.  Not surprisingly, there has been much documentation about this particular issue.

If there is a universal idea of what a writer’s work space looks like, it would be the sparsely decorated office.  Books and papers are stacked around, the light is harsh and dim.  The room is cramped, yet somehow remains functional.  There’s a typewriter, for some damn reason, and a half-empty bottle of gin (or rye, or bourbon) in the top drawer of the filing cabinet.  It’s a crock, though.

This desk is too good for my trashy garbage

The Guardian did a very extensive series of articles, examining the various offices, studios and kitchenettes of writers in England.  Some of them are stripped down, antiseptic cubes, but for the most part, they are comfy and cluttered.  What is shocking to me is how different they are from one another.  None of them have much in common, but the common elements are so very superficial.  Some of the best places to work aren’t even indoors, in any meaningful sense.

Take a look at Allain de Botton.  For a week in 2009, he was the ‘Writer-in-Residence’ at Heathrow International Airport.  At first glance, it might seem to be terrible – or even just a gimmick – but Mr. Botton actually seemed to enjoy working there.  He claimed it was such an unlikely place to get anything done, that it was a welcome challenge.  In fact, he actually turned out a book because of it, A Week At The Airport: A Heathrow Diary.

Pictured: Alain de Botton, masochist? (photo: Richard Baker)

Harlan Ellison famously worked in storefront windows – at least a dozen times – and managed to crank out some memorable works literally in the public eye.  There are authors who have written in glass cages, on top of mountains, under water and just about any kind of location you can imagine.  Writers have done work naked, while flying, on the side of the road and in the back of bars and pubs.  I have friends who write in bed, only write longhand and one friend who writes in the shed out in her back yard.  You have to go with what works, I guess.  As anyone who’s ever been on a deadline can attest to, sometimes your very best work is done on the bus – typically while on the way to turn it in.

I don’t believe in “feng shui”, but there are some lessons to learn from the concept.  I try to think consciously and deliberately choose my working environment.  “Intentionality”, is what it’s called.  But of course, we are all creatures of habit and prone to the constant creep of chaos.  A quick glance around my work space is depressing.  No one has taken the trash out in weeks.  Empty pizza boxes and fast food wrappers glare at me.  Several stacks of papers have been knocked to the floor and then shuffled together.  I have a perfectly good bookshelf that is only half full of books – the rest of the books are kind of scattered around, wherever they were dropped.

Pictured: a 'clean' writer's work space

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how to count my successes, even in the face of staggering loss.  It’s also called spinning bullshit into gold, but that’s beside the point.  The point is that my actual work space – where I write, where I type – is clean and ready for work.  There is a place to put my coffee and a spot for my MP3 player.  Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, my little slice of space is ready for me to get to work.

I’ve also learned that it pays to try new things.  In my first real studio space outside my house, I set up shop in a closet.  It had an alley-facing window, space for my stool and a tiny writing desk and that was it.  The floor wasn’t even finished, just a random smattering of fake wood flooring.  For some crazy reason, though, it was just what I needed.  In the end, you have to go with the best you can get.

Someday, I’ll get to design my own writer’s studio.  You can imagine the amenities I fantasize about, I’m sure; redundant backup servers, customizable lighting, high speed internet, gigantic music library, private washroom and a personal assistant.  Honestly, the only thing I really need – the only thing any of us seem to need – is the hardest to come by:  Time.  Well, that and a door that keeps the rest of the world away for a while.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  Another co-founder (who shall remain nameless) recently complained that they couldn’t keep a cleaning lady for more than a month or so.  Patrick bit his tongue and shook his head in a show of fake sympathy.  Because he KNOWS.

How To Make Yourself Crazy, Part One: REVISIONS

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
-Leonardo da Vinci

I picked up a novel that I’d tossed into the filing cabinet over a year ago.  It should be perfectly safe, right?  It’s cooled off and I should be able to approach it with a fresh perspective.  After all, I’m a different, better writer/editor than I was back then – an entirely different person, right?  Well, not so much.  Ten pages into the review and I can see the good and the bad.  Fifty pages in and all the angst creeps back into my mind.  One hundred pages in and I can’t even remember my own name.

