Reaching Nirvana

Way back in the 80s, I owned my first computer. A ZX81, the first computer small enough and cheap enough to be of interest to the casual home user. It came with a massive 1k of RAM, expandable to 16k with a RAM pack.

As you can imagine, programming it was a tricky job. There were games available to buy, loading from a cassette tape player, and some of them were actually pretty good, keeping me entertained for hours. But there were also loads of magazines to buy, each containing listings for programs for you to type in and save on your own cassette tapes. Some of these games were pretty nifty, but one in particular has stayed with me all these years as a metaphor for life.

The aim of the game was to reach Nirvana. You would start in the middle of a grid, and could move north, south, east or west, via arrow keys. Each turn, you would move one step, with the idea of reaching Nirvana. When you thought you had reached it, you would enter a different command.

Every time you said you thought you’d reached Nirvana, guess what? You had.

So you could wander the grid for hours, visiting every square, or you could declare you’d reached Nirvana on the very first turn. Either way, you would win.

Pretty silly game, really.

And yet…

Isn’t that true of life, sometimes? That we can wander around all our lives, looking for something mysterious, waiting to discover our purpose, trying to find happiness? And all we have to do is to make up our minds that this, here, right where we are, this is where we’re meant to be, and what we’re meant to be doing.

Okay, it might not work for everyone, or all the time, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion that more often than not, we’re still wandering when actually we’re already there.

 

I have a strategy

I’ve worked out my writing strategy for the next few months, based on the fact that each year, each nano, I get a cleaner first draft. So I’m currently finishing off the action draft for Gods V Heroes, which was my 2014 nano novel. After over 18 months, I’m very nearly at the stage of having a complete, readable draft, covering all the action points of the plot.

Once I’ve finished that, I’ll move on to Abandoned, which was nano 2015. That one already has a complete action draft (as I said, I’m getting better at this!), so the next draft will focus on developing characters and settings much more, on top of the existing skeleton.

Once that’s complete, the plan is to do the same to Gods V Heroes, but at some stage there’ll be a pause for nano 2016, which I’ve decided will be Game of Life, another story looking at the borderline between games and reality, and revealing my entire life philosophy in the process.

After nano, that one will rest and await further attention while I continue with whichever of the other two is the current project.

There’s still the high school teachers’ romance novel and the speculative fiction about babies in the pipeline (although the latter is becoming less and less speculative and more and more possible every day, it seems!).

Will I have something ready to publish in six months? Unlikely, but possible. A year? Maybe. Five years? I sincerely hope so! And by that point, it should be not just one ready, but several very close to ready.

 

 

More haste, less speed

My novel is about a bunch of gamers who find the game is more real than they thought. So I really ought to keep in mind some of the things I learned in online gaming. One lesson I learned that I’m needing to remember as I write is that hurrying is bad.

Some quests involve fighting your way through a bunch of bad guys, achieving something in the area, and then getting out again. It can be so tempting to rush back out; you’ve done what you need to, and you want to get onto the next task. But the more you hurry, the more chance there is of pulling more mobs than you can handle. The truth is that you achieve far more by slowing down and being careful than by rushing.

And this is precisely why I find that those few chapters I still have to finish on my novel are splitting into two halves, as the story grows. Yes, I could rush it, and jump from scene to scene, but I’ll achieve my purpose far more by slowing down and dealing with issues properly.

So the sad truth is that the end of my novel feels like a mirage – the closer I get to it, the further away it looks. I’ve done very little for the past couple of weeks, but feedback from my writers’ group has shown me why I’m stuck, and so I’m faithfully splitting chapters, adding scenes, and once again making forward progress.

I will finish this draft by the summer, and have a working, complete draft of my novel.

I’m just not committing myself to a specific summer!

 

A confusing teacher

Back when I was in primary school, we didn’t have such things as substitute teachers or cover teachers – if our classroom teacher was ill or absent, we’d be parcelled off in twos or threes to sit at the back of another classroom. Usually we’d have set work to do, and would be expected to sit there getting on with it while the teacher taught his/her class, but sometimes, especially if the classroom we went in was the same yeargroup, we’d be invited to join in with their work.

These days were often a fascinating glimpse into another life; spending all your school time with one teacher, in one group of students, can be a little claustrophobic, and it was always fun to see how the rest of the school lived.

One of these sessions, though, left me thoroughly confused and a little disheartened, to the extent that I still remember the day even though it was over forty years ago.

I think I must have been in second year at junior school, which these days translates to year 4, and I and a couple of others were sent to a fourth year classroom (top of the school; these days year 6). As I worked on my own tasks, we were nonetheless invited by the teacher (a man, although his name is long shrouded in the mists of time) to join in if we wanted. I declined, as I remember.

