A post below I glibly commented upon the price of talking to other writers. The irony of this sentence is that the price of talking to other writers is to have something to talk about. This will make sense in a moment I’m sure as I’m kinda posting from the hip but its 1:30 in the morning and I have to get up in six hours so I’m sure you’ll forgive me if this isn’t quite as coherent as my other posts (I’m imagining your sarcastic quips in my brain and not one of them is ha-ha-funny) but this is why Livejournal comes with an edit function.
Introduction and disclaimer aside, lets focus on the talking. Aside from submitting pieces of writing regarding monthly topics, one member is expected to devise a tutorial or a workshop for other members. This responsibility changes from person to person and the method devised in choosing each month’s teacher is a stroke of brilliance.
PRESIDENT OF THE WRITER’S CLUB (PREZ): Hey Ben, when did you say you were going down to Brisbane?
ME: Around late March. Probably between the 22nd and the 30th.
PREZ: So you’ll be here in February then?
ME: Sure, why do you ask?
I don’t think I need to elaborate further.
So I’m coming up with a workshop. I’ve done this before (no more than 30 minutes after I paid my first membership dues) and it was about dialogue, which was fascinating to me at the time. I liked it and I think others liked it too. But that’s in the past and you’re only as good as the last book you wrote or the last tutorial you taught. Time for something new, something different, something like…
Nah, that’s not a very good idea.
Two weeks after tossing out ideas we come to this night and back to the idea I just fished out of the garbage. I’m reading an interview with Alan Moore: comic writer (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Top Ten), music writer (March of the Sinister Ducks) and Chaos Magician (I got nothin’). Now depending on how much of his work you read or his comments regarding his and the genre’s evolution you’d discover that Moore answers a lot of questions that he asks himself. This will make sense in a minute as I segue into an abridged definition of Postmodernism.
Postmodernism is not, despite what one critic of my writing suggested, a term that fits when none others do or that the narrative it was set in modern times. It’s a method of analysis that’s turned into a story. Take an existing narrative or genre and ask some questions about why stereotypical conventions are used in narratives belonging to this category. One example might be Superheroes: Writing a story about Superman saving someone from a burning building. Now this may have been done before, in fact I’m certain of it and several times at that, but a postmodern writer might feel inclined to ask some questions of Superman’s character and the plot:
Why does Superman feel the need to save people?
Is there somebody else in danger that may need his help more urgently? If so, why choose to save this person?
Does he view such tasks as mundane and commonplace? (Eh a burning building, just use the super-breath to extinguish the flames and if that doesn’t work, spin really fast until I create a vortex that sucks the oxygen out of the flames. Or I could fly to the Artic and bring back an iceberg to melt over it, haven’t done that in a while). If he doesn’t, then how has he maintained this naivety after decades of doing this work?
Now we’ve asked ourselves these questions, lets look at a possible narrative:
Here’s the pitch: A candidate for the mayor of Metropolis is reluctant to rely upon Superman for assistance. Superman isn’t a paid civil servant and he doesn’t necessarily have to take orders from anyone. Plus what about if he decided that he wants to Mayor himself or ruler of this world?
To better understand his responsibilities to his citizens which includes the mightiest man on Earth, he stages a house fire and places himself in danger in order to observe up close just what drives the Man of Steel. Through this character, we receive answers to the questions we’ve asked above. And that’s postmodern*.
In simplest terms, Postmodernism is analysis of the narrative or character or genre in general and then writing a story about it.
What does this have to do with my upcoming tutorial and Alan Moore? Namely this:
At length, Moore has encouraged writers to examine their creative process. Not with a view to proofreading or editing existing portions of their work in as much as internally reflecting on the process that brought that work into existence in the first place.
You see, writers are a cowardly and superstitious lot and I’m afraid there is no room for either in this business.
Or as Harlan Ellison has said: “But the first time you say “Oh Christ, they’ll kill me!” then you’re done. Because the chief commodity a writer has to sell is his courage. And if he has none, he is more than a coward. He is a sellout and a fink and a heretic, because writing is a holy chore.”
And one of those fears that writers harbor is what happens when their talent, or muse, or inspiration disappears because he/she had the audacity to question the origins of their gift. You become a good writer by being able to articulate your thoughts on paper and sit on your arse long enough to get it done. But you become a great writer by thinking about how it could be done better. And the only way that can happen is to look at every element of the writing from the last word typed, to the idea at 4:00 in the morning you had in the shower because you couldn’t sleep.
Warren Ellis had a really good answer for the oft-repeated question: Where do your ideas come from?
I still get asked with appalling regularity “where my ideas come from.”
Here’s the deal. I flood my poor ageing head with information. Any information. Lots of it. And I let it all slosh around in the back of my brain, in the part normal people use for remembering bills, thinking about sex and making appointments to wash the dishes.
Eventually, you get a critical mass of information. Datum 1 plugs into Datum 3 which connects to Datum 3 and Data 4 and 5 stick to it and you’ve got a chain reaction. A bunch of stuff knits together and lights up and you’ve got what’s called “an idea”.
And for that brief moment where it’s all flaring and welding together, you are Holy. You can’t be touched. Something impossible and brilliant has happened and suddenly you understand what it would be like if Einstein’s brain was placed into the body of a young tyrannosaur, stuffed full of amphetamines and suffused with Sex Radiation.
That is what has happened to me tonight. I am beaming Sex Rays across the world and my brain is all lit up with Holy Fire. If I felt like it, I could shag a million nuns and destroy their faith in Christ.
From my chair.
See, this is the good bit about writing. It’s what keeps you going. It’s the wild rush of “shit, did I think of that?” with all kinds of weird chemicals shunting around your brain and ideas and images and moments and storyforms all opening up snapsnapsnap in your mind, a mass of new and unrealised possibilities.
It’s ten past two in the morning, and I’m completely wired, caught up in the new thing, shivering and laughing and glowing in the dark. Just as well it’s the middle of the night. No-one would be safe from me right now. I could read their minds and take over their heartbeats with a glare.
Faster than the speed of anyone.
That’s how it works.
How can you NOT want to know where such a feeling comes from? Because what Ellis describes isn’t just his emotions on the subject. It’s in every writer who dared to transcribe random electrical signals into letters simply because it makes us feel good. We want to feel like this all the time. How can that happen? By looking at how we go there in the first place!
And so, in our roundabout way we come back to the talking about stories. I’ve been to several meetings and every time a group is called upon to write something in, say, fifteen minutes, there is always one who says that they have Writer’s Block or they have to wait until their in the mood.
This is the first of two ways you’ll fail my tutorial come the next meeting. The second way is if you lie to yourself about the process of your own creativity.
Because the exercise involves everyone writing a story or a poem or a sonnet or whatever about themselves sitting down and writing. The rules are freeform, you can have it third or first, you can preserve your anonymity by writing about a character who eerily thinks like you but the story starts from whatever was the initial spark and it ends when the writer sits down to type the first word.
And on that, I leave you to read and I hope that this has bought me the luxury of sleep.
There will be further writings regarding last Sunday and having to write an adventure for Shadowrun in my head, mere hours before game time (And which is still being tweaked to keep smart-arsed and homicidal players on their toes) where I drove my brain into high gear to churn something out and had a good chance to experience the creative process firsthand. And it may even occur tonight if I’m unable to get to sleep.
But I doubt it. I feel it overtaking me just as I feel a million bright synapses fighting a raging war against the black tenebrous mass of exhaustion.
Sleep well, you and me both.
*You should allow some margin of error as I could have completely fucked it up and stunted your education. But that’s what you get for relying solely on the Internet for learning. Read a book!