Saturday, 22 March 2008

DISCUSSION: Why are movies so depressing these days?

While I think the days of Doris Day chirpily acting the perfect housewife in hypocritical contrast to her bawdy real life are over, I do think that if humanity is to live up to its highest potential for good, depressing, movies that are annihilistic and violent - such as recent Oscar winners The Departed and No Country for Old Men -do not need to be made.

When are filmmakers, musicians, artists and authors going to realize that the freedom to make whatever films (music, art) they want comes with a certain responsibility? No wonder today's world is such a mess! Children killing children. Crimes becoming ever more violent and the criminals winning world wide fame on TV channels such as Crime & Investigation, while their victims lie dead and forgotten. What is there left for anyone to hope for? Where are the heroes to inspire us to strive towards the best we can be, not the antiheroes who encourage us to live to the worst we can be?

John Wayne's impossible heroism was as false as the unremitting evil of today's movie villains. But surely talented movie makers (and musicians and artists and writers) must see that the very power of their art brings with it a responsibility to show humankind that, because of a world filled with random evil, we can - despite our flawed humanity - be heroes, even if only for a moment. Movies that show unremitting darkness as the only option ahead for humanity depress me. I will not believe that we don't have the free will to choose a different path; one which offers us, as an evolving species, at least the option of living in a better world.

Today's movies are as hypocritical in the world they portray as Doris Day's daisy filled sweetness. And with a far worse effect: movies showing airplanes crashing into high rise buildings occurred long before the terrorists of 9/11 did it.

So, does life follow art or does art reflect life? Perhaps it is a combination of both. Either way, this continued trend in portraying evil and violence as the only reality of the world is encouraging the very thing it should be fighting. It's about time that artists of all shapes and kinds accepted that their gifts and their talents come with a global responsibility: their gift is not only about striving for personal fame and glory. It's also about having the emotional and spiritual maturity to uplift humanity as a whole.

External censorship does not work. Each individual artist should accept the responsibility of "self-censorship". That is, to choose to use their particular gift to encourage humanity to strive to be better than what we currently are. Not as perfect as Doris Day. Nor as helpless to defeat evil as the old Sheriff in 'No Country for Old Men'. But as ordinary human beings who have the potential to choose to be heroes, if only for one crucial moment in our lives in the most ordinary of ways. There's as much heroism in choosing to be kind to the woman who pinches your parking in a busy shopping mall as there is in rescuing the fair maiden from the alien invaders. Choosing to avoid a squabble in a parking lot may not be the stuff that great movies are made of. But the moulding of our instinctive reaction lies within the powerful influence of movies and other art.

When our celluloid heroes become more like Hector (oh-so-human in his fear and despair as he says farewell to his wife and son, but still courageous enough to do battle with dignity and grace) than Achilles (oh-so-arrogant in what he sees as his justified rage that has him dragging Hector's dead body around in an orgy of violent triumph), perhaps then I'll be able to go to the movies again without being depressed.

WRITING TIPS: Five Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues Part 6

AVOID COMPARISONS

"How silent the woods would be if only the nightingale sang" (Anonymous)

No matter what your ultimate goal is for your writing (for world wide fame; or a fortune; to inspire people or to entertain them, or simply for personal satisfaction) it is your writing. Only your unique voice counts. Maybe that voice isn't as profound as some; maybe it's not as humourous, but its yours. Be ruthless about the quality of that voice: make it as perfect as you can for the current level of your skill and talent. Just avoid comparing it to anyone else's voice. It may be better than some; it may be worse. Other than constantly striving to produce the best work that you can right now, it's not your job to decide on how good or bad your writing is. Agents, editors, readers and, ultimately, history will decide how your writing compares to others. All you have to do is let your voice soar across the page and fill the woods with your unique song.

And you'll be surprised to realise that the sheer enjoyment of creating words will soon make you forget that there was ever such a song as the rejection blues!

