Following on from yesterday’s post…

“Once writing has become your major vice and greatest pleasure, only death can stop it” – Ernest Hemingway.

Sure, I know you don’t have to go too far to find a Hemingway quote on the internet, and I know that ‘lazy-bloggers’ start things with quotes – but, this one really stuck with me.

It offers an alternative perspective to what I was telling you about yesterday.

Sometimes you’re born with an ability, or your youthful imagination takes you on such a journey every day that you just can’t help but create.

That’s what happened to me as a kid. The fields that surrounded my childhood home swirled with stories and the people I met inspired characters. Wherever I went after that – from London to Scotland and all the way through to Detroit, inspiration only seemed to follow.

Writers and artists, I wonder if we’re sometimes the children who never fully grew up?

Those who clung onto their dreams of making money and/or getting something out of talents that they were born with.

It’s easier to make it as an accountant, easier to make it as a salesperson and craftspeople are generally two-a-penny. But those of us who fight normality, those of us who fight the reality that we can’t follow the dreams of youth….we’re the ones who have a chance.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an idealist, I’m aware that a very small amounts of creatives make it. I’m a big fan of business in fact, and a lot of my reading time is spent around the topic.

But an eye for opportunity tells me that there’s plenty of space for creativity in business. So, the two can meet.

Once writing does become your adult vice, it’s damned hard to stop it. I wish I had a word processor connected into my brain – one that would spit my streams of consciousness out on an empty page, wherever I was. Because, if given half the chance, I could write from dawn till dusk.

Follow your dreams, kids. Don’t let the grey and dulcet tones of the world around slow you down. Just make sure you look for other things that inspire you, just in case.

In the words of Outkast; “you can plan a pretty picnic, but you can’t predict the weather”.

What took you off the sofa today?

The writing that connects with you emotionally is the best. You must have had it before where you’ve read a few sentences, and had to look up from the page and take a moment to reflect on how much you can relate to it.

Not only that but great writing can also change your perspective on so many things, or at the very least give you an insight  into why others’ perspectives differ from yours.

Sorry if I’m stating the obvious, but sometimes in life I feel we need to be ‘Captain Obvious’ occasionally and remind ourselves of the things that we take for granted.

But where do you get the ammo? I mean sure, some of us are born with a natural affinity for words – some people can construct a sentence with enough flare and gusto to match a West End show. But, without having the right topic to talk about – flowery writing is just flowery writing. Almost like a piece of average art – hung up in a corner of your house that you never really look at, pleasing to the eye but otherwise useless.

To me, it comes from experience – I love reading stories about faraway lands and cities I’ve never seen. But the ones that get to me the most, with the devil in their detail, are those that are written by people who have actually gotten out of their sofas and been there.

So this is one of the things I’m going to do to make sure that I write more, and better. I’m going to push my boundaries, get out of my sofa more and take in more of what life has to offer.

As we all know very well, it’s so easy to get involved in solving life’s day-to-day problems that you can sometimes lose sight of the great stuff happening around you.

Minimalism and the never-ending ‘how are you?’

So, you’ve got a day to yourself and you’ve got a little bit of money in your back pocket. You decide to go shopping and pick up some new clothes, because let’s face it – even the best stocked wardrobe needs to be freshened up every now and then.

You walk into one of those kind of sleek clothes shops that have more mannequins than clothing lines – you know the type I mean, right? The sort of uber-white, brightly lit joint that’s so minimally minimalist you almost think you’ve accidentally walked into an empty lot.

As you enter a sales assistant walks past you – stopping briefly to assess you. They work out your social stature, your waist size and whether or not you fit in with their pre-programmed ideals of what looks best for the brand.

“Hi, how are you?” they sing out cheerfully, a couple of coat-hangers strung over each shoulder – the attached garments billowing out in their wake like a cape. A superhero for the well dressed minimalist capitalist consumer.

So, what do you say? I mean you’re not going to open up your deepest, darkest fears to a stranger are you? Well, you might. But most likely you’ll just say “I’m good” and then go about your day…staying perhaps a couple more minutes before you decide that a white t-shirt with a full stop in the middle isn’t going to make you look as cool as the person you want to be.

But do you know what I always say?

I always say, “I’m good thank you, how are you?”

And do you know what they say? Nothing. They’ve already walked past and gone back to their day – forever leaving me hanging.

Not just clothing shops, but all sorts of stores, restaurants and even bars. I’m always left wondering how they are and how their day is going.

Why do I ask? Why do I care?

Because I feel that, as a writer, I need to be in tune with other people…I need to be interested in other people.

Because that’s where the true stories lie – the beauty of observation is that it’s so easy! There are great characters all around us, with great perspectives and feelings – but if we don’t take any notice of them, we’re losing free research. A free chance to craft and calculate new characters.

