Writer’s block is not something I used to believe in. If you were stuck, I thought, it was simply due to a lack of effort; a block can always be navigated around.
Now at the quarter way point into my latest novel I am struggling to write more than eight hundred words in a week. It seemed the best cure is to seek inspiration, find a book that resonates with what I am hoping to write. So I turned to a classic: Flowers for Algernon. It was not that I wanted to write a similar book (my protagonist is brain boosted from an early age to fulfill a top secret project). But in reading this SF masterwork I was in awe at some of the writing – the depiction of a man who goes from ‘retard’ (yes it’s an old book with outdated terms) to ubergenius, and the interweaving of a tragic love story.
So how can I even hope to compete with such a science fiction classic, I wondered to myself. Well, for a start there is no point in writing something comparable that can only end up as a pastiche. I have to find my own voice, the one that distinguishes my style of writing.
And yet. I see the standard. I see the level of the bar and feel my limbs go weak at the thought of trying to vault it. This is the problem of when – as a writer – you encounter another writer who you know has set an example, one you imagine could be used by the literary agent that rejects your latest.
So somehow I have to not fixate on writing a classic. There’s maybe some analogy in sport, or academia; observing the star talent and thinking: why should I even bother to compete? But no one can know the effort, or the time, the greatest put in to become just that.
Then, be positive? Of course, but it’s always a challenge!
Links to my published fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)
Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)
…is to make my life better.
At least I look for a novel to make me feel better. But maybe of late my demands have become unreasonable. Should its purpose be to solve my problems, to find answers to unresolved (if not unresolvable) issues?
A good story is no longer enough. Now it’s difficult to find a book to fill that void; reading the blurb, the first few pages, or even the reviews may only give a clue in my search. Just as well, then, I’m not a literary agent!
So my own work should be aiming for such an exemplary standard, right? The only problem is, if you use your novel for laying out a psychological fix it can come across as indulgent. It shouldn’t be therapy. But that’s how it can feel. There’s only the hope that others will relate to the protagonist’s issues. Of course sometimes that happens – and you’re on to a winner! Some of my most inspired writing has come from a dark place.
I’ve never been sure if fiction should always have a function beyond entertainment. If its enjoyable then that’s a lot; humorous or just fun – it’s a big achievement by the author!
Yet I can’t seem to pin down the ultimate value of fiction. In a novel you can be in another person’s shoes – they don’t have to be the hero or even relatable – and understand their thoughts and feelings in a way that’s usually only hinted at in movies. A novel gives you knowledge interwoven in the narrative rather than merely dry facts; though so much of mainstream [so-called] Science Fiction has steered away from the scientific, of late. Well maybe that’s fine if it’s entertaining, if it makes you feel better.
Since I am writing the kind of books I like to read it’s impossible to be sure if I am writing for anyone other than myself.
Links to my fiction: The Captured (US) The Captured (UK)
Time Over (UK) Time Over (US)
Got a request from Amazon to write a review of NOD by Adrian Barnes. I read lots of book reviews but rarely write them; however this novel stood out for me.
~Imagine a world where most of the population was unable to sleep, and you were one of the few adults who could. This is the story of NOD.
Paul, an etymologist and misanthrope, charts the disintegration of society in Vancouver. He witnesses at close hand his wife deteriorate through a shared mysterious insomniac condition. Some of the descriptions are graphic to the point that made me want to skip over them. But I’m glad I didn’t. Through his protagonist Paul, Adrian Barnes shines a harsh light and focuses powerful lens on the subjects of his journal – and doesn’t turn away, even though the reader may want to at times.
This book is densely written in a way you would find in many literary novels rather than typical genre. And though at times can seem self-consciously wordy (with a number of obscure words, at least I had to mark a few out for definitions) and can seem overwritten, that’s the nature of the protagonist – the first person narrative where the author can be showy. But at its best the writing is superbly insightful, or at least has that verisimilitude. I don’t know exactly what would be the effects of sleep deprivation over more than a few days, but the descriptions of paranoia and insanity seem about right. However, it may not satisfy SF fans who are looking for scientific explanations.
In all this is a novel that forces you to pay attention. It may make you uncomfortable but is compelling enough that you’ll want to keep reading. If you like your fiction dark and dystopian then this is the book for you.
Though I gave it four stars above, I think 4.5 is more deserving.~