It was a good battle, and they nearly won.
Posted: July 8th, 2010 | Author: annafdd | Filed under: Depression, Writing | Tags: Clarion, depression, writing | No Comments »
I have been thinking about Clarion a lot recently, because I have been going over the material and it brings back a lot of memories, of course.
In a sense, I felt obscurely a cheat at Clarion, because I had this idea that I hadn’t really properly learned much. I can’t point at something and say, yeah, that is something I learned at Clarion. But most of all, I felt I got too much of an easy ride. Every time, every time, I thought my story sucked, and every time people loved it. Maybe they would point out the bits that sucked, but even then it was obvious that they enjoyed them, where engrossed by them, believed in them. It was heady, it was intoxicating… but where was all the teaching pain?
The pain came later, of course, and it had nothing to do with writing. Pain on the whole doesn’t teach you much. What I learned at Clarion I think I learned from happiness.
Afterwards, I sometimes wished I could do it all over again, this time with proper socialization. While I was there, I followed one of the bits of advice in my advice compilation: spend more time writing, less time socializing, less time sleeping. I took it seriously. I worked extremely hard (not something I do a lot), but then I don’t think I had much of a choice. The stories would come, almost by themselves, and then demand to be written.
That was the first and largest thing that Clarion taught me: inspiration comes if you call it. Nanowrimo confirmed it: if you start to write madly, a plot, a theme, character will be conjured up.
I was having dinner with one of my Clarion mates the other day, the only one who lives within easy reach, and she noted how none of us have been successful. I thought about it. It was a bitter thought I had often had myself, but really, it’s not all that true. At least one of us, I pointed out, is extremely successful and influential. Not because of writing, my mate said. Not because of writing fiction, I retorted. (This is not completely true, she had written and published some really great stories, and she seems to be published pretty regularly these days.) But she is a prolific and appreciated and influential blogger, and that is still writing. (I am not pointing out all the other small triumphs – several of us had one or two, some of them not so small).
For the rest, I think a lot of my fellow Clarionites are still hybernating. Mostly we were a year of novelists, and novelists have it harder. You get stuck, your novel fails to sell, and then it’s years before you have another ready. For a lot of them life took over: you can only take a year off, then you need to get back to the millstone. Some of them have just disappeared off the face of the earth: I think Clarion was too hard for them, as it was for me.
It’s a great shame. I looked over the list of stories, and while I can’t remember the plot or wording of most of them I can vividly remember the feel, the highly individual… not exactly the voice. It’s more like a note. I remember the gestalt. I remember the one who wrote stories that none of us could understand and still blew us away.
We were a weird bunch, and I think that is why we haven’t exploded on the scene as we were told it was expected of us. We were too weird. Both personally and as writers.
I told my mate that two kind of people have success after Clarion: the bloody geniuses, and those who can apply butt to chair with inhuman determination. Ted Chiang and Lucius Shepard are, I think, in the first category. We were a bunch of really weird talented buggers, but none of us was that brilliant, alas. I think in some way the fact that we were so weird got in the way of the determination. We all had very complicated lives. More so than your average writer, and that is saying something.
In my folder of advice several instructors recommend avoiding the Clarion burnout. Recommend avoiding the Clarion divorce. Hah, is all I can say. Hah bloody ha.
I am not going to tell you for a moment that I am glad I went through my spectacular breakdown after Clarion. God no. And I won’t tell you I am glad I broke up with my then partner. I still wish it had worked out, although I think that Clarion, more than breaking us up, showed me why we could not go on.
It’s easy to say, well, you didn’t get success, money, fame, or even a finished novel out of it, and you did get a major depression, so what is the balance, when all is said and done?
And, well. No real answer then. It’s just that this life means to me all the things we fill it with. And those six weeks of joyous creativity are an epiphany that I cherish for itself, not for what I learned, what I got, what I lost, or whatever. I would have preferred to have given back something: I always feel guilty that all the energy and money that the community invested in me didn’t give a better fruit. But all in all, and unless of course I am run over by a bus, in which case it won’t be my problem any more, it’s a bit too early to tell.
Posted: July 8th, 2010 | Author: annafdd | Filed under: Psychology, Writing | Tags: brain, creativity, dopamine, psychology, writing | No Comments »
Today I was listening to one Horizon program, which was on the tired and trite subject of the link between creativity and madness.
Surprisingly, it had something useful to say, and it is that people with some particular neurological conditions, particularly Tourette Syndrome, when put into an fMRI machine seem to be unable to switch their creativity off. A normal person shoved inside the machine and asked to compose a story from a few words (ah!) and to do it as creatively or non-creatively as possibile (hum…) show very different brain activity. Tourette subject – in their brain, the area associated with creativity lights up all the time. Even when asked not to be creative, the produce wild, fantastic stories.
