The Misfortune Teller | Flash Fiction

Life was meant to come with some surprises. Science had made it easy to predict certain things, like the gender of an expected baby, the potential spread of cancer, the risk of any number of genetic diseases, the likelihood of someone being able to survive a car crash. It often seemed easier to predict the bad than the good. For Clark Monaghan, that statement couldn’t have felt more true. He had a listing in The Black Pages, the directory for everything magical, mystical and fantastical. It was revised from a former position he had once had, and by its nature was more popular. He sometimes wished the book never existed.

Clark could never beat his customers to work. He arrived every morning with a cup of hot coffee to a crowd. Not an orderly queue, but a mob waiting for answers. He knew he didn’t need to show up early for them – they didn’t get in until he’d had his coffee – but he figured if he couldn’t beat them, he could at least beat rush hour traffic.

His first customer was an electrician. The demographics of Clark’s customers would reveal a pattern of dangerous occupations, and often some scepticism. “Does it really work?” the man asked.

Clark nodded. “I don’t list myself as the Misfortune Teller for nothing,” he explained. “But I can only tell you one thing. The same thing I tell everyone else.” The man nodded. “Before we begin, you must know that this can be incredibly distressing. The information you receive today, it will change your life. Morbid curiosity is not enough to justify this expense. You will know that which humankind was never meant to know. Do you wish to continue?”

The man nodded again. “I have a daughter. She’s only five. I have to know.”

They held hands. The electrician was, by Clark’s gauge, only slightly uncomfortable with it. He had seen worst reactions. He had seen some people enjoy it perhaps a bit too much. But the holding of hands was an essential part of Clark’s process, a process that was as entirely unique as Clark’s gift.

He closed his eyes. Every living being had an aura. Clark could sense it. That wasn’t special, at least not for The Black Pages. But within that aura, Clark could find something else. He reached for it, in a way only he could, through space and time, around logic and reason and winding through intelligence. He avoided madness and chaos, and eventually reached that one, powerful piece of information that only he had so far managed to locate within an aura.

He opened his eyes, picked up a quill from the table beside him with one hand, and pricked the man’s arm that he still held firm. The man flinched, but stayed still as a trickle of blood began to write upon his arm. A date, a time, and nothing more.

The man looked at it uncertainly and began to cry softly. Clark noted that he was a quiet crier. Tears, but not snots. “That’s quite a long time to go,” he told the man. “Your daughter, she’ll be nearly sixty by then.” He smiled warmly at his customer. He did not know the man’s name. He didn’t like to read about his customers in the obituaries. He tried to avoid their names within their auras, too, and was sometimes successful.

“That’s really when I’ll die?” the man asked. Clark nodded. Sometimes, it wasn’t such a misfortune. He was maybe falsely advertising to some people.

“The date can be washed off at your leisure. I advise doing so before heading to work or speaking to your family.”

It went that way for everyone. Not necessarily with the same results; a lot of the people who came to him had shorter lives ahead of them than they had intended for themselves. Many of those tried to fit as much life into that time as they could, which often resulted in a terrible, deadly accident at the exact time Clark had given them.

Life was surprising that way.

A woman with only a few weeks to go asked him the question that many of those with short lives had on their minds. “How do you know?”

Clark knew she was smart. He knew she knew about the magical world once so magically hidden from everyone else. “I used to be a Grim Reaper,” he explained. “Then, I was in a terrible accident, after I’d left the job. Lost my head, quite literally. A necromancer put me back together, which didn’t much please people. I think those two things, and the fact that my mother used to work in this very room gave me something of a unique outlook on life.”

He smiled at her. She smiled back. “Maybe we’re lucky to have you,” she said quietly. He would have liked her to live longer. He thought maybe he could fall for her. She was half his age, not that he was keeping track anymore. He didn’t know her name, only that of the type of cancer she had. She knew she would die soon. She just need clarity, she’d told him.

“Maybe I’m lucky to have people like you. Death is often unwelcome. There aren’t many like you who are so aware of how inescapable it is.” She left, her imminent date still imprinted upon her arm. She was his last for the day. He needed more coffee. He always wondered if going alone looked at weird to other people as it did to him.

He did not go for coffee.

