The Nature of Inspiration

For day 50, I started a new series Behind the Scenes to give a look into what inspired my fiction. That post was about The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan (that links to part 1/3), my recent novella.

For Praxis this month, not only are we blogging every day, but we are reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It is a collection of short essays on the resistance everyone faces regarding their calling in life, how to beat it, and part three is called “beyond resistance.” After I finish the book I will write a Recap post on the book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration lately, in part because I’m reading The War of Art, but also because of Inside a Writer’s Head and drafting a piece about why I blog every day.

I frequently get random, sudden ideas for a piece of writing, new or in progress — this is what I call inspiration. I have little control over what ideas it gives me or when it presents them.

What I do control is my response. I either accept or reject the idea. Then I either use it, lose it, or record it.

I’ve gotten ideas from shows, movies, video games, advertisements, research, books, short stories, articles, blog posts, conversations, and more. My brain takes the input and says, “Hey, we could use that combined with something else or modified in this way and write about it!” for fiction. Or it says, “We should respond to this, or share this information, or write something combining this with the other information we have on this” for nonfiction.

It can be really messy sometimes. Sometimes I have the skeleton of an idea and no clue how to flesh it out.

Based on my experience, inspiration seems to come from my subconcious working to connect things and when it finally does, it feels sudden and unexpected. Because I’m not conciously working to connect, say, elephants, time travel, and romance, inspiration strikes when my brain does connect them.

Inspiration is usually an idea, but sometimes it is a sudden overwhelming desire to write. It’s a compulsion to sit and pound out words.

I felt this very strongly after the first Praxis Wednesday I attended. We met with Rob Goodman, who co-authored A Mind at Play, a biography about Claude Shannon. I recommend this post from Jimmy Soni, his co-author about their experience writing the book. I was inspired by Claude Shannon’s life and the focus he had on his work. I felt compelled to get to work on my writing.

This is a more infrequent form of inspiration for me, but it does happen.

When I get inspired, I’m infrequently able to write at that exact moment. That or I recognize that I shouldn’t start a new piece of writing yet. I have a lot of stories that are in progress. Too many. So often, when I get a story idea, I shelve it for later on.

Overall inspiration can be complicated and unreliable, but it can also be really helpful when I’m feeling stuck and need new ideas.

Unrealized Dependence

I thought this morning about how much we rely on electricity and wifi in our day to day lives. Most of how I spend my time is on the computer.

I write on my computer, I talk to people on my computer, I go through the Praxis curriculum on my computer. When there’s no power I can’t do any of those as well. When there’s no wifi I can’t do them at all.

I was going to shower this morning after breakfast. The water was freezing and wouldn’t warm because there was no power. I decided to wait until this evening.

I was going to have tea, but couldn’t heat it in the microwave or on the stove. When the power came back on I eagerly made a cup.

It’s so easy to forget how dependent we are on things we always have. Until they’re gone.

My Views on Authorial Intent

In my video reading poems from Inside a Writer’s Head, one of the poems prompted me to think of the authorial intent vs readers’ interpretation debate. This tends to be primarily in the realm of written work, but it could also apply to shows, movies, and other media.

In this post, I’m going to focus on my views as it relates to my own work, as that is the main application for me.

My take is a middle-ground, mixed perspective. There is support for both sides, and historically which side prevails has flip-flopped. For a long time before the recent rise of fanfiction authorial intent was king and readers’ interpretation was of lesser importance or didn’t matter at all. What the author meant by their work was what mattered, not how you or I interpreted the work to mean or convey.

I don’t think there is a dichotomy or that we have to pick one.

Both what the author intends and what the readers interpret in a given work matter. They’re both important and give insight into the work.

For example, if I employ heavy color-driven symbolism in a work to speak to characters’ emotional states or journeys, that’s my intent. If you read that story and don’t pick up on the symbolism, you’ll interpret the story based on what you did pick up on, possibly including other symbols I didn’t intend. Someone else could pick up the color symbolism and interpret it differently than I intended. There is support for all of these. None of these is “right” and the others “wrong” per se.

Everyone has different experiences, different perspectives that they bring to a work. What I bring as the author is not the same as what any of my readers bring.

