Great Vine

What makes a story? A beginning, middle, and end? Introduction, conflict, and resolution? Well, yes. Of course. But stories don’t always look like that. Sometimes the details are implied or even, the audience or reader just sort of forgives you the detail. What was the big disaster that led to the desperate landscape of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? It was never specified.

What about the Tardis in Dr Who? Is it a phone box? Nope, it’s a police box. It was meant to have a stealth shape shifting ability, but after running out of budget, the police box shape remained. A handy cloak when in 60’s Britain where the show was first aired. Not so much now, or in dimension X or the Cretaceous Period or Feudal Japan… You get the idea. But we forgive them. We even make up reasons to excuse these transgressions.

Take the Klingons. Star Trek’s writers eventually came up with a reason for the changing physical look of the Federation’s interstellar rivals in the a-bit-rubbish Star Trek Enterprise. Fans, though, had been making reasons up all by themselves for years. They had been able to suspend their disbelief and forgive the obvious writing holes because… because what? Was it the tech? Or the journeys? Was it the mysterious planets?

Well, in part, yes. Mainly, though, it was the people. It was the characters. We don’t invest in another half-arsed super hero film because we believe in the reality of the fantasy. We invest because we see the humanity of the characters, because we see ourselves. As a writer, if you get that wrong, you could have the greatest budget of all time and yet nobody will buy into it. A text-book example is episodes One Two and Three of the Star Wars saga. Those prequels gave us underwritten characters who seemed as moronic as the ‘comedy’ battle droids with which they somehow seemed challenged by.

I’m not going to send you to some long drawn out character based drama, or even a short story or novel. This week, I’m gonna go from the serious to the silly. So, let’s watch a couple of Vine reels together.

Each ‘short’ is six seconds long, a feature or constraint of the micro blogging site. Some of my favourites have been put into a YouTube video below.

Each one is comedic, but also, each one somehow conveys a story in six seconds. How do they do that? Have a think, maybe let me know. Or don’t. However you want to approach these micro stories; enjoy.

Also: definitely NSFW

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Post-Modern Life.

Post Modern. It’s a phrase most of us know in our spines. It’s like a furniture advert jingle or the basic layout of the McDonald’s menu. Sometimes I think I know exactly what it means and sometimes I have no idea why it even exists.

What does it mean to the novel? What is a post-modern novel? Stig Abell of the prestigious Times Literary Supplement stated on the TLS podcast that ‘post-modern books always seem like they were fun to write but don’t tend to be fun to read’. It’s an interesting and well articulated point.

I’m still a little unsure of what the form is, but I’m beginning to come around to the feeling that the switch from linear narrative to something more nebulous could be more fundamental to our view on the world.

When you have a library in your pocket and your reality is driving then FaceBook, then email, then Instagram, then takeaway then horrible tragedy in a far off land while listening to music that seems somehow familiar, somehow like childhood and ten other things you’ve heard before, what is our everyday but fractured?

Sometimes it’s best not try too hard. Sometimes it’s best just to cook something nice and go for a walk. I’ll see you next week.

 

Destination: Journey.

What do I believe in? I believe in 10,000 hours and consistency. I believe in good things coming to those who work and I believe that this process is going to be one thing at a time.

Sometimes I joke that this is the montage section of my career. Nobody wants to watch a film where you actually get to experience the years, sometimes decades of the protagonist doing the same process over and over until they get it right. Nobody wants to watch them fail hundreds or thousands of times. That’s why, in the montage section of a film you get to see them fall only once or twice. You see them succeed in thirty seconds. You watch the montage and you think,

‘Yes! Success is a thirty second montage! All I’ve got to do is try a few times and then I’ll get my dreams. I’ll get those dreams and I’ll have right in the centre of my life!’

So every day I wake up and I get in the shower and I visualise what I’ve got to achieve for that day.

And sometimes I don’t.

Habits are the hardest and easiest things to form. The unconscience ones that are damaging, centred around a small relief of joy to an otherwise mediorcre day are the easy ones. You always have a muffin with your coffee, right?

