Category Archives: Writing Journal

Frank Herbert’s Dune at 50 has life in it yet

Confusing sequels, terrible prequels and poor adaptations aside, Frank Herbert’s masterpiece still stands up as the one of the truly great sci-fi novels.

I first discovered Dune through David Lynch’s 1984 film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s SF masterpiece. The “Lynchian” style, that novelist David Foster Wallace would later define as “a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine”, would spin wildly out of control in the Dune universe, where the very macabre combines with … the even more macabre. Nonetheless, Lynch’s broken but mesmerising space-opera-come-art-film remains the best adaptation in a franchise that has been much abused over its 50 year history.

Read more @ The Guardian

PS – the featured image for this post is the Folio Society edition of Dune, out in April 2015. Beautiful huh?

Write. For. Money.

Whatever your practice is, that thing that is the engine of your growth as a human being, the time will come when you’ll need to get paid for it.

A strong practice doesn’t want to stay in the 45 minutes a day you give it around your job in IT. It grows as you grow. And ultimately it will demand your full time and attention. Because that’s what it takes to get to the highest levels of any practice.

You’ll recognise this time because you’ll start to find that you CAN get paid. It’s not that it’s hard to make a living as a writer. It’s that it’s hard to get good enough at writing to earn a living. What sets seems to set successful practitioners so far above others is a kind of virtuous circle. The better you are, the more you can earn, the more you can practice, the better you can get.

Buy my weirder tales direct from PayHip for $2 with code WEIRDERTALES.

If you want to get to the point where that virtuous circle kicks in, you need to look hard at what professionals in your field actually get paid for. Usually it involves some level of compromise. Even the most soulful singer has to suck it up and keep smiling through the 200th set of the same material. But it’s still practice, even if it’s also the grind of work as well.

Writers are faced with far more options to write than they can possibly fulfil. You can publish little stories in small press ‘zines till the cows come home, and come no closer to getting paid for your practice. At some point in the development of your writing practice, the question “does this pay” become a central one. Don’t be shy of asking it.

If you can’t stand the thought of ending up nowhere, don’t write.

A quote from fellow writer John Barnes.

“If you can’t stand the thought of ending up nowhere, don’t write.” ~John Barnes

Remember it. Write it down somewhere. On the wall, above where you write. Stencil it around your whole house. Scribble it in magic marker down your arms if you have to. Because it’s true.

I spend a lot of time around two groups of people. Writers and yogis. The art of stretching while breathing might seem to have limited overlap with the art of writing. But in truth, they’re two ways to exactly the same place. Or the same non-place. The same nowhere.

Where do you want to go? The answer for many writers and yogis both is definitely “somewhere”, and that somewhere is usually defined by varying degrees of fame and fortune. For yogis it might be modelling for Lulu Lemon, for writers achieving that holy epithet “New York Times bestselling author”.

They’re both equal measures of bullshit.

You don’t do yoga to get somewhere. You do yoga to help remember that where you are – here, now, in this place, is as good as any place. You stretch and breath for the joy of stretching and breathing. You write words on paper for the joy of writing, of thinking, of shaping concepts, of telling stories. Writing, like yoga, is a practice.

But it’s so easy for us to forget that. We all have ambition, ego, dreams. We need these things, they’ll never go away. And we’re all challenged to balance those essential drives, with the pure pleasure and joy of our practice. The drive to be somewhere, with the recognition that being nowhere is just fine. So remember John Barnes words. (And then go buy his books.)

Avoid cliques at all costs, they are a shortcut to creative death

Creative life is hard. The goal, of becoming a mature creator who can write a great novel, compose a magnificent symphony, paint a powerful image, or any other of the myriad rewards of creative endeavour, is always far away.

(Until the moment it isn’t, which comes often without warning and when you are least expecting it.)

