An old friend asked me the other day, “What is it that motivates you to keep following your dreams? Like writing?”
To which the basic response is embarrassment, though good embarrassment. Because part of the trick is that I don’t think I do.
In the interest of full disclosure, though, I spent some time thinking about what it is that keeps me going when I’d rather fold in on myself.
1. Make it about more than just yourself.
When I write just for myself, I don’t get more than a page done. If that. Because in my head it can stay perfect and unwritten, and also, because it’s easier to sit down and play Dragon Age for the umpteenth time than wrestle with the fictional problems of a homosexual nymphomaniac drug addict involved in the ritual murder of a well-known Scottish footballer. (Rest in peace, Chapman.)
But when I write because someone else has said they believe in me? Then it’s got to be done. Apocalypse Ink Productions put their pound of flesh on the scale long before I did, and the fact that they trusted me to come through made the first book easy … and the second book possible.
2. Come not to praise Caesar.
Look, I have a sweet life and good friends. I’m surrounded by lovely people. Half of them are incredibly, passionately, ferociously supportive.
The other half actually tell me when my fly is down.
I don’t know how it works for everyone else, but I need approval and support. Without it, I’d throw my hands up in the air and give myself over to the Cube. With that said, anyone who’s involved in dreams also needs to have someone tugging at their ankle, if for no better reason than to point out when the building inspector’s coming after their castle in the sky.
I write my first drafts for the dreamers. I make the dream come true for the realists. It’s their fierce voices, their challenges, that make the protean vision a reality. Listen to the ones who challenge you to rise up and do better, because while everyone who loves you believes in you, these are the ones who believe you’re stronger than you think.
3. If you always do what you’ve always done …
In line with the above, dissatisfaction with where I am gives me the pinch I need to sit down and work. It’s a hoary old truth, but if you don’t work on your dream, somebody else will pay you a reasonable wage to work on theirs.
And that is some bullshit, my friends.
Does that mean the dreamer always needs to stay hungry? Hell, no. That’s a masochist’s prayer.
The dreamer does need to consider what might make life better. What might make it finer. What could bring them into a better place.
So in short, to S and everyone reading this: Live for something bigger. Listen to the realists. Reject the pessimists.
That’s what it takes for me to keep following my dreams.
Your mileage may vary.
I talked a bit about using music as a way to clear your head the other day, which made me realize that music I currently listen to is a key part of my writing process. Not just because I need to tune out my wife’s television shows while I’m working, but because the words flow more easily when I’ve got a groove in my head.
So what was I listening to while writing FAMISHED: THE FARM?
Ambient music, mostly. No words, or words in a language I don’t understand. French seems to work well for some reason.
The Dusted Jazz albums from Jenova7 blend jazz and trip-hop in a delicious combination that lent themselves well to the few urban scenes in the novel, as well as a lot of the dialogue pieces.
For the scenes with the wendigo, wound, and other spirits of nature, Until We Meet the Sky by Solar Fields worked a shoegaze trance that put me into a different, driftier headspace. While the spirits I’m writing about are anything but unfocussed, it helped me disconnect a bit from my humanity in order to wrap a little alien into their features.
Into the Hinterland by the Secret Exploration Society and the soundtrack to the videogames Bastion and Minecraft both made good background tracks for places that needed better description or sharpening scenes.
And while I haven’t read or seen The Hunger Games, the fact that Sam Cushion actually wrote an orchestral fan-score for the book called Music of Panem: Beginning of a Rebellion tickled me so much that I kept it on repeat whenever I started wondering if my work was worth the effort. The thought that other creators might one day get something out of my creations kept me going through the rough spots.
Of course, different projects call for different music. My works of suburban horror tend to more modern or cool jazz such as Dave Brubeck, the Trio Vadim Fyodorov, or Nick Pride and the Pimptones; while my fantasy stories are almost always backed by either alternative world music from artists like Azam Ali or Irfan, or a shuffling of darkfolk and modern stoner metal such as The Sword of Doom or Witch.
What music fuels your passion and creativity?
As in, getting out of it.
Writers spend a lot of time alone in their minds, which can be translated as either a mystic dreamscape of endless possibilities and wonder, or as a windowless garret lit by a single candle rendered from rodent fat.
When it starts turning from the former to the latter, it is time to blow that popsicle stand for a while. Knowing what works for you is an individual thing that nobody can teach, but it’s crucial to your mental well-being to figure out how to air out your mind on a regular basis.
Personally, I’ve got four things that can always reset and refresh my mental energy.