I have to make a blog or a vlog every Wednesday with a deadline of 19:00 GMT/BST. But that is not a habit. That’s a series of habits and structures of behaviour that give the outcome blog/vlog. I don’t wake up every Weds morning and uncosciously write something for you to read. I have to will several hundred decisions into how and when to make the outcome vlog/blog. I still don’t have the hang of it. It’s still hard. It will probably remain hard for years to come. It may never get easy.

And do you know what? I may never reach my goal. The 10,000 hours and continued consistency the good things coming to those who work, and the one thing at a time isn’t true. There’s a whole lot of luck and societal placement that feeds into whether or not I’m actually going to make this a proper, paid up, skills to pay the bills career.

So where does that leave me? Where does that leave you? Here’s the deal: I’m going to continue to develop and write and film and edit and create as long as I can appreciate the process and the art for the thing of itself. You can come along for the ride. Or not. Whatever you feel.

To put it another way, it’s the journey, not the destination. You knew that, right?

Find me on Instagram or Youtube under the user name puzzlewriter. I’ll make it fun. I promise. Oh, and have that muffin. Life is short, find your joy.

 

Flatpack Hangover

We all have a clear picture in our imaginations of what it is to be the suffering writer. We envisage a manic depressive grinding out words in between planet-class drinking sessions. If you were at university with me I probably shouldn’t remind you of that.

Although I still indulge this type of behaviour occasionally, my driving job keeps me grounded. Recently, though, I had some time off and, well, you know where this is going…

Let me be clear, the beginning of this vlog maybe humorous but it impacted on my creativity and the way I related to others for days. People, don’t do it.

I’m going to start moving away from the ‘booktuber’, five things you might like about this book format. Or I won’t. Who can say at this point?

What I do intend, though, is to move towards showing what it’s like to try to fit a writing career around working a full time job. In line with this, the vlog will show a more rounded picture of what (shudder) #writerslife is like.

Finally, I apologise for the sound quality. The IKEA research was a good idea that I didn’t do justice. Either way, the basic skinny is that I’m writing a story with a section based in IKEA. I needed to find out how many people would be in the Bristol store at Sunday morning peak. I approached a member of staff and straight out he was able to tell me.

Better sound quality and camera work is on the way. I promise.

Vlog linked below.

Moving Parts

Sampled and copied and covered and coveted, Sinnerman was used by Nina Simone to finish her performances. Incidentally I almost wrote ‘gig’ instead of ‘performances’. When referring to Simone, I’m not sure ‘gig’ quite gives her the cultural docking space she needs.

Either way as I was heading along the A46 Radio 6 Music played the full ten minute version of this track. As I worked the levers and buttons and wheels of my car, maintaining the proper speed and control, I tried to get across to my son what it is that this track does to me. He may have noticed me gently weeping as I spoke.

It’s not that I find this song sad, it’s quite the opposite. I think it’s mainly to do with the absolute machine of a band that accompanies Simone. They are unbelievably tight, and it makes me yearn to be part of something that oiled, that ordered.

A day later, with a friend who has experience of working in the music business, I told her what it is that grabs me about the song. I told her how I longed to be part of a machine like that. I asked her what it’s like. She turned to me as I drove along the same old grey road I’d been pulsing along with my son the day before. Speaking clearly and honestly, she told me experiencing that level of togetherness isn’t something she’s had. That to listen to Simone and her band is to listen to a group of people at the top of their game and, more importantly, at the top of the game. Simply, they have no equal.

I’ve linked the song below.

Enjoy.

Photo Shop

The more days that pass into my indie writing adventure, the more it becomes normality. Acclimatising to something is, I think, the beginning of becoming good at that thing. My normal is now typing, as I am now, in my spare time. Sometimes it’s while I’m out at work, waiting for a client to land or eat or meet or simply exit their house. Habits are forming.

A big part of what I do is promote myself. In fact, a few weeks ago, my managing editor told me that up to 80% of what I should be doing is promoting myself, with the remaining time taken up with writing or editing. I’d say, at the moment, that figure is closer to 70%.

I think that there is often a general distaste among ‘serious’ lit-fic writers with regard to platforms like Twitter or Instagram. I think when anyone starts out with an idea of being a writer they often have a romanticised picture in their head of the suffering, lone wolf toiling over a typewriter.

As an indie writer I have to throw off these kinds of ideas. I have to engage with the world; it is essential that I recognise the power of social media. So how am I going about that?

