Archive for November, 2007|Monthly archive page

Fairy Dust

A few months ago I went to a huge SF and Fantasy convention here in Toronto. It had all the stuff you’d expect in a convention of this sort: Books and Comic Books, Action Figures, DVD’s, Vintage memorabilia, T-shirts, toys, posters, video games. The Common stuff and the rare stuff.

Yes. It was Geek Heaven, and I was relishing every minute of it.

I’m kind of used to seeing all that stuff from smaller conventions I’ve been to in Israel. It’s basically the same, only BIGGER.

And yet, there was one thing I wasn’t used to, and that got me very excited. That was the big roster of famous Science Fiction celebrities attending the Con and signing autographs.
That is, until I came to understand the dubious financial drive behind it all.

Let’s not pretend. SF Cons, or any Fan Cons for that matter, are a money making machine. A commercial enterprise. They exist, first and foremost, for the purpose of selling stuff to the fans. That’s how the game is played. That’s capitalism. And it’s fine. Nobody forces anyone to go to a Con and spend money. Fan Conventions are very similar to Casinos. They psychologically erode your resistance. They’re usually held in huge enclosed places with no windows. Bright lights, and a lot of noise. You find yourself lost, delirious, hypnotized by the oodles of goodies splayed in front of you, and thus, your ability to make logical decisions is compromised. It might be that if you were in a regular store you wouldn’t have bought that 25$ Jawa club because, well, you don’t really need it. You just bought it to make yourself feel better. Unless it’s that great book or movie you’ve always wanted to buy, you look at all this stuff you bought: The toys, the gizmos, the stuff, and once you’re home, without all the noise and clutter and bright lights, you ask yourself: Why did I spend 150 dollars if I swore to myself I won’t spend more than 20?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where was I? Oh, Celebrities’ autographs.

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Express yourself

For me, writing is hard. Everything about it is hard. From forming ideas, to formulating plot and characters, to actually sit down and write. It’s 90 percent torture and 10 percent joy. It’s joyous when it’s flowing, when the story seems to actually write itself. But that is so rare. Usually I have to hammer at it and write with fits and starts. I can’t remember when was the last time I actually wrote continuously for 3 or 4 hours.

Sitting in front of a blank screen and trying to find the first words is a very stressing experience.

True, I write in this Weblog. I write in this Weblog much more than I write screenplays or stories. It’s easier to write in a blog. First of all, it’s not a story. You don’t have to think about plot turns, dialogue or characters. It’s a much more intuitive, flowing form of writing. The second reason is that I’m much more motivated to write here because, as a friend of mine mentioned, it’s the instant gratification of seeing your work published, pure and simple. You write something, hit “submit”, and it’s out there, for all the world to see. A miracle of modern technology.

So why is it so hard for me to write fiction? When I look at my body of work over the years, I get depressed. I first began setting pen to paper about 20 years ago and been at it continuously in one form or another ever since, and what I got to show for it is three short decent stories, one feature screenplay, and a couple of other screenplays in varying lengths, from 5 pages to 45 pages.

this is not meant as another self-depreciating rant like I’m “fond” of doing, but as a clear view of the facts. In 20 years, I have produced very few completed works of written fiction. Sure, I wrote dozens of short stories in my youth, but they were easier to write because I couldn’t care less about characters or sensible plots. I just wrote them intuitively, applying things I learned from reading other people’s stories. Sadly, all those stories were thrown away over the years and so I can’t really look at them today and see what they were really like. I suspect they were crap, but it could be that some of them held good nuggets of ideas or even just characters that I could’ve used today. And so I have many, many beginnings of stories just laying around in my computer, begging me to complete them, but I have no idea how.

So why is it so hard for me? As I see it, a writer is someone who sits down and write. All the time. And not come up with a script every five years. I now read George R R Martin’s amazing Song of Ice and Fire series and I marvel: How does he do it? each book is a tremendously detailed and flowing and riveting and highly readable tome of 800 pages or more, obviously the product of an incredible effort behind the scenes, of planning and then planning some more. The guy must have 50 drawers full of background and research material.