Because of this, there will be different interpretations of a work. What speaks to me in a book may not speak to you. What I think is the most important part of my story may not be the most important part to you. I can hinge the plot on it, but there could be subtle elements that give a reader argument for something else being more of a driving factor.

My main point in that is art is not cut and dry or straightforward. It speaks to people in different ways based on the influences in their lives that change their perspective.

When I was twelve I got into fanfiction, both reading and writing it. That has undoubtedly influenced my perspective on this debate.

I’ve read fanfics in which I really enjoyed an unconventional take of a character and fanfics in which I really hated it. It adds so much depth to a work to see the characters in different contexts or interpreted differently or in situations they didn’t experience in canon.

Additionally, it gives writers practice maintaining consistent characters of all stripes. It is largely an outpouring of love for a given work, and it’s hard work. Sometimes fanfiction is harder to write than original work, becuase of the confines of the existing work. Keeping characters to bounds set by someone else is difficult.

Lastly, I’ve come to see fanfiction as comparable to free advertising. I have found new books, shows, and other work because of fanfiction. I’ve read fanfiction that was not obviously branded as such by the title that was fantastic and sparked interest in the characters and where they came from. And it was done for free. No one paid that writer to spend their time and effort on fanfiction. They chose to do it because they love the characters and the original work.

I can see and understand both sides of this debate in large part because I’ve written and interacted with original and derivative works.

As far as my own work goes, it’s open to interpretation. I have what I intended, but you have what you bring to my work and may take away something else. I’d love to hear about that. I want to be open about what I intend as well as open to readers’ interpretations.

[Authorial Present] Dream Investments (Poem)

This is a poem from Inside a Writer’s Head. Read more from and about the collection here.

What if I begin

to write once again?

To refine my craft

each day with time?

I’ll find myself,

one day, with such a store

of experience and writings,

Oh! such galore!

I’ll not regret that time well-spent

My investment in

my authorial present.

For a writer’s not born

with talent and skill,

but honed and created

through the daily toil.

[Thought-Block] Partially Formed Thoughts (Poem)

This is a poem from Inside a Writer’s Head. Read more from and about the collection here.

Just too far from the reaches of my mind

An idea formed, it won’t come to my eyes.

Almost inspiration, trickling perspiration

As I work to overcome the thought-block

That prevents me from unlocking

The partial, half-formed thought I had.

It’s still not quite there,

As time passes, it fades into air,

Drifting further from consciousness,

From any semblance of acknowledgement

That I caught a whisper, a breath

Of whatever was there.

I simply didn’t catch quite enough of it.

How Praxis Teaches Self-Directed Learning

Praxis, the one year educational bootcamp and apprenticeship program I’m in, encourages and guides self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning is exactly what it sounds like: Learning you pursue yourself.

In the one to two months of pre-program, Praxis participants build their website, LinkedIn, pitch deck, and professional email address. More detail on that here. This is a foundation to build on throughout the remainder of the bootcamp.

In Module/month 1, those pre-program deliverables are refined and further improved. More things are built, including some blog posts to give insight into who you are, how you work, and how you are growing. More on that here.

In Module/month 2, the self-directed learning really goes into full swing. Now participants think of, plan, and execute a month-long project to showcase existing skills or build a new skill. The project is self-directed with additional guidance and feedback from the program advisors and fellow participants.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in the program, but already I’ve taught myself the basics of making a pitch deck, telling my story on LinkedIn, making a pitch video, some video editing, and how to create and self-publish a poetry collection.

I had guidance and input, but I pursued these and the knowledge required for these on my own. I am being taught how to teach myself.

I’m developing my notetaking skills during the Wednseday calls, while reading books, and in the learning I pursue not directly tied to Praxis.

In all this, I’m being encouraged by my peers and advisors to lean in to my curiosity and seek out knowledge, and to showcase my capturing of that knowledge. That’s primarily on my blog, but I’m working to expand that to YouTube as well.

By doing projects and leaning outside of my comfort zone, I’m learning skills and expanding that comfort zone.

Based on my experience, I would say the best way to effectively master self-directed learning is this: Find or build a community of people who seek out knowledge, share that knowledge, and encourage each other in the pursuit of knowledge. Use what you learn. Do a project to learn something or to show the world you have learned it.