Instead, he grasped his hands together. His aura flared up within his mind’s eye. It was complicated and jagged, sometimes threatening to throw him out. No one liked Clark’s aura, not even Clark himself. Whether through the guiding of souls or the replacement of his own, his aura had become something of a menace.

And whether through his own failure, or a lack of an ending, he could never tell when he himself would die.

And that, he thought, was just one of the many ways life could be cruel.

The Misfortune Teller is part of a collection of stories about a magical phone book that exists within the supernatural community – The Black Pages. These stories related to my new book, A Death in the Family, which launches at K-Con on April 1st. Read about the book below:

Benjamin Cooper is about as close to death as someone can get, without actually dying. Literally.

In the wake of the Worst Year of the Century, the Coopers are visited by a man straight out of folklore, Death himself. Ben is forced, by way of fulfilling a supernatural debt, to take over the mantle of Reaper.

But life as Death is more complicated than Ben could ever imagine, and perfectly executing every order is rarely an easy task.

A Death in the Family is a tale of paying for others’ decisions, seeking to understand dying, and falling hopelessly in love.

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World-building Through Storytelling

In January of this year, I spent time every day writing short stories, and developing ideas. Several of these stories fed into a shared universe, with a single item at its centre: a phone book for the supernatural, called The Black Pages. Taking a look at some of the different people whose businesses were detailed within this imaginary phone book, I built up a few key points for the stories: what sort of hierarchy existed, what sort of laws surrounded magic, what people were capable of, who knew who in the wider universe, etc.

Flash forward to March, and I put together a book that had been playing about in my head since long before The Black Pages. I saw an opportunity with an existing story I had written to expand the world I had created, by introducing a character I’d been thinking about for years: Death, in a beige sweater. Making a brief appearance in a story tale called The Local Necromancer, Death’s story had me captivated. And so, I churned out A Death in the Family, a book that tells the story of Benjamin Cooper, after years of deliberation and a morbid fascination with the folklore surrounding death and the end of times. The book allowed me to build up a few things I had established in my short stories.

A friend asked me about world building and story telling yesterday – a nice coincidence, given the fact that I was planning this post – and I gave her a simple answer that I can put more concisely now: build the world through the story.

I started with the necromancer. He had a name. He had a story. I followed up on his tale with two more related stories. One gave me a fun tale, the other gave me a policing organisation. One thing that always interested me about any story worlds dealing with the supernatural were the governing and policing forces. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the Watchers. Supernatural had Heaven and the Men of Letters, but nothing beyond Hell that was internal to the supernatural creatures. The Shadowhunter Chronicles has the Shadowhunters to police the supernatural, with each subsection of magical being having their own governing forces.

The slightly dodgy artwork for a short story booklet. Cheap and cheerful!

I needed order, and I had a necromancer. He needed opposition on two fronts: one group that deals with the consequences of his business, and another to try stop him. I also wanted some element of comedic relief, and with my young, beige sweater-ed Death on the scene, I had a solution: Reapers. I hadn’t built up many rules surrounding them, but they felt like a natural opposite to the necromancer, and that they were only going to be regular people. Death became a day-job.

I also introduced, in a third story, my police and clean-up crew: Damage Control. One supernatural solution, one human solution, and two more characters to play a role in the events of the book that was putting itself together in my subconscious for a few years.

Building a world requires a certain level of patience, and a degree of understanding how much information is too much for a reader in one go. In an ideal world, people would read my short fiction in a set order: The Local NecromancerThe Monochrome Marriage, and the as-yet unpublished, Damage Control. It’s a mini-arc of stories that focus on one element of A Death in the Family.

Hanging Up The Scythe is important for context with the book that followed, but could be read before or after it. It mostly deals with the ‘why’ of its protagonist’s story, and gives him a little more ‘air time’ than he receives in A Death in the Family.

In that order, readers will be introduced to the concept of the supernatural, given a few set rules for how certain elements of it work, and be shown the consequences of someone’s actions. Looked at as chapters, each one provides an extra glimpse into how things work in the fictional world. That same mind-set was maintained when writing the story of Benjamin Cooper, a complete outsider to the supernatural world. Readers learn things as he does, and with a new job to adapt to, there’s only a certain amount of info-dump he can feasibly deal with on a day-by-day basis.