The program goes on talking about dopamine, and how stabilizing a Tourette subject means walking a very tight line between slowing them down and avoiding to freeze them. Mania, and graphomania in particular, also seems to be connected with dopamine.
Which has very little to do with our boring normal brains, but from what I know, brain functions are like muscles: the more they are requested, the more the neural pathways develop. And so it very well could be that making an effort to be creative pushes your brain to produce more dopamine, and day in, day out, finally your brain will get the message that more dopamine is requested, and will start producing it before you even ask.
Yeah, this is all wild speculation, and I suppose that I could (and should) do a bit of research on dopamine and creativity in Google Scholar and see what it throws up. But I find it really suggestive.
Posted: July 7th, 2010 | Author: annafdd | Filed under: Blog entries, Writing | Tags: Clarion, writing | No Comments »
Yesterday I did a tiny bit of writing: about two hundred words, but clearly a lot better than nothing.
Today, after finishing (well, almost finishing) a job (alas, a non-paying one, unless you count gratification as payment) I found myself taking my Clarion folder down from the shelf and reading the copious material they gave us before we started. It was pages and pages of miscellaneous advice, all of which I found useful at one point or another, even if just as something to rebel against. For example, see this:
Don’t quit your day job.
Don’t write about unicorns. Don’t write about cats. Don’t write about vampires. Don’t write about teams. Don’t write about vampires teaming up with unicorns and cats.
Don’t write in the first person. Don’t write in the second person. Don’t write in the third person plural. Don’t write in the present tense. Don’t write in the future tense. Don’t write in the conditional tense. Don’t even think about the pluperfect.
Don’t write melodrama. Don’t be self-indulgent. Don’t write ornate prose. Don’t write about your friends. Especially if your friends are cats or unicorns or vampires.
Don’t show major scenes in flashback. Don’t say terrible things about real people. Don’t use metaphor early in the story. Don’t make parenthetical jokes. Don’t fake it. Don’t write from emotion. Don’t write analytically about emotion. Don’t withhold information from the reader. Don’t try to sell a story with a female viewpoint character to Playboy. Don’t put a story in Oz. Don’t write to the lowest common denominator. Don’t overexplain. Don’t write about Vietnam. Don’t write about car salesmen. Don’t write about Republicans. Republican vampires in Vietnam are straight out. As are cats selling cars to unicorns.
I could go on, or I could stop, but I think I owe it to the unknown author to give you the close:
Don’t write as a lark. Don’t write as a hobby. Don’t write as therapy. Don’t write cyberpunk. Don’t write steampunk. Don’t write spiderpunk. Don’t write nanopunk.
Don’t write about writing.
Don’t write about writers.
In some way, even as I am awfully tempted of trying to write a story about Republican vampires in Vietnam, I know how much this is true, how much it is tongue in cheek, and how much it is written to make you want to write about steampunk cats selling Republican cars to unicorns in Vietnam.
All of it makes me want to laugh and go back to writing. I would also like to put much of it online, but it is not my material to share, alas.
So I took a notebook and a pen with me, and thought of Cory Doctorow’s advice about writing every day. “I know writers who are successful and don’t write every day” he said. “But they are tortured souls.”
He’s right in that writing every day definitely makes it easier to write. Eventually. The first 500 word day, you type incredulously, thinking good God, I didn’t know I was able to write such crap. But then you find yourself hacking away 2,000 words day, and you think hmmm, this is great stuff. (And, as Doctorw also said, “And two months afterwords, you won’t be able to tell which is which”).
But there are always good excuses. I don’t have the time today is chief. So I thought, if I can prove to myself that I can, actually, write on the way to and from the centre of town, I won’t have that excuse. And I did! And now I don’t!
And it won’t really do that much difference. The excuses always come afterwards, on the non-writing days.
Anyway. I did write. I wrote crap, but that is another of the tricks Clarion taught me to get out of writer’s block. Write, even if it’s crap. Give yourself permission to write crap. Write anything.
In fact, the 500 words a day advice (I don’t remember who gave it to me, must have been somebody on the late great rec.arts.sf.composition) produced my first Clarion story. I started, and eventually, quicker than I thought possible, I had a 10,000 story, with plot, characters and everything.
I had to cut out the first 2,000, but then, with my kind of output, that was a good thing (I write little, but when I do, I tend to write long.)
I haven’t typed it up though. That is probably because of the two glasses of red wine at Rosso Pomodoro, I suppose. So I don’t know how many words it was, only that some of it was Overground to Euston, and some of it on the Northern Line to Leicester Sq., and some of it (proportionally less, because of the aformentioned wine) on the Bakerloo back from Charing Cross.