The other night I made a very healthy vegetable stir-fry for dinner and, while feeling pretty pleased that my gut flora would eat well in the morning, I was still a bit peckish. Suddenly I remembered I had an unopened box of BBQ Shapes in the pantry. I never eat BBQ Shapes, I don’t really know why I bought them, but they became my sole focus for the next two or three minutes.
Knowing they were not an ideal post-dinner snack, I decided just to have a look to see what the best before date was (I knew they had been in there a long time). It was the next day. Not the next week, or month, but best before the very next day. Clearly it was a sign that I should eat them.
I see signs all the time. I make decisions on signs, some a little more important than if I should allow myself to snack after dinner. I have to confess, I’m pretty happy with where those decisions have got me so far. While I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, I’m also not worried that ignoring the signs would have got me any closer at this point in my life.
But something about the BBQ Shapes ‘sign’ worried me.
The brain is a much more powerful thing than we ever give it credit for. I’m always setting it tasks which it consistently delivers on after spending a bit of time off in mysterious-brain-world. I can’t help but wonder if nearly a year ago when I bought those BBQ shapes, my brain took note of the best before date? Maybe there was a reminder set at that point, and when it did exactly what brains do best, I interpreted it as a sign?
How many of my other signs are actually super brain? And should I be worried? I’m a ridiculously logical person, so my normal brain always gets the last say over signs or super brain (for example, I didn’t eat the whole packet of BBQ shapes). But for me a little bit of magic disappeared from the world when I thought that my amazing sign was actually just amazing biology.
I guess that means the best thing to do would be the other thing my brain is really good at; forget about it. However the rest of the BBQ shapes might just find their way into the compost bin instead of me. I’m sure my microbiome will thank me.
“Life, no end to this there will be bonded, finally, it will reach the heights of success. Love you could also gift your soul mate diamond…”
Yes, it is very nearly a coherent sentence, but doesn’t quite get there. This is a quote from one of my recent spammers. I get these sorts of things all the time and would dearly like to lift them and put them into a story. I read these little snippets and smile at the idea of a computer getting a chance to be creative. Okay, it doesn’t make sense, but sometimes it almost does.
Of course computers becoming sentient has been done to death, and done really well (Terminator is one of my favourite films of all time). It’s up there with meet the devil or win the lottery for ‘no more please’ stories. But that is like a red flag to a bull for me. I want to find a different angle and I’m sure if I keep reading my spam, I will see it there one day.
I have a terrible habit of setting my brain a subconscious task (yes, I know I’ve told you to work on the novel, but hey while we’re sleeping you have all that spare time on your lobes) and it almost always delivers. There is a magical Eureka! moment when the story, fully-formed, pops into my head.
So let’s see how long this one takes. The clock starts ticking today. Maybe the clock knows it’s ticking? Maybe there is no clock? Honestly, who would want to live in my head!?!
My approach to the library recently has become more like my approach to Twitter; I let others find the good stuff for me. If I go into the library without a specific book in mind, I’ll head straight to the ‘to be re-shelved’ pile to see what others have recently borrowed. This is where I found a book on decoding handwriting.
It is annoying me how accurate it is. I started with the approach that it would be like star signs and you can probably see yourself in every scenario, but it is a whole lot more precise than that. It has picked up on things about my personality that even I don’t like to admit to myself. I am starting to worry about the hand-written notes I’ve given to others and how much I really told them if they knew how to read it.
What worries me even more is what I will learn about others when I look at their handwriting? After I read ‘What Every Body is Saying’ by Joe Navarro which covered the unconscious communications of body language, my success in meetings went up significantly. I often find myself resorting to tricks and reading people without even realising it. I think the handwriting book will give me an even greater insight into what is really happening inside people’s minds.
There is one big problem with decoding handwriting; you have to get your hands on a copy of hand-written text. In my current workplace, I think I’ve seen the handwriting of only one other person in the past 8 months. Even our informal notes are taken on the computer these days. It’s like I’ve finally been given the keys to the Jet a year after teleportation has been invented.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m going to let this pass me by. I’m reading the book over and over to make sure it sinks in (as would be expected of my evenly spaced, small-lettered handwriting). There are gems in here that I will one day be able to mine, I have no doubt of that.
It also reiterates that the re-shelving piles should always be my first stop at the library.
If you want to feel like a writer, you can’t go past attending writer talks. I have an amazing local library (Mt Barker) which organises fantastic meet-the-writer sessions for many well known local and international authors. But if you are not so lucky to have a library like that nearby, many book shops and universities will sponsor them as well. So let Google be your friend on that one.