And this is what separates the professional from the amateurs. The level of commitment. You have to be committed for it with every fiber of your being. You have to skip on television, movies and even eating. You have to skip on being with people. you have to sacrifice your social life. In order to be a prolific writer, you have to cope with the loneliness of the writer. Sitting in a room for hours and typing away.

Just look at Stephen King, who has written more than 50 books in 30 years. His memoir, On Writing, is highly recommended for every aspiring writer. King’s methods may not suit everyone, but he has some very good points to make about the craft.

I find it hard to mold ideas into a narrative. I lack the patience and the peace of mind. I’m too restless. That’s why most of my work is short. Short stories, short screenplays. The idea of writing a feature, not to mention a book, intimidates me. When I see a book written by some model about her life I get envious. Even people who don’t consider themselves as writers manage to finish a book and get it out there. That’s a great accomplishment in my… hmm… book.

Because I’m a guy who thinks too much as it is, and sits alone at his house too much as it is, the notion of making this life style into a profession intimidates me in some way. That’s why I love to direct and create a visual story with other people – collaborate – then sitting alone at home and write. I write the scripts, because if I want to make a film, nobody is going to write the story for me, unless I purchase the rights for written works which is out of my budget right now.

There is one clear resemblance between writing posts on the weblog and writing stories. I write them only when I have something to say. The most underwhelming experience a writer can have is the feeling that he has nothing to say. That there’s no issue or theme or a facet of the world or the human condition that motivates him to sit on his ass and start working. Crafting a story is work. Writing in a blog is a hobby, unless you do it professionally. It helps you flex your writing muscles and communicate ideas in another form, but for me, at least, it is no substitute for fiction writing.

Coming up with ideas is easy. Ideas are dime a dozen. But it takes commitment and passion to actually sit down and do something with them, and doing that can be torture. Procrastination can be an art form for a writer. I also don’t believe in writer’s block anymore (at least for the most part. I do acknowledge that sometime a writer just hits a creative block and is unable to continue, but that usually happens in the process of a work, not when you first sit down to begin).
Also, an idea that comes up in King’s book as well in other professional writers’ musings can basically be summed up like this: “Fuck inspiration”.

Waiting for inspiration to grab hold of you can be a long wait indeed. In order to write you have to make yourself write, adopt a writing routine and have self-discipline, traits that I’m not capable of achieving right now, apparently. You need to work hard and not wait for inspiration. When it arrives, it arrives. IF it arrives at all.

And the most important question of all: Are you really a writer if you’re suffering most of the time? There’s this romantic notion of the suffering writer which may or may not be true, but many successful writers admit that they just do it because they love every minute of it. So I guess it shouldn’t be that torturous.

I know that today I write much better than I did 20 years ago. Practice always makes perfect. But it’s still not enough, I feel. That’s a big question that I sometime ask myself: If you only wrote one piece during your entire life, but it was a masterpiece, are you considered a writer? I think so, but I think you can only be considered an author or a screenwriter if you actually have the body of work to show for it.

With the advent of the Internet, writing has become more widespread than it ever been. Everybody blogs, writes reviews, writes articles. Everybody’s commenting on everything. On Amazon, you have comments for the reviews. Soon we’ll have comments for the comments for the reviews. It’s a lot of clutter and noise, but I also find it fascinating. Are we better people because we all write now? Human beings need outlets to deal with urges. If those are not dealt with through creativity, they can explode in negative ways such as violence and anger.

My answer will have to be no. The violence and anger is seen clearly all over the Internet, so the fact that you’re writing a comment instead of punching the guy doesn’t make you a better human being. Everybody’s a big hero behind the mask of anonymity the Internet provides. Everybody’s a writer in some form or another. Illiteracy is an unheard of notion in the Western world, but I don’t think it makes us better human beings.

Hey, that could be an idea for a story.