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Archive for the ‘Refreshing the Wells’ Category

I love Haralambi Markov’s fiction. His voice is strong and unusual and his ideas! His ideas are incredible. Weird, outrageous, courageous. Yet he makes them work. Here’s how he refreshes his well:

 

“The idea of creativity as a physical well with concrete limitations, one that needs nourishment in reciprocity to consumption, appeals to me. In writing about my mental state I often refer to myself as a metaphorical body of water caught in one permutation or another. Writing, then, is the alchemy involved to transmute truth and concept into a narrative with the waters of this well as medium.

Metaphors aside I do find my own creativity to be a limited resource. For every project I try to be as honest in my storytelling as possible and weave in something fundamentally universal and true about the human condition as I perceive it. Often, there’s an element of confession embedded. Small. No more than a kernel of personal truth. It’s a way for me to stay connected to my words even when I write about something as impossible as hauntings that last centuries and monstrous raspberry bushes.

It’s also a way to make writing difficult and slow, since I’m basically cutting open wounds to feed the words and I need time to heal – as pretentious as this may sound. After each finished draft, I’m exhausted and the ways I make it possible for myself to return to writing is to not write. Some writers are prolific and can transition from manuscript to manuscript with ease. I am not one of these people. I need time and distance.

In this breathing period, I focus on my relationships and friendships, catch up on my reading, watch movies and binge watch shows. I collect anecdotes, experiences that can be as small as noticing how my neighbor tends to the flowers in the communal park; snippets of talks with friends either in person or via messenger; saturated-with-emotion and well-acted narratives; heightened dramatic moments in competition shows.

This is the raw material I collect. In the beginning, it’s a heavy sludge – nothing like water, but over time, it purifies distills and I find myself standing by the well. Sparkling waters await me and the urge to write returns.”

 

You can read “The Language of Knives” at tor.com

 

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Craig Cormick is multi-talented, multi-faceted and often multi-coloured in his dress. Flamboyant, vocal, supportive, clever. That’s him.

 

If you want to see him in person, this month, Craig and I will be reading at An Evening of Awesome

 

Meanwhile, here he is, talking about his Well.

“The well of – well – Inspiration!

So I was asked to do a blog post on refreshing the well of inspiration. But to address that I think I should address the problematic relationship that I have with inspiration.

And, like many authors, I thought I’d better check was other writers have to say, and see if their experiences were similar or not.

Charles Bukowski said, “Drink from the well of yourself and begin again.”

Or Ned Vizzini wrote, “Dreams are only dreams until you wake up and make them real.”

And Tchaikovsky said, “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

All nice enough, but none of them really captured how inspiration and me get on. So on a whim of Inspiration I have decided to personify her, to give you more of a feel for her.

Let’s call her Simone. Or starburst-girl.

  • Or whatever you want.

But that doesn’t tell you what she’s really like, does it.

To paraphrase Dickens, she is the best of people and she is the worst of people.

She is the type of person you’d love to invite home, but you know your mother would not altogether approve.

She is also a wild child at heart, and isn’t averse to trying new and crazy things.

And she comes when you least expect it.

You can call on her and labour hard to make her come, but she rarely will. But then, just want to lie down and have a rest, she comes screaming and singing with bells and whistles on.

I would much rather she visit on days when I was home alone, able to concentrate on writing. But no, she’d rather show up just before my wife walks in the door, or when we have a family thing planned.

  • She’s inconvenient.

Some nights she creeps right into my bed when my wife is sleeping and I wonder how to answer her call without waking my wife. She – caring spouse that she is – actually bought me a pen with a light in the end so I could engage with Simone without waking her.

You might see some people talking about Simone and asking how deep her well is, or worrying whether she will come back after she’s visited you – like one really good visit from her means she isn’t coming back for a long, long time. But that’s not how she rolls.

Sometimes she comes so often she leaves you with a drawer-full of issues and ideas to work over for weeks.

Other times she might just tip-toe around the house, just out of your reach, taunting you with her closeness.

  • Tease!

Strangely enough she seems to love doing it to me on airplanes. I have many of my best stories – including this one – from airplane journeys.

So inappropriate places and inappropriate times are her favourite.

