All posts by stephenpellow

creative writer, comic book/sci-fi/fantasy enthusiast, WWE Universe member, Disney D23 fan, video game player, music appreciator, and dvd/blu ray collector.

Progress Report: The Resolution Revolution

I haven’t followed up on one of my previous blog posts before, but I felt that one month on a little bit of a progress report seemed like a good idea. Shortly before writing that last post I was in a place where, for various reasons, things with me needed to change and action needed to be taken.

But I have never been one for too much change, so I started with two areas I could affect immediately – writing and fitness. I had already started with this when I discovered #writeandrun21 was going on (a big thank you to Christine Frazier @BetterNovelProj and her brother Matt @NoMeatAthlete) so tying the two activities together made a lot of sense.

That was the vow – to get healthier and write more. So far, so good.

The continuing support of the #1k1hr writing sprint circle I have found myself a part of at the tail end of last year only gave me the extra encouragement to keep at it. Even when I’m writing and they aren’t around (due to all being online at different hours, spread across multiple time zones) the idea of that group is still behind me, spurring me on.

Back in my “Writing to White Noise” post I said I found it nigh on impossible to write under the circumstances of being in a public place and surrounded by fellow writers working on their stories, but without those guys and gals actually being physically present and being sat in comfort in my own home, the pressure I felt of the writing circle was gone. I find myself able to write more freely and naturally than I ever could have if we were all sat around a table across from one another.

It has now been a little over three years since I came back to writing, after almost a decade of being away from it. I found that while my creativity was still there, albeit a little different to how I remembered, I wasn’t producing anywhere near the amount of writing that I used to be able to in my late teenage years and early twenties.

While I understand that everyone else in that excellent little writing sprint circle is working on full manuscripts to their novels, for me I have been using those hours to not only work on chapters of my own novel but also on short stories as well as writing up notes and journals. At this stage it doesn’t matter what the particular project is, only that I am getting the words out. Several hundred of them a day, flowing out of me for at least one hour. Not all of it is going to be gold, but it’s all worthwhile. I’m hoping that through the word sprints it will eventually become habit for me to write like this on a daily basis unaided. Second nature. The intention is for me to ultimately be writing more, and so far that has been the case.

By the way, the walking/fitness thing is also going very well and also ongoing.

Thanks for reading, and happy writing!

New Year – Write More! The alternative resolutions list.

Historically I’ve used the calendar milestone of my birthday to note and keep track of my accomplishments, and failures, from year to year. Me getting older (progressing in both age and wisdom?) seemed a more obvious reference point to me, rather than the last digits of the year changing on paperwork I have to fill out.

But still it can be a time for some to evaluate what has been done over the last twelve months, and take steps of how to improve upon that for the forthcoming year. This last year I feel I’ve written possibly the same amount as the year before, but I’ve definitely shared a lot more of my writing than ever before and has expressed myself to more people than I have previously.

WRITE MORE

I’ve written a couple of posts for this blog that have been fairly well received and through them have got in contact with some remarkable people, all of whom showed interest and asking questions of my writing and sharing with me their own creativity.

I will still procrastinate as much as I ever have. There will always be that one e-mail I am going to want to respond to before I start writing when the laptop goes on.

WRITE MORE

Housekeeping – and I don’t mean dusting the shelves or vacuuming the carpets! “I’ll write better if I had a tidier, sparser, desk or writing area”. What I have said before about my writing space was that I probably should have one but don’t.

From part of a blog post in 2012 :

I don’t have a writing space. No nooks, crannies or cubby holes. No ready room. No secret garden. No stark whites, or muted earth tones and certainly nothing airy and spacious overlooking sweeping vistas. I write in my head, and with all the useless trivia I have retained over the years there’s certainly no room for a desk in there.  Sometimes that’s all I need, but it mostly comes down to having pen and paper and me, and that’s it. If I were to sit in a room, at a desk and try and surround myself with inspiration – when I’m put against a clock, pressured even slightly to produce something nothing happens.

IMG_7844 (Small)

I still don’t have a desk. I have a little table that is barely wide enough for my laptop that slides up rather nicely to my comfiest armchair.

