RUN, YOU GOIT.
Also, I absolutely love that you’re open minded on this. Gives me hope for much of fandom. :D
1. Be Kind. If this is the one thing I manage to do, I’ve done enough. Kindness may seem like a personality trait, but I think of it more as a...”
sacred-rebellion asks: Do you have an opinion when it comes to aspiring writers majoring in creative writing vs....
Oh! This is a tough one!
Here’s something important - just because this is one moment where a character is telling a story, does not mean nothing is happening. When you think about it, most of the stories you’ve been told by your family and friends have been monologues. Haven’t they still made you laugh, cry and scream?
In a way, a monologue is just a short story with a really strong narrator. It can still have other characters, ups and downs, tension and emotion. If you’re comfortable writing stories and scared of a monologue, start writing the story as you normally would, and then look back at it and ask the question: “How would this be different if it was being told to me in a conversation?”
Don’t be scared! I know that as soon as you say monologue or soliloquy it sounds like you’re going to an alien planet, but you know this stuff! It is the way you experience the world. It’s how you talk to others, it’s how others talk to you, and it’s how you talk to yourself, inside your head. Just copy that!
Hi! Look, inspiration comes from a lot of places, and it’s hard to define exactly how it happens. It may sound like a gross oversimplification, but I really feel like most good ideas are really a couple of boring ideas mashed together in your head. A writer called Ray Bradbury used to do this all the time. He wrote hundreds of short stories and his best technique for inspiration was to write a list of his favourite words and play with ideas for them. Skeleton. Jam. Anger. How can I turn that into a story?
I encourage you not to stress too much about ideas. When I run writing workshops one of the most important things I try to get across is that ideas will come if you wait for them. The trick is not to continually cram ideas into your head, and to let them settle - a cake never cooks if you don’t stop stirring and put it in the oven. Get bored. Go for a walk, just fifteen minutes without your ipod or phone. I bet you’ll have a great idea.
And try writing words you like on a piece of paper and then jamming them together. I was only messing around above, but already I feel like it works. I have a picture in my head of a family that has a skeleton living in their house, tucked away in a corner behind the fridge. He likes them, he would never dare haunt them. Just as long as they never open a jar of jam…
Hi! I’ll make it rebloggable now for you myself, as I’d like to follow what happens to it. I’m so pleased you liked it, thank you for reading!
I thought I’d take the opportunity over the next few weeks to think about some of the books that I really loved as a child. Although the titles I’ll be talking about are some that are really close to me, I’ll try not to turn this into a nostalgia gush. The purpose here is hopefully to look at what these books have taught me about myself (and writing), and to work out which part of them has stayed with me. I’d love some of you to do this too (link or tell me in the comments below!) and perhaps a nice fundamental question to kick off the discussion could simply be: Why? Why does this book hold a place in your heart above others? You might start this in a really simple way, just by walking over to the bookshelf where the kid’s books that you’ve kept are, and grabbing the first one you feel yourself pulled towards. Chances are there is a reason that you’ve kept it, and that it’s close and accessible. Be careful of nostalgia, but don’t shy away from subjectivity. If you know that everyone hates this book except you, but it’s got one character, or one moment or line that just grabs at your gut, fine! Have a go at explaining that feeling.
I was eight when I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. When you’re a kid you really have no concept of what is socially acceptable, and when we went to visit the family in Hobart for Christmas I continued to read it throughout the stay. It was under my pillow when I went to sleep, and it was in my pocket when we went to my Great Aunt’s house. As soon as I was inside I quickly found a corner and I was quiet. Reading.
Without meaning to sound too hipsterish about it, part of the appeal the novel has for me come from a feeling of being an original fan. My brother discovered the book before me; his teacher had a review copy. Being exposed to the novel early meant that I saw it explode. I can remember it being important in a way that no other book had ever been: the movie was massive, but I had a Harry Potter pencil case long before that. The idea that this little book, my book, could become something so much bigger than words on a page has never really left me.
Reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone as an adult I can see that it’s imperfect. It takes a long time to hit its stride, and there are issues that are glossed over. (Harry asks Hagrid why wizards don’t want humans to know about them, and Hagrid’s best answer is that “everyone’d be wantin’ magic solutions to their problems.” Sure.) But J. K. Rowling’s real skill is world-building. She has taken all of the narrative tropes of fantasy and updated them. Owls delivering letters, Quidditch, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry itself – it’s easy now to take this things for granted, but they were, and are, brilliantly inventive. Rowling’s characters are more than just dynamic in themselves, they populate an entire world in which domestic life, sport, politics, economics and education are re-imagined in her own way, and in the centre of it all is a normal boy. I mean, how often do you even get a protagonist who wears glasses? From start to finish, and even another six books later, her writing is utterly mesmerising. Even now I can’t be long without reading a Harry Potter book because it is a world that I miss in the same way that I miss old houses and friends. It is, in my opinion, the most important children’s series ever written for that reason. Rowling makes the effort to re-imagine the world rather than just explain it. And the result is magic.
