Tag Archives: Observations

Too late?

I studied astronomy at Uni. It was only a single semester subject, and it was more of an overview rather than getting too deep into the physics side of things, but I got a distinction for it.  Something that really strikes you when you learn about other planets, as well as your own, is how incredibly unlikely it is that you’ll get the neat  balance on a planet that lets life not only survive, but thrive.

Yeah, I know, given only advanced life can contemplate such things, statistically those who do so must exist on those lucky few planets, so there is nothing special about me thinking about this. The point I want to focus on is the incredible BALANCE the planet must have.

I am worried that we have irreparably stuffed up that balance. In Australia it is autumn (fall) at the moment. In fact, we are into our second month of autumn. On Wednesday it was 36°C and we had bushfires. Yes, I had our bags packed and the pet pack out ready to grab the cat and go. We are normally all complaining about the cold about now. Until Saturday we had not had any significant rain this year. THIS YEAR!!!! I don’t live in a desert. Not yet anyway.

I hear many people say that this is all part of a natural cycle, but the thing people seem to be missing is that all the historical natural cycles (and we can track them back a very long way) were gradual. What is happening now is happening at a rate we have never seen on the planet before. The best scientists have no real idea what will happen next.

What does this have to do with writing? Not much. I’ve been putting the above fears into my writing for the last ten years, and I don’t think that’s made a scrap of difference. I think I need to change tack. If I’m going down, I’m going down swinging, because I think it is important that none of us ever think it is too late to make a difference.

Follow your passion

Many times I have read and heard people say that if you follow your passion you will be successful. Most of the people who say such things are already successful, and that’s why they are in a position to say it so that we can hear them, which does skew the dataset somewhat. Those who follow their passion but get nowhere don’t get that many opportunities to be quoted.

But the truth of that statement is not what I’m here to talk about. For many of us, identifying what our passion is can be really difficult. For me you would think it would be a no-brainer; writing. But the truth is I’m not passionate about writing. I’m passionate about imagining and communicating stories. Writing is simply the medium through which I do that.

On Friday night I attended a quiz night. We played true or false and the topic was animals, or for those of us with science degrees, zoology. In a room of over 100 people I won. I didn’t study for it, I just naturally absorb information about animals because I’m passionate about them, so it sticks. On Friday night it won me two bottles of wine and three points for our table. I’d call that a success.

If I could come up with a way to marry animals and storytelling I would be a pretty happy camper. I can’t help but think those who tell us to follow our passion are onto something, because success can be defined in so many different ways. Even if you aren’t a big financial success, if you are doing something you are passionate about then that must bring you a lot of joy and satisfaction.

Something to ponder methinks.

Jan-No-Wri-Mo: Lessons

Well, I did it. 51,154 words in the end. There was actually no point at which I didn’t think I’d make it – I’m far too pig-headed for that. When I promise myself that I’m going to do something, I do it. Which is not always a good thing…

I don’t think JanNoWriMo (or any WriMo for that matter) is a good way to write a novel. It is a fantastic way to get a novel finished, but if you don’t know exactly what is going to happen in your novel (and even my most planned novels end up going in different directions to what I expect) then I think you can hurt the story.

There were seven days in the month when I did no writing at all, and all of them happened when I didn’t know what should happen next. I had nearly three days (the short writing day happened here) where I spent quite a few hours brainstorming all the directions the story could head in. Then I picked one. Was it the right one? I don’t know. In real life I probably would have ruminated over the decision for at least a week. I didn’t like JanNoWriMo on that day.

But it wasn’t all bad. I discovered that early morning walks are fantastic for drawing out ideas. I would set off and couldn’t come home again until I knew what I was writing that day. Some walks went for 20 mins, some for over an hour. All of them got me a little bit fitter too, which is always good. It’s something I’m going to try and keep up.