There were two tasks I remember from that day. The first was the instruction to the class to carry out a writing exercise. The instructions, as I remember them, was “I want description of being at the seaside. And it needs to be at least 20 pages long. Seagulls crying, waves on the shore, that sort of thing.” Twenty pages? I’d never written that much in my life. And twenty pages of description? Is such a thing even possible? Even today, I wonder. Surely that was far out of reach for ten-year-olds.

The other was discussion of what the word “estate” meant. The class were coming up with all sorts of suggestions as to the meaning, but each time he would say, “No, that’s not it. No, you’re not quite right. No, that’s wrong.” I never did find out what it meant according to him.

From those two exercises I took away the feeling of being faced with an exercise that I just consider far too hard, being given without any acknowledgement that it was tough, and the feeling of not knowing what something means and being constantly wrong without ever knowing the right answer.

I’ve no idea whether these were serious exercises, or whether his class usually did this sort of thing, or whether he was winding up the visitors, but to this day I think of that lesson with frustration.

 

Moving steadily on

Another chapter edited/rewritten today, and another taken a good look at.

So now in part 3 of Gods V Heroes, there are twelve chapters, of which five have been revised, one is in progress and six remain to be looked at.

As I edit each scene now, I try to focus on who’s telling the story. What is their take on the action? How do they see things change around them as a result of their actions? How do they themselves change as a result of their actions?

As ever, it’s the awkward one of the guild whose voice comes through clearest. He has a definite attitude problem, and his grumpiness translates well to the page. The others aren’t quite as clear, but they’re beginning to develop.

I know this won’t be the last revision, but the cleaner I get this last part, the easier it will be next time round. Each round of editing is teaching me more about the writing and editing process.

And with the other novels agitating and stirring in the background, I really need to get this draft finished, so I can get back to another.

 

Making progress

gods v heroes coverAs I continue with this rewrite, I’m starting to think seriously about the publishing side of Gods Versus Heroes. Another project that I’m involved in, the publication of a book of short stories by my writing group, has led to me purchasing a bunch of ISBNs, so that hurdle is dealt with. I found myself looking at book cover designers this week, just toying with the idea of getting a proper cover ready, although the finished product is still a long way off. And I figured it might be about time to reveal a little about the story itself.

Gods Versus Heroes is the story of a group of ordinary people who find themselves pulled into a war between Gods who have been expelled from the Upper Realms. They meet through a computer game, Gods Versus Heroes, where the race is on to be first guild to defeat the three Gods and a secret boss. But Guild First Kill is just the start of their troubles, when they discover the game was created to find Heroes capable of taking on the Gods who threaten the world of Siuchura. As the guild are transported to a world ravaged by war between humans, elves and dwarfs, do they really have what it takes to be heroes? The fate of all the worlds of the Lower Realm – including our own – lies in their hands.

The cover design on this post is just a mock-up for my own benefit. But I really must focus on writing before worrying too much about the finer details of interior and cover design!

 

It’s been a while

I’ve decided that I can spend my time and energy either talking about writing or actually writing, so for the past few weeks I’ve been concentrating on actually writing. Nanowrimo complete, I set Abandoned to rest. It was the first time I’ve written a complete draft of a story and been reasonably happy with it, but I haven’t yet gone back to it, so I might be in for a nasty shock when I do.

Since then, I tried starting another first draft, of a romance this time, but Gods V Heroes called to me too loudly, so I’ve returned to that. It seems to be a novel of 3rds – it’s in three parts, and the first part was done, the second part needed work and the third part was a mess. Now I’ve worked my way through to the third part, and the first third of that is okay, the second third needs work and the third part is a mess… So it feels like I get closer and closer to complete, but never actually getting there.

The third part is now thoroughly mapped out, so it’s just a question of putting in the time to get it written. Another draft will be needed, but the more I write, the cleaner my writing becomes, so it won’t always be this tough. In the meantime, the news stories I collect relating to my Babies novel suggests that by the time I finish that, it might well be fiction rather than speculative fiction. The romance is on hold for now, but has the bare structure ready, and another fantasy is brewing in the background.

What I’m trying to avoid is going so slowly on GvH that everything else jams up behind, so that I lose enthusiasm and focus and can’t decide what to work on.

And now I’ve discovered a TV series called Forever, which is just calling out for fanfiction…

The attraction of fanfiction is that it’s instant gratification. The characters and settings already exist, there’s a ready-made audience for the stories, and they tend to be rattled out and published very quickly, often in instalments rather than a finished product. Very different from the laborious process of writing a novel.

So I hereby grant myself permission to explore Forever via fanfiction, but promise that I will also persevere with Gods V Heroes, at a pace that will allow myself to make real progress.

