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Writers are not their characters

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When I was younger I used to write all the time. Then I got sucked into a terrible relationship and I stopped writing. Aside from being clinically depressed and being made to feel worthless on the whole in the relationship, the real reason I stopped writing was because the people I was involved with believed that every character I created was a representation of me. They used my characters against me. Every time a character in one of my stories did something wrong, I was blamed. If I wrote a character they perceived as sexist, I was sexist. If they thought a character was irresponsible or thoughtless, I was too. They focussed on the negative every time and slowly chipped away at my self-esteem until I just gave up on writing altogether because I was so terrified my characters would make a mistake and I would be found guilty.

It was a shitty way to live.

Now that I’m free of that relationship I’ve taken up writing again full force, but the thought that I’m intimately connected to my characters still lingers and sometimes it scares me so much I’m tempted not to explore taboos or subjects that could be seen as ‘risky’.

I sometimes get scared, but then I push on through with the mantra of ‘I am not my characters’.

As a writer it is vital to distinguish yourself from your characters, or else you’ll take on the burden of their mistakes and be tempted to keep your writing in a safe zone. But writing, and art in general, is not about being safe. It’s about taking risks, putting yourself out there and exploring the deep dark places where other people won’t go. As an artist I feel I have both the privilege and responsibility to rip myself open and show my inner conflicts to the world. Through our artists, humanity has the chance to examine ourselves and others and that is so important. Sometimes I hate my characters and disagree with them, but I write them anyway because art should be a place to explore anything and everything that’s in your mind.

Lately though, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of people out there who think in the way I was conditioned to think: that writers are their characters. I’ve seen writers torn to pieces by politically correct activists because they dared to explore something that was taboo or because they presented a sensitive situation in what others consider ‘a wrong light’. Some people seem to hold the opinion that writers are personally responsible for the views of their characters. If a character in a novel or TV show is sexist, racist, homophobic, weak, stereotypical or any number of other perceived issues, then the writer is directly to blame and clearly holds all of the same values or flaws as their protagonists.

This is wrong.

If this was really true, why wouldn’t more writers be personally lauded for creating wonderful, heroic characters? When was the last time you heard a review of a book that included the idea that the writer personally must be a true hero because they wrote an amazing character? It never happens.

If this was true wouldn’t every murder mystery writer be a psychopath?

We can’t just cherry pick what traits an artist gets endowed with because we’re angry or upset about a certain piece of art.

My (unverified psychological) theory is that people look for the bad before they look for the good and when they find the bad they want a scapegoat, someone to blame for the fact that they’re upset or don’t agree with something a character has done. But unfortunately this is just a quick, easy way to alienate writers and make them scared to explore concepts or look at angles that might not otherwise see the light of day.

As a society we need our writers and artists to feel free to express themselves without fear of personal attack. We need them to plumb the depths of their souls and expose their dark places without a band of angry villagers with torches and pitchforks banging down their door. We need to adjust our view of fiction to see it for what it is: a fictional story with fictional characters.

Sure we can infer things about writers from what they chose to write, but to make assumptions and rage against the individual for making a piece of art and being brave enough to put it out there is nothing but a subtle form of personalized censorship. We should be better than that. We should understand that fiction is not necessarily indicative of a person’s beliefs and disagree with the characters and their actions instead of the writer who created them. Criticize the art not the artist.

Writers are not their characters and it’s a dangerous thing for the freedom of art to suggest they are. If we condemn our artists for their creations they might stop creating altogether, like I did once upon a time, and then where would we be?

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Art

Interactive Love Art

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Want to participate in some of our art?

Head down to the Distillery District where there is an installation called ‘LOVE’.  It’s an interactive piece where you lock down your love by putting a padlock bearing your initials on the fence-like letters that spell L-O-V-E.  Inspired by the Love bridges in Paris and elsewhere, this is a fun and sweet piece of art that we love!

When you are there though you will find an extra hidden surprise.  Look for the black lock box with the silver stars on it, type in the answer to life, the universe and everything and find a hidden treasure!  If you decide to take it please leave something else behind and, if you want, write to us to tell us about your experience with surprise and we can post it here on the blog!

Also, while you’re there don’t forget to bring your own padlock to add to the piece and lock down your love!

A conversation with a disheveled, smoking Russian man I had while we locked down our love:

Russian man: Do you know where this comes from?
Me: What do you mean?
Russian man: This comes from Paris.
Me: Oh yes, the love bridge.  It collapsed under the weight of love.
Russian man: (Laughs) You know it!
Me: Yes.
Russian man: We don’t love in Russia.
Me: No?
Russian man: Not like this.  In Russia we get drunk and punch each other in the face.
Me: Well I suppose…that’s…a kind of love.