Friday, 21 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Five Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues Part 5

WRITE WRITE WRITE

Taking positive action can, however, easily become non-action. Reading a book on “how-to-write” can seem to be very “writerly”. But no matter how useful, there is no substitute for actually doing your own writing.

If, by now, your muse is still locked away in that deep dark prison of fear and criticism, it’s even more important to begin to write creatively again. And the quicker you do it, the better.

Even if the story you create is half a page, the sheer act of writing again will start getting your muse moving. The advantage of writing short stories, or even vignettes, is that they're quickly completed and give a sense of immediate satisfaction which helps heal the rejection blues. They don't have to be brilliant; all you're trying to do here is unblock any inner resistance or fear of writing again.

So play with your muse! Write what you want to write without worrying about what someone else (an examiner; an agent; an editor) will think. Just have fun and don’t worry about how your work compares to others.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Five Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues Part 4

TAKE POSITIVE ACTION

Once emotional detachment from rejections has helped restore your faith in your writing self, you need to TAKE POSITIVE ACTION to help free your creative muse from the prison of rejection blues.

Actively choosing to doing something related to writing. A few examples (and you can find many more actions that help you):

1. Read a book on the craft of writing: I'm currently reading "Steering the Craft" by Ursula K Le Guin and the creative writing exercises contained in it have forced me to oil the hinges on the prison door. I'm not saying my muse is completely free yet, but each little exercise makes it seem that little bit easier.

2. Start a blog: This blog is the result of my rejection blues. It's exciting knowing that my writing is actually "out there"; that someone might actually read it! And once you're excited about your writing, you'll find it easier to be creative.

3. Join a writing group: Search your local papers, or the Internet, for writing groups in your area or on line. Find one that suits your needs and your personality and join in. Be pro-active; participate in doing critiques of other's works as well as in submitting your own work for critique.

4. Go to the movies: Or watch your favourite DVD. Follow the plot. Watch the characterisations. Listen to the dialogue. Then think about how you can do the same in your writing.

5.Read: Go back to your favourite authors' books. Find their best book and their worst one. Every author, no matter how great or ordinary their creative talent, has that one book which is the pinnacle of their art...and they also have at least one book which just doesn't "work". Reading the first will keep you humble. Reading the second will inspire you. And being An Author will, once again, become a reachable dream.

Whatever you do, take positive action to overcome your rejection blues and then start to WRITE WRITE WRITE!!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Five Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues Part 3

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Once you've achieved a balanced level of emotional detachment from your writing, you may find a sense of freedom that encourages your creative muse to come out of hiding. This freedom is based in self belief. And, without believing in yourself and your writing, you'll never have the energy, the commitment or the determination to finish a single page, let alone 200+, of creative writing.

When you're emotionally detached from your work, you're more able to differentiate between valid objective criticism (e.g. "...fails in area of language, the author made unwise choices; the novel is more religious than spiritual") and invalid subjective criticism (e.g. "the author has obviously never been in a Catholic Church before...the scope of her work is beyond her talents").

The first example is valid, because it's based on an objective reality. After an extended break from my novel, I could see where I had made unwise choices: the setting in a country parish imbued the book with religious, rather than spiritual overtones; I used too many repetitions of words and symbols; and other examples that hadn't been clear to me in the first heady rush of completing the novel.

The second example is invalid, because it reflects the examiner/critic's personal perceptions. It is a subjective criticism that, once I emotionally detached from the criticism, made me realise that I'd achieved more with my novel than I'd been given credit for.

For example, as a deliberate technique, wanting to create a universality to my text, rather than a particularity of place and time, I chose as a setting an unnamed city ("the old sea city"); an unnamed location ("the war-torn countries to the north") and an unnamed religion: nowhere, not once in the fiction text, or in the theorectical text including a critical interpretation of the novel, did I actually name the religion that the characters followed. Obviously, the scenes were based on my experiences of the Episcopalian Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, and involved much use of incense and the effects of stained glass windows! However - and this is vital - there was no denomination mentioned. The examiner's criticism could, therefore, only be based on her subjective interpretation of the text.

