Writing Praxis – From Passion to Practice

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It’s my birthday, so I’ve given myself permission to write something self obsessed to try and dig myself out of a frustrating hole.

I think of myself as a writer. I spent two years tricking myself into actually being one through the creative practice/experiment/collaboration of awesome that was Unstruck. By working with other people and setting myself arbitrary deadlines, targets, and systems of expectation, I wrote over 250,000 words about everything under the sun.

It was quite fun.

For that period, I felt creatively engaged, challenged and entertained. The way that I was working with different people meant that even if I didn’t feel happy with my own work, I could see other people being interested, and look at these stunning illustrations that had indirectly had my input. It was quite incredible. Last September(ish) I decided that as it approached 500 posts (of 500 words a piece) I should stop, have a break, and do something new.

Guess what happened.

I’m still broken, it seems. In the intervening period I’ve probably written about four pieces. I did about 10,000 words of a novel for nanowrimo, but realised that I was killing a good idea for a story, and so stopped before it sucked all the joy out of it (that story is still pootling around the back of my head, so I think this may have been the right thing). I’ve written a few politically inspired pieces on here that I’m faintly happy with, and one gig review that was probably a bit too self indulgent.

I do think Unstruck is ‘finished’ and so I want to do something new, but I appear to have forgotten how. Let me explain a few of the ideas I’ve had to get me back on track, and see what you think. Please tell me if you’d like to see these actually happen, as that might help.

  • Unconsequence – A sequel to Unstruck, getting rid of the questions, but chaining all the pieces together. An illustration is written about, and then the writing is illustrated, and then that illustration is written about (hopefully differently), and then that writing is illustrated and so on for eternity (or until there’s a natural end). I think this could me much harder work for me and the illustrators, and has more potential than Unstruck to go horribly, horribly wrong, but…well, it’s appealing, as I know this sort of system could motivate me, and it could lead to more ‘fiction-like’ pieces than Unstruck allowed. I would need more illustrators to get on board though, and I think it would need more commitment than Unstruck.
  • Sharing Needles – I hate writing about music, but perhaps if I explored individual records in a deeply personal way (without being allowed to use the adjective ‘visceral’ unless talking about actual viscera, for example), I could challenge this. This all leapt out of realising that the moment I put the needle on certain disco records, I feel like I’ve made a decision to self medicate my bouts of depressiveness. And it works. Records as medication, hence the needles, writing about it, hence the sharing. One of the things I like here is that Emma could do illustrations, based on distortions and manipulations of the album covers I was discussing. She seemed ‘up for this’.
  • Thingsnowball – Another blog, this time based on ‘things’ and the cascades of thought that can build up around them. Basically, an excuse to write what I wanted, with the caveat that it had to be based on a particular thing encased at the top of the article, be it a quote, a picture, a sculpture, a piece of music, a sculpture or whatever. I would encourge people to send me things to write about, as the audience participation element of Unstruck really kept me on my toes.
  • The Land of Cows and Bees (working title) – Stepping away from blogs (unless I decide to write it as a fake blog), this is my failed nanowrimo, reimagined some. Basically, a not hugely successful journalist, writing about fortean hoaxes in a cynical way, gets invited to the heart of a secretive cult (on a Scientology scale) to interview the nameless and massively private leader. The leader proceeds to be a complete money grubbing dick, but also performs genuine, impossible miracles. Journo has to work out what this means for the universe. I’ve got a good climactic scene in my head for this, but I’ve still not nailed how to write proper fiction without strangling myself in overindulgence. I like this idea enough that I don’t want to do it too soon.
  • ‘The Vampire Jesus project’ (a nonfunctional placeholder)- This resurfaced today, after reading about Pope Innocent VIII drinking the blood of three young boys, to try and save himself from dying. His anti-science stance had led him to ban the translation of a document about blood circulation into latin, so he wasn’t aware this wasn’t how you did blood transfusions. He died, so did the boys. I’ve been intrigued for years about the vampiric symbolism of the catholic mass, and would quite like to write something about the intensely blasphemous notion that Jesus was the Ur-Vampire, and that the ‘true’ christianity is only practiced by vampires. The council of Nicea tried to eradicate this and turn catholicism into something a bit more humanic. Vampires are massively overdone, so I’m not sure about this one, but it does intrigue me just because I think it would make a good comic. Would need a pretty dedicated collaborator to make this work in the long run though. I’d also be shocked if nobody has already thought of this idea and ran with it.

