I’ve got this theory that everyone is at their peak when they’re a baby, brand new (I have no evidence to back this theory up. It really can’t be proved).
You’re full of magic! There is so much genius lurking in
your synapses, ready to fire. You figure everything out so quickly –
proprioception! Whole languages! How to manipulate your parents! You are
entirely fearless during this brief, glittering period of your life,
and everything is possible.
Unfortunately you have to grow up. The trouble with growing up is that
you stop being this pure angelic thing entirely unto yourself, yet to be
impacted by the neuroses of those around you, and start becoming a
creature of our world. Our world is confusing and weird and scary at
times, and you’ve got all these messages being lumped at you from all
sides, and lots of these messages come from fear – the world is
dangerous! Money is exceptionally difficult to acquire! Everyone is out
to get you!
...here's a new article by me on Birdee about fear of failure, and how to deal with it!
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Just because someone else is older than you, or has won awards, or is a bestseller, doesn't mean that their stories deserve to be told more than yours do.
You are the product of years upon years of life experience that is totally unique to you. Even if someone else had a totally identical upbringing, they wouldn't process information in the same way you do. There's this marvellous thing about your brain: there isn't another one exactly like yours in existence. (And the technology doesn't exist yet for us to effectively clone you, I don't think. I'll let you know if this changes. I'll get another Steph to write for me.)
Your viewpoint is entirely your own. The ideas and opinions you formulate cannot be truly known by any other human being unless you communicate these ideas to them. Can you see how important your stories are? There are decades of writing fodder percolating in your brain, lying in wait for the day you need it. Whether you use that for essays or memoirs or poetry or short stories doesn't matter. Your words have value.
Oddly, it's the people who are told their opinions aren't valid who we really ought to be encouraging to express themselves. I don't think there's enough Young Adult fiction that reflects genuine teenage experience in this country. I don't think there's enough YA that reflects what it's like growing up as someone who follows a non-dominant religion in this country, or as someone who was born elsewhere, or as someone living with disability or mental illness, or as someone who is not only dealing with all the standard teenage identity issues but also their multi-racial identity. I think we hear too much about minority groups and not enough voice is given to the actual people. Do you not think that fiction is a brilliant way to explore other people's viewpoints? Don't you owe it to the world to share your stories?
If you want to write, you should. Your words, your opinions, your thoughts, your stories - they are important. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Lacking technical skill, or being too young are rubbish excuses. Your words have the power to inspire others, to entertain, to inform, to allow you to connect. Which, you know, I've got this theory that's what human life is all about. I'm still working on this theory, but don't you think it's a nice one?
You can have respect for the writing of others, for your elders, for the tradition of storytelling, and you can also have enough respect for yourself to know that your stories deserve to be told.
Listen, listen: I'm telling you the truth. You matter. Your stories matter.
Films that are better on repeat viewings, stories that are narratively satisfying, and the danger of high expectations: on Inception, Looper, and the billion other movies I've watched lately
Sunday, February 16, 2014
I watched Inception for the second time the other night, after initially seeing it in the cinema a few years ago, and feeling really irritated by it. It's a film, I've found, that's better on repeat viewing. (Unlike another, more recent film I saw a few weeks back, This Is The End, which is mainly entertaining for its shock value. Watch it again and you find yourself wondering what you laughed at the first time.)
Inception is a film that seems to want so desperately to be taken seriously, which is one of the reasons I find it so entertaining (I have trouble taking fictional things seriously. My sarcasm is an issue at times). I've taken up randomly quoting from it to annoy my family ('Militarised subconscious!' I'll shout. 'Unstructured dream space!' I am a nightmare to live with.). I could remember it only vaguely, but remembered disliking it, so my expectations were low. And then I enjoyed it. I thought it was melodramatic, but I love melodrama. (And dreamscapes. Though the dreams were not particularly dreamlike.) I was very happy with the ending this time. It's funny that how you view something is pretty much entirely influenced by where you're at yourself.
I watched Looper the same evening, which I've seen three or four times now. I like it aesthetically and you know how I feel about time travel, but the failings of logic in the time travel ruin the entire thing for me (I had to draw a diagram on the back of an envelope to try to explain to someone how the film makes no sense - no one was there to shoot the kid's mum the first time around! He's still going to become the rain maker! Entire thing is pointless!).
The next evening I watched One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, which was oddly charming but then, suddenly, profoundly depressing. I watched The Birds and I watched Rear Window, and the latter was better (did everyone behave so strangely in the old days?).
A few weeks ago I finally saw The World's End, by the same people as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead. I had intended to see it at the cinema but it's expensive and by the time I make up my mind whether or not it's worth it the film's run is over. But, The World's End. Hot Fuzz is my favourite film, alongside Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, and I quote it incessantly. If I had perhaps approached The World's End as someone who had not seen Hot Fuzz, who was not aware of how well these particular movie-makers could be at making movies, I would've enjoyed it a lot more. It was odd and funny but a profound disappointment compared against their previous work.
