Here’s to the Creators

Recently I had a fleeting thought about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), as I intermittently do for some reason. Let’s face it, November is not all that far away for those who might be inclined to participate this year. Myself? I won’t be grinding away at the keyboard again this November – with the exception of an occasional blog post of course. Although participating in NaNoWriMo is definitely something I highly recommend, I’ve opted out this year — with 2014 of course being the first time I had opted in.

Which brings me to the few thoughts I had which generated this post.

What about those who never opt out? I read, listen to, and follow many very talented people in this corner of the internet, and you will have already seen links to many of them grace these pages. People I like to think of as creators. People for whom “opting out” is not, well… an option. Those whose living — either in full or in part — is made through their creative work.

Here I am not talking about the overt success stories — the best-selling novelists; the rock stars; the internet sensations. For every one of those, there are a thousand others locked in the knock-down drag-out battle to not only create great work, but to somehow survive by that very means.

Those who sit in front of an empty page, screen, canvas or microphone and produce something great — or not — and if not, keep coming back until they do. Every day without fail, they show up and create. Pushing on, and approaching every day as though it will produce their best scene, verse, or sketch yet.

The faith, hope, and perhaps on some days — the desperation. Those who push through meaningless comparisons, second guessing, and maybe repeated rejections. Those who won’t be stifled. Those who flourish — perhaps in spite of it all. Even if you half-heartedly believe everyone has that killer story inside them somewhere, not everyone has the desire, nor the ability to tell it — and perhaps some who do will never try.

Now in this, my fourth NaNoWriMo inspired post reflecting on last November I ask: did I produce something great? Definitely not (believe me – I’ve read through it). However I did manage to produce — or should I say to create— something I thought I never would: a 55,000 word novel. Although I am now finding the revision and re-write that much harder, lets face it, I really don’t have much riding on it do I? Yet there are many who do.

So here’s to the creators out there.

Whatever you might be working on today (or in November) — keep working. On those tough days? Might I at least encourage you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and stand tall. If it looks a little dark and empty ahead? Just keep walking, and above all — blink last.


My previous thoughts on the NaNoWriMo experience:


The Great Unpublished

As I sat and began writing this post, I had set in my mind it was post number 199 on this very blog, and of course my mind began to wander into the realm of “better come up with something big for number 200”. Indeed, there are plenty of things I could write about for a milestone post. Milestones themselves would be a good one, perhaps where I have come from with my writing, or maybe where to next. All valid ideas, which might be of interest to those of you who stop by and read every now and then.

Of course my next step was a quick trip into my WordPress admin page to check on that, and of course, what do you know? This, friends, turns out to be the big 200th. The milestone post, the introspective reflection on posts gone by. The line in the sand drawn and stood behind with one hand on my hip, the other shading my eyes from the sun, as I look into the future and extol what the future holds for these pages.

As you can probably guess by now, this post is neither of those, save perhaps for a little bit of reflection.

Perhaps with better planning I might have reached 200 with a bit more of a bang. As I think about it, in actual fact, the number of posts actually written, is closer to around 220 – the number of those actually published is now 200. Why the difference? To be honest, there are a few things at play here.

True, a few of those posts which we’ll call “the great unpublished” simply were not up to scratch. I had either written myself into a corner, was so far off track in what I was trying to say, or even forgot my original point. The majority however, were pieces containing personal thoughts or feelings that I was not comfortable in publishing to the big wide world. Some I plan to revisit and perhaps tweak a little to allow them to pass through the too-personal-to-publish filter, however some will never make that journey.

As an intensely private person (at times to my own detriment), some of these posts might be viewed by others as — how can I put it — quite low on the personal scale, however we each have our own frame of reference and level of comfort, which is what makes us unique.

After completing one of the great unpublished posts, I am sometimes a little annoyed at myself given the time I put into some of them, which is, on balance, no more or less than some of the other posts which do make it up on the site. No, it is more so the thoughts around the apparent waste of time writing a piece with the express purpose of posting, which then goes unpublished.

