Notes From the Wasteland No. 46 ‘I Haven’t Written a Word for Five Days’

I haven’t written a word for five days now. Well, technically, that’s not quite accurate. I have been writing these words, and others, for the blog. I have been writing work words and even they don’t count, they do count, if you see what I mean. But I haven’t written any novel words, or words for my novels for five days now. Nor any script words. Not that I’m counting. Much.

200 Words a Day

I normally write 200 words per day. Or at least try to. That’s my goal. Those of you who have been following my journey will remember that I first developed this habit whilst completing my doctorate. 200 words a day. Of course, this comes with a safety net. I sometimes write more. I sometimes write less. I am able enough to manage with the times when I don’t achieve this ideal, that’s the point of the ideal, after all. This morning I’m fine with not writing. Luckily, I learned a long time ago not to be too hard on myself when I wasn’t writing. But I do prefer to writing all the same.

That Lovely Place Between Words

When this happens to me I imagine that I am in that lovely place between words. That quiet gentle space where things form and other things fade as their need to form is not needed. We are all in this place. Or have been. Or will be. Sometimes we are here for a while. Other times, not so long. The time it takes to finish a sentence. Or weld three sentences to form a paragraph. For eight paragraphs to become that final chapter. Other times the time it takes for the words to begin again.

I have been in this lovely place for five days now. I am fine with this. I am simply waiting for that next …

Are you there too?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 45 ‘A Message From Outer Space’

Years ago, in a separate but still parallel life, I published an academic book on a short cycle of British films from the 1950s and 1960s. The book was a re-calibration of my doctoral thesis.

bft

The British New Wave has floated through space ever since like some kind of unmanned craft.

It occasionally makes contact with sentient lifeforms, crash-landing now and again on a university reading list.

Or orbiting on the every edges of some form of intellectual discourse.

But it spends most of its time merrily moving closer and closer towards the extreme outer edges of space.

On its way somewhere but never getting anywhere significant.

It never quite resulted in that dream book tour of the US that I imagined.

Nonetheless it is out there in deep space and will always be.

A permanent reminder of something.

Or nothing. Until very recently.

A strange transmission was beamed back from the furthest reaches of the darkness.

My bank wrote to tell me that a royalty payment had been received from the book’s publishers. Naturally, after years of radio silence, I was thrilled to hear such a message. However, I was more thrilled by the happenstantial nature of the payment itself. The amount I received was very much almost exactly identical to the amount I needed to purchase a swathe of unique numeric commercial book identifiers.

Within ten pounds sterling. It seemed too good a thing not to use the monies received from one book as seed money for my next set of books.

I like to think that even as I type, The British New Wave has gone back into deep space exploration again. On a new course bound for anywhere. Set to make contact once again at some random point in the future intersection of space and time.

But not before I have gotten used to the radio silence.

Again.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 42 ‘How To Be Creative About Being Creative Part One’

Do you do something creative every day? I’m sure you do. Have you ever felt that some things you do are creative and some things you do aren’t? How can you tell? I am asking lots of questions because I’m fascinated by the answers they might generate.

Is Watching Netflix Creative?

Did you ever think that watching Netflix was an act of creativity? You know, that thing we all flick through and pick at, all those tv shows we start and stop and pause and start again, or add to our list and yet never watch. Picture this, the myth is that we are passive viewers of content. Apparently we sit back and relax and chill as we watch. We let the images wash over us like so much pixellated water. We fall asleep – the ultimate in being passive. But what if we saw our relationship with Netflix as an active one? After all, we choose when to watch and watch to watch. And each time we play and pause and stop and start and switch genres and watch one thing for a little while and then stop to watch two more things for a bit longer, do you not think that we are actually creating our version of Netflix, and by doing so, demonstrating the active and creative relationship we have with it? Try it next time you are watching Netflix and doing all the things we do when we aren’t actually watching something.

How Long Do You Spend Scrolling on Your Phone?

For many of us, our thumbs are the most active parts of our bodies. They get the most exercise, don’t they? What do we use our thumbs for? Holding things? Driving? Gripping? Kneading? Controlling incredibly complex miniaturised digital technology? This. Almost exclusively. How many different things can you do on your phone? How many different things can your phone do for you? The list is almost too long to type. In fact, if we were to type out this list it is highly likely that we would use our thumbs to type it out. And were we to do so, surely we would have to be proving our own point, wouldn’t we? But none of this is to say that this time is a waste of time, certainly not to my mind.

