Writing for fun, profit…and a desperate need for approval?

So i wrote an article and it was picked up by my editor, which means success! Money! Well done!

And today my wife mentioned that it’s May 4th tomorrow: Star Wars Day, and I immediately thought I could write another article and repeat that feeling of success and income and achievement.

Except that the moment I started it felt like a dry uphill battle. And then I started feeling physically uncomfortable and I started feeling some pain.

Okay. Let’s stop. This is pretty clear feedback.

For a number of years I’ve wanted some kind of formula for success – a task or work I can throw myself into and be applauded and rewarded for it.

But when I try, when I think “this is it!” bad things happen.

I really should just admit that I’m acting out of something negative. But it’s so enticing! I can just imagine this being the start of a whole series of great articles that build and build and bring me success and pride and please the people around me too.

I’ll be fitting in, finding my place, pleasing my superiors and placating those who’ve worried about me.

I’ll finally have an answer for the people who’ve demanded to know “what are you doing with your life?”

This is pretty cool contrast

I really don’t want writing to put me in physical pain, and I know there’s an issue here that would really benefit from my focus.

And I suspect the issue is: thinking that I must do something to win approval.

I’m actually really well accustomed to not feeling approved of, so much so that I sometimes leap at the chance to help people important to me.

But that’s still operating under the false premise that I require other people’s approval in order to feel good. I might have given up on it, but I still feel the weight of that premise.

All good feeling comes from within

Back to basics: it’s not our circumstances that make us feel good or bad, it’s the thoughts we focus on and their relative degree of alignment with our inner being, our “God’s eye view”.

Thinking that I need other people’s approval feels bad because it is not true and it is resistant to the love and appreciation that already flows to me from within.

My impulse to write another article was an attempt to use action to change my circumstances so I could feel better. That never works.

But that doesn’t mean I should resign myself once more to living without approval.

Feeling comes first

The only reason I wanted approval in the first place was because I thought I would feel good if I had it, and I believed I would get it if I found some work I could take pride in and earn money from.

Let’s go positive with this.

How would it feel to have approval of all the important people in my life?

It would actually feel really good.

But here’s the thing: In the moment I imagined that approval and felt that good feeling, I was simply allowing a good feeling to flow from within me.

That good feeling was always accessible within me. I just disallowed it because I thought I actually needed others to provide it.

In that sense does the feeling of “approval” ever come from others? No. It always comes from within us. It is our own allowing of approval to flow.

The Batman article we deserve

Mercatornet republished my blog post on International Batman Day!

And what a great and immediate example of what I wrote in a recent post:

It’s a bit like writing a draft. Is a draft a failure because it’s not as good as the revision? Of course not.

I remember someone saying that a first draft is really your first best try. It’s creating our first best try that gives rise to our desire for something more perfect, more a match for our desire and intention.

So check out the new and improved version:

Notwithstanding forgettable renditions in the current crop of DC films, and the controversy of Batman killing many people in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Christopher Nolan’s 2005 trilogy set the bar high in our appreciation of the Dark Knight’s story.

In Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan rescues our beloved hero from weak and campy portrayals of the late 90s, a series of films that had itself attempted to rehabilitate Batman’s image from the even more kitsch 60s TV series starring Adam West.

For many though, the gold standard is the early 90s Batman: The Animated Series which is not only regarded by many as the best on-screen portrayal of Batman anywhere, but one of the best animated series full stop.

https://www.mercatornet.com/popcorn/view/happy-international-day-batman/22423

Count Your Blessings Day 9

Welcoming contrast.

Today’s blessing is that I’m finding myself facing contrast, and welcoming it.

Contrast is sort of like unwanted experience.

But at a certain point it’s not right to call it unwanted as though that’s a bad thing. Because contrast helps us to hone and refine and reach for what we do want.

It’s a bit like writing a draft. Is a draft a failure because it’s not as good as the revision? Of course not.

I remember someone saying that a first draft is really your first best try. It’s creating our first best try that gives rise to our desire for something more perfect, more a match for our desire and intention.

So I’m facing some contrast in life around the subject of money, and it’s actually very welcome because without this contrast I don’t think I could yet have focused as clearly as I’d like to on that subject.

Or better yet…

It’s because I’m ready and in a good place to focus on the subject of money that I’m now receiving some contrast to help me refine my desires and shift my thinking about it!

So the contrast itself is truly welcome, while I appreciate all that has transpired to make me better able to handle it.

Writing from my couch

This past week I finally downloaded the WordPress app to my phone and I’ve been writing my posts while lying on my couch.