I worry about this a lot, you know. That you might never better the first thing you come out with (I would say most people think Shaun of the Dead is the best one, of the trio). I wonder if Tarantino gets annoyed that everyone still thinks Pulp Fiction was the best (I prefer Reservoir Dogs, personally).
The World's End got worse on repeat viewings, disappointingly, whereas Hot Fuzz only improves. I do love a film where you notice something new every time you see it. (I have not seen Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind in years, but watched it many times when I was fourteen or fifteen and thus still regard it as one of my favourite films. It, too, was better on repeat viewings.) I rewatch movies in a way that I do not reread books. I think perhaps because the time commitment for films is far less.
The last time I went to the cinema was to see The Book Thief (I won't spoil it for you, if you haven't seen it yet). I haven't read the book because I am trying to avoid depressing books. Of course going along to see the movie was not a good idea. Bit of an emotional wreck afterwards. If you haven't seen it of course you should. I could not compare it to the book, which I think is a good thing. The film rarely compares (Fight Club was better as a film than as a book, but that's the exception). I'll read it when I'm feeling up to it.
The purpose of this post is to say: I've hardly been reading lately but I've watched a lot of films. My inability to replicate extraordinary narratives still irritates me, but not to the same degree as when I read an extraordinary novel. Maybe a change in medium distances me from the process enough to be able to almost appreciate it just for what it is. I think it's a good way to study narrative, even if you're not conscious of it. Three-act structure must just seep in, right? Of course I am excellent at rationalising sitting around watching films. After all, it's research.
I am always glad for film recommendations! (And book recommendations too, for that matter. Look, recommend a band if you want. I really like recommendations.) Time travel, reality-bending, dialogue-heavy movies, silly humour - I like these things.
Thursday, February 13, 2014
I have a terrible, terrible problem. Having never actually been an undercover cop it feels like a lie to tell you that it feels like being an undercover cop in my own life. Obviously nowhere near as high stress. But it's a problem.
I have a real issue telling people I'm a writer. It's very odd. I write. I write quite a lot. I'm working on another novel. I have two published already. I'm definitely a writer. Right?
And yet, people ask me what I do, unless I am at some sort of writer-thing where people already known I'm a writer, I say: "I'm a... student." Occasionally, after telling them about what I'm studying, they'll ask if I work. And I'll say: "No." And then, several seconds later, I'll mumble, "I... write. A bit."
I'm an author! I've been writing professionally for almost five years! Why do I do this?
I feel really fraudulent. I feel fraudulent when I don't tell people I'm a writer, because it's such a huge part of my identity.
I'm a writer, but I'm a writer who feels really inadequate. I'm not a bestseller. My books have won no awards. I don't write in a genre the majority of people regard as 'real'. And the next question, whenever you tell someone you're a writer, is "How much money do you make?"
People don't get it. People think it's all about making lots of money and winning awards and showing everyone how great you are. Maybe on some level I'd like those things - I have always dreamt of owning a house and of course I'd love to continue writing and being published - but I don't think these are the keys to a satisfying life.
So: I'm Steph Bowe. I'm a writer. I'm not glamorous. I'm not rich. You've probably not heard of me (oh, I mean, you have, of course). People enjoy the words I write, and that's nice. I would write even if I couldn't make any money out of it. It's who I am rather than what I do. I love writing. I love books. I don't so much love the business of being a writer, or worrying about book sales, or promotion, or trying to sound impressive when people ask me what I do. I get tired of trying to prove myself.
It's a bit too long a spiel for when people ask what I do, isn't it? Maybe get 'writer, not rich, not award-winner, sensitive weirdo' tattooed on my forehead and be done with it.
Monday, February 10, 2014
If you don't sit there and put in the hours, write all those words down and go over them again and again and again, being talented doesn't count for anything.
If you spend more time telling people you're a writer and indulging in some romantic ideal of being a writer than you do actually writing, you're not going to get anywhere.
The person who doesn't naturally have an affinity for words but who spends ten thousand hours working at it is going to learn more and likely become better than someone who has a natural ear for a sentence but spends their time staring wistfully out rain-streaked windows and imagining being interviewed about how much of a literary genius they are.
(I have no idea what 'has a natural ear for a sentence' means. People say weird things like that. Sometimes people say weird things like that to me. It counts for nothing unless you put a lot of sentences together.)
Just put in the time. Create a product. Whether that's a novel or a short story or an album or a painting, I don't think it matters. At the very least, create a hundred almost-products and learn all you can from them. This goes for anything.
If you want to be published, and you want to make a living as a writer - which is a valid goal, just as valid as wanting to write just for yourself, just to creatively express - you can.
Things that help: perseverance, single-mindedness, motivation, inspiration, passion, a little bit of madness. Just a touch.
Talent? Affinity? Genius? Doesn't really matter. If your brain is wired for writing it's not any use unless you actually write. If you're really shockingly bad at writing? That doesn't matter either. Writing, and writing, and continuing to write, and writing a bit more after that? That does. That's pretty much all that does. (Okay, not including reading, editing, ability to accept critique, ability to deal with rejection, shh, shh, I'm trying to keep it simple.)