I take a more creative view of the many minutes and hours per day I spend on my phone. I marvel at the technology, convinced, somehow, that this is the closest I will ever get to experience real magic. I am certain that this thing I hold in mind, the rectangle I cradle, protect, feed, has mystical properties and rather than stunting my intellectual growth, causing me to look down instead of up, has opened the digital doors of my perception, using only my two thumbs as the key. In fact, the only thing I can’t really do with my phone is lose it. That would be a disaster.

How Many Photos Have You Deleted in the Last 24 Hours?

Taking photos is like writing sentences, isn’t it? Finding the subject, setting up the frame, making sure that you image you choose is the image you want to use, adjusting your focus, making your angle is right, asking yourself if you are too near or too far to best capture the image. Then, once the image is the one you want, you might choose to further develop the original concept; adding a filter, perhaps, to change the tone, layering other elements on top to further develop your theme. You might add more text as other comment or counterpoint. With all this done, you might then share what you’ve created, sharing your thought with other people. All of this seems right and sure and without a doubt, creative. But what about all those images that you choose not to use, the ones you choose to delete? For every one image we might decided to keep we might end up deleting ten, that’s some ratio. We remove nine images from our library so that we can keep one. As attrition rates go, that’s quite extreme. Then, bearing in mind the way things work, removing these nine images can seem like an awfully negative thing to do; we are actually negating them, making sure that they no longer actually exist – that is quite some feat of finality. But should we see this deleting nine images as a negative thing to do? I don’t think so.

Do You Mourn The Words You Delete?

In writing this post, I have probably deleted one hundred words or more, and doing this has helped me shape my thoughts and, hopefully, develop a coherence in relation to them. This can only be a positive thing and unless there was a situation where my deleting words had brought the actual loss of important words that I needed, I’m not going to start lamenting all the deleted words; they have helped me make positive active choices about my sentences. And this has to be same way to look, or not look, at deleted photographs – my deletion has always been a positive creative thing to do rather than a negative, destructive act. But sometimes, I guess, we feel differently about deleting things. I don’t imagine we would be quite as extreme as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who one day decided to burn all his poems but there is something about the movement between the temporary and the permanent when we delete things. Nowadays we have Ctrl Z to stop us if we really want to bring our words back to life. It would be much harder if we were on our knees sifting through the soot, looking to piece together the pages of our work.

How To Be Creative About Being Creative

My sense in all of this, in all of these ordinary moments in our currently extraordinary lives, is that there is always creativity in (almost) everything we do. Some of this is blatant and obvious, like writing, some of this less obvious and far more latent, like shaping our own version of Netflix. But in both of these instances, and the many many others we could think of if we were to think of them, it is not that we don’t think of them as the same, we don’t always realise that we think of them as the same. This is not meant to be a tongue twister or play on words, it is simply meant to be an observation; a gentle thing, not earth-shattering or empire-building, just quiet and small but well-intended.

What do you think?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 38 ‘What Do You Do When the Deadline is Looming?’

There is a deadline looming. It is the only thing you can see ahead of you. The deadline has been there for a while but like all of us you chose to let it loom for a while. But the deadline has crept closer and closer and now is almost upon you. It. Is. Soon. But you don’t feel like writing.

What do you do?

When this happens, I write. Something. Anything. Sometimes not even the thing itself but something else, something small, something quick, something that I have not been thinking about, worrying about. This calms me. It helps me focus. It reminds me that I can do things.

I can find words.

I do find words.

I will find words.

It also helps me be kinder to myself. If my words here are flowing then, I think, my words there will flow too. And so by doing this I guess I write around the problem and by doing so swing back around to the project and its deadline. This works for me. It has to work for me because I still have that deadline looming ahead of me and though writing something else might seem a bit like avoidance I do actually find it galvanises my efforts and lets me complete the task at hand.

Admittedly, this is a risky thing to do and will likely end in missing a deadline sometimes, like it has done before. It certainly isn’t surefire and, as such, is not something I would necessarily recommend to other people. However, it does work for me most of the time and that’s about as much as I manage when it comes to the process; there is just so much about all this that can’t be regimented or forced – the best that I can do is manage some parts of the process.

