“8:30 PM stabbed the sky in its middle and bled the blue away. Jackson’s fall came slowly, but he was in the sky far enough to see the blankets and buckets of black ink stain and smother each fixture, skyscraper top, tree and every other lifeform. He had no idea where he would land, but he prayed it would not kill him. No one in particular answered his prayer, or at least he did not hear anyone answer it.”
I spoke with one of my favorite musicians, Tosin Abasi, about a year ago, and asked how he comes up with creative ideas for his music. Abasi is the lead guitarist of the instrumental group, Animals as Leaders who is known for innovative styles of guitar playing, production, and writing. I’ve always been interested in Animals’ style because it seems that they are a lot different from most groups I’ve heard before. Their songs evoke emotion and story telling prowess but are absent any lyrics and do not follow normal musical conventions. However, they never cease to amaze me.
As both a musician (I’m in a heavy metal band called Dark Matter) and someone who writes, I asked him how he creates such wonderful masterpieces and never seems to run out of ideas. He gave me one great piece of advice.
“Keep being inspired, and never stop finding new ways to be inspired.”
It was strange to hear that. Until then, I had never heard of inspiration as that kind of concept. Normally, people talk about inspiration as this magic potion that runs out at some point, thereby granting you writers’ block. But Tosin seemed to believe that there was a way to never stop the flow of inspiration. If you hear some of his music, this makes all the sense in the world.
From that point forward, I started trying to think of ways to constantly keep the inspiration jar filled. Here is what I’ve come up with:
1. Read as many words as you possibly can.
Stephen King is credited with this judgment: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. Period.”
I realized that if I was going to write a great book, I needed to read a lot more. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always loved reading. It opens your mind to new worlds. It frees you from linear thought. It educates you. Expands your vocabulary. There’s really no limit for what reading will do. However, it’s always been a problem child for me. Here’s a confession: it’s something that I’ve always struggled with. I’m not sure why, but from a young age, and even still, it has always been difficult for me to focus on one sentence. My eyes dart around the page. Sometimes I have to read the same thing twice. Typical symptoms of whatever they’re diagnosing kids with en masse these days. ADHD? Whatever they call it now, I have that pretty badly.
I’ll write more about why ADHD (or whatever it is now) is actually a blessing later, but for now let’s talk about the disadvantage: reading can be frustrating. It takes a long time. It is not always fun. But I’ve found that by disciplining myself to try to sit for as long as possible and try to take in every word, even if it is slow, is both therapeutic and helpful.
I recently read Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. I can’t say much about this book without giving the story away, but if you haven’t read it, and you’re a writer, you need to. It’s been awhile since I’ve read a book of that caliber — one that sparks both an inability to put the book down and an academic advantage after reading it at the same time — and I think it will be a long time before I ever read a book that amazing ever again.
When you read, you’re not only expanding your vocabulary, but you’re also opening your mind to new worlds, new thoughts, and new ideas. You’re reinforcing the fact that fiction has rules, but no real limits. And I also found that reading more has increased my desire to write more. Too many thoughts at once, maybe.
Here’s a list of books I’ve read recently. I hope this helps.
1. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle.
2. The Fifty Year Sword by Mark Z. Danielewski
3. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
4. The Zahir by Paulo Coehlo
2. Next, I must talk about television and movies. I’m pretty careful about how I consume them both — as this can turn into a huge waste of time and an energy drain. Binge watching is not healthy. However, television has some amazing series on at the moment which may spark some imagination for you. I started watching Game of Thrones recently and it has taught me a lot about character – building, which is quite obviously of huge importance. I can absolutely say the same thing for True Detective — a police drama which purposefully lacks any kind of plot twists or mysteries, but takes the viewer on a ride for intense, sad character study.
I’m not encouraging you to binge, here, either. Please note that. I’m also not encouraging anyone to try anything hard or dangerous. I’m also telling you that you should absolutely not try this in any way unless you are completely comfortable with doing it. You also don’t need to do this to write an amazing book. However, it just happens to be a moment of somewhat stupidity that turned out in my favor.
About three months ago, I tried acid. I did a fairly small amount with a set of five very close friends who I trust. It was not at any crazy party — just a simple situation in which we turned on meditative, jugni, Sufi type music and turned out the lights. I would like to describe it as extremely peaceful, but I’ve heard that everyone’s experience is different — I didn’t see dragons or green aliens, and I think this happens to very few people, but everything was moving and breathing, and I found that I came to terms with emotions in a very close way. Yes, I even started crying at one point because my roommate’s cat went outside (as he always does). He was gone for ten minutes and I was very concerned that he was lonely.
