Hypnopompia – is that even a word?

Yes it is! – I learned it from Winslow Eliot in her beautiful book Writing through the year.

autumn_leaves

Winslow Eliot says that Hypnopompia is that marvelous in-between moment before you’re fully awake. She also mentions a corresponding state, called Hypnagogia, which occurs in the moments before you fall asleep.

It is said that in these states, where you are in a zone between sleep and being awake, there is possibility for increased creativity. This has been utilized by famous persons, in their artistic but also scientific endeavours, and as explained by Winslow Eliot, it has to do with how our brain works:

During hypnagogia, the normal activity of the left/logical side of your brain is inhibited, allowing imagery in your right/creative brain freedom to experience whatever it wants to, without trying to analyze itself.

The whole reasoning, which also reminds us of the interesting topic of the divided brain, suggests that we should take advantage of what is happening underneath – down in that dark chamber that we call the unconscious – if we want to produce great works of art.

It sounds a bit scary to me. If you ask Robert Olen Butler, it is, and should be, scary. He says, in the very fascinating book called From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction – which, by the way, I think, I found via a reference from Sarah Selecky – that virtually all inexperienced writers end up in their heads instead of the unconscious, and he also gives an explanation for why: the unconscious is simply scary as hell.

But there is hope, I think, and I was encouraged to continue writing when I read the book, which I also finished.

It contains many gems, including a discussion about what we could mean when we use the word art. Robert Olen Butler says that what we remember comes out as journalism, and what we forget goes into the compost of the imagination. And only when we let the memories decompose, down in that chamber we cannot access by force of our will, can we recompose them into new works of art.

The book also echoes many pieces of advice seen elsewhere, which tell us to write every day, and it tells us that

Once you are engaged in writing a piece of fiction from your unconscious, it is crucial that you write every day, because the nature of this place where you go is such that it is very difficult to find your way in.

and also that we are allowed to take one day off, occasionally, but beware, as Robert says: you take two days off and you’re on very thin ice.

The book also has some case studies. In these, we are allowed to see the writing of some of his students, and we are allowed to follow discussions on their writings. I found this very interesting, and there are references to Robert Olen Butler’s own works, in the form of shared pieces from his own writings – some that he is satisfied with, and some that he is not so proud of.

As a final remark about the book, I want to mention the chapter called Cinema of the mind. I found it to be an eye-opener, and there are some very interesting studies in there – one I especially remember is from Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemmingway – showing us how thinking (sorry – I meant letting your unconscious guide you) like a film-maker can help a lot when creating fiction.

So now I try to live as I learned. I have practised a short morning ritual of Hypnopompia-assisted writing for some weeks now. And yes, I can recommend it. It has also increased my word count, so someday I may even finish my writing project.

And in the meanwhile, of course, we should remember that the writing itself is a kind of self-inflicted journey, and that we might also learn some interesting things along the way.

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My favourite things

After all the hours of browsing and reading, patterns start to emerge.

bloggers

And here is summary, as of today, the last of February, in the year 2013.

Before I fell in love with reading and writing on the internet, I was convinced that blogs were not for serious people. They were populated by young girls writing about popular things, like fashion and celebrities. I also learned that these bloggers, as they were called, make money – or to be more correct, they are given things. They are given things that represent the brands they mention in their blogs. I felt that I was obliged to consider this as non-real work, with non-real incomes.

That was five years ago. And of course I was wrong.

I worked at a telecom company in Sweden, and I started to find interest in things that happen at work. These were things related to people, and it was most interesting to see how the interactions between people, and the intrigues they created, had such a large impact on the actual business.

I stumbled upon Seth Godin’s blog. I realize now that I was not the first person to have done that, and I have been a follower since I found it. I read every post, they are always good, and sometimes they are both very good and spot on, giving me direct inspiration and renewed energy. Of course I highly recommend this blog.

And he has written books, too. I learned many things from Linchpin, and some I remember most vividly since they tend to follow me along, and cling to my mind. One wisdom is that fear is always there, trying to hinder you from doing your work, and it directly activates your lizard brain.

I also learned, again from Linchpin (but as I now understand, it emanates from Steve Jobs), that real artists ship. I try to follow this advice, but I assure you that it is sometimes difficult!

