Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: encouragement

Koheleth on Finding Something for My Hand to Do

There are Many Things I’d like to write about today. And most of them are rather large.

I’m writing an epic fantasy trilogy about faith, love, and zombies.
I’m writing a sci-fi novel about interstellar wormholes and MMO empires.
I’m writing a novella about a girl growing up in a place that hates what she is.
I’m writing a short story about subterranean Olympians.

Dore_Solomon_ProverbsWith Many Things comes Choice. And Choice asks me, “What do you feel like writing?”

It’s a devilish question. I can’t figure out what I’d like to do. Every moment of my life I have fleshy urges that push me in one direction or pull me from another. When I ask that question during writing-time, it does little more than distract.

Then I remember what Koheleth said about it:

“Whatever your hand finds to do with your might, do it.”

That reminds me that whatever I find to do, I might as well do it. But there’s another way to translate that line:

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.”

That reminds me to see whatever it is trough to the end. And the conclusion reminds me of the stakes:

“Because there is no working or planning or knowledge or wisdom in the grave to which you are going.”

One day I won’t exist, like I didn’t before I was born. So I might as well do something, and do it well, while I have the chance.

Writing Mantras #1

I love mantras.  Not (just) those ancient words and sounds used in meditation, but the slogans or sayings that remind me of important things.  I used to paste them up on my wall at college in a valiant effort to get out of bed early and win life.  They’re handy little ways of fighting resistance and keeping myself on the path I want to walk.  Here’s an awesome writing mantra for you:

One step at a time.

Pretty simple, eh?  You’d be tempted to throw it out because it’s so simple and boring.  Heck, it’s so boring that you can’t even cite who said it first.  Everyone says it.  But it’s one of few concepts that has truly had a measurable impact on my writing, my family, and my life in general.

I’ve got a great imagination, and that lets me feel how huge a huge project is.  So when I sit down to write a 180,000 word novel, I can feel the weight of its impossibility.  And then I think about the necessary sequel.  And what after that?  Holy crap what am I doing?  This is too big!  I’m not up to this at all!

But a little work every day gets the work done.  One scene at a time.  One step forward every day.  I don’t need to feel 180,000 words on my back.  I’ll deal with 500 at a time.  At 500 words a way, the novel is finished in a year.  It works with pretty much everything, too.  I don’t think about raising my kids to be heros, I think about playing with them and being their hero today.  I don’t think about publishing and getting rich and famous, I think about getting this one scene done tonight.

One step at a time.  The best part is, it’s the only way to do anything anyway.

Thoughts on Starting a Novel

     The Shadow’s Daughter is done. A couple beta readers are pouring over my final revision and I can’t wait to deal with their considerations, but for now, it’s done.

     When I started The Shadow’s Daughter, I had no idea where it was going. I was doing two strange projects at the same time. One was about a very typical rag-tag group of adventurers off to find a mystic artifact (blaaaah). The other was a series of romantic serials I was writing for my wife. Both those stories died, and from their ashes rose The Shadow’s Daughter, first book of The Chronicler and the Bard.

     Yay, and stuff.

     So now that The Shadow’s Daughter is done, I turn my eyes to the next installment.

     I had forgotten how it felt to start something new.

     I once heard that writing a novel is like walking through a dark wood with a lantern. You only get to see a couple steps ahead of you, but you can get through the whole forest that way.

     Whoever said that didn’t mention the most obvious characteristic about walking through a dark forest with only a lantern.

     It’s scary as hell.

     Seriously, what if you get lost? What if you lose the path? Worse, what if the path is so well travelled that there’s no point in walking it? What if you’re going the wrong way and you never should have entered this stupid forest and why didn’t you wait until daytime and OMG I’M FREAKING OUT!

     So, there’s that.

     It’s also lonely.

     You don’t get to write novels in tandem. And when you try to talk about an unborn novel, it never goes right. People look at you as if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Because, frankly, you don’t. Not yet. You’re still wandering around in the woods.

     Scary and lonely.

     Which is why I’m glad I believe in muses.

     The muse is that strange spiritual critter who tells you the story. She’s the lantern you’re carrying as you wander through the woods. She’s Navi from Zelda who keeps saying “Hey, listen!” And while she may annoy the hell out of you sometimes, she knows the way. She knows the story that she wants you to tell.

     She’s the one who won’t let me get side-tracked or lost. She’s done this before, too. For a jillion years her and her kind have been whispering tales into our ears. She knows what she’s doing. And that’s nice.

     So here I am, just entering the woods again. I’m holding my lantern high and peering into the darkness. I take a step forward, and the lantern’s light stretches a bit further. It’s going to be okay. No, better than that. It’s going to be freaking awesome.

Maybe I Can’t

     Maybe I never will.

     Maybe my dreams will be stillborn. Maybe I’ll be a wage-slave for the rest of my life.

     Maybe all the shiny, happy things that dance in my head will stay in my head and never come out. Maybe all the naysayers are right. Maybe I’m not good enough. Maybe I’m not smart enough.

     But I’ll be damned if I don’t try.

     It’s hard. But I refuse to utter that God-damned word – can’t.

     Because can’t, like death, is so final. But life, like try is so full of possibilites. So full of hope.

     So there, naysayers. So there, thou fel voices in my head. Maybe you’re right. Maybe you’ll point your fingers at me in twenty years and laugh and say ‘Told you so! Told you so!’

     But when you do, I’ll smile back and say ‘I’m still alive, silly. Point your fingers at me once I am dead, because I’ve not given up yet!’

Dirty Words

There are some words that put my teeth on edge. I guess everyone has words that do that to them. My list is pretty unique, though. I hear these words nearly each day. I’d love to stamp them out.

