February 16, 2018

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Another song today from Allman Brown because not only is it a great track but it also seems to suit today’s blog.

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Words written for the year: 34,097

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I’ve been kind of off lately and I think it has to do with feeling like I’m never going to get any closer to the mountain than where I am right now. It’s fear, really. If you replace ‘feeling like’ with ‘a fear of’ it probably tells a much truer tale. It’s not a fear of current failure, though, but a fear of future failure. Of never reaching the mountain. Recognising that however, doesn’t lower that fear, nor does it offer any real solutions. I know I’m afraid, that’s where most misery comes from, so I suppose the question becomes how do I dispel fear? Proof that the fear doesn’t exist would be ideal, but I’m not sure that’s feasible when the fear is one of future possibilities. No one can show me proof that my life will go a certain way; life is far from being about certainties. So, in that sense the fear is valid, I might not move any closer to the mountain.

Or, I might.

Which is the second, but less whole solution to fear. Hope.

But, damn, can it be hard to stay hopeful all the time. I think I’m pretty good at it. Holly calls me a positive realist, which means I see things as they are but tend to focus on the positive of any situation. There are always pros and cons, and I like to look for the pros. So, when it comes to the future, I usually acknowledge that I might never move any closer to the mountain, but that I also might, and hopefully will, and that the only way to know for sure is to keep working at it. That way I’ve at least got a chance.

But hope can be a really hard reason to force yourself to work, because if the principle of creating the work is, ‘something great might happen one day because of this,’ then the inverse is, ‘or it might not,’ which is the fear speaking, because fear is an arsehole. Fear is the one that says ‘why bother working when it’s not going to get you anything anyway? Why bother writing something when no one wants to read it? Why bother doing anything when it’s not going to make a difference?’ And when I’m vulnerable, or tired, or just having a shitty day, it starts to make a lot of sense. Writing something no one wants to read does feel futile. Of course, I’m generalising, I’m lucky enough to have people who love me and who will always read my stuff, and I don’t mean to dismiss that, but when fear is talking it minimises their support, and it makes me spiral. I stop being productive, because why bother? And then that fear of future failure gets loaded up with feeling hopeless, all but making the fear a self fulfilling prophecy.

So then I guess it comes to me to ask, what is the mountain I’m wanting to move towards? I’d be hard pressed not to say that it’s success of some kind. Success here meaning external recognition of my work, and being financially abundant because of it. Which, writing it down, is a big thing to ask. Basically, it means I want a lot of strangers to tell me how awesome my writing is while also paying me a lot of money for it. Call it hard wiring, call it part of being human, call it ego, that want is still there, and it’s not going to go away, and my guess is it wouldn’t go away even if I did reach some imagined point. To go back to my original analogy, the mountain would always be that little bit further away, no matter how close I got. That’s how humans work.

The thing is, it’s not about reaching the mountain, and it took me revisiting the original source of that analogy for me to remember that. It comes from a keynote address, writer, Neil Gaiman, gave at The University of the Arts in 2012. The whole talk is a joyful mess of inspiring and imaginative, but I’ll include the pertinent part for you here:

“Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear cut, and sometimes  it will be almost impossible to decide whether or not you are doing the correct thing, because you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself, paying debts, finding work, settling for what you can get.

Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work.”

As he describes, the mountain is distant, something on the horizon, and as with any journey, looking at the end point and worrying about how far away it is only serves to make a person miserable, and, in my case, fearful, or perhaps resentful, towards taking another step.

But taking another step in the point. It’s the joy of moving forward, even if moving forward means writing another story no one will read. Because ultimately my mountain isn’t to have people pay me lots of money and tell me how great I am, that’s a byproduct (hopefully) of what my mountain really is; becoming a good writer who can tell stories that connect with people. The stories I love, and the writers I admire, are the ones who make me feel moved, or understood, or amazed, or lost in a world not my own, and it’s that experience that I want to recreate with my own writing.

That is the mountain.

So, that’s what I need to move towards, knowing that I may never reach it, but also knowing that as long as I keep walking towards the mountain, I’ll be okay.

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Here’s the entire commencement speech, I highly recommend you watch it, perhaps multiple times. That’s what I’m about to do.

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Remember, I’ll be okay, and you will too.

Talk soon

Damian

March 14, 2017

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Today’s blog song, The Fear, is not a new one but it is a good one. Ben Howard is a singer songwriter from England who’s first album Every Kingdom was just sensational, powerful and tense, and only got better with every relisten.

 

Life continues to be busy. Most of the time I’m of the mind that this is a good thing, although lately I’ve found myself rebelling against it; which is to say becoming sulky whenever I’m tired but still have to leave the house because past Damian has made commitments. I’m finding it hard to slice away some time to do my own things (like writing, like I am now, hi!) and haven’t felt that I’ve had a lot of time to myself lately. Basically, I’m an introvert who needs the occasional bout of D-time (Damian-time), and will contract a serious case of the grumps if I don’t get it.