What about you?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 37 ‘Do You Do This One Thing When You Write?’

I worry about the words I use. I constantly worry. I think too much sometimes about each word and find myself adding words when actually I should be taking them away. I’m doing it now as I write this. Look at my first two sentences. Really that should read, ‘I constantly worry about the words I use.’

I worry because, like everyone, I set myself targets – daily targets, like a regular number of words, that sort of thing. I’m sure we all do this but the fear of not reaching a target is very real, to me, at least. I feel this fear on a daily basis and when I do I tend to extend my sentences, stretching them beyond where they might likely rest if they were given a choice. This means that each word strains against the next, sometimes not making a clear enough progression through the sentence. Instead of being simply enough, my sentences contain an inherent uncertainty and this can cause them to lose their impact. This then causes my paragraphs to be longer than I would like, with a succession of extended sentences unclarifying the point of the paragraph, muddying the flow down the page.

Of course, once I’m editing I can prune back the words, hacking and cutting as if I were trimming an unruly plant. This allows me to retain, or regain, control of my words and ensures that my paragraphs don’t collapse under their own weight. You would think that I had learned my lesson by now and was disciplined enough to make sure that I controlled my words in the first place. But I’m not and I can’t so I keep extending and stretching followed by hacking and cutting. There’s something natural about this cycle, after all, something comforting, so perhaps I should simply stop complaining and keep pruning?

What do you think?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 36 ‘What Does It Feel Like When You Write?’

I get a rush when I write. When I’m right in the zone and words are flowing and staying connected and forming pathways for my ideas to develop and grow. When it feels like this I realise that the simple of act of putting letters next to each other, one at a time, making words and paragraphs, filling pages, telling stories and, hopefully, sometimes, reaching other people, realising that words are also bridges that connect disparate people across scattered times and spaces and places, is what I only want to do. That’s when I get a rush.

Do you feel like this sometimes?

I don’t get a rush when I write. When I’m not in the zone and my words are not flowing and they don’t stay connected and refuse to form pathways for my ideas to prevent them from developing and growing. And when it feels like this I still realise that the simple of act of putting letters next to each other, one at a time, making words and paragraphs, filling pages, telling stories and, hopefully, sometimes, reaching other people, realising that words are also bridges that connect disparate people across scattered times and spaces and places, is what I only want to do. Always.

Do you feel like this sometimes?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 34 ‘What Does your Handwriting Look Like?’

I type all day. Every day. Each and every day. Pressing the keys and forming the words, misforming them sometimes, getting them wrong; typos, misplacings, putting my F before my O instead of the other way round. I guess I end up deleting more words, and parts of words, than I actually keep. I just can’t seem to type a sentence without it containing an error. Perhaps my fingers and thumbs have got bigger over time as keyboards have got smaller? But given all of this, and the frustration that it seems to cause, I never ever write anything out in longhand.

Longhand?

The word sounds so old-fashioned to me. The thing I spent years at school learning how to perfect, little knowing that all that hard work would be to defeated, not by aching hands, or leaky fountain pens, or blunt pencils, thin paper, or any of those other reasons why longhand doesn’t always work. But simply because I type all day. Every day.

Cards and Letters.

I do like to write birthday cards by hand but my handwriting is so big that by the time I’ve written a couple of sentences there is no room left inside the card. I used to write letters to people, people I loved, people I thought enjoyed receiving these letters. People who did enjoy receiving these letters. But I don’t any more. I just don’t. Perhaps I should again? Perhaps I will again?

I’d love to see the mess of my handwriting as it flows carelessly across a page. Being left-handed, I have always tended to smudge as I write, my hand following my words like a fleshy blotter, smudging and smearing, blurring the ink as I try hard to find the words to say as I want to say them because longhand is also a spontaneous thrill as you hope that the words you want to write look like the words they are meant to be so that whoever receives your letter can actually read what you’ve written.

I miss the feel of that particular thrill.

What does your handwriting look like?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 16 ‘Can punctuation really save our lives?’