But when she visits she can be so wonderful. But infuriating as well.

I remember one time when I was in hospital for a minor operation and the anaesthetist was trying to get the mask on my face to knock me out, and she was suddenly there on my lap with a brilliant idea. So I was trying to take notes with a borrowed pen and pad, while he was trying to get the mask on and I was saying, ‘Just a minute. Just one more minute.’

  • True story.

On the plus side, when she does show up in one of her better moods, it is like she turbo-charges your mind and your senses. It’s like a wild ride and you just sit there and hold on tight.

But don’t count on making a booking in your diary. That’s also not how she rolls.

Sometimes I might wake up in the middle of the night, expecting her to be there and I might go down the kitchen and sit at the table with a cup of tea waiting for her. But she never shows up.

  • The bitch!

There are places she clearly likes more than others. Up in the mountains. Down by the beach. Sitting in concerts or lectures. But again, more often than not, when you aren’t expecting her. (You’ll find a lot of disappointed authors on mountain tops pretending they are climbers.)

After several decades and dozens of book and stories I’d like to think I’ve come pretty close to figuring her routine out, and being able to anticipate her and even knowing when and where I can refresh my well of ideas.

  • So I’d like to think.”

 

 

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Adam Browne is ‘gnarly’ ‘brilliant’ and ‘unique’, according to his reviews, and I wouldn’t argue with any of that. His brain works in amazing, fascinating ways which amuse, shock, surprise and delight me. Here he is, talking in his own particular way, about how he refreshes his well.

 

“On Spaceships

Recently, on Facebook, a friend mentioned he used never to read a book unless there was a spaceship in it.

I’d forgotten until then that I used to be the same way. Spaceships. Transcendence. I’d been indoctrinated by 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’d learned that apotheosis takes place away from Earth.

My transition probably began with Phillip K Dick. I found my first PKD book when I was 15, on a school trip in Alice Springs.

There were spaceships in his books, but they were peripheral or incidental. He was the gateway drug into what I read now — which isn’t much, admittedly.

It’s because I’m so particular. Where spaceships used to do it for me, now I need high-style, grim wit, irony, genre-tricks. I read Martin Amis sometimes. He and his father, Kingsley, were sympathetic to sf. I wonder if this is why I enjoy Amis, when I do enjoy him (‘The Little Puppy that Could’ is one of my favourite sf stories, I add; one of Amis’s very few in that genre) — because he respects Idea.

Some current sf doesn’t have ideas — it’s ossified — just a pastiche of stuff from before — some sf has ideas but they’re sophomoric, or presented in a sophomoric way. This is never the case with Amis.

Anyway: spaceships. As I say, I don’t read about them these days, with a few exceptions — I’m not an absolutist — Aurora, by Kim Robinson, is a masterpiece, and actually an anti-spaceship story (I dislike war movies, but like anti-war movies).

So that’s one problem. An avenue for reading pleasure has been closed to me.

The worse problem is that a lot of the novel I’m writing is set on spaceships.

They’re great spaceships. There’s one that is driven by shadows; another with a destination-magnet, another still is acausal…

But I started writing it years ago, and I’ve changed since then.

Spaceships don’t solve problems. Transcendence isn’t found in the sky but on the ground. The closer to the dirt the better.

I haven’t thought of a solution yet. Suggestions welcome. Maybe I need to do what Kim Robinson did — go anti-spaceship.  It’s a similar strategy to how the early porn filmmakers got around censorship etc — by making salacious movies, but pretending to be admonitory.

Might be a solution. I often base my decisions on lessons learned from the early porn filmmakers.”

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Just looking at Tania McCartney’s webpage refreshes my wells. There’s a glorious exuberance about her illustrations, her writing, and herself that reminds me why I write; to explore who people are, and why they do what they do.

Here, she talks about how lying in bed is a good thing!

 

“I so love the concept of a refreshment well, and it really got me thinking. I guess my creative replenishment sits firmly outside my ‘work’ yet involves the very stuff my work is made of. Reading. Writing. Drawing. Painting. Pondering. Tossing words into a mental soup. Writing lyrics in my head to goodness knows what artboard and swiping colour swatches across a batch of imaginary text (can you tell I’m an iPad user?).