Shortcuts are an immense temptation and come in many forms. They aren’t really shortcuts of course. Like Gawain waylaid on his quest, any temptation that’s not the castle of the Green Knight is, for the aspiring artist, only a delaying tactic. What are we delaying? In most cases, the tough realisation that we aren’t good enough yet and have much hard work ahead of us. At which point, the alluring shortcut beckons us. “Follow me! I can show you the way without all the hard work!’

“Learn from everyone. Share your ideas with anyone who is interested.”

The clique is one of the most alluring and deceptive shortcuts of all. In the writing world, cliques are formed by groups of creators and their supporters – editors, publishers, reviewers and general fans. Creators crave recognition, and the clique offers it. Members of the clique support each other’s work, offering congratulations (and expecting them) when new work is published. A “healthy” clique can give the creators involved the sense that their work is finally being recognised, and rewarded.

The downside is easy to observe. Writers who join a clique get stuck in it, often for the rest of their career. The clique, but its nature, enforces inward looking behaviour. It will have a “house style” that writers will need to match, but the style is rarely if ever engaging to readers who aren’t part of the clique. Working your way into the clique means training your creativity on a very narrow set of criteria, to impress a very small number of people, who are ultimately only ever talking to each other.

In quite literally terms, the creative clique is a shortcut to creative death.

Does this mean you should never co-operate or collaborate with other creators? With other writers? No, quite the opposite. Be open to all other creators (within the reasonable bounds time and resources allow). Learn from everyone. Share your ideas with anyone who is interested. Even cliques themselves have little pearls of wisdom you can carry away, just don’t let the ossified shell of their politics and squabbles trap you.

Is science fiction a 21st century religion?

SF provides a place to focus our awe at the wonders of the universe, just one of many functions it shares with religious beliefs.

Ever since mankind began to count, the uncountable stars have been filling us with awe. But the splendour revealed by a cloudless night reveals only a fraction of the universe’s truly awe-inspiring scale. The Hubble space telescope reveals a tiny smudge in the sky such as Andromeda to be a galaxy vaster than our own, teeming with a trillion stars, one of a hundred million other galaxies spread across the heavens.

Science today shows us a very different universe than the clockwork model imagined by Isaac Newton in his description of gravity. Jules Verne could imagine shooting a rocket from the Earth to the moon in 1865, but could not have imagined the vastness even of our solar system’s Kuiper belt. It was only when Edwin Hubble identified the first star beyond the Milky Way, and only when the telescope that bore his name photographed 3,000 galaxies in a single patch of “empty” space, that the human eye could glimpse the near infinite depths of space.

Read more @ Guardian Books.

Beware the blocked creator

Let’s agree that creativity is a universal human potential. Maybe there are some poor souls who are born without that potential (I’m yet to meet a single one) but they aren’t our concern here. Let’s speculate that creativity is the highest human potential (I believe this absolutely) and that expressing our creativity – whether as an artist, a scientist, an athlete, or any other field of human excellence, is what we are all basically on planet Earth to do. Let’s say it together – creation is what humans were created for.

Let’s just take this all as a given.

Now, how pissed off are people who don’t get to create?

I’ve been a factory worker. If you haven’t worked on a factory line, I’m happy to assure you, it really does suck. If you have, you’ll know that it sucks not for the obvious reasons of monotony and physical labour. Those things are doable in better circumstances. Factory work sucks because you’re trapped as a tiny little cog in a machine made of humans (and machines) and you have absolutely no space to breathe the air of your own creative potential.

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Being caught in factory labour is one kind of creative block. A very literal, visceral and harsh one. Others aren’t quite so clear. Counter intuitively, having too much money is a pretty substantial creative block as well. Some of the most dejected, miserable souls I know are trust fund kids, whose wealth places them outside all the pressures of life and leaves them kicking in a void, forever reaching for self-actualisation without the basic fuel that takes us to that goal – life itself.

Too much knowledge is another common creative block. There’s a vast gulf between knowing how something is done and actually doing it. Teachers can become terribly blocked, weighed down with knowledge but without the hours of practice to balance it. But if you really want to get to the route of all creative blocks I can give it to you in one word.

