Notes From the Wasteland No. 44 ‘What Are YOU Working On Today?’

Hi Everyone

We are inundated on a daily basis with lists of tips in their fives and tens and twenties about how to be better at things and how not to do things so badly. Inspired by this avalanche of tips I thought I would offer some top tips of my own. Here is my top tip for today.

Despite All Appearances to the Contrary, The World is Still Full of Strangers

We are an optimistic bunch and for the most part we have come to believe that the proliferation of digital technology has made the world a smaller place. Not only that, this same technology has also brought people together in ways that we have never seen before. This is of course true but this does not mean that our lives are enriched in new ways by the enormous number of friends we now have, despite the various ways in which social media platforms encourage us to connect with each other.

The simple fact of the matter is that we are all now in some form of new relationship with a wider range of strangers than ever before. Once you chip away the real friends and relationships we have on something like Twitter, it is a simple fact that most people we follow or follow us are complete and utter strangers.

And here is the thing.

Once upon a time we might have understood our average potential social reach – pre- social media – as something like the number of people sitting on both decks of an average double-decker bus. We might not know everyone as well as each other but if we were to sit next to someone else on the bus it would probably be possible to strike up some kind of kindred conversation with them.

That was then.

Nowadays, especially given the constant exhortations that each and every social media platform bombards us with in terms of making new ‘friends,’ establishing connections, or adding new followers (and there is something very archaic about this very notion), it is simply the case that our new potential social reach is very often something less like a double-decker bus and now something more like a sports stadium.

A sports stadium?

I don’t know about you but the last time I went to a sporting event I was struck by the sheer logistical difficulties in gathering so many people together in one particular space at one particular time.

And by people I mean strangers. 

Yes, we might go with some friends or family and we might see other people who have gone with their family and friends but for the most part we are alone in a stadium full of strangers.

Of course, we can further understand that this stadium full of strangers all have something in common; a love of the sport, for example or the affiliation with a particular team. Nevertheless, with very few exceptions, we would enter the stadium as strangers and leave the same way.

But how do sports stadiums relate to independent publishing?

If I was sitting on the top deck of a bus and and I started telling people about a project I was working on, or had completed, it is possible that very quickly I might be able to get some people interested in what I was doing. Of those people interested, it is also possible that some of them (a few of them) (one or two of them) might want to learn a bit more about my project. That would be great but very quickly I would run out of people to tell.

Now, imagine trying to do the same thing in a sports stadium. How long would it take before you ran out of either steam or people who were interested enough?

You could start by telling the people you had gone to stadium with – but they probably already knew (I’m sure you had told them about your new project the last time you saw them).

Then what?

How do you tell a stadium full of strangers about your new project? More importantly, how do you get a stadium full of strangers to care about your project? Most of them probably already have projects of their own that take up all their time and mean more to them so why should they even care about yours?

And this is the heart of the matter.

For example, every time I am on Twitter – and I am on Twitter for an awful lot of my time – it is like being in a sports stadium and everyone in the crowd is trying to get each other to care about their projects by hoping that their voice will be louder than the other voices in the same stadium but they are not and so eventually we fall silent.

And despondent.

And concerned that our social media techniques are not as developed as they should be and then we start scouring the internet for lists of tips of how we might do things better and then we realise that everyone is offering the same and different advice and that essentially everyone is in the same stadium shouting at each other. Shouting at strangers.

Personally, I prefer to try ignore the sound of the crowd.

I have lost my voice too many times trying to shout out loud enough for strangers to hear what I’m saying. And even if they heard me they probably wouldn’t be able to listen for long enough for me to tell my story properly before another stranger caught their attention. Or before they needed to shout about their own project to the same strangers.

So what’s the answer?

I don’t think there is one. Other than the understanding that you wouldn’t walk down the street telling everyone you passed about your new project so why would you spend your time online shouting at strangers about the same thing?

Currently I’m working on simply talking to people. As many people as possible. More importantly, I’m asking people about their projects rather than shouting about mine. So, you glorious stadium full of wonderful strangers, tell me about your projects.

What are you working on?

Notes From the Wasteland No. 43 ‘Two Writing Tips for Starting the Week’

It is the start of another new week. The first before the next and the one after the last. It is time to reset and start again. Last week is gone now. It went well or not so well, depending on your point of view. But that doesn’t matter because this week is this week and that means a lot. It means that we can focus all our energy on the week ahead. We can clearly the days as they lay before and calculate, in our minds at least, what we need to do each day to make this week the week we want it to be.

The first thing I like to do is to sweep all my current projects and evaluate which ones need my attention. I’m sure like me you have more than one fish currently frying and so I like to start by seeing where I am and where I want to be. Some are more time sensitive than others and so those must obviously be correctly assessed but I also like to think that having more than one thing on the go at the same time helps to keep me fresh and active.