Overall, I reckon I replenish in two ways. The first, above, seems like work but it’s really not because anything I read or write or draw or muse in Replenishment Mode has no deadline. No place to be. No tentacles leading anywhere other than ‘maybe I shall revisit this lightbulb moment in work mode next week’. And that’s oh-so-freeing.

The other way is a purely physical one. It’s really quite independent of the heart and mind, though it deeply affects both. It’s moving muscles—yoga, walking, travel. Nutrition—plant foods, super foods, pure water. And taking care of my physical brain—meditation, mindfulness, learning. Creative brains are so chronically overloaded—there’s so many clamouring ideas and so much mind chatter (sometimes good sometimes not so good). Some of my greatest peace and creative rejuvenation comes from a silent mind. Or a mind that’s just open to whatever appears at the time. I guess this is a sort of ‘channelling’ and, ironically, this is how I both write and draw—channelling the content from another place.

One of my daily replenishment joys is lying in bed before sleep and watching the day’s ‘theme’ unfold behind darkened eyes—colours, patterns, sounds, perspectives. It’s really hard to explain. All the senses merge into one. It could be hobby horses with green striped wallpaper and the smell of apples. Or it could be skies made of white papercuts, a pond made of music and glass grass. There’s only ever one daily theme and it never relates to my day—it just appears, and it’s like Christmas each and every time.

So it appears to be the small moments that fill my creative well. Those non-thinking times that focus on either pure pleasure (reading, drawing, writing) or physical connection (walking, meditation, travel). Or just staring into space (how I love just staring into space!). I find time for these moments every day, but occasionally need a week or three more deeply immersed in the replenishment well (in fact, I’m just drying myself off from a three-week drenching as I type!). These longer periods always start with a head full of this: ‘Why am I doing this? Am I crazy? My work is shite. I’m getting nowhere. My career and its direction is in the hands of everyone but me. I don’t know if I want to do this anymore. Can I even DO this anymore?’ And half way through my well-submersion, the mind begins to clear and a little light appears, and it becomes brighter and brighter and the focus is brought back to pure creative passion. That’s when nothing else matters, and you’re reborn, renewed, full of jellybeans and ready to forge ahead fearlessly. Until the next bout of staring into space (how I love just staring into space!).”

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 If you want ground-breaking, brilliant fiction, here’s Lavie Tidhar
We first almost met when I was living in Fiji and he was living in Vanuatu. Sadly, the day he was in my neck of the woods I was flying back to Sydney, so I left him a pile of books to pick up and that was as close as we got. As tough as it was to get books in Fiji, it was harder in Vanuatu.
I love the way Lavie thinks and was curious to get a little insight into that brain of his.
“When I get stuck it’s not because I’m out of ideas, it’s because my subconscious is telling me I need to step back for a while. The best cure I found for that is to go out for drinks! Really I feel so tame in comparison to legendary writers – I was reading a book recently on the stuff people got up to in Hollywood’s golden age and it’s just shocking how much fun they seemed to have. You become a writer in the hope of 1) never leaving the house and 2) never having to meet people, so it’s good to get out every now and then, mostly because then you’re grateful to be back in hiding for a while.
Really, I’ve come to recognise when I just need to stop. It’s not even anything special you need to do, you just need to leave things alone and sooner or later the solution comes. The mind needs to be engaged with something else. Because I’m a bit of a magpie writer, though, if I’m stuck on one thing I just switch to something else. I’m writing 2 novels at the moment for instance, which makes it easier. If I get stuck on both, I’ll just do a short story.
Once in a while you reach maximum brain freeze, which is when you really, really, need a holiday. Ideally somewhere with a pool. And a cocktail bar. And lots of books. I remember I used to read books. Now I only get to read them on my phone, if I get a bus or a train. I long for long-haul flights.
But the best thing I’ve ever found is to simply find something new to get angry about.  To be angry at something, to care enough about something that you can do nothing else but sit down and write about it, try to transform it into art, rail against the things that get to you – this is why I write. Without anger I’d never have written A Man Lies Dreaming, or Osama, or just about anything else. I’ll only get worried if I’m ever indifferent, but luckily, the world’s not running out of things to be angry about any time soon…
And if all else fails, watch Australian television!
It’s my guilty little secret. Underbelly, Old School, Jack IrishBikie Wars! My secret dream is to write a movie starring Damian Walshe-Howling and Aaron Fa’aoso. When I get stuck writing novels, I just work on that movie. Maybe you think I’m joking – but I’m not…”

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Through the wonders of the internet, Leslie Bohem and I connected when I was guest editor for Midnight Echo. I loved his story, and discovered that he used to be in a band called Sparks. I love Sparks!

