Writing Tips: How to Think Outside the Box

Some guidebooks to creative writing say that you should write what you know. I say throw that advice out with the bathwater.

For a start, it’s what you know that got you to where you are and think about it: are you happy? Chances are that you’re not. So why would you want to write about that sh…tuff? Trust me, you don’t. No one wants to know about the mole on your left temple. We all know about moles. We’ve read the papers. It’s either benign or it’s not. If it’s benign it’s boring. If it’s not, then chances are you’re in for a whole heap of pain and discomfort; and that’s looking on the bright side. So don’t go there.

So how do you get outside the box into stuff you don’t know about?

One option is to take some substance that will give your mind a temporary boost into other realms. Here’s the thing about this option, though: that stuff will fu…nch you up. My advice? DON’T DO IT.

The next best option is to borrow stuff. If you listen to people then you will find that they have lots of stuff happening in their lives. I have a friend at college who is seriously messed up in her head. She does not know whether she is flying up or sliding down most of the time. Some of the best writing I have ever done has been on the back of trying to figure out her neuroses. For example, in the middle of a class, she will suddenly come out with the strangest stuff. She’ll ask a question and then tell us, one by one, that the answers we give to her question are wrong. Then, when you ask her what her answer to her question is she will say that she has been misunderstood. Then she gives her answer, which turns out to be as wrong or right as any other answer that’s been given. Now, the trick is: not to castigate her for this, but to write about it. Make sure, though, that you change all the names, times, places and circumstances. Remember: crazy people will have no compunction about biting deep into your sweet and tender ass if you so much as breathe a word about their craziness in print.

The final option I have for you is to write about dangerous things* that could happen to you but haven’t. For example, picture yourself getting lost in a bad part of town in New York. There are lots of places like that so I’ll not be specific. Pretend you get mugged. Pretend that you fought off your muggers single-handedly. Pretend that you got a life-threatening illness as a result of a superficial machete gash as a result of your near miss in New York. Pretend that you have to fight for your life in the Intensive Care Unit in an unfamiliar hospital where no one speaks your language. Pretend that you discover that there’s nothing wrong with you but you’re being experimented on by aliens disguised as nurses in the hospital. Pretend that your only option, if you don’t want to be sliced up by the nurse aliens, is to jump outta the window. From the fifth floor! Pretend that you wake up in your bed and it’s all been a dream. None of these things has happened to me or anyone I know, but I can still write about them. And so can you!

So, yeah: those were three ways to step outside the box and write about what you see there.

Have fun, muchachos. ūüźł


*All the Dangerous Things

So many Essess in Assassin

I’m not a tree but I fell out of one when I was high once. Not this once, but another one where the bark was tough like trade and the bounce didn’t kick in until I was older by three days during which I was clean. Not by soap and water but by being broken up in hospital where they don’t allow you visitors if you’ve shot someone like what I did from the tree. Don’t worry, they didn’t die, but it must have stung for a good while and the recoil was what blew me down from the branches. There was a cat up there too but no fire brigade came to rescue it otherwise I would have had to hide further in the leaves that, by the way, were a wonderful shade of green. What else can you say about leaves. I mean, it’s not as if tea is ever described beautifully from its colour now is it? Trees, trees, trees in the jungle were not the source of my itchy eyes. They killed the aliens. The pollen knocked them for six and so they couldn’t appear in person on this show, so that’s that for them and as for me, I’m just going to carry on surfing on the waves of consciousness that come and go and never leave me, not like the friends that are never here when I’m chained to the bed, just because I shot someone from a tree after shooting up myself in self same place and after they let me out I’m going to write this and then I’m going to read it to you after drinking several cups of strong coffee that will make me talk and talk as if no-one else needs to say anything from now until the end of time. Oh, it’s the end of time? Well, why didn’t you say!

Michael (commentary)

I did some research into:

  • LSD trips,
  • reasons for becoming homeless &
  • the mind-set of homeless people

Then I inserted it into a story/narrative about a pre-existing character called Michael.

I added the research¬†information into the story by using an internal soliloquy. Effectively, we are watching Michael’s thoughts as he reflects on his past, present and (to some extent) his future. He thinks about his experience with drugs (which uses the information I gathered about LSD trips) and then he reflects on how he got to where he is now (using the second set of research).