Pictured: A guy who is not me with his dad who is also not my dad.
Hello! I hope that everything is going well with you. For my readers not living locally it seems pertinent to mention that we have never met. You are the recently returned star of a television cooking show that is broadcast here in Australia called My Kitchen Rules. I am an Arts graduate and a blogger who writes things that people sometimes read.
I know what you’re thinking: Lyndon, I’m a busy man. If I’m going to grace your letter with an earnest reading you’re going to have to cut to the chase. I’ve got restaurant launches to attend. Okay. Fine. Let’s cut to the chase. Maybe then boil it in a white wine jus.
I look like you. Well, maybe you look like me. Let’s not fight over birthdays and conception dates. At first I wasn’t even sure I agreed - yes, I’m a brown-haired young bloke in Tassie who wears thick rimmed dark glasses and is reasonably gentle and well-mannered. And sure, the similarities were close enough that my family was certain to laugh at the television and say, “You’re on again, Lyndon!” or “He even walks like you!” but that was probably it, right? Turns out it wasn’t, but I could get used to the Facebook messages and text messages every time the show came on. You’re on the tellie! Nice work with dessert tonight! To be honest, I even got to barracking for you and your dad. A Tassie team with a guy like me. Bring it on.
But then it got weird, because strangers started talking to me. Today, in the hour and a half that I was in town, three seperate people asked me if I was Matt from My Kitchen Rules. One lady came over and said, “Excuse me, Matt?’ and when I politely told her, “I’m sorry, I’m not him but I really hope he wins,” she said, “Are you sure?”
Am I sure of what? Am I sure that I am Lyndon Riggall, Tasmanian scribbler of things, and not Matt Newell, Tasmanian celebrity chef? Am I sure that I exist - that I’m not just you pretending to be me so that I/you can get some peace and quiet at a café?
Yes, I’m sure. I’m so sure that I can confidently write you this letter knowing that it’s not actually going to wind up back in my own inbox. But what of tomorrow, Matt? What if the next “fan” goes one step further, and refuses point blanc to believe me? What if our parallel-apparently-separated-at-birth lives reach the point where mine is burnt away by the brief but consuming candle of your fame?
There is only one thing for it. We need a strategy. Sure, I could look at it as an awkward inconvenience, but I’ve read too many stories about identical twins for that to work. How great could it be - I could do your media appearances when you’re sick, or you could blame your nightclub indiscretions on “that other guy who looks like you.” We’d be a team, two halves of the same Superman. What do you say?
Either way, I’m not going to complain. As weird as it is to be part of a widespread identity crisis, it is a compliment. As much as TV can reliably tell you anything about anyone you do seem a genuine and likeable guy, and I hope that one day - if the world doesn’t implode when it happens - I get to meet you. It’s not Ashlee or Sophia that my style apparently resembles, and that’s got to count for something.
If nothing else, it seems inevitable that one day soon I will be invited to a costume party which I have neither the inclination nor the time to prepare for. Kinda nice to know that I can just put on an apron and I’ve got it made.
Here’s hoping, for both of us, that you win MKR. Best of luck.
Booyah! Commence the air punching!
Actually, wait. I have a confession to make. That was the first time that I’ve ever given that talk, and I was really worried about how it would go. I am so, so pleased that you managed to find something in it that worked for you, and that you’re writing again. Just, seriously, so pleased. Thank you for letting me know!
Now comes the hard part: Don’t give up! KEEP WRITING!
A couple of weeks ago I was asked to speak on a panel at the University of Tasmania, giving advice to students about how to help their Arts degrees lead them somewhere interesting and fulfilling after graduation. I am aware of the irony of this, trapped as I am in the postgrad period of sending applications, holding breaths and crossing fingers.
In the end though, I decided to go along. After all, the state that I am in at the moment is a totally legitimate and very terrifying position that all graduates go through, and I have also done some interesting stuff in the last 12 months that I wagered people might genuinely like to hear about. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, Actually, there are a few things that I would like to have been told four years ago when I started this journey. So I made my notes and went along.
If you ever need to return me to earth and humility, you can remind me what happened next. Friends of the internet, I am sorry to say, no-one came to the panel. No-one. Not even accidentally. This sometimes happens at UTas, and I consider karma partly responsible. In my years as a student I must have missed countless events just like it - work and life and sleep and study all coming together so that any chaff at the edges is quickly sliced away for an extra moment’s peace. It wasn’t personal, and the university staff who organised the panel were disappointed and also incredibly gracious and grateful. I left in good spirits.
