Coping with the Complexity of Writing

While conceptually simple, in actual practice, writing is a complicated art and all of the approaches involve some considerable degree of complexity. One of the most common reasons why writers fail is the inability to deal with the unforeseen knottiness of writing. To succeed, a writer must find manageable ways of dealing with the endless horrors of ramification or branching. Once a project is underway, any change we make in one place will usually lead to necessary changes in other places – often a great many other places. Since everything in a novel or story must remain consistent from start to finish, we must track down those places and make the needed changes. Then, of course, there is the likelihood that some of these secondary changes will necessitate further alterations of their own; and so on, in what can seem an endless tangle. If no plan is in place to deal effectively with the situation, the work will inevitably bog down – sometimes fatally.

Diagram of interrelated writing elements

Making even small changes in a piece of writing can lead to seemingly endless ramifications. (Image: Thomas Cotterill)

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How Mood Inspires Creative People

One of the most striking characteristics of the creative individual is their sensitivity to, and fondness for, particular feeling tones or subtle moods. Artists of all kinds strive to capture their favourite mood (or moods) in their work. The desire to accomplish this combined act of self-gratification and sharing is often a major motivating factor in why the artist chose to work in the arts. However, the preoccupation with mood can infiltrate all aspects of a creator’s life. The taste for a special mood often extends to the creator’s work habits. They not only want to produce the mood in their work, they must inhabit the mood while working. Many artists are so sensitive to feeling tone, so dependent on a particular subtle mood in order to access their creativity, that they quite literally cannot work should the needed feeling tone be absent.

Daphne du Maurier rowing near her old house at Ferryside

Mood (or atmosphere) and a sense of place are intimately related. Writers who have a strong sense of place prefer to work in specific locations. (Image: public domain.)

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Intellectual Alchemist at Work

From time to time, people ask me where I find so many and such varied post ideas. I always answer that I have been a steady reader for most of my life, and since 1990, I have had the habit of writing down my thoughts about whatever it is that I am reading. I also copy out a few quotes now and then. Over the years, those thoughts and quotes have accumulated in paper diaries, journals, notebooks, as well as their digital counterparts. Taken as a whole, they form a loosely structured representation of an ongoing attempt to understand the world around me and my own way of relating to it.

Old Computer Work Station

Working out a thorough understanding of my writing had the alchemical effect of illuminating and solidifying my entire worldview. (photo: Pdphoto)

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The Morality of Robert Louis Stevenson

We revere Robert Louis Stevenson for his adventure novels, but he was not a genre writer in the modern sense of that term. While Black Arrow, Kidnapped, The Master of Ballantrae, and Treasure Island may seem like straightforward romantic picaresque yarns, Stevenson was always deeply concerned with the moral aspects of his story. Among his fiction, the famous novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde most vividly reveals his other side. The story deals with Stevenson’s understanding of the subconscious mind and the idea that good and evil can reside in the same person. Issues of morality so vexed Stevenson that he called ethics his “veiled mistress.”

Portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson

Questions of morality so concerned Stevenson that he called ethics his “veiled mistress.” All of his works carry his moral values. (Image: Wikimedia)

He may have acquired a theoretical concern with morality from his fiercely Calvinist nanny, but ethical concerns literally overwhelmed him when his artistic ambitions prompted a serious clash with his conventional and practical father. Unable to sway his obstinate parent, Stevenson had to justify to himself his decision to pursue art rather than a more realistic means of earning a living.

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The Glorious Psychology of Blogging

As a blogger, I have begun to notice that one of life’s little lessons keeps popping up in the books I am reading, a lesson that seems relevant to the way I perceive my current internet activities. It is an incredibly obvious lesson, and it seems odd to me that I have never fully comprehended this bit of wisdom before; but I suppose we never really notice anything until we are ready for the message it has to impart. The lesson is this: Revealing personal things about ourselves to others is risky because it gives power to those who now enjoy our intimacy. Not everyone in this world is well intentioned, and those who are benign in intent are very often utterly misguided in their interpretations, beliefs, and actions. The benign are thus just as likely to do us in as the malignant types!

Viking Raiders Coming Ashore

Like those shaggy sword wielding vikings of old, today’s bloggers are willing to risk life and limb to achieve immortality through glory and renown. (Photo: US History Images)

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Ideas Are Key to Writing Success

We can accomplish nothing in life without an idea. However, before we can successfully act, we must have a clear concept of what we are trying to accomplish, a concept that goes beyond the basic idea itself to encompass the entire endeavour. This may sound obvious, but the point is this: using ideas is more complicated than having just one and then vaguely trying to do something with it.