The other thing I learned was that when you get creative in one area, it makes you start getting creative in other areas. Now, I wasn’t working, so maybe that figured into things too, but I did more elaborate cooking, took loads of photos, was out in the garden, and even managed all my TotalGym sessions without the usual torpor. I know that is one of the tricks you learn in Maximum Willpower; that once you start getting motivated in one area, you get motivated in others as well, but I didn’t even know I wanted to do all these other things.

Now I’m feeling a bit bereft. I’m writing this on the morning of February 2nd because it feels wrong not to be at the computer. When I finish this post I’m going to head out for a walk and see if I can come up with a short story idea. I need to be writing.

And I’m sure novelists can relate to this; I’m also sad. I spent such an intensive month with my characters and now they are all gone. I miss them terribly. Sadly, experience tells me that editing won’t bring them closer in the same way. Maybe that’s why my brain is already working on the final novel in the trilogy?

So, I guess the big question is; will I do another WriMo? I am interested to try JuneNoWriMo, because it’s got to be easier to write in the cool weather. 40°C days are torture at the computer. But I’m going to have a range of projects to work on. I think I could bash out 50K of short stories without running into the same problems that I hit with the novel. Let’s see, I’ve got a few months to decide yet.

Statistics

Number of days out of 31 that I wrote: 24 days
Average session: 2,131 words
Biggest writing day: 5,198 words
Smallest writing day: 712 words

Wants and needs

I want to publish novels that people read and enjoy. I need to earn money to pay my bills. Wants are born of passions and desires, needs are forced upon us. Isn’t it funny how easily we find the motivation to meet our needs but often only the inspiration to meet our wants?

I get up each day and go to work, not with joy and excitement, but acceptance. And I DO get up each day and go to work. So why don’t I use the joy and excitement of writing a novel to get me to the desk each night to write? I think it’s because it is a want not a need. So when I’m tired, or run down, writing gets jettisoned along with all the other optional wants (fitness, healthy eating, enough sleep, a proper cleansing and moisturising regime).

I’m a very pig-headed and motivated person, so I tend to make time to chase my wants, but even with that, I am amazed at how often I let them slip. I never let my needs not go un-met. It got me thinking about my personal needs and how I can change my wants into needs.

Food and bills are pretty frontline on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so let’s ignore them, but let’s look at other ‘needs’ in my life. I’m over 40 now (sometimes) so I’ve seen some of my wants make the transition into needs already. I want to keep my teeth, so now I actually floss every night. Yes, every night. In my 20’s I’d be surprised if I did it once a month. The fluorescence lights in the bathrooms at work have made colouring my hair a need that I used to be able to let slip. Saying no to chocolate and wine has also become the norm for me in recent years, that was unheard of in my early 30s.

I think there is a bit of shaming in ‘wanting it all’, like we should just be grateful for what we have. Don’t get me wrong, I know that anyone who counts colouring her hair as a need is a very lucky person indeed, and I AM grateful, but I also think there is nothing wrong with wanting more. Or should I say needing more.

Imagine what I would achieve if publishing a novel became a need? There are so many silly little wants I could sacrifice to get it done. Think; if we could turn the desire to make this world a better place into a need to get it done, what might we achieve? Yes, I’m very grateful for my health, and home, and loving family, but I am also grateful to be able to want more. I think I need to publish another novel. It’s time to get this done!

Facial Recognition

I’ve got terrible facial recognition. I might know if I have seen a face before, but when seen out of context I just assume they are from the bus or a former workplace. I actually did a facial recognition test and got the exact average score, so all I can assume is lots of other people are terrible with faces too.

Last weekend I discovered that my next door neighbour works in my office. There are only about 50 people in my office, and I’ve been there for over six months. I think that gives you some idea of how bad my facial recognition is. (No wonder he never waved at me when I spotted him from my driveway – I must always be blanking him at work).

