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Sunday, 28 February 2010

A User's Guide to Mythological Objects.

In honour of the upcoming remake of 'Clash of the Titans', let's get technical.  These items should have come with proper instructions, mortals are ill-equipped to handle or construct these objects. Its like giving a lightning bolt to a three-year old (unless the three-year old is Hercules...)

Gorgon's Head
Why isn't my target turning into stone?
Check that your target is standing no more than 3m away from you and making direct eye contact with the Gorgon's face. Using a mirror, check that both eyes of the Gorgon are completely open.

Warning: In the event of accidental petrification, consult a sorcerer or deity of your choice.
We are not liable for mishaps arising from the intentional/ unintentional misuse of your  Gorgon's head. In irreversible cases, we recommend that the statues be assigned new functions as garden ornaments and subjects of dinner-party conversation.

Golden Fleece
Although of divine origins, always wash your golden fleece in lukewarm water with mild detergent after use and drip-dry.

Pandora's Box
Read the warning stated on the outside. Includes Hope.

Trojan Horse
Functions only as a decoy, not as an armoured vehicle.
Do not exceed stated capacity.
Does not include toilet or other amenities.
Recommended for overnight use only.

(Minotaur sold separately) If lost, please find your way out by following the thread.

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Thursday, 18 February 2010

Zen Pen

Zen wisdom come in sayings or  the koan- a lightning bolt of impenetrable, illogical profundity. Answers are not required as the enigmatic sayings and axioms are intended to induce enlightenment by moving the mind to a different position. This is called a mental 'precipice'.

Whether you leap off the precipice or sit and admire the view, the Zen approach benefits the writing process. If your writing sessions sound more like "Arghhhhh!" instead of "Ahh!" read on.

1. "Water that is too pure has no fish" (Hong Zicheng)
You may have created a great protagonist/ antagonist. But no one is 101% goody-two shoes or evil. Not only are these characters stock, two-dimensional and boring, they are also implausible.  Characters are conflicted and flawed, they are rattling bags of contradictions and they transform over the course of a story. Or even a sentence.

2.  "Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done - it's just doing it" (Alan Watts)
Story plans : structures or strait-jackets? Try not to think of extremes in the early stages. Instead, put your story in an open space and explore it. You don't have to know all the answers yet.

3. "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear, does it make a sound?" (unknown)
A koan-like philosophy question but not a Zen koan.  Can something exist without it being perceived?
You may have manuscripts tucked away somewhere, stories you don't show to anyone. Without exposure they are as good as non-existent. Go on, dig them out, have another look. Since you wrote them, you owe them their existence.

4. "In serving, serve.
       In fighting, kill."   (Jinzu)
Let me append another line, "In writing, write."
I see this as a warning against multitasking, which detracts from your intention. We all do it, but perhaps it is better to turn off the technological distractions and just concentrate on your work. 

5. "The reverse side also has a reverse side" (proverb)
As a writer you are encouraged to be investigative and look beyond the obvious. There is never just one aspect or story to anyone or anything.

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Monday, 15 February 2010

TLCs (Terrible Love Couplets)

Romantic poetry a la Eeleen. Hallmark cards please don't cancel my contract....

Candy heart gifts and chocolate are far from pathetic,
But darling, you forgot that I'm *diabetic*!                                          

'Love Kamikaze' is one of your nicknames:
'When you go down, you go down in flames'

I care not for your flaws, warts, stretch marks and cellulite,
Because when Cupid took aim, he used an Armalite!

#4 Bella saw the fortune-teller about her fella
  Who tell'd her, 'Stop hiding your love- dig him up from the cellar!'

Bella frowned- the answer didn't please her:
She preferred that other geezer she'd stashed in the freezer.

In such matters, it pays to be pragmatic:
Don't remain static and keep the corpses in the attic.

Love life affected by the global credit crunch?
Pray, desist from buying her a $5.99 McValue Lunch!

'Love is blind', there's no separation,
An accelerated process of macular degeneration.

He finally popped the question, so why so bitter?
Is is because he proposed via Twitter?

Once I tried speed-dating on speed,
It was over too soon, so I went back to weed.

On love's battlefield Cupid lurks like a viper,
Archery's outdated- now he's a sniper.
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Monday, 8 February 2010

Writer Olympics

Let's be honest with ourselves: writing is not very physical. Heaving the laptop/notebook to the cafe is probably the most active a writer gets when they are working, or pacing the room and tearing your hair out while threatening your Muse to show up. Not that I'm saying all writers neglect exercise, some make the best exercisers. Yours truly loves her gym, belly dancing and core-strength vinyasa yoga with Sadie Nardini (not necessarily in that order...) 4-5 times a week and Murakami wrote a book on long-distance running.

But I'm sure you are an athlete in your mind (otherwise you won't be insane enough to be a writer.) you train yourself everyday to bang out those words on paper. You can create a team of characters in the time it takes to run 100m! Your plotting strategy is worthy of field sports! You run multiple marathon writing sessions!  You tell yourself mental exhaustion/burnout is for amateurs!

Citius, Altius, Fortius! Pay tribute to the upcoming highest manifestation of human athletic ability the 2010 Winter Olympics, by taking the following quiz, inspired by the Guardian guide to Winter Olympics

Which Winter Olympics Sport Matches your Writing Style?

