Before I get into this week’s post, I just want to do a bit of shameless self promotion and tell you that I was featured on my friend Delaney’s blog this week. If you get a minute, you should check it out here. On with the post…
Who would bring out a magazine that costs far more than its competitors when publications are folding left, right and centre?
After all, we are told that printed media is dying a long and slow death. Blogs and online newspapers, social media and Youtube have all given printed media a solid kicking. But The Great Discontent is taking no note of that. What’s more, it seems to be thriving.
Last Friday I arrived home to find that Naomi had ordered me a copy of The Great Discontent magazine. I had heard about it on The Good Life Project and really wanted to check out why this magazine was so different.
For a start The Great Discontent is a tri-annual publication. Ok, it costs a bit more than your normal magazine (at $25 a pop). But it’s pretty easy to justify it three times a year as opposed to the traditional monthly ($12 a pop).
It’s weighty, like a coffee table book. It looks stunning. The matte pages feel great and, with the risk of coming across as a snob, it’s definitely a cut above any other magazine I’ve read.
Previous publications have always had a scatter gun approach; everything and anything would get reviewed, critiqued and featured by scores of journalists and to be honest, I would only read around 50% of its content. The rest I simply wasn’t interested in.
They’ve also been recycling tired features for far too long. Last week I went into a newsagent and looked at the music magazines on the shelf. On the front covers were bands from a long gone era. Rush, Neil Young and The Beatles. I’m not dissing these artists but after, say 40 years I think we can move on.
The Great Discontent however, with its long form interviews from a selection of artists from different fields, whittles down its buying customers to a few.
Geeks like me, in other words.
Instead of carrying huge attention grabbing headlines, each edition and all the interviews follow a theme. The most recent was “Possibilty”. Sounded sexy to me. This magazine focuses on a narrow field and goes way, way deeper than its peers. And it’s following a distinct trend.
Instead of trying to grapple with a huge audience, The Great Discontent has handpicked its customers and said, “Here – this is for you guys.” And it’s not the only one. Loads of different outlets are doing the same thing. The aforementioned Good Life Project and WTF? are both different examples of podcasts with deep reaching interviews. I’ve heard that Comic Book publications are on the rise. The National newspaper in Scotland also bucked the trend. Every one of these publications have handpicked their audience and sold directly to their customers. People are digging it.
That makes me happy because it also shows that the public are still wanting quality output. The difference is it’s just coming from a different place now.
But what really appeals to me is that people are returning from tapping on glass faced devices to buying physical things again. People are scratching the analogue itch and for a wannabe author like me, that’s a good sign.
Oh… And one last thing. There is not one single advertisement in it.
“Talk to people.”
“Research your subject matter.”
“Speak to the professionals.”
All sound pieces of advice in order to help you write a book.
I’ve done each of these to some extent so far but not nearly enough. I need to get bigger with my ideas and broader in my scope of research. Google searches and emailing people are brilliant for research but a click of a mouse will never trump talking face to face with someone. So I intend to do just that.
There is also a cheeky little subplot to this too.
You see, every Sunday in our house is called Super Dad Sunday. Naomi has her own business which needs fed and watered so I take Ethan, our 18 month son for the day and leave Naomi to it. We go to the zoo, the beach, the park, the soft play, we read books and watch cartoons together. It’s not called Super Dad Sunday for nothing.
However, I’m now presented with the problem of having to research my book without having much spare time. So I’ve decided to merge Super Dad Sunday with research.
One of the characters in my book has Alzheimers disease, which I’m no expert on so I’ve decided to volunteer at a local care home which specialises in dementia. I’m going to take Ethan along with me. Naomi and I are aware that Ethan has very little interaction with elderly people and think it would be pretty healthy for him to be able to socialise with a different generation. There are also studies which show children can have a significant positive impact on elderly people. It’s a win-win situation whilst I also get to learn about the topics concerning my book and get to meet a whole bunch of new people.
At this point I must thank Angela, an old school friend for inspiring this idea. Angela also volunteers in her local community and I got the idea after reading one of her Facebook posts.
There is a little bit of paper work to complete before Ethan and I can head off on our new Super Dad Sunday venture so it might take a few weeks before we can head on down there but I’m already really looking forward to it.
I just hope they can handle an 84 centimetre tall bundle of energy down at the care home.
I’ve been geeking out on a guy called Simon Sinek recently. Simon is a business strategist, author and speaker who has the third most viewed TED talk of all time. His theories flip the archetypal business models on their heads by simply asking the question why?