Small Spiral Notebook ith words: Story Ideas Are Just the Start

To succeed as a writer you need more than just a notebook full of story ideas. You also need a clear idea of where you are going with your writing.

Many writers, for example, have plenty of ideas for stories and novels; yet never manage to do anything with them. Their work falters for want of a central, organizing, and motivating idea of what they are doing and why they are doing it. They write, not for well-understood reasons, but because they think they like the work, hope to make some money, and yearn for fame or respect. Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that there are other enjoyable things to do, far easier and more reliable ways to make money, and fame is famously elusive. They fall by the wayside. As it happens, thinking, hoping, and yearning are not powerful enough reasons for doing anything, let alone tackling a tough long-term project that requires hard work and dedication.

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Inspired by The Wind in the Willows

Who among us has not read, and /or seen some film production of, The Wind in the Willows by British author Kenneth Grahame? The memorable children’s classic was inspired by two enchanted years of Graham’s own childhood. During those magical years, he lived a remarkably free and unfettered life at the rambling home of his Granny Ingles in Cookham, a tiny village nestled in the lovely Berkshire countryside. His uncle introduced him to boating on the nearby river. He roamed the surrounding woods and farmland at will letting his young imagination run wild.

Kenneth Grahame Sketch Portrait

The Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame was obsessed with recapturing the rustic magic of his childhood in Berkshire, not only in his works but in his life. (Image: public domain)

Grahame treasured those special years and the experience became lodged in his mind as the high point of his life. He longed to recapture the nuanced feeling tone or subtle mood associated with them. At twenty, he began to write stories and books drawn from his youthful adventures, a classic case of an artist driven by the hunger to relive a lost yet cherished feeling tone. Many artists produce their works for precisely this reason.

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How Philosophical Writers Think

Regular visitors to this blog know that the French philosopher and spiritual writer Antonin Sertillanges is a favourite of mine and has been a huge influence on my thinking when it comes to living a thinker’s life; his thoughts on the lifestyle, attitudes, and work habits of the serious intellectual are always worthy of careful consideration. In this post, I am going to look at some key considerations that underpin a philosophical work and link them to my own subjective approach.

Detail from Rembrandt's Philosopher Meditating

Effective philosophical works need a suitable scale, a unique personal perspective, and a definite focus. (Image: Wikimedia)

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Blogger Idol Award

Blogger Idol Logo

Thanks to that stellar blogger Adam S for the award nomination. May his beat go on.

Thanks to Adam S for nominating me as a recipient of the Blogger Idol Award. Such nods between bloggers are gestures of respect. I especially like the tagline on this award’s logo, “because writers are the new rock stars.” Whatever truth there may be in this, the Internet made it so. Much of what we post to blogs would have found no outlet in the traditional print world. In the same way that the rock revolution of the fifties and sixties changed the way we think about music, the Internet revolution has changed the way we regard the written word. Reversing a decades-long downward trend, more people read now than have ever read before.

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Did You Know Writers Play Blog Tag?

Covers of Novels by Mari Biella and Lucinda Elliot
Novels by the friends who tagged me: The Quickening is a wonderfully moody ghost story set in the English fenlands. That Scoundrel, Emile Dubois is an amusing gothic with a touch of time travel and a vampire or two or… Kindle editions of both books are available from Amazon; Lucinda Elliot’s novel can be had in EPUB from Kobo.

As you probably already know, writers get up to all sorts of mischief. We are born troublemakers. You have only to think about the authors self-promoting on Twitter, Facebook, and the book chats to see what I mean. It’s how we avoid working on our books when things aren’t going well or we’re temporarily fed up! I suspect restlessness must be afoot once more because I’ve been tagged in a blogging game by two of my writer friends, Lucinda Elliot and Mari BiellaThe game entails answering questions about a novel in progress. With people coming at me from all sides, I need to get a move on, so here goes!

What is the working title of your book?

I’m currently working on five novels but will focus on The Salt Wizard for the game. Why do I have five books underway at the same time? Well, I didn’t plan it that way. In my early years as a writer, every time I became badly stuck, I started another book! As it happened, this mad scheme eventually matured into a conscious technique. Having a number of novels going at the same time gives me something interesting to beaver away at, no matter what. Now I swap back and forth among the novels as mood and opportunity allow. Lately, I have become serious about finishing something and getting it out there, so I’m concentrating on The Salt Wizard.

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