  • Can’t. This is the f-bomb for Matt Cook. I would rather my kids use profanity than hear them say ‘I can’t do this.’ or ‘I can’t be that.’ Can’t is a cage. Can’t is a poison. Can’t is a lie. The dirtiest kind of lie. Can’t is the abuse disablers throw at the people who drop keys for beautiful, rowdy prisoners. Can’t says that the God-spark in us is weak. And that’s blasphemy, as far as I’m concerned.
  • Never. This is the slightly more subtle cousin of can’t. He’s a bastard, too. And arrogant. Never is a closed door that claims there is nothing on the other side. Never is the unjust hyperbole a man uses when arguing with his wife. How many conversations have turned toxic when one person says ‘You never help me. You never listen. You never…’ Never is a hammer. It’s useful in precious few situations. In most cases it just hurts people.
  • Hate. If never is a hammer, hate is a bomb. When you tell me that you hate olives or cheese or Justin Bieber, you are telling me that everything in your soul is set against that thing. You are telling me that, if you could work your will, you’d destroy that thing. And I would weep if you succeeded at getting rid of the world’s olives, even though I don’t care for them. Because some people do. Because Justin Bieber, despite whatever you think of his music, is a human soul, shining with the light of God. Because there is almost nothing in the world so vile that it is worthy of hate. In fact, one of the only things we have to hate, is hate itself.
  • Stupid. When a man refuses to use understanding when dealing with a difficult idea or person, he runs to this word. And he gets used to using it. Suddenly everyone is stupid. Trouble at work? Boss is stupid. Trouble in the government? Politicians are stupid. Trouble in the wide world? All those strange cultures and philosophies and religions are stupid. Suddenly everyone is stupid. Except me, of course. I’m clever as a fox.

Neil Gaiman on Writing

A Writer’s Prayer

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too much;
who spreads himself too thinly with his words,
diluting all the things he has to say,
like butter spread too thinly over toast,
or watered milk in some worn-out hotel;
but let me write the things I have to say,
and then be silent, ’til I need to speak.

Oh Lord, let me not be one of those who writes too little;
a decade-man between each tale, or more,
where every word accrues significance
and dread replaces joy upon the page.
Perfectionists like chasing the horizon;
You kept perfection, gave the rest to us,
so let me earn the wisdom to move on.

But over and above those two mad spectres of parsimony and profligacy,
Lord, let me be brave, and let me, while I craft my tales, be wise:
let me say true things in a voice that is true,
and, with the truth in mind, let me write lies.

Neil Gaiman

Who Are the Music Makers?

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.
– Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy – ‘Ode’
Full text here.

     Who are the music makers?

     Who are the dream dreamers?

     Do you want the job?

     It’s not an easy role. You are forced to wander alone by the cold, infinite sea. You will have to pitch a tent in the dark, sacred desert. Your dreams will give birth to Nineveh and Babel, and then you will find your prophecies tearing them down again. You will have to give up the world and be willing to have the world give up on you in return.

     Can you do it?

     Are you willing?

     There is much in store for you, should you take this heavy yoke.

     You will become a mover. A shaker.

With wonderful deathless ditties,
We build up the world’s great cities,
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion an empire’s glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.

     The path turns itself dark. And that makes the light of your music all the brighter.

     Is it worth it?

     The pain? The loneliness?

     Tell me this, instead.

     Is life worth the pain of living?

     Are children worth the pain of birth?

     Is gold worth the flame that makes it?

12 Years to be Pixar

One of the most encouraging videos I’ve seen in a long time.

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A Lesson from Pokémon

I arrived in Viridian Forest with high hopes. High hopes and a ragamuffin army. It was led by my Squirtle, recently having learned Bubble and looking handsome at level 9. Next was a sly Ratata at level 7. He was followed by a Mankey, my newest recruit at level 5. I was looking for trouble.

It found me.

A bugcatcher challenged me to a fight. I wasn’t worried. I’d heard of these bug catchers before. Their reliance on inferior insect pokémon was a weakness I was ready to exploit. Bugs were vulnerable to fire and flying pokémon. This knowledge, knowledge of the inner workings of the pokémon game, would help me.

Unfortunately, I have no flying or fire pokémon.

It was a hard battle. My ratata was poisoned and my mankey fainted. My squirtle sustained heavy injuries. I was a little humiliating. I limped back to the nearest Poké Center.

The whole way back I was arguing with myself. A bugcatcher almost defeated me. A bugcatcher! The lowest form of pokémon trainer out there! The butt of almost every poké-joke! How can I hope to take on gym leaders, not to mention the Elite Four, if a measly little bugcatcher give me trouble? Why should I bother continuing? I’m obviously not cut out for this sort of thing. Maybe I should devote myself to needlepoint instead.

I want to let you in on a little secret: I’m a bad writer. Seriously, I am. Check out my back posts and you’ll see. Most days I can hardly stand to read my stuff. I’m like the bugcatcher of writers. And for those of you who don’t know Pokémon, that’s baaaaad.

But, on good days, I realize that I am not destined to be a bugcatcher forever. I’ll not wander the tall grasses of Viridian Forest all my life, excited by metapods and kakunas who cannot even defend themselves. No, I’m going PAST Viridian. Viridian Forest will serve a purpose. But it is not where I live. I’m headed to the Indigo Plateau. I’m destined to take on the Elite Four. I plan to be the Pokémon League Champion. Today I train my ratata. Tomorrow my blastoise.

I won’t be a crappy writer forever. And you won’t be a crappy [insert whatever you are/want to be] forever. On we go.