This is how you drive a writer/artist/editor absolutely crazy:  Make them read their own work.  Especially long fiction.  Oh my.  It’s like a tour of your own subconscious mind, but only the bad parts.  All the insecurities and cringe-worthy habits come bubbling back to the surface.  Terrible turns of phrase and paper-thin characters leap from the prose and bludgeon you with their awkward presence.  The entire work seems to be a Frankenstein monster, built out of the demented portions of your imagination.  Every horrible thing you’ve ever written, every weak trope you’ve used as a crutch, they seem to have found a home in your once-precious so-called ‘book’.

Like the fool that you are, you roll up your sleeves and get to work though.  You start by making notes and comments.  When you examine the structure and find out where the big gaps are, you figure out how to build it up and flesh it out.  You brainstorm and come up with a way to tie up all the loose ends.  If you listen to your characters, they’ll tell you how they want things to play out and you discover the obvious solution to that nagging, missing element.  Yes, you dive in, because you can’t NOT do the work.

It burns your mental fuel and drains your reserves of patience and energy.  The narrative climbs in through your eyes and makes a nest in your active mind.  The story interrupts you while you’re taking a shower and making dinner, when you’re at the dentist and when you’re trying to fall asleep.  Like an invasive weed, it wants all the territory it can take root in.  And what do you do?  You let it.  Because you have to.

Here’s the good news.  It happens to all of us and we have a good chance of survival.  All you have to do is get through it.  The work is what seems important because it is.  When you’re in it and the engines of creation are at their maximum power things get accomplished.  Don’t fight it, work with it.  Yes, it makes you crazy.  Yes, it might destroy your social life.  But it’s for a good cause.

Revising our work is almost as intense as the initial writing, but it’s so much more important.  If the first draft is like giving birth, then the road to the final draft is like raising a child.  To do a good job requires active, constant attention, and the right set of tools.  Let’s be honest with ourselves.  Anybody can have a kid and anybody can write a book.  The good kids and the good books have a lot in common; you have to put in a lot of work and they are guaranteed to make you insane. 

In the end, however, it’s all totally worth the effort.  Now, get back to work.

 

When he’s not giving others the advice he so badly needs to hear himself, Patrick Jennings-Mapp is working on the third revision of that damn novel.  No, not that one – he stopped that one – the other one.  Yes, the one with the crazy people.  (sigh)  No, the other one with the crazy people…

 

November Blues

This is the time of year I have learned to dread.  The skies are grey, contrasted infrequently by teasing splashes of brilliant blue and fading, golden light.  The days are already shorter and the night stretches her shadow for hours after I’m awake.  And the wind, when it blows, is like a surgeon’s scalpel designed to slice away the part of me that feels joy, warmth and good humor.  It’s worse than winter and is the antipode of early spring in every way.  Autumn’s kiss is a promise that things will get worse, not better, for a very long time.

Is it “seasonal affective disorder”?  Is it vitamin D deficiency?  Is it the large-scale circadian rhythm that my body has been used to since my early teens?  Sure, let’s say ‘yes’ to all of these.  That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.  Advanced knowledge of a beating doesn’t make the bruises more mild – and boy do I feel like I’m in for a beating.

I expected this year would be better than most.  After all, I have a lot of work to keep me busy and a fresh enterprise that is in the making.  This past spring and summer my heart leaped at the possibilities, the new and daring adventures I was about to embark upon.  Yes, I still feel those disposition, but it’s soaked to the skin and going hypothermic in comparison.  What can I do?  What can any of us weird, artistic and writerly types do?  We press on, bury ourselves in our work and do our best.

Sometimes, I pretend to be a ‘normal’ person.  I put on a pair of slacks and a button up shirt.  I shave, eat a good breakfast (something more than just my usual coffee and a side of coffee) and leave the house in the morning.  I’ll go to my studio office, set up my workstation and pretend that I have a ‘normal’, ‘real’ job.