Of course I fully understand the futility at being annoyed about not posting something which I chose to write about, and subsequently, I chose not to publish. Further, I am of the opinion that if I never write posts of this nature, I will: (a) never get better at writing them; (b) never get better at writing, period; and (c) most likely fail to draft certain posts which I would happily (and proudly) publish.

Being annoyed about writing and not posting, is in itself annoying to me as well you see. The main reasons I write here are for enjoyment, relaxation, and the rewarding aspect of learning more about the various topics of my posts. I must admit however, there are times when a lot of effort is required to partake in this relaxation. The many times I am up before dawn to put together drafts before work sometimes does not feel like relaxation, although it is this very effort which generates the most reward.

Where do the great unpublished posts then end up? Many places if I poke around looking for them. There are some in Day One or Evernote, others are archived in Dropbox, and a few remain lurking in a folder within Ulysses, hopefully to see the light of day in future for editing and revision — and publishing. If not? Well, that won’t be the end of the world either.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure whether I will really change as time passes. After this many posts I am perhaps set in my ways, however I’d like to think there is still some evolution to occur on these pages. Only time will tell I guess.

So to finish up, technically this is my 200th post, however you could argue I had reached this some time ago. Either way, the numbers are not why I sit and tap away day after day — and certainly if the page views were, I’d have given up long ago. Thankfully I have long since freed my mind from that burden.

What is then, might you ask?

As I mentioned earlier — I enjoy it, and it helps me learn. Two things which were apparent from post number one and remain as powerful as ever today. The unpublished posts? I enjoyed writing them and learned something about myself from creating them. The monumental 200th post? Now done and dusted, and as far as introspective reflection and bold predictions are concerned?

I am mostly proud of the posts I’ve written so far, and there will be more. To say anything further might be too, well… personal.


Why Did I Actually Stop Reading?

To accurately answer that question, it bears asking when and why I started in the first place. I suspect it might be the same as many — the high school english class novel. Of course here I refer to commencing reading the full-length novel, having bypassed the Bible and many shorter stories from primary school.

Perhaps the most appalling aspect of reminiscing about this is exactly how little I remember about these early novels — of which there must have been at least half a dozen throughout my secondary schooling. The one I do remember? Educating Rita by Willy Russell, subsequently the subject of a movie and many a theatre production — and not forgetting of course — the high school book review and analysis. Speaking of appalling — the reason I remember it? The sheer excitement at the prospect of one of my classmates or — heaven forbid — me, being able to read aloud in class the first Department of Education book we had come across containing a profanity, ironically so commonly used in the playground just outside the window.

I even remember who said it, and I’d also bet money I also distinctly remember he cleared his throat at the beginning of the sentence, and projected that word like he had not done before, and never did thereafter, in the playground or otherwise. Yes, the maturity of high school boys can be quite astounding at times.

The traveller’s read

Let us safely say then, the reading bug was not generated by my high school experiences, and again, perhaps I am not alone here. Coincidentally though, it was at this very time I was bitten by the reading bug, simply for very different reasons.

My secondary schooling was very much a time of great sporting endeavour and heroics, however very much at the expense of a certain amount of academic focus. Thankfully by my final year I managed to achieve a certain amount success in both. Ironically, it was the sporting side of my teenage life which triggered my discovery of reading for enjoyment rather than classroom necessity.

Whilst waiting in an airport departure lounge when 15 or 16 years of age, I noticed a book containing a collection of four stories titled The Bachman Books, which sounded like a decent read. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. I seemed to recall the (true) name of the author, and thought I would take a punt on it being a worthwhile way to pass the time.

What can I say? I loved it! I don’t believe I really wanted to get on the plane that day, and continued reading all the way to touching down once I did. So away I went, well on the way to a lifetime of reading enjoyment. Over the next couple of years, my bookshelf filled with an endless row of Stephen King novels, which also transformed many otherwise boring flights or bus trips.

