Collaboration: Delusion’s Cure

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Old paths to publication and creativity are dieing while connectivity and collaboration grows. This is for the better. But first I must acknowledge in myself the strangest habit— I battle it even as I write this. I battle self-delusion. The erroneous thinking which leads one to think they are competing against something as opposed to participating in it.

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I’ll clarify this thought. I am a writer and traditional authorship paths would have me believe that there is a three-step routine to having your book published: write it, get an agent, get it published. I’m not sure what it is about the human condition but I’d always framed this as me against a rigged system. Without even applying much effort I’d come very quickly to the conclusion that getting an agent is like winning a lotto. It is a true a large amount of good writing (not necessarily my own) is consistently passed over. However, the greater realization I’ve been trying to accept is that in no way is a system that is difficult to succeed in, a system that is attacking, you, personally. Ultimately your manuscript’s rejection is impersonal.

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I remember a conversation on the phone with a good friend of mine, pumping myself up, saying, “No matter what people say or think, I will write and publish this book!”. My more level-headed friend on the other end of the line responded, “Who exactly is preventing you?” When confronted by that question I realized I could identify maybe two nay-sayers. And even then, they were more commenting on the known difficulty of getting published. Not directly saying to me you have no hope.

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This is the way of our fears. They have the power to turn our inner monologue into an extroverted perception of what surrounds us. We turn a matter of personal perception (something we very much have control over) into something immutable, outside ourselves, and thus, difficult to influence in a meaningful way. Admittedly the current system’s difficulty to penetrate lends itself to this flawed way of thinking. Human nature compels us, likely as a defense mechanism, to externalize most challenges: a kind of mental off-loading of responsibility. Life is stressful enough without realizing how lazy we are.

But that’s enough self-flagellation. The reason I wanted to write this was to point out which changes in human connectivity are making the creative process far more exciting, collaborative, and somehow paradoxically, an independent endeavor. The big ones you know of course: e-publication, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Tumblr, and a slew of others. They all contribute to author’s success, if only for their power to advertise. Much more exciting in my mind however are the social sites I’ve found which go beyond basic advertising, and can actually make you a better writer. I had no idea they existed up until roughly a year ago.

I’m referring to peer review writing sites. These social networks are an invaluable resource if you which to do more than show people what you are creating. They are inherently smaller (any community that actually creates as opposed to consumes always is) but the intense passion for the craft you will find in these places is humbling. Your computer screen becomes a portal to like-minded up and coming authors who all want to help each other grow.

The process on these sites is simple. Participants connect via the forums and offer to critique and review each other’s work. The grammatical comeuppance when I first arrived served as a reminder, we all have much to learn. Having taken my initial lumps I’ve learned an immense amount and networked with people who already have successfully published, be that independently or through a major house.The two I would recommend people use are Figment or Wattpad. Each has its strength.

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Figment’s community is more hardcore and if you wish to have professional critique that’s where you will find it. Again its specialized community of more intensely driven writers means there are less of them but this as well becomes a benefit. With any regular reviewing and effort you become a true member of the community and not so easily lost in the crowd which can occur in the latter I will describe.

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If you wish to go for exposure and more opinions of your work as opposed to full review, Wattpad is the clear winner. Not only does it have a larger community but the site designers quite brilliantly have also designed a mobile application for the site. A mobile application equals—you guessed it—more exposure. The education offered through these sites, let alone the exposure, would have costs thousands in a not so distant past.

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This relates as well to my point regarding the paradoxical independence granted to us by a greater availability of collaboration. There is no longer one path. An abundance of choices leads to far more individualization. Yes you are networking and interacting with more people than ever before, but now you are able to do so on your own terms. You personalize the questions you want answered. Finally you’re free to tailor and define the sort of engagements you want to take part in. It can be a bit disorienting at first, lacking the direction traditional methods offer, but I believe this greatly benefits innovation. It’s the classic idea that because you never learned what was ‘impossible’ you pioneer something everyone else gave up on.

Now with the peer review out of the way I can discuss my favourite part of new-age collaboration: the kind you never saw coming. You might be wondering, what was that cover up at the top of this post? Well aside from being the recently completed cover for my first book ‘Stone Heart’ it is the result of a random collaboration.