A common rule when writing is that each chapter in a book should deal with one important thing. I gave Ben ‘cases’ to deal with – souls to Reap – as a way of containing each element of his learning. The prologue tells the reader that Death is a living, breathing person. The first chapter introduces Ben, and allows for some understanding of the rules at play. The second chapter deals with his first case, and the procedure behind Reaping. And so on. That’s the spoiler-free version of events, but it should be pretty clear how I addressed this book: something new every chapter, partly to build up the world that the story takes place in, and always to give something for Ben to overcome – be it a complete change in his life, or the first day on the job.

While you don’t necessarily need to work on several stories at once to develop your world, short stories related to your novel can serve as a valuable tool to show more of the world that would otherwise exist only in the background of your narrative. They can be quick and easy to read, providing the reader with a glimpse of the world through another character’s eyes, without having to influence the main plot of your book. How you release them is up to you – and there’s a whole other post I can write about my methods of late in that field. In the meantime, figure out what’s relevant in your world building to your story, and focus on writing a tale that allows you to introduce your reader to new concepts as the narrative unfolds.

A Death in the Family is will be released on April 1st, at the inaugural K-Con in Kerry. Check out kerrycomiccon.com for details of the convention. Read about the book below:

Benjamin Cooper is about as close to death as someone can get, without actually dying. Literally.

In the wake of the Worst Year of the Century, the Coopers are visited by a man straight out of folklore, Death himself. Ben is forced, by way of fulfilling a supernatural debt, to take over the mantle of Reaper.

But life as Death is more complicated than Ben could ever imagine, and perfectly executing every order is rarely an easy task.

A Death in the Family is a tale of paying for others’ decisions, seeking to understand dying, and falling hopelessly in love.

 

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Daily Practices: The Road So Far

I used to keep some habits. I had a habit app on my phone. It made me read every day. Write every day. Do something every day. And then, I got a little bit sick. (Okay, so I was on a ton of tablets to try keep my temperature down, and it happened right around my graduation, which was not fun.) After that, I never picked things back up again. I mean that literally and figuratively. I dropped some habits, and I literally didn’t open a couple of poetry books I had been reading at the time.

Being such a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, and wanting to get back into forming daily habits, I set myself two goals: 1 flash fiction story every day, and 10 random ideas to be written into my notebook.

I’m glad to say, that I succeeded. My word count for the month, not including blog posts and other assorted copy, was just over 34,000 words. That’s more than twice my NaNoWriMo word count, with much less stress. That’s divided up across 29 flash stories, two chapters for co-author stories with my writer’s group, and one chapter for a book I accidentally started. (Literally, on January 1st the first thing I wrote when I meant to write a flash fiction story felt more like a short chapter one… oops?) Those 29 stories include three shared universes – two from one, three from another, and eleven from the third – and a bunch of standalone weirdness.

rabbit-hole-hat-collector

Two of the new stories I brought to the January Geek Mart

With January officially over, I’m now looking at making February all about something else. Part of me wants to force myself to draw something every day. I’m not an artist, but I’m quickly falling in love with creating comics. My understanding of the craft is that it makes a lot more sense to at least be able to draw them poorly if you want to show that you can write them, so that’s what I’ll be doing.

I’m also starting a comic course later this month, so all of this makes a tremendous amount of sense to me. I may have no idea what to draw, but I’ll give it a shot, nonetheless.

I could write a whole blog post about what I learned from writing flash stories every day (that weren’t always flash stories, as I typically aim for under the 1000 word mark), but I think the main takeaway from doing anything regularly is this: you figure it out the more you work on it. I’m planning to keep on writing every day. I’ll likely switch it up a bit more, now, to include comic scripts (I wrote two of those in January, too!) and longer prose. And that’s the point of writing every day – to make it easier to keep it up. It became fun for me, again, to get to write something new every day.

I’m not necessarily recommending that everyone do what I did, but it does help to create something new regularly. Even while I’m working on longer books, I’ll still take breaks in the future to write something else that’s shorter, to keep up the buzz of having completed a project while I’m trying to build a story. (It’s sort of like walking around a mountain until you find an easier path to climb. There’s definitely an analogy in this somewhere.)

sketchbook

So, let’s get started. Let’s figure something out with this drawing craic. And, maybe, I’ll start showing some of it online.