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Poety Publication – Lantern Magazine

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I am so happy to announce the inclusion of my poem ‘Now’ in the wonderful, creative and beautiful Lantern Magazine.

My poem is a part of Issue 10 and was inspired by the breaking of winter and the long awaited emergence of spring.

If you would like to buy a copy of Issue 10 or any other issues on offer, please head to the Lantern Magazine website to order!

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On Raw Talent

I recently read ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King.  It was a good book and one I’d highly recommend for any aspiring writer who wants to know about the journey of a famous, published author.

One of the things that King talks about is talent and I think his theory on it was pretty spot on.  Basically he postulates that there are four types of writers (and I think this can definitely apply to pretty much any art): bad, competent, good & great.  He says it’s impossible to make a bad writer competent or a good writer great, but with a lot of hard work it is possible to make a competent writer good.

I find this to be an interesting theory because I’m absolutely fascinated by the concept of raw talent.  I look at artists who can draw without practice and I’m astounded (I can’t draw for shit, seriously even my stick figures are sad).  I hear these ten year olds on youtube belting out songs with voices of gold and I’m amazed.  I see documentaries about math savants who can see the numbers in their mind’s eye and I’m blown away.  To some people certain talents are just there.  So they work to improve them, but the talent is engrained, so all they’re doing is refining the awesome.

Then, of course, I keep pondering and I come upon things like this:

“I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” – Michelangelo

Now I’m wondering if that’s what talent is, maybe it’s the patterns and the beauty of the universe (and our brains) that these people are just recognizing and uncovering.  Like everything was all there to begin with and artists are born to find them.  All the stories, all the paintings, all the sculptures, all the equations.  Just waiting to be set free.

Maybe it’s because I used to be a hippy, took too many drugs and philosophized about the universe and how unbelievably crazy it is.  Maybe it’s because I still do that now (minus the drugs and most of the hippy part).  But the concept of raw talent gives me that same feeling I get when I stare up into the stars on a clear night, or when I was in Egypt looking up at those giant pyramids.  Wonder.  I mean think about it for a second, why are some people so good at things and other people are crap?  What are your talents, do you have one special thing or multiple things?  If so, where does it all come from and why?  Pretty crazy.

So talent.  Some people have it, some people don’t.  But does that mean that those who don’t can never achieve the same heights as people who do?  This is completely debatable, because a lot of the time, art is subjective.  Something I might consider to be abject garbage could make someone famous.  Something I adore could languish in obscurity.  So how does one gauge this idea of ‘greatness’?  It’s pretty tough.

But ultimately, at the end of the day, I tend to agree with King.  Perhaps it’s just that people who are bad at things typically don’t practice enough to get better.  But I kind of think there’s predisposition to a thing.  Being good at something usually tends to go hand and hand with a passion for it (I think) and I, for example, don’t have the raw talent of a visual artist.  I do, however, have the talent of a writer and I can only hope that if I try hard enough, I can go from competent to good.  Then again, it’s all just a matter of opinion now isn’t it?

Tell me your thoughts on Stephen King’s theory, or share some stories about awesome raw talent that makes you feel that jaw-dropping kind of wonder.

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The Business of Counting Words

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When I first started out doing the writing thing I never thought I would care about word count.  I thought it was mundane and technical and overall irrelevant to the art of writing.

Now I know better.

It’s not so much it’s relevance to the art that matters, but more to the business, and being a writer is indeed a business.  I find the process of trying to become a published writer not so different from my job as a producer for our video company, Happy Creations.  Although you have to have an undeniable passion for the art, you must also be a freelancer at heart.
The first thing I did when I decided I would be a writer officially was, of course, write.  I wrote a whole novel (around 150,000 words) and then a series of short stories (from 2000-5000 words each).  Then I did the research.  I have a spreadsheet full of lists of magazines, publishers, agents, contests and opportunities and what I began to learn from looking at the business side of things (that part where they pay you to write stuff) is that word count matters.

Some magazines have word count limits, contests too.  Some agents don’t want to read query letters beyond a certain length and even more to the point, a book can be classified as a novel or a novella based on word count alone.

I am currently working on a piece that started out as a short story and then turned into a novella.  Now at 15,000 words and counting, I’m wondering if it won’t go ahead and turn itself into a novel.

So I started out with a reluctance to count words, thinking the process of keeping track and trying to fit more (or less) words into a story would separate me from the art, but I realized that there is more to being a writer than simply art.  It is a business and in business, numbers matter.  So now I count with panache and excitement.  How many words can I write in an hour?  How many words can I get out in a day?

How does counting words effect you?

Do you view your writing as an art, a business or both?

Also, just so you know, this article is 383 words.