I have a Youtube channel called ‘DaveTrippin‘ (shameless plug is shameless). On this channel I try to help people to move to Japan or find work, or basically answer any questions about Japan that people may have. I get lots of emails asking many questions and I am more than happy to make videos answering them. It’s how my channel grows.

One day I got an email which for the first half read like all the others. This fine gentlemen asked if I would mind making a video to answer a few of his questions. Nothing new there. The shocker came in the second half of the email when he offered to design me a cover for my recently completed book. I’m amazed with what he produced and I think you would agree, he did an excellent job. This kind of collaboration was not possible before and is a testament to the better world we now live in as artists.

The string of events which led to this wonderful moment baffles me: a peer review site which never existed until recently has made me a better writer. In turn creating an unrelated Youtube site has put me in contact with an amazing graphic artist. That artist noticed I had a website. A website which I could have only made with the ease of recent technology and the now readily available online tutorials. On that site he sees that I am an author and wants to help me.

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The lesson here is obvious and something we’ve known all along. Humans wish for a world in which we do not hate or repress each other. We wish to reach out, to help, to see ourselves in one another, and with the amazing leaps forward made each day by collaboration, that dream will not one day become reality, it is now, already come.

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How To Right Gud: An Homage To Terry Pratchett

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Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is awesome. I could stop right there but that would sort of defeat the self engrandizing journey of praise I’d like to set out upon for this, not long for the world, amazing author. I came to the game so to speak probably far after many had discovered his writing. But that’s always the way for me: late to the party and the last one standing. Strangely enough that’s also only half true as I actually read a graphic novel ‘Mort’ when I was younger that is an adaptation of the novel of his which shares the name. But since I can claim ignorance at the time of not actually knowing it was Terry’s work I still hold to the aforementioned statement that I did not read his work until recently, or at the very least, knowingly.

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Why do I love his work so much? That’s what I’m waxing on about isn’t it. So I’d best get to it. When I read his books I smile, I laugh, I learn, and maybe most important of all, I laugh at myself. In the Disc-World works there are over fourty books. To say that Terry was prolific would be an impressive understatement. The man simply never stopped writing. Up until he passed away he wrote and did so even when he himself could not put a pen to the page. He had someone take dictation and continued on in that way as well. Anyways, I digress.

In these many books I don’t understand and am constantly humbled by how he never ran out of something to say. And there in a way is the lesson I took away from him. He’s the ultimate example of what a writer should do if he wants to improve, grow, evolve, or any other fancy adjective you can throw at the wall: you should write. Yes some of it may be better or worse, but that is hardly the point. The point is to write, unashamedly, unabashedly, unanotherwordedly. Our greatest glory is not in never writing pure garbage, but in writing pure garbage until it becomes someone else’s treasure. I’m now a staunch believer in the counter concept that, you can in fact, polish a turd. To make this point in another way. Terry has made me less afraid of my writing. Inaction is the mother failure, and upon further thought, the distant cousin of masturbating far too much.

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We worry and worry and worry and melt away in a boiling non existence of existential crisis far to often wishing that we made the next great work, the world changer that all will bow before. The Disc-World books made me realize finally how unoriginal that is. A sharp adherence to practiced set standards leads to the constant problem: same shit different manuscript. Writing is meant to be play, to entertain! I feel like you see this a lot in Terry’s irreverent non-stop word play. The man is constantly creating words, messing with the ones we know and liberating us from the misunderstanding that language is law. Language is a symbol of our better selves and our better selves are not ruled by laws. They are freed by creation. Granted to write a sentence with zero punctuation that carries on for ages when it should have stopped an eternity ago can get you in serious trouble if you’re not careful and a lot of people will have your head for it but if you stick to your convictions and run with it you may be surprised at the end result… it might be funny?

So that’s what Terry Pratchett means to me. Don’t be so insufferably strict with how you right. Play with language. If you are doing it for any other reason than the clacking you feel under your fingers as you go along, you may want to examine your goals.