But you know what? I had things to tell those damn Arts students! Chiefly this: Start now. The most important artistic decision I made during my time at uni began as soon as university started, and you’re reading it right now. This blog is the theory in practice. Early on in my degree I asked myself a crucial question: If someone was looking to discover you - really genuinely find someone who was doing exactly the kind of work that you are doing - how would you make that quest easy for them? I couldn’t answer it then, but since the beginning of my blog, I can. In the digital world someone who is serious about their craft has very few excuses. Start creating and sharing. Almost every piece of joy that I’ve had in my writing career so far traces right back to here. I don’t have to give my stories away for free, but I do have to give something so that the world sees me. Here it is, writ large.
The irony of discussing a “life after Arts” is that there is no life after Arts. There is only a life lived through Arts. And it starts now.
That’s what I would have told them, anyway. Or something like that. But as you know, nobody came. Now I can only hope that someone - Arts student or not - hoping to shake off a fear of failure will find encouragement here. And start to make.
Okay, so it is entirely possible that this question is just a little joke for our mutual amusement, but then it’s also possible that you are someone who genuinely likes what I do, and would like some advice on how to do things like it. It would be kind of fun to think about that second option, but I’m also still really suspicious of the first, so I’m going to try and cover both of them for you, just to be safe. Here goes:
Answer #1: Ha! Oh, you. Be off with you, ya scamp!
Answer #2: Look, although I don’t consider myself “brilliantly brilliant” (though it’s very kind of you to say so!) I guess I have done some pretty neat things in my life so far, and many of them that I am very proud of. I really only have one piece of advice on that front: Care.
All anyone can ask of you is that you do things to the best of your ability, and the way to drive yourself to that is to care about what you are doing. The reason that there are relatively few professional dish-dryers compared to professional football players is that people seem to genuinely care about football. (This is not to denigrate people who dry dishes, I respect their art immensely. But there are very few who really “shine” at it.)
I have two strategies for caring about things. The first is to find a way to make yourself care. If I catch myself struggling with something I’m working on, I often tell people about it. When they ask me how it’s going, I want to give them good news and not appear lazy. I wrote a whole book driven partly by the anxiety that people would be upset if I didn’t give them regular updates on my Facebook page. I make lists and draw progress bars on pieces of paper, turning difficult projects into a game with smaller, manageable levels that I care about winning. I make word counts part of the score, and add bonuses for extra points. I love getting extra points.
And of course there is one other strategy for helping yourself to care about what you’re working on: Do things you care about. Work with people who you care about on projects that you care about. Money helps, but sometimes it’s easier and better to just do something that you love, rather than to take the money as an incentive to make you love what you’re doing. Find something that you care about, and make caring about it part of who you are and what you do, every day if you can. Everyone who is brilliant was once just someone who liked something enough to care about it, I really believe that.
This is more than one word, for which I am sorry. But I cared about your answer, and I got carried away. I hope it helps.
A recent New York Times article called “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” introduced me to some startling new ideas about how much design goes into pleasures that are later consumed so thoughtlessly.
I was particularly taken by the idea of a “bliss point,” defined by Michael Moss in the article as the food combination that leads to “the greatest amount of crave.” Essentially, a food has to reach a certain level of deliciousness in order for you to want it, but maximum tastiness is not the most sensible economical model. By designing food that sits neatly down the divide between initial delight and overall satisfaction, food companies can make you love what you just had, while still demanding more. If you’ve ever noticed that you can’t open the packet without eating all of it, chances are that product hit the bliss point.
This is all very interesting in itself, but it has also got me thinking about the wider application of the term. The verb “to session” has been used by a lot of my friends to describe the relationship they have to a TV show. While they might become bored or tired in a three hour movie, they can somehow watch hours upon hours of Sex and the City. The Hobbit exhausts them, but Game of Thrones can be “sessioned” all day.
I wonder if it might be fair to argue that these bite-sized chunks of narrative are designed to sit at the bliss point; to make us feel good while we watch, but through a mixture of narrative techniques (like the cliffhanger), to also make us feel like we have to watch more. I’m sure we’ve all stumbled into work exhausted one morning after being compulsively driven to turn the pages of a novel late into the previous night. Should this be celebrated or chastised? As writers, should we strive for work that makes our audience desperate for more, or should every piece of the puzzle be fully self contained and complex enough that the audience might feel that this alone is enough to satisfy them?
In essence: what does it mean to make an audience crave?