Indie … Indi … Go! Part 1

Apparently, according to a recent article in the Guardian, any writer who wishes to be taken seriously would be foolish to consider self-publishing.

Sadly, at one time, I would have agreed with this statement. Brought up in a family which, it turns out, valued dysfunction over compassion as an essential ingredient of genius – ‘genius’, you understand, being the highest accolade one could collect – I fell into that sticky trap of both desiring and despising the approval of others for my achievements. It is this sorry state that fuels yet another industry – that of publishing – within our brittlely constructed world.

The telling of stories is a vital element of any functioning human culture. It is how we learn to make sense of the world, how we distinguish between what is of lasting importance and what is ephemeral, how we explore and navigate through difficult emotions, come to terms with disappointments and have our self-delusory concepts exploded – in the nicest possible way.

This is why story-tellers have always held a position of importance in societies throughout history. The bards, poets and minstrels of our past, although not necessarily deemed as possessing high rank, were always regarded as essential, and the tradition of stories told around the camp-fire still has a place in any outdoor overnight gathering.

I guess what I’m saying is that the story-telling which is about, and for, one’s community will always be valued within that community. The moment it becomes removed from that setting, is elevated into a ‘pristine’ form, encased in parchment and ink, designated with an official seal of approval – it becomes something else. No longer a living, changing, experience of potential and imagination, it morphs into something static, worshipped and prized.

It is now not owned by either its creator or its recipients, but by a collection of officials, who all get to have a say about how it now functions in the world as a means to another end – that of staying safe.

For me, the wonderful world of subversive e-books and ‘print-on-request’ paperbacks, roundly condemned by the Guardian author as undermining the publishing industry – there’s telling – is a deep and powerful connection back to the roots of the oral tradition, when no one story was ever told the same way twice.

Now we have the opportunity – all of us – to share in the telling whenever we want, and to update our versions of the stories whenever that feels appropriate. We have the potential to bring life back, into something which threatens to kill it off by ‘serious’ ownership and false perceptions of ‘prestige’.

If you are in any doubt of the power of the rogue story-teller, track down the video of Maxima Acuna de Chaupe singing her story – the tale of a mighty battle between a small farm-owner and the force of a corporate mining company. A tale of true victory.

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The Importance Of Being … Rubbish

I met a young writer recently. Well, an aspiring writer because, by his own admission, he had yet to write anything. He called himself a writer and seemed pretty convinced that was what he ‘truly’ was. He was merely waiting for ‘the right story to arrive’. Something, he said, that would move him sufficiently to write well.

I also met an old writer. She’d had a novel on the go for many years. It was unfinished because it wasn’t yet ‘perfect’.

I guess these are both valid ways to approach the glorious business of writing, but they seem to me to be self-defeating, and to have little to do with creativity. They rely heavily on the concept of there being something out there – perfectly formed, pristine, and just out-of-view! The writer’s task, apparently, is to manoeuvre into a position where they can catch a glimpse of the completed article, and quickly transcribe it to paper (or screen) before it disappears again. Or to keep hacking away at the ‘nowhere-near-good-enough’ item that has arrived, in the belief that a writer of real value can change it into that mysterious, beyond reach, immaculate conception.

There is little here about letting creativity unfold, about exploring where something might go, about stepping into the unknown and taking an adventure.

When I write, I just write. And mostly, I write rubbish. And that’s okay. Because it seems to me that it is in the process of writing, that writing well becomes possible. I rarely know where my writing is going, which characters are going to turn up on the page, what they will say. Rather than searching around for the ‘perfect’ scenario, or waiting for inspiration to arrive, I set off on my travels, writing rubbish, writing rubbish, writing … oh! that’s interesting.

I follow the golden thread to see where it leads. I listen for which words come next. I watch to see what happens and write about what I see. In Ursula Le Guin’s words, “I go there and look around.”

I feel very strongly that if I’ve already made up my mind about what I want to unfold, then I’m limiting the possibilities of what might appear. The creative process should be one of negotiation, I think – between me, working from my heart, my head, my intuition, and the story that is offered from some mystical place of which I have no knowledge. Until, that is, I start writing.

For it is in the very process of writing – and writing freely – that the gift of the story arrives. It definitely feels like a mystical process to me. It’s as if my willingness to write rubbish – to not judge what comes out of my pen as it glides across the paper – allows the unknown to become manifest. It seems to form as I write. The writing itself is somehow the trigger that allows the words to arrive.

And what if what I end up with is rubbish, too? Well, why would that matter? It’s all part of the journey and I can always just throw it away!