Is this what you do?

Secondly, I like to keep my drip tank refreshed. This is a document where I like to keep all my thoughts and plans and lines and words and titles and anything else I think it is useful to record. Some of these things come to nothing but others develop a life of their own and make it out of the drip tank and onto their own page. Book One of the VIRO series started life as a paragraph I found in the drip tank. I knew I had written it (obviously) but I didn’t remember writing it but there was something about the paragraph that encouraged me and so I took the plunge and set about writing VIRO. Four books and one hundred and twenty thousand words later, I’m glad I took the time to dredge the drip tank. VIRO has hovered around the top of an Amazon chart almost since the day it was published and spent a considerable amount of time firmly lodged at Number One. If you are curious and want to know more then why not click the book cover image beside this post and get your free ebook today?

I’d be very interested to know what 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. 35 ‘Do You Remember Learning to Drive?’

I think I type too fast. In fact, I know I type too fast. Way too fast. So fast that without fail almost every sentence I type I end up typing twice, once riddled full of errors and then once having corrected all the errors.

Does this happen to you?

I’m sure it does and when it does, do you find it irritating? I know I do. I find it incredibly irritating. I find it breaks my flow and makes me stutter and pause and that’s because every time I see a red line I have to attend to it, I can’t just leave and go back. I wish I could, that would be far simpler but I can’t, and because I can’t, it feels like I’m doubling my effort for half as much.

Do you feel this way too?

Should I have more control of my digits? Should I type slower? The answer to both questions is always of course I should have more control and of course I should type slower but if I do then would I lose out on some kind of spontaneity? Does slower and more controlled mean that my writing would suffer? As I sit and type this I have to say that I don’t have an answer. Maybe I don’t need an answer? Perhaps what I’m doing is actually writing and editing at the same time?

Is this even a thing?

If it is then I may have stumbled upon some kind of cosmic truth, like rolling back a stone and finding something valuable and lost to the world, something important, rare, even. But that’s not likely and in all honesty what I think is much more probable is that I have simply spent so much time typing that I am now over-sensitive to the whole process, acutely aware of every single, solitary tap of the keyboard. Its all a bit like driving a car. When I was learning to drive I was conscious of every single action and movement and decision I made as I was driving. That’s fine, that how you learn, by being hyper-aware, and, of course, once I passed my test this pattern continued for a while longer. I was careful, cautious and considered – the way all drivers should be. Over time, however, I noticed that I wasn’t remembering so much of the journey. I would get in the car, start it up, head off and arrive at my destination; the thinking-everything-through part of driving faded somewhat as I became more experienced and driving became more automatic.

Did this happen to you too?

Perhaps, then, with all hype aside, my returning to focussing on every single aspect of the writing process, and despite the grumblings above, is a good thing? Why would I say that? Perhaps it means that I am learning to write, again, differently, more effectively? Or, perhaps even more simply, I am still learning to write – I just had forgotten that simple fact.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 29 ‘Does Anybody Really Like Editing?’

What does editing mean to you? Is it pleasure or pain? Does the thought of going back over what you’ve written fill you with dread? Do you resent the effort required to reread and rewrite? Does your heart sink at the thought of having to go back through the words you wrote yesterday, last week, last month, three years ago, or even just ten minutes before?

Does anybody really like editing?

There are schools of thought that say we should just go with the first things we write, leaving our words gasping on the page like newly-landed fish. The idea being that we live with the spontaneous, the fresh, the newly-caught. But my words are fragile and not yet fully formed; they buckle and break sometimes, not firm enough yet to solidify into suitable sentences and I know that if left them to their own devices they would just wither, perishing like forced fruit in the frost.

I don’t subscribe to this approach. I have spent too long planting my words, hoping that that the shoots of my ideas will take hold in the soil of the page and develop at a healthy rate. This is always my hope. The reality is often different but like plants of any kind it is necessary to trim and prune and shape and guide long before there is even a hint of flowers. In any case, I love to edit. I adore the process, the pausing and pondering, the planning, the deletion and correction. I’ll say it again.

I love to edit.

To me there is just something wonderful about the opportunity to spend more time with my words, they are mine, after all. I found them and thought of them. I placed them on the page, one after the other. I gave them a home when perhaps no one else would want them. They are mine, after all, in all their ugly splendour, however happy or sad or right or wrong or even if they are not actually going somewhere, anywhere. Whatever the case, these words are mine and they deserve my utmost care and attention. This is true whether they are the final words of a novel or the first words of a post. My words are just that, and like anything else I hold dear, I couldn’t have it any other way, I will lavish my time and attention on them. All of my time and attention, even if that means I put these words away and come back to them another time. They know I will. I always do.