- Music. Specifically, finding new music I haven’t ever heard before. Pandora, Bandcamp and Last.fm are incredible resources for exploring new sounds and finding new artists. Plus, you can generally multitask with this one, adding it into other means of clearing your head.
- Outdoors. I’m no woodsman or explorer, but I do love me some forests and parks. There are four in a reasonable radius from me, ranging from heavy pine thickets to wide-open prairie grassland. Nothing works for me as well as getting in the wind and letting it scour through my brainmeats.
- Exercise. I came late to this one – from adolecence through my early thirties I snubbed the idea of any physical effort, but once I got over the fear of the gym and the habit of a lifetime, I was hooked. Being able to get active and get the blood pumping helps both your body and your mind, whether it’s lifting kettleballs, running down the street, or doing yoga from a DVD.
- Cleaning. What? Yeah. Cleaning house helps me settle down in a very quiet way that also makes my living environment more pleasant. It doesn’t hurt that I notice the more cluttered my quarters are, the more cramped my brain tends to feel.
Those are the main methods I’ve got to bring myself around after my skull gets me stir crazy. I’d love to have more tools in the box, though – if you have a specific way that works well for you to stretch your mental muscles (or some new music you think I’ve got to hear), feel free to leave a comment.
January’s been an interesting month in a lot of ways. Pressures at work on a specific project have forced me to take a bit more downtime than I would normally allow myself – in fact, today I’ve done nothing more than prepare a steak for dinner, print a few posters, and write up these blog posts, a rare silence for a Sunday.
Still, work proceeds! I’m on Chapter Five of my first draft for FAMISHED: THE COMMONS, with a firm commitment to have it wrapped up before the end of February. I’ve finished edits on my short horror western story, JESUS IN A CASKET, and completed a heroic fantasy short called THE FATE OF DONDALO which I need to get in front of readers soon.
Along those same lines, I’ve officially joined the Horror Writer’s Association in 2013! An auspicious year for that, don’t you think?
I’ve been reading quite a bit, from the excellent YEAR’S BEST FANTASY AND HORROR to OWL DANCE and THE FEAST. In between I’m working down THE ORKNEYINGA SAGA, which tells the history of the Vikings in northern Scotland’s islands, and my writing group’s got three pieces up for review that have been a lot of fun.
I completed one commission in leatherwork and picked up another one, and in terms of cooking, we’ve found that the Le Creuset cookware I picked up for the holidays makes a killer loaf of bread – no kneading required! The meal of the month has to go to a Thai curried salmon that L whipped up, though.
We’ve seen more movies than usual this month, finally getting around to watching THE AVENGERS as well as a fun evening of SOLOMON KANE and JOHN CARTER. Not Oscar winners, mind, but a lot of fun on a cold winter evening. In games, I’ve finally been sucked into Minecraft in between missions of Assassins’ Creed III, and am looking forward to running a tabletop game of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World for my local friends.
That’s January in an eggshell. Hope all is well with you, and looking forward to the coming months!
Owl Dance is a thoroughly enjoyable steampunk western by David Lee Summers.
The heroes, Ramon Morales and Fatimah Kamiri, are no simple tropes. Morales is a short, bespectacled Mexican sherrif, while Fatimah is a Persian healer who has fled persecution in her homeland. It is wonderful to have characters removed from the usual chiseled lawman or drunken sawbones. Throughout the book, Summers introduces a wide and varied cast of characters.
I have to say that this wide-spread cast made the first few chapters felt a bit disjointed – less like a novel than a series of short stories which feature the same two protagonists - but as the book progresses, you can see the threads of the skein coming together in a very rewarding manner. By the end of the book, we’ve seen almost every character return to some level of prominence in a climactic battle for the Denver Mint involving pirates, Russians, ornithopters, bounty hunters, engineers, the US Army and Billy the Kid.
The central theme is one of patience and understanding – again, an unusual choice for a western, but one which gives the book real heart. None of the central characters are beyond redemption, instead looking to one another for a way to make a better life or, indeed, a better world. It was this heart that kept me reading, more than any other facet of the book. It may come across to cynics or self-proclaimed realists as less believable, but I felt its good-natured hope set it apart in an era where so many authors seem to exalt blood, savagery and darkness in their works.
The writing is occassionally a bit staccatto for my tastes. The sentences tend to be brief, pointing out individual facts, then moving to another, then another. I noticed this more near the end of the novel than the beginning, and at some points it did jar me out of the fantastic world. However, it’s a small quibble with an otherwise fine piece of work.
In short, Owl Dance is a truly fun read for any optimistic hearts who enjoy alternate histories. I recommend it!