At one point, I started writing. Nothing of it was coherent, and that was not the main event. Even now, I’ve found that I’m more able to write in an emotional way which was something that I struggled with before. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I have found it much easier to tap into the emotional side of each character.
I also do not recommend using drugs as a crutch for creativity — however, one time use can conjure up feelings you did not know existed.
4. I’ve talked about music in previous posts — that is a whole other animal which I don’t have the amount of time or length in this post to discuss.
All that said, I hope some of this provides you with ideas of how to keep creativity. The point of inspiration is not to only use it when you have it, but to always have it.
At one point during the trip,
My roommate recently suggested that I try writing by hand. I’ve started a new novel – my third – and it is sometimes difficult to just sit down and write. He, also an avid reader and writer, was instrumental in showing me new books, ideas, and techniques that have made writing more enjoyable as of late.
One of those ideas has to do with how writing is first processed between brain and paper: handwriting as opposed to computer formatting. Certainly it takes a lot longer, but I’ve found it to be more fruitful. I’ll explain why. Also, I hope this helps anyone who is looking for other ways to write, or just would like to try something new. For me, writing on actual paper has encouraged a lot of improvements as well as thinking. Here are some points, tips, and benefits.
1. NO COMPUTER NO PROBLEM
Ever noticed that you don’t always have your computer on you? Of course you have. Writing on a cell phone is a pain in the ass – believe me I’m doing it right now. Handwriting allows you to jot down all of your ideas without worrying.
2. MO COMPUTER MO PROBLEM
Are you looking to cripple your creativity? Do you like not getting anything done? Do you hate looking at your computer screen for hours on end? Me too. Just kidding. I hate that shit. Wireless Internet means that Facebook is distracting you. And with the world at your fingertips, I guarantee that writing is the last thing you’re doing. At least if you’re me. ADHD is the best and the worst. I have a billion things I’m thinking at once, but it’s frustrating how I can only get a few of them done at times. Paper eliminates the Internet. No more looking at those stupid buzz feed articles. I literally have a pen and paper.
3. HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY
Do you find yourself censoring what you say when you type? I would imagine so. After all, that’s what the delete button is for. Some people have amazing thoughts that they just hit delete on without realizing. I found that paper makes it very difficult to delete anything, which means that you’re ultimately more honest with your readers. At least that’s true for me.
4. ROOMS FOR GROWTH
I’m not sure why this is, but I’ve always find myself trying to make page length a particular size. There’s no rhyme or reason for this. However, I’ve always found that when I’m typing, this concentration forces me to lose focus. Therefore I lose ideas. And therefore, whatever I’m writing comes off as forced, underdeveloped, and stunted. When I write on paper, I get ideas as well later when it’s time to type it out – this makes for a nice, developed, polished looking piece.
5. BECAUSE I’M EMOTIONAL
Ever heard the term “crying tears onto the page?” No, you haven’t because I just made it up. What I mean is that I believe there may be some weird chemistry between actually writing versus typing. When I handwrite, I find that my emotion comes out onto the page a lot more. Not sure why this is, but it happens to me.
I’m sure I could come up with 30 more reasons why this is working for me. If you haven’t done so yet, try it. I’ll note that it took awhile to get used to, but I like doing it. Good luck!
I don’t like what I do, I realized a few days ago. I sat on my brown, cold, leather couch and decided that I just hated being an English Major. For awhile, I had it in my head that I just hated writing altogether and I wanted to do something else, but I shattered that idea — triumphantly rekindling my love for creating. However, that sinking feeling in my stomach did not stop. I still felt misery, and I did not really know why.
But then my brother, Stephen, took a seat at the kitchen table. You can tell we’re brothers because he can read what’s on my mind. He looked at me with this grave concern in his eyes and asked me if I liked being an English Major. As if it was an obvious truth, my mind said, “yes.” My mouth was not as straightforward. I think I gave him some bullshit answer along the lines of, “there are parts of it I don’t enjoy, but the literature really interests me,” as if I was some fucking politician. I think he saw right through it.