It’s a well-known fact that many authors base characters on people they’ve known – because the best characters tend to originally be born of flesh and blood – not from the factories of the creative mind. Or, at least not fully.

So, open your eyes/ears and ask someone how they are.

What’s life got to do with the colour of the sky?

It took me twenty-five years to realise that I was a goals-orientated individual. I guess until someone pointed it out, I was so caught up in the way I was doing things that I hadn’t realised.

I mean it’s not a bad thing, in many ways life (and writing) is all a series of goals – an invisible checklist that exists only in your head, presiding over your waking life. A multitude of boxes waiting to be ticked off as you go. Just in this week alone my goals have ranged from getting a haircut (failed) to becoming the greatest, most influential writer who ever lived (also sadly failed).

It’s the same with writing…if you don’t have goals you’re going to struggle – since I started this blog I’ve said that every day, rain or shine, I’ll post something. And I’ve stuck with it. On some days I’ve felt tired or been busy, so I’ve written a shorter post – but I’ve still achieved that goal and it’s kept me writing.

Set little goals for yourself. It works. Even if you only manage to write 50 words you’ve still written – you’re not gonna be able to whack out a whopping 70 thousand words every day. Keep the momentum going. As I’ve said before, writing is a bit like working out – if you suddenly miss a few days, it can soon turn to weeks and the absence can create a warm spot for the parasite of laziness to develop and you can soon find your New York Times Bestseller (every published book ever) thrown onto the wayside.

When I started this post I didn’t intend to mention goals as much, but hey I’ve got nothing against freestyling.

I wanted to mention that, as goals-orientated about life as you maybe, take a moment every now and then to notice the colour of the sky as you go from A to B. You’ll appreciate it. I spent many years smashing objectives and achieving goals, but lost count of things along the way. Missing the journey as my mind was only set on reaching the destination.

People-watch, look at the colour of the sky, take the route less travelled on your usual commute…whatever it is do something different and, most importantly, look for something different. After all inspiration is often in the unexpected, but if you’re only concentrating on the road ahead then who knows what you’ll miss on the sides of the roads.

Sure, on most motorways you’ll only miss seeing a handful of McDonalds and Little Chefs (other fast food joints are available too)…but inspiration will always be grazing somewhere along the grass – like a unicorn waiting to be found…or at the very least a carrot-chomping donkey.

The rhythm of creativity.

One of the hardest things about being creative is actually getting the momentum going and finishing the thing.

Whether you’re writing a story, typing up your memoirs or jotting down the lyrics for a power ballad – at one time or another you’re more than likely going to want to stop mid-sentence. Perhaps you’ll realise you fucked up something in the first paragraph, or maybe you’ll decide that the second verse isn’t quite right. Whatever the case, the likelihood is that you’re going to stop prematurely.

The lesson for today is simple.

Don’t do that.

A creative flow can be hard to find and once we get into one it’s important to do all you can to preserve it. On the various laptops and PCs that I’ve had over the years there are files and files full of unfinished novels and stories. They were either abandoned because I went off to chase the next shiny project I saw in the distance, or because I stopped writing and started editing – thus, breaking my flow and meaning that when I tried to come back to it the words weren’t coming as easy.

A good creative flow is like an incredible looking butterfly – amazing when you see it, gliding along at a good pace. But also very, very delicate – you just know that those wings are so flimsy that the slightest heavy touch could damage them beyond repair.

(Although, unlike butterflies, when your creative flow dies don’t pin its corpse to the inside of a collection book. That’s just weird.)

Your creativity is like this – once you get into the swing of it do as much as you can to keep it going, get those words out and don’t do anything heavy-handed that might affect it. If the words are coming naturally, don’t worry about those typos in paragraph one – don’t worry that you accidentally typed the name Maggie, when you meant to write about your character called Jed.

Concentrate on getting those words down, it’s easier to edit a page full of words than to take on a blank page with a mindset of fragile creativity.

Even if you suddenly decide you want to go back and change a full chapter of your story – just make a quick note of it, and then go back to your flow.

Once the words start to naturally get a little harder, or once that thing called life gets in the way – then you can come back to it and make those changes. Or maybe you just continue writing your story/blog post/etc as you now want it and go back once you’ve completed the draft.

When things flow and the job’s a good ‘un do all you can to keep it going. Don’t over-analyse until afterwards. If you ask a child to write you a story or draw you a picture, 90% of the time they’ll finish it.

Sure most of their work won’t make the ‘New York Times Bestsellers’ list (although maybe it would? Nearly every paperback I see has that on the front) – but they’ll get to the end. Because they just go with what they feel, and their inner-critic doesn’t break things up for them.

So, yeah next time someone calls you ‘childish’ or tells you that you’re acting like a ‘kid’ thank them and go smash something creative.