I work in a University (for one more month from today), and I have spent some time thinking about students and learning, and why nobody wants to be an engineer, and why everybody hates math. Then I saw the light. I found Stop Stealing Dreams, which was very refreshing, and I also sent the link to our Minister for Education. No, I did not receive any answer.

I continued searching, and here are some samples from my current favourites. These are blogs I regularly read, and sites I regularly visit.

Someone pointed me to this great talk by Neil Gaiman. It was embedded in a post on an equally great blog called The Story of Telling. You can find many thoughtful words there, often captured in compact and precise formulations, in posts with great imagery.

From time to time I visit the Zenhabits blog, and I always leave with some added wisdom and some interesting thoughts that I can relate to my work life as well as to more private experiences.

I have read many interesting posts at a blog called Bottledworder, and I have found inspiration for books and reading from 101 Books and from The Bookshelf of Emily J.

For the moment I read about how to write, especially on how to write fiction. I know that I cannot learn that craft from only reading, so I also commit to regular practice, and from time to time I emit some non-fiction posts as well.

One of my current book-zapping projects is called Why we write. I find it very interesting, and full credit goes to the magnificent Brainpickings site, from where I got the recommendation.

Earlier attempts to learn more about writing (and reading) include Francine Prose, Alan Watt, NaNoWriMo, and most recently, Stephen King.

I have participated in World-Changing Writing and Tribewriters, which were interesting, however not life-changing.

For the moment I am listening to, and reading material from, a very interesting workshop from Psychotactics. It is actually free (for a limited time period), and I very much recommend it if you are interested in marketing. The workshop is called the Brain Alchemy Masterclass, and it explains (in a super-pedagogical and very entertaining way) why structure in marketing is critical to growing a business effectively. There may be a waiting list and the time period will expire, but here is a link with more information about the Brain Alchemy Masterclass.

I almost forgot. There is this great place called Box of Crayons. I subscribe to their Great Work Provocations, which means that I receive wise words every day, all for free, and all very helpful and encouraging. And I bought this book that helps persons to do More Great Work. And it helped a lot in my thinking and planning for a new job.

And some days ago I also discovered radio, in the form of a great site called On Being. I have downloaded material from there, and it has made my train journeys inspiring in a whole new kind of way.

I conclude with a thanks, to you who read this blog and this post. Even if they say that you should pursue your art and not think about making it for your readers, it is a lot more fun if there is someone on the other end of the line!

Why is it so much harder near the end?

It’s like a long, and sometimes also winding, road, that gets narrower, and narrower, and narrower …

a_long_way_to_go

It can also be seen from the word count. I started it with a bang, in NaNoWriMo 2011, going from 40000 to 50000 words during the last 3 days of that rainy and cold Nordic November month.

Then it was time for a well-deserved Christmas break.

A new year started, and I was determined to finish my work. My plan was to continue adding text to the draft, and then do a revision and rewrite of the whole thing. As it turned out, I later decided to publish rewritten scenes, one by one, on this blog.

Although the idea of NaNoWriMo was to create a complete first draft, there were a lot of holes to fill. I have continued to add words (and also rewrite) during 2012, and as we now start a new year I expect I will add another 10000 words before I am done.

Here you can see the word count for 2012.

word_count_2012_larger

From the graph above you can see that there is a steady increase in word count, but it tends to slow down as we approach the end of the year.

I have this feeling that it gets slower and slower. So what can be done about this? Why is it so hard to finish?

Being partly an academic person, I should of course look for an answer in the available literature.

The first time I read about fear was in Linchpin. I learned that we tend to listen to our primitive feelings of fear, designed to protect us from dangerous animals wanting to eat us alive. And that we use these feelings as excuses for not finishing our work. In the materially safe world of today (at least when comparing with the pre-historian Flintstone-inspiring world) it is of course not so smart to listen to these primitive feelings.

Instead we should sit down and Do The Work.

We could also listen to what other, more famous, persons have to say. As an example, I can recommend the article How to Break Through Your Creative Block: Strategies from 90 of Today’s Most Exciting Creators from the always excellent Brainpickings site.

There is also a good article – very appropriate for the topic at hand – at Write It Sideways, called 3 Steps to Overcoming ‘Almost Done’ Syndrome.