So after viewing a few of his videos on youtube I got thinking of the why behind my book.
Why should you be interested in what I’ve got to say in my book?
Why should you even be bothering reading my blog?
Why am I even doing it all in the first place?
I have a load of different answers ranging from, “I believe my book has a few messages worth sharing”, “I’m hoping you are reading my blog in order to find out how this is all going to pan out”, to “It’s the first thing I ever really wanted to do.” And it is the latter answer which drives me the most.
I read books as a kid. I absorbed them. I loved Roald Dahl and The Hardy Boys. I loved that a library van appeared at the top of my street every Tuesday night at 6pm. I can still remember the smell of the portable gas fire the librarian had set up in the back of the long narrow, slightly damp van. I remember trying to rent out Bram Stokers Dracula and the librarian telling me that he didn’t think it would be suitable for me. I remember a book I got as a birthday gift when I was a kid which was called The Nightmare Man. (Actually a pretty scary kids book about a shadowy figure with a birdlike face who appeared at night at the foot of a boys garden. Loved that book. I can still remember the cover.)
As I got older I loved to draw and when I was a teenager and in my early 20’s I was playing guitar, rocking out in bands. Those things I don’t do so much anymore but its not to say that I don’t have a place for them anymore. I’m just tending to this other thing I’ve got going on at the moment.
It’s just funny that it has taken me decades to return to my first ever ambition.
But seriously, check out Simon Sinek. (Totally have a man crush on this dude.)
After last weeks meltdown it was time for a re-think.
Or what some writers might describe as “work”.
I’ve already stated that after a year of writing I had been left with a big pile of folders which were stored on some cloud somewhere. There was some cohesion to my book but not nearly enough.
Now I have to consolidate not only the folders but my approach.
I don’t know how other writers work but the idea of researching before typing your first word seems like a big fat killjoy to me. It would be like putting a cake in front of a kid then telling him that he has to go and learn the recipe first before he can eat it. Balls to that.
I figured out my characters and a great deal of my plot as I went along. A large chunk of the plot fell into my lap only in the last few months. How could I have researched that before I even had it?
Now it’s time to do the gritty menial work that nobody enjoys. It time to write character bio’s, and with a list of characters that would put Forrest Gump to shame that’s gonna take some time. I need to research, fact check and draw parallels through the book. (It’s easy to forget something you wrote last year. I can’t even remember what I had for dinner last night……….Wait… Got it. Thai green curry.)
Research, bio’s, fact checking and other tedious stuff was something that I was never looking forward to but I was only following orders. Honest. All advice I read stated that I should write my first draft without editing myself. Just let rip. So I did. It was great fun and I’m glad I did it. However, I’m now left realising the Earnest Hemmingway quote, “The first draft of anything is shit” is 100% true.
So this last week I have started writing my character bio’s. And who would have thunk it? I’m enjoying it. I’m discovering new aspects of my characters as I go and surprise surprise, I’m creating plot threads which will tie my book together and also flesh it out. I’ve realised large chunks will be binned, parts re-written and some of it might even make the grade. All in all I feel like I’m back on track.
Before I go, just as a side note. I have noticed one thing. I don’t have the same stamina writing those bio’s as I do openly writing my book. An hour or so in and I’m losing focus. The week before I wrote for six hours solid (personal best) without flinching.
Anyways, I better get back to doing more menial work.
It’s 7:10pm and I’m standing doing the dishes at the kitchen sink and I’m fretting.
I’m fretting about my book.
Why did I wait until I became a dad who works long shifts before starting to write a book?
What did I do with all of my spare time before all this happened?
I’m fretting because I know my book is light years from being finished. Jesus, I’m not even sure about the tense I have written it in. I’ve realised a large chunk of what I have written so far will never make the cut. And I’ve been writing for over a year.
Yet, I know how it should read. Those words are not on the page yet but I know how they should flow.
I know how it should feel.
If it were a film I know who would have directed it.
I know what I have to do in order for it to work.
I’ve got character bio’s to complete, films to watch, documentaries to study, books to read, podcasts to absorb, people to talk to. A blog post to write.
Every minute of every day is precious and I simply can’t eek out enough of them at the moment.
I’m worrying that this is gonna take so long my blog will become redundant.
Basically, I’m freaking out.
Then Naomi drew my attention to a quote from Mastering Creativity by James Clear.