You get the idea. Possibly. I do still have ideas, but I’m not executing them. Fear and paranoia and not wanting to leave a further string of failed projects littering the internet hold me back. The heartfelt conviction that I am a writer, can’t bear writing too much more dreadful prose. Unstruck practiced a certain type of writing, and I think made me a thousand times better, so part of me knows that all I need is to get writing, and keep writing until terrible becomes good.

But ideas. Ideas. They are slippery.

Sometimes I realise that I am just not creative. I don’t have a million ideas, and I’m terrified of running out. Unstruck didn’t exercise that muscle, because the people asking the questions had to do all the heavy lifting. Those two story ideas upstairs? One is the only really workable one I’ve had in the last year. The other is about five years old. I’m not churning these out daily.

So I have a few options. I can jump into another blog project (I am addicted to starting new blogs, but never writing them), with a big system and a programme of thought and all those things that help me focus. I can start writing ‘novels’ and try and get some of the big stories out. Or I can spend time properly formulating. Planning, Trying to force myself into being more creative by pushing my brain into new places. I’ve been reading semi-random sections from Scarlet Thomas’ creative writing book recently, and it’s really firing me up to spend some time actually exploring ‘devices’ for goading me into creativity. Judging from how much inspiration I’ve had from just thinking about it, this seems worthwhile.

But it’s all so easy to put aside.

I get excited by things (if you’ve met me or read me for a while, you probably know this). I’m a jack-of-all-interests, master of nothing. I find myself constantly diving from one interest to another. I want to make a boardgame, at the moment. And don’t know if I should let myself be distracted from writing by this. My bones don’t tell me who I am, they just tell me that I have this passion. These passions.

But how to I put passion into practice, when I’m such a flittering, ranting, rambling, moody, lost and vortexed mess.

The truth is, I just need to do it.

I know this, and I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year throwing my life into turmoil so that I have the mental-space and time-space in which to do it. Now I have to do it.

Perhaps it’ll be hubristic, but I’m thinking of this piece not as a blog, but a line in the sand. Not a barrier, but a line stretching out in front of me, clearly delineating that something must be done.

If I don’t start doing it now, and have come a long way when I look at this again in a years orbit. I will be filled with shame and self loathing. My brain is fragile enough that I can’t afford to do this.

So it’s write or die. Apparently.

Wish me luck. Feed me encouragement. Goad me, challenge me and shake me until I’m writing. If you like, tell me what to write. I promise that if anyone asks me to write something, I will write it. I won’t necessarily let you publish it on your money making website, but I will write it.

And I’m going to work, and it’s going to work.

I hope.

—-

Illustration by Emma, not specifically for this piece, but for a birthday card, which freaked me the hell out.

2 thoughts on “Writing Praxis – From Passion to Practice”

  1. First of all – Happy Birthday! There used to be someone called Colewelle (in Gandalf-the-White-type voice “Yes,Colewelle…that’s….what they used to call me”). He is no longer. But I am back.

    Rely on yourself. And science isn’t the final word. That’s it for now.

  2. Happy Birthday from me too. If it helps, I am already wondering what happens in the Land of Cows and Bees.

    There is something I want to tell you because I think it may help. With every single book I write, there are loads of times when I look at what I’ve done and think it sucks royally. There are moments, in every book I write, where the process is almost physically painful and about as pleasant as gouging my eyes out with a blunt spoon. You are not alone in finding it hard. It’s very common, we all go through it, and you just have to keep going or write another bit or something else. I suspect that’s why many writers tend to work on more than one project at a time.

    There is also a sort of pursuit aspect to any idea, so it may be that you just have to hone your hunting skills on tracking down and trapping some that you consider less good, you know, just to get your hand in, then as you get further you’ll find the good ones become less elusive. But the big thing is to just do it and keep doing it until you find the place you fit. It took me 13 years of trying to write a decent book. The fist book I published was my 4th complete novel but the first that I didn’t wish someone else had written. So don’t be worried if it takes a long time or if you have no clue how to make it better or why it isn’t working, which I never did. Just keep going and eventually, you’ll crack it. And when you do, you will know. You won’t need to show it to anyone in the hope they’ll tell you it’s alright, you’ll just know, in your soul, that it is.

    Finally, for a long time I shared your fear that my ideas would run out. My only advice is to get on with the ideas you have and worry about having more when you’re done. I’ve been working on the same project, a trilogy, for for about 15 years now. I thought that, when I finished it, that there’d be nothing else in my head. However, as I dump more and more of it into books, more and more new stuff is popping into my brain. The brain is a wonderful thing. So get rid of some of your ideas, spend them with shameless abandon and I promise you, there will be more.

    I hope all that rambling makes sense! I have enjoyed the Unstruck project. Good luck with whatever you decide to do next.

    Cheers

    MTM (reincarnated BC).

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