Often, in advice for getting the writing done, there is a time aspect. Like if you set aside a certain amount of time, and dedicate this time to writing, then things will happen. This is practiced in a technique called the Pomodoro technique, which I became aware of during a visit to my work from a book company representative. I received a free copy of a book about the Pomodoro technique, where it was said that I should purchase a timer, and set it to 25 minutes. All work should then be done in 25 minutes intervals!

John Cleese also says that you should set aside a certain amount of time, when you desire to be creative.

Based on these advice, I have tried the time technique. I set aside two hours for non-fiction writing and one hour for fiction writing. And those days when I had the discipline to follow it, it surely worked. Words got written down, software was developed, and the idea of thinking in quantity rather than quality really helped (to get things done).

Perhaps it is possible to follow this example, from the always interesting Copyblogger site, where it is described how a person became very productive by setting aside a certain amount of time every day: How to Kill Writer’s Block and Become a Master Copywriter in Only 3 Hours a Day.

Do you, dear reader, have similar experiences as the ones described above?

Melrosian modifiers

I googled “avoiding adverbs”. Then I browsed through some of the results. The message was clear. Adverbs are evil, and shall be avoided at any cost.

ship

It is important that the story you tell comes through, so that the reader can understand it. Therefore, avoid unnecessary words. Often, adverbs are unnecessary.

And, of course, we have the Show, don’t tell paradigm, which if obeyed would make my prose better (perhaps). So I should not write

“I will kill you”, said the villain angrily.

Instead, I should write

“I will kill you”, said the villain, and killed his victim.

I reflected on these wise words of advice, and I also spent some time taking a peek into this entertaining book by one of the greatest. We learn there that The adverb is not your friend, and also that one should pay special attention to not use adverbs for dialogue attribution.

Also other forms of dialogue attribution should be handled with care. An example, again from On Writing, is

‘I’m the plumber,’ he said, with a flush

And please, do not substitute the plain ‘said’ for other words, chosen for the sake of making your point come through. So do not write

‘Put down the gun, Utterson!’, Jekyll grated.

These pieces of advice are very sound and they make sense to me. Checking my own endeavours, I find some adverbs here and there, but not too many as dialogue modifiers, so perhaps at least in that sense I do some things right?

But then I was confused. You see, I am reading this series of books that I find very good. There are four of them in my Kindle bundle, and there is now also a fifth book released.

The books, often referred to as the Patrick Melrose novels, portray a traumatic childhood, an evil father, a drug-abusing mother, and, as the years pass by, a drug-abusing child turned grown-up. But I did not find them any way near depressing. On the contrary, they are full of beautiful language, and large doses of both irony and humor.

So please meet Nicholas Pratt, in a relationship with the much younger and not at all so noble Bridget, when he, during a visit to the Melrose residence, observes Bridget acting in a not so proper way.

‘For God’s sake,’ snarled Nicholas, leaping over to her side.

Then, the drawing room door to the mansion opens, and out comes Yvette, the housemaid, carrying a tray of cakes and cups.

‘Ah, fantastique de vous revoir, Yvette,’ said Nicholas.
‘Bonjour, Monsieur.’
‘Bonjour,’ said Bridget prettily.
‘Bonjour, Madame,’ said Yvette stoutly, though she knew that Bridget was not married.

Then, as a result of Nicholas seeing David Melrose (Patrick’s father) in the doorway, the dialogue continues:

‘David!’, roared Nicholas over Yvette’s head. ‘Where have you been hiding?’

The next sentence, including also some body language, lets David explain, as

David waved his cigar at Nicholas. ‘Got lost in Surtees,’ he said, stepping through the doorway.

I find this style of writing at many places in the books, but I did not notice it until I read about adverbs and replacements for ‘said’. So in a sense, it did not bother me, and it did not hinder the flow in my reading.

Here is another example. It is from the second book, entitled Bad News, in which Patrick spends some time in New York. His father has recently passed away, and in this scene he visits the Key Club, a place to which one ‘comes in from the noise and the pollution of New York, and it’s quite suddenly like an English country house of a certain sort’.