When listening to a writer talk about their process of writing, you will be amazed at how often you find yourself nodding and thinking ‘yes, I find that too.’ At the Adelaide Writer’s Festival this year I listened with amused familiarity to a few authors discussing the merits of pantsing vs planning vs plantsing. I loved that I knew exactly what they meant, while many around me had clearly never heard the terms before. I totes felt like a writer that day.
These talks will also often cover the author’s journey to publication. I think it is invaluable hearing these stories, because the ones you read about in popular news are nearly always the overnight sensations who had just started writing six months earlier. For many authors there is a ten+ year slog, poor first book sales and countless low points where they nearly gave up (before they realised that there is no such thing as giving up, our writer daemons won’t let us do that – EVER).
These talks also give you an opportunity to meet writers who have succeeded. I find most of them are really keen for a chat at the inevitable book-signing, and it gives you a chance to see how normal and very much like you they are.
And let’s not forget the final benefit; there are a lot of unpublished writers also going to these talks. So this puts you in a situation where you can mix with many other writers and potentially expand (or start) your writers group.
I have to confess, aside from the time off work and my visiting friend from Melbourne, I wasn’t really that excited about Adelaide writers’ week this year. I had only heard of a couple of the authors in the line-up, and yet again genre writers were under-represented.
It was actually a great week. As always I heard from a bunch of authors I’d never otherwise be exposed to, and I bought a couple of books which might never have found their way into my collection any other way. The big thing I took away from this year was not any tips about getting published or putting words on paper, but how much I could relate to the experience of ‘real’ authors.
Many talked of things I’m banging on about in this blog each week; pantsing, hours editing flash fiction, and forcing yourself to write when doing anything else seems more attractive. Watching the novelty of these ideas wash over the crowd I realised I’m already there when it comes to knowing what it is like to be a writer. This shouldn’t be a big surprise, because I know a lot of these authors still have other jobs to earn a living. So really the main difference between us is degree of publication.
Alarmingly one author, John Marsden, talked about the never ending itch of finding purpose in his life, which drives him to do so much. Currently I’m consumed by this conundrum for too many hours of every day. I stupidly thought getting published and sharing my work with the wider world would sufficiently scratch that itch. Clearly I’m wrong.
But I have always said it is the journey you need to enjoy, not the destination, so I guess that means I’m already in the good bit. There was even a part of me that wondered if maybe I’m lucky that I’ve not had one of my novels picked up yet. I’m writing a book a year and writing exactly what I want. It sounds like getting published might hamper me on both of those things.
It is fantastic that writers’ week is free, and I hope it continues to be so. It is wonderful to share the experience with readers, writers and wannabe writers. Adelaide is not very good at bragging, but writers’ week is something of which we should all be proud. Just please invite some more genre writers next year!
Just in case you don’t know what they are, writing conventions are usually two or three day events with a few ‘big name’ key note speakers and then a heap of other authors and industry people. These people participate in talks about all aspects of writing and sometimes they even run master-classes. The talks can cover everything from publishing trends to how to write action scenes. Most genres run conventions in most countries, just type in a Google search and you’ll find something.
I’ll never forget my first convention. The key note speakers were Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman and Poppy Z Brite. They were fantastic. Not only did they give great talks, but they mixed with everyone afterwards in the convention bar (and there is always an attached bar). But the key note speakers were just a small part of what made it so great.
Conventions attract people from all demographics who have one overriding thing in common; writing. Meeting other people who are serious about their writing is one of the most important things a writer can do. You get to talk about issues, successful tricks, and you can find out about resources or opportunities you might otherwise never hear about.
Being at a convention gives you permission to be a writer, and your presence there shows how serious you are about improving you craft. After you have been to a few conventions you will probably find that you get less out of the talks, but you still get a lot out of hanging out at the bar. More than a few life-long friendships have been born at conventions, and I would highly recommend you make the most of it.
The hardest thing about going to a convention is dealing with the downer you inevitably fall into when it is all over and you return to your ‘normal’ life. I channelled this feeling into making me seek out other opportunities to feel like a writer, which I’ll cover in the rest of my Top 10 blogs.
This week I had the strangest story idea experience. I was reading a light-hearted book, and (as often happens) a single sentence sparked off a totally unrelated idea for a story. This idea was dark. Not just creepy dark, but blackest-pits-of-the-soul dark. It scared me.
I stopped and ran the idea over in my head again, feeling revolted by it. I was simultaneously pushing it away while trying to delve deeper. I could see the sliver of good in it, but the good skirted so finely on the edge that it would be hard to see. It would be easy to read the story the wrong way, to get the wrong idea of what I was trying to say, but if read in the right way it could be amazing.
I don’t think the story was intended for me. I must have had my story rod raised and it caught a bolt intended for someone else. I’ve often said that I think stories come from the collective unconscious and we just catch them and write them down. The way tales come so completely formed, it seems like there could be no other way.
The weird thing about this experience is that now I can remember barely a thing about it. I have shadows of the story, but they are like the memory of a dream; you know you had the full plot, but you can only get tiny parts now. And I guess that makes sense, if it was meant for someone else, it can’t live in my brain at the same time.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if one day I come across the story and remember it? I’ll track the author down and ask them when they got the idea. I suspect it will be this week. I hope someone with the right skills does write it. I still keenly remember the incredible feeling of the idea, I just wasn’t ready to climb down into that pit.
My friend and I have dared each other to ask every author at Adelaide Writers’ Week where they get their ideas – just so we can watch them roll their eyes. The truth is neither of us will have the guts to do this because it is just such an embarrassing question. Writers get ideas from everywhere! Usually the problem is deciding which ones you will let in and which you will ignore.
But it has made me wonder about the rest of the population. Do non-writers really not get ideas for stories? Do all their fantasies revolve only around them and other people they know? Or (and I refuse to believe this assertion) do some people actually not make up any stories in their head about anyone?
I watch a news story and I start imagining the fallout of events, I read a book and I think about where I would have taken the story, I listen to a song which might ostensibly be about the basic boy and girl falling in or out of love and I can turn it into a dark paranormal novel, maybe even a trilogy. Doesn’t this happen to everyone on some level???
If I was to list my top five favourite things about being alive, making up stories would be on there. If, and I hope I’m talking to no-one here, you have never made up a story after you left school, try it now. Even if you need to fan-fiction it and lift someone else’s characters and setting, try it (there are no copyright breaches when it stays in your head). You may just find you like it.
My roof got speared by the branch of a pine tree on Tuesday night, and my 40+ year old Golden Elm got snapped in half. We had a storm, a big storm. It was the fourth such storm in Adelaide in 2016. At least they have stopped calling them hundred-year storms, it started sounding silly after the second one.
While the loss of internet and a few days without power is really annoying, it is also starting to feel too familiar. Yesterday I was talking about going halvsies with my parents on a generator so our food doesn’t keep spoiling after these ‘events’. The idea makes me cringe, it is just another hideous Band-Aid over the reality of climate change.
I like to think of myself as being environmentally aware, yet I buy my milk in plastic bottles, I have multiple beauty products which promise (and fail) to deliver straight hair, and I’ve had 5 laptops which have never been passed on to anyone else after I finish with them. There is only so much that recycling can pick up the slack on. I often come in at half the rate on my water, electricity and gas use for equivalent sized households, yet I think I still use too much, far too much.
I want the babies of today to see a live Barrier Reef when they grow up, I want them to live in a world where tigers and orang-utans and elephants are wild animals living in wild places. I want there to be trees that have grown in the same place for hundreds, if not thousands of years. A life full of plastic bottles, needless chemicals and high-turnover electricals won’t help to deliver that.
I know it can seem overwhelming and there is a belief that we are too far gone to make a difference, but that isn’t true. There are actually a million things you can do. Something I saw this week which really inspired me was The Minimalists (see TED talk below). This is something so easy to do, you can do as much or as little as you like, and it addresses one of the big problems I see in Western society of consumerism (even if economists don’t agree with me). Please think about it, I know not all of us can have 5 minute showers, but I’m sure you can find something to cut back on. Every little bit helps.
Happy New Year!
One of my work colleagues (yes, I’ve snuck back into the machine and am once again a cog) was telling me about his dream job; a futurist. As a spec fiction writer I felt more than a little embarrassed that I didn’t know such a job existed. Yes, people are getting paid lots of money to identify the micro/macro trends that are shaping our world to see where we will be in five, ten or even 100 years in the future.
Something that one of the futurists suggested was that by 2030 artificial intelligence will have evolved to the point where computers will have real personalities that will be able to hold meaningful conversations with humans. They suggested these personalities will be put into androids that people will have around the house.
I find the idea horrific, it would be the death of relationships. Imagine if you could order a ‘bot that looked like Keanu, with the intelligence of Brian Cox, the humour of Joss Whedon and you could program it to love you unconditionally. Better still, when you are busy (you know, maybe writing or something) you could just pop it in the cupboard and it wouldn’t bug you about when dinner was going to be ready.
Of course this is just a general what if, not something I would get, but really, what hope would a real person have against that? And as the person in the relationship with the robot how would you grow and learn to be a better you? Fitting in with others is what keeps us human.
In fact I’m going to go out on a limb and say I don’t think just relationships would be at risk, I think our pets should watch out too. I can’t see this technology stopping at people. Even I have to admit it would be nice for the cat to reply sometimes, I’d feel a little less crazy-cat-lady-ish.