“Let’s see… I got a 9:30 tomorrow with Scott.  A reminder at noon to talk to Mike.  In the meantime I better get these work orders sorted out, before I get crackin’ on the pile of submissions.  While I’m at it, I ought to get a few thousand words cracked out today – I’m already behind on my NaNo quota.”

It’s a ‘fake it til you make it’ sort of logic.  It’s desperate and a bit pathetic too.  But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work.  Speaking of work, I still have to get up on those submission queries we got in.  Need to shoot off three confirmations and update my spreadsheet.  Holy crap, we’ve only got four weeks until the anthology deadline.

Life goes on.  Under six months of cold grey skies, or ten feet of snow, or with Cat-5 hurricane warnings, the universe keeps on going.  If I don’t go on, I’m at risk of going under and that’s not going to happen.  Not this Autumn anyway.

Sláinte!

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he’s not ignoring the siren-call of single malt whiskey, he’s propped up next to the fire, typing like mad on his laptop.

Ghosts

ooh, look at that

Halloween.  Samhain.  Dios de los Muertes.  The Autumnal celebration of the ‘spirit world’ is a very nice tradition, whatever you want to call it.  I have always had a great affection for the week surrounding Halloween, ever since I was old enough to gobble down fistfuls of candy.  Of course, I’ve always been on the morbid side of having a “healthy outlook on life”.  I joke, of course, but there is something nervous in the way people approach death, the dead and the spirits of the departed in this culture.  It’s weird – and coming from me, that’s saying something.  Two interesting things came to mind as I sat down to compose this.  The first is about my daughter, the second is about me – when I was her age.

I was explaining to my eleven year-old what the ‘Day of the Dead’ is all about.  Or, rather, I was talking at her, about it.  When she was younger, we slathered our face with black & white greasepaint and made a small, odd processional to pay homage to the spirits.  I told her that in Latin America, it wasn’t that they believed the dead literally rose from the grave, but the people there invited the spirits be present.  Much like setting the table for an extra dinner guest would change the way you conducted a meal, I suppose.  It’s a kind of play, it seems to me, where you make the space for a kind of interaction.  You honor the dead, the departed, the past, by acknowledging it – by making it welcome.  It’s a beautiful, sometimes humbling thing.

Now, when I was still in grade school, I had a poorly understood relationship with death.  I was fascinated with it, scared of it and genuinely tried my best to come to grips with the concept.  In my 5th grade class, we were required to bring a clipping from the newspaper in each week.  We’d write a report on the news event and present it to the class, in summary.  It was a neat idea, but I went and made it creepy (on accident, I swear).  I cut obituary/death notices from the paper.  Sometimes, there were tiny, but now and then I’d see a long, glowing review of a dead person’s life.  It was an irresistible draw.  Here, on newsprint, in tiny letters, was the end result of someone’s entire life – all of it reduced to a snippet, smaller than the sports scores, buried near the classifieds where no one would see it.  I thought… well, I’m not sure what I thought, exactly.  I think I thought, “What could be more newsworthy? This is someone’s LIFE!”

My daughter’s teacher has never called me up, to complain about her being “creepy”, or scaring the other children.  For that, I’m grateful, because it is the kind of thing my parents had to deal with – among other, less relevant kinds of phone calls they received about me.  See, for me, the essence of mortality, the actual reality of capital-D ‘Death’, was never explained or fully understood by my little kid self.  In a very real way, the ghosts of all those people did haunt me, just not in the way ‘haunting’ is generally thought of.  Victims of murder and car accidents, people who died from cancer and drowning, and all the various and terrible things that happened every day in the world flooded my sensibilities.  And really, that’s too bad.

I’m much older and I hope much wiser.  I’ve seen death, up close and personal, many times.  I felt the warmth of life fade in my hands.  But rather than be horrified, or too fascinated, I’ve found a place in my life to put the horror of mortality.  I’m not ‘haunted’, but like everyone else in the world, I am visited by ghosts.  Whether you acknowledge it or not, the past – and the folks who lived there – make their presence felt in our world.  The only thing you can control is how you deal with it.