Let’s for a minute ignore the blogging (I’ll tackle that another time), the vlogging (I’ve still got a loooong way to go), Twitter (appears to be just a large amount of people being horrible to each other), Facebook (not convinced of the reach) and concentrate on Instagram.

Like anything we can approach the basic needs and consequent successes are just a set of problems to grind away at. I’m still new, but here’s five tips I think are helping me to break down the social media dark art.

i – Work out when to post.

It’s relatively easy to research the best times to post. Googling ‘best times to post on Instagram (or any other platform, for that matter) will give you the following:

6-8am

11am-1pm

7-9pm

Note that these are times that people tend to get up for the work day, have lunch from the work day and get home from the… you get the picture. Social media isn’t life, it’s a distraction. Build your strategy around that.

 

ii – Do your homework on hashtags that relate to what your posting.

Yesterday, on my to do list I wrote, ‘research hashtags relating to three types of posts’. I then started a notebook for this singular purpose. There’s a picture of it at the header of this post. Here’s a look inside:

Hashtag notebook 1

It’s clear to me that the most successful social media people have a very clear strategy with regard to what types of posts they do. Types? Well let’s break that down into three examples using the three hashtags from my notebook.

#amreading

#amwriting

#vlogger

By using the search function in Instagram you can find people using these tags. Here’s what it looks like on my phone app:

hashtag screenshot

Who are the most popular accounts? What other tags are they using in conjunction with the one you’re researching? As you can see in the screen shot, across the top of the search results page, Instagram will show other tags related to the one you’ve searched. This is super handy. Don’t be afraid to use more than a few. The more you do, the wider the reach of the post.

 

iii – Get Involved

I have now got to a point where I habitually check Instagram. I scroll and ‘like’ the posts that the people I’m following are producing. I don’t, however, ‘like’ all of the posts. It’s exhausting to the critical thinker in all of us to just ‘like’ everything. Don’t be afraid to be discerning. You need to retain as much inner integrity as possible. It’s so important.

 

iv – Don’t drink and post

Just like you, I’m an idiot when I’m drunk. Ever been to a pub where everyone is a few drinks ahead of you? Or even, met someone who’s drunk and you’re stone cold sober? You know it’s rubbish, I know it’s rubbish. Don’t subject drunk you on the world. You’re not as funny as you think you are and despite what you think at the time, it’s not a good idea to do anything online with strangers. In fact, let’s make that a general rule for alcohol: Pissed? Don’t do that thing with a stranger.

 

v – Keep it to yourself

Been out to dinner with someone who can’t stop looking at their phone? Or to the pub? Or trying to have a conversation with someone concurrently managing their Twitter feed? We’ve all been that person, and most of us have been that other person who is distracted by the shiny bright thing in their pocket. Don’t do it. Stop it right now. Find the time to build habit outside of your social life. Remember, the Universe is vast, cold and uncaring. What we have is each other. Let’s make the most of that.

 

Now that wasn’t so bad? Was it? Normal culture bollocks will resume next week. Until then come find me on my Instagram account @puzzlewriter. Give it a like, or a follow, or don’t. Whatever you feel.

 

 

 

 

In Theory

I am a white, middle-classish, cisgender male living in a western democracy. You could, quite successfully, I think, argue that there is no other more privileged position in regular global society.

I want to be clear that just approaching the subject of this vlog/blog feels like I’m appropriating it. Today’s book, however, did move me on in my understanding of something that can sometimes be hidden from view, something seen as abstract.

I became interested in feminism and identity politics only because I couldn’t figure out any good reason why significant sections of the population appeared to be excluded or segregated from having a regular hassle-free life.

Thus, on my journey to understand I’ve been handed various books. Like you, I take nourishment from the books I read.

A few weeks ago I was handed Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele. This book explores what queer theory is; something I’ve heard other people talk about and figured, wrongly, that it didn’t apply to me.

I’m still no expert, but I’ve learnt a little bit more about what it is to struggle with who you are and how society relates to that. Mainly, I’ve come to understand how queer theory is important to all of us, no matter how sure we are of our identities. I think that’s valuable; I think we can all get behind that.

Find yourself a copy.

Vlog linked below: