20 January, 2013

Life Versus Lemons: Yum!

"I can't accept not trying," wrote Michael Jordan in the greatest book on inspiration of all time.  It's also the book's title.  You should look it up.  It's only 32 pages long.

"Success occurs when your dreams become bigger than your excuses," said Ebenezer Ghansa, Chief Instructor of the Gurkha Infantry and Senior Instructor of the world's most active and elite special forces squad, the 27th Anti-terrorist Division of South Korea.

Ebe taught me martial arts, and instilled in me the attitudes that have, I believe, helped me learn to write as much as anything. How could martial arts possibly be applicable to writing? Ever seen/read Fight Club?

This message is, hopefully, charmingly simple instead of just making me look like a smeg-head. :-)

I hope that smiley face helps.  Here's another.

o<:->   (That's an attempt at Santa with a goatie.) 

Anyway, what Ebe taught me was how to get beaten up and not care.  That's vital in martial arts.  It's not like the movies.  The fact is, no matter how good you are you'll get smacked around, and you need to get used to taking a hit.  And to get better, you need to get used to losing.  Thanks to Ebe, I've been beaten up more times than I can count.  Probably something in the four or five hundreds.  The best part was, the people who kept beating me up never got much better at it.  I wasn't testing their ability, but they tested mine, and as such I got better.  Eventually I started to win.  Amateurs learn faster than anybody.

Imagine it.  One of the most qualified martial arts teachers in the world, and all his top students have had their butts kicked more than a kid with a nazi tattoo on his face at a high school in Israel.

The point? Life is a lazy smeg. He'll knock you down, beat you up, hand you lemons et cetera, but he never gets stronger. You will. (Remember 'Arete' from the post, "To Will and to Be".) Bruises heal. Scars look cool. If you like lemons, there are countless recipes available, and you can even invent your own.

If you don't like lemons, punch life in the face. You'll probably lose the first fight, but every time you stand up you'll be a little stronger, and life will stay the same lazy smeg he always was, just standing there like a brick wall ready to be smashed down. This applies to any dream. No one is going to hand you success.

"Once you can snatch the pebble from my hand, you will be ready to leave," said the Sensei in Karate Kid.   Ebe's attitude was more, "How about I hand some pebbles to all my top students, including these Special Forces guys.  They'll beat you up with the pebbles for awhile, but once you can rip one from the odd hand you probably won't want the smegging thing anymore, because you'll have something better:  strength."

Now, I wish to make it clear that I in no way condone hurting people.



Always remember, if you're feeling lost in the vast mire of aspirants, so long as you're one of the rare few who will keep trying until you succeed or die poor and happy knowing you at least gave it everything, you'll be in very small company, and the market isn't closed to you. (See my "Marketability Means Marketing" posts.)

Never accept not trying. Not trying is for wusses. Artists may look like geeks much of the time, but every self-made person has to know how to kick some spiritual ***.

13 January, 2013

The Mystery of Plotting and Vice Versa

Here's another great post from guest author Jayne-Marie Barker, mystery writer extraordinaire.  It's always a pleasure to have a good, proven writer here on the blog.  I know you guys enjoy her posts as much as I do.  Check out her website to get your grubby hands on some good clean books, too!  (That's an expression where I come from.  No offense intended :P)

Earlier this week a friend of mine admitted to a secret desire to write a novel, and sought my advice on plotting. My friend had written the story into a corner, the direct result of poor planning. It's an easy mistake to make, one I've made myself in the past. The fingers are keen to put the words on the page - or screen I should say - but first the foundation work must be carried out. I explained to my friend that it was like building a house. You can't start building the part that everybody sees until you've laid the foundations...

Plotting a novel has been a mystery to many but the lucky few for as long as I can remember, and will probably remain that way for years to come. Let me let you into a little secret... there isn't a magic spell, the writers on the shelves of your favourite book shop or library do not have special powers. There isn't an invisible night school where you slip away into the ether and wizards in long robes reveal the deep dark secrets of how to plot a novel... in truth there is no right way to construct a novel, you have to find a path that suits your own writing methods.

From a personal viewpoint I plan my novels quite thoroughly. I break down the story and compile a list of events. Once I have this for the main plot I repeat the exercise for the sub-plot(s) and then weave all lines into one neat line. Now for the fun part... What I have actually constructed is the story in strict date order, but that isn't necessarily the order I want to reveal the story to the reader. If you prefer you could write the events on post-it notes or cards and move them around on a tabletop... it's the same thing really.

But now... to the mystery of plotting a mystery novel. The art of plotting is the same for all books irrespective of their genre, but in a mystery there is need to tell the story in a certain way. All good mysteries reveal the information like a drip, slowly and steadily. As the reader it's my humble opinion that you want the information but it's more interesting if not everything is taken at face value, or rather you do take it at face value and then realise (hopefully close to the climax) that there was a subtle clue behind the details given. One point is vital - the reader must have a fair chance at solving the mystery - just as your main sleuth does. It would be highly unfair to produce an identical twin or new character nobody had heard of right before the end, and for that character to turn out to be the killer. Fairs fair, you must play by the rules if you want to retain your reader.

