Coffee Shop Struggles

Fallow. Regenerative. Maturing. Observant. Mining.

This was how I rationalised my quiet 3 months as I contemplated structure and direction. So I went back to the Internet and did a course. It’s a writing course. Why? Because I wanted to bring some order and structure to my chaotic and random thoughts. I did it to punish myself for not writing…like going back to school.

I have done this now. It’s finished. Completed. I’ve sort of enjoyed doing this and I would recommend any other chaotic soul to do something to break out of the comfort of not writing.

I’m using a 15 stage story formula to organise my characters into a series of actions that are coherent and understandable. I am intertwining the story with a weave of dialogue and scenery that brings the story to life.

I shall do this for a while longer to see if it actually liberates my realistic but dystopian world or whether it strangles the whole thing into a stage of dry realism without any kind of passion or adventure.

Mint tea with honey and my laptop…we can take on anything.

Life At The Margins

Life only exists at the margins; we go to the centre to die inside.

Yesterday, I had a thought. At the time I thought it was just another one of those fleeting thoughts, a small inspired notion, a flash that would burn away quickly and die. Gone forever. It’s a daily occurrence.

But yesterday, when the thought had lodged itself deep in the recesses of my brain I had the urge to write it down on a Post It note. I have around fifty of these notes stuck to various surfaces on my desk. Some flat on the desktop and some in front of me stuck to the monitor. yesterday’s note is front and centre on the monitor.

I’ve been held at gunpoint. I’ve had several motorbikes (the last one could do 200+ mph). I’ve flown a plane. I’ve been at the helm of a Volvo racing yacht in a force 9 gale and I’ve driven a single-seater racing car. I have known life at the edges and what it feels like to be grateful for being alive.

It was at the extremes where I felt the most single minded. I felt focused on the moment. I felt calm and peaceful when all around me wanted me dead if I failed. I was alive on the edge of life and living on the edge of reasonableness.

George Bernard Shaw once said that ALL change must come through unreasonableness (The Reasonable Man) and this change happens within. If we spend our lives being reasonable and living life at the safe soft centre, then we will never change, we will never grow, we will never experience the state of otherness.

“So these instructions were carried out. Two cows were hitched to the cart, and their newborn calves were shut up in a pen. Then the Ark of the Lord and the chest containing the gold rats and gold tumours were placed on the cart. And sure enough, without veering off in other directions, the cows went straight along the road toward Beth-shemesh, lowing as they went.”

I grew up on a farm and anyone that knows cows knows not to get between a mother and her newborn calf…in this story, the cows responded to a calling far greater than from their own newborn calves. They were at the limit of their instinct. They went beyond their own understanding. They pushed beyond their fear and insecurity to fulfil their destiny.

It’s up to you. Choose a life being either reasonable or unreasonable. Choose to live on the edge or exist at the centre. Both are ok…both are a choice.

Life only exists at the margins; we go to the centre to die inside.

It’s just a thought.

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

Deference – a Tribute

I looked up details of an obscure screening of the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch this week. It sounds bizarre and is probably something I will go and see. I don’t usually read the blurb about movies because I always think that my opinion of it is better than theirs. That’s because all creativity is about personal meaning to the observer.

The thing that really struck me in the blurb that accompanied this listing was how it subtly challenged me to go and see the film. Every blurb needs to have a catchy hook, some fascinator that draws you in and intrigues you. This one nailed it for me.

“See John Cameron Mitchell’s underground queer rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch as you’ve never experienced it before. Hosted by queer trans icon Grace Oni Smith performing as the internationally ignored songstress herself…”

“The internationally ignored”

Now, this struck a real chord with me. It was self deprecating, self effacing and humble. There was something visceral that happened as I read it. I immediately fell for the charm of these words. They made me feel a genuine sense of warmth towards the film (not Hedwig or The Angry Inch).

There is something very powerful about humility and something very subtle about how it is used. Here they used it as a deferential appeal to subordinate the film, its characters and its promoters to me, the viewer. This has the effect of setting me above them. I’m now fully engaged and made powerful.

Used sparingly and in the right moment, self deprecation can be a powerful tool to win over your audience. Humility is always greeted with compassion, deference with respect. This is called engagement. We are now in a relationship and I respect your views.

I truly believe that my opinion of any movie, book or art is as valid as anyone else. By putting me at the head of opinions and validating my authority over these views, the writer has made me want to test the efficacy of their blurb by inviting me to form an opinion. Only by going to watch the movie and forming my these opinions, on why Hedwig remains internationally ignored, will I exercise my authority over all opinions.

Photo by Jeremy Yap on Unsplash

Listening – To Which Conversation?

Photo by Skylar Sahakian on Unsplash

They say that when we listen to someone speak, we filter what they say through our own experiences, our beliefs and our values. As a storyteller, I want to create feelings within the reader. I want to stir emotions. I want people to change what and how they feel when they read my stuff. When they read this.

But listening is a real skill and it isn’t what you think it is and probably isn’t what you do either. It is something very few of us have mastered. It’s the ability to hear exactly what is being said without the noise of our own inner dialogue competing with it.

More often than not, we have two competing conversations going on at the same time. What do they mean? Is this personal to me? How do I feel about it? How should I respond? Am I hurt, excited or confused?