If you like reading this blog, please check out my Patreon. There’s some cool rewards available, just waiting for someone like you to claim them.

Some Thoughts on NaNo

It’s November, and while I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, I have in the past and I have friends who are doing it.

At a basic level, NaNo is a 30-day writing challenge, in a similar vein to the month-long personal development projects (PDPs) that are encouraged by Praxis. You spend a month focusing as much time and energy as possible on one goal, one endeavor. At the end, if you’ve spent time each day working toward the goal, you win.

If you don’t write 50k words in November, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the real purpose. If you do, congratulations.

You really win by forming a writing habit and spending focused time working towards a goal, in this case to write a novel, for 30 straight days.

You can make your own rules.

You can set a challenging but obtainable word count goal for yourself. Maybe 50k is too much but you can handle 15 or 20 or even 30k words. Don’t aim so high that you’ll be guaranteed to burn out.

You don’t have to write fiction. You could write poems, blog posts, a non-fiction book, a series of essays. Whatever genre or type of writing you want.

If you really want to, you could decide to do an entirely different month-long project. In fact, I’d encourage you to do some kind of month-long project, NaNo or otherwise.

I’m not doing NaNo, but I am doing a PDP. For the whole month of November, I will be marketing my poetry collection, posting on social media, interacting with people, and creating blog posts and videos about self-publishing.

That’s my project this month.

Tell me about yours in the comments below!

The Journal: 22 May 2017

This is a new series comprised of past journal entries I wrote followed by some current thoughts about it, if I have any. The reason for sharing a particular entry will vary. Some may be recorded story ideas, interesting events from my past, or some weird or fun thought I had that I wrote down.

There is an extent to which the way you write tells the world a little something about how you read. I, for example, write very much as though the events are happening and I’m recording them as they do — almost like writing a book based on a movie, only better. The words are meant to be very visual, the reader should see in their mind the events as they unfold, watch as the characters move around, listen as they speak. It’s almost as though Mystical Warriors was meant to be a movie script but I wrote it in plain prose.


I think this was inspired at least partially by my friends telling me the opening scene for my novel-in-progress felt very much like a movie scene.

Recap: Niche Down

This is part of a series of posts called Recap. In it I will share my notes on the content I consumed followed by my response. The content could vary from a podcast, to an article, to a Youtube video, to a book I read. When applicable, I will link to the content.

Niche Down: How to Become Legendary by Being Different is a book by Christopher Lochhead and Heather Clancy. Christopher Lochhead is the host of the Legends and Losers podcast, and there is a Recap post about Episode 181. Heather Clancy is a journalist. The subtitle serves as a great synopsis of the book — it is Christopher’s and Heather’s observation of “how to become legendary by being different.”

I just finished Niche Down, and it’s fantastic. Anyone who want to do something big should read it. It’s chock full of excellent examples of people and companies who embody the mindset and approach Heather and Christopher are pushing. Many of the people don’t know either of them, and “niched down” without that term existing to describe their actions.

I did not take detailed, structured notes while reading. My notes are then, mostly my recollection of the book overall. The chapters bleed into each other. Each chapter has a main focus, but they’re interconnected.

Notes:

That by being different, doing something differently, or viewing the world and solving problems in a new way, you will stand out. In order to become legendary, have a household name, be wildly successful, whatever it is, you have to stand out, you have to be different. If you do things like everyone else, play by other people’s rules, you will not be the best. You have to set yourself apart, become a “category king or queen” and set the rules to have the majority of the marketshare for that type of item, service, etc.

You have to identify a problem you care about solving (this is important), find the solution, and sell it. This should be a problem people don’t know they have, or that you can solve in a new way. You have to tell people what the problem is, convince them it is a problem, and then explain why they should take your solution. You can’t “be a mercenary,” you have to “be a missionary.” You have to be so sold out to the problem and your solution that you don’t just gain customers, you gain followers, who are sold out to your perspective. When you do this, you become a cateogry king or queen.

Don’t make something like an existing thing. If you are doing something like someone else, you won’t stand out. You will be compared to whoever did it first. That’s not what you want. You want to redefine the problem, solve a new problem, create a new category entirely. Then people will follow your lead, your ideas, be compared to you. Most people wanting your solution will go to you, not the competitors in your category.