Tonight, I’m going to pour a drink in a small glass, I’m going to put a treat on a small plate and I’ll light a candle.  And I’m going to leave them on my porch.  Not because I want to feed the squirrels and not because I do or don’t believe in ‘ghosts’ or ‘spirits’.  I’ll do it because I want to honor the dead.  I do it because I am alive and I can.

It’s funny.  When I first thought about writing this post, it was with the idea of my favorite ghost stories in mind.  But as this day approached, I couldn’t find any reason to conjure a made up tale, or to dwell on the ones I like the most.  The best stories – as any kid can tell you – are the ones that are ‘almost true’.  The best ghost stories are no different.

 

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  When he’s not being depressingly morbid, he’s actually a fun person to be around.  You can drop him a line at patrick AT escapecollective DOT com and tell him to ‘lighten up’ if you like.

 

 

Win a copy of All Hope Lost from the author herself!

Faith Van Horne, author of the amazing Lovecraftian noir novella, All Hope Lost, is giving away a free copy on Halloween to one lucky story teller! Check out her blog for details:

Scribatious: What’s in the Box?

Get to writing, horror lovers!

Alexandra J. Ash is a horror writer as well and would try for the book giveaway herself, except as the book’s editor, she already knows how good it is, has her own copy, and would probably be disqualified as an employee anyway.

November is Almost Here!

The logo for National Novel Writing Month

Every year, when October rolls around, I find myself talking about National Novel Writing Month (the cool kids call it NaNoWriMo, I guess).  I talk about it with my friends who are writers, to see if they’re crazy enough to do it this year.  I talk about it with my wife, to see if it would rock the boat too much for me to do it.  And I talk about it to folks who have never heard of it before, which is a lot of fun.  It’s a really neat exercise and I’ve found myself drawn into it a couple of times.

For those who don’t know, it’s just an annual, month-long event to encourage people to write.  The one-size-fits-all goal is to hit (or surpass) 50,000 words in one, original, continuous story.  There are thousands and thousands of participants, of all ages, from around the world.  There are cool badges you can get, progress spreadsheets you can download and lots of active forums for people to support each other.  All in all, it’s a fantastic idea, with lots of potential.

The reason it’s so much fun to talk to new people about it is the variety of reactions I get to see.  Some are horrified by the idea of writing so much, so fast.  A few seem genuinely hungry for the challenge.  Most of them probably dismiss the whole idea as being too difficult.  It’s hard to argue with that last point.  Everyone has a job, or school, or yoga class, or a wedding… lots of ‘stuff’ to do.  And there’s that Thanksgiving holiday at the end of the month.  But my response is pretty blunt:  That is bullshit.  If you want to be a writer – an actual, professional writer – you will have to deal with this issue every month.

Now, I’m not going to advocate that everyone dump their responsibilities and do this wacky thing.  I don’t even think NaNoWriMo is a good idea for everybody (more on that in a minute).  But there is one, indisputably great thing about the event.  It shuts up your internal editor.  Everyone has one and some people let that nagging critic ruin most projects before they can get started.  The best thing you can do for your ability to write is to silence that editor for a while.  There will always be time to review and rewrite and reject your work later – but there has to be something there in order for that to happen.  NaNoWriMo gets a muzzle on the editor and pushes down on the accelerator.  That is a damn good thing.

The first time I did this, I was pretty nervous.  I owned my own business and my family kept me busy on top of that.  Nonetheless, I looked at it as a challenge I needed to face.  Before that Autumn, the longest piece of work I’d ever done was about 30,000 words, over the course of a few months.  In preparation for November, I plotted a long, winding story in my head.  I peopled it with characters and nested the plots inside one another.  There was a neat mechanism for switching between parallel stories whenever I wanted, if I got bogged down.  Just after midnight on November 1st I started writing.  I didn’t know how much or how fast I could write, but I aimed for that magical 1,500 words per day that would get me to the finish line.  I hit the ground running and kept going at a frantic pace.  After everyone had gone to bed, before work, or whenever I found a moment to steal, I was working.  Halfway through the month, on the 15th I think, I hit the 50,000 word mark.  It was an unbelievable thing, for me.  Granted, the story was only ¾ of the way through.  Also, the jumbled narrative and experiment with ‘nesting’ was a complete failure.  But I had done it.