Leslie writes movies and TV shows (Nightmare on Elm Street 5, Dante’s Peak, Daylight) and his insight into the writing process has helped me with mine. There is a practicality about some elements of what Leslie does that I reckon works across all realms of writing.

 

First he said, “Short answer: What seems to work best for me is to stop thinking about it.”

Then he followed up!

“The Creative Well – let me think.  My day job as a writer is in the bowels of Hollywood where for the most part, the well is full of tropes and cliches, not creativity.  Often the jobs are rewrites, or writing to order, so that I have to look no farther than the paycheck,  Having said that, there are days, even in this artistically bankrupt universe, when I’ve got nothing.  In that world, when I’m blank, i simply write the simplest, most direct version of what it is I have to do – in the movies and television, we use outlines and cards – and while these take all the fun and discovery out of the actual writing, they do provide achievable goals. “I just have to do cards three and four today.’

As to the writing I care about, for the screen, for TV, and in prose, I guess it’s a two part question – what do I do when I’m tapped out of ideas – and what do I do when I can’t  find the right sentence.  The answer to the first part of that question – I’m old.  I have a backlog of ideas I haven’t gotten to yet.  They may suck, but they’re mine, and I think I’ve got enough to occupy my remaining typing years.  And then, I see something on the street, in something I’m reading, and uh, oh, add another idea to the list.
And when I simply am tapped out – can’t literally write the next line – I stop.  I walk.  I watch home improvement shows or Antiques Roadshow with my wife.  I play my guitar.  I cook.  I hate myself and everything I’ve ever written.  And then, I get a fresh take, a pretty sentence, and I’m sucked right back in.”

 

There’s a great interview with Leslie here , and check out his IMDB page for all his TV and movie work.

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I first met L. M. Merrington when she came to a writing course I ran at the ACT Writers Centre. I was struck during the few hours we spent together by the clarity of her vision, and by the creative and instinctive way she responded to the writing activities.

At the end of the course, she approached me to ask if I’d launch her first novel. She said, “If you like the book,” and thrust a copy into my hands.

I read “Greythorne” that night and enjoyed it immensely. Thank Goodness!

Here she is, talking about the endless story prospects ahead of her and more.

“I think about inspiration as being in a few stages. First there’s the daydreaming stage, when the endless story prospects swirl all around you, just waiting to be plucked out of the air. I love asking ‘What if…?’ or ‘Why…?’ because I find that opens up a whole bunch of possibilities. It could be about historical events, or the life of a random person I pass in the street. People-watching is great inspiration. I have to travel quite a bit for work, and it’s one of the few good things about having to sit round in airports.

I also love hanging out in libraries or second-hand bookshops. Back when I was at uni, I had a part-time job in a public library, and my two favourite tasks were shelving and covering books. They were both repetitive, mind-numbing tasks, but while my hands worked I could read the blurbs and start to develop my own stories. Just being around so many books all the time was in itself an inspiration, and large collections of books still give me a thrill. I’ve also found that similar boring tasks, like housework, can be a great way of refreshing the mind – if you keep your hands busy, your mind is free to wander where it will.

Museums and art galleries are also places I go when I need initial inspiration. I’m particularly fascinated by the nineteenth century, but any sort of historical museum stirs me up, especially historical sites that have been turned into museums, like Sydney’s old quarantine station at Manly. My current novel, The Iron Line, was inspired by a visit to the Trainworks museum in Picton, which is all about the history of the New South Wales railways. I love thinking about how people lived in different eras, and their joys and hardships. I write very loose historical mysteries (which are more about the mysteries than the history), and I’m also really into steampunk (alternative Victoriana) so I like to take historical facts and make them my own. One of the most inspiring places I’ve been is Venice, because the whole city is an open-air museum. I went there when I was in the midst of a terrible creative drought, and being hit with so much art, history and music was like discovering an oasis in the middle of the desert.