Or in other words…null

Summer’s partly to blame. Melbourne’s currently going through a period of annoyingly gorgeous weather that’s making everyone want to be social, no doubt in the mind of making hay while the sun shines (or in this case drink beer outside while the sun shines). I realise I’m complaining about how annoying it is that everyone wants to hang out with me all the time and drink beer in the sunshine, which I am, because I’m a monster. No, obviously it’s awesome to drink beer in the sun with all my favourite people (bar the ones that live overseas), still, there’s a part of me that’s looking forward to winter and having things quiet down a bit. I like the idea of locking myself up against the cold, wearing beanies, eating soup, getting some writing done, and drinking beer inside for a change. No doubt I’m romanticising it. I think ultimately it’s just a case of too much of a good thing, and perhaps not enough variety of social to solo.

Work continues to be the second part of this problem. Things have ramped up at the job I’ve decided to leave and it’s becoming insanely busy for me. It’s like all the time my position was cruisey, and all the work I didn’t have to do then, has condensed into these last few months, somehow knowing I’m planning to leave. It’s horrible karmic. As for the jobs I’ve applied for, I haven’t heard anything. This could be a good thing, or a bad thing, or nothing at all. I’m hoping it means they’re still thinking things through and that I could get an interview at any point. At the very least I still have hope, which is enough to see me through each day.

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152949I recently finished Neil Gaiman’s View From the Cheap Seats, which is a selection of essays, novel introductions, and articles Gaiman has written across his career. I consumed it in audiobook version, often while riding to and from work, and internally referenced that time ‘Riding with Neil’. I now find it hard to read anything without hearing the words spoken in his melodic voice.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, far more than I was expecting. Gaiman is a favourite of mine, as he is to many, and so I knew that I was likely to enjoy this varied collection of his writing. What I wasn’t expecting was how inspired it would end up making me, especially towards my own writing. I found the combination of Gaiman’s quiet optimism and loud imagination meant that anytime after I went riding with Neil I had a score of ideas to write down and an urge to flesh them out immediately. Even when it was something as simple as an author description or an old newspaper article, Gaiman would use such imaginative words and imagery that my own imagination would flare into life and bombard me with visions and stories.

I also enjoyed the book on multiple levels. Since Gaiman includes so much of himself and his experiences into his writing it worked as an autobiography. In fact it even seems to be laid out that way, with the first few articles referencing his childhood and latter ones the progression of his career and home life. Gaiman also clearly loves writing and so often writes about writing, meaning the book also worked as a book on writing. The canny reader (or listener) could pull out a score of invaluable writing lessons from this collection, both on the act of writing and Gaiman’s approach to it. It also worked as a book on reading as it included Gaiman’s own clear love of reading (the quantity of books he’s alluded to have read is intimidating) and suggestions on other authors to read. Finally, it is quite simply good entertainment. With the subject matter being varied and wide but still shot through with similar themes and values.

I miss riding with Neil. However, I am in luck as he recently released a new series of stories, a collection depicting his interpretation of the Norse mythologies. I expect I’ll be back riding with Neil very soon. I highly suggest you do the same.

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Remember; the story of Icarus isn’t a warning about flying too close to the sun, it’s about ensuring you’re properly prepared when you do.

Talk soon

Damian

September 9, 2016

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I finished a short story late last week and have been waiting to edit it. It’s a first draft so I have no doubt that it’ll need a fair bit of correcting and rewriting. I’m keen to do so. This one was a bit of a bear in that it took me rewriting the first few pages a number of times until it started to come out the way I wanted. It finally did – I basically needed to force myself to compress the writing, I was having too much fun and overwriting the heck out it to the point where I was drifting away from the plot line – and once done I happily progressed. That is until I got to that point in the writing, somewhere just past half way, where I start to doubt every aspect of the story.

This seems to happen to me no matter what medium I’m working with. On almost every grey lead drawing I’ve done I’ll come to a point where I’m sure it looks terrible. When I’ve done comics I’ll be three panels deep and convince myself the joke isn’t funny, or that it isn’t coming out the way I think it should. Even learning new songs on the guitar usually involves a time where I think I’ll never get the timing right. Inevitably, though, I do. Persistence is the key. Often helped along with some stern words from myself to convince me that I’m not completely terrible. Mostly persistence though. If I can maintain my persistence eventually the song starts to sound right, I finish the comic and find that I like it again, the drawing gets completed and I keep looking at it to tell myself what a great job I did, and, in this case, the story gets finished.

Luckily I know I’m not alone in this habit. Fantasy author, wearer of black, and all around nice guy Neil Gaiman wrote a blog a while ago about how he experiences the same thing. He detailed he would get to a certain point in his writing where he’d ring his publisher to tell her he’s terrible, the story is terrible, and everything is the worst. To which she responded with ‘you know you do this every time you write a book?’ Unfortunately I can’t find the link to that blog, but that’s the general gist of it. The point being that even the pros still have to go through this as part of their practice.