WRITE MORE

Fitness – another area that’s generally pondered at this time of year, when we realise how much food has been consumed in tandem with being fairly sedentary over a few days. Maybe becoming fitter, healthier and more energised will also focus the mind and inspiration and creativity will pour over you. While I have bought some new gym clothes already, I’m taking part in #writeandrun31 which is being organised by Christine Frazier @BetterNovelProj and her brother Matt @NoMeatAthlete. Walking is more my speed though so I won’t be running – it’s a lovely idea and everyone who takes part I will hold in high regard.  http://writeandrun31.strikingly.com/

WRITE MORE

 The setting of  specific targets and goals, with regards to my writing, will never seem to work out for me (NaNoWriMo? No thank you, not yet!) and I find the added self-imposed pressure to counter my creativity. So no X number of words per day or X number of hours per day. I simply vow to WRITE MORE – wherever and however I can, whenever I feel I can.

WRITE MORE

and Happy New Year to you all!

Has your writing ever upset someone important to you?

Have you ever produced something that has had a negative effect on someone you know, or your relationship with them?

You can’t please everyone in writing; it is an impossibility. Any subject that we as writers choose of our own volition to explore in our work has the potential to upset somebody somewhere. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and this is something that we can’t really dwell on too much.

But I am not talking about generalities where making a comment and taking a stance (accidental or otherwise) in terms of sexism, racism, politics or another subject where whole groups can be offended – instead I am asking if you have ever written a story that you personally have been happy with and have shared with others, and have had good feedback on, only to find that one person close to you was upset with it to the point that it altered your relationship with them?

Last year, taking a prompt from the Storyslingers writing group, I wrote a flash fiction piece that I was extremely satisfied with. I felt it was some of the strongest writing at that time I had produced and was keen to send it to trusted groups of people for their comments. This included a friend who while not a writer herself had been supportive of my writing and always wanted to read my work.

So I sent it to her without taking the content of the story into account. I hadn’t thought of her while I had been writing the story and it never occurred to me that there was anything in it that anyone could find overly upsetting. I didn’t think when I sent it about things that she had experienced in the past. Things that my story would be taking her back to and that she would sooner forget.

We are still in touch from time to time, wishing each other well with polite platitudes, but our relationship has been damaged and there is now a distance between us. I should have known better and not sent her the story but I just didn’t think at the time. As a result I went through many months of doubt regarding the things I wrote about. What if one of my stories was to upset someone else I am close to, even a family member? I came to the point where I realised I can all self-censor within reason but if I spent too much time worrying about causing offence I would end up not writing anything at all.

To an extent this sort of internal discussion is always off to the back of your head, relying on your own moral compass telling you “that might upset some people” and making the decision to make alterations on the fly.

Has your writing ever upset you?

I don’t mean through frustration; through it not meeting the standards you want it to – but the actual content. Have you ever written something that has made you question what on earth you had inside you that could result in something that you find intolerable? Last week, during a quick writing session before heading out to work, I turned out something that I found to be the most demoralising and pessimistic 300 or so words I have ever produced and I vowed it would never ever see the light of day. It left me with such an uncomfortable feeling for most of that morning but ultimately I’m grateful that I’ve purged that from my system and hopeful that it’s going to open the way to some more constructive and redeeming writing. Something more along the lines of what I want to be producing.

No feelings were hurt in the writing of this blog post – hopefully none will be made from reading it.

 

To what end? Does being a writer mean you have to have an endgame?

If I were a sculptor… but then again no, that’s not a good way to start off this post. Let me try this again for you.

Doing something you love but not getting paid for it generally makes you a “hobbyist”. If I set up an easel in my garage and painted, or I strapped a camera around my neck and traversed hilltops and valleys to take picturesque landscapes… or even if I took pride in a small corner of the garden and made a whimsical little area for fairies and goblins… Heck, if I made something with LEGO that wasn’t to the manufacturer’s design and displayed it on my mantle I would mostly likely be greeted with comments on what a wonderfully creative little hobby I had.

My occupation in retail is not something I want to define me to others, and writing is too much a part of who I am for me to really label it a hobby, but if you tell someone you’re a writer, invariably they’ll ask you; “are you published?” There has to be an endgame for writers in the eyes of non-writers it seems. I didn’t tell people I was a writer because to answer their go to question in the negative resulted in me having to go on the defensive, and to avoid feeling like a failure. We aren’t allowed to just be able to write for ourselves for the pure creativity in it. For the pleasure and the incredible sense of wellbeing we get from it alone.