“…He revised. He changed. He edited. By his own estimation Zusak rewrote the first part of the book 150- 200 times.”
Then, in his own words Zusak says.
“In three years, I must have failed over a thousand times, but each failure brought me closer to what I needed to write, and for that, I’m grateful.”
The book was The Book Thief.
I’m finding some solace in that.
A couple of points to make this week.
Firstly I’d like to clear up a question a friend asked. It was also something that I wanted to outline anyway. He asked why I was posting anecdotes on the blog. A fair enough question as the blog is supposed to be about my efforts to become a published author.
The answer is that basically I think the blog would become a bit boring if I just posted about the writing side of things. I believe it would make a pretty dry read. There is only is much longevity in that. It’s also true that the anecdotes do relate (trust me on this) to the blog.
The anecdotes started with my wedding night and there was a reason for that. If Naomi and I didn’t get married and head off around the world a few days later I really don’t think I would be writing my book. As I said to my friend, all roads lead to the book!
Secondly, I’d like to redress the long running issue of resistance and it also concerns my friends from back home.
Years ago when I was just out of school my mates and I knocked around together doing the usual time wasting of cruising around in cars with nothing much to do. I distinctly remember one day the five of us parked in a multi-storey shopping mall carpark.
One friend came up with the bright idea of starting a car wash business. We would wash folks cars whilst they shopped. The five of us would take equal responsibility and the more you washed the more you earned. Simple.
We stood in the car park musing the idea. Then we outlined the reasons why it wouldn’t work. We even asked a family member who was in the fire brigade if he thought it was a worth while venture. The idea quickly got panned because, what we assumed would be a lack of drainage in the carpark.
We didn’t ask the owners of the car park if the business was possible. We didn’t draft any enquiring letters. We just summed up that it would fail and binned the whole idea.
Of course, what happens next writes itself. Within months a company is in the very same car park making an absolute killing washing cars.
We were suckers to resistance. We shot ourselves down before anybody else could. There may have been a fear of failure or even possibly even a fear of success. (What do a bunch of 17 year olds know about running a business?) And that’s why we failed. Because somewhere inside us each of us asked ourselves that very question.
I now feel the same resistance with this blog.
I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% comfortable with the whole idea of blogging. I’m not totally behind the concept of telling everybody my aspirations and wants. It doesn’t come naturally and it feels alien.
Who would be interested in anything I’ve got to say? It feels like I’m blowing my own trumpet.
But I also know it goes hand in hand with what I want to do.
So how do I get over it? I get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I just keep going and ignore my insecurities.
If I didn’t, what progress would I have made from the seventeen year old me?
Last night I sat down to do research for my book. I don’t know what research means to other writers but for me it means scrolling through Youtube documentaries for a pretty rare neurological condition called Synesthesia.
The definition on Dictionary.com puts it like this:
1. a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualisation of a certain colour.
Basically it’s a coming together of the senses.
In other words, music can be seen in colour and colours can also have tastes. Numbers, days and months can be associated with different colours and some tastes can even feel like an object.
So far scientists have identified over a hundred different variations of the condition with a few strands being vastly more common than others. It is estimated that 1% of the earth’s population are Synesthetes. The condition has no known side effects other than it being 100% awesome.
The most common example is when Synesthetes associate days, numbers or months with certain colours. For example Monday could be yellow, nine could be green and so on.
It ‘s a pretty funky world for these folks.
So, I’m on the couch with my laptop open ready to take notes and Naomi is reading her book next to me. I’m watching the video of a Synesthete relating her condition. She tells us that she has a spacial type of Synesthesia. For her the months of the year are catagorised in a visual calendar which she can “pull up” when someone talks of a certain date. It’s pretty hard to explain so maybe its best to watch her video here.
As the girl is explaining this Naomi casually remarks, from behind her book, “Ah come on… That’s just normal.”
This was my response, “………..(bewildered) ………………what?”
“Do you not do that?” She asked rather casually.
“Then how did you learn the months of the year at school?” Naomi was now engaged in the conversation.
“By rote! January, February………….. Why? What do you do?”
“Well January is over here.” She points to her left. “And February comes around here after it and then March, April….”
“The dates of the month arc over it all like a big rainbow that gets further away but comes back to ya!”
Jesus Fucking Christ.
I’m researching a rare condition and low and behold I’m married to someone who has it. And neither of us knew it.
We verified it by Naomi taking this test
Boom! Naomi has Spacial Sequence Synesthesia.
