Tag Archives: writing

Do our writing habits define what we write?


While catching up with a fellow blogger today (Holistic Wayfarer), I started to complain about my general ongoing lack of inspiration to write anything currently, when my mind went off on a weird tangent, as it is frequently wont to do.

I then posted some silly remark about my sitting in Ernest Hemingway’s favorite writing chair. Immediately after which I dimly recalled once reading how Hemingway always wrote standing up. See here for the article http://www.openculture.com/2013/10/ernest-hemingway-standing-desk.html

Old grumpy-pants Ernie is not alone in this, evidently. Dickens, Churchill, Nabokov and Virginia Woolf also held to an anti-sendentary stance regarding the how-to’s of writing.

Which got me to thinking about the physical act of writing and how it affects the content of what we write. For instance, I grew up knowing quite a famous writer, who was a family friend of my parents. And he too wrote standing up, perching his typewriter atop of an old lectern.

I always felt as a child that this family friend looked like he was giving a lecture when he wrote. Or that he was preaching perhaps.

As for myself, I am currently writing this with my thumb on an iPhone. While sitting stretched out on a couch; a cool breeze licking around my heels, as it eddies in through the open patio doors. (See photo at top — borrowed from another article on famous writers’ weird habits). Hence my overly casual style maybe?

But what about you? What is your preferred method of getting words onto the page? Do you need absolute quiet, or does the erratic tinkle of a wind chime get your muse online? Is alcohol mandatory or verboten? Incense, candles or a strong cup of coffee — what of them? Don’t be shy about it, plenty of people write in bed or the bath or even the buff, allegedly?! And what if they do, does it change what they produce?

Let me know what you think…

this is a poem

this is a poem
not a test
believe me
you can’t fail
there is
no quiz
at the end
no subtext or
hidden meaning
to wrestle with
just this gift
of words
we share
between us

The Golden Art

Original artwork by Lorem Ipsum 2014

Original artwork by Lorem Ipsum 2014

I can’t exactly confess to having been afflicted with writer’s block this past year. For instead it’s truer to say I had totally given up on being a writer altogether.

Ironically, however, the circumstances leading to my complete abandonment of my craft, I believe, make for an interesting enough story, on reflection.

After having seen my debut novel sink beneath the waves of global public indifference, it was suggested to me I seek guidance in the form of mentoring from an already established writer.

And as an example of the adage “careful what you wish for”, through a series of seemingly synchronistic events, I soon managed to make contact with one of this country’s more celebrated and awarded writers.

What thrilled me most of all was the fact that this writer in question also claims to have been largely inspired to write by the very same 17th century alchemist I myself have been. Too mind-blowingly cool!

Anyway, now the story gets a little bit more complicated. Because my first real contact with this writer is actually with his wife. An amazing experience in itself. For, literally two or three days earlier, I had quite by chance read the book of poems written for her by her future husband to be, with which he had first wooed her. And now here was this great writer’s muse standing before me — in the hallowed recesses of his writing studio no less — sharing intimate details of the intervening 40 years of their married lives together.

“I think he really is happy at last,” she confessed to me, “now that he has decided to stop writing.”

It was the usual story. There’s no money in it anymore, the dumbing down of the reading public, the all-pervasive curse of political correctness. This is a man after all that can recite whole cantos of classical poems in their original Latin, from memory. I mean, I feel stupid even thinking of myself as a writer worthy of the name in comparison.

So I listen to how this great luminary has finally decided to call it quits and feel all conviction drain from my body. Still, I leave my details with his wife and arrange for a time when it would be convenient for me to make contact with the man I wished to be my writing mentor.

Soon afterwards, I do in fact next have a telephone conversation with the man himself. Although the problem is that I can’t seem to clarify whether he thinks he is going to mentor me as an apprentice alchemist or as a failed novelist. Argggh, it’s all so hopeless! I don’t know what the hell’s going on.

“Look, it’s very hard to talk about these things abstractly,” he says, “but I’ve got a book of essays coming out next month that explains everything. Give me your address and I’ll send you a copy. Read that, and then we can start from there.”

Fine. I’m totally confused. Not least because his wife has just told me he has quit writing, and yet now I’m informed he apparently has a new collection of essays coming out. Also, I don’t know if I’m ready to start an apprenticeship as a real-life alchemist any time soon.

A month passes. Nothing. No book of essays comes my way. Just as I suspected. The whole thing was an elaborate lie to brush me off. Okay, so this writer is no JD Salinger when it comes to reclusive writer types, but he’s not exactly the kind to hold literary soirées either. All right fine. I give up, I think to myself. Being a writer simply isn’t worth it. What’s more, I’ve made a complete golden ass of myself with this whole mentoring debacle already.

Two months pass. Three, four, five. Still nada. I turn my attention to honing my guitar playing skills, swearing to never write another stinking word. Alchemy is for the birds. What delusional world had I been living in? Synchronicity? Oh, brother!

Seven, eight, nine months go by. I haven’t written a single poem, stanza or word. But my guitar playing is off the chart. Woo-hoo, couldn’t be happier.

Ten, eleven, twelve months have now past, when I pull up in the driveway and see an envelope sticking out of the letterbox. I grab the oversized piece of post and open it distractedly in the front seat of the car.

Oh, shit. It’s the book of essays, but I can’t remember their significance. I’m finally happy being just another second-rate guitarist rocking the suburbs. Man, I’ve given up. Like really given up. What the fuck. I feel like someone has just dragged the needle back across the record of my life, and that the back-masked message I’m now hearing threatens to implode the very reality of my new simple, dumbed-down choice of existence.

“Read that, and then we can start from there,” my would-be mentor had told me almost exactly a year ago.

Start what? I can’t remember what it was I wanted so badly. Let me go back to my Wild Turkey and amplified heat haze. Fuck this, I was happy. I was happy for having quit.

I crack open the cover of the book, searching for answers. But it only gets worse. My mentor has handwritten notes to me in the margins of his own book. His tone is jovial and self-deprecating; his handwriting impeccably informal.

Don’t make me go back to being my old self, I beg the Fates. It’s too hard to contemplate. I’m a fraud. A master alchemist will see right through me. I’ve forgotten how to turn words into a golden phrase. I have fallen out of love with all language and it with me.

But still I hold this invitation in my hands.

oh, my, is that the time?


oh, my, is that the time?

save a seat for me at the mad hatter’s table
no, please, don’t say there isn’t any room!
’cause although i might be running late
i carry in my haste a special boon
the answer, you see, is killing me
as to why a raven is like a writing desk
i shan’t delay, i must confess for
unless this answer’s shared i cannot rest…
so, well, ahem, they are alike as ailke [sic] can be
from their being devourers of dead certainties
(those secret desires of which we dare not think)
as well as suggesting the color of spilled, black ink

“An ugly child belongs to its parents, whereas a beautiful child belongs to the world” — unknown.

I heard an interesting quote the other day that was told to me by an extremely inebriated, anonymous reveller, and it has stuck with me ever since.

Here it is: “An ugly child belongs to its parents, whereas a beautiful child belongs to the world.”

I suppose, in some ways, I can see how this quote is sort of akin to the well-known saying that states, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan”.

Whatever. What’s more intriguing to me is that I’ve since been surprised to find that I can’t seem to locate this first quote anywhere else on the web. (NB Please let me know if you know its source.)

As an artist I often feel about what I create as though it were my own offspring. And hence I can relate to the above quote not as an actual parent of a child, but instead as a writer. Sometimes I worry (like I’m sure all writers do at some point) that my literary offspring appear ugly to others. No matter, I tell myself stoically, it’s just a case of the ugly duckling syndrome…

So, until such time as all of my various ink-children should find similar birds of a feather to soar with, I have turned my attention to crafting the next big Internet meme instead (I wish!). 😛

An ugly child

The Blog that Broke the Camel’s Back

The other day I had an exchange with another blogger here on WordPress, during which he told me that there are some 600 million blogs in the world.

Later on, I read a recent survey that put the total number of blogs at WordPress alone at close to 74 million. FYI Tumblr hosts over 100 million blogs, as well.

It’s mind-boggling, really. Or should that be mind-blogging? Boggling and blogging are, after all, anagrams of each other, aren’t they?

Anyway, whether the initial figure of 600 million blogs is accurate or not, I did some rough calculations about how long it would take to visit every single blog in existence. As part of this equation I allowed 10 seconds per blog view and the number I got was 190 years.

In fact, to be honest, I actually got 19 years, but now I’ve re-done the sums I think the answer should have been 190 years. If it is actually the latter, then this would be proof enough it’s in no way humanly possible to see every other blog in the blogosphere.

Who cares? I hear you cry out in despair at my lack of a discernible point.

To which I reply, all right already! Be patient! For here is my point. Are you ready? OK. Let me ask you this, how is it out of the literally hundreds of millions of other blogs (that are just blogging around out there) you ended up here, reading this?

Think about it…Life’s short, and it would take you somewhere between 19 and 190 years (trust me, math is not my strongest suit) to visit every blog in existence. And yet here you are reading this.

Is it fate or kismet or synchronicity, perhaps? Pure chance, maybe? What is it that makes us visit and follow the blogs that we do? I’m sure, most of us would like to think we exercise the power of choice in such matters. But I’m not so sure.

My primary criteria in selecting blogs to follow is a perceived sense of like-mindedness. That and curiosity. By which I mean, if a blog diverts me from my habitual preoccupations, in some interesting or unexpected way, for long enough, I might also give it a go.

Whatever. What I’m really trying to get around to saying is that what we’re seeing with this whole blogging phenomenon is actually the next evolution in writing. For in many ways we are currently witnessing the end of the novel and other more traditional forms of the written word.

And so, ultimately, I believe, the next big shift in writing will be towards a more collective approach. And that’s exactly what I would argue is taking place right now within blog-writing communities more generally. People are aligning with each other and forming small collectives, whereby they can freely exchange comments and feedback, almost immediately after a piece of written work is posted.

In the past a new idea would find expression through the writing of a single individual, be it the societally critical insights of a Charles Dickens’ novel or even the evilly distorted vision of something like Mein Kampf, for that matter.

But is it possible that maybe humanity is now moving towards a point where new ideas will find their expression through the kind of “writing collectives” that blog-writing communities naturally engender?

So put another way, are we really choosing the blogs we follow? Or is there a larger purpose bringing us all together? Because, sure, while it might prove to be an extremely long and gradual process, it’s entirely possible there are certain yet to be formalized ideas actively seeking new modes of expression through our various collective on-line groupings. Just what those ideas might be is only limited by the extent of our imaginations.

It’s either that, I guess. Or that instead of 600 million blogs, there’ll soon be 6 billion and not a single one of them will be read by another individual because we’ll all be too busy blogging ourselves into oblivion.

Makes you think, though, doesn’t it? 600 million blogs…

Trust Me, There’s Absolutely Nothing Ho-Hum About Being a Factotum!

On those few occasions when I have introduced myself as a writer to other people, one of the questions that has consistently been asked of me is whether I have a favorite word.

This, of course, isn’t the first question that people ask, obviously. That question would be “have you written anything I might actually have heard of or, better yet, perhaps read?” and it is usually delivered with a piggish snort of disbelief. Bitter? Not a jot…

Anyway, as to my favorite word, well, it’s currently factotum. Please note, though, this choice of word is subject to change, randomly and seemingly without warning on any given day. But for today, at least, it stands true.

The word roughly means a jack of all trades. And it also happens to be the title of a Charles Bukowski novel, evidently. I say evidently, because I haven’t read the book itself; although I have seen the film of the same name, starring Matt Dillon in the title role.

Ok, good. So, I first came across the word factotum, when I watched said film. It’s strange, because I would typically call myself a Bukowski fan, but I had never heard of this particular novel before. Largely, I suppose, I have tended to concentrate on Bukowski’s poetry. That’s my excuse anyway. However, I digress.

I guess why I like the word factotum, then, is because it seems to me to perfectly describe the lot of us writer types. Each of us needs to be a Jack or Jill of all trades, in order to do what we do.