Branching out

Upon leaving school to attend University, perhaps my thoughts turned from the supernatural and horror to (supposedly) more real life events, and it was at this time I came across two things – John Grisham’s The Firm, and a realisation that I seemed destined to pick an author, and fill my bookshelves predominantly with their work. I should also probably add here the slight obsessive in me had to have them all in new release hardback. How else was one’s bookshelf to look even?

Given The Firm was Grisham’s second novel, I immediately jumped back to his first, A Time to Kill, which remains one of my favourites to this day. As my collection grew with yearly Grisham releases, I also seemed drawn to international spy thrillers and other such conspiracies, before settling on the crime fiction genre through my late 20’s. Thus beginning a long run of Michael Connelly, which began in 1996 with The Poet.

I must add here one particular year (1998) also contained a run of Carl Hiaasen novels, which — anyone who has read them will understand — are great books to read if perhaps, you were working in a job for 12 months which wasn’t really your favourite place to be.

Cessation

Meaning no disrespect to any of the above authors, you may of course notice an absence of anything that would be classed as particularly literary. We all have our tastes, and those above and the many others I’ve not mentioned were immensely enjoyable nonetheless. So we now return to the question — why stop?

I have probably enjoyed reminiscing on what I have written above more so than coming up with an answer here. Further, I don’t really believe there is a single answer. It certainly wasn’t technology, however I cannot deny the impact my fairly digital lifestyle has had on reading in the past, say three or four years. Although as I note below, in more recent times the power of the internet has helped in bringing me back to reading.

Probably the biggest impact at the outset was a combination of very young children and some less than desirable working hours. Certainly no excuse, however clearly my priorities at the time lay elsewhere — and given their importance in the journey to where I am today, I would do the same again.

Looking back, what did surprise me the most I guess is the fact I essentially stopped reading completely (other than professionally), for about six to eight years in all. Now that I do find appalling, not only in losing something I found so enjoyable, but also in the knowledge my efforts to be a better writer rely heavily on being a better reader.

The answer then, was fairly easy to come by after all I suppose. Could I say life got in the way? Perhaps, however more accurately it would be a combination of life’s priorities and an error by omission on my part.

Return

Why the concerted effort now to read more again? There are many reasons: realisation of the benefit; seeing my children’s bookshelves slowly filling as they find their own tastes and styles; casting my mind back to something which brought great enjoyment yet has somehow fallen off my radar; and probably the most telling — the simple fact reading (or not) is something I have direct control over regardless of anything else which may be going on in my life.

In an interesting way, writing this blog, participating in NaNoWriMo in 2014, and an interest in podcasts have also contributed to a renewed effort to get back into reading. All in many ways powered by technology and social media.

The blog and NaNoWriMo seem fairly obvious — clearly the objective here is to read more and eventually write a little better as a result. The desire to create more — and with better quality — has fuelled the need to consume more.

The role of a podcast? A little more obscure perhaps, however after coming across Covered, by Harry Marks, a discussion about various books, often with their authors, my interest piqued even further. I can thank Covered for pointing me towards very enjoyable reads this year, in Consumed by Aaron Mahnke, and the superb Above All Men by Eric Shonkwiler.

Fortunately, I have also rediscovered the power of the essay, and if you’d like to do the same, you need look no further than Matt Gemmell’s Raw Materials. If what I have seen so far is any guide (site membership perks being what they are), Matt’s first full length work due for publication later this year will be another highlight.

In conclusion

Although a little disjointed and certainly not intended to be an exhaustive history of my reading to date, what appears above were the things which came to mind recently reflecting on the very question which is the title of this post.

The realisation I had drifted away from the reading I enjoyed immensely so many years ago, to a list dominated by professional journals and publications was a fairly disappointing one to say the least. Of course priorities change — and rightly so — out of necessity and the various stages we reach in our lives, both professionally and personally.

If by now you have already concluded that I of course had the time to continue reading, and I simply did not make the time to do so, you would be absolutely correct. To bring this piece towards a close, let’s go with one of the most overused clichés we can find — it’s never too late.

Although a walk in the park compared to those of you who power through a mountain of books each year, in January I set a target of reading 24 books for the year. As June rolls along, I have read nine. Will I make it? Perhaps not, however even reaching two-thirds of the target will be an improvement on the past year — or six.


I Applaud You – No Apology Necessary

From time to time I see posts written which outline how the author is taking a break, reducing the frequency of posts, or something similar.

The reason cited most often is a lack of time due to other commitments (be they other projects — yay; or the day job — boo). It could be just a general reordering of priorities, blog direction or topics, or simply new ideas. At times a significant life event might be just around the corner.

Sometimes there is an accompanying suggestion of a drop off in post quality — always by the author mind you — us readers are generally enjoying them as much as we ever have. Perhaps the notion of guilt is expressed because a regular posting schedule has been missed, or even a feeling of dread because self-imposed deadlines are looming.

That is no fun.

The very essence of a personal blog, whether named as such like this one, or named in connection with its primary topic such as those linked to below — is just that — its personal. That is, your personal “thing”. Your project, or hobby, or endeavour. Whatever you choose to call it, or how you approach it — yours it is, and yours to do with as you please.

I have read three such posts from sites I follow (and very much enjoy) in fairly quick succession on this general topic. There have been many others, and I link to these merely because they have been posted in the past couple of weeks:

Making Time For Fiction – Write Analog
Stay Tuned… – Johnny Anypen
On taking a step back… – All Things Stationery

This post is not so much about those above, more so my thoughts on what I, as a reader, am owed in terms of an explanation from the author of any site I chose to read.

I am very happy to read about upcoming plans, changes or new projects from those I enjoy reading, and found myself saying: “good for you” when reading each of the posts above. I say the same when reading posts describing how things are a little busy, or difficult, and the author is taking a break. I equally applaud and enjoy reading about the “why” of both.

Just one thing though — there is no way you ever need to apologise to me for making changes to your blog. The particular posts above have not done this, yet there are others that have.

Your blog is almost certainly a hobby. The thing that either excites you or helps you wind down (likely both). Something to take your mind off your day job. Perhaps it’s a portal to another world — one which you also frequent on Twitter, Instagram, Slack or any other means of interaction with the community of your fellow bloggers.

Of course my frame of reference here is the pen community, however I am sure the same applies to many others.

You’ll notice I’ve referred to hobbies, winding down, taking your mind off your day job. All positive. Things which bring us joy. Perhaps a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment (maybe a little fear) every time we hit publish. Contributing, sharing — caring even — about the community and what we may bring to it.

When the “positive” changes, or is harder to see or feel, you have every right to — and should — make changes. Set goals and plans, but feel free to change them. Suit yourself, not a “recommended” posting frequency, topic and length — prescribed for “maximum page views” (unless you want to of course).

If the frequency drops? Myself and other readers who enjoy your posts will still be here. When the next one hits our RSS or Twitter feed, inbox or web browser, our smile will be broader than ever. Because you’re still writing and we know writing brings you joy — perhaps as much as reading your words brings us. Personally, I’d rather read six posts a year than none at all, and I’m sure there are many readers who feel the same.

Who knows, perhaps after that break, the post you return with might be a cracker.

So, if you deem changes are preferable, or even necessary on your blog? Please make them, and by all means you may profusely apologise if you want to — it is just that in my humble opinion as a reader, I don’t believe you need to.


Generosity

Time, money, objects, advice — to name but a few. Generosity can be demonstrated in many forms.

You might usually find greater expression of it amongst friends and family. Between complete strangers? Perhaps less often, yet a little more likely where there are common interests.

What follows below continues to amaze me as I write and read through it, yet also reinforces to me there are some wonderful people out there, and I have been indeed lucky enough to recently become acquainted with one.

Initial contact

Readership of this blog has built slowly and steadily over the two years I’ve been writing here. I do receive feedback occasionally on what I write — not a lot — but enough. Some offer encouragement, others push me to think a little differently about what I have written, though it is always well-intentioned and respectful. I consider myself very lucky in this regard.

Earlier this year I received some kind words from a reader on a couple of my pen related posts. I of course responded with thanks as is usually the case. Thankfully, he also reached out via email, through the contact page of this blog.

What the email contained is something I’ll never forget.

A most generous offer

Earlier in the year I had concluded I would be satisfied with my current pen collection in the short-term — and convinced myself I wouldn’t be making any significant purchases (perhaps only a bottle of ink here or there) until the second half of the year.

Not long after, I received the email which contained an offer I must admit left me somewhat stunned upon my initial reading.

I know what you are thinking — the email contained an unbeatable deal and I broke my current and future planned budget restrictions all at once.

No. It was much more than that. Way more.

The writer of the email mentioned owning a number of pens, and considering himself a user rather than a collector — was looking to pass on some of the pens he no longer regularly used to someone who might use and appreciate them.

Somewhat more significantly for myself, he went on to say he enjoyed reading this blog and would like to do something to support that. Very kind words and encouragement which in themselves already more than made my day. Being offered these pens was… well — you can imagine how that felt.

I continued reading.

The list of pens here was nothing short of amazing — particularly to someone like myself looking to expand a fairly limited collection. An endeavour that was to date progressing — though fairly slowly. Remember we are talking about doubling my fountain pen collection overnight — with each of these pens worth more than any (bar one) I already owned.

Needless to say I was somewhat flabbergasted.

A few emails back and forth later — and I had provided an address for the pens to be sent.

Arrival

A little excited at this point.
A little excited at this point.

Needless to say, an exciting few days wait ensued before an express post package arrived at my desk in the office. Being the somewhat private person I am, waiting until people were off in meetings and such for a quiet time to open it was one of the hardest things I have done in recent times.

Again. Totally amazed.

Although through the previous email exchanges I had known what was coming — actually having them in my hand was unbelievable.

At no cost to me, I had just received: a Pelikan M400 (green; EF nib); Pelikan M215 (black and rhodium; M nib); Pelikan M205 (red; F nib); Lamy 2000 (F nib); Tombow Object (red; F nib); Platinum Multi-pen; and a selection of ink cartridges.

IMG_3170
In all their glory.

 

I think anyone familiar with pens will see the value in those above, and anyone who isn’t — well let us just say we are looking at a significant amount of money if I were to buy them.

What can I say?

Having received the pens in the middle of March, I have only now been able to sit and write some thoughts on this act of kindness, with the extent of my good fortune having finally sunk in.

To me, it goes way beyond the monetary value which can be calculated from the list above. The kind gentleman who made contact can certainly be assured the pens have been warmly welcomed into my collection, and no amount of thanks could ever be sufficient, though I will indeed give it my best shot.

He has made no money, has no blog, Twitter or Instagram account to link back to — and even if there were – I get the impression a link would be politely declined. Also, my query as to whether he wished to be mentioned by name, and to read this post before it went up — politely declined. To me, it is a very real reminder of the kind and generous people in the world (and within the pen community) that we may never see nor hear from. Or at least if we do, not often.

These are the people I write for.

As this piece of writing nears conclusion, something else has struck me you know. I mentioned time and advice in opening of this post. Two very valuable things I have also received far more of from this kind gentlemen than I’d ever hope to receive, and to that end, I look forward to each and every email.

As far as this generous gift I have received?

I can only hope that someday — if I am in a similar position – I would do the same, but it mightn’t be with any of these particular pens. No, these I’ll likely be keeping as reminder of the immeasurable kindness and generosity that still exists in the world.