“That’s not a nebula, it’s a paisley swirl.” Tuesday, Jan 30 2007 

I have a habit of allocating my creative time resources rather haphazardly. If I think of an idea I like I’ll say ‘hey, that sounds like fun!’ and add it to my creative agenda without consulting my internal board of directors. And then when I get bored of the idea a month later I feel bad about adding to my growing pile of unfinished projects.

It’s not that I don’t ultimately have stickability — I’ve been writing the same novel on and off for more than three years. (Mostly off). And I probably would have finished if I’d stuck to it and not been distracted by all sorts of other projects. I’ll always get back to that book.

But the process of writing a book is easy — you just have to sit and type. In the pie chart of creativity, writing is 95% ideas and 5% process. Brickdale Garden, by contrast, is at least 40% process — arrange the lego, photograph it, crop and fix up the photograph, insert it into the panel and then repeat for the rest of the panels. I didn’t mind the process when I started but now I look ahead and think “ugh, it’s going to take me at least three hours to make the next page”. Whereas writing happens at the speed with which I have the ideas.

A couple of days ago a juxtaposition of watching The I.T. Crowd and crap on YouTube reminded me that I could very easily make my own ultra-low-budget sitcom for the internet, and that quickly became part of my creative agenda. I’ve got the first episode planned out — a combination of lego, live action, claymation and animation — and am very enthusiastic about it. My current title for it is “Do You Want To Save The Universe?” for reasons I won’t go into now. (“DYWTSTU” for short)

It wouldn’t be all low budget — the set would be incredibly basic (probably the western side of my bedroom with maybe a table and some old computer equipment) but I’d go to the effort of making some nice costumes, just so there’d be at least something nice to look at. Aside from my generous friends who’d donate their acting talents, ha ha! Of course.

Anyway, now I’m thinking from experience — am I likely to start this project with extreme enthusiasm only for that enthusiasm to dissipate when I find out that there’s much, much more process than ideas?

I think for the time being I should call this a ‘short film’ just so that there’s no implication that it will necessarily be a repeated thing. Yesterday afternoon my friend Patricia suggested that I finish my book first, which makes sense. But I do like distractions from writing, so I’ll probably work on the Lego bits, the costumes and the animation in my spare time — stuff I can do by myself, so I don’t actually asking for anyone else’s time until I’m sure that I like the idea enough to actually complete it.

Not too sarcastic anyway. Not overwhelmingly bitterly caustic. Monday, Jan 29 2007 

I often go into the New Zealand fiction section of the bookstore just to see if anyone I know has written anything, and a couple of days ago I noticed that someone I was briefly acquainted with at some point seems to have published something. It was a ‘novel’ about the last day of work for some guy before he moves on to a new job. It read a little bit like a script — the first two pages had nothing but conversation on them and to indicate pauses in the dialogue occasionally the writer used the line ‘Another pause.‘ He used that line three times on two pages.

In a not-at-all-unrelated tangent, I wonder if people just aren’t ambitious enough. Sure, it’s a nice idea — writing an entire novel about one guy’s last day at work. But who cares? It’s like saying “I’m going to hold a wedding dinner, and all I will serve is cheese on-toast”. Or “I will paint a landscape, and it will be nothing buy sky”. Or “I will sculpt a rock into a smaller rock”. There’s nothing wrong with rocks or the sky or cheese-on toast, but who cares?

I guess people aim for mediocrity because they’re confident that they can achieve it. Things like ‘original’ and ‘epic’ and ‘sublime’ — aren’t they only things that people who think too highly of themselves aim for? No! Let us be able to look into the eye of the world and say, “you may never think that I am a great person, but at least know that I also think that I am not”.

Incidentally, the guy who wrote that book also wrote ‘scripts’. Which have been made into ‘films’. I guess someone can be ambitious about achieving stuff while not being ambitious about the stuff being achieved.

I’m glad I don’t write with a sarcastic voice. Friday, Jan 26 2007 

I’m thinking of making lists of things that you can and can’t tell about a writer from their writing. Except I’m not really, I just like the hypotetical idea of such a list.

Quite often I can tell when a writer thinks they’re ‘clever’. I usually stop reading their work after a couple of paragraphs. They just sort of go OTT with clever wording and don’t know when to tone it down, administering an adjective to every noun. I like clever, but I also like subtle and concise. Usually the OTT clever wording is combined with a chatty attitude, which makes it even worse — it makes the writer smug, as if they could possibly talk to you so eloquently over bananas in a supermarket. And then they’re uncompromisingly authoritive in their bias, rather than honest and questioning in their subjectivity.

I remember reading that if you have a child with an unusual last name, you should give it an ordinary first name for contrast. And vice versa. I think these writers-who-think-they’re-clever forget the basic wisdom behind this and milk every sentence, word and paragraph for every piece of cleverness they think they’ve got. Cleverness with cleverness is dull on its own; dullness gives it its lustre.

Too much self-reflection will make you blind. Monday, Jan 22 2007 

Sometimes I wish that when I’d decided to write a novel ten years ago I’d stuck to it rather than get distracted and not even think about writing for years at a time. But then it’s always been at the back of my mind, and even when I’ve had other plans I’ve always been thinking “…and then some day I will write my novel”.

But I think that there have been a couple of advantages to this. If I’d been really dedicated to writing since day one there’s a lot of life experience I would have missed out on. I don’t think it’s possible to learn to write stories just by writing stories alone.

The other advantage is that I’ve taken this long to develop my own writing process, and I don’t think I’ve finished yet. I’ve had to overcome a lot of squeamishness of “that’s now how you’re supposed to write a novel” to figure out what process best suits my strengths. I have a slightly OCD compulsion to write in certain patterns, and then everything must fit that pattern, even rounding off chapters to the nearest hundred words, and it’s not very good to plan anything this way. Earlier on I planned chapter length by a sort of wave pattern before even knowing what the story was about.

It’s much better for me to use the opposite part of my brain, the chaotic and random side, to start writing a story with no goal or pattern, and for the logical part of me to then look for a cohesive structure to bind it all together. And once that structure is set, abandon everything I’ve written and start writing chaotically around that new structure, and then form a new structure out of this new chaos, and so on. So both sides take turns, though not necessarily in a structured ABABAB way.

I should write this on a t-shirt because even now I’m trying to constrain things to structure beforehand rather than as an afterthought. I’m glad I wrote this entry because I wasn’t fully aware of my own writing process until I had to write about it.

The first novel I ever started writing was ‘like Jurassic Park but with sharks instead of dinosaurs’. I wrote a paragraph and gave up. The second was inspired by the name in a mock-ballot form, John Galaxy of the Broccoli Party. I wrote at least ten thousand words in his ‘Alice in Wonderland’ adventure. He killed a monster with dental-floss. The monster’s name was Gherkin. I just realised that this incident sounds like a dental awareness campaign.

I use the word ‘sublime’ to describe undefinably good things because I can never adequately define the word ‘sublime’. Monday, Jan 22 2007 

A couple of weeks ago an article in New Scientist was talking about ‘dark matter’, and how if people ever found any they’d be able to make a perpetual electricity generator that wouldn’t violating the laws of thermodynamics. To me, it makes sense that if there’s a hypothetical substance that doesn’t obey the laws of thermodynamics, this can be taken as proof that it doesn’t exist.

I was just thinking about that today because I realised that one of the things I’m trying to do here is probably also impossible. I want to try to figure out what ‘good’ writing is, but if that were possible, it wouldn’t be true any more. If everyone wrote according to a proven template of ‘good’ writing, it would instantly then become ‘average’ and therefore ‘predictable and mundane’ writing. That’s probably what’s already happened. It’s like what Douglas Adams was saying with ‘if anyone can figure out why the universe exists, it will instantly be replaced by something even more bizarre’.

This probably explains why I have so many pet hates but no pet likes. Everything I like is more or less uncategorisable, and if I could think of any definitive ‘pet likes’ I’m sure they could be applied to many things that also qualify as pet hates. I like ‘word play’, for example, but I hate puns.

I plan to be the Alternative Literature Scene. Saturday, Jan 20 2007 

I think one of the problems is that there’s no such thing as an Alternative or Experimental Literature scene. Almost all of the books published are rather conservative. Sort of like if Cliff Richards dominated the music world.

The experimental books I have browsed have either been too pretentious to read or too ’emo’. Usually a bit of both. Generally unreadable, unless you want to impress people.

But then any story told wholly in words seems conservative by medium alone. Especially since there’s never any variation from the standard font, although I guess there are many good reasons for that. The only book I’ve read in handwriting rather than print was Badjelly the Witch by Spike Milligna, the well-known typing error. Illustrations in novels, if they existed in adult novels, which they don’t, tend to merely reflect what has been written rather than show something new in themselves. If they did that, you could probably classify them as comic books. A Series Of Unfortunate Events had interesting crinkly pages, but you’d never see that in an adult book.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I wish adult books were allowed to be more like children’s books and comic books. It’s not like books these days are technologically restricted to adhere to a particular look and style. But then two authors have had their book covers ‘adultified’ (Terry Prachett and J.K. Rowling), and no authors have ever had their books covers ‘juvenilified’ (except perhaps the alternative cover of the latest Jeffrey Archer book), so I guess that particular march of progress is a backwards one.

Short subject headings get justified to the left, long subject headings to the right. I find this curious. Wednesday, Jan 17 2007 

A lot of people find this page (I don’t like the word ‘blog’, it just has an ugly, dumply quality to it) by googling for “pet hates”.

My advice to them is that every time someone searches for “pet hates” without balancing the chi by searching for “pet likes”, a pet fairy dies.

When you look at the world and feel affinity with mediocrity. Monday, Jan 15 2007 

I spend a lot of time trying to find outside comparisons for my work that will help me look at my own work objectively. Occasionally I find amateur writing on the internet that sort of rings a bell, which is depressing because I can’t stand amateur writing on the internet. It always looks like someone was in a hurry to put their idea on (digital) paper and get it out into the (“real”) world, whereas it would have been a good idea to slow down and work on a the nuances a bit more. I guess it makes sense that I’d relate to that writing because I do tend to get impatient with my own writing, except that I try to flesh it out and thoroughly wrangle the individual words before I’m done with it.

I can’t really find a comparison to my writing in the professional writing world. I’m not sure if this means I’m doing something new and original, which seems unlikely given the amount of people who have tried writing novels over the centuries, or whether I’m just following the well-troden path to ignominy of people who write exactly like me. Which seems more likely, given the hated familiarity I feel for amateur writing on the internet.

I dislike the Paul Frank monkey too. For similar reasons. Sunday, Jan 14 2007 

There are a number of individual words that are pet hates of mine. “Suddenly”, “Eventually” and “Proverbial”, for example. I can’t quite say why the first two annoy me except they’re vague and undefined and unnecessary and can always be cut without any loss from the sentence. They just seem lazy, somehow, like the sudden-zoom-in they use in film and television when something is supposed to shock you. I don’t know quite what I have against the word “proverbial” either, except it occurs far more in student magazine writing than anywhere else. “Ubiquitous” is a similarly disliked word for similar reasons.

“The ubiquitous Paul Frank.”
“The proverbial Paul Frank.”

The words just sound slightly pompous without being very clever.

Hint: Hovering the pointer will reveal additional data. Wednesday, Jan 10 2007 

It depresses me quite often that people go to so, so, so much effort to write bad books, bad movies, bad television and bad webcomics and then someone comes along who is really very simple and honest and puts them all to shame.

This guy — from what I’ve seen so far, which is 16 comics plus the latest one — tends to do a lot of pointless sketches, and I really appreciate that. Good writing sometimes just seems like thinking aloud, and these pointless sketches are literally thinking aloud, which is fascinating. What the heck are the six-legged spiders about? Inquiring minds!

I’m wary of extremely basic stick-figure webcomics because they’re almost always done by people who thrive in vulgar scatalogical humour, people who think that the word ‘anal’ is funny merely by usage alone, so it’s nice to see an intelligent exception to the rule.

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