He will meet some gentlemen. One is listening to the name of George (Watford I guess) and is a friend of Patrick’s father, and another one is called Ballantine Morgan. When Ballantine says hello to Patrick and directly afterwards mentions that he is very sorry to hear about Patrick’s father, and says ‘I didn’t know him personally, but from everything George tells me it sounds like he was a great English gentleman’, inner and outer dialogue follows, as

Jesus Christ, thought Patrick.
‘What have you been telling him?’ he asked George reproachfully.
‘Only what an exceptional man your father was.’
‘Yes, I’m pleased to say that he was exceptional,’ said Patrick. ‘I’ve never met anybody quite like him.’
‘He refused to compromise,’ drawled George. ‘What was it he used to say? “Nothing but the best, or go without.”‘
‘Always felt the same way myself,’ said Ballantine fatuously.
‘Would you like a drink?’ asked George.
‘I’ll have one of those Bullshots you spoke about so passionately this morning.’
‘Passionately,’ guffawed Ballantine.

I find that these modifiers – reproachfully, drawled, fatuously, guffawed – where some are adverbs and some are replacements for “said” – add a how-dimension to the story. Perhaps the reader is not only interested in what happens, but also very much in how it happens?

This thinking of what and how reminds me of an interesting book about the brain, a book where the two hemispheres of the brain are described, and discussed in very profound ways. The author, Ian McGilchrist, says that the right hemisphere helps us understand the “howness” of the world, whereas the left hemisphere is more what-centered. You might also like to look at this page, from the wonderful Brain pickings site, where the book is described, in an animated way (pun intended).

So perhaps an adverb here and there, and some well-thought-out replacements for said, combined with a dose of British irony, will make our stories more interesting?

Writing like a(nother) writer

It was one of those that made me hang in there, until the end, with very few intermissions.

And now I want to understand why.

ship

I bought it as an e-book January 6, 2012. I was led to it by Francine Prose – she had an excerpt from it in Reading Like a Writer, and I was drawn into the story already after a few sentences. It was thriller-like in suspense and tension, but at its heart it is a love story. It begins with Daniel and Hampton wandering around in the woods, in search of a missing girl.

Daniel and Hampton were paired by chance and against their wishes. They were not friends – Hampton did not particularly like Daniel, and Daniel had every reason to avoid being alone with Hampton.

Then, in one sentence

But Daniel’s girlfriend or partner or whatever he was supposed to call her, Kate, Kate went home to relieve the baby-sitter who was minding her daughter, and Hampton’s wife, there was no ambiguity here, his wife, Iris, with whom Daniel was fiercely in love, had gone home to look after their son.

we learn the theme of the story. It then continues, with its real beginning, now written in the present tense, as

Two years after he was kicked down the stairs of his apartment building in New York City, which shattered his wrist, chipped his front tooth, and, as he himself put it, broke his heart, Daniel Emerson is back in his hometown, driving Ruby, his girlfriend’s four-year-old daughter, to her day care center, called My Little Wooden Shoe.

Perhaps it was this directness, where persons are talked about without being introduced, combined with the rhythm, where long sentences, with interestingly many commas, sometimes also with elements of repetition, a repetition that gave me, the reader, an additional, almost listening-to-music-like experience, that I liked most.

I did not have to spend time, as I do in many novels, by taking breaks where I stop the reading, for the sole purpose of trying to remember who is married to whom, and was it really important for me to remember where the old charming Aunt lived, and what was that name again, of the detective?

Then there is a new paragraph. We are still in the present tense, and following this first, short sentence, a sentence which really makes me stop and hold my breath for a moment, we learn more about Daniel’s relation to Kate’s daughter Ruby, and starting with worldly but still wonderful events he shares with Ruby, this second sentence, which is even longer than the previous, also long sentence, ends with a reflection on life itself, and its very meaning and purpose.

It’s fine with Daniel. He welcomes the chance to do fatherly things with the little girl, and those ten morning minutes with dear little four-year-old Ruby, with her deep soulful eyes, and the wondrous things she sees with them, and her deep soulful voice, and the precious though not entirely memorable things she says with it

and after a while, we approach the end with

it simply reminds you that even if God is dead, or never existed in the first place, there is, nevertheless, something tender at the center of creation, some meaning, some purpose and poetry.

It is not my purpose, with this post, to give away spoilers. But I wanted to take the chance to recommend the book – A ship made of paper by Scott Spencer – and at the same time submit a contribution to the weekly writing challenge – stylish imitation, a challenge I found very interesting, and perhaps, by some purpose or design, I was supposed to find it since by an act which to me seemed quite random, the nice folks at WordPress linked to my blog from the page where the contest was presented.

