Tyranny of the New

Mental State

I have a new phone. Unfamiliar. It makes different tones to the old phone, has a range of different features. None of the notifications sound the same. Some of the notifications I had disabled have now come to life again, as the apps are downloaded, which means my attention is constantly pulled towards the device as it chirps and chimes and tings.

The on-screen keyboard is different. Smaller. Harder to use. And the autocorrect still hasn’t learned my ways, so the messages I send out are frequently…weird. Riddled with typos and uncapitalised usage of the letter i as a single word.

I cannot communicate in the ways I am used too, as reliably as I used too, and it is frustrating as hell.

But the old phone had definitely seen better days, and it was time to make the upgrade. And for every old, familiar habit that has been frustrating, there are a whole bunch of outdated apps and habits that did not survive the transition.

I Went to College Once, But All They Found Were Rats in My Head

I am writing a two hour workshop today. I was not meant to be writing it, exactly, but things fell out the way they fell out and now that is my Wednesday and I am frustrated as hell. I have Pulp’s This Is Hardcore on the stereo, ’cause it matches my mood. Cycling back and forth between The Fear and the title track. I wasn’t really a fan of Pulp, before this album came out in 1998, but I listened to this one over and over and over. Horns, piano, anguish. Brilliant.

Pulp helps, I think, but I could be wrong. I’ve written this blog post a half-dozen times already, trying to find the angle or the spin that makes it something that I can post. Something that isn’t the equivalent of me showing up here and saying, effectively: today is hard. I am fretting about things. I have The Fear. I don’t want to be writing workshops today. I want to disappear into fiction, mess around with things that let me pretend that today is not quite so hard. I want to delete everything and refuse to engage with anyone.

But, honestly, there is no way around that.

Today is hard. I have The Fear. And the work needs to be done regardless.

I

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

It Goes Up To Eleven

It may be time to move my writing process off the computer again. I went digital again a few months back, when I was working on a redraft, and I found myself lured back into the rhythm of the keyboard and the quick accumulation of words that can be counted. And then, gradually, as things got busy and allocating my time got more complex, I started to loathe the idea of opening the laptop and the writing faded into the background.

On the other hand, I also need to do dishes. And change the sheets on my bed. And wander, blinking, into the sunlight without resenting the fact that I have to go to work.

These are not signs of not writing, they are signs of higher-than-usual stress levels. I let the little things go when I have no power to change to big things that need changing. I start questioning long-term plans, and making crazy alternatives. I stop reading new books and fall back on narrative comfort food. All my energy goes into the day-job, ’cause it requires it, and there’s not much left when I emerge.

I start running on automatic, instead of doing things in a considered and sensible way, and I dislike that feeling.

And so I find myself caught between two maxims: when in doubt, go back to the notebook, and don’t make big changes to your life when you are stressed off your dial.

This week, I’m focusing on mornings. Get up, drink coffee, eat porridge, write a thing. Doesn’t need to be big, just needs to be written. Reclaim the space and the mindset. Do something positive before the stress hammers into the rest of the day and the crazy, impractical plans start forming.

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

Winged Monkeys of Death on Stand-By

I am doing things on top of my usual work schedule this week. For instance, tomorrow night I am off to Logan Library to do a seminar about some of the myths about getting published.

On Wednesday, I will be giving up my weekly write club in the name of working on workshop content for next week.

Then, on Thursday, I will be back at QWC talking about Hard and Soft Launches as part of the Business of Books series. Spots are still available, if you’re inclined to come hear me talk about such things.

By Friday, I will be disappearing into a bunker and trying very hard not to hate the world. ‘Cause I love doing this stuff, but holy shit-balls there has been a lot of it in recent weeks, there is only so much time I can spend around people before my urge to unleash the winged monkeys of death becomes overwhelming.

A photo posted by Peter M Ball (@petermball) on

The Sunday Circle: What Are You Working On This Week?

Sunday Circle Banner

The Sunday Circle is the weekly check-in where I ask the creative-types who follow this blog to weigh in about their goals, inspirations, and challenges for the coming week. The logic behind it can be found here. Want to be involved? It’s easy – just answer three questions in the comments or on your own blog (with a link in the comments here, so that everyone can find them).

After that, throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.

Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in the coming week (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).

MY CHECK-IN

What am I working on this week?

Another big week of teaching (including one class I’d mistakenly included in last week). The biggest job, at present, is writing two hours of content for the workshop I’m teaching on Thursday night.

What’s inspiring me this week?

I saw the closing night of Cassandra and the Boy Doll at the Anywhere Festival here in Brisbane. It was a short play about identity and the trans experience, and while I quibbled with a lot of the directorial choices, there were some genuinely great bits. And even when I disagreed with the directorial choices, it was useful to start figuring out why and have a conversation about it.

What part of my project an I avoiding?

Pretty much everything. I have not written things that are not workshop materials in a week and it is making me extraordinarily grumpy, so at the very least I need to sit down and inch forward on one project or another.

And I really need to replace my phone, which is now on its last legs and refuses to include letters from the right-hand edge of the on-screen keyboard right as my contract ends, but I can’t bring myself to go through the effort of researching options before re-contracting.

John Wick

Last night I sat down and re-watched John Wick, ’cause I have this idea for a story in my head and I wanted to wrap my head around the minutia of the genre I like to call killing your way to the truth of things of which Wick is the most recent high-profile example. There are others on my list. I mainline a lot of media, in the build-up stage of writing.

I’ve also been immersed in the creation of a short story course for work, where I try to pull apart the microstructure of scenes and lay out things like narrative beats and action/reaction rhythms, giving people a toolkit for pulling apart the minutia of narrative of figuring out how it does what it does.

And it’s interesting, having these two things in my head, ’cause John Wick plays with narrative contrast on a scale that very few films manage. Nearly every major scene is contrasted against something else through the use of quick cuts and alternate points of view. It’s a core part of the film’s visual aesthetic: scenes that would otherwise consist of a single character sitting down and narrating are given life by shots of other characters preparing to go to war, or stepping into a new situation that will set up their next scene.

Scenes that would feel flat are suddenly laden with tension, simply by contrasting what the audience knows with what the character knows. Not a technique that’s easily transferable to fiction, since we lack the conceit of voice-over, but I’m curious enough to go looking for people who attempt to replicate the approach.

And, with that, I return to my bunker, my brain full of writing things to ponder as I start hashing out a voice and a plot for this project.