Those Clarity Moments

Do you know the one? Where you notice you’ve been thinking about something, or approaching something, in completely the wrong way? And then suddenly you realise in one brief moment of clarity that thinking about it a different way potentially changes everything.

In many respects, this has been a big part of treatment for my depression and anxiety, but this particular moment… I don’t know. It relates to everything I’ve thought and believed about working, dreaming, ambitions and careers, for at least 10 years.

There were a bunch of points I wanted to make about this, but I’ve forgotten them, so this post may seem a little disjointed and rambling at times.

Let me start by saying I’ve endured a bout of depression and anxiety for a little over a decade. It’s played a huge part in grinding me down for a long time. This past year has seen a big change in that, thanks to the principles of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I’ve begun thinking about things in different ways, focusing on ‘being present’ and ‘being mindful’, and it’s helped immensely.

When I was younger, I wanted to be so many things; an astronaut, a lawyer, an assassin, a dinosaur trainer (still kinda want to do that, if I’m honest), and then, I fixated on becoming a writer. For a while, I could only think of being a ‘published writer’, but now I realise that writing is what I want to do, it’s what I am best at (despite quite imperfect work), and it’s the one thing I most enjoy doing. I put so much pressure on myself to get published, to write a marketable story that I lost sight of the ‘right motivations’ for writing. I had to want to tell a story. I found that again, this year, and that has helped me rediscover this desire to be a writer. Not a published author, but a storyteller. I’m not a great storyteller, but I’m learning every day.

This is the main point I wanted to address; for the longest time, I’ve had this crippling fear of ending up in a so-called ‘dead-end job’, one without prospects or desirable career paths. I’ve always been haunted by the idea that I had to be successful, earning a respectable wage, in order to be happy. In order to stop being the toilet paper the world uses to wipe its arse. I always thought my life would be a failure if I didn’t end up in one well-paying position or another.

The only thing I need, in order to consider my life a success, is to be able to do the thing I want to do. And that’s write. It doesn’t matter if I’m earning six figures in a high-powered position, or earning living wage on the checkout in a supermarket. That’s my realisation. That one, single thought, has cut my anxieties in half. I still have social anxieties to contend with, but that’s another fight for another day. Right now, I’m no longer stressed about being forced into a small job, for a small wage. Because the world needs small people, too.

I’m not saying I don’t have ambitions, because I do. I’m not saying ‘don’t dream big’, ‘don’t strive for more’, or ‘limit yourself to second best’, I’m saying find a way to do what you want to do. It’s not an earth-shattering thought, and it’s not ripe with profundity. I’m sure to a great many people, it’s common sense. But that’s the thing about depression, it clouds judgement. For me, what might be a singular, small thought to one person, has potentially wide-ranging implications. I’ve come to terms with the idea now, that whatever I end up doing, as long as I have the time to focus on writing without having to worry about stability or security, then I can be happy in the knowledge that I’m doing what I want to be doing.

Having gotten to the end of that thought process, I find myself thinking ‘well, that was an underwhelming illumination, wasn’t it?’. I don’t know how much this post will mean to people, or if people even read this far. Maybe it’ll mean something to somebody, though. Maybe it’ll help someone see through the fog of futility.

Camp NaNoWriMo is back!

It’s that time again! Time to nurture positive habits for 30-odd days then forget all about them for several months until November rolls around.

In the spirit of productivity, I do have a bunch of routines to get back into, lots of stuff to write and read and some things to edit. I’m optimistic about this month. I also have a bunch of Open University stuff to get through and a new module to choose, some volunteering opportunities to explore and more sessions with my psychologist and occupational therapist. There’s no doubt in my mind that I am moving forwards at last.

No longer am I stressing about writing for publication, or writing full time. I know, now, that writing as a career is a long shot and that I need a security net to fall back on. It took me a while, but I found that insight at long last. I’m writing for the right reasons now, despite still struggling with focus and concentration levels. I still get tempted by new ideas but I’m more realistic. I spent weeks and months building characters and worlds and I know that changing to a new idea will just set me back.