Once I stopped reacting with my ego ("How dare she say that; this is a brilliant book!") and inner critic ("Oh No! I have less then zero talent! I'll never write again!") and started reacting with objective detachment, I realised the examiner's criticism was, in fact, an indication that to some degree I achieved what I set out to do. I'd deliberately chosen not to identify setting, time, place, religion and so on because I wanted each reader to impose their perceptions on the text and draw from the text exactly what most fit their personal experience. The examiner's criticism, as subjective as it was, actually proved to me that - in a small way - I had enough talent to meet some of my goals for the novel.

This realisation did two things;

1. It restored my faith in myself, my talent and my writing. If I could do it once, no matter how briefly or how flawed, I could, with practice and still more practice, improve my writing skills to the point of being able to produce a novel that will attract the right attention.

2. It assisted in helping me become even more detached. From being intimidated by the examiner's criticisms (she is, after all a multi-published author) I accepted that only I could be the ultimate judge of whether I am "unable to write a good novel" or if it's more a case of "this novel is not a good novel".

"Dreams are born in the heart, and it is only there they can die", some sage once said. By realising that, in my heart, I still believe in myself as a writer I was able to move past the criticism and begin to TAKE POSITIVE ACTION.

Monday, 17 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Five Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues Part 2

We are examining 5 Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues. The first way is to:

SEEK EMOTIONAL DETACHMENT

To be successful in any profession, but particularly in the creative arts, one needs to cultivate emotional detachment. Without the ability to step back and look at our own creations objectively there is a good chance that we will never improve. Even multi published authors - those who want to stay published, at any rate - have to work towards continuous improvement in their craft.

For an unpublished author, the need for emotional detachment is even more essential. It forces one to ask the impossible question: "What if....?" What if the critic is correct when she says the pace is slow? What if the agent has seen something in the book that my subjective attachment to the mansucript has blinded me to? What if the examiners' comments have a grain of truth in them?

It's only by having the courage to ask these questions that one can, as an author aspiring to be published, chip away at the tiny flaws which prevent a manuscript from standing out from the slush pile. To gain the necessary objectivity, what one must do when receiving another rejection slip is:

a. Do not take rejection personally. Of course, it is very personal when some stranger who has no idea of the blood, sweat and tears shed over your precious manuscript callously dismisses it with a simple "this is not suitable for our lists". No praise for all your effort. No indication that they think you're the next J K Rowling (even when you know you're the next publishing phenomenon just waiting to be discovered!). And no request to see the full manuscript.

But, truly, it's not personal. It's just busy professionals doing their job to the best of their ability. Yes, agents and editors and examiner's are also human and they may be making the mistake of the century by rejecting your manuscript. But, more likely, they have the necessary professional objectivity towards your work that you, as emotionally involved author, lack.

b. Once you've admitted that the rejection has some validity, you need make an objective assessment of the manuscript. Be neither too critical nor too generous in this exercise. If you're too critical, your inner critic will delight in freezing every future creative idea you have. If you're too generous, your ego will never allow you to admit to yourself that your work still needs improvement. To gain an objective view of your manuscript you need to fuse your inner critic (which can't see anything right in your work) with your ego (which can't see anything wrong in your work) and arrive at an assessment which recognises both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in the work. Then it's decision time!

c. Based on your objective assessment, you now need to make a detached decision on your goals for the manuscript. Let your head ask the questions: Is this manuscript worth re-writing? Do you still have the enthusiasm for it? Will re-writing and revisions(and I'm not just talking about minor copy editing revisions; I'm talking about structural changes to the novel: changing plot, character and settings) make the manuscript better or worse?