This got me thinking about my writing. I rarely, if ever, describe what my characters look like. I have an idea, but unless it is necessary to the story, I’ll let you fill in their height, weight, hair and eye colour. Obviously these things are just not that important to me. I would love to know if writers who do describe their characters in lots of detail (to the point where we even know what clothes they are wearing) what are they like with facial recognition?

Oddly, I see ‘faces’ where there are none. Below are two recent examples of faces I managed to capture, but I see them in trees, stones on the footpath, and in clouds. The one thing all these faces have in common is that they are non-human. I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that in my writing I love to describe my monsters.

StudyJoeySmall

User pays

The other day I did a Google search for something and found my old novel, Paragon, offered for free download. My novel hasn’t been available for purchase for about six years, so I have no idea how long it had been on this site. The reason I took the novel down was because I thought it had too many things that needed fixing, it wasn’t the best it could be. It bugged me that the choice to hold it back had been taken away from me.

It also got me wondering; how have people’s attitudes to other’s hard work gotten so callous that someone would feel justified putting up the work of a (let’s be honest) unheard of author for free? Is what they gain really worth what they take?

I’m against all forms illegal downloading, whether it is books, movies, software, TV shows, music etc. So often I hear people saying things like “Katy Perry is so rich, it doesn’t matter” –but it does matter. Katy Perry, or any other artist/developer are not doing this on their own. They support a whole network of people who depend on sales to make a living. A movie is not made by several actors and a director. There are writers, camera people, caterers, props people, make-up artists, hair stylists etc. It is an industry, and when you steal, you steal from all of them.

But back to my experience… I am not supporting an industry, just me and those closest to me. In over 20 years of sending off my work for publication I’ve earned less than $500. That’s why I’ve still got the day job. There are lots of people like me out there who haven’t yet made it, and if people keep stealing from us, then we’ll never earn enough money to quit the day job so we can keep making the art that others want to steal.

Imagine if Buffy had been downloaded to the point where no networks wanted to buy the ongoing series. We might never have had Firefly, or Serenity, or Cabin in the woods. I do not want to think about a world with no Joss Whedon! Is that the price we want to pay to be able to save a few dollars?

Freedom of speech?

Cass* goes to a fancy-dress party and wins the best costume prize. She is awarded a bottle of champagne, which she pops and shares with her friends. She poses for a photo of her drinking from the bottle. Should she post this on her personal Facebook page?

Now, I’ve been in the workforce for over 20 years, and I’ve done a lot of equal opportunity, bullying and whatever-else is required training over the years, but this week a friend of mine did social media training. She took a photo of the above question and showed it to me. What do you think the answer is?

According to the training Cass should NOT post the photo. The reason; because others can share the photo, so she has no control over it and it might damage Cass or her employer’s reputation. Let me remind you; Cass was not vomiting on herself. She hadn’t pulled her top down or her skirt up. Her ‘reputationally damaging behaviour’ was swigged out of a champagne bottle.

This training alarmed me. If workplaces are now going to get antsy about someone drinking directly from a champagne bottle (would it have been okay from a glass?) what would they think about some of the stories I write? In future will my writing potentially impact my employment prospects? And where does that fit with the equal opportunity rules they all claim to abide by?

I think what they were trying to say was; be sure that whatever you post online you are happy for the world to see. I’m sure Cass, her work colleagues and her clients wouldn’t care that she was swigging from a bottle. If Cass is okay with that, then Cass can be the judge of what goes out to the world on her own Facebook page.

Some of my writing is confronting, some is stupid, and some is opinionated. Writing asks you to push the boundaries sometimes, and I think we all want to live in a world where you have the freedom to do that.

To pay your bills, most of us need to work. I think it will be spectacularly unfair if we move into world where those who want to earn a living are expected to turn into little yes-big-brother robots and stop living our lives how we want to outside of work hours. Cass, you should be able to drink your champagne any way you want to!

*Fictional name changed to another fictional name so my friend doesn’t get the sack!

Where don’t you get your ideas?

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.

Hopes for a New Year

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!

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Futurist

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.