I got through it and came out the other end looking at the finish line. For me endings are the easiest and most enjoyable part to write. All the setting up’s been done, the challenging second act is complete, and now I get to just bring it home. Like I said though, editing will need to be done, and then a second draft. I’ve waited the week to do so because I think it’s a good idea to get some space between finishing and editing in order to see it with new eyes. Realistically I should probably wait more than a week but am too excited to go over it, then send it to my readers: The Lady holly and Brother Jonathan. Even just waiting a week was hard. I managed to get through it by working on some web series scripts I’ve been planning to do for a while. They were a fun change of pace and only required about a half day period of doubt. That might be a new PB.

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Time for some internet things.

First up is this article from the AV Club about an app that lets you purchase leftover meals from restaurants at a lower price. The app, called Too Good To Go, was designed to try and decrease the amount of food waste happening across the world, and so far seems to be working. It started in Denmark last year and has already saved thousands of meals from being thrown away as well as prevented over 200 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Basically you make the purchase using the app and then organise a time to pick up the food from the restaurant. While not available in Australia yet I hope it comes soon as restaurant quality meals at half the price sound like a pretty good deal to me.

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Next up is a short story The High Lonesome Frontier written by Rebecca Campbell and published on Tor.com. It details the life of a song over one hundred and fifty years. Very enjoyable, and superbly written.

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Brother Jonathan has a new blog up on his site detailing his most recent travels home to Australia. A quality read, as his often are.

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Finally some sweet music by one of my favourite, if not favourite, artist; a man by the name of Passenger (aka Mike Rosenberg). He has a new album coming out at the end of this month, this time featuring a backing band. If this first track Young As The Morning Old As The Sea is anything to go by it’s sure to be another great one.

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Until next time remember that the best way to get through a rough patch is to keep going.

Talk soon

Damian

June 24, 2016

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It’s been a week since I last posted. In that post I mention that I had a self imposed deadline to finish the novelette I’m currently working on by THIS VERY DAY, and as of right now….I haven’t finished.

I’m so close though! It’s still disappointing however and, while I’m about to blame it on my day job, it’s completely my fault. Saying that, it’s my damn day job that’s the problem! (see what I did there?) Seriously though I did have a mammoth week at work, not one that was particularly horrible, just one where I had to do a lot of boss-type activities, running around, and attending meetings. Meetings by the way are totally weird. I’ve been in meetings before, usually as a lower-grade attendant, but, as I’m filling in for the boss while she’s on long service leave, this was a management meeting. It’s a completely different game, and I use the word game quite deliberately, as everyone attending seemed to be playing a part. They all had their “professional” mask on and used a very particular vernacular that is for the most part, unnatural. It’s one that comes across as very restrained and politically correct, and uses words like problematic, moving forward, foresee, action, and update. All of which are fine words, they just seem to get overused in this environment. The worst part of it all is that I totally assimilated to this weird game. I also found myself talking in this stilted, overly thought out way. I too put on the professional mask and nodded when others suggested we “table this business and add it to the next meeting’s agenda”. For a guy that stubbornly wears t-shirt and jeans to almost any occasion this was a hard thing to learn about myself (I was however wearing a t-shirt and jeans in the meeting and was the only one in the room to do so, so at least I was able to oppose social norms in that regard and by so doing convince myself that at least internally I was still a creative). It gave me the idea for a short film where a bunch of people are in a room, attending a meeting, talking in this way, and not actually saying anything; which is what it seems like half the time.

Back to my novelette though. I didn’t finish but I have plans to do so by the end of the weekend. It’s entirely doable it will just require a number of hours of work to do so. Luckily it’s currently winter in Australia and so the idea of setting myself up in front of the heater or in the warmth of the library and getting some good writing done is a fairly desirable one. Let’s see how I go.

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The writing behemoth with the softly spoken voice that is Neil Gaiman shared a very useful bit of advice on his blog during the week that I thought I would pass along. A fan of his had sent in a question asking about getting themselves back into writing after five years of having trouble doing so.

Mr Gaiman’s advice was as follows:

“Set aside time to write that’s only writing time. Put away your phone. Turn off or disable your wifi. Write in longhand if you wish. Put up a do not disturb sign. And make your writing time sacred and inviolable.

And in that time, this is the deal. You can write, or you can not do anything. Not doing anything is allowed. (What not doing anything includes: staring at walls, staring out of windows, thinking broodily, staring at your hands. What not doing anything does not include: alphabetising the spice rack, checking Tumblr, taking your pen apart, playing solitaire or running a clean up program on your computer.)

You get to pick how long a day your writing time is. An hour? Two? Three? Your call.

Doing nothing gets pretty dull. So you might as well write. (And if you write 300 words, one page, every day, you’ll have a 90,000 word novel in a year.)”

It’s pretty hard to argue with that wisdom.

Talk soon

Damian