Funny on purpose by accident

There’s a film called Planet Terror (well half a film really because it’s one half of Grindhouse). In it there’s a character called Cherry Darling played by Rose McGowan. She’s a go-go dancer who wants to be a stand up comedian, not because she thinks she’s funny but because guys find her hilarious when she’s being serious.

I’m funny deliberately, or at least I try to be, but sometimes I feel like her (only fat and old and with two crap legs instead of one good one and one machine gun prosthesis).

I try really hard to be funny but I know that there’s a lot of people in the world who are far better at it than I am. Both my younger brothers are funnier than me. I have a few friends whose Facebook posts are properly, laugh until you can’t breathe, funny. I know people who’ve done stand up. But still I try.

I try so hard to be funny because for me humour is a lifeline. A lot of the time I’m laughing to keep from crying. When I write about my life I try to make it funny because otherwise it would be unbearable. If I just whinged about how much my life sucked no-one would read it and writing it down would make me feel worse instead of better.

When I’m writing fiction I try to be funny because the writers whose work I most love – Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams and Warren Ellis – are all funny, though in very different ways. I want to be funny because that’s the writing that gives me the most joy to read.

But the thing about writing humour is that you can’t tell if it’s actually funny till other people read it. You can’t even tell if people can tell it’s meant to be funny till other people read it. Sometimes you can’t even tell then. It’s not telling a joke to an audience that will either laugh or not laugh. You write something and send it off out into the world and even if people like it you can’t tell if they find it funny unless they take the time to tell you and you can’t tell which bits they found funny.

Sometimes I’m writing humourously about stuff that is not funny. In my fiction, because most of what I write is some species of thriller, I find that I’m often writing about the worst day of someone’s life. Terrible things are happening and I’m writing gallows humour because that’s how I deal with terrible things but is it really funny? When I’m blogging about what it’s like to be in pain all the fucking time that is not funny but I’m kind of trying to make it funny so people will keep reading.

I’ve spent so long trying to be funny that sometimes the funny just kind of happens. Sometimes I’m not sure if I meant it or not. Sometimes it’s just how I talk, or how I write, or how I am. So is funny something I do or something I am? Or neither? When people laugh are they laughing at me or with me? Does it matter?

I shall stop now. I’ve tied myself up in enough knots.

Advice to a young writer part 1

This is based on some advice that I came up with to help my daughter. She loves telling stories and writes poems and fan fics but she’s having trouble finishing things. If there’s one thing I’m good it it’s helping people finish things.

Since her problem is with writing that’s what I’m going to focus on but hopefully this will be helpful for other arts.

There will be many more parts. Each one will set some homework.

You are not alone

The very features of the mind that make a person creative also make it harder to stick to just one thing. The very imagination that flits from place to place and links together disparate ideas and images is also as distractible as a puppy in a room full of squirrels.

All artists have trouble finishing things. All artists try to find methods to harness their imagination to the task. Some struggle with it their whole careers, some beat the problem so comprehensively that you would think they had never had to fight it at all.

Vincent Van Gogh was so prolific he could complete several paintings on a good day, but he sold only one in his lifetime and had to be supported by his brother. Leonardo Da Vinci was a chronic procrastinator who completed only 15 works but was supported by a series of wealthy and powerful patrons.

But they were painters. How about writers? The two greatest writers of humorous sci fi/fantasy of my lifetime were Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. At his most prolific Terry was completing two or more novels a year as well as countless short stories and articles. He was so successful he had to change banks because he filled the old one up. Douglas Adams wrote some of the greatest Doctor Who scripts ever, he wrote the groundbreaking radio drama Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he also wrote several novels and a book on natural history. He was such a chronic procrastinator that some of the episodes of the Hitchhiker’s where completed minutes before they had to be recorded. He once said, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” One of his novels took three and a half years to write, but most of the actual writing was done in the last two weeks, and most of that was done over a single weekend.

My point is that having trouble finishing your stories does not mean that you are not a writer. It means that you have the same problem that every other writer has. And because it’s a problem that every writer has there are loads of solutions to it. Unfortunately there’s no way of knowing in advance which one will work for you so it’s going to be trial and error.

Homework

Your first task is to research some solutions for yourself. Pick a couple of your favourite writers and do some googling. You’re looking for interviews, articles and blog posts that talk about how they work. For example if you google “Derek Landy on writing” you’ll find the writer of the Skulduggery Pleasant books giving his thoughts on writing and answering questions about his method.

 

The Annual October Panic Begins

In November I write a novel. Well, I write a first draft of a novel. I’ve done it every  November since 2004. It’s all because of NaNoWriMo.

If, for some reason, you don’t want to follow the link I shall explain. NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. It’s an annual event where writers get together to write a first draft of at least 50,000 words in 30 days. There are local groups. Meeting other writers is encouraged. It’s how I met a lot of my friends. It’s a lot of fun when it’s not driving us all crazy.

All this means that it is now time for the Annual October Panic. It’s a lot easier to write a novel in a month if you have some kind of plan. So I should be using this month for outlining. But I’m also trying to finish the current draft of a novel (the sexy super-spy one). And I don’t want to get too into the new novel because then I’ll be bored of it by the end of week one. But I do want to have most of the plot sorted before I start. But if I spend too much time on it I wont finish the spy novel.