The feeling that something was intended for you I share also with Daniel, who contemplates like

Maybe he has drifted into the periphery of her life because somehow in the grand design of things – and this private, pulverizing love he feels makes him believe in grand designs – he is the man who must awaken her to her own beauty. Is there some casual, defused way he can say to her: Do you have any idea how lovely you are?

Then there’s Kate. And we learn that she, through dialogue, can express her suspicions regarding Daniel’s feelings for Iris in a rather subtle, but very calculating, way. Like if you dear reader, or one of my loved ones, would say

“Tell me something about your novel, I have seen you sitting there, in your office, in the evenings, typing away on your computer keyboard.”

and I would say that

“Well I do my regular work, but no, I have not started any novel-writing, but I have thought about it, perhaps later, when I am retired.”

but then you still pursue, and you are determined to make me reveal my secret passion, and being both jealous and worried that I might spend more and more time in this solitude, where you are not allowed to take part, you continue, and it gets sharper and sharper.

“You do like them, don’t you? she asks. A surviving bit of her old southern accent streches the “i” in “like”.

“I don’t really know him.”

“Do you like her?”

“Iris?”

She gives him a look. Of course Iris, who else are they talking about?

She, Kate, then arranges for them to meet Iris and Hampton at a restaurant, and the dialogue at that restaurant, also replayed in Francine Prose’s book, gives me a very direct and also a bit saddening view of our human nature, showing its more dark and cynical sides.

As the novel continues, we follow Daniel and his love for Iris, but we also follow several parallel stories, setting the relationship drama in its place in society. It is about race too, I did not say that before, but you will see that it is a significant element in the book, and there are also repeated references to a real high-profile court case, represented in the novel by Kate writing about the O.J Simpson trial.

And there is bad weather. You will meet storms and snow, causing electricity outage and blocked roads

The electricity cuts out for about the time of a long blink, the world disappears, then shakes itself back into existence

and sometimes these natural causes play their part as puppeteers for the love-seeking characters in the book. And even if not everyone says it,

“I love you”, Daniel says in the darkness

How the %&*# can I find my voice?

They say I have to have a voice.

A voice when I am writing, that is. A voice that makes my writing instantly recognizable as mine. But where is this voice? And do I have it? Perhaps I have no voice at all!

grafitti

I decided to practice. This was when I took my first steps in the preparations for writing a draft for a novel. I had previous experience in writing, that was clear. I had written research papers and even a thesis. So perhaps I had a scientific, tech-voice? If you want a sample of it, it may sound like this:

Fast motion along a predefined path is important in many robot applications, and requires utilization of the maximum allowable torque range. If the torque is at the limit, there is no margin to cope with disturbances or modeling errors, which may result in deviation from the path. A path velocity controller for modification of the velocity along the path when the torques saturate can improve path tracking. The path velocity controller acts as an outer feedback loop outside the ordinary robot controller, and modifies a nominal velocity profile, computed by minimum time optimization using available methods.

But now I should do fiction. What was meant by that? That I could, or perhaps should, make things up? That was sort of unfamiliar, at least if I wanted to gain some experience from my previous writings.

They say that authors blend in their own life in their stories. I had certainly heard of that. And I had also heard of angry relatives suing authors for making too many private things very public. So here one might need to tread softly, to avoid breaking hearts and making people upset. And it would also be important to show some dignity towards people who know me, and still want to know me, even after I have written the book.

I read Alan Watt, and I really liked his suggestions of stream-of-consciousness writing. I started with capturing small scenes from my life, and then trying to reproduce them onto a piece of computer screen. Here is a lunch sample, where a bunch of work-oriented persons eat, in a Scandinavian setting, doing their best to avoid the unspoken taboo of talking about work during lunch time:

They talk during lunch. Sometimes the conversation flows freely, and sometimes long periods of silence occur, broken after a while by some of the group using their creativity to come up with a new subject to talk about. They mostly talk about facts. They do not talk about feelings. No one says “did you read that book, it was truly fantastic, it gave me a complete new picture of the Chinese culture”. Perhaps someone says “did you know that there is a golf player who can reach 300 meters using only his putter”. This may be followed by a comment, like “did he do it in a contest?”, and perhaps a somewhat scientific observation in the style of “can he control his muscles or does he hit that hard all the time?”.