Camp NaNo is a good opportunity and it has, once again, come at the right time. I have lots of writing projects underway at the moment, but the main one remains the Japan-inspired fantasy. It gives me headaches. I get so fixated on details, and to do that about details I have no knowledge of… well that’s a pain unlike anything else. I stress about what trees one might expect. I stress about birds, insects, clothes, armour. What are horses used for? Are they different to Western horses? What does a medieval Japanese city sound like? Smell like? Look like? A lot of this can be discovered through research but that doesn’t negate the sheer volume of information I feel like I need to retain.

Alas, I digress. The point is simple: I’m trying to be optimistic and productive. I’m trying to be realistic and efficient. I’m trying to find the courage to take risks. My writing is no longer a central source of stress. I’m just taking it as it comes and writing what inspires me, and I’m enjoying it. Sooner or later, something will click and I’ll produce the story that matters.

Clever Title

Since I’m struggling so much to capture the right spirit in Shadows of Autumn, it’s becoming quite a draining endeavour. I’ve decided to try writing something else on the side. Fist of the Presidium is an experiment with a different genre, a different style and a different setting. Traditionally, I find it very difficult to write in the real world, so I intend to approach Fist of the Presidium with no expectations, no demands, no information and no knowledge of the science of a Sci-Fi novel, and write it in the real world. Or a version of it. I’m woefully unprepared for it, but I’m in no way taking it seriously. The idea is just to write here and there, when I feel like I need, or want, to write something a little bit different.
Shadows of Autumn has reached a point where I’m really fighting this notion of ‘capturing the right spirit’, since I don’t even really know what that spirit is. I want it to mirror the proud traditions of Japanese culture, without seeming like it’s just a carbon copy. I’m wholly afraid that as I venture further into the story, I’ll find my worldbuilding is shoddy, sloppy and two dimensional and that my characters are dull and boring. I have very specific wants for this story, and they’re all predicated upon a foundation of knowledge that I simply don’t possess. I am bombarding myself with research and it feels like quite a weight at times, but I am moving forwards. Very, very slowly.

Cover Art for Shadows of Autumn

Shadows of Autumn CoverArt

This is the lovely new cover mocked up for me by my very talented lesser half. I’m exceedingly happy with it. Whether or not it remains my cover if/when I publish/self-publish is another matter, but certainly as a placeholder/working cover/mock up, it is absolutely gorgeous. Granted, it has, in no way, met with my initial ‘brief’, but due to some compositional issues, we eventually settled on the above. I love it. The two characters up there perfectly reflect the quietly introspective protagonists, as well as hinting at the themes.

The ‘shadows’ in the title refers to several elements, notably the looming coming-of-age ceremonies from the beginning of the story, the long shadow of the main character’s brother and mother, and the oppressive, over-arching spectre of the White King to name but a few. There are parallels to the concept of Yin and Yang, but Good and Evil is not necessarily presented as expected. At least, I am striving to avoid those pitfalls. Conscious of good and evil being concepts created by Man, I am trying to treat them as extremes with those myriad shades of grey existing in between. Ultimately though, in the shadow of Pandemonium, good vs evil means nothing. Friends will become enemies, and enemies will become friends. Alliances will be tested, broken and forged anew in the fires of the Calamity.

Shadows of Autumn will be, I very much hope, a sort of ‘ornate fantasy’, along the lines of Den Patrick, Miles Cameron, Guy Gavriel Kay, Scott Lynch. I’m not entirely sure ‘ornate fantasy’ is officially a label, but if it’s not, I declare it so! It’s hard to exactly classify what I *hope* this novel will be, since I’m not entirely sure I have the ‘chops’ to get it done. You all know what ornate means, I’m sure. And anybody who’s read any of those authors should get an idea of what I mean. I’m aiming towards a grandiose, polished narrative, drawing heavily upon specific cultural elements and drawing my own world out of it. I hope to explore the old avenues of sword and sorcery, epic fantasy, dragons and knights in a much less traditional setting drawing upon Japan and the Sengoku Period.