The backstory is this: Stephen abandoned the social stigma of the doctor/engineer/lawyer/money making profession — all of which he is smart enough to pursue as career fields — years ago by declaring himself an English major. Although having an art – related major could obviously relate a struggle, Stephen did not plan on sacrificing his love for this art just for money alone. I remember being in high school when he did this. I did not know what I wanted to do, but I knew I loved reading and writing from a young age, and I had little or no confidence that I could succeed in a field that required me to learn more math, such as accounting or business. So following in his inspirational footsteps, I decided I should do the same thing. At first I enjoyed it, but over time, I realized something. He and I enjoy reading in two completely opposite ways. For those who don’t know, being an English major heavily involves analysis. That means that you have to observe a lot about the text, interpret it, see beyond the surface, and so fourth. It may sound easy, but it is quite the challenege. So when he asked that question, I wondered to myself: do I really enjoy this?
The simple answer is no. I love reading. I love writing, but when I read and write like that, I dread doing both. For me, analysis stole a lot of enjoyment I once had for reading and writing. And to enjoy reading is something I’d like again.
After these moments of ought, I revisited the idea and spoke to Stephen about it. The honest truth is that we don’t enjoy reading and writing in the same style. Stephen loves to employ a deeper meaning assignment to many things. If we were a filmmaking team, I would be the scriptwriter and he would be the video editor. One style is not necessarily better than the other, it’s simply a different way of thinking.
I even spoke to a professor I like a lot. He fits the trope of the cool, understanding, Mr. Shuester type, and he cares about his classes enough to bake for them whenever we do a workshop. Naturally, his approachablility made him the person to speak to about my struggle. The first thing we talked about upon my arrival was the notion that my grades had slipped a bit, but moreover, he could tell I did not have the same passion I did at the beginning of the year. My assignments and papers were lacking. And after I gave him the truth, he agreed, telling me that there was no sense in studying something I did not enjoy as much as possible.
The bottom line is this: I put a lot of work into my major and to be honest, it sucks to just leave, but at the same time, he and Stephen are both right. I should enjoy and have active interest in what I do, not be just trying to get by. Yes, I’ll be in college for a longer time than most people, but I would rather be set back a bit than to be stuck doing something I hate. Finally, and this was the hardest thing, I decided to take a semester off from college to do research on what I’d like to do. I’ll further write about my experience in the coming months. Although it was hard to sit in the school office and tell them I was quitting school for a semester, I think it’s for the best.
I apologize for not posting here more — although I would like to elaborate now, I’m going to keep this short. I stopped writing for quite some time, but the reason will hopefully be helpful to other writers. In the past two months, I’ve learned some important lessons about stress, inspiration, quitting, and most importantly, after finishing the first draft of Shiva, I put the book down. Let’s call it “indefinite hiatus,” as I have no plans to pick it up at the moment. But I’ll share why I’m happy about this soon 🙂
There are a lot of flaws within the text of the novel I just finished.
Here’s what I felt like when I read them:
If you’re following this blog, you may know that this is not the first time I’ve written a novel — but it is the first time I have found myself honestly proud of something I’ve done. Simply put, upon writing the last period, I basically said to myself, “okay, now we’re getting somewhere.” I’m not a self – doubting person, I try to stay positive; but at the same time, I have a certain pride about my own work that I’d like to see everything the best it can be before I make it public. With that in mind, I finished this novel thinking that I would have a lot less issues, that I wouldn’t have to do a rewrite, maybe. It kind of goes on in my head: I’ve done this before, I know how it works. The point is that I was wrong. There is a lot of work to be done still. A lot of parts need to be rewritten, and a lot of sequences need cutting and editing.
So here is what happened: as part of my editing process, I decided, quite naturally, that I would read my book.
PROBLEM/SYMPTOM #1: MAJOR CHANGE/PLOT HOLE
The first thing apparent to me during the reading of this novel was that there were plot holes. I knew exactly where they were, how present, and I knew I needed to fix them. None of it was subtle, either. Very glaring. But I suppose that’s a good thing because in many senses, that makes it easier to fix — or at least see the problem. Of course, the fact that there are plot holes is kind of like saying “the patient has a lung infection.” Great. Let’s find out what caused it.
The problem with plot holes is that they don’t just happen; they’re not out of the blue or unexpected. You can see one, typically, as you’re writing it. That is if you’re paying close enough attention. And yes, I am no different. It is a matter of my opinion that it is also very easy to write a plot hole if you (a) don’t have a clear direction for your story and/or (b) make a critical change to the story and/or text. For me, (b) was the most correct while there may have been a hint of non – focus therein.