There is a sense of wonder and awe, the first time you hit that word count.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it before or not, the relief is palpable.  It truly opened my eyes as a writer, for what kind of effort was needed to do my job.  I didn’t have to work that hard, every month, unless I wanted to.  But at the same time, I knew that I could if I was under the gun.  Up until that point, the idea of writing a novel-length piece of work seemed impossible; like a magical thing that other people could do.  And for that I’ll always be grateful for NaNoWriMo.

It's funny, because it's true. And also mean.

The whole affair doesn’t get a full pass from me, though.  For some writers, abandoning their inner critic for an entire month can be tragic.  Don’t misunderstand, I think that everyone could benefit from this kind of work, under the right conditions.  But a gimmick of a writing project is no substitute for actually sharpening one’s tools.  Writing isn’t difficult, and that seems to be part of NaNoWriMo’s message.  But good writing is sometimes very difficult and the only way to do good work is to go through the actual work.  The value for the month of November is quantity over quality.  Like I said, sometimes that is a very good thing – I certainly got a lot out of it – but please don’t ignore the other months.  Remember, once National Novel Writing Month is behind us, take the gag off your internal editor.  Who knows?  Perhaps you’ll find that critic a bit more reasonable, after a month long vacation.

Whoever you are and whatever you do, keep writing.  It’s the only you have to do, if you want to be a writer.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  He likes to write surrealist/inspirational poetry in notebooks and leave it for strangers to find.  Someday, he’ll include a character in a story that does the same – because it’s funny, that’s why.

MONSTERS, Part Two: GIANTS

That's a human on the far left...

Human beings can get pretty big.  There’s actually a field of study on mammalian morphology, or some such, that includes us talking apes.  In fact, we humans have a very wide array of sizes to choose from, with the shortest adult male (verified) coming in at just 57 cm (that’s 22 inches).  On the other end of the spectrum, there are adult males over 2.29 m (7 & ½ feet) all over the place.  I’d even go so far as to say “just” being 7 feet and some odd inches isn’t quite gargantuan enough to merit wonder anymore.  The tallest ever verified was Robert Wadlow, who may have grown just a bit after his last measurement of 2.72 m (that’s 8 feet, 11 inches).  And the current, living, tallest human is Sultan Kösen of Turkey who is a whopping 2.51 m (8 feet, 3 inches).

Damn.  Those are some big people, no doubt.  If you measure those tall folks against the worldwide average (about 5 feet, 5 inches) they seem even larger.  Factor in the historical/genetic trends towards taller and taller humans and those record holders might seem downright inhuman.  But you’d be wrong to think so.  Even if Mr. Kösen is literally twice the height of my Great Aunt Dee, he’s still a human being.  He puts on his (gigantic) trousers one leg at time, like the rest of us.

Those very, very tall folks?  They aren’t monsters.  Not even close.

Monster, monster, monster

These are Monsters.  Formed in the prehistoric nightmares of our caveman ancestors, these titans tower over the diminutive, hairless apes.  Those same nervous hunter-gatherers created the myths and tales that served as the foundation for creation stories.  Giants walked the land.  In the wake of their passing was death, chaos and destruction.  Storms raged, the ocean surged and the very Earth rumbled, shook and cracked open.  Volcanos erupted and giants flung molten rock and burning ash.  Their footprints became lakes.  Where they dragged their spears in the dirt, rivers followed course.  When they grew weary, they laid down to rest; spines crooked over the horizon, slathered with dirt, rocks and scrawny trees.  Inhuman?  Oh my, yes.  Legendary.