I should have done this ages ago! Forget stand up desks, yoga balls and ergonomic keyboards; this is true creativity untethered!

Lying on a couch is the best way to write. Honestly it feels so good I’m jealous of myself.

There’s something simultaneously rebellious and luxurious about it, playful and deeply satisfying like a childhood dream where bed becomes a boat and we float on the ocean waves in the miraculous comfort of dry linen, pillows and blankets.

I can hear the cars go by on the busy road outside my door. A clean breeze is blowing through the room. My head is supported by the arm of this 100 year old sofa, as I share my thoughts with you through the glowing screen.

And who needs ten fingers to type, anyway? What can be said in two minutes that can’t be better said in ten? I’m all thumbs right now but that’s more my speed.

Whatever makes me feel better, what makes writing more satisfying and more fun, what turns work into relaxation…

I don’t think I could have done this before. I’d have thought writing should be more serious, more intentional, more focused.

But more relaxed? More happy? More easy?

This tiny miracle of technology and receptivity is just one of many I attribute to my work of learning to feel better.

The smartphone, wifi, and apps are one miracle, but more significant is even allowing myself to consider it, to think that enjoyment is worthwhile, and care enough about how I feel to reach for it.

The meaning of life in fiction

One of the problems with my new fantasy book is that it doesn’t fit all that neatly into the fantasy genre. I’ve tagged it “magical realism” where appropriate because although it follows the standard boy-stumbles-into-hidden-magical-world trope, it does so with what I hope is as much realism as magic.

For me, magical realism is like urban fantasy with an enhanced appreciation for symbolism and hidden meaning. It borders on or blends into a spiritual worldview.

It was gratifying to find that the spiritual ideas most significant to me at the time could work their way directly or indirectly into the story. Tom’s role in the creation of the magical world let me draw on questions of free-will and fate without getting too heavy or confronting. Likewise the question of “what am I supposed to be doing?” could unfold without messing too much with the narrative.

It was probably inevitable that anything I wrote would draw on the themes and ideas that are important to me. And at present, the most significant of these ideas is that the self that feels it’s in control is an illusion.

In the story this theme approaches near the resolution of the conflict. But Tom shies away from it, relying on magic to protect him from his enemy. But as the story itself tells us, that’s Tom doing what he was meant to do.

“I don’t think you quite understand what I’ve been telling you,” Cornelius replied carefully. “There is no ‘supposed to’. There just is. If your reaction to all this is one of confusion and complication, then you just have to accept it. Or not accept it, I suppose. This is how the maker made you, after all.”

“But how does that help me?” Tom demanded. “I feel like we’re going in circles! No matter what you say it just keeps coming back to me being afraid, and there’s no way out of it!”

“Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying,” the gnome replied calmly.

I won’t be trying to force a moral into each story, or put clumsy platitudes in the mouth of every ‘wise’ character. The beauty of magical realism is that everything becomes a kind of sign or message, whether the author realises it or not.

Tom still has a long way to go and a lot to learn. Whether he as a character understands in the end is less important than the story as a whole embodying these truths. That’s what made writing this book most rewarding to me: the chance to see these ideas, principles, and motifs appearing and reappearing everywhere throughout the story. That’s the author’s privilege, I think. We get to discover the meaning hidden in the work in ways that surprise and astonish even its creator.

If you like the idea of gnomes proclaiming free-will paradoxes, or finding the meaning of life in a children’s novel, you’ll find yourself inevitably drawn to my new book To Create a World:

Writing with the power of panic

I think I’ll need somewhere between five and ten good quality ebooks for sale before I stand a chance of really making a living from it.

Bearing in mind that my idea of “making a living” is pretty frugal. Last time I checked, my family of three was living quite comfortably on what the OECD considers the poverty-line for a single adult in Australia.

But as my son gets bigger I’m starting to feel the need for a bigger place to live. He won’t fit in that cardboard box forever.

So while it was exciting to publish my first ebook recently, it’s really only the start. I’ve arbitrarily set myself a June deadline for the first draft of the sequel to To Create a World. If I write 1,000 words a day that will give me about 75,000 words, but I’m expecting the sequel to be bigger than the original, so I’m counting on passing my word-count more days than not.

That’s a lot to write. I won’t get there without making a major effort, and this realisation has done something to my mind.

With my first book, I took my time. I wanted it to be right at each stage. The first draft felt right, right up until the moment my wife finished reading it and paused a long, long time before giving her opinion.  In the end To Create a World took seven drafts to complete. Some were minor fixes, others were major additions or rewrites.