In the meantime, you can catch me at The Geek Mart this weekend – Saturday 4th, 10-6 in the Central Hotel. All the details you need for the market can be found on its new website. That was fun to put together, and will feature fresh content every week. (He says, crossing his fingers.)

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Resolutions and Killer Cats

Half a month into 2017, and there have been some developments in my creative life. There have been some updates on the comic front, along with a plan in place for a couple of larger projects, and a regular IRL writing group to keep me going throughout the year. But first, a quick check on my one big January plan: to write a story every day this month. Up to and including yesterday, I wrote 15 stories in 15 days. I have to do that again to finish my month’s goal of writing a short story every day, but so far I can happily report that I have not failed at the one important thing I could possibly do this year.

Killer Kitty

Early into the year, a friend approached me to write a comic with him. It’ll just be a short, within a collection of comics, but for each of us it’ll be a first: my first time writing a comic script that’ll see actual print, and his first time drawing an original character into print.

The artist is Gareth Luby, a friend from the Geek Mart who made his convention debut at Dublin Comic Con last year. I’ve seen the evolution of his style and the development of his work ethic over the past fifteen months or so, from black-and-white illustrations to full-colour comic covers, and a short grey-scale comic for Celtic Knights. Before I met him, in late 2015, he’d come up with an idea for a character he wanted to draw, but never did.

Frankie_gareth_luby

Meet Frankie

The script is in the editing stages, to be sent off today. (That’s January 16th for those who may be reading this at a later date who don’t want to scroll to the top of the page.) We’ll discuss it until we’re sure it’s how we both want the character to appear in print, then Gareth will be getting to work on developing Frankie into his own 8-page story. The plan: bring it to K-Con.

Conventions: Why 2017 Is Sorta Scary

Tables for K-Con went on sale a few weeks ago. I secured mine straight away. It’s on April 1st and 2nd in Kerry. A statement from a Dublin-based printer gives us a latest deadline of mid-March to have the book finished. We’ll have a couple of artists each working on a couple of stories from a couple of writers. It’s going to be exciting and stressful at the same time. I would like to say that another script I’m developing for a third artist would be finished in time for a print run at the same time, but I have yet to discuss such things with the artist I approached about the book. (She liked the concept, but I still need to get her a script. So we’ll see how that one plays out.)

k-con

K-Con is in its first year, which is normally something to be wary of. However, being run by the folks behind Dublin Comic Con, there’s a certain confidence that it’ll go down well. Obviously there are concerns. Everyone worries about whether the convention they’re heading to will be a success, whether it’s their first big convention or not.

And that’s the thing: this will be my first big convention behind the table. I’ve only ever been the guy with a camera ready for photos and videos, or with a backpack just begging to be loaded up with small press books. (I have so many small press titles now that I’ve gotten to the point that I can actually recommend a number of comics to people based on their tastes.)

But then, on January 7th, things got scarier. More exciting, too, of course. Myself and Gareth secured our tables for Dublin Comic Con. The biggest convention in Ireland. In the National Convention Centre.

Safety Nets

I believe that I’m coming to the conventions with a couple of safety nets. Firstly: my experience with the Geek Mart and behind the till for 8 years in a bookshop tells me that it’s not as scary in real life as it is in my head. Secondly: not every book sells, not every person reads books, and everyone who’s trying to sell something is in the same boat of relative anonymity with people who haven’t already picked up their wares. Thirdly: no matter how well I do at either convention, two things will remain the same. I will still have my IRL writing group, and I will still have books to write and stories to tell.

geek_feb

When you have creative people working around you, whether that’s my fantasy writer friends, the comic creators from The Comics Lab, or any of the crafty or artsy vendors at the Geek Mart and similar events (the Venn Diagram of these groups contains some overlap), the fear of failure is somewhat lessened by the knowledge that failure will not stop you creating something. There’s always some encouragement to keep working. The Geek Mart, for me, is enough of a push to write that by its next instalment (on February 4th) I’ll have a dozen short stories to go along with my books – some of which were written explicitly for the Geek Mart.

What Next?

So, here’s the game-plan: January has another 15 days to do (including today.) That means I’ll produce another 15 short stories.

