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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Coaxing the Muse

I once read (I forget where), that if you keep showing up at the writing desk, ideas will follow. The word no in my creative life, is quite often the wrong answer. Try, maybe and see it through, are much more satisfactory responses.
Take a minute to think about your friend, the one you don’t see much of these days. This is the person who no matter what you suggest, always finds a reason to throw cold water over ideas.  Eventually, you get really tired of negativity and stop suggesting anything. You gradually realise that being around them doesn't make you feel very happy, and you ease off the accelerator of your friendship, until it peters out completely.
So it is with the muse. Every day, ideas of all kinds are swarming into the brain. Good, bad, boring, fun, ideas precious ideas. You are constantly making choices about what to act upon and when to act upon it. I’ve had lots of brilliant ideas over time that have fallen to the wayside because I didn’t have the time, was too tired, not disciplined enough, ‘but it’s too much work!’ or whatever other excuse I could come up with not to write. Just like that friend, the muse got tired of not being heard. She may have thought, ‘What’s the point of churning out all these suggestions if they never materialize into anything?’
Gradually, the muse feels neglected, withdraws imperceptibly, and buries itself so deep that you eventually forget that you have it. This happened to me. If you are lucky enough not to forget, you sit at your desk, whenever the mood strikes you to write, and you struggle to conjure something up. At this point, it doesn’t take much to convince you to give up. This process feeds on itself and continues until you wise up.
Having thrown her away, you need to coax your muse back gently and listen attentively, when she tells you something. You need to gradually increase her confidence by reassuring her that whatever happens, you will give her some space in which she can speak and be heard.
Everyone likes to be heard. When you listen and make that connection with someone, including yourself, that person feels valued and appreciated, which makes them feel confident, positive and expansive. This encourages them to talk more. Something amazing then happens. You too begin to feel good as the listener, as you feed off the positive energy that you both create.
It is the same with the muse. It might not always happen, just like it does not always happen when you converse with another person. But there is a much higher chance of deepening that connection when you listen, than when you don’t.
It is important to have a creative space that you feel is sacred and you must protect it with all your might, because your muse will not come out unless she feels safe. She has to know that she will not be shot down or booed by you or anyone else. When you listen, she will happily keep producing ideas, like a loquacious friend who has a sympathetic ear.
Writing will then become easier and you will start to feel very good about yourself. This is not to say that you will not have to toil to make the work sparkle. Production is a delicate thing. It needs nurturing and discipline.
At Writebulb meetings, we try our best to create that space. It is a place for members to bring their writing dreams and trust that they will not be shot down and told what a (insert choice of degrading adjective here) idea that is. Instead, they are nurtured and encouraged to take those tentative steps towards their writing journeys. When they falter or fall, they find a firm but gentle hand that will help them up again, and spur them on.
Initially, it is hard to tap into that place, what Julia Cameron called ‘the Vein of Gold.’ It takes discipline, resilience, courage even, to show up at the page and trust that you can produce. It may even require a lot of waffling to begin with. But if you stick with it, the vein will be flowing so close to the surface, that all you will need do is turn the tap on for it to gush, a process that is very much aided by habit and regularity. That is, showing up at the same time every day so that your muse knows it is now safe to come out.
This for me is partly what artistic autonomy is about, the discipline to see your ideas through to their conclusion, no matter what.
‘Yes but...’  I hear you say.
Yes but stop making your excuses and become true to your creative self. Start today. Do it now.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Tips On Writing Historical Fiction

During the UK Meet for GLBT Fiction, three established authors ran a session on writing historical fiction.

Here's what I learned:

It's not the setting, the detail, or the research that makes your story historical but the way that the characters think. They should never think like modern people. If you want a modern viewpoint on history then stick your lead character in a time machine and send them on back. After all, it's modern people who would be horrified by the old way of doing things e.g. medical care, food consumed, socially accepted prejudice, etc.

Stop believing that people think the way you think. That's where research comes in. Read something written at that time (so you're stuffed if you're writing something set in a pre-literate society).

Conflict resolution in historical fiction may not ring true in a modern setting. Be careful to resolve it within the thought processes of the time.

You don't have to demonstrate your research by including every detail you've read about. It takes the reader from reading the book to watching the book.

Good betas are worth their weight in gold.

Address the history by the quality of the characters. If you took out the narrative description you should still be able to tell it's historical from the characters themselves.

The past can really surprise you - did you know that there were floodlit rugby pitches in 1880?

Thanks to Alex Beecroft, Erastes, and Charlie Cochrane for the tips!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wiki it

If you’re anything like me, the first place you land having googled something, is Wikipedia. I’m loath to admit this because I like to think of myself as a serious (coughs) researcher, but like everyone else, I too wiki.
Wikipedia is an open encyclopaedia into which anyone with an account can add information. The logic behind it was that because everyone on the planet with access to a computer can alter its contents, eventually the information presented would be correct.
Unfortunately, this is also the reason why the website cannot be relied on as a source. Anybody can write whatever they like on it, including your readers. I use it to get a quick overview of a particular subject, before moving on to sources that I can trust.
However, this is not about research, it is about marketing. I am here to make the case for the site. It is easy to overlook Wikipedia amidst all the hubbub of marketing your work on specialist and other websites. Getting your writing noticed is about visibility on the internet, particularly if you choose to go down the independent publishing route. Wikipedia is yet another way to add to that visibility.
Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, are very useful for interaction with your readers and require active participation on the author’s part. Wikipedia like a personal website, tends to remain static, particularly if the information is correct, and will give an added angle to you and your work.  
Still not convinced? I’ll give you examples of my favourite authors’ books who are on it: Penelope Fletcher, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett, One Day by David Nicholls, The God of Small things by Arundhati Roy, A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, All Men are Mortal by Simone de Beauvoir... I could happily go on but I think it is best that I leave you to wiki your favourite authors and see what comes up. There I rest my case.
Addendum to all pedants: I put it to you that google and wiki are also verbs