Originally, I was quite an artistic person. I think everyone who knew me up until about ten years ago could tell you I was always drawing or writing down ideas, doodling, making comics, all sorts of stuff. My skills weren’t extraordinarily fantastic, but I enjoyed it.
Sadly, when I was young — about 8, I believe — I broke my right hand in several places, and as time has marched on, it has become harder and harder to hold anything (pens, pencils, forks) for long periods of time. This has meant less and less drawing for me.
Still, I am a creative person, and I started making the shift to writing when, as a freshman Art Major at Northern Illinois University, I realised that I couldn’t keep up with my hand the way it was. My writing was not exactly excellent in my mind but I have then, and continue to get, quite positive feedback about my skills all together.
In late 2013, after the earthquakes started settling down and I came to terms with the horrors that had unfolded around us (not all made by nature, I might add), I realised that 40 was approaching quickly, and I still had not really written much of anything other than this blog, a few Star Trek fan fiction pieces, and a few scripts for various (and more often than not, failed or defunct) Star Trek productions.
I decided I’d start writing a novel.
There have been a few ideas floating around my mind, and each one gets only so far and I give up or get bored and move on to the next project. This probably isn’t always the most healthy way to approach writing, but then again, I did have a writing instructor at NIU who said that once you feel you get to the end of something or being stuck, put it away, keep it there for a while, work on other things, and bring it back out when you feel you have more to add or you can face it again. He was pretty right on that, and I followed that through a bit with my writing.
On 1 January 2014, I figured out what I wanted the novel to be about and even thought of a title and the main character who probably would end up not being the main character at all. The title? The Legend of The Boy Who Could Live Forever.
Now, one of my best friends in the world and fellow comic-book lover John Sill and I had a dream when we were at Prospect High School that we’d create a comic book company together. It never really came to fruition for a whole slew of reasons, and when I came to New Zealand, that kinda seemed to die a natural death.
But this was perhaps a way we could work together and bring in superheroes in the process . At first, I only alluded to it through social media and communications with him. I thought, “I have to start things off and get some ideas down before I start talking with him fully.”
And I did. I think Noel thought he was a computer widower for the days I spent at the dining room table, frantically typing out a story, almost a prologue of sorts. The creative stream flowed, unrestricted, as the word count kept growing. 5,000 words. 10,000 words. 15,000 words.
These weren’t the characters John and I originally created, but they were a new generation of superheroes from our original generation.
Once I came to the finish of the first section, that prologue I mentioned before, I sent it to him. He liked it, and we started working together on fleshing out this alternate reality world full of superheroes and villains and everything in between.
Our original characters started making their way into the story. The universe we were bringing to life was large enough for old and new characters alike.
It worked well for a while, but the creative writing bug bit me hard and forced me into a different direction. I’d been toying with the idea of starting my Masters in Creative Writing through Massey University here, but I had to take a bridging class in order to do that. Not wanting to completely bog myself down too much, I enrolled for the Advanced Fiction Writing class, seeing what I could learn about writing and, more specifically, how to become a better writer.
(This, by the way, was one of the reasons I didn’t really blog much in 2014. I was so engrossed in this class that every spare moment and every ounce of creative energy I had went into this class.)
There was a lot of reading, a lot of writing, some communications and online classes with students and our teachers. To be honest, by this time last year, I’d completed all my readings so I didn’t have to take any with me to the US! So just as well I love reading.
The main thing we had to do, however, was to write. Two short stories, with a third short story being a re-envisaging of one of the first two, but, if we were lucky, we might be able to write a third, unrelated story if the first two were that good. Of course, if you know me at all, that challenge is like a red rag to a bull, and I wanted to go for a third story.
I started work on the first story while I went through the lessons. There were dozens of stories I began, or took old ideas and made them new. Some of these were panning out beautifully, but they would be way too long to meet the 3,000 word limit: the scope too large, the story too grand. And then I started hitting the brick wall, panicking a bit because I felt, well, these stories I did have that were under the 3,000 word limit had no soul, and I didn’t honestly like them a lot, and how could I salvage something I didn’t like that much and make it a good story?
That panic, that anxiety kicked in. It wasn’t a full-on attack, but this gnawing softly, deeply in my gut kind of anxiety.
I turned back to my lessons and decided I might as well start the next chapter there. It was interestingly enough a lesson on desire. Now, when I initially hear the word “desire”, I think longing of one person for another, but this was a wider scope. Sit down, write, not knowing where the journey will take the writer, the characters, or the reader, but it needs to be a journey they take together. They need to be invested in this journey together.
Pondering that, I went and took a shower.
Thoughts tumbled through my mind like clothes in a dryer. I’d written various versions of a story about two people in a secret love affair. The first version, the one I created at NIU way back in 1994, was about straight people but if I was gay, why should I have made it about straight people?
There was another version about two guys in university, exploring a relationship when they both weren’t out. A third version made one a singer hitting his stride and the spurned lover telling his story to a journalist. And on and on this went.
20 years later, in the shower, I realised the story wasn’t about these external pressures, it wasn’t about selling anyone else out, it wasn’t about any of that. It was about desire. It was about a brief, finite moment in time. It was Romeo and Juliet without the outside obstacles. It was about those two men and those two men alone.
