By now I assume that at least some of you will have read the short story that I’ve been posting here over the last month. That may be an egotistical statement, but this is likely to be an egotistical post. At the end of chapter four, I asked if anyone had any questions left unanswered by the story. I received many, the majority of which were about my actual writing process as opposed to the story itself. As a result, I’ll be mainly discussing my way of writing, likely referring back to the story as an example. So, process junkies, strap in.
Make art, not excuses
I have two post-it notes by my workspace at all times. The first says “make art, not excuses” and the second says “procrastination is the cancer of the creative process”. They are gentle reminders to sit down and create every day. For me, that usually means writing. Even when I’m not writing, I’m doing my best to be creative. For example, earlier I spent an hour or so just arranging a collage of postcards and other small pictures on a blank piece of wall. I took time to make sure that each picture fit with the ones around it, physically and in terms of content. It was a nice warm up exercise for the creative part of my brain. After I’ve written this blog post, I’ll write a bit more of my current project (which I’ll not be discussing yet, sorry). I enjoy being creative, and I do it as much as I can.
Where do you get all your ideas from?
This is by far the most popular question I received, and it’s one I hear often, sometimes on a daily basis. The best answer I have is one that I read somewhere (I wish I could attribute it), and it’s how do you not get ideas? People work off the assumption that it’s like a tap that I can turn on or off. It’s not. To stick with the water metaphor for a moment, it’s more like a river. Some days it’s dried up and barely a stream, and I’ll get maybe one or two ideas. On a good day it flows like a piss after the tenth beer, ideas coming constantly, one after the other. On average, I’d say I get maybe three or four ideas a day, and the majority of them get written down in case of future use.
As for All of Death’s Children, it’s actually a combination of several different ideas. This isn’t uncommon, as I find it’s rare that one idea is good enough to sustain a whole story. The character of the Collector comes from a recurring nightmare I used to get where I’d be trapped in a gas mask with a light swinging in front of my eyes. The character obviously wears the gas mask and holds the lantern on the chain. The bell came from the fact that they used to ring a hand bell to signify the end of ‘play time’ in primary school. I’ve associated that sound with negative feelings ever since.
The second idea that went into it came from 1979 gang movie The Warriors. If you haven’t seen it, do so. The initial idea was about a group of orphans hiding out in the New York subway when the city was overrun by gangs like in The Warriors. A little of this remained intact. Mainly the subway setting and the gang of Bandits that terrorise the children in chapters two and three.
Little Man is a wholly intact idea from a story I started a couple years back called Radio Badlands. It was a post-apocalyptic tale of a radio DJ who would search the wasteland for records to play to encourage the resistance in their fight against blah blah blah. It was crap. There was one character who stuck with me though. A sociopathic, cannibalistic child who was prone to curse laden soliloquies. Even in the original idea he was referred to as Little Man, because I felt that the endearing name provided a creepy contrast with his disturbing personality. He seemed to fit well here so I lifted him wholesale.
All these factors came together, and I started working on the draft of a novel called The Underground Children pretty soon after. It fell apart in the planning stages though. There simply wasn’t enough story there to fill a novel. As it is, all the ideas now exist in some form or another within the short story, and it is my fervent hope that it fires on all cylinders throughout.
I want to be a writer. How do I go about it?
Honestly, I’m probably not the person to ask, but I can say that I’ve been practicing for a long time. I’ve got stories written when I was five or six. Simple, three sentence affairs, mostly concerning what I did on holiday and such. That spark was there in me from an early age and it’s something that has stuck with me since. I just have this itch to create, all the time.
The best advice I can give is to read. Read lots. It doesn’t matter what you read. People will tell you that you ‘need’ to read classics like Jane Austen and William Shakespeare, but that’s bullshit. If you’re interested in reading those, do so. If you’re not, don’t. Read what interests you. I read mostly science fiction, fantasy, and horror. My personal library is enough to give literary critics an aneurysm, but I’m not ashamed of that, because I love to read, and I read what I love.
Urgh, I hate reading
So, why do you want to be a writer? I would suggest that you have to read in order to write, otherwise how do you know what sort of stories you love? It’s something that takes time. You can’t expect to sit at your computer for an afternoon, and then suddenly have a bestselling novel ready to go. It’s a long, arduous process. There are days when the words just won’t come, where it feels like I’m slamming my head against a brick wall just trying to squeeze out a sentence. If you hate reading, I honestly have to question whether writing is really what you want to do.
I think that’s covered most things. I did receive more questions, but my answers to the few I posted were rambling enough to cover them. I’m reticent to let this thing run on too long, because I feel like it’s enough of an ego stretching exercise as is. So, as always, thank you for reading. Next week I’ll be posting up reviews of a couple of books I’ve read recently that I think people should take a look at.