In the film already mentioned, this concept is portrayed in a very literal sense, as Matt Dillon’s character drifts from one dead-end job to another. Essentially a semi-autobiographical account of Bukowski’s own hand-to-mouth existence as a struggling writer, it shows the kind of work we writers are often forced in to so as to pay the bills.

On another level again, I would argue the term factotum also very neatly encompasses the multidisciplinary nature of what it takes to be a successful writer. Namely, one must be: an astute observer of the human animal, a tireless researcher, a gifted wordsmith, an enchanting teller of tall tales, a chronicler of social foibles and ills, an antidote-providing physician for the very same social foibles and ills, a visionary of rare insight and a fearless self-promoter sheathed in rejection-proof rhino skin, to name but a few necessary accomplishments.

All of which leads me to tell you this – and I promise I’m in no way making this up – the next time someone asks me what it is that I do for a living I going to place my hand on my heart and proudly declare that I am a factotum of the very highest order. And if it pleases you, I would urge you to do the same, fellow factotum!

“My ambition is handicapped by laziness”
Charles Bukowski, Factotum

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All’s Well that Ends Well, If You So Choose!

It’s rare that I find a novel’s ending even remotely satisfying.

However, because there exists just so many reasons why this happens to be the case, I’m not about to explore all those reasons why right here and now.

Suffice to say, there are only two novel endings, from within the great many I have read, that impressed themselves enough upon me so as to warrant my remembering them as suitably memorable.

The first is the ending to John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. (NB I would feel bad spoiling the end of the novel by describing it to you now, if you haven’t already read it. So if you don’t know how the book ends, please don’t read beyond this point.)

Anyway, for those of you still with me, what I’m trying to say is that the scene in which Rose of Sharon breastfeeds a starving man had a profound impact on me, one which I continue to feel to this very day. The profoundly redemptive nature of the term “the milk of human kindness” was brought home to me in a such a literal and powerful way by this passage that I will never forget it.

In a completely different way, the ending to Tom Robbins Still Life with Woodpecker has also stayed with me for decades after my reading it. While obviously a much lighter work than the Grapes of Wrath overall, I still found the ending to this novel to be equally memorable. And it is the one simple sentence with which the novel ends that I have always remembered, namely: “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.”

But why does this line mean so much to me?

Well, firstly, I suppose, because it highlights the fact it’s never too late to fix something from our pasts. But, also secondly, because it suggests how we view life is merely a matter of choice.

Really, who’s to say as adults we can’t choose to experience the happy childhood we might feel we missed out on the first time around?

So what that your parents didn’t let you buy that pet goldfish you always wanted as a kid? Big deal! Go out and buy yourself one now you’re all “growed up”. It’s still just as cool an idea. And hating your parents all these years later isn’t achieving anything, is it?

So go out and buy that fish! Or pair of roller-skates, or black nail polish. Learn to play congas or take up the bagpipes. Die your hair freakin’ purple or run around under the sprinkler naked in the backyard. Have a tantrum about not wanting to go to bed and stay up all night eating chocolate and watching TV until you get square eyes!

Ultimately, I don’t know what it is you think you might have personally missed out on. But whatever it is, it’s not too late to experience it now. It’s really just a matter of choice.

Put another way, you could say the concept of a happy childhood is merely a state of mind. Whatever, life’s too short not to give yourself second chances at things. So why not the chance of a second childhood just the way you always wished it had been?

Let’s Be Frank for a Minute, Shall We? — Giving Eyebrows to What We Write

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa (Photo credit: Lord_Henry)

As writers, it’s our job (within whatever else we might personally be trying to achieve) to give readers the impression that what we write has never been put into words before.

This is, of course, something that has become increasingly difficult due to the vast collective output of the writers of ages past and present that already anticipates the subjects and themes of our own literary efforts.

Which is perhaps why it only makes sense that I should have found what I believe to be a solution to this problem, by looking beyond the world of letters and writing to other disciplines for help.

The solution, then? What is it? you ask.

Well, it is this: Give your written work eyebrows.