I’ll also need to finish at least three comic scripts. Frankie will need to sent on today. My other short for that book could benefit with some work today. My standalone comic needs to be written by the middle of the week. I’ll see how I am for time, but there’s another story I’ve been talking about writing for a long time, that needs to be planned out in a full story-arc.

I need to finish the Project Crossroads documentary. Thankfully, my creative energies are high at the moment.

I need to prepare for a comic and graphic novel course in February. Daily-drawing practice is probably a good idea. I’m tempted to add that to my Things To Do Every Day in January list. I’m already doing StoryStorm this year as an idea-generation tool for the short stories.

I need to work on my sales and marketing techniques for my books, both for conventions and for online sales. No creative can survive by hiding from those two fundamental aspects of bringing something to life. With my next event in just under three weeks, that’s how long I have to get started on refining some pitches, and on further developing my confidence behind the table. I’ll have another Geek Mart in March before K-Con. Then that’ll be it. Showtime.

Thank goodness for creative friends, killer cats, and online communities bursting with resources.

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An Adventure in Comics

I have a small history in comics. A few years ago, I got my hands on some X-Men stories that I thought would be interesting. Age of ApocalypseHouse of M. Contained ARCs. I had developed a sort of fascination with the X-Men growing up, watching the 90s cartoon adaptation, along with similar cartoons like Spider-Man, and later the Justice League cartoon. I had grown up reading the Dandy and Beano annuals when my nanny would pick them up for us at Christmas.

It’s only relatively recently that I’ve really loved small press comics. I’ve had a friend work on them since I was in my teens. I found out about a few others in the meantime, but mostly they were something other people did, that I couldn’t do. In May, I decided that I wanted to start working on some comics. I had some ideas. I had become friends with an artist. I figured I could give it a try.

comixlogo

Logo for CO/MIX (2015). Watch it online at https://comixireland.com/category/web-series/

Lately, I had a look for some scripts I’d written. Just scripts – not for comics. I have an inkling they can adapted in a sense, particularly given the fact that the dialogue is all there. After some searching, I finally have my hands on the scripts for:

1. The Rest is Silence (60-minute stage play, dealing with depression, suicide, identity crises)

2. Love at First Date (audio drama set in Dublin, recorded and produced for my multimedia course)

3. Plan B (my own plan B in case I had to rearrange recording for Love at First Sight, also an audio drama in Dublin – shares a character with LaFD)

4. Dead Dreams (20-minute movie script written when I was in Mater Dei, telling the story of a zombie romance)

5. The Jerry Davidson Show (20-minute, two-part stage play that crosses The Nativity with Jerry Springer/Jeremy Kyle, asking the most important question: is Joseph the father?)

The really fun part will be turning all five of these into comic scripts! (And finding artists for them!)

Here’s my thinking: 2015 was when I first got into the Irish comic scene. I did my thesis on it. I met a fair few awesome people.

2016, I finally got properly involved in the community. I wrote about the comics. I met even more awesome people. I even began work on a solo documentary about it all. I got my first shot at having a comic made out of a script I wrote. 

tomte

2017 is the year I really want to dive in as a creator. Comics are a fun medium to write for. There are different elements to take into consideration to bring a story to life, including the style of illustration that an artist brings to the table.

I’ve got a few new projects I’m working on, as an aside to these five scripts, but I thinking working with these finished pieces will help as a means of developing my style of writing for comics. If nothing else, if no one wants to illustrate them at all, I’ll at least have figured out better ways of working on scripts to get a point across. And that’ll pay off in my other writing, too.

2017 is also the year I’ll be taking part in a comic and graphic novel course, which will be fun! I think it’ll be an interesting way of developing some experience in the field in a relatively short period of time. I’m going to attempt to develop even some basic illustration skills before the course begins, even if I can just get myself used to drawing anything again. (I did Technical Graphics in school for 5 out of my 6 years there. I should be able to draw something after all that time.)

comixireland

2016 Logo for Comix Ireland

Next year, I’ll be updating Comix Ireland with a new logo (illustrated by the artist for Tomte: The Warrior Elf, Jason Browne), as well as launching my documentary. For those who missed the announcement on social media in November, it’s a film about the creation of an Irish comic, Project Crossroads, which features work from several of Ireland’s best and brightest up-and-coming writers and artists. (And I personally know at least twice as many other creators whose work I admire, without putting any thought into it. The Irish comic community is pretty damn awesome.)

