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The More I Read

I’ve always been a reader. I totally blame my mother for this, and as blaming personal behaviour on parents goes, this one is a behaviour I’m sure she’ll happily accept the blame for.

When I was a young child my mother bribed me with books. If I misbehaved while we were doing the weekly shopping I didn’t get my prize for being a good boy. A Golden Book. Do they even still print those? Those Golden Books were mine. Every Saturday morning I’d behave myself, because I knew I’d get one of those hard covered little stories – if I’d been really good I’d get two – when we reached the checkout.

I never thought about asking for chocolates or fizzy drinks because to me the whole point of quietly being dragged around the local Woolworths was to get my tiny little hands on those books. I had a massive collection. When I got older – probably twelve or thirteen – my mother gave them all to my Aunt for my cousin. I was furious.

I hadn’t read them in years but they were mine, they were where my love of stories came from. When I was younger I’d wasted many a happy weekend locked away writing my Golden Book Adventures. As a kid I wanted to be a Golden Book writer, or write Mr Men.

Even at twelve or thirteen I was annoyed that my mother had given away those books despite not me not having touched them in many years. I went into mourning the day I found out my Aunt threw them away because her daughters didn’t like reading. I was probably 20 when I found that out. I’d would have understood mass murder more easily than throwing away books.

Recently I’ve been on a writing kick. It’s been a refreshing dip in a pool long ignored. One of the main reasons – and an alternate title for this post – is whether to Plot or Pantz.

The older I get, the more comfortable in my own skin I become, the more I find moving outside the hamster wheel to be a little too much. My hamster wheel is very much a safety zone. Work, home, internet, sleep, repeat until retirement age. But lately I’ve come to realise I’m bored with my life and I have only myself to blame.

While I’ve been working on my latest attempt at a novel, and swatting away a variety of muses who have obviously noticed the gates have been opened again, I’ve come to realise one of the biggest decisions I face as a writer is to plot the storyline out or just to sit down, type and see what happens.

This blog is proof that when I sit and type without any sort of idea where I’m going that sometimes I hit the nail on the head, and other times I miss the mark a touch. This whole blog is pretty much free-form thinking.

But every course I’ve ever done has promoted the “new writers have to know where they’re going” or “in order to establish yourself you need to know who your characters are, preferably from birth to death“. I understand why they insist on this stuff it’s important to a point.

Plotting bores me.

I’ve always felt that made me a bad writer – amongst other reasons – and no one would take me seriously if I didn’t have a 100 page outline with colour graphs and diagrams.  I always believed that to be a writer meant you needed a degree in something, and a vocabulary Evil Kenevil couldn’t jump on a motorcycle.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Plot or Pantz, either one can be used as a reason to procrastinate. Either is a perfectly invalid reason to simply throw your hands in the air and watch another episode of Come Dine With Me.

Recently I’ve been reading Stephen King On Writing. It’s a very easy to read book and it’s deceptively simple. As you read the anecdotes and stories about this novel or that, you don’t really realise how many tips you’re picking up along the way.

Yesterday I read the section on plotting. Well, it’s not really about plotting. It’s about story.  It’s about how the idea’s sort of come into his head to form a situation. It’s how most of my stories arrive before I spend a month or more trying to bash a plot line out of it.

My current main creative squeeze began with a simple sentence “what would you do if you were born to be a Queen and turned out to be a “God” instead”.

Simplistic, and frankly my main character isn’t so much a god as a delusional fruit cake with liberal dashings of magic and superiority. But that was how it began.

Another of my ideas, one that keeps popping up every now and again began with the following line “being a God is all well and good, but what does a God do when he has to get a real job?” That was a story about God’s, call centres, off-shoring and finding your true calling.

Pretty much all of my stories begin like that and end like that. Once I get the “sentence” or “instructions” as I call them, I work like a beaver building a dam before flood season. Phone calls – no, Internet – No, Television – No. Writing. Smashing out words in bullet point form to develop a skeleton, smashing out paragraphs to develop  a chapter by chapter outline. Pushing the character further and further to reveal all

Throwing in complications and problems. Forcing them to fit my idea of where the story has to go in order to be “good”.

By the time I finish I’m exhausted, have run a creative marathon and utterly bored with the idea. I already know what’s going to happen. I don’t care anymore.

Part of the Pantz dilemma is “what next?” If I don’t have a plot outline, if I just have a concept and a story how am I going to get from here to there without ending up lost in a tunnel somewhere. How do I develop trust in both myself and the characters that together we can weave a fun and interesting adventure?

In On Writing, Stephen King talks about writing honestly. About the fact that if you don’t write the story honestly you may as well not write it at all. Story is King in his world, not plot.

I’ve come to understand recently that a little bit of an idea as to where your characters are going is a good thing, but too much of it is creative genocide.

I guess the point to this post is to stop worrying about word counts and what’s going to happen on page 984. Just let it happen. The main key – or so it seems to me – of his book On Writing is “if you as the writer are not entertained by what you write, why do it. Go play chess or something else instead.”

I’ve decided to give the old way a go. The way I used to write before I grew up and it all became such a tragic example of creativity expressed through procrastination. When I was younger, I wrote because I wanted to. Not to deadline, not to the expectation of others. I wrote only what the story told me to write.

Somewhere along the line I adopted the motto “if it’s not perfection, it’s not worth doing.” I need to replace that with “Fuck it, let’s see what happens.”

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43 year old Australian writer currently working on the first of a planned three book Epic Fantasy series. When he's not writing policy discussions, or tales of swords, Gods, and magic, he can be found making a mess in the kitchen, and turning perfectly good ingredients into crimes against humanity.

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