Listening whilst quietening our inner dialogue will set us free from just responding. Responding carries itself upon an instinctive and emotional raft of competing dialogues. It’s like a reaction to what is being said rather than an understanding of it. It’s simply becomes nothing more than an emotional response. Really listening, so we fully hear, understand and reflect upon ALL replies available to us, is of a much higher level of integrity.

By responding, it means that the first things we engage are our feelings. We then apply it to our emotional bank of experiences. Finally, we consider our framework of beliefs to filter it through our values. Our first instinct is either to show our hurt/excitement or to try and ensure that our response doesn’t hurt the feelings of the other person.

This is just a soup of emotions and experiences. By doing this we prevent ourselves from learning something new. We cannot truly hear what is being said and what is really meant by the other person. We stifle our own growth and limit our exposure to new experiences. We make it fit us and not them.

We really must take the needle off the old records and listen to what is new, if we truly want to hear and grow.

Facts and Truth

Writers find inspiration in many places. The way someone holds a coffee cup. The things they say without thinking. A sunset breaking through after a day of heavy cloud. Poetry in a lyrical form of storytelling. It has a flow and life generated by a resonant connection to our sense of unconscious rhythm. News channels and blogs present their own stories for us to consider. But how often do we actually stop to consider…?

Some of the greatest writers speak of the human condition. What makes us tick and why, when it all goes wrong, our interest is peaked by an insatiable curiosity to seek answers. We read and become exposed to an inner dialogue discussing what is happening in the world or to the subject of the book or poem and wonder what would I do in those circumstances?

I once heard someone say “wonder sits between truth and lies”. This is the very playground of the creative writer. In his outstanding book on writing, Story written by Robert McKee, he threw down a challenge to me when he stated “What happens is fact, not truth. Truth is what we think about what happens”

I started to explore why events have so many versions and why our truths are rarely facts but what we think about the events.

UNVEILING describes the human condition where we explore good versus evil and our capacity for self-delusion. It’s a story about how we become locked into a state of denying to ourselves any complicity in the evil acts of others. It’s about how we are blinded by our own truths to avoid seeing the facts surrounding evil. It removes the mask held there to prevent our own discovery as we observe the acts of darkness. And it provides the mirror into which we sometimes cannot bear to look.

We all live in our truths and are blind to the facts.

At what point would you be willing to sacrifice your truths when the facts are held up before you?

Storytelling – What Is It?

Storytelling is an art form that spans way back through the ages and has roots in travelling migrants looking for shelter and food for the night as they pass from camp to camp or village to village. The better the story, the greater the meal. And if they could tell more than one good story then they are usually invited to stay another night.

Stories were often topical and satirised events of the times, about things that were happening in faraway places. Myths and legends, heroes and villains, stories were the storyteller’s version of their truths and experiences gathered together in a tale built up over a lifetime of adventures.

I can recall many great stories and they all have a few things in common.

All stories start with an invitation or a promise…”once upon a time” or “in a faraway land”. It invites the reader to step out of where they are and journey with the storyteller to a new place, a place where they can participate in the adventure.

ALWAYS give the reader or audience of your story a 2 + 2 scene and never a 2 + 2 = 4 solution. Readers want to work for their meal, they want to fill in the blanks with their own beliefs and experiences, their own values and thoughts. The reader wants to work stuff out for themselves.

To create drama, show people what is around them, show them the scenes, events or conflicts by creating imagery, show them by drafting tension into the plot without giving away that source of tension. Create anticipation, build uncertainty. Drama is itself an unsettling and unnerving journey away from the normal.

Each character should have the capacity to transform from one state to another. From likeable to unlikeable or the other way around. The character should have a central spine that the reader can identify and react to. They never experienced love, they were mean or unkind, they suffered abuse or have character flaws. Their journey throughout the story will let you see them in a different light. It will provide a chance for redemption or an opportunity to change how you feel about them. Each character should have an inner driver that the reader gets and can see how this affects their journey through the story. This happens when the character themselves recognise it, own it and seek to rectify or change it.

Our characters aren’t really real but the writer must force us to create real feelings for them. A writer must know every detail about their character before they start to write about them. The writer must live with the character in both head and heart. You would feel their presence even if you were in a darkened room with them.

But by far the most important part of any story is how it invokes wonder. Wonder is the magic that will live with the reader forever. Wonder is the single most powerful response to the events as they unfold. Wonder is the DNA of the book and the thing that will bring it to life. Un-put-down-able books are full of wonder.

Wonder is the place hidden between truth and lies. It’s a magical portal that punches holes in our mental walls. It’s the secret doorway that opens up, a little at a time, to let the story out into the world.

As the writer, I will use all of these techniques, I will present all of these elements and I will weave them through and around each character as they navigate the plot. By letting the reader fill in their own blanks, I won’t cloud or restrict them by limiting what they imagine. As an author, I write using my own experiences, my values, my prejudices and my beliefs. All of these things I will pass on to the reader at a cellular level (if I get it right). I will put forward my premise in a plot that is mine. My gift will be to present a piece of work that engages the reader and liberates them to participate rather than just observe.

Here goes…