Since I always was a strange cross-breed between science guy and something more artistic (perhaps writing, perhaps rock and roll, perhaps opera – I still do not know), I tried to put some art into the writing. So here is Michael, character-to-be in Prevention – the book that I now prepare, leaving his rehearsal, only to be attacked and hit to the ground some minutes later:

Michael Dalton did not know, then, as he prepared himself for the rehearsals, that he was in for a new period of silence. This time it would not be determined by himself, as a result of a failed audition, but instead by forces outside of his own control. He did not know it when he sang his aria, or during the majestic sextet when he listened to the almost divine beauty of the Dove sono aria, and he did not know it when he said goodbye and see you tomorrow to his fellow actors and singers. Instead he felt happy and full of enthusiasm and life. He did not know, shortly thereafter when he mounted his bicycle for the short ride home, that this was the last rehearsal for him, at least for a long time to come.

He only knew it later in the night, when he woke up, stirred awake by a nurse at the nearby hospital, telling him to be quiet and yes you heard me right, you are not allowed to sing, neither to speak actually. You have to be very calm, and stay where you are, in this bed, at least for some days to come.

I found this a good way of practising, and I listened to the wise words of Austin Kleon, saying that no matter how hard you try to copy something or someone, you will always end up doing something original. I decided that this was a way of writing – take your experiences and write about them – however in a state of mind where you feel free to really invent things as you go along. And as a result, some new stuff, completely invented and not very true at all, may come out.

And when you read it afterwards, and revise it, you might even find it a bit interesting!

Of course you need structure too! I studied a bit about structure, for example by following a sequence of good videos in the Plot Whisperer series by Martha Alderson, and by reading a bit in Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting.

I also found the snowflake guy a.k.a Randy Ingermanson interesting, and I started to subscribe to his newsletter.

And piece by piece, mood by mood, some scenes and also some characters emerged.

I also decided on the beginning. There would be a prologue, somewhat secretive with some hidden symbolic meaning at the end. And then there would be the first scene, opened by Annie Dalton, daughter of the great Oliver Dalton, professor of System Studies, in a phone call indicating potential problems.

Her first words are simply

“Dad, I’m sorry, I can’t make it. I have this pain in my stomach. I think I need to stay at home tomorrow.”

The timing is not perfect, since this is the day before Oliver and his wife Elizabeth are leaving for Munich, where they will meet Annie and where they will celebrate Oliver’s birthday, and everything is already neatly planned, including a list of all museums that Oliver wants to see.

art museum

They are not yet aware that Annie plays a part in a bigger scheme, where powerful organizations do what it takes to shape the society, and its inhabitants, in a for them desirable direction. And the old tradition of Eugenics, pioneered in the early 1900s, is suddenly both alive and well.

What if we could single out the unproductive?

What if we could use DNA for that purpose?

donald and daisy

These were questions I pondered, not for myself in person but for my candidate villain. I was searching for a theme for my book, the one I had decided to write, using NaNoWrimo as a base for creating the first draft.

Thinking about it a little bit more, I came to the conclusion that both questions – the selection of people as well as the DNA method for doing it – rewarded the book a classification as science-fiction.

But as I found out, this was not completely true! After having done some research, I had to change the book category to the single word fiction.

This was in 2011, in the pre-november time frame. I was not yet a fully evolved Kindle addict, so I used also other e-book readers on my phone. I started with the Aldiko reader, which I found interesting since it was easy to download free books.

Among the free books one could download, most were old classics like Robinson Crusoe and Moby Dick. For some reason – I do not remember exactly how – I had come to know the term Eugenics. I downloaded a book with that name, by a man called Gilbert Keith Chesterton. I found it a bit interesting, but mostly rather dry and a bit old-style (it was written in 1922).

But there were some interesting passages. Like the claim that the Eugenic moral basis is that “the baby for whom we are primarily and directly responsible is the baby unborn”. As I understood it, this was not a statement relating to abortion but rather a statement on the possibility to prevent a child from even being conceived, by controlling which couples were allowed to be formed, between man and woman. In this way, one could indirectly control the types of children being born.

Thinking about it, we still have that control, at least here in Sweden. If you want to get married, you have to ask the state for permission, and then the state will check if there are any impediments to the marriage. Currently, it is used for checking that you do not marry more than one person, and that you do not marry a close relative, but of course, in the wrong hands, such a law can be used for advanced population planning (assuming for the moment that children are conceived only by married couples).