So this time I’m not waiting to see if it feels right when I write. Instead, I’m using my panic over the looming deadline to keep me focused, and my knowledge that rewrites are inevitable to keep me relaxed.

It’s finally making sense why people say not to edit until you’ve finished. If I stop now, I’ll never get it done.

The literal deadline doesn’t matter too much. It’s just there to give me something to strive towards. If the story stretches the draft out to 100,000 or more I’ll keep going until it’s done. But I can’t afford to slow down or dawdle. Even when the sequel is finished, I won’t be.

While you’re waiting for me to finish, read my debut novel To Create a World. I’ve pitched it at middle-grade readers, but so far the majority of people who’ve read it (and enjoyed it) have been adults. I’m sure that’s something I’ll have to rethink in future.

Fat, non-fiction and the philosophy of losing weight

I’m working on a diet book at the moment, and it’s taking a bit of time to get back into the process of writing non-fiction.

The book is essentially a common-sense philosophical approach to the problem of diet, weight-loss, and overeating. And if “common-sense philosophical approach” sounds like an oxymoron to you, well that just means you’ve been philosophising wrongly.

If you can’t use philosophy to ask “why am I fat?” then what good is it?

The book is based on my own experiences over the last couple of years, wherein I analysed the hell out of my eating habits, motivations, and life itself, and then lost 20kg with relative ease.

How easy was it? Well on the one hand, it involved facing some unpleasant truths about my life that were painful and confronting to admit. On the other hand, I didn’t do any additional exercise and stopped even thinking about losing weight. When I finally thought to weigh myself it was a surprise to see how many kilos I had lost. It felt like I wasn’t even trying to lose weight.

I discovered this approach because I’m too lazy to do huge amounts of exercise, too gluttonous to just set arbitrary limits on my food intake, and too frustrated at the conflicting messages and “solutions” offered by existing diets.

Here’s a great example: today the news is full of new evidence that gluten-free diets might increase the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Meanwhile we’re in the midst of either a revolution or just-another-fad that says refined sugar is the devil in nutritional form. Should we place bets on how long it is before some other new discovery bursts the no-sugar bubble?

I’m not doubting the scientific evidence, just doubting my ability and motivation to sift through all the conflicting messages to work out the whole complex picture formed out of the various strands of research.

I’d much rather see what I can work out for myself, using principles and facts that are unassailable. And if it turns out that I still lack the necessary information to find a solution, then at least I’ll know for sure that this is the case.

Asking “why am I fat?” is actually a great philosophical question. It led me to some very profound answers that have almost entirely changed my eating habits, and the way I relate to food. That’s why I’m writing a book about it. I’m sure some people will find it too radical and confronting, but for others it will provide the kind of certainty and insight they’ve been craving.

While you’re waiting for me to finish writing it, why not check out my new novel To Create a World? Unlike in Harry Potter the evil characters aren’t overweight!

To Create a World – and an ebook!

So I’ve finally published my first ebook!

It’s been, in all honesty, one of the most exciting and enjoyable things I’ve ever done.

final4thumb

To Create a World is a middle-grade fantasy novel about a boy named Tom who enters a hidden magical world in search of a magician who can heal his sick sister. When he arrives, he finds that the hidden world is all but empty and the magician is long gone. It’s up to Tom to rebuild the world, and fill it with all the magic and adventure a hidden world ought to have.

…and it turns out that writing fiction is awesome. Or, to be precise, finishing writing fiction is awesome. It’s so incredibly satisfying to have reached this point after about fifteen months of working on the manuscript, on top of two or so years of trying to figure out how to write fiction in the first place.

Along the way I’ve been astounded and full of barely-contained glee at all the things that have come together in my life, in my mind, and in my writing as this book took shape.

It’s as though everything has become a metaphor for everything else. Even my experiments with making things like cheese and bacon and beer have flowed back into this creative process, until writing and publishing an ebook became a natural extension of the DIY ethos.

In other words, I’m stoked.

But as with all my other creations, the keyword is experimental. There’s still so much to learn about writing, publishing, and marketing. Expectations are realistic. I have another four books to write in the medium-term along with blog posts and articles to support and publicise this one.

I’m really looking forward to sharing some of my insights and observations along the way!

A big thank you to everyone who reads this blog, and especially to the people who supported me directly and indirectly in writing To Create a World.