This is all pretty normal for me in October. What’s new is that this year my NaNo novel will be young adult horror. And I feel completely unprepared. I’m not sure about writing YA. It’s been a while since I was a young adult and I don’t think my experience is going to be useful. I love horror but I haven’t written straight horror before. My plot requires subtle which is not a thing I do well.

So, my loyal readers, here’s where you can help. Do any of you have any tales of real life things that scared the living daylight out of you. They don’t have to be supernatural, just creepy or scary. Do you have any unusual fears that you’re willing to share? Any family superstitions that you’ve never heard of outside your family? Any advice on writing YA? Stick it in the comments, or you could tell me via Facebook or Twitter.

Missing the sweet spot

They do say that every writer, every successful artist of any kind, exists in the sweet spot where monstrous ego and crippling self-doubt overlap.

Which might explain why I am not a successful artist.  I keep missing that sweet spot.  I have my moments of ego but they never last long enough to get anything I’ve created out into the world.  I’ve got the crippling self-doubt thing nailed though.

This evening I’ve been pondering why I find it so easy to slip into thoughts of my own worthlessness.  It’s a comfortable pattern of thought for me.  Like a ratty old jumper that’s full of holes, ugly and a bit smelly but that you just keep slipping on whenever no-one else is looking.  It seems odd that I’d be so comfortable thinking of myself as worthless when I don’t think that way about anyone else.

When I look back at my life I’m not sure how I ended up thinking this way about myself.  Is this hard wired?  Is it a feature of my personality?  Did I teach myself to think this way or was it ingrained in me as I was growing up?

I know I’ve been depressed for a very long time.  I first recognized that there was something wrong when I was 4 or 5 years old.  I knew that I was sad far more than I should be.  I hated my body.  I’m not sure how old I was when I first realized that I hated my whole self but I’m sure it was before puberty.

I know I tried to be better. I know I prayed.  I prayed every night that I would wake up in the morning and be thin, and have straight teeth, and graceful hands, and not have such a potato face, and be whatever it was that people wanted me to be.

I was round about 13 years old when I first gave up on the idea of changing.  I realised that I could never change myself into someone that people liked.  I realised that I would never be good enough.

I had been dieting.  Well I thought it was a diet at the time.  I now realise that it was actually a bout of Anorexia. I had lost a lot of weight but people still treated me like shit.  I thought that must mean that I hadn’t lost enough weight so I kept dieting. I kept dieting after my Mum said I had reached target weight and bought me lots of new clothes.  I kept dieting after my new trousers started falling down and had to be held up with a belt.  I somehow convinced myself that they were falling down because the fat was pushing them down. I only stopped dieting when a middle aged man tried to chat me up at the local fair.  I was so horrified at the unwanted attention that I went straight to the cake stall and spent my pocket money there.

At the time I thought that it was  sign that the weight at which you got unwanted attention from men was above the weight at which people started treating you like an actual human being. I had no way of knowing how much more weight I’d have to loose to be a human being but I thought I’d probably have to put up with the unwanted attention even after I got there.  I’d already tried so hard for so long to become a human being and all I’d done was to stick an even bigger target on my back.  I was already being bullied by my family and my peers but by loosing weight I’d somehow added strange adult men to the list.

I thought about it for a long time.  I really wanted to be treated like an actual human being.  They way people treated me made me miserable.  But making myself acceptable to them seemed to be out of reach, or at least to come with unwanted side effects.  I decided that my only route to happiness was to train myself to stop expecting better treatment.  I thought that the thing that was making me miserable was the gap between how people treated me and how I thought I ought to be treated.  If I could just accept that this was how my life was meant to be then I would be ok.

I tried to lower my expectations.  I don’t recommend it as a tactic.  Life seems to take it as a challenge.  No matter how much you lower your expectations life can always undercut it.

I tried to believe that the names they called me were true.  I tried not to care when people hit me.  I tried to believe that I was so unimportant that the pain didn’t really matter.   I tried so hard not to react when I was shouted at or insulted or punished.  I tried to keep my head down.  I tried not to get angry when my father shouted at me for whatever reason he was shouting at me.  I tried not to care that my clothes were ugly and everyone seemed to hate me.  I thought if I could just believe that I was as worthless as everyone seemed to think then I’d stop caring how much it hurt.

It didn’t work. I think it was probably I bad idea. I think that what I did was to destroy my own defenses.  I think.  But what do I know?  I’m an idiot.  Maybe it did help.  After all the world seems to prefer that people on the loosing side shut up about how badly they’re treated.  Making a noise only brings attention to yourself and when you’re a looser the last thing you want is attention.

The real danger with thinking like that is it becomes a feed-back loop. It’s a hole you fall into and every iteration of “I am worthless and I deserve this” makes it harder to climb out. “I am worthless because everything I do fails” very quickly becomes “I am worthless because I do nothing” and every time you think that it becomes harder to do anything.  From there it’s a very short journey to thinking about how your life would be better without you in it.

And now I must stop because I am boring myself.  If anyone else is still reading I apologise for this self indulgent dross.  I agree that it’s really not good enough and I’m sorry that it’s not very entertaining.  Sometimes I just have to get this stuff out.