Fear.

Creativity of any kind is killed dead by fear. That doesn’t mean creators are fearless. Quite the opposite.  Every successful creator, from a stage actor battling to stage fright, to a business entrepreneur facing the terrifying possibilities of bankruptcy and failure, all creators are in a relationship with fear. Creative success means a constant negotiation or outright battle with all the ways fear manifests. When fear wins that battle, creativity ends, and the creator becomes blocked.

“Not everyone is going to applaud when your book is published, because many people wish it was their book being published.”

In our world as it is, fear kills most people’s creativity dead before they even start. Just the thought of picking up a brush or a pen, of singing a song or dancing a dance, raises so much fear in many folks that they never even get going. Do you remember the exhilaration the first few times you did create? That’s in part just plain relief from fear. It rarely lasts. Fear comes back in new ways. “You’re not as good as so and so” or “you’ll never make a living at this” whispers a voice. And there it is again, fear.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, for many varied and complex reasons, the world is absolutely stuffed full of blocked creatives. And the answer to the above question is, they are very pissed off. Whether they know it or admit it or not. And when I say They, I mean You and I as well. We all struggle to fulfil our creative potential, and we all get frustrated, angry, jealous, and sometimes plain destructive as part of those struggles.

So beware the blocked creative in all of us. Not everyone is going to applaud when your book is published, because many people wish it was their book being published. Don’t expect the whole world to hail your business success, because many people will ask, what about all the folks who work for you, are they millionaires as well? In fact the more you succeed creatively the more you’ll encounter barefaced hatred and hostility from other people. Try not to hate your haters back. Remember, they’re all humans with the same creative potential as you and facing (or ignoring) their own challenges.

But most of all, beware the blocked creative in yourself. When your friend has had a great day writing, try not to say any of the snide undermining things that writers say to each other. That epic rant you were going to make on Twitter about how much you hate that guy whose doing that creative thing that is basically exactly what you would be doing if you weren’t making epic rants on Twitter? Maaaaybe keep that inside. It’s just the blocked creator in you, trying to have its say.

Three tips for keeping the blocked creator at bay.

1) Treat everyone like a fellow creator. Because they are.

2) Dedicate time and effort to helping other creators. Not so people will like you, but so you will like you.

3) We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. Help people climb up, don’t knock them down.

PS – buy my book.

Why most writers suck and always will

“There’s really no shortcuts to this. As smart and talented as you are, you’re still going to have to spend thousands of hours alone in a room mercilessly criticising all your own perceptions.”

Nic Pizzolatto, author of Galveston, writer and showrunner for True Detective

Mercilessly. Criticising. ALL. Your. Own. Perceptions.

The unwillingness to do just that is why most writers suck and always will. Here’s the whole video.

My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band & weirder tales

One day you wake up and realise you have a whole (short) collection’s worth of weird tales. And then you think, huh. I could just go ahead and publish those weird tales all by myself! And so you do. And this is what happens.

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MLZBB-Cover-PAYHIPFred is a goth. A real goth, descended from a real Visigoth tribe, not one of those mopey kids in black eyeliner she ignores at school. But when her talents as a witch and her fetish for stupid boys with spikey hair get out of hand, Fred finds herself on the run from her very own lovesick zombie boy band. Nine weird tales of lost gods, demonic dating sites and dusty antique shops all in one tiny book.

A collection of very short, very weird stories by Damien Walter.

Follow on twitter: @damiengwalter

CONTAINS ADULT THEMES

Buy on PayHip

Buy on Amazon

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My Lovesick Zombie Boy Band has been up for less than a week and has quite exceeded my expectations of what such a short (only 9 stories and 62 pages) collection could do. The process of putting it together was remarkably easy, and I’ll be putting up a post on that, on the cover design (which I love) and a few other observations in the near future.

Until then, I left a pile of free copies at PayHip. Use the coupon code ZOMBIEDAMO to grab one.