Persistence counts for more than talent. That shouldn't be a depressing thought. Things aren't just handed to you. That's good. It's much more fulfilling to become good at something through a lot of hard work. You'll never really 'make it'. You'll always be improving; you will always need to persist. Talent can be a good nudge - if something comes easily to you it might seem a waste not to pursue it - but it won't take you far unless you put in the time and effort.
You got it? I'm twenty now. I've got all the answers.*
*Maybe an overstatement. Maybe.
Friday, February 7, 2014
I understand! You are a student/creative type/zombie (delete whichever is inappropriate), and as such you have no money. But you love books, and you long to collect them all. How can you support your favourite authors when you lack cash to buy books?
1. Go to the library. If you are not already convinced of the utter magic of libraries, we need to have a chat.
My local library network is the most amazing thing ever, because if they don't have a book I want at the nearest library they can order it in from another library. It mysteriously appears on the holds shelf a few days later. Marvellous stuff. Saves me a lot of bus travel. Plus, plus, I can place holds online (they limit it to ten which is sad because I get so excited about placing holds, I want to place fifty at once) and they have this whole e-book lending thing. Being that I don't have an ebook reader, I don't borrow many of these, but it is also awesome. Instant access to as many books as your heart desires! (Or that the system will let you have out at once. Also capped, probably due to people like me.)
There is a quite wonderful thing we have in Australia called Educational Lending Rights and Public Lending Rights, wherein authors are reimbursed some of the income they've lost from their books being available in libraries. You know downloading books illegally is super dodgy, so don't do that. Borrow from the library instead.
Also, libraries have air-conditioning and computers and nice places to sit (the children's fiction area is the best but frequently has children in it who are renowned as the noisest of humans, followed by drunk people. Maybe you local library has a good YA spot too). I am not even mentioning school libraries here. I am insanely jealous every time I visit a school with an awesome library. If your school library doesn't have a book you want to read, ask them to order it in!
My next book is just a 500-page ode to the library. It's my Narnia, with significantly less evil witches.
2. Talk about the books you love. This was why I started my blog! Of course, you don't have to be talking about books on the internet - you can just recommend books to friends and family. I was trying to avoid driving everyone I knew insane by talking incessantly about fictional characters. Other people with the same reading tastes as you might read your review and decide to pick up that book. So, you know, your favourite writer finds another reader, another reader finds a new favourite writer, everybody wins.
3. Buy books as gifts. I mean, if you're going to be buying someone a present anyway, why not make a book? Give the gift of reading, you guys. It's the best gift ever. Along with baked goods. If you give a book as a gift to someone you live with, then you can just borrow it from them and forget to return it at a later point. Personally signed books are also a really special gift that aren't necessarily any more expensive. Save up your Christmas fund, go to a writers festival and stock up. Be super nice AND save time by buying books by the authors that don't have enormous queues at the signing tables.
4. Write to your favourite authors. Fan mail is the greatest thing ever and is really encouraging (this is what I think, at least). If you want your favourite writer to keep on writing, let 'em know!
Labels: bookish thoughts
Monday, February 3, 2014
|This is me bein' all reflective and wistful and stuff 'cause it's my birthday. *I'm actually still a teenager in this picture.|
This getting older thing is incredibly weird, always happening without me noticing. I can remember being a kid and thinking of twenty as an age of distant grown-upness that I could never quite imagine myself reaching. I can also remember being a kid and thinking older students were incredibly mature. It turns out grade four kids don't seem that big once you're a grade four kid yourself. For the longest time I believed sixteen to be an age of utmost maturity, largely because that was when all the important things happened in books - that's the age you find out you're a cursed fairy princess, or you fall in love with some babe, or at the very least you are a super cool teenager with a car who goes to parties. Of course none of these things happened to me. Fiction is full of fibs, it turns out.
I feel like I am actually a five-year-old and I've been involved in some sort of Freaky Friday body swap with a full-grown person and I'll be able to get back to my real life - drinking pop tops and making abstract art finger paintings - after a series of comic events. I'll let you know if this works out for me.
So, I'm no longer a teenager. It's odd. I was never especially good at being a teenager, but I don't think I'm going to be especially good at being a twenty-something either. Not to worry. Very confident I'll be an excellent eighty-something, just need to make it to eighty first.
Despite my lack of traditional teenage narrative (I still lack a license, I really don't party, I get along fine with my family, I didn't have a proper high school graduation or any formals/balls/those dressed-up events where you stand around being awkward), my teenagerdom was really pretty wonderful. So much wonderfulness I can't even recap. You know all those weird people who say 'your teenage years are the best of your life!' when you're a teenager and you really don't want to hear it? Well! Here's to proving them wrong. I reckon proper adulthood is going to be fairly awesome, too.
Labels: thoughts on teenagerdom