I should at this point state that when I say I am not published, that is to say I have not attempted to get any of my creative writing published. In the late nineties I did contribute to a weekly e-mail newsletter reviewing episodes of US television shows. I also had an article on a now defunct US-based sports website in the early noughties on the subject of professional wrestling, and currently have reviews of CDs and DVDs printed in Trucking magazine (available monthly from all good newsagents).

“You play an instrument but you aren’t in a band? Do you have a record deal yet?” It just doesn’t get asked.

I can’t draw, paint, sing, dance, act, play an instrument – writing is my own personal creative outlet. I write because I love to write. Truly love it.

So, to what end? Can “for the sake of it” not be enough? That’s not to say that at some point down the road my aspirations will change, but that shouldn’t invalidate or belittle my desires now to just be able to express myself through writing for pleasure, to want to get better and better at it, as anyone practising anything would wish to do. To have a fun with it.

I’m only a hobbyist by definition. In my heart, I am a writer.

Writing to White Noise

A little over a week ago a few members of our illustrious group of Storyslingers met up at the local public house with the intention of hammering out some words on our respective stories in a relaxed atmosphere, surrounded by like-minded and creatively inspiring support.

I’ve never been one to write on command, it’s always had to be when the mood and inspiration have taken hold of me, but I didn’t go there with a lack of ideas. I had things I knew I could write, that I had to write, and yet nothing was happening. It was frustrating to be sat there, nursing my orange juice and lemonade and staring at the open Word document on my laptop all the while my fellow ‘slingers tapping away at their keyboards and talking of a 1000 words noted.

So what was happening that was preventing me from writing? I believe it was the pub itself, and the distraction it was providing. For me, it was the wrong type of background noise.

When I write, as infrequent as that may sometimes be, and I am producing a serious volume of output there is always some background noise. Some people make playlists of particularly inspiring pieces of music, or songs that are acting as a soundtrack to the stories they are writing.

I remember reading an interview with the late and great Iain M. Banks where he said he had once written with a James Bond movie on in the background because he was so familiar with it he didn’t have to pay it such attention. It became like a white noise that filled the air as he wrote but didn’t distract him.  While I would never dream of comparing myself to him, I feel very much the same way – only for me it’s not James Bond movies (as much as I am accustomed to them as well) but television. Most comedies, American sitcoms, either on DVD where there are up to 8 episodes on a disc or whatever is on Comedy Central during the day. Heavily edited episodes of Two and a Half Men usually.

For me it’s not about getting inspiration from these shows as I write, but about the ease and familiarity they provide that allow me to write without the feeling of frustration that I had felt at the pub.

So what is your white noise when you are writing, or do you like to be distracted and tested when you do?

Video game writing – interactive storytelling or grand world building design?

I have never made it a secret that I am an avid (if not particularly good) video game player, and I have noticed that storytelling in video games has evolved and become a lot more ambitious in the last few years. It’s come a long way from a lengthy backstory written up in the forward of an instruction manual to character customisation, choosing your path and having multiple outcomes. Yet the writing in video games is something that is dismissed by people who would still laud the plots and characters of movies and novels.

While interactive storytelling can be much more complex than linear storytelling, the fundamentals are the same. You have structure, characterisation, 3-5 acts and a climax, but time can pass dependant on the player and his or her interactions within the game. The script has to take into account a third dimension that is controlled by the player, and out of the writers hands completely. Working within the boundaries and constraints offered by the medium provide the biggest challenge to the writer of a game as opposed to, say, someone writing a novel.  Rhianna Pratchett had to write most of the backstory for Mirror’s Edge off screen in comic book format, so it didn’t exist for the majority of people who played the game, her original story chopped and edited to fit already existing level design and gameplay mechanics. A frustrating, but not totally uncommon, occurrence to video game writers.

But there are more games writers now than there were five years ago, and creators like Ken Levine of Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite are more becoming the norm. Neil Druckmann, writer of the PlayStation title “The Last of Us” would like to see a move away from mainstream pop culture references and to make the stories told in games to be as personal as possible. When you don’t approach things from a personal or emotional level, he feels the player doesn’t learn the message you are trying to convey.

To me, the writing in video games is beyond simply the narrative, the lines of dialogue and scripted cut scenes. Video game writing is at it’s best when you don’t notice it. It’s the experience of the story, a believable and immersive world built and presented that makes sense. This is why I personally find video games such as the Bioshock series, Gone Home, Portal and Mass Effect great inspiration for my own world building exercises, and encourage me to want to expand my own fictional universes.