I want those giants.  Where have they gone?  Banished, to Tartarus, by the upstart new gods?  Are they not needed anymore?  Once, the incarnation of a dangerous and uncertain world, they gave way to – less monstrous – more human deities.  Some kind of reverse entropy occurred, where the random forces of the universe settled down, were replaced by more ordered and logical avatars.  And in some of our cultures, that trend has continued.  There are fewer and fewer gods, in a more ordered and static mythology.  Is that the way of things now?

But the giants are still there.  Aren’t they?  I think they’re buried deep in our little monkey minds – a genetic bias against being crushed by some malevolent colossus.  We created them – back in the dark days – and we’re still at it.  We’ve made statues, carved them in the sides of hills and weaved them into our religions.  When we were babies we looked up out of our cribs and saw them carrying on.  When our ancestors huddled against the cold and dark tried to piece together the world around them, they must have been just over the treetops.  Now, when you look at the stars hanging about you in the night sky – when you feel so insignificant that you question your place in the universe – you know just how small you really are.

They aren’t my favorite monsters, these giants.  In some ways, they scare me more than any of the others.  But I still want some good, old fashioned, awe inspiring giants.  I want my teeth to chatter in mind-numbing fear of the inhuman enormity of the colossal menace.  Because the hum-drum, run of the mill vampire thrill isn’t doing the trick.  If I want a monster, I want to rock my senses and shatter my world view.  Bring it on.  I say, make it BIG, or don’t bother.  Honestly, I’d settle for more Trollhunter.  Especially if that meant a little less Village of the Giants.


This movie scared the piss out of me – this is what I’m talkin’ about.

.


Sadly, no one was squashed.

Patrick Jennings-Mapp is a co-founder of and an editor for Escape Collective Publishing.  Although he is more proficient with the Metric System than many of his countrymen, he doesn’t measure his height in meters anymore.  It only serves to make him feel smaller.  If you want to tell him how silly that is, drop him a line at patrick AT escapecollective DOT com.

Turning a Story into Fiction

The insightful and talented Teresa Nielsen Hayden, of Making Light, has a powerful and short little post up right now.  It’s four little tools to help build a truly rollicking story.  Or, as she says, “for turning story into fiction.”  I especially like numbers 1 and 4:

1. Move and keep moving. Tell the story you want to tell without shilly-shallying around. Move your characters out onto the board, get them into interesting situations, and have them do big, consequential things as early as you can. Then, continue making situations interesting, and keep the big, consequential actions coming.

4. See if you already have one. Whenever you need something new — prop, plot thread, setting, minor character — go back through the parts of the story you’ve already written and see whether you can find it there. It’s surprising how often the exact thing you need is already sitting there in plain sight.

It’s worth the time to read and absorb the whole post.  She doesn’t purport to solve all your story-building problems, just offers more tools for us to work with.  And it’s an interesting filter for looking at my own writing.

Too often, my toolkit for writing (especially long fiction) looks like a hodge-podge of generic ‘tricks’.  Much of my creative energy is spent simply getting the words out of my head and onto the page.  Any useful tools for shaping the work and/or keeping my head straight while I’m doing it are more than welcome.

I can’t recommend her work enough.  You should go devour the entire site when you have a chance.

(via)

They say that if you listen carefully, on the night of the full moon – in the wee hours before dawn – you can hear Patrick Jennings-Mapp cursing at his laptop.  He is still waiting for his inbox to fill up with submissions for the winter anthology.  Hint hint.

Resistance & Muses

I just started reading War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, and I’m already smitten with it.  With a subtitle like “Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles”, it seems like a no-nonsense manual for dealing with that most dangerous of foes:  ‘Writer’s block’.  It is one of the most talked about issues surrounding my beloved occupation.  In an ironic twist, it’s also one of the most written about.  Now that I think about it, it’s kind of galling too.  I mean, think about it.  You’re sitting there, twisting in the wind, your mind like this:

 

Not only does some joker not have the same problem, but they get their book published.  All on the back of your effort and anguish.  It’s almost as if they are profiting from your misfortune.  And ya know what?  There’s no…  Wait a second.  …  Okay, I’ve taken my ‘chill pill’ and had a cup of coffee.  I’m all better.