His mind set is fully demonstrated to us throughout the piece (using the third set of research). In a sense, the story is his experience, and it is constructed from the research into people with similar life-events.

Setting is not so important in this piece because Michael is almost completely inside his own mind. That said, I describe his home at the time of his drug trips, as well as the drug trips themselves, using graphic imagery.

I find this approach to be¬†an effective way of¬†cutting down on ‘telling’ when inserting research findings in a story.


The research information was gained from articles sourced from the Gale Literary Source.

 


This is all connected to anything you see on this blog about Michael or Imago. Here are some links for you to investigate further (one of them leads to this post):

Michael (story)

homeless

This isn’t me on the picture. They sent reporters to get a story. Look at that poor girl – the way they’re bothering her. Not right. If they had come around me like that I’d have told them where to get off.

I’m here because I want to be here. I’m choosing not to be in the system. But it wasn’t always like that. I was young once. Can you believe it? I was handsome too – in a bohemian kind of a way. Quite the charmer I was too. But that was before the drugs.

I started off as a curious young man looking for a new experience. I’d tried booze and was sick of the headaches. I’d moved on to meditation, but it didn’t really hit my sweet spot. Not powerful enough. So what did that leave?

My friend at the time set me up. She got me a little piece of paper that she swore was the real deal. Acid. LSD. Trip-medicine.

I was living in a flat at the time. Grotty. You can picture it easily: wallpaper peeling off the walls from the damp. Black maps in the bathroom. Greasy smells in the kitchen. A bed that never seemed warm or dry. Home sweet home.

The sofa stinked of¬†curry and fags (all my¬†fault, m’lud)¬†and so I sat on the rug that¬†I got from the market to cover¬†the stain on the carpet that almost covered the concrete floor and never stopped the cold from rising up into my bones. Plenty of practice for the streets.

It was an alright trip. The pattern on the carpet grew around my legs like mad vegetation and the light from the lamp was like God’s own presence. The walls didn’t crowd in on me any more than normal and I had the feeling that the top of my head had opened like one of those metal tea-pots you get in M&S and that I’d poured myself out into the universe. All in all, pretty much what I expected.

It was nice. So I did it again. And again. And then all the money was gone. And then the lamp and the smelly sofa were gone. And then I ate the wallpaper. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it gave me terrible indigestion, which would have been funny if I had any drugs left or money to buy them with or stuff to sell to get money or a place to live.

The girl that sold me the drugs had a really bad trip a bit soon after. She couldn’t even tell me why, but I can still remember the way she screamed as if she was having her skin ripped off by blunt razor-blades. Perhaps that’s what she felt because she kept batting her hands against herself as if knocking off beetles.

When she threw herself through the upstairs window I¬†had the damndest feeling¬†she was going to fly to a somewhere better. And I guess she did. The Saint Someone-or-other Hospital. Cleaned her up, got her sorted. Never saw her again. Just heard that she’d finally used her degree to get a job as a social worker. She never socialled with us though. Never saw her on the streets. Never saw … ah, whatever.

I’ve been in this spot for more than twenty years. Since I was half what’s doubled.¬†Years of¬†life sitting and looking like I’m shivering my ass off. And yes, I feel it. And no, the shaking doesn’t stop when I get warm. Which is rare.

The drugs did something to me. The top of my head fixed itself back on with iron bolts like those on Frankenstein’s monster¬†and the walls closed in even tighter. Even after I sold it, the carpet pattern¬†jungle grew so wild that it reached right up into my brain and poked all the neurons and synapses to death.¬†All the¬†lights¬†were put¬†out¬†in chez-Michael.

I could feel them go out in big, spattering ruins on those nights when I lay in the latest hostel they got me in. I couldn’t sleep because if I did, someone would wake me again. Couldn’t stand the way I shrieked like a little girl they told me. I asked them why little girls would be shrieking, but that just made them madder and they generally threw me out soon after. Still,¬†not a complete bust. I stole money from them. You learn some skills on the street. Not proud of that.¬†It is¬†what it is.