1. You prefer to___
a)Work alone
b)Work with a friend/ buddy
c)Write and then present work to a group for critque
d)Write as part of a group for the competition

2. Once started on a piece, you___
a) Stick to it and block out outside intrusions - its gonna be a long hard slog.
b) Contact your friend/buddy regularly
c) Need a nudge or a push from your team (friends, family) to get you going
d)Brace yourself against all odds.

3. Which best describes your progress?
a) Slow and steady. With scheduled breaks
b) A sustained effort as long as your friend/buddy performs well.
c) A hard fast start but with a tendency to get sidetracked.
d) A furious intensive session. Other people have to referee on your behalf

4. Which response best describes your response to writer's block?
a) Take a break and resume writing when recovered.
b) It's their problem too!
c) Should've seen that coming! 
d) Head on. With a long stick and body armour

5)How do you react to unjustified negative criticism?
a) Shrug it off.No one said it was going to be easy when you're alone.
b) Smile at each other. All judges are biased anyway.
c) Blame your equipment ("@#$%ing spellcheck!")
d) Pick a fistfight, it never hurts to entertain your audience too....

If you chose:

Mostly As:
Cross Country Skiing
Endurance and tenacity are your main strengths. But know when to pace yourself. 

Mostly Bs:
Figure Skating
Something genuinely beautiful can emerge from collaborations if you can both master your egos.

Mostly Cs:
Your team are behind you all the way but you are driving your bobsleigh, and have to figure out the best way along your personal track.  Maintain control and don't lose it

Mostly Ds:
Ice Hockey
You play fast, and score goal after goal. Writing feels like a full contact sport and you tell yourself you thrive on challenge. Beware of mid-career burnout and play nice with the other team.

Post your results in the Comments section

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Saturday, 6 February 2010

Compelling Readability

I gave up an entire weekend to "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman last month. I took the book everywhere with me, even to the smallest room in the house and other peoples' houses.
How does a writer like Gaiman achieve it? When reading the first sentence is like slipping down the Winter Olympics track on a luge, when progressing from chapter to chapter distorts a reader's perception of time.  I call this seemingly magical quality Compelling Readability.

Gaiman is not the only one: Armistead Maupin wrote of Clive Barker possessing the 'easy confidence of a tribal storyteller - an elder who has seen everything and committed most of it to scripture. '. No matter how outlandish or outrageous the tales, the reader trustingly surrenders to the writer. Those first storytellers appealed to a mass audience gathered around in a large collective.

Remember, the first stories were not written down to be individually read, their word-of-mouth was literally, word of mouth . Shakespeare would laugh if he saw students writing essays about his plays and sonnets.  Literary theory, admiration and analysis hijack sheer experience; 'How?' becomes more important than ,'Wow!'

I won't apologize that the writers mentioned in this post are are deemed popular, I never trusted the demarcation between popular and literary because the two are not mutually exclusive and a poor gauge of merit. To paraphrase Donald Maas, readers mostly want a good story, not merely fine writing. (Jane Austen's novels were not popular when she was alive, John Kennedy Toole committed suicide because of the negative reception to "A Confederacy of Dunces") But I am not championing airport novels and trashy bestsellers except to say, perhaps the readers of these books may benefit from the writers being deceased...

How does a writer cultivate this tangible yet elusive quality of Compelling Readability in his/her writing?  Classes, courses and books only teach craft and technique of words, not how to make words fly to a reader's heart.

Write your stories as if a stadium of people is listening to you. If that visual is too daunting, reduce audience size to a group gathered around a campfire. Any school kid will attest to the fact that the best stories are told around a campfire.
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Monday, 1 February 2010

Eat and Drink Write

Workshops, websites and how-to books do not address the issue of health. To be frank: you can't write when you are ill.
This post will only address physical health, but please read on, as a sound body =  a sound mind.

1. Illegal drugs/alcohol - Anything you write will be embarrassing when the substance wears off.  Yes, some famous writers wrote their best work when under the influence but they sacrificed their life expectancy for forced prolificacy. Don't touch the stuff unless you're William Burroughs, Phillip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley or Hunter S. Thompson- where some of their best work was about being under the influence.

2. Coffee -  The cliched tipple of choice for writers. The law of diminishing-returns applies after your second or third cup. All coffee needs is a cup to contain it, therefore sugar and cream will weigh you down, and those chocolate/ vanilla sprinkles will get scatter over your notebook or get stuck in your teeth.

3. Tea- black, green, white, red above. A pox on those who add sugar and cream to their macha - it's like Jackson Pollacking a Zen painting.

4. Ice cream. You can't eat it quickly, which is always conducive to dreamstorming. But you can eat too much of it, which is conducive to nodding off in front of the computer. Go out, buy a coneful and walk around if you're stuck.

5. Tidbits. Avoid mindless munching or you will inhale that can of Pringles or crisps in the same time it takes to delete a paragraph. Prawn and fish crackers make your fingers greasy and stain your keyboard, mouse or touchscreen. ICK!!

6. Pomegranates, pistachios, artichokes etc..., any food you have to peel will make you slow down and think.

7. Water. I am not advocating x number of glasses a day, but consider that when you quaff enough at regular intervals you will have to get up from your chair/desk and go to the toilet. No harm in scheduling mini-breaks and stretching your legs. (apologies to those who have to wear adult-diapers...)
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