Let me explain. Frank Zappa had lots to say about lots of things. Don’t eat yellow snow, being just one of those things. But, also, according to his son Dweezil, Frank also said he never felt like he had finished working on a song until it had eyebrows. Which was really just his short-hand way of saying, “is this particular song going to raise any eyebrows?”

Now, we tend to think of things raising eyebrows when they are slightly scandalous. But if you have a go at lifting your own eyebrows as you read this, you’ll realize it’s also something you do when you’re surprised or intrigued by something new. Am I right?

Anyway, poets can produce this effect in their poems by putting together words or concepts (and images etc) that don’t normally fit together. Sylvia Plath’s poem Cut, is such an example:

What a thrill—
My thumb instead of an onion.
The top quite gone
Except for a sort of hinge.

The concept of feeling a thrill doesn’t ordinarily sit comfortably with the idea of cutting off the top of one’s thumb. “Ouch, what the f&*#!” seems like a much more normal response. But then normally-speaking, “normal” doesn’t always cut it where making great art is concerned.

For writers of prose the task becomes more difficult, again, however. By its very nature, prose easily lends itself to becoming prosaic, or even worse pedestrian. And soon any likelihood of anybody’s eyebrows being raised becomes increasingly remote. Whereas a poet is allowed to jumble their syntax and mess with accepted word combinations and meanings, prose writers are obliged to stick to more socially-accepted parameters of what’s allowed within their writing.

The danger we writers of novels and longer forms of literature face, therefore, is a tendency to resort to overly-elaborate plot gymnastics, so as to keep our readers on the edge of their seats. I’m referring to the kind of books where the hero finishes wrestling a crocodile straight before being sent back in time to incubate the egg from which the crocodile he has just wrestled first hatches — and all this on the first page!

So how, then, should we non-“poetic-licence”-bearing writer-types go about raising our fair share of eyebrows?

Paradoxically, in my own case, it has been by appealing to the past that, I believe, I have found something new to say as a writer.

As I have already mentioned in previous posts, I describe myself as being a spiritual alchemist. And it is through the application of the principles of spiritual alchemy that I constantly seek to present my readers with something they have never read before. In a sense, I believe, it is therefore true to say I regard my own work as being visionary.

Whoa, I hear you cry. That’s a big call!

Regardless. I generate my work using lucid dreaming practices, re-birthing experiences, active imagination techniques and other visionary states. Because of this, whether you like what I produce or not, what I write can only be described as visionary fiction. In fact, I demand nothing less of my writing — that it be visionary — and neither should you of your own. However, it might help if I explain what I mean by visionary a bit further.

For a start, there are technical visionaries or innovators within all art forms. People like Frank Zappa within the world of rock music, for instance. Or Pablo Picasso, within painting, for another. These are the people who push the boundaries of the art form itself into new territories, seemingly just for the sake of doing so sometimes.

Whereas the kind of visionaries I’m talking about now (not that the two kinds are mutually exclusive) are those people who seek to enrich other people’s lives by delivering fresh meaning to them. Again, this is a very big call, sure. But for me there is no other purpose for art. Simply put, if you can’t supply this kind of fresh meaning then don’t bother at all. You’re just clogging the airwaves.

For me personally, my own inspiration (in respect to this idea of freshness) comes directly from the often surreal and otherworldly pictures that adorn many of the great alchemical texts of the Renaissance. Because while some of these illustrations and woodcuts are now well over 500 years old, I would argue they still exert an incredible hold over the imagination to this day. Without fail, each time I see one of these images, I can’t help but look at them with fresh eyes! They are as challenging, soul-stirring and “eyebrow-raising” as when they were first produced.

So the challenge I present to you is to create written works that will survive down through the ages, make them imperishable and like they’ve just been freshly-minted, forever. Or put in other words, mould them after the fashion of the fabled phoenix the alchemists were so enamoured with. For if you should succeed, the following lines from the Emerald Tablet reveal what rewards await you:

Thus you will have the Glory of the whole world.
Therefore will all obscurity flee from you.

aurora consurgens

Aurora consurgens (illustration) — a medieval alchemical treatise, in the past sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas, now to a writer called the “Pseudo-Aquinas”.