Twenty years is a¬†short time for penance. I’ve known some saints who’ve put in¬†more of a shift. They come to talk to me. The saints, that is. Some of them are nice and some look like the devil himself. Sometimes I can’t tell them from the punters. The ones that flip a coin at me and go off feeling all warm and loving are the easy ones. The hardest is when someone stops to have a chat and ask me how I am.

I used to tell them, but I got harder to reach after the first few years.¬†I got further away from myself and I couldn’t force¬†my brain to¬†find the words anymore. They took it well. Would still stop and talk, but wouldn’t ask so much when they saw where I was. Inside, that is. I’d look at them and that seemed to be all they wanted. To be seen.

I have this theory that people just want to be loved. So I love them, just like the saints love me. Pass it on. Pass it on. Penance. Got to go now. Strain being here. More of a nothing. The church says back to the wall she. Listen. La. Do you know? Do you?

I. Me. Look at you.

Girl.

Always beautiful. Glissade.

She touched me in a …¬†in a muddle. In the middle. Oh. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I never meant


Featuring the same character:

 


This is all connected to anything you see on this blog about Michael or Imago. Here are some links for you to investigate further (one of them leads to this post):

How to Not be Bored in a Library

The astute among you (everybody reading this) will notice that libraries are like a good many other places:

  • Aunt Joanne’s 90th birthday party after she gave up drinking
  • Sainsbury’s at four am in your pyjamas after a sleepless night
  • Your house when the kids have gone out and the library’s shut.

This means that reading this might be useful to you in all kinds of situations other than that which is in the title of the article and so you can keep on reading even if you never intend to visit a library ever.

Okay, obviously you can write stuff down in a library. If you like you can pretend I’m there now and that I’m writing these words. Pen and paper will do, or you can use your phone if you don’t have fingers like thick sausages, or you can even use the computers in the library, but only for two hours per day with a library card unless, like I’ve watched the homeless people do, you take the next card from the rubber band holding together a dozen of those wee beasties, in which case – you can go at it all day and night. Except that you can’t, because the library shuts somewhere between five and eight depending on where you are, and then you’re on the streets, in the cold, wondering why that person is watching you and what they’re writing about with their pen and paper.

The other cool thing you can do in a library is to listen to the babies screaming over in the children’s section in the corner. If you’re feeling particularly brave you can go over there and make helpful comments to the mothers, like perhaps his nappy needs changing, or slap her on her back and she’ll burp and maybe barf down your back. Do not just sit and watch children crying; this will get you into the kind of trouble you don’t want. The staid among you might just want to sit where you are and wish that the child will stop crying. If you’ve ever read a book about meditation, you can pretend that you’re sending vibes into the air that will connect the child with moksha or nirvana or some such peaceful place so that they will be quiet. Then, when they pause for breath between screams, you can tell yourself that it’s working and that the meditation book was worth every penny of the fifty pence you paid for it at the charity shop.

People-watching is another popular activity in libraries. A constant stream of people come in and out of such places to escape from the biting cold and sit for a minute or two wondering how they’re going to stand the boredom for much longer without joining the children in a good old screaming match. There are many types of people to see:

  • Fake homeless people who use the library as a kind of warm(ish) office to connect quietly with their clients in order to sell them drugs
  • Real homeless people who have collected enough money from their sponsors to be able to afford a few minutes out of the biting cold
  • Mommies who are sick and tired of sitting at home with their screaming toddlers and so venture out in order to share their boons with others
  • Geeks on a break who have walked there to sit and play with their phones whilst trying not to think about going back to work
  • Business people who can’t afford an office and can’t stay at home for a moment longer because the damp is bothering them and they have no internet connection there anyway and so can’t do any work
  • There are other people worth watching too, but these are the most interesting ones.

There are lots of other things you can do in the library too, but these are the best ones.

And if all else fails – you can always read a book.

About Toothpaste and Teeth

Okay, I’ll warn you up-front – there’s nothing worth reading here.

No mind-expanding, drug-fuelled tales of life on the open road featuring wild sex with willing (and inexpressibly beautiful (not to mention juicy)) partners.

Nope, there’s nothing like that.

Nor are there tales of derring-do in the stock-market where men in expensive suits wage war against the forces of corrupt government officials and mafia bosses with too much time on their scarred, but still strong, hands.