After a difficult year creatively and personally, I want to work on something that, by its nature, is more often than not a collaborative experience. I want to make comics with friends. I want to see my stories come alive in a new way. I want to work on my books, too, and I’m hopeful that 2017 will be the time to get that work done in a way that leaves me satisfied.

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New Year, New Promises

We’re a couple of weeks away from Christmas, and so inevitably I’m starting to think about the New Year. Specifically, New Years Resolutions. I’m a bit of a stickler for setting them. I always have great intentions. January, I think, is built on great intentions. But I tend to falter after a couple of months, even when I think everything is fool proof. Part of the reason behind it, I think, is because I try to do too much. (Though, that said, I think I managed to keep my resolution to write every day for…eight months one year.)

Every year, I make promises to myself. Every year, I fail. This year, I’m going to try get a head-start on my resolution. I’m going to try introduce the habit required to keep it going as of today, in the hopes that it’ll become second nature for me to make time to do what I feel the need to do.

My resolution is simple: write every day.

My goals are more complicated. My goals will be changing with each month. Typically, I set about twenty of them for the year. Mostly they’re in my head, or jotted down somewhere no one will see them. That doesn’t really work, for two reasons:

  1. I have zero accountability for my goals.
  2. I scare myself off with too much work in my face, even if it’s actually possible to complete in a year.

Thankfully, this year things are different. This year, I have a plan and a writing group that meets IRL every week.

to do sample

One thing I want to try, for at least one month, is to write a flash fiction story every single day. I’ll probably attempt it in January, because I have no weekend events to schedule into the mix.

I’m also hoping to give a NaNoWriMo-scale writing challenge a shot at some point early in the year, because I failed so dramatically this year. (Just under 15K in…) I had a difficult time of November. I was working on a documentary, but more significantly I was helping in the moving of furniture and lives up and down the stairs in my house. I’m still finishing that work, but when I do I’ll have a proper workspace again. That’s important for writing, especially when attempting to write a lot in a day.

The broader goals for the year include:

  • Release a comic
  • Revise and update Planning Before Writing
  • Release a new book on writing
  • Publish The Blood of Leap
  • Redesign my website (if I don’t manage that before the end of the year)

I’ll also be releasing my documentary in the New Year. My plan was to get it out in November, but given how much that month sucked, and a few delays in production, I’ve pushed it back a bit. It also makes no sense to me to release it at Christmas time, when everyone is insanely busy. So, January – with a bit of luck. I’ll have time to craft a press release and a trailer for the launch of it, and it’ll be a nice lead into a year of comics, with a comic course in February to look forward to.

Some months will be different than others. Some goals could be accomplish-able in a day or two, depending on circumstances, while others could – by necessity or design – take the full month to complete.

For example, I might want to take 30 portraits in 30 days. I could have 30 volunteers over a weekend to have a photo taken of them, which would completely eliminate that goal straight away. On the flip side, I’ll be writing a flash story a day in January. Even if I write two in a day, that’s not a day off later in the month. It’s a habit building exercise, not a target towards ‘X’ amount of stories.

Some things are easier to do than others. I know I (probably) can write a flash story every day in January, even if I’m busy promoting the documentary. I know I can’t write a full book in March, because I’ll be preparing for K-Con in Kerry on April 1st. Every month, I’ll release my plans. Every week, I’ll update on my progress. And every time I’m setting my goals, I’ll remember to make them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bound), and maybe a little bit DUMB (Dream-Driven, Uplifitng, Method-Friendly, Behavior-Driven) in terms of what I’m setting.

Essentially, it boils down to setting goals that I think I can achieve that are related to my writing and media production dreams, that I can segment and measure each month. It might mean I write a first draft in February, and the goal for April is to edit it. It might mean that I write three comic scripts in March, but only focus on getting one of them made in June. These are hypothetical scenarios, of course, but the point is that if I want to do something like ‘Publish The Blood of Leap‘, I can break the workload down across several months if need be. I’m not bound to a single project for a month, and I don’t have to do everything for that project in a month.

I know myself well. I know that I’d struggle with too many projects to be worked upon in equal value at home. It’s something I’m working on, and I know that figuring out how best to divide my personal time up to get the most amount of work done on different projects is the best way to start this. 2017 will be a new year, and I’m going to try keep my promises to myself.