“Resistance”, is what Pressfield calls it and I like that.  Not only does giving it a name take away some of the power and fear, it also externalizes the issue.  ‘Writer’s block’ is something that is wrong with you, the writer.  ‘Resistance’ is something else, grinding on your productivity, keeping you from succeeding.  Damn, I like that idea.  Oh, here’s another cute ‘writer’s block’ thing I found, while I was supposed to be working: 

 

For a good portion of my adult, writing life I’ve been lucky to not be afflicted with serious blockage – in the traditional sense.  Sure, I’ve had my moments, when I knew what to write but couldn’t figure out how.  I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by good writers, with lots of insights on productivity.  I love the idea of ‘resistance’ and I’m going to plow through this book in no time.  But, I do have this other, related, problem.  It’s almost the opposite, in fact.  I’ve got Muses.

(Sounds like a medical condition, when I put it like that, doesn’t it?  “Sorry, sir, but the tests came back positive. It’s congenital Muses, all through your juicy head-meat. And it’s inoperable.”)

My Muses look like this, but with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, leather jackets and a reckless air about them. And booze.

I’ve got three and they’re all heavy drinkers, with flaming tempers.  I spend a lot of time not doing to writing I should be doing and the Muses get pissed.  There’s never much warning before they lash out and drag me into a creative space.  It’s happened in meetings, during hospital visits, funerals, weddings – you name it.  Whatever I was focused on is out the window and I get caught up in the turn of a phrase, or snippet of dialogue.  Sometimes, I’ll find myself doodling and the doodling becomes the blueprint for a series of robot-themed romance novels, or the structure of a hypothetical short film that just has to be drafted right now.  Usually, by the time I’ve exorcised one notion, six others have popped up.  It’s the desperate attempt to keep my soul in the creative sphere, I’m sure, but the net effect is to torture me.

They’re driving the speedboat and I’m floating in the water.  There are skis on my feet and I’m holding a rope.  In the best case scenario, I get a few seconds of warning before the boat takes off at outrageous speeds.  The Muses, they laugh and chuck empty whiskey bottles over the side.  Do they even know I’m behind the boat, desperately trying to stay on my feet?  Do they even know they’re driving a boat?!  And do they even care?  Well, of course they do.  The Muses only torture me when I’m not working, silly.  If I sit on my ass too long, they fire up the speedboat and we end up doing laps around the Pacific.  And they will only stop if I’m drowning or if I get back to work.

Can I complain?  After all, at least the Muses keep me well-stocked on ideas.  Right?  Well, I get both ways, coming and going.  And I damned well will hold on to my right to whine and complain.  You know what happens after the Terrible Urge to Create has seized me?  Right after the flood waters of (hostile) inspiration recede, I’m left with a half-dozen sketches of work – each one demanding attention, each one begging me to save it from erasure and dismemory.  It’s a kind of writer’s block, an overwhelming sense that I have too much on my plate, that I cannot salvage a damn thing.

Look, maybe this makes some sense to others, or (more likely) these are the ramblings of an overworked, undercaffinated fool.  But the point I’m meandering towards here is simple.  The forces of creation are not to be trifled with.  ‘Resistance’ wouldn’t be an issue if you weren’t compelled to do this work.  The only reason I do write is because I can’t not do it.  Heed my advice and listen to your Muse(s).  Don’t let them marinate in your laziness.  Do your work.  Sharpen your tools, pay attention to your craft and let the more angelic nature of your Muse(s) guide you.

When he’s not taking involuntary water-skiing lessons from his sadistic Muses, Patrick Jennings-Mapp likes to write scripts for puppet shows.  He doesn’t have any puppets, so he puts socks on his hands.  But sometimes, he just talks to his hands.  If you send your puppet show script to him at patrick AT escapecollective DOT com, he will give you a free puppet show script critique.

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