I say this not to brag, but just to give context. About fifteen pages before I was finished with the story, I had this sort of insane idea (at least I thought it was insane — readers may or may not disagree) for a plot twist/surprise ending. I’m a sucker for surprise endings — the last great one I read — Hours, by Jesse Ribordy (hoursthestory.bandcamp.com) — gave me chills. The problem with writing this surprise ending was that no matter how good of an idea it was, it negated about half of what I had written already. It won’t mean that I have to do a full rewrite, but it certainly crippled a lot of things for me. To get a plot twist in the book like this, I believe it was worth it, but nonetheless extremely difficult.
I’ll talk about how to avoid this kind of thing in #3, but for now…
PROBLEM/SYMPTOM #2: OUTLINE FLUENCY/UNCLARITY
If you’ll look back, like, fifty posts, you’ll note that I had this whole system by which I ran an outline. For my last novel, it really worked for a number of reasons: one, I could easily see where the story was going. Two, I had such a fine focus that I was able to write the story in just a small bit of time — two months or so. While I wouldn’t call that novel anything to brag about, I will give it points for the focus aspect. This one was different. Although I started out using that outline system, my outline never fully matured. That is to say, I did not take nearly enough time to refine every bit of my outline as well as I could. I began writing the story without having a fully formed outline. I know this because I did change the outline as I went. Therefore, many points in the story were affected.
As a result of the outline not being fully formed by the time I started writing, and being frequently changed throughout, the overall message of my book suffers. As I was reading, particularly near the middle, until the end, I found myself asking why I had written certain things.
I’m not saying that changing the story is bad by any means, however, it can lead to your story being unclear, depending on how you execute this move.
PROBLEM/SYMPTOM #3: Changing Inspiration/Changing Ideas
This one was unexpected. It shows how no matter how hard I may have planned something out, it can easily change due to environment. I’m not actually sure if this one was due to poor planning, or if it would have happened anyway. Take the following conditions for example: I switched from community college to university, started seeing someone, got a new job, made new friends, and learned a lot of new things. I’m not sure why I didn’t thing this would affect me, but it did. A lot of the things I hear and see somehow find themselves lodged deep down — this contributes to a lot of how the book reads.
Again, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the story to change meanings — I’m sure this is quite natural, but during the reading, I found myself confused at some of the things I was trying to say. While this could have just been my own perspective, it certainly gives credibility to the need for an outside editor — someone who cannot see inside your brain and can give an objective markup of your story.
PROBLEM/SYMPTOM #4: Perspective Shifts/Underdeveloped Characters
This was the biggest issue, in my opinion. For this story, I heavily relied on the idea of perspective changes — how each character viewed one thing was different than how another character viewed the same idea. I’ll speak in generality to avoid spoilers. Let’s say, for example, that one character murders someone; I would take the opportunity to see this same instance from the perspective of another character.
One of the main ideas of the book is how two different main characters see the same situation. This affects the ending of the book, especially through the use of an omniscient perspective. The problem with this is that because of how complex the story ended up, the perspective shifts became very confusing. As a symptom of this, I found that I could not develop characters well because I was stuck figuring “who thought what” instead of “who is who.” Using multiple perspectives is not negative, but because I did not plan for this, I was stuck with an imbalance.
So yeah, I should have stuck more to an outline.
So here’s the point: my story has a lot of problems, but I know where each one is and I have a pretty good idea of how to fix it. Looking forward to writing more.
Oh, now you know what I look like, too. Which is strange because it turns out I’ve never actually posted a picture. I guess I can join the club. I’m officially an author with a self – taken headshot. Obviously cooler.
Just kidding — I posted this to give an accurate representation of what the last week has been: relaxation. In the photo, I was enjoying the sun – soaked campus of the University at Albany, the college at which I study. This photo was taken over a month ago, but depicts me with headphones on, listening to one of my favorite albums lately — “All We Love We Leave Behind,” by Converge.
I think that is interesting because the title implies the loss of something important. I haven’t written fiction in days. It feels like I’m volunteering my arm to be amputated.
The reason I say this is because there comes a time when I’m done with something where it takes a lot of nerve for me to slow down and relax. I’m used to doing twenty thousand things at one time, and I’ve always been that way. If you’ve been following Socially Decrepit for the last week, you may know that I finished my newest manuscript. I am very proud of myself for this, but I fully understand that this is only the beginning of the uphill battle that publishing a book can be, whether you’re on a traditional route (my personal preference) or a self – publishing system. By the way, both are valid expressions of this type of art.
So right now, I’ve decided that I’ve given it enough time. I’ve let the manuscript sleep for a week or so. It’s time for me to come out of the relaxing period. It took me about ten months to finish the draft. Let’s see if I can’t do the first round of editing this month.