What’s stopping you being creative?

FEAR

First you jump off the cliff then you scream ARRRGGGGHHHHHH FUUUUUUUCK I AM GOING TO DIE. Then you desperately improvise something like wings and take flight. That’s how it’s going to feel, every time. Learn to love it.

MESS

When I was really small a teacher at school made us dip our feet in paint and make foot prints. I wouldn’t do and started crying. Making art is messy. Creating anything is messy. You’re going to get covered in paint, and so is your life.

STATUS

“Have I read anything you’ve published?” “Would I have heard of you?” “How nice, and what do you do for a living?” “Oh yes I paint too!” “My wife reads books.” The easy answer is to just stop going to dinner parties. Again, this a net benefit.

MONEY

You’re literally going to starve to death if you don’t spend every single moment of your life working in a job you hate. Read that again. Does it sound silly yet? Keep reading it until it does. And then stop thinking it.

Damien, 1st January 2015

Buy my weirder tales for $1 with coupon code WEIRDSHIT

YOU ARE NOT A CONTENT CREATOR. YOU DO NOT CREATE CONTENT.

Never, ever define yourself as a “content creator”. Be an artist. Be a writer. Be a musician. Be whatever. Heck, be a bum if you have to be. But never under any circumstances devalue what you create as “content”. Here’s why.

Spartz calls himself an aggregator, but he is more like a day trader, investing in pieces of content that seem poised to go viral. He and his engineers have developed algorithms that scan the Internet for memes with momentum. The content team then acts as arbitrageurs, cosmetically altering the source material and reposting it under what they hope will be a catchier headline.

And.

Spartz does not call what he makes journalism, even if he employs a few journalists, and he does not erect barriers between his product and his means of promoting it. Asked to name the most beautiful prose he had read, he said, “A beautiful book? I don’t even know what that means. Impactful, sure.

I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT BEAUTIFUL MEANS. With those words Emerson Spartz, a twenty-something web site creator who rules over a small kingdom of clickbait websites, tells you everything you need to know about the world of “content creation”. This feature in the New Yorker on The King Of Clickbait is a subtle but brutal deconstruction of Spartz, who I doubt will even notice his only ugly reflection in the mirror it holds up.

Spartz is a useful caricature for us as creators to examine. Because he is far from unique. This is the raw, unvarnished attitude of the entire media industry to “content”. Spartz is 27 and a dick. By no means a new combination of characteristics. Step in to any branch of the media, in to advertising, in to public relations, or any of the industries that make money from “content”, and you’ll find Spartz’s attitude replicated a thousand times over and then some.

“Art is that which science has not yet explained” Spartz argues during his interview. Which is a smart, if sadly incorrect, statement. Smart because it cuts to the heart of the reason why you, as a creator, as any kind of artist, must never ever fall in to the deep dark sewer that opens up beneath your feet when you define your creations as “content”, and your self as a “content creator”.

I’m not going to try and explain why to you. Either you know, or you don’t. Either you’ll learn, or you won’t. I’m not saying you need to eschew all sources of money for your creativity. I’ve written listicles for the best of them, and I likely will again. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re writing a listicle made of gif images or a novel tugged out of your inner soul. YOU DO NOT CREATE CONTENT. YOU ARE NOT A CONTENT CREATOR.

If you absolutely need a reason, here’s one of many. Content, by definition, must be filling something. The thing Emerson Spatrz wants you to fill is a VOID. You’ll shovel content in to it for an eternity and never be done. And that’s no kind of life.

If you can’t find any way to define what you do as anything but content, then yes fuck it and quit. Your immortal soul will thank you later even if your bank balance won’t.

Repeat after me. I AM NOT A CONTENT CREATOR. I DO NOT CREATE CONTENT.

PS - buy my book

What Damo wrote in 2014

Man. This was a pretty active blogging year for me. In fact it’s been an incredibly productive writing year in every way, but many of the fruits of that won’t be seen until 2015. In preparation for that I decided to take my home blog more seriously this year, partly out of curiosity to see how far I could grow its readership. And the answer was – a lot.