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Busy-ness, Creativity, and Motivation

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a lack of inspiration. This was also a problem of motivation. The poet in me might suggest is a problem of the soul. I have spent the past two weeks attempting to develop a sense of passion for my work again. My solutions have addressed issues of busy-ness, creativity, and motivation, specifically how I attempted to develop each in a constructive manner.

How to Keep Busy

Keeping busy is easy. Being productive is not. Challenge #1 in keeping busy is to make sure that what one does is also, in some regard, productive. Simple steps can help to address that factor of busy-ness:

  1. Identify tasks that need to be done.
  2. Pick one according to (a) need and (b) energy levels. Energy constitutes both physical and emotional energy, as well as a regard for willpower and the required effort for a task.
  3. Allocate a minimum amount of work for a certain amount of time.

That’s easy. Doing that, I managed to organise my bedroom/workspace (the joys of having an office for a bedroom and a bedroom for an office). And doing that, I was able to find materials necessary for addressing creativity and motivation.

How to Generate Creativity

Creativity, unlike busy-ness, is a challenge, and something of a catch 22. The more creative you are, the more creative you become. Thankfully, years of (a) writing and (b) procrastination have taught me some tools for “generating” creativity.

  1. Write down ten ideas every day. I did not do this every day for the past two weeks, but I did it a couple of times, on days when I struggled to fit anything else in. Many of the ideas are silly, boring, useless, or some combination of the above, but they help in getting the brain working.
  2. Work on a project you’re passionate about. This is where my room-cleaning became useful: I found the original script for The Rest is Silence, the play I wrote in 2011, that was produced by the Mater Dei Drama Soc in 2012. Finding that led to me working on something related to it, and feeling a greater connection to the project.
  3. Introduce new stimuli into your life. The pros: new ideas, a new opportunity to release precious neural chemicals, and something new to talk to other people about. The cons: a risk of “wasting” time, the need to place greater constraints on oneself, and the chance of not working. In my case, I watched Steven Universe for the first time, and slightly fell in love with the show.

 

How to Become Motivated

Motivation and creativity can be linked. The script for the play helped with my desire to work, and gave me something to work on that I really cared about. However, through writing, college and plenty of experience having to self-motivate, I’ve picked up a few other tricks for motivating oneself when there is no one present to force the work to happen.

  1. Make a list of the smaller tasks you need to do, and tackle as many as you can in quick succession. Tick them off. By getting smaller tasks done, you can “trick” your brain into believing you are in Work Mode, and that helps to keep working. I sometimes start a writing session by writing haiku, to help get the creative juices going, and tricking my brain into believing it is time to start thinking about words more carefully.
  2. Remove the distractions of social media. Self-explanatory, really. People are distracting, even when they’re boring. (And a lot of social media is boring.)
  3. Slightly cheating, but works for long-term projects: get yourself an accountability partner. This person will be the one you check in with, the one who makes sure that you are doing the work you say you were going to. It’s an especially important person to have when you work for yourself, and meed to work to get paid. (This is the beauty of NaNoWriMo. Everyone is an accountability partner. )
  4. Do something exciting in your work life. Me? I went into Forbidden Planet in Dublin and asked them to stock my books. Now they’re on the shelves with the other Irish small press titles – mostly comics, but with a couple of books of prose thrown in for good measure.

forbidden planet bookshelf

How to Deal With Personal Stuff

I won’t pretend personal stuff didn’t play a part in my struggles to work lately. Obviously, I won’t be giving the details, but I do know one thing about personal problems when it comes to working: learn to recognise how important something is, how much you can do about it, and how much it will actually influence your life if you cannot do something about it. By removing your focus from something that’s on your mind, you can work more effectively. (It also helps to be able to talk to people about something happening in your life, which is why I recommend regularly spending time with someone whose company you enjoy, who you can talk to about anything, and whose good news you can be happy about.)

What next?

I originally intended to post weekly here. I will attempt to increase that, especially given I missed a week. In the meantime, I’ll be working on some fun projects, concentrating on some stuff for the future, and trying to keep myself creating. And, of course, I’ll be at the Geek Mart on October 1st, which is always a fun opportunity to see some friends while (hopefully) selling some books and prints.

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