“Oh Lord, Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood!” — Spiritual Alchemy and the Creative Process

Citrinitas — The 3rd Stage of Spiritual Alchemy (original artwork by Lorem Ipsum)

In an earlier post I gave a description of what I (along with many others) term spiritual alchemy — see here for that previous article.

Anyway, today what I wanted to focus on was how my own personal approach to spiritual alchemy informs and helps shape what I create as an artist.

For this purpose, I will be talking today in this context, in particular, about the novel I have written called Missing Zero. The subtitle of which reads thus, “an alchemical account of one man’s dissent from madness”.

A work of satire primarily, the novel incorporates many of the techniques of spiritual alchemy within its pages. And I will set about now trying to throw some light on what exactly some of those are, as well as what they entail.

First off, the most prevalent technique I use is one that is most widely known as dialoguing. My experience with this idea comes from what Jung called “active imagination” exercises. The basic gist is that you take a dream figure or absent party and you talk with them. The only twist is that you also supply the other person’s responses, by imagining what they would say if they were actually physically present.

So, you see, as an adjunct to the creative process of writing itself, I then took this technique of dialoguing to the next level and started having conversations with my novel, just as if it were another person in real life. In my imagination, therefore, I would picture myself, sitting on a beach talking to my book, only my book had the form of a woman, and I would ask it questions.

“But why on Earth would you do that?” I hear you asking incredulously. “Are you crazy?”

Well, crazy is as crazy does. Although what I really mean to say is that within a discipline like spiritual alchemy the division between sane and crazy often becomes quite fuzzy. But there is nearly always a benefit to be had from blurring the line in this fashion, believe me.

Let me explain further. The exact reason why I wished to talk to my novel was so I could ask for its help whenever I came to an impasse in the writing of it. For instance, by way of my asking the novel (it obviously still being in the form of a woman) what it wanted to be or why I couldn’t finish a certain section of the story, I was able to get unexpected insights into whatever it was I was currently struggling with.

Of course, the key to this process rests entirely in any given person’s ability to suspend his or her disbelief. And, I suppose, it’s equally obvious to say, like anything, it gets easier the more you do it. But most importantly of all, does it actually work?

Well, yes, in my case, I would have to say it worked for me. Not because I now have an option with Hollywood for a three-film deal against the novel’s book rights. But rather instead because I got through the process of writing my debut novel relatively in one piece.

Take a quick tour of other people’s blogs and one of the first things you’ll see is how many of them have bucket lists. And so, then, let me tell you, I’m not really all that different to anybody else. I’ve got my own version of one of these lists. Moreover, guess what, writing a novel pretty much headed my list.

For some people it’s bungee jumping, while for others it’s climbing to the base camp at Everest. But we spiritual alchemists are mountaineers of the soul, and so therefore my bucket list was always going to be about internal challenges and triumphs.

Whatever. Ultimately what all of this means is that I am am now free to move onto the next entry on my list, namely “securing an option with Hollywood for a three-film deal against the novel’s book rights”…hey, you’ve got to remember alchemy has always been about turning stuff into gold, right? So why not a little Oscar gold, awarded for Best Adapted Screenplay created from an original story, as well?

So, anyway, check this out, soon after I finished writing my novel I dreamt that Ellen DeGeneres and her wife Portia de Rossi played two key roles in the dream version of just such a film of my book. It was a brilliant piece of casting, and one that I would never have been able to come up with on my own.

Portia played the role of Dualia, a much-maligned and misunderstood hermaphrodite, whereas Ellen played the role of Dr Marie Louise von Auerbach, her “attention-shy but brilliant” superior within the ranks of a clandestine sisterhood of political anarchists. The “urst” between them was palpable.

I know, I know, you don’t care about that, because what you’re still really itching to find out (from earlier on) is what my novel said she wanted to be when I asked her that very question. Ok, I’ll tell you. In essence, then, just like everybody else, she said she felt a need to make a connection with other people. And the exact words she spoke to express this feeling were these…”I want to be understood”.

This is an image of the Ellen Degeneres and Po...

This is an image of the Ellen Degeneres and Portia DeRossi wedding cake topper sculpture by Michael Leavitt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)