Another way to control the population would be to go directly to the men and women, selecting those who had the least suitable traits for a productive society, and simply ask them to not have any children.

This was actually done, in many countries, including Sweden, and in many cases the asking was not done at all, at least not in a way that gave the victim a choice to opt out of the whole procedure.

So state-controlled programs for sterilization, as a way to prevent less suitable genes from propagating through to new generations, were indeed carried out, and thinking about if this could be an interesting angle for a book, I had the idea to create an organization that would revive these ideas, now, in the modern world, where much more advanced DNA technology is available.

The next question then becomes: can we use DNA technology for the selection part? If I put on my most scientific manner I can say that I doubt it, but you never know! For example, here is an article where researchers claim that they can filter out people using intelligence as a criterion.

This made me decide on the overall plot structure. Yes there would be an organization revisiting the Eugenics ideas, and yes there would be some good guys – perhaps an absent-minded professor-type with at least some resemblance to the aspiring author – and there would be an interesting way of thinking, done by the bad guys, to actually decide whom to single out as victims.

And of course they need a method for effectuating their plans. They need some channel of distribution and some network of operators that can do the actual work.

And their goals will be noble (from their point of view), I mean after all they are doing a good thing for society, by making it more efficient and productive.

And most of all, their main plan will eliminate many unwanted persons. And this will be done without casualties. In fact, not a single person will be physically harmed!

This also led to the title being decided.

The book will thus be called Prevention, and it will be ready soon …

Art – Science – or, and, or vs

Do we have to make a choice?

Do we have to choose between art and science?

garden

Is it so that science covers what we do for a living, which in turn make our companies earn money, which generate taxes and welfare and growth, and then we use art for our recreation?

I did not think so much about these things before. I started out in the art department you could say. I wrote my first (and still my only) two novels when I was ten. I typed them in, on my father’s typewriter, and I also made photocopies, typing them once more, using blue carbon papers in between, so as to make fresh copies, obviously to be sold with great success!

One of the books was a mystery novel. It featured two boys, I think they were cousins. They discovered a hidden treasure, tucked away in the woods outside their grandparents house, and following the strange note they found on a piece of paper, placed suspiciously just beside the treasure coffin, they were led to an abandonded house, even deeper into the woods. After some twists and turns, they discovered and cracked the criminal gang, conveniently labelled X03, a league whose members then all became prisoners for a long time to come.

Of course I took the inspiration from adventure books I fancied. Like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven, or one of Alfred Hitchcock’s books with the Three Investigators.

The other book was called Knight John, and here there was an even clearer line of inspiration. I was a great fan of Ivanhoe, I had read the book several times, and I had also found some interesting connections between Ivanhoe and Robin Hood, hinted to me in some black-and-white film, but not clearly enough explained to me by my parents. So there was place for more investigations into this unsolved problem. Did they know each other, these two heroes? And wasn’t it so that Robin Hood was perhaps also a real person? In contrast to Ivanhoe, who was invented by Sir Walter Scott.

These were interesting things, but at the time I did not pursue my writing career any further.

Now, some years later, I will make a retry. As I said in a previous post, I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo. So the challenge then was of course to choose a topic, to write about, and of course also to find out how it is actually done, this task of writing a novel. Being an educated person I soon started to look for instructions, manuals, and HOWTO-guides (such things were not needed in 1971 right?).

I found some good books, which were really helpful. I will say more about them later but since there is no reason to being secretive I give you their titles here, and some comments. So these were the first books I found to be very helpful for the task of writing a novel.