When questions circle and hide their intent through subterfuge and complication, as they often do, like people, lives, events, lifetimes, and consequences, how can we really tell when one question ends and another begins? Punctuation helps, it always does. It tells us when to breathe and such instructions are crucial to our survival. So punctuation is survival, then? It has to be, otherwise these sentences would run together off the bottom fo the screen and keep flowing forth and as they do they’ll draw the very life from us because the simple matter will be that we won’t know when to take a breath and normally when we don’t know about something as mechanical as drawing breath is likely to be just before we draw our last.

Breathe. In. Out. One more. And again.

And as before, we type anew and more words form and paragraphs multiply like raindrops in the puddle that is my laptop screen and sometimes when they do we know that they need taming and shaping, putting into place, and we hope that punctuation can help achieve this aim but when a raindrop hits a puddle it doesn’t sit separate and wait for permission, it simply merges, becoming part of the whole. And we all hope when we write that are words fall like raindrops and fill puddles and overflow their edges and then spread further like a tiny rivulet that swells in turns and starts to race just that little bit faster until more water forms and the tiny becomes the larger and then the larger still and the words that are our raindrops reach enough people to soak them with their wisdom and nourishment. But some raindrops don’t reach puddles to form streams and gurgle like torrents, some raindrops die trapped on greedy leaves. And that is not where you want your words to fall, drying in the sun and evaporating without trace.

I want my words to make an ocean.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 10 ‘Do you think about people you no longer know?’

Do you think about people you no longer know?

People you used to know, intimately or otherwise. Either last week or years ago. Not because they are dead but just because you no longer know them. Do you wonder what they are doing? How they are? How they are feeling? Do they still like the things they like? The things they don’t like? Are they laughing? Crying? Happy? Broken? Or just somewhere in between like always? I suppose at the heart of this is the thought that maybe they are thinking about you? Wondering how you are doing? Remembering the touch of your hand on their skin? Your voice in their ear? Just remembering? I suppose at the heart of this is also the thought that probably they are not thinking about you? They’re not wondering how you are doing. They have long forgotten the touch of your hand on their skin. Your voice in their ear. No longer just remembering.

Do these questions linger? Do they stay with us like a taste on our lips? A flash in our thoughts, an interruption; occasional or often? Do they lay in wait for us? Are they lurking somewhere, silent and hidden, like the ultimate prank, with time bided and everything? Or do we just forget, remember and then forget? We can’t hold every thought and feeling we’ve ever had in equal suspension, knowing the contours of each simultaneously. That’s just too many stars to try and see in the night sky. But imagine if it was possible? Like the roots of some fabulous tree outlined in the soil that is our brain. Each gnarl and twist visible at the same time. I once went somewhere so beautiful that it was impossible to take it all in with my eyes. Photos were no good, with their frames and aspect ratios. The views were just too big and too vast and far too amazing. And even though I wanted to see everything at once I simply couldn’t. The vastness was a reminder of the limits that are forced upon us by such things as biology, limits that chafe and deny but defy defiance.

All of this is fine and well until you see the person you no longer know. In many cases, this doesn’t ever happen, geography and other guardrails prevent us from these encounters. But there are always times where we do see these people, maybe from afar, online, up close or any other combination of time and space and place. What do we do then? Pretend we never knew them at all? Hope they don’t see us? If they don’t see us then that’s something but what if they do? What do we do? Chat? Smile? Blush? Cut them dead? Look over their shoulder? The answer is that there is no answer until such times and we need one and then we won’t know. We may wish the worst for someone and rehearse for years the thing we want to say if we ever see them again. And then we see them and our long-brewed rage subsides long enough for us to force a small smile. Or forces us to because at the moment we had dreamed about for so long we learn that the fuel that flamed our fire had exhausted itself at the moment of meeting. Or it doesn’t and we don’t and then we do and all the fuel we had stored for years pours forth in a final act of futile firestarting.

So the question is what are we supposed to do about this thinking and these thoughts? We can’t ignore them. I can’t, anyway. And in any case, why should we? Should I? After all, these thoughts about these people are part and parcel of what it is to simply exist, to be; to be conscious of our past and mindful of where it points us forwards. But they are also about what it is to love and then love no more. Sometimes the choice to love no more is out choice, we decide and the deal with our decision. Other times, this choice is not ours to make but is made anyway. We have no choice for if we did it would always be the case that this would be something we would not choose.

But I cannot speak for anyone.

I can only say for me.