I have a love / hate relationship with red ink. That seems really cliche, but the fact is that the red pen sits on the table in front me, and I imagine it is taunting me. See, the red pen is both critic and muse; a force for destruction and creation.
The pen sits on a stack of papers, themselves covered in red ink. Scribbles, symbols, lines, and words speak of the surgery I have performed on it. We don’t like tearing apart that which we
destroy create. When I was younger, I built castles made of legos, and I dreaded the time I had to take them down. But that force of destruction is also a way to build.
First drafts suck; there’s no way around that. Typically they are nothing more than idea vomit on paper, at least for me. Sometimes my stories go through several revisions (I label these by letter, and the furthest along I’ve ever gotten in the alphabet so far is “H”). I have binders full of drafts–or rather–the dry bones of drafts that are covered in crimson.
I keep them because they’re instructive. I can learn from them, and I can see how my writing evolves over time. And I come to see that the red ink isn’t my enemy, it’s my tutor. Learning isn’t always a fun process. Often we are asked to unlearn things we thought were true, and more often demanded that we venture outside of our comfort zones.
Creativity is fragile, and it must be nurtured. But it is also prone to stagnation, so it must be challenged, not just by others but by ourselves. Maybe the things we create have no value to anyone but ourselves, but the act of creation itself demands change and growth.
An artist refines her techniques, life evolves from generation to generation, and humans learn from their mistakes. Creation and change are on the same coin, and maybe even the same side of that coin.
I never really appreciated how sitting in a cafe can be conducive to the creative process before now. Before I saw them as loud, distracting things to avoid. But as I sit here, sipping Earl Grey and writing a book review, it strikes me how human it is. It seems to me that creative endeavors are human endeavors, and human endeavors are typically loud and annoying.
You could drown it all out by putting on headphones, but you miss isolated threads of conversation: “I was thinking…” and “That’s not how you…” What are they talking about, I wonder? The jazz music in the speakers overhead, the atonal beeps of the cash register, the whir of the cappuccino machine–the environment sings with activity, and the melody is alive and pulsing.
People talking, reading, studying–all with their own stories. So just look up and take it in from time to time.
I almost decided not to participate in the National Novel Writing Month this year. I missed over a week of writing time due to the elections (I was very busy for the first few weeks of November taking care of campaign-related issues). At the last minute, I decided that I would give it a try.
I chose to write a fantasy story that I came up with by accident. I can’t remember the exact details, but I was playing some kind of game with a group of my friends, and due to my sloppy handwriting, they read the title of a fantasy novel I might write wrongly. Thus, Ser Darkthor’s Court was born; a novel about a Knight Errant who travels the realm and solves crimes. It was envisioned as sort of a Sword and Sorcery version of Sherlock Holmes.
Here’s the synopsis that I put up on NaNoWriMo when I started to write it:
Jesper is a class of Knight Errant called a Red Moon. They are tasked with policing the realm of Ser Darkthor, First of His Name, Honorable and Wise Leader of (Insert Name of Place Here). Jesper’s travels take him to a small village which appears peaceful on the surface, but hides a dark secret that could change the balance of power or something like that. Jesper begins an investigation in a Sherlock Holmes-meets-medieval fantasy novel, and uncovers a conspiracy that does something. I’ll flesh it out. It’ll be great. I promise.
The story, obviously, is much more developed now. Th good news is that I plugged away for the three weeks that I participated and I managed to win! Yay! It’s the third time in a row that I’ve won, and it always feels like I’ve climbed a mountain or explored a new planet.
I’m going to finish this story, clean it up, and probably serialize it on my fiction blog, Fictional Heuristics. Look out for that when it happens, because I happen to think it is an interesting story. It’s not the best fantasy, and I might have borrowed a teensy too much from Scott Lynch and George R.R. Martin, but I had a lot of fun writing it and I definitely think it is worth sharing.
I’ve actually thought about starting a patreon or something similar to that in case people wanted to chip in a few bucks if they like my fiction. I don’t have a lot of time to write, but if I can make some money doing it I’d carve out a niche for it. I think that’s something to think about for the future, if I can ever manage to get around to doing half the things that I say that I want to do.
Anyway, I hope that my fellow writers found success with NaNoWriMo last year, and I hope they continue to find success in the coming years.
So what’s all this business about “Fictional Heuristics” and why should I care?
Well, gentle reader, I’ve decided to start a new blog that is separate from this one to post my fictional work. I thought about just posting it all here, but after consulting a few people I decided it would be wiser to create a different blog. I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing a semi-regular fictional series just for the internet and I already have a rough plan about what that would be. I think with a new blog that would be easier to realize.
Of course, this just adds another layer of work on top of all of the other projects I’m doing. A little crazy and reckless, yes, but in the end I just want to dedicate as much time as I can to this work because I love doing it.
I hope that you take the time to check it out because the primary motivation behind this enterprise is to improve my writing ability. And, of course, the only way to do that is to stick your neck out and hope that you can find people willing to critique your writing and give constructive criticisms.
I’d really like to become part of a larger writing community as well, because I like to help people improve their writing and I’m a fairly decent editor (having a degree in English and all). So lets see how this whacky experiment works out on Fictional Heuristics and whether or not I’ll actually manage to make my posts here more regular.
I snagged a questionnaire about writing from Jodie Llewellyn and thought I’d fill it out myself. It was actually really fun, and I got to take pictures and share them here. Well, here it goes!
1. Typed or Handwritten?
I have piles of notebooks and binders filled with handwritten manuscripts and story ideas. In fact, I used to do a lot of my writing during class in high school and even when I was in college, and I never carried my laptop around with me to class. I never broke the habit of writing in notebooks and I still do it.
I also have a Remington Rand Noiseless Model 7 typewriter that I’ve traced back to the 1930s, but that was just an amateur investigation. I love this typewriter; it makes me want to type noir hard-boiled detective fiction with it as I sip on brandy and slowly work my way through a cigar. I have a number of short stories I’m working on that were typed from that typewriter.
Once I’ve gone over those typewritten drafts with a red pen, I usually type them up on my laptop. I’ve got a hard drive full of stories that I’m constantly backing up so I don’t lose any of the stories. Sometimes, if I feel a story is finished, I’ll print it off and put it in a special binder I keep for finished stories.
2. Cursive or Printed?
It’s really a mix of the two. When I write by hand, I’m usually writing in frenzied chicken scratches that looks like a mix between cursive and printed. I’ve been told it is impossible to read, and I’ve even lost points on handwritten essay questions on exams in classic civilization and English classes, but I can always make it out.
3. Show us your favourite pen.
I don’t really have a “favourite” pen so much as I do a collection of writing and drawing utensils that I use when needed. I usually just pick up standard Bic ballpoint pens when I buy them, so nothing too special. Here’s a few of the utensils I use most often.
4. Where do you like to write?
Anywhere, really, as long as there’s a steady surface. Most of the time I write in an office with a great desk. It has a great view of the back yard that’s really nice to look out on a warm, rainy summer day (especially with a nice breeze). The desk has a desktop computer that I can use to listen to science podcasts (like the Star Talk Radio Show with Neil deGrasse Tyson) or other things while I’m working. The room also has a really comfy couch for when I feel like I need to lie down and decompress, or read to take my mind off the stresses of writing.
5. Who are your five favorite authors in terms of authorial style?
Hm. This is a tough question, honestly. The first, and obvious, one would be Douglas Adams. I absolutely love “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” series. After that I’d say Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Scott Lynch, and this last one will be a bit out of place compared to the others, Alexandre Dumas.
6. What are you your three favourite books on writing?
This is an excellent question. I still hold fast to “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk and E.B. White, even though I have a few problems with it. There’s another I have buried in a pile of books I can’t find right now that is really, really great for writing fiction. It gives pointers on how to plot, and the best strategies for starting a story. I also like a book called “Western Wind” because it systematically explains different kinds of poetry with several great examples. I’d also like to mention a book called “Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye” because it’s an invaluable resource for CNF writing.
7. Have you ever competed in NaNoWriMo?
Twice, actually. The first was in 2012, and the last time was last year. I’m still working on both of the novels (life got in the way) but I’m very hopeful one will be finished in the next couple of months.
8. Have you ever won NaNoWriMo?
Both times I competed I won. You can find a link to my profile in my links. It was really hard work, and it’s really hard to catch up when you fall behind. November is a busy month for me because I have three birthdays on the same day, as well as my own six days later.
9. Have you ever had anything published?
Not yet. But I don’t usually write with the goal of being published. Perhaps I’ll try to see if enough people like my novel and go from there.
10. What projects are you working on now?
I have a lot of different projects, one which I’ll talk about in another post. The novel I’m working on is “The Rebel Thief,” plus I have a number of short stories and essays that I’m trying to write. I like to keep busy.
11. What is your soundtrack to writing?
Man, this question. I have a lot of different music that I love to listen to. A lot of it is classical music. Beethoven is a favorite. But I also like to listen to songs like “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel, “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, “All Along the Watchtower” by Jimi Hendrix, and “Kara Remembers” from the Battlestar Galactica Season 4 OST.
12. Do you have a writing pump-up song?
Yes. But don’t laugh.
It’s the original vinyl soundtrack. Amazing sound.
Well, now that the questionnaire is wrapped up, I’ll get to the other things. I had an extended absence from posting on this blog for various reasons, but I do have a lot of ideas about things to write. I’ve been collecting posts from my Facebook feed that I put into a file called “Amusing Internet Bullshit” that I might write a bit about. Some of the things people believe without checking the facts are pretty amazing. Zero-point energy, myths about HIV, all kinds of things.
Anastasia Klimchynskaya has started a great new blog called “Monitoring the Media” where she writes about the media and how it plays into her passion for literature and science fiction. She has a lot of great ideas that she’ll be developing and posting as time goes on, apart from the things she’s already posted. The writing has a bias to Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek, but that’s not really a bad thing. Anastasia has a lot of interesting things to say about both fictional works.