  • Do the Work by Steven Pressfield – purchased April 26, 2011. I mentioned this one in the previous post also, and although it is not a handbook in novel-writing of any sorts, it is a fantastic source of inspiration for the actual act of doing the writing. It is very interesting to take part in the stories told, and I especially remember some low points of having a film manuscript finally turned into a movie, and no one is showing up at the cinema, and how this is used to fuel the spirit to actually continue, in spite of this anti-success. I also remember the phrase “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five”, as an illustration that Resistance never gives up. And I learned that Steven King works every day, including Fourth of July, his birthday, and Christmas.
  • The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the story within – Watt, Alan – purchased September 30, 2011. I found this book interesting since it did not directly focus on structure and outlining. Instead Alan Watt recommended us to imagine the world where the story, not yet known to us, would take place. This was very helpful, and there are many good exercises in the book that you can do, where often stream-of-consciousness writing is used (just let it flow, do not at all make it anyway close to perfect and stylish), for the purpose of getting to know your characters, both the good guys and the bad guys, better. An interesting example is “As your hero, write for five minutes 1) the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and 2) the most cowardly thing I’ve ever done”.
  • Reading Like a Writer (P.S.) – Francine Prose – October 25, 2011. If I must pick a favorite, this one wins! Francine Prose does not give instructions on how to write. Instead she shows, by example, how other writers write, and have written, by quoting from their books and commenting on their writing. I will tell you more about my impressions in a later post, but personally I highly recommend this book. It made me see books with a quite different eye, and helping a lot when trying to write. And it gave good pointers to authors I had never read before, such as current favorites like Edward St Aubyn, Alice Munro, and Scott Spencer (I finished A Ship Made of Paper with almost no breaks – I am a notorious book-zapper so this is a good credit for me)

Professionally, I am now in the science department. Well, to be more specific, you might call it the Engineering Science Department. My job is to be an Associate Professor in a system oriented topic (think computers, software, control systems, mobile phone technology) at a university in Sweden. Now that might sound fancy, but I can say at least that it is a lot of fun, and at times also a bit strange, especially when I compare to earlier jobs in industry, where I was an engineer working with software and system simulation, and many more managers and time plans than you will ever see in a university.

I wanted to relate to this when I chose a topic for my novel. Being a little bit tired of all the talk on TV and in newspapers about how we must be a competitive nation, and all the worries that our kids are so bad in mathematics, I found, and liked, this article, properly named Dehumanized. I thought that this divide, between the rationalistic thinking of those obeying only the physical laws and their mathematical incarnations, and those who are perhaps a little bit more interested in the why-side of all things, looking for not only useful and economical things in their chase and search to find meaningful stuff.

So this was my mindset as I enterned the NaNoWriMo challenge, to come up with a story, rather thriller-like if I could make it, after all I wanted people to read at least a little bit more than the first pages, and in the mean-time throw in some bad guys representing the firm believe in the rational stuff, and some good guys doing their best to prevent large-scale bad things to happen.

And most of all, the large-scale bad things would be engineered and directed towards the weak, so that we once and for all could arrive at a more effective and rational society, where the fluffy bloggers and wannabe-artists do not occupy the complete media space, showing off their new things in more and more real-life soap operas and almost monopolizing the social mediasphere.

Now wouldn’t that be a nice place to live – in the art-free world?

Perhaps I should give it a try

Perhaps it was due to inspiration from my wife, perhaps it was myself remembering my early attempts as a ten-year-old author wannabe, or perhaps it was procrastination towards writing academic papers.

shopping

In any case, I decided to give it a try. Fiction writing, that is. It was August 26, 2011, and I had seen the NaNoWriMo writing challenge on the web. It seemed very interesting, this NaNoWriMo stuff. You committed to write 50000 words in one month, and if you succeeded you could call yourself a winner.

I signed up, using the nickname dr_dynamic, and I was ready to go.

But where to start? How on earth could one write a novel? And in one month? This certainly seemed like a daunting task.

I decided I needed to practice. At the time had an account at 750 words, a very nice site where you make a promise to try to write 750 words of text each day. The site keeps track of your words count, and awards in the form of nice digital badges are given to you as you make progress. The more days in a row that you write your 750 words, the higher ranks you get.

So I used 750 words as a diary, and while writing my 750 words a day, I tried to sneak in some text snippets meant to be seen as “fiction”. I thought of these as possible building blocks, later on, in a novel of some kind.

Being an aspiring Kindle addict (reading books mostly on my phone – I do not own a real Kindle hardware yet) I had also purchased and downloaded some books, where I hoped I would find some hints. At this stage I had acquired a Kindle publishing guide, and also a a book on how ideas spread.

I was most inspired, however, by Steven Pressfield’s great little book Do the Work, a book which I read through directly, without zapping away to any of my other books.

Books with fiction

This is a blog where I will share my attempts in fiction writing.

I started it today, being very inspired by the works of Joanna Penn.

Happy writing,

from the bookmaker