As I haven’t been feeling well this week, I’ve been aimlessly scrolling on the internet for a larger chunk of it than I normally would. I usually try to stop myself, because I don’t feel it’s productive…I mean, it’s not actual work, is it? It’s just consuming other people’s tantrums and dramas, seeing what someone ate for breakfast (why should I care?) and catching up on what the Kardashians are doing (although all I know about them is that Kim has a famous ass). Social media isn’t beneficial and definitely isn’t work, if you follow the cliches of society. I really should be doing something more productive and creative.
And then I actually thought about that line of reasoning.
My last two story ideas came from something I saw on Rejected Princesses, and a story on Twitter. I know I’m picking up bits and pieces of information as I scroll – archaeology, history, modern places, people’s reactions, photographs. Yes, there’s a lot that’s not immediately useful, and I think I do still need to limit the time I spend ‘doing nothing’.
But actually, this is research. This is stepping back, and letting the world come in – and it is the world! It’s the voices from outside my quiet streets, outside the slice of life I interact with every day. I need this to pop my bubble and remind me there are a multitude of ways of thinking, speaking, talking, living. Admittedly it’s often hard to read and there’s a lot of shit, but I’m lucky that I follow and know some enthusiastic, passionate and interesting people, and every day they teach me something new.
It’s not creation, but it is connection. It’s not doing the jigsaw but it’s collecting the tiles that will one day make one. It’s not talking to ‘real’ people – but it’s connecting to strangers on the far side of the world who become friends, and sharing passions across huge divides. It’s not getting out in the fresh air, but it is seeing pictures of places that I can never hope to visit – ancient, futuristic, or just on the far side of the world.
So I’m just scrolling through the pages, yes. But I’m also researching.
I was talking a few weeks ago with the wonderful Adrian about….something…and we somehow got onto a writer’s sword…
(I just had to look up the conversation. It was to do with whacking said wonderful person with something when he gets too big-headed about his imminent fame).
Anyway. It got both of us thinking, and I ended up coming up with this motto;
The Writer’s Sword: skill blended with ego, tempered by humility.
I’ve been thinking over the past few weeks about the balance that’s needed to be a writer. It’s a bit of an odd one – you do need all three elements listed above, and all in roughly equal measures.
Skill’s the one that is most easily learned, I think, and yet the hardest to gain. It’s no surprise that the writer’s advice is most often “write, write, write” – practise really does make perfect, or at least lets you make all the mistakes you can! And if you want to get published consistently, you have to have that skill, and use it consistently.
And this feeds into ego. You have to believe that you’re good! You also have to recognise that while other writers might be better than you, while you might not yet be perfect or a bestseller or whatever your personal vision of “A Writer” is, you’re in your own class of excellence. Only you can write how you do. Only you can see the world as you do, and translate that into words. Only you can tell the stories. You might not be as good as you want to be, but damnit, you’ve got some talent there!
But…that has to be tempered with humility. Critique can be soul-destroying, and it’s a harsh thing to have to accept that the work you thought was amazing might need polish. It’s frustrating as hell to have something come back with metaphorical red pen all over it, especially when you feel you poured yourself into it. Writing is personal and it is hard, and to put it out into the world, get it trodden on – either by your editor or your readers (or by the lack of them) can hurt. You need to be able to roll with those punches.
And then we’re back round to skill and ego. You have to have the skill to accept the critique and work what you learn back into your writing, to get better – and the ego to survive the criticism and put your work back out there!
It’s something I’ve been watching in myself over the past few years – from the original work I did on Shadows In The Light (with its…ooh, about five revisions, improving each time) and then GreenSky, over the course of ten books. I wouldn’t write Green Sky & Sparks in the same way now as I did ten years ago – but then my work now is very, very different! Even The Necromancer’s Charm is looking very different to No Man’s Land, and that’s only got two years between them.
The sword keeps getting stronger over time, the more you write, and my blade gets more and more honed for every word I write, every change I make.
What metaphors have you got for the balance that’s needed for writing?
Donato Giancola is an artist that I found as a teenager, and so many of his paintings inspired stories. For example…
Inspiration for the Palace in Belmont; curved, elegant, beautiful.
How about Mir, my archivist? She inspired a whole story, not that it’s gone further than a teenage draft. She might come back some day…
I think my favourite series is the ones done for Wizards of the Coast. I love the sheer mix and variety of the images, and the way a character is captured so vibrantly.
And those are only a tiny sample of the sheer variety! I just love the range and inspiration – it’s like having a whole bunch of writing prompts captured in one image. Check out the gallery for more art!
I’ve got a new short story, The Lady’s Vision, in the summer Janus edition of Pantheon magazine. It’s a story in the No Man’s Land world around the Lady who guards the gateway between this world and the Other, and who doesn’t experience time in quite the same way we do…
While the online edition isn’t yet available, you can pick it up on Amazon, or get it at CreateSpace – and Pantheon have given a 15% off discount code for CS, too! Just add CFAK5JBZ to your CreateSpace order.
If you do need ebooks, this is a reminder that I have a GreenSky crime/murder story in You Left Your Biscuit Behind, and a Ghost story – actually the story of how Luk first met Ghost! – in You Are Here. I can highly recommend the rest of the stories in all three anthologies (I can’t review them, but I do read them) so if you’re stuck for things to read, there’s some recommendations!