So, the art of plotting a mystery novel then. Take the usual plotting guidelines but spend extra time on the order of revealtion. Think about the pace of the novel and apply the order that best fits the uncovering mystery and furthers the story whilst keeping the plotline moving and the reader on the edge of their seat!

The above is only my opinion based on experience and personal belief. If you're a writer hoping to pen your novel this year then I wish you the very best of luck finding a path that works for you. If you're a reader then sit back and enjoy!

Copyright: Jayne-Marie Barker, Author www.jaynemariebarker.com

06 January, 2013

Making People Cry with Words

My mentor, Scott Bradfield, used to make people cry in his seminars.  People come to creative writing with high hopes of being the next Graham Greene or Earnest Hemingway, writing the next Beloved, being a creative genius.

Genius is turning fantasies into reality--a matter of effort.  We all have fantasies about greatness, but nobody starts out great (except at being a cute little baby).   Scott's first job was to shatter our egos, to show us how bad our writing was so we could start learning how to improve.

A famous editor, whom I've cited before on this blog, Thomas H. Uzzell, thought that "genius" or even "talent" were simply poor words for passion.  You wouldn't expect Beethoven to write great symphonies without first learning how to play the piano.  Like, really really well.  This takes effort.

The motivational rants on this blog are all about unlocking that passion.  My regular readers will by now know what I preach:  in the end, it saps more energy to stifle ourselves than it does to work hard.

So we've established that genius comes with hard work.  So what the smeg is "hard work" for writers?  You've all sat at keyboards before.  That's the best training.  But here's a little guidance.  Be prepared to break your ego over and over.  Nobody's perfect.  Scott made me upset sometimes, but mostly I was glad. 

Sometimes I was confused as to why my work wouldn't sell to the big markets.  I liked my ideas for stories better than most I'd read.  Otherwise I'd write about different ideas.  I knew my execution wasn't great and I didn't know why.  I couldn't convince Neil Clarke or Steve Erickson to rant about my work (although I did have the privilege of Steve doing it once, thanks to Scott).  Sitting across a coffee table having a great craftsman pointing at my manuscript and telling me why it sucked was the best thing that ever happened in my artistic education.

You can't give answers in art, but you can guide students into asking the right questions.  The first job of a teacher is to open your mind.  People will tell you that they've already penned (these people always say "penned", for some reason) the greatest manuscript of our time, but publishers just won't take the risk on their genius.  Absolute piffle.  The words of a quitter.  Most students I met on the MA and MFA had written a novel, or at least a good chunk of one, before they met Scott.  The novels sucked.  Many were good ideas.  I'm still going to re-write mine, but when I look back on my first book, my characters were name-tags, my settings were purple, and my plot was convoluted.  I can change all that now because I can see it.  And I can see it because I know what I must demand from my work.  I'd never have learned that if I didn't get a sense of the right questions.

I'm not denying that there's some crap out there.  (cough!...cough!... 50 Shades of...hack!...cough!)  But you can't rely on hype to market you, or on luck to get you published.  The fact is, publishers love genius.  It's their job to discover it, because consumers like good books, and publishers like money.  If you write good work, the market is hungry for you.

I'll try to guide you through many important questions, of course, but each of you will need a unique education, so you must first just open your eyes to find it.

Nothing happens because you're not good enough.  That's missing the point.  Your Beethoven has yet to learn the piano well enough to compose a brilliant symphony.  The original Beethoven got there eventually.  That means humans can do it and, presumably, you are one.  Never give up and be glad for every fail.  You probably earned it, and you can earn success too if you keep fighting.

02 January, 2013

A New Year Collaboration

This is one day late, but only for the traditional reasons of New Year's debauchery and hang overs!

But New Year isn't just about partying, or throwing away old calendars.  For many it's a time for reflection and resolution.  For me, it's been a crazy five months.  My career started out of nowhere, my blog got reasonably popular--high pressure excitement all around.  My resolutions basically involve not buckling under the pressure.  I'll practise what I preach and make myself thrive on it instead.

In the spirit of togetherness, I'd like to invite all my readers to post their resolutions, progress, tribulations or anything else in the comments section.  I'll even answer any questions and address any woes wherever I can.

Speaking of resolutions, for those of you interested in science fiction or fantasy, the Clarion Writer's Workshop is now open to applications.

For everyone, I'd like to re-post something that may have seemed random and gone unnoticed last time.  Watch the following video.  It's incredibly inspiring to hear such a grand success and Neil Gaiman talking about his career and sharing his wisdom of how to maintain a healthy attitude.  It's his commencement speech for the University of the Arts 2012.  Well, life is the best University of the Arts, so let's start 2013 with an inspiring summary.

I look forward to reading and responding to your comments!  Let's make 2013 worthy of a rock ballad montage.