 

 

Another new year

I was really pleased yesterday when I reviewed my running goals for the year. I’d carried a few over from the previous year, and now they’re all complete: run a parkrun in less than 30 mins (29:58); achieve an age grade better than 50% (54%); run a half marathon (Paddock Wood, last March).

So now I need to set new running goals. I’m aiming for distance more than speed this year, so over the year I have a bronze target of 500k, silver of 750 and gold of 1000. I also want to do Paddock Wood half again, plus another half at some point, and I’d like to cover the whole marathon distance in one run by the end of the year, whether it’s within an official race or not.

It would be nice to get under 30 mins for parkrun again, but that’s not my main concern. Hopefully, getting back to the weight I was when I did it the first time will bring my speed back. And hopefully the distance running I’m planning to do will help with the weight.

As for writing, I’ve been working steadily on my 2014 nano novel (Gods V Heroes) since the beginning of that November, with only a break for 2015 nano (Abandoned). Abandoned was the cleanest, most complete first draft I’ve managed so far, and is now sitting waiting, while I get back to GvH.

So the aim is to get a complete finished draft of GvH and seek beta readers for it. Then while that rests again I can get back to Abandoned. I did start another last month, but I’ve decided that two completely active projects is the most I can cope with, at least for now.

Thanks to a drawing course I did in November, I’ve rediscovered the pleasures of drawing and painting, so another aim is to keep going on that, and develop my skills in drawing, painting and digital painting.

I never really got back into technical stuff like programming last year, apart from working on a coding book and revising the GCSE computing syllabus for a tutoring client, so that’s something else I’d like to put on my list.

But most of all, I’m finally learning to be nicer to myself. To allow myself to do things I enjoy and feel pleasure from them, and to appreciate time instead of wasting it. This also means recognising that I enjoy the housework and take pleasure in having a clean and tidy house, and that it’s acceptable to expect those around me to help me in that as well. A tidy house is for life, not just for Christmas!

So:

running: distance goals.

writing: completing both novels.

Drawing/creativity: regular practice.

Technical skills: develop.

Personal life: create an environment in which all can flourish.

Let’s see how that goes!

 

Dealing with violence, pony style

I’ve mentioned before that my eldest son is a Brony, a My Little Pony fan. As a result of this, I’ve been made to sit and watch all the episodes. Well, I say made, but actually I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them.

One thought that occurs to me as I think of the latest news: there have been a few episodes where our heroes – or their town – or the whole world – is threatened. Our heroes have to come to the rescue. And how do they win over? Generally, by defeating the villain with love and friendship – because, after all, friendship is magic.

No matter what they villains have done, they are met with love, understanding and the hand of friendship. They learn that there is another way. It’s not always smooth sailing, and there’s a lot to learn, but it’s a solid answer.

Instead of bombing those who offer us violence, can’t we just make the whole world sit down and watch My Little Pony episodes?

 

No perfect way for all

I’ve just finished reading On Writing, by Stephen King, which I reviewed on my business blog. I also attended an art class this morning at the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate. In both cases, an expert was explaining how he does what he does; Stephen King explains his writing process, and what he feels is important, and my art tutor was demonstrating how he draws a portrait and different techniques that can be used.

I realised something as I watched the face gradually coming to life: every artist or writer has their own way of doing things. Stephen King believes plotting is clumsy and the story should develop organically. Other writers will insist on a tight outline. My tutor was putting smudges on paper that looked like nothing at all, and then gradually the face emerged from the chaos. Other artists will carefully plan and block out their drawing. I’m sure that everyone lies somewhere along that continuum between planning and what’s commonly known these days as pantsing.

But the one thing that the successful ones have in common is that they do it. They create art, or they write, or whatever it is they do, without worrying too much about how good it is, without fretting about whether they’ll be able to sell it, without feeling they have to.

The secret to art isn’t to work on one painting or drawing until it’s perfect; it’s to sketch and paint over and over again until the techniques are mastered and the lines flow easily. And the same for writing; it’s no good slaving for years over one novel, constantly rewriting the opening scene, or moving this section before that section and then back again, or searching for errors and clumsy phrasing; the secret is to keep going. Write a draft, leave it. Start another project. Leave that and return to the first, or start a third. But above all, don’t stop.

However you do something, the most important thing to do is actually do it, and not keep putting it off, or waiting until it’s perfect, or until you feel you’ve got the hang of it, or you’re ready.

As to the technique itself – you’ll work out your own, in time. And then maybe one day you’ll be telling others about it. Just remember to also tell them it’s okay to do it differently if it works for them!

And if you’re doing nanowrimo, why are you here reading this? You should be writing. Go get those words down. And after that 50k, there’s another 50k, whether they’re in the same project or a new one. And another, and another.