I came out of the shower, got dressed, sat down at the dining room table, and I wrote. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote, the words cascading out of my head to my fingers tapping the keyboard on my Macbook Pro and onto the same screen I’m typing this blog on. No editing, no going back, letting the moments flow as they should, bringing these emotions to the page: the raw emotions, the lust, the love, the passion.
Eight hours later, I had finished. 3,000 words, 10 pages, down on the page.
I went to the bathroom and I cried.
The ending was dark, the ending was finite, the ending was harsh and cruel. The story was brilliant.
I kept working on it, refining it, fine-tuning it, and thank God my good friend Emma took the time to keep reading, keep reading, pointing things out, saying what needed to be changed. To be honest, I was embarrassed showing this to anyone else because it was very strongly in my voice, had several places at NIU in the story, and I made the assumption people would think it was about me and some forbidden love affair I had in college. (News flash: I’m boring. I never had a forbidden love affair in college.)
Noel finally wore me down enough that I let him read one of the later drafts. Then Jacqui. Then others. I’m hoping I read this right, but they were all astonished. First, they never knew I had this level of emotional intelligence to write such a piece. Second, they were stunned at its depth. Third, they were shocked I had such a smutty mind!
(James, Jacqui’s husband, kept calling it, “Fifty Shades of Gay”. Yeah, I can see that!)
Noel’s mother became ill and then started dying, so obviously that was my first priority. I didn’t get to focus as much on the story as I wanted before I had to submit it, but I talked to my tutors (they were excellent) and they were fine with submitting it. My story was one of two to be discussed on-line that Wednesday — incidentally the same day Molly passed away — and my tutors said they’d understand if I couldn’t make class.
I felt that Molly would have wanted me to attend the online class and discuss my work. She was always very supportive, and I felt, in a way, it would be acknowledging her support.
It didn’t stop me from being nervous, anxious, wanting to throw up, and so on!
When you write, I feel you put a piece of yourself out there for everyone to see. Your words, whether they are a script, or a book, or a story, or a blog, these reveal who you are, sometimes something very deep within you. I’m not saying that it is a carbon copy of you on the page, but it is a facet of you, something you might know about or have experienced. Well, that’s what a good writer can do, anyway. I’ve seen a few bad writers in my time as well, and, I’m not sure about others, but I can usually tell when a bad author has no idea what they are writing about.
In the online class, there were about seven other writers and one of our tutors. To be honest, I can’t remember if I went first or last, but I had paper and pen ready, as I was so extremely keen to get any feedback I could about the story and how I could improve it.
They all seemed to love it. I was a bit surprised at the positive feedback I got. Sure, there were things that needed to be changed, but that was to be expected.
The tutor was happy that, while this was about two men in university having a torrid love affair, there were no external pressures on them. There wasn’t the cliched threat of what if someone found out, would character X lose Y because he was having it off with character Z. And the character with the most to lose was the one who was willing to sacrifice it all for love.
I’d focussed the story inward on the two lovers instead of outwards to the world and the world’s expectations of them and on them.
I’d (purposely) turned it all around, all the expectations on their heads, and it worked.
It was like a weight was lifted off of me, and I felt more enthusiastic and more confident about my writing. So back into writing I went.
The second story was as hard as the first to get underway. Again, a dozen different ideas. Again, many failures or dead-ends. So I ended up writing a story about Jack after the beanstalk, and, while it wasn’t as good as the first story, I was pleasantly surprised at the feedback I received because it was so good. (Interestingly enough, some of my classmates expressed surprise at how different of a story it was from my first one. Good! That’s what I wanted.)
For my third story, I asked my tutor if I could please (pretty please) write a new story, but he came back to say I needed to revisit one of my stories. He didn’t care which one, but I needed to do that.
I was a bit over the second story, the one about Jack after the beanstalk, and I dreaded dealing with the first story again because it had provoked such a strong emotional response in me every time I read it. We were back in Chicago, and one day, the inspiration struck me again, and I started working on the second take on the first story.
I admit, I was a little naughty. I ended up blowing the story out to 7,000+ words and got more into the nitty gritty details. But I was tired of that story, I had worked so hard on the previous two that I could feel the emotions and creativity draining away from me.
This was a strong factor in my depression, I think, once we returned from the States. The amount of emotion, energy, time, everything I’d put into these stories made my batteries run low.
I still was keen, though, on starting the Masters in Creative Writing. I asked around for advice, and what I received from those in the know basically said this:
Your writing is good enough to already pass that level. The only benefit you would get would be the ability to focus on your writing through a structured programme and work with those on that same journey with you.
In addition, some feedback said to me: If you really want to do a Masters in Creative Writing, America has some excellent university programmes, and we’re pretty confident you would get in with no problems.
Again, it surprised me, because I have a lower opinion of myself than I probably should have.
What about writing now?
Once the depersonalisation kicked in, my urge to write waned. To be honest — my counselor and I were having this discussion the other day, actually — the energy used in the creative process gets burned up by the depersonalisation. They are, essentially, the matter and antimatter creatively.
As you can tell, I’m slowly getting back into writing. I felt the blog would be the safe bet, dip my toes in the waters, so to speak, before getting in.
Let’s hope the water’s just right and stays that way as I get better.