Sometimes the initial energy, the passion driving the manuscript, can be lost in the search for revision heaven. Forget what your emotions say. If your reason says that rewriting or revising the manuscript is not going to save it, perhaps it's time to look on it as a learning curve, pack it away (with gratitude for all the experience you've gained from it) and move on to the next book.

You'll know when you've managed to detach from your emotions and be objective about your work when you start to BELIEVE IN YOURSELF again. And this is the next vital step needed to overcome the rejection blues.

To be continued next week in "5 Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues" where we will examine the following:

1. Seek Emotional Detachment
2. Believe in Yourself
3. Take Positive Action
4. Write, Write, Write
5. Avoid Comparisons

Sunday, 16 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Five Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues Part 1

When last we met, my creativity was being kept under lock and key by rejection blues and the fear of being unable to find any more creative writing ideas. There are, I have discovered, FIVE KEYS to unlock that prison door and set the writing muse free:

1. Seek Emotional Detachment
2. Believe in Yourself
3. Take Positive Action

4. Write, Write, Write
5. Avoid Comparisons

Tomorrow I'll take a closer look at how to achieve emotional detachment from your writing.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Steering the Craft

Currently the creative works displayed are the result of exercises from the book "Steering the Craft" by Ursula K le Guin. For anyone wanting to learn the craft of writing, this book is as good a place to start as any. Includes good exercises, although they are time-consuming to complete. An excellent book for any writers group that wants to learn how to give constructive feedback to its members.

Monday, 10 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Rejection Blues

What is it about rejection that freezes the creative brain? Sylvia Plath says that the greatest enemy of creativity is self-doubt. She knew what she was talking about! In the wake of multiple rejections for my first mainstream novel, written as part of a Masters degree in English Studies (Creative Writing), I find myself deep in rejection blues.

Strangely, the rejections from literary agents and publishers (ranging from encouraging to friendly to polite to uninterested) have not affected me. It comes with the territory of wanting to be a published author in an industry that is notoriously difficult to break into. Multiple rejections from agents and publishers are simply an obstacle that one can overcome if one has determination and a willingness to work at perfecting one's craft until that transcendant moment when one matches the right manuscript with the right agent at the right time and - viola -Houston, we have a breakthrough!

What has frozen any burgeoning creative talent I may have was the ruthless exercise in subjective criticism and literary elitism reflected in the examiners' reports. Although I passed the Masters degree, there appears to have been no acknowledgement that not all aspiring authors need, or even want, to be literary geniuses. That not all authors are at the same point in their creative journey as, say, a J M Coetzee or a Margaret Atwood. What gives an examiner - who in this case stands as a critic - the right to judge what does or does not constitute “good literature”? Judgment, after all, is simply another word for personal taste and can only be subjective. This is something that literary agents and publishers have recognised; even the blandest of my rejection letters made some mention of the decision being one based on a personal opinion.

So where does that leave me?

Deep in the blues, I want to give up any attempt to write another novel because, right now, I find it virtually impossible to reach for even one creative idea, let alone enough to complete a full manuscript. The magic flow of words from brain to to pencil to paper has dried up. And so it'll be easy enough to give up. I have a hundred ready reasons, all of them valid. All of them ways to avoid the pain of remembering that, according to the examiner/critic "she does not have the talent to write a good novel". Then I read the encouraging words of some of the literary agents and of other readers. "You write well," said one agent, "but...". Could it be that it's more a case of only this novel being bad? Can I, dare I, wonder if the next novel I write will be better? But I find the grip of acerbic criticism has too strong a hold, and the words remain trapped inside. I am silent.

Can I unfreeze the many fears locking my joy of writing into a prison of self-doubt? How do I get over my rejection blues and do what I'm meant to be doing...letting my creativity flow through me as I write and write and write? Will the prison door, built by fear and sealed by critics, ever open again?

To be continued next week in "5 Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues" where we will examine the following:

1. Seek Emotional Detachment
2. Believe in Yourself
3. Take Positive Action
4. Write, Write, Write
5.
Avoid Comparisons