You won’t even find … gah, enough of all these don’ts – this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to describe how I brush my teeth.

  1. I collect myself a book. At the moment it’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne, which is a wonderful book if you like digressions (which I do (mostly)).
  2. I open the toothpaste. I’ve, of course, skipped¬†the walk to the bathroom, the putting down of the book and the picking up of the toothpaste tube, because that would be just too droll. But I will tell you that I don’t tighten the cap on the tube because it makes it that much easier to take off when I next come to it. However, do remind me to tighten it when I take the tube on holiday (as opposed to taking my wife (or, more often, my wife taking me (on holiday, that is. Do behave!))) because otherwise I will inevitably (and (initially) inexplicably) find a white worm nestled in my overnight kit!
  3. I pick up the overly interesting (because it has a rubber piece in-between the bristles (what for, I can not imagine (unless for making my teeth feel decidedly perverse))) toothbrush.
  4. I squeeze a pea sized (albeit tiny (albino) slug shaped) portion of toothpaste onto my brush.
  5. I pick up my book in my left hand and (having completed the (very important) additional step of inserting the business end of the toothbrush into my mouth) commence brushing. The book is there (in part) to time myself. My wife has an electronic brush that starts, pauses, starts again and then stops to tell here when to brush, change sides and brush again, but I have a book. Generally, I read at the rate of a page a minute so this this means that when I have reached the end of the second page, I know when to stop. Except that the book I’m reading now was written some three hundred years (or so) ago and has many (as I alluded to before) diversions and digressions (not to mention a glossary of difficult words in the back (necessitating the use of two bookmarks (or should I say, to be more exact) two pieces of folded paper from the library (the kind they write your name on and¬†rubber-band to¬†the book before inserting it (the book) on the to-collect shelf to let you know the this is the book you came to collect)) all of which almost always ensures that the foamy nature of my current¬†toothpaste (Sensodyne Gentle Whitening Fluoride Toothpaste 75ml) has (more than enough) time to leak out of my mouth and down my arm (the one holding the brush) making the next (but one two)¬†two steps wholly necessary.
  6. I brush my tongue. Don’t make me explain this.
  7. I spit the remaining foam into the sink with a satisfying floosh.
  8. I rinse the foamy toothpaste from my face (and mouth). Yeah, I know – don’t even bother telling me about the similarity to¬†rabies-ridden creatures.
  9. I rinse the foamy toothpaste from my forearm. As an aside (and a minor point of pride) the foamy mess has never reached down as far as my elbow. Small things Рyes, I know; welcome to my life.
  10. I rinse the whole mess down the sink and pop the toothbrush back in the glass hanging on the wall by the side of the bathroom cabinet that is set too low on the wall (and yes, I’d complain to whoever installed it, but (as you might have already guessed) it was me). Job done.

And if you managed to reach thus far Рwell done. Now go and do something more useful, like ironing the bed sheets.

Do make sure that you’re not in the bed before you do so.

Intertwined

I was thinking about music and how it’s bound up with emotion and people.

I read somewhere that music is keyed into our hormones. This means that we remember and love the music that we hear at the times of our lives when we have a lot of hormones surging through our bodies.

Neuroscience researcher¬†Dr. Valorie Niloufar Salimpoor (great name, huh!) says that we love¬†music¬†because listening to it releases dopamine –¬†the same brain chemical associated with food, drugs, and sex. Sounds about right to me.

Your average teenager has loads of surging hormones and listens to lots of music.

I reckon that’s¬†why, when we¬†‘grow up’, we¬†like to listen to music that we¬†heard as teenagers and why any other music just doesn’t hit the spot. It kind of seems to us that they don’t make good songs anymore – even though, actually, that’s incorrect.

And that set me off thinking about things that never were and never will be.

Those songs I listened to, when I was of a certain age, have become intertwined with people and emotions. There’s an album mixed up with my first girlfriend, one mixed up with my breakup with another girl, one that’s mixed up with this girl that lived downstairs from me … and it goes on.

It’s a mixed up, messed up, co-dependant world¬†I¬†live in.

But what do you reckon – did good music really die as soon as¬†you left your teen years behind? And if you haven’t exited that time yet – are you sure that this is the most important time in the whole of musical history?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address …