Feel free to test yourselves at the above link folks.
It’s late July/ early August 2011 and Naomi and I are on our travels around South East Asia.
In order to escape the constant oppressive humidity we decided to visit the town of Dalat in the Vietnamese highlands. It was rainy, around 15 degrees and as close to home as we were going to get.
It sounds ridiculous but we just needed a break from the endless backpacking. (It’s a lot more hard work than you might imagine)
So, it was mid afternoon and I was at the receiving end of a particularly slap dash massage. The girl had started on my feet, worked her way up my calf muscles and was now at my thighs and plying her trade with little to no conviction. I’m lying on my back and I’m dressed down to my undercrackers. A small face towel has been neatly folded and strategically placed and I’m wondering what the hell we are doing there.
Before I go any further lets count up the amount of clues that would have had any sane person running for the hills.
# 1. The room is the size and shape of a prison cell. One letterbox window, one door and the masseuse and I. It’s drab and horrible enough to make your skin crawl.
# 2. Naomi and I got split up when we arrived. That was disconcerting. She is off somewhere else getting her massage. I’m slightly concerned.
# 3. The building is shambolic. It’s not like any other massage joint we had been in before (and we had been in plenty on our way around Thailand). They were all bamboo huts, cocktails and hammocks. This place was a disused 1970’s office block located in the town centre with peeling lino floors, stained walls and an eerie emptiness. It was fit for demolition.
# 4. The huge lurid Adam and Eve mural we had clocked in the foyer at the entrance was horrendous.
And finally, # 5. The odd little old man who showed us through the building and rolled his eyes at us whilst muttering something under his breath would have fit into any early episode of Scooby Doo.
When we had arrived at the reception two girls had greeted us with a warm welcome usually given by air hostesses. Naomi was led off by a slight, beautiful girl and I was whisked away by a girl who wasn’t in any way slight or beautiful. That was just annoying.
So there I was… Stretched out on a rickety bed with this girl needing my thighs and we were both in complete silence. No relaxing plinky plonk music, no chit chat. Just me counting the seconds until this was all over.
Her hands travelled north up my thighs. A little too high.
Yup, stuff definitely touched there. Oh dear.
I looked at her in the dim light. Big shoulders for a girl. Big hands too….
Oh. No. Why was it only then that I recognised the lady boy for what she was?
Later on, down the line Naomi will try and defend the fact that she had dragged me here to this den with the excuse, and I quote. “How could you not see it was a ladyboy? I got a beautiful Asian girl and you got a squat man. A total fucking box of a person.”
Well, ladies and gentlemen I honestly never noticed until to was all too late.
I caught her eye and then she asked the question that will live with me forever.
She gently patted me twice on the package and said, “Massage Pee-Pee?”
Now here’s the thing I never expected at all. For a spark of a moment I considered it. To my shame I truly did. Who would know? To hell with it, lie back and think of Scotland. Chalk it up as crazy experience. Thankfully that thought was gone as soon as it entered my head. Imagine explaining to your brand new wife that you got beat off by a bloke in a dress, in a cesspit of a den in a Vietnamese brothel whilst on your honeymoon.
“No! No thank you!” I stammered. I have no idea why I was being so polite. I hadn’t a clue what to do. Most guys would have punched her.
Then the awkwardness continued. She actually half heartedly finished the massage. (I can’t believe I’m writing this.)
My mind was screaming at me.
Then I thought about Naomi. What was happening to her?
I got my stuff together and the ladyboy showed me to Naomi’s room.
What a difference. Night and day. The room was bright and airy. The polar opposite of the terrorist holding cell I had been subjected to.
“Hi love.” She beamed.
“We need to go.” I burned a hole into her head with my eyes.
I soon filled Naomi in on what happened which she took great delight in. She laughed her arse off. She told me that she had the best massage of her life and that everything was above board.
She calmed me, reassured me and said that everything was fine. Then, for the second time that day Naomi managed to convince me that she had a good idea. She suggested that we should relax and laugh it off in the sauna. (How I stuck it out and didn’t leave I have no idea.)
We were shown through to a grimy white tiled shower block with two grotty plastic chairs sitting in the middle of the room. It reminded me of the showers in the guys changing room at high school. There was no small wooden cabin with water being thrown on hot coals here. No sir-ee. Instead the pleasant beautiful Asian girl smiled at us, motioned for us to sit down and turned the showers on as hot as they would go. That, my friends was our sauna. We sat there abject and bewildered in our plastic chairs, showers screaming by our sides whilst waiting for a cold room to slowly fill with piss weak steam.
