Tuesday, 30 August 2016

I believe

Under a clear sky, on a summer night, lying on flattened wheat with you by my side I can tell you how I believe while we watch the stars whirl by in their cosmic dance.

On a snowy day, as we sit before a fire, I can wrap my hands around a warm mug and tell you why I believe as we feel the insubstantial flames flicker.

In the midst of humanity, I can whisper to you and heart to heart you will know all that I believe.

You will know of our insignificance, although the stars of the universe are the same as the electrons of our selves.

You will know of our reality, and how we leave our mark, however fleeting our time and however small our light.

You will know of our isolation and that, despite every effort, every wish, every dream of being a part of something bigger, we can never be more than one. Just one. Alone.

We are insignificant, small and alone and that is why we hold ourselves accountable.

I, by myself, take responsibility for fixing the mistakes that have been made.

One day, we can be more than this.


Sunday, 28 August 2016

Responding to criticism

There was a #storycrafter question from @writerology about negative feedback and how you/we/I handle it when it gets you/us/me down.

The simple answer from me was: it doesn't.

Herein lies the long answer.

*Of course* negative feedback about my writing doesn't get me down, how could it?

Let's look at some areas of criticism and see how they work.

1) spelling and grammar - the only possible response is "thanks for these corrections!" People get paid just to do this very thing. Someone notices I frequently make a mistake and take the time to point it out to me? That's brilliant! Over the years I've had the difference between practice and practise explained, syntax for sentences ending .) or )., and various other bits.

2) plot holes, confusing segues - the whole universe is in my head. I know every detail of every player, every place, every tool. If I don't know it, it doesn't exist. This can be very hard to get down on paper and, when you're writing a novel, you may leave entire scenes undescribed because your brain is filling in the blanks. Think of that experiment where you find your blind spot by drawing a blob on paper and moving it in and out of focus until the blob disappears, or those sentences with every word jumbled that you can still read because your brain corrects what it sees to what it thinks it should see. The only way I'll know this has happened is if someone else tells me. So thank you.

3) flow - particular fault of mine. Pacing correctly is *hard*. Again, I know everything: I know what's coming, what's happened off page, how people are developing. I don't always correctly choose what shouldn't be there, but other people can tell me what's disrupting the story for them. I can't tell myself. It has to be external.

4) character development - I know how people should feel about the characters and what they're going through. If they don't, that's entirely my fault and I've written it wrong. Not necessarily badly, just incorrectly for the message I want to convey. People are all going to react differently anyway, so this is a very fuzzy target to aim for and if someone cares enough about a character to get emotionally involved in the feedback they're giving, that's my job more than 50% done! All I need to do is *change* an emotional response, not create one.

5) poor language choices. Admit it, we all take shortcuts at times, to speed through a scene and get onto the one we *really* want to write. We all have speech patterns that make their way into our writing. If that's what's been caught then I'm nothing but grateful. If I think it's OK writing and someone criticises it, then I have to assume it's lazy writing and consider how else it could be done. If I think it's good and someone else thinks it's terrible then I need specific guidance and this is where I'll ask for detail. But none of those are reasons to be hurt or down. I haven't failed, I've either knowingly or unknowingly taken a short cut and criticism is the price you pay for that.

6) resolution - a satisfying ending is so important to me. It's a huge challenge to put together a story where nothing is wasted or extraneous, and nothing is left incomplete. Even in a series I feel like each book should have an end, with the promise of stories untold, not stories unfinished. This is very, very difficult and as with points 2&3 it's very hard to achieve this when you're also trying to filter through an entire universe. You might slip up, someone tells you, you're golden.

All of these things should be caught in editing and pre-publication. If it makes it to print, it's not all on me. If I ever get readers and they come to me to say any of the above then, well, I have to be a bit irritated, but at the end of the day I still *can't be down* about it because every single reading experience is about the reader. Every single one. And if the reader has a legitimate criticism/ complaint that is not peculiar to them, then my writing is at fault. If that reader didn't get the right stuff from the story but 90% or more of the readers did, then my job has been done well.

Final caveat, if someone says some variant of "I don't like this." then that is also OK. You cannot write something that creates emotion, challenges perception or build conflict and have everyone like it. If people don't like it, but do not criticise the writing or content then I have done my job perfectly.

Of course people will criticise the writing though, so I recommend allocating yourself a margin of allowable error that you feel is OK to slip up on. :-)


Words failing

I'm not good at talking. Words, my best friends, my stock in trade, don't spill from my lips as easily as through my fingers. I can't look you in the eye and say anything clearly, because I'm so afraid of being misunderstood.

But there's something I want to tell you, something I want you to know. It's the shadow of a dream I had, an unbidden wish that decorates my night like the stars. It is similarly unattainable, remote and ultimately powerful.

I want to say the words because there ought to be no lie, no deceit, no fear. There ought to be honesty and how can we be honest if every word is curated? How can it be real if I write, rewrite and edit each sentence to be elegant before all else?

The words must be spoken to allow me to fuck it up; to look you in the eye and see that you understand this is truth, however badly expressed.

If it were written, you would be moved to know of the dreams I have in which we meet, spend time together, love one another with no agenda. You would be entertained to hear how I wistfully hope for another such dream with you. You would doubt me if I described just how I find you attractive, and yet want it to be true.

But if I spoke to you... if I spoke you would hear only that I want more dreams of you, as though it were your job to provide them, and I would clumsily say you aren't an objet d'art, leaving you to think I don't like to look.

And while I feel, I must think of your feelings too and acknowledge these are words you may not want, in any form. I used to be sure that you would reject my clumsy confessions utterly. Wishful thinking has changed my expectations into a maybe, but...

Maybe is not enough to build a dream catcher.
Maybe is not the way to learn to speak.
Maybe is not how we harness the stars.

Maybe is how I can wait until tomorrow.

Maybe then.
Maybe not.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Silence in the presence of promise

In my mind I see words as they are born, grow and develop. They breed through use and pass from one mouth to another like a disease. Successful words overpopulate, absorb new meaning and, like, become a blight. Old words gather dust and rot; occasionally brought out and presented with elitist smugness to confused onlookers who cannot take it away with them, further sealing their fate.

Words join, mingle and merge. They have offspring and mates. They are attached to music, cadence and rhythm for meaning and pleasure. They have the double entendre, puns and jokes. They are synonyms, antonyms and rhymes.

They sit on the tip of my tongue, in the back of my mind and feature prominently in whirlwinds around my conscious when I want to sleep.

And yet, and yet.

I can sit here and stare at a blank whiteness for hours on end because to use any one of these vibrant individuals for my own ends seems impossible.