Always.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 18 ‘Sometimes I really hate my life’

On those dark, dank days when every dream I ever had feels long gone and lost, down the drain, stretched over the time of my life and now rendered useless, like a spring oversprung. When every wish I ever made feels mocking now, as if when I breathed the words into the candle’s flame the gentle rocking of the flame was not my breathing but actually the candle mocking me. ‘Oh really? You want this? That? Them? Really?’ Had I known this earlier in my life my birthdays would have far simpler. There would have been no hope and no excitement. Just a day like any other. Because that’s what happens when we dream, we set up certain days as important, we flag them, marking them in our head as the moment when something starts. This day will be, I say to myself, the first day in that new direction my wish has revealed to me, the new path I will take, following each day dutifully while I wait for my wish to come true. And so I trudge accordingly, not sure where I’m going but hoping that my wish will be there waiting for me when I finally arrive, no matter how long it takes. But it always takes too long. Far too long, as long as it would take to measure the circumference of the earth with the scoop of a teaspoon. Impossible. Immeasurable. Imagine trying such a Sisyphean task; it would be the stuff of legends.

There’s a lot of energy in these words. They are highly animated. They fizz and form a chain of punctuated momentum and so the question is, what do I do with this energy? As I write today I don’t know. When I write tomorrow I won’t know. But its alright not to always know these things. They are, after all, the molecules which fuse to form our future.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 15 ‘How to Want Something’

Am I allowed to want something? Someone? Am I allowed to want so hard that every other thought that fills my head is warped by this want? Not warped in the sense of malice or evil but warped in the sense of bowed somewhat, moved slightly out of alignment. And how does this wanting work? How do I accommodate this wanting? Do I fight the urge, suppressing the feeling by starving it of thought and effort, like a house plant badly tended? Or do I allow the want to be part of my everydayness? Do I greet it in the morning? Let it accompany me as I go about my (currently limited) business? Set a place for it at the table as I settle down for lunch? My want is a constant companion, after all. It whispers in my ear over breakfast and screams in my head after midnight. My want would prefer it if I didn’t sleep. Why would my want want this? Then I would be able to dull its tone, even if only for a while. My want wants to be my pillow, my comforter, the only reason to close my tired eyes and then the same reason to open them up again having tortured for the whole time in between. That is my want. How could I forget? It reminds me all the time. As I type it is as if this want is beside me, guiding my hands, pressing the keys. Perhaps that’s a good excuse? It wasn’t me, it was my want. Wasn’t it? It always been up until now. Hasn’t it? Otherwise, how else can I fuel my fire? How else can I drag myself out of bed each morning and carry on trudging through the day’s relentless mire. More words to write. Another email here. Plans and preparations. The full-time-ness of my career. The part-time-ness of the ways I hope to change course. The pressure I feel from elsewhere. The pressure I feel from inside. The want is boiling now. It is glowing red-hot in the embers of my weary mind. Another tiring night beckons, as faces and dreams and wishes and desires all combine to cause my want to beckon me to where I want to be but can’t. Not tonight. Not other nights. maybe never ever one night. I do have hope but I do feel that hope is just the beginning, just enough to stop you giving up completely. And there have been times, dark times, tough times, painful times, recent times, past times, times to come, when giving up has felt so luxurious, so delightful, so pleasingly wonderful that the temptation is more than that just a plain admittance of defeat; much more, always more, more, just more – something more structured and elegant and planned and prepared but not executed.

Not ever.

Notes From the Wasteland No. 14 ‘How hard is it to let go of something?’

Have you ever wondered how easy it really is to carry the biggest burden possible and let it weigh you down on a daily basis? Like really wondered? I don’t know about you but for me the weight of my burden is a constant companion; always there, by my side, loyal, dependable, guaranteed to never leave me. This companion is familiar, comforting (almost), and kind enough, from its perspective, to devote itself to me. But what happens if tomorrow morning, or right now, or whenever I decide that I don’t want this this constant companion, this neurotic nursemaid, this bothersome bedfellow any more? Can I just put this burden down? Leave it behind me? Go my separate way? I know that I want to but the question still remains, can I? How will I do this? What will it feel like? Will I feel lighter? Less troubled? More at ease?

But what if I don’t feel any of these things?

What if I feel bereft? Apart? Separated? Adrift? Devoid of gravity? Unpinned to the surface of the world? I suppose the question really is, do I want to let go? I know what both answers are. I want to let go. I don’t want to let go. I want to let go because I want to feel different to how I feel today. Right now. Last week. Always. I don’t want to let go because I don’t want to feel different to how I feel today. Right now. Last week. Always. It is all I want. It is everything I have never wanted.

Everything.