Life has been pretty hectic over the last couple of weeks for us Liddells.
We have moved house and although it is only two streets away from our previous joint, and despite the fact that we got loads of help from our friends, the whole move still managed to become a little ole stress festival.
Throw in the fact that we recently had to say cheerio to my folks who were staying with us for the last six weeks and hopefully you’ll understand why I didn’t write a post last week.
Whether it’s moving house, sick kids, work or any other myriad of stuff that you have to wade through, life just has other things planned.
Friends will ask you how things are and often the default answer will be, “Oh, you know. Keeping busy.” Well, in all honesty Naomi and I have been up to our eyeballs in busy-ness.
It is a fact that I could have carved out some time to write a post, but (and I’m going to be brutally honest here) I really couldn’t be fucked. And, for this point in my life, I’m good with that.
I just hit the pause button.
No writing, no blogging, no researching, no inspiration, no jotting down ideas, no reading. No nothing (forgive the double negative).
I had to stop… I’ll rephrase that. Life stopped me.
Yet, through all of this the one person that has really kept his cool and shown some discipline around this joint is my son Ethan. The little sixteen month old wrecking ball has taken it all in his tiny wobbly stride.
One day his grandparents turn up from the other side of the world, six weeks later they vanish. Boom, gone. He had a little look around the guest bedroom after they left as if to say, “Where did the old folks go?” and then got on with his day. A few days later we move house. Nothing. The little son of a gun hasn’t wavered. Strong like bull.
When he’s able to form sentences I’ll ask him how he does it. Then I’ll pass it on.
So, next week once all the boxes have disappeared from our new living room, the internet is back on and I don’t have to to think really hard just to find a coffee mug, I’ll tell you about the time my wife took me to a Vietnamese brothel. Yup.
See ya then.
A couple of weeks ago I finished the first draft of my book.
In my mind the event would be marked by enjoying a slow beer and sinking back into my chair with a certain sense of accomplishment. I would have hurdled the first and biggest task.
Instead I had a melt down.
A two day melt down.
I have no idea how other writers work, but my first draft was a fractured affair. I had a strong idea of what I wanted to say and topics I wanted to cover but much of the draft was just me following my nose. One idea would lead to another which would, in turn conflict with something I had previously written. I didn’t write chronologically. Instead I opted to write what felt good and fresh at the time. I was writing impulsively.
It didn’t matter what or when or who it happened to. Just write freely I was told. That’s what all the advice pointed to and it felt correct and it felt good, most of the time.
After one year of writing and multiple folders in my computer box, I had enough words to fill a book. A totally shite book. Hence the meltdown.
My book resembles an unfinished jigsaw. I’ve got the frame intact but the centre has big punch holes through it. You can’t see the whole picture.
Even writing about it now is giving me some weird anxiety.
Its the first time I’ve thought that the task is too big for me and that I might not be able to finish the book.
It felt oppressive. Like a big weight had been thrown onto my shoulders. It should have been the other way around.
I actually sat and thought, “What have I done? What have I started?”
Two things came to my aid.
Firstly Naomi. She always helps in more ways than I can convey in this post. (In fact, one day I should dedicate an entire post to her. She’s that important. Seriously.)
I’m not one for promoting products on here but Scrivener has helped a great deal and credit is due. It dug me out of a hole.
I had previously heard of Scrivener but decided not to use it for my first draft as I just wanted to write. Pure and simple. To learn a whole new piece of software with all the bells and whistles a writer could ever want sounded a lot like procrastination to me at the time. And at that time it would have been. But now it is not. Now I need it to move forward.
Scrivener is a programme aptly described as a writers work shed. Designed by a writer, for writers. It’s downloadable and has a thirty day trial period. (Not thirty calendar days, but the first thirty days you physically use it.)
Imagine a student scrambling to get to class on time. He clutches his work books and folders close to his chest but he can’t stop them from spilling them to the ground.
Scrivener puts all of those folders into binders, labels them, formats them, sticks them in a big bag and even brings along all of his research too.
I’ve started writing my second draft with Scrivener and so far so good. I’m not having meltdowns anymore, which is a cheeky bonus. For the first time my book is linear and the amount of work I still have to do doesn’t feel insurmountable.
But even if it does, even if I’m climbing the walls by the end of my second draft I know someone who will always help.