The links will take you to my ebook page which lists all the available digital stores. You can purchase it from Amazon if you use a kindle, or the kindle-for-pc app, and it’s available on the iTunes iBook store if you have an iPad or iPhone. Other digital stores can be found on this page.

Show and Tell

Some people say “show don’t tell” but most fiction contains both showing and telling.

It’s really a question of how you impart information to the reader at any given time. Is it better to be descriptive and show the reader what is happening? Or is it better to be direct and tell the reader what is happening?

Depending on the circumstances, your story will call for different techniques at different times.

For example, sometimes it’s important to tell the reader directly:

War was coming.

But to keep it immersive, you would surround it with details:

War was coming. He could see it in the grim frowns of the soldiers at the gate, their weary eyes scanning the horizon for tell-tale signs of the encroaching violence.

If the coming war is an important point, you would go on to add further immersive details that build evidence for the reader.

Children skulked indoors, peering out through windows and doors as the city streets filled with soldiers, the city’s defenders in their proud blue uniforms, boys and old men drafted to man the walls while the real warriors fought hand-to-hand in the open field.

Even though that is somewhat immersive, it’s still a lot of information packed into one sentence. It’s still telling a lot more than it’s showing.

If we want to show more, we’d need to expand it more, and at this point you’d be thinking of the best way to convey the information immersively from whatever perspective you’re using, eg. I’d have to place my point-of-view character somewhere near these events in order to ‘show’ them more effectively through his eyes.

Tom frowned. From a distance they looked sound enough, the city’s defenders in their proud blue uniforms as they stood at ease in the courtyard awaiting orders. But as he approached them Tom spotted the grey hair of old Mr Jones poking out from under his shiny black helm, and the pimply face of a boy scarcely older than Tom, his wide eyes glancing this way and that as if expecting the enemy to jump out at any moment.

Tom’s heart sank.

There were too many of them, faces old and young scattered throughout the garrison. Grandfathers and mere boys called to man the defences against an enemy they barely knew, let alone knew how to defeat.  Where were the soldiers? The real defenders?

As you can see, it’s possible to turn a few words into a few paragraphs if you so choose. The real question is whether you need to for the sake of the story. How much detail is too much? How much is too little? You want the story to be immersive without dragging into pointless details.

Even though that last excerpt shows more than the one before it, it also adds more telling. It tells additional details that didn’t exist before. This is why “show don’t tell” can be confusing, because they will almost always coexist and depending on the style of the text it simply won’t be possible or desirable to eradicate all telling.

Ultimately, what matters is how well the text reads, and how immersive it is. In my experience, excessive telling or insufficient showing suggests that the story has not been plotted or drafted enough. The plot is, in a sense, the ultimate tell. My suspicion is that when people tell too much in a draft, it’s because they haven’t first laid out those very direct details in a plot and instead they intersperse the narrative with character, setting or plot points.

While it’s still early days for me, so far my plot and my drafts have all moved in the direction of greater elaboration and showing. In plot form, the excerpt above might be as brief as “Tom realises that the defenders aren’t professional soldiers, and so he….”

This is enough to further the plot, but obviously not enough to interest or immerse the reader. Hence the first draft is an attempt to convert these plot points into immersive scenes, like story-boarding a screenplay.

That’s how it’s turned out for me, anyway. But you could argue that all these ideas are subordinate to the simple imperative of writing a readable story, using whatever works for you.

Fiction update – so, so tired.

One week ago I gave a brief update of my fiction efforts that showed my progress over the past forever, culminating in a few months of promising work and the first draft of a novel.

The second draft has passed much more quickly. In keeping with the format:

February 22nd 2016 – finished second draft.

30 hours of writing and 44,800 words.

That’s about 8,000 more than the previous draft. Apparently comparing two word documents and showing the percentage changed is just beyond Microsoft Office, but I can say that I made more than 2200 changes between first and second drafts, though that includes both minor corrections like deleting a misplaced comma, and major ones like inserting a whole new chapter.

Still, that’s 30 hours in one week as opposed to 85 hours in one month for the first draft. That’s 4.28 hours per day up from 2.83, a more than 1.5 times increase in productivity.

I think it comes down to having the main character’s story arc fully formed in the first draft. The second draft was largely a matter of filling in details that were too extraneous to include in the first draft, and slowing down the pacing of the text.

I think for the first draft I was just in a hurry to complete the main character’s story, and the feedback I’ve had so far suggests that my next draft will need to include even more non-essential elements to give the story greater breadth and breathing space.

But that will have to wait. I’m going to take the ubiquitous advice to now put it aside for a while and return to it with fresh eyes a little down the track.