I hope to explore themes of companionship, love, hate, betrayal, loyalty, but most importantly, courage and courage in the face of adversity. One of the primary guiding tenets of my main characters, and their philosophy is ‘courage first, and through it, be guided to other virtues’. I hope to explore this, and the things we can achieve by believing in ourselves, and refusing to let our limitations define us.

I realise these are lofty aims. I’m not sure if I have the skillset to achieve everything I want to, but at the very least, I intend to finish it. Once the first draft is done, I can work on making it all the things I had hoped it would be.

Please, feel free to follow me on twitter @kplanyon, and Facebook @ http://www.facebook.com/kplanyon There’s nothing I would like more than to exchange support and encouragement with anybody else out there embarking on a path that scares the living shit out of them.

Oh, also, if anybody is interesting. The ‘text’ through the center of the picture reads ‘Tangem’, and is the Itsuban translation for ‘Courage’, depicting using the characters of the Oppidan, an ancient precursor civilisation.

Facial Reactions & Feelings Through Dialogue

Today, I faced a conundrum. I was writing a hefty amount of dialogue in my current chapter. When I write dialogue, I tend to script the conversation first, and then go back through it to ‘illustrate’ it with tags, descriptions, emotional cues, and so on. It’s a good approach that works well for me, but it can be counter-productive.

For instance, whilst I was going back and forth, dissecting the dialogue, chopping and changing and rearranging, I was becoming painfully aware of my limited ability with describing facial expressions. What I mean is expressions like the following, and all the variations thereof.

‘…clenched jaw’, ‘grinding teeth’, ‘…narrowed eyes’, ‘…furrowed/knotted/creased brow’, ‘…nostrils twitching/flaring,’ ‘…cocking an eyebrow’, ‘…puffing cheeks’, ‘…pursing lips.’

I pursued some advice on possible options, resources, solutions and what not, and I was told that I should try conveying emotion indirectly or through dialogue. Now, to me, this seems like exceptionally bad advice, and certainly very limiting. I understand that dialogue can express feelings and emotions, of course, especially through an exchange or conversation. But we’re talking fiction here, creative writing, showing not telling.

Without description, without facial reactions, or interactions with the second person, or the environment, it means nothing. There is no context, no feeling.

Character A: “I hate you.”

Nothing. It’s just a statement. But is it infuriated? Hateful? Ambivalent? Sarcastic? Ironic? Bemused?

Character A: “I hate you.”
Character B: “No, you don’t.”

Yes, these are largely simplified examples, and by no means ‘compelling dialogue’. In the second example there’s more to the picture, but there’s still no context.

Character A: “I hate you,” his eyes narrowed, nostrils flaring.
Character B: “No, you don’t,” her smile froze.

Again, maybe not the meatiest exchange ever, but you begin to see my point, surely? At least, I feel like I’m beginning to make my point, or perhaps I’m just missing the point of ‘try to convey emotion indirectly or through dialogue’. It’s such a restrictive attitude in my mind. I must be missing something, surely?

What if Character A is ‘a man of few words’? What if he never really talks except to say something that needs to be said? Yes, this conveys a measure of import. The act of speaking carries significance just by virtue of the fact that he’s saying anything at all. But again, there’s no feeling. Unless he’s a robot, then whatever he’s saying has to register somewhere on his emotional spectrum.

Then you come to simply using adjectives and adverbs.

Character A: “I hate you,” he said darkly.
Character B: “No, you don’t,” she replied, dejected.

Adverbs themselves are a discussion for another time. (I’m pro, for the record. In moderation.) But the plain and simple adjectives just don’t have that punch. Everything in it’s place, and all that. I understand that all of these techniques need to be used together. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, is another thing to bear in mind. Isn’t that the point? To use all of these techniques. If someone tells me to use physical, facial reactions AFTER these other things have failed, then aren’t they missing the point? Or am I just misinterpreting their meaning?