In winning people to your solution, evangelizing them, sharing your unique perspective is vital. You have to build social capital as well and increase your presence online. Have a digital body of work and use it to signal that existing “similar” products/companies/etc. should pay attention. That the problem and solution you are working with are important, that people care about it, and so should they.

Niching down is a scary thing. To do it, you have to go against the crowd, you have to stand out, you can’t stay in the safe zone with everyone else and their ideas. You have to position yourself as a leader rather than a follower.

Response:

There’s so much in this short book (only 110 pages) that’s so good. I could go on so many tangents.

While reading, I thought about myself, my goals, what I love in relation to the content. I found a lot of questions, but very few, if any answers to them as of yet.

I want to make money to at least partially support myself by writing. How can I niche down in that? What problem can I solve with my writing, either a finished product or my skill of writing? I know I want to stand out, I don’t want to be like everyone else, but how do I do that? When there is such a saturation of creative work nowadays with the advent of the internet, how do I stand out from a crowd of writers?

I don’t have answers now, but I’m still at the start of my journey. I only really started seriously pursuing writing earlier this year. I have time, I know that. I’m not using that as an excuse for complacency, however, just an encouragement to myself that I still have days and weeks and months and years to figure this out and refine my approach and define myself and establish my niche.

Most well-known authors are recognized by their works. Romeo and Juliet, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Raven, Inkheart, Eragon, The Hunger Games, Divergent, and others. But it depends on readers what sticks, what has staying power, what is recognizable years, decades, centuries later. (And often times publishers, at least traditionally, but self-publishing is a growing alternative that does not have any approval process limiting what becomes available to readers.)

Organizing a Poetry Collection: What I Learned

As I’m sure you know, I’m hard at work on my upcoming debut poetry collection Inside a Writer’s Head. Since initally deciding to make this collection and amassing all the poems into one Google doc, I’ve learned a few things.

1. Don’t pick categories first.

This might be more relevant to collections that are already topic-specific. Inside a Writer’s Head is a collection of poems written about writing, so they have that theme in common.

I made the mistake of grouping poems together by topics when I was putting them into the Google doc. I had no idea how I wanted the poems arranged when I did this. I didn’t know which poem would open the collection, which would close it. I created buckets without knowing if I’d use them or how many poems would be in each bucket.

This made it harder for me to move forward because the poems were already “organized,” so I wasn’t sure how to “reorganize” them to make a cohesive collection.

2. Do play around with the order.

Move the poems around. Try different poems at the start of the collection, at the end. See what goes together and what you don’t like. What that means will depend on your purposes.

I have a few poems I paired together to create a humorous effect, or because they had a similar implication in some of the lines, or because they gave some clarification to each other.

I’m still not done doing this. I’m much happier with this draft over the previous one, though.

3. Don’t be afraid to cut, combine, or otherwise change the poems in the collection.

I had three poems about my novel-in-progress. They didn’t fit the collection. They would’ve needed some explanation and context and I didn’t want to interrupt the collection and the flow of the poems in order to add that. So I cut them. I didn’t want to, not really, but I did it anyway to improve cohesivity and order.

I had two poems that were very similar thematically, such that they were almost two versions of the same poem. So I made them one poem. A couple other poems needed lines cut or some other changes to be made.

You want the poems to individually be the best they can be. You want the collection as a whole piece to be the best it can be. For that to happen, you will have to make changes and edits. Also, just because you cut lines or a whole poem doesn’t mean you can’t still use it or that it has no merit. But you have to recognize when it doesn’t fit in the collection or the poem.

4. Do make the collection what and how you like it.

This is your piece of art, own it. If you’re not happy with it, it won’t matter how happy everyone else is. Everyone else could think it the best collection in the world, but that won’t make you happy with it.

Take control over your creative product, make it what you want, make it how you want. It’s in your name, you need to own it.

(That’s actually one of my reasons for self-publishing.)

 

I’ve only just finished a second draft. I’m not done crafting the collection, reordering the poems, etc. These are four things I’ve found to be important over the last few days when I moved from draft one to draft two.

For anyone looking to make your own poetry collection, I hope this helps.

If you have any questions about organizing your manuscript, Inside a Writer’s Head, or advice for me, put it in the comments! I’d love to discuss this with you.