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I Think Too Goddamn Much!

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I have a problem. And considering the way I acted when I was younger, I find it’s strange that it’s the one that plagues me most as I’ve gotten older. When I was young I’d do something shit stupid and my dad would ask me about the repercussions of what I’d done. I would start to answer, “Well, I didn’t think-.” He would cut me off. “Exactly! You didn’t think.” Herein lay my youthful problem: action without forethought.

Now a few days have gone by. I’m roughly thirty and perhaps because of my obsessive worry about not thinking enough when I was younger, I am now cursed with the exact reverse. I think to goddamn much! No action is done without weighing first all the multitude of outcomes. Any moral act is beaten to death with a stick long after it should be put to rest. I wanted to buy a car recently on a modest budget and only realized around consulting in great depth with the fifth or sixth person that I was treating the whole thing like marriage proposal. It’s a special kind of hell. My spontaneous self left strangled and beaten to a pulp.

A strong desire to believe that we can change has shaped a great deal of my recent life. I’ve sought out wise people for advice and found them in our history either in books or lectures. My favourite is Allan Watts. He’s the 1970’s guru (although he would hate to be called that) who popularized Eastern philosophy in the west. I like him so much because of the academics I could find, he speaks directly at the topic as opposed to around it. I say this because I’ve found books on neuroplasticity touch on the subject but don’t really get into the meat of it. Not to say you shouldn’t read these either they’re amazing for their own reasons.

Anyways. Why is Allan Watts such a good resource for the topic? I’ve found his strength is two-fold. You have on the one hand his great research background on Eastern philosophy that gives him something to talk about. On the other, and surprisingly the most potent, he talks! His lectures can be found all over Youtube.

Listening to him, as much as I found what he has to say was incredibly enriching in terms of its educational value, it was the timbre and sonorous quality of his voice as he spoke that provided me with the most peace. One of the primary virtues he espouses when trying to escape our obsession with control and over-thinking is that we would simply experience the here and now more. Something modern therapeutic meditation might call “mindfulness”. There is a big problem with it though. If your goal is to become lost in a moment of immediate experience you’ll quickly defeat yourself by “thinking” far far to much about getting lost in the moment. A sort of cyclical disaster.

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Watts warns about this and says if your intention is to calm and clear the mind do not go about doing so by demanding of your inner thoughts that they should leave. He says this has the same effect as trying to calm disturbed water with a flat-iron (an expression I love dearly). Instead he suggests observing your thoughts. Allow them to enter your mind and become aware of them. In this way you allow all the conflicting repressed garbage demanding your attention to take its turn and then clear. I’ve heard others describe it as watching cars pass on the road. Each car is a thought and you observe them as they come. This accommodating non combative method, I’ve found, truly does yield results.

And that is why I discovered it was less the content of Allan’s speeches that mattered to me and more his tone. This is because it was his extremely enjoyable tone, which after I observed the points he made, made me forget I was observing them at all. I forgot because I enjoyed the experience of his voice so much, to think about what he was saying. Hallelujah. I defeated the cycle not because I had learned so much about what exactly I should bend my will to accomplish. I simply enjoyed so much what I was doing, I forgot to think about it.

And that is what I have learned about how to calm my mind and do at least something to absolve this most assiduous cancer of over-thinking. Do something I love. Do anything that I become so involved in I forget who I am, what I care about, what I (imagine) matters. In doing so I am free. I actually have a bit of a chuckle to myself when I think how often I have hated the idea of someone being a couch potato and mindlessly watching television. I understand now the need for such an escape. Constant reflection is as unhealthy as no reflection at all. We need to disconnect. We must. Living in this world with its infinite information to consider is something which can poison an overactive mind.

So this is my advice to you reader. You who by some fascinating twist of the universe’s superpositions made it to my writing and took the time and gave it the honour of your attention. Minus all the mumbo-jumbo about meditation and mindfulness, if you find yourself in a similar situation to myself: where even feeding the cat becomes the greatest existential moral dilemma of your life. Let go and find something you simply enjoy, something you really really enjoy. You will forget the illusion of (I). You will become more what you truly are: an experience.