My top 10 posts of 2014 reflect the main topics I write about on the blog – writing technique, digital and independent publishing, sci-fi and fantasy fiction, buddhist philosophy and alternative spirituality. I’ve never sat down and thought about those categories, they’re simply my interests! They’re also much more interrelated than they might appear, as I explore in my essay on writing practice, the piece from this year I am most proud of. Writing is as much a part of my spiritual practice as meditation – something I’ll be talking about more in 2015.

Uhm…and I also published a pamphlet of very short, very weird stories. But. I haven’t told anyone but you yet. Shhh….keep it secret. Keep it safe.

The remarkable Neal Stephenson interview

FUCK YOU AMAZON! Fuck you for being right! Again!

Writing practice. Why it’s time to stop thinking of writing as a profession.

The Indie Sci-Fi Revolution

6 signs your novel may be pretty damn good

The DO’s and DO NOT’s of getting your book reviewed

Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh on the five spiritual principles that lead to true power

Amazon is not a bookseller, and why that matters for writers

Genre needs a lot more cruel and nasty reviews

The principle of digital abundance – thoughts on author earnings

The three books EVERY author must read

OK. So some people get really angry when i say this kind of thing. Anger of the “WRITING IS A PURE ART AND MY CREATIVE FREEDOM MEANS I MUST OBEY NO RULES RAAAH MOTHERFUUCKKER!” and my response is always “no problem you just carry on freely failing”. I understand the fear. There are a bazillion people trying to be writers, so you try to be a 100% original. But even absolute originals know the basics.

Each of these three books represents an essential area of knowledge for all writers.

Let me rephrase the statement. Every good physicist is more than likely to know math, classical mechanics and quantum mechanics. Every good coder knows at least one coding language, computer science and logic. Every good bricky knows bricklaying, mortar mixing, and how to make a cup of builders tea. Some skills may seem more or less important than others, but each job comes with its prerequisites. And writing is no different.

Are these three books the ONLY sources you as a writer can turn to. Of course not. There are many books a coder can learn C from, but there are also certain books that coders will recommend over others. Each of these three books represents an essential area of knowledge for all writers, and I highly recommend them as a great starting point, if you feel that area is one you need to develop in.

71Am9TiVG7LStory - Robert McKee’s scriptwriting classic, but equally relevant to playwrights and novelists. McKee’s writing seminars have such cult status in Hollywood that they have even been the object of satire in movies. Story is both a basic primer and advanced guide to story structure. If you can’t yet structure your Beats, Scenes, Sequences and Acts in to a coherent Narrative Arc, with a clear Inciting Incident, Midway Turning Point and Crisis / Climax / Resolution, employing Rising Action, Tension and Suspense, all crafted around the Deep Motivation of your Protagonist  to communicate a Controlling Idea, then this is the place to start. Confused? Buy the book.

51E+qZyyKKLThe Hero With A Thousand Faces – Every time I teach Joseph Campbell’s seminal book to students I see the same light of understanding bloom in their faces. Here’s the short version. All stories are  projections of human psychology. THE END. Slightly longer version. Stories hook the reader by reflecting archetypal facets of human psychology – the Self, the Ego, the Shadow etc etc (these are terms from Jungian psychology) and playing out archetypal psychological struggles that we, the audience, recognise within ourselves. Want the full explanation? Buy the book.

41StHYUmVkLBecoming A Writer – Dorothea Brande is a largely forgotten writer, except to students of writing who have found direction in this short but essential writing guide. Here’s the basic problem. To write, you need your mind and imagination to work well together. The problem is, they don’t get on. Your mind is a controlling parental figure, while your imagination is a tearaway hippy kid. Getting them to co-operate is the focus of Becoming A Writer, which has had a transformative effect for many writers struggling with that basic first step – actually writing stuff! Want to know how and why? You know the score by now.