Monthly Archives: June 2013

Don’t You Forget About Me

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Have you ever noticed there is no such thing as a creative writing course which teaches how to write something memorable?

Okay, I admit it – I’ve never taken a creative writing course in my life. However, I have read lots of articles and essays on writing, and story structures, and none of those things ever mention anything about writing something notable. Seems kind of strange, doesn’t it? I mean, considering that “memorable” is probably the single most important trait any story can have. After all, even if you write the most powerful and wonderful and life-affirming novel anyone can imagine, your message is useless if people forget about it, 5 minutes after they read it. Right?

“Memorable” is the defining trait that makes the creation of beauty all worthwhile.

People teach plot and character development and three-act-structures and action and dialog and grammar and formatting but no one ever offers to educate people on how to make a lasting impression. No one ever teaches you how to write something enduring.

For instance, I read a punkrock autobiography recently. It’s an enjoyable story. An easy read. Not too long. Nice pace. I never got bored with it. I finished it in a single sitting. Maybe two. But if you ask me to give you a summary of what happens in the story, I can’t do it. The author wrote a good book. He didn’t write a memorable book.

The more I thought about this, the more unsettling it became. We expect crappy stories to be forgotten. They should fall flat. Lame characters. Boring action. Stupid storylines. Sure, that stuff, we know will be forgotten. But what about a genuinely enjoyable story? When you like the characters, and enjoy the plot, and you still can’t remember a damn thing about it, what then? Did the author fail? He did everything right. He followed all the rules of what it means to be a “good writer”, but what was the missing element? Why was the tale so easily wiped from my memory?

That ephemeral quality of being something that sticks with the reader is something we can’t learn how to do. The charm either manifests, or it doesn’t. Not much we can do to assure the pages conjure it.

That is one of my biggest fears with writing. Most authors are afraid to be unsuccessful. They worry no one will like their work. I don’t worry about that. I’m very confident in my writing. I know I’m good. I don’t think I’m one of the all-time-greats, but I am confident what I do is up to snuff and par. People who read my work will enjoy it. I’m very sure of myself in that regard. But is it classic? That is an elusive trait one can’t engineer or construct. How can you assure a noteworthy reading experience? There are no writing courses which teach authors to be remembered. There are no advice books explaining how to create works which are unforgettable and stand the test of time. Every author who has ever lived hopes to achieve that long-term-relevance, and no author who has ever lived, even those who have achieved such indelible notoriety, could tell you how they did it.

There’s no formula. No blueprint. No guideline.

Or is there?

Perhaps the great secret is that being the creator of indelible art follows a pattern after all. Maybe those who consistently write memorable works, know the trick, and they’re keeping it very quiet. And maybe, just maybe, a reader who is observant enough, can spot the alchemy, reconjure the magic, and learn the one thing no master ever teaches. Learn the only thing that matters. Learn to be, not merely “the voice of a generation”, but to become the embodiment of the human condition.

How will you be remembered?

The Dreamery Company

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People who are not remotely creative or artistic often ask where creative folks “get their ideas” for what they create. Where do writers get ideas for stories? Where to illustrators get ideas for paintings? Where do musicians get ideas for songs?

As I said, the only people who ever ask this same old question are people who are not remotely creative. To them, the notion of conjuring novels and paintings and music out of thin air is unimaginable. Surely, some great mythic forces must be at work here! WHERE DO YOU GET THESE CRAZY IDEAS!? WE MUST KNOW!

What they don’t know is, “ideas” are the easiest part of all.

For people who are born with an innate creative streak – well, let me rephrase that – everyone is born with it. For people who maintain the innate creative streak they had since childhood, the “idea” is not the hard part. When a person has an active imagination, coming up with ideas is easy. Ideas are simple. Ideas are a constant flow. They never cease. They never dwindle. They never subside. Ideas are haunting you morning, noon and night, day in and day out, waking you from slumber to sketch it down on a notepad, interrupting you while you are stuck in traffic, making you space-out during conversations on dinner dates. Ideas are neverending. Getting the ideas isn’t hard at all.

The hard part is making sense of them. The hard part is constructing a useful bit of art around that idea.

For example, back when I began to write my Vampire Noctuaries books in 1993, I hit upon the idea of mixing Celtic faerie myths with vampires. That type of story is commonplace in 2013. Back 20 years ago, in 1993, it was unheard of. No one was doing anything like it. It was a great idea. It was a cool idea. It was an evocative idea. But that’s all it was – an idea. In and of itself, it’s not a story. Simply getting the idea “Hey, what if someone wrote a vampire story where the vampires are dark faeries?” doesn’t give you anything. You still have no plot. No characters. No nothing. You just have a concept, maybe an emotion, and a few neat images might pop in your head.

Ideas? Ideas are the easy part.

Where do you get your ideas?

Who cares?

The ideas are the most minuscule part of the creative process. The real muscle of the artwork stems from those with the craft and skill to develop those ideas, connect them to other ideas, and construct something tangible from the ether. Ideas are like the cement and the lumber and the steel to build a home. Yes, they are vital and essential. You can’t build the home without those raw materials. But simply acquiring raw materials isn’t the impressive feat. The impressive part is having the craftsmanship to assemble those materials into something livable; when you know how to put the parts together and actually engineer them into a physical construct. Otherwise, you’re just left with a pile of grandiose building materials.

Ideas are the same thing as raw building materials.

Those who understand and appreciate the architectural construction process would never ask, “How do you get those raw materials?”

Those who understand are more apt to say, “How do you draw up your blueprints?”

Every creative person approaches the blueprints differently. The blueprints are the trick. They are the key. It’s not the ideas. It’s not the raw materials. It’s the creativity behind how to put those materials together.

Where do you get your ideas?

It doesn’t matter.

How did you put these ideas together? The answer to that question is what truly provides insight into creativity.