The daydreaming stage is, I think, the bit I love most about writing. I keep a notebook full of story ideas that I add to as the inspiration strikes. Many of them may never see the light of day, but I hope it’ll act as a bit of an insurance policy against that time when (heaven forbid) I don’t know what to write next.

Unfortunately, after that initial rush of inspiration comes the hard work. Like many beginning writers, in my early years I thought I had to wait for the muse to strike before I could start writing. It meant I had a lot of story ideas but generally didn’t finish anything.

Oddly enough, it was a stint in academia that taught me the discipline I needed to complete major projects. I realised that you just have to keep turning up at the desk, day after day, whether you feel like it or not, and that even 100 words written is better than nothing (even if they’re terrible). So I’ve become less reliant on inspiration as a driving force, and consequently I now have one published novel and another on the way. So I guess my first instinct when I hit an inspiration drought now in the middle of a draft is to push through it and see if it’s just a reaction to other stresses in my life or if it’s really a problem.

Sometimes, of course, that doesn’t work. My first attempt at my second novel fell in a screaming heap because it had plenty of initial inspiration but not enough story to push it along. I ended up abandoning it (all two chapters), taking the best bits of the original idea and reimagining it into something different. It was a long conversation with my husband that eventually helped it coalesce into its current form, and it’s not the first time he’s pulled me out of a creative rut.

My husband is a rare breed – a creative engineer. He loves science fiction and storytelling, especially through graphic novels, films and video games, but he’s also highly logical and his brain works very differently to mine. It means that we can have really in-depth conversations about plot and structure – what if the main character did this? But why would the antagonist need to do that? What’s her motivation? – but he’ll often see things quite differently to me, which is a huge asset. He forces me to pick up my story, turn it around and look at it from a different angle, which I think is one of the best things you can do when you’re stuck. He’s my alpha reader – the only person I trust to read my first drafts in all their grotty glory.

I often fall into these creative ruts around the middle of the novel. I’m great at beginnings and ends, but middles are a real struggle. I think of inspiration in this stage as a bit different to the initial daydreaming stage. When you’re daydreaming, what you want is a big idea. It’s quite a creative endeavour. When you’re stuck in a rut in the middle of your novel, what you need is a solution to a problem. For me, at least, it’s less creative and more analytical. How am I going to get my heroine out of this mess? How can I increase the conflict here? Do I need to speed up or slow down the pace? Why would she do this? It’s a technical exercise, very much about the craft of writing.

I generally prefer to write in first person, and I originally trained as a journalist, so one of the things I like to do when I get stuck is interview my characters. I literally imagine myself sitting down with them and asking them questions about the events in the story and what happened next. It sounds mad, but it really works for me. I think it’s something about giving agency to the character and feeling like it’s them telling the story rather than me.

I’ve also had to learn to be a bit kinder to myself. I’ve realised that bashing your head against the wall until the ideas fall out isn’t really the best way to do it. Sometimes life gets busy and it’s harder to write – it’s not the end of the world if you have a few days off. Sometimes you need to keep getting the words out no matter how terrible they are – editing can absolve most sins. Sometimes you just need to go for a long walk, stop worrying and let your subconscious do the work. I also love Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which is all about unblocking your creativity. Some of the activities she suggests include ‘morning pages’, where you write three notebook pages every morning about whatever you want, and ‘artist’s dates’, where you take yourself off alone regularly (she recommends weekly) to do something that refreshes you. This book was instrumental in unblocking me enough to write my first novel, and I’ve learned a lot from it about how to function creatively in a healthy way.

For now, I’m feeling in a better place creatively than I have for years. I finally have a job with enough flexibility to give me a decent amount of writing time, I’m two-thirds of the way through my second novel, and I have a notebook bursting with ideas for the next one. I’m also realising how much hard work and sheer bloody-mindedness is required to turn inspiration into books, but that’s half the fun! Now, I’m off to the museum…”

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