Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: ideas

Open Letter to My Mind Which Gave Me a Great Idea Before I Fell Asleep and Took it Away When I Woke

     I thought we were on the same side here!
     I mean, I trust you so much sometimes. I give you so much credit, and then you go and screw me over like this?
     I treat you really well, too. Way better than a lot of people. I always try my best to keep you stimulated and active. I give you great things to eat and wonderful activities to play with. All I ask in return is a bit of consistency. And maybe a better memory.
     As I lay down to sleep last night, you shocked me. You unraveled beautiful, living things about the novel. They were so good that I laughed in bed. I looked around for a scrap of paper or my phone to write them down, but I couldn’t find them.
     “Don’t worry,” you said. “These ideas are huge. There’s no way you’ll forget them. Not a chance!”
     You allowed me to remember that you gave me great ideas. I even kinda remember who they were about. Selasis and Fable, I think. Something about slavery. And … swords? Argh!
     They were wonderful and deep intricacies of character and emotion and motivation. And now they’re gone. Gone gone gone. Why did you do this to me? Are we not on the same team? It’s enough to make me believe my religious friends who tell me never to trust you.
     If you weren’t safe and holed up in my skull, I swear I’d take a broom handle and—
     Yes, I remember now. Oh yes, thank you, that was very nice.
     Er, um. Sorry about all that. We cool?

Writing with Growing Ideas

     The funny thing about writing a novel is that life still goes on while you write it.
     My first book, The Foolishness of God has a very definite agenda to it. An agenda that I don’t really subscribe to anymore. It seemed scary when I started to realize how separated I had become from that book. Because when you write something, you immortalize it. You set it in stone.
     An idea is a living thing. It grows and changes. Sometimes it gets cancer and starts to die. Sometimes it mutates and gets super-powers. Often it just keeps getting harder and crustier and kinda ugly. But it’s always doing something.
     I sometimes feel like I was a kid who found a caterpillar. I was so excited about this neat critter that I killed it, pinned it to a board with a clear little label, and preserved it under glass for all the word to see. Little did I realize that the caterpillar was destined to grow into something else. Did I kill its beautiful destiny?
     But that metaphor isn’t perfect, is it? Because the caterpillar still lives. The ideas are still growing and forming and fighting in my mind. So it’s not like I killed the critter. Rather, I took a picture of it.
     Suddenly my old novel has a new purpose. It is a chronicle of where I used to live. A photo of my heart and mind five years ago. And, just as suddenly, I’m no longer ashamed of it. It has a place. I don’t know what sort of place it would occupy in your heart, but it has a special place in mine.
     So it’s not scary anymore, either. I can write my stuff, knowing that three years from now, my outlook on the universe may be very different. But that’s okay, because each work is a snapshot of the artist’s soul. It’s like taking pictures of your kids as they grow up. You don’t throw out the old ones because they no longer accurately reflect what your kid looks like. You treasure them, fondly remembering the people they used to be. And, looking at that cute but underdeveloped child, you appreciate where they are now. And that’s a special thing.

An Open Letter to my Muse

     Dear Muse,

     We need to talk.

     I want to start by saying that I’m really grateful. Honestly, I am. You’ve given me some amazing things. Two novels, dozens of stories, and so many ideas that I’ll never be able to use them all. It’s great, really.

     And those moments when you come right beside me and we really churn out the goodness? Nothing is better than that. Remember the time we sat in that coffee shop in the dead of winter? There was that chapter that we just couldn’t deal with, then suddenly, boom! There it was! Five thousand words in, like, an hour! Good times, eh?

     So, I’m totally thankful. You know I am.

     But we still need to talk.

     There’s no doubt that the work is best when you’re there doing it with me. You are the talent. You are the flash. Without you, it’s all dull and flat. No doubt at all. But, here’s the thing. I show up everyday. Every single day. I’m here while I’m working and I’m here on my days off. I’m here when I feel like it and I’m here when I don’t. I’m here whether I have the time or not. Because I treat this thing seriously.

     I really wish you’d show up more often. Because I feel like I’m doing my part.

     Now, I’m not trying to blame you or anything. I don’t know much about what a muse does when she’s not helping mortals create. Maybe you’re busy. Maybe you’ve got a family or something. Maybe there’s some muse day job that you need to deal with. I get that. But I have a family and a day job too, y’know?

     You know I love you and your work. I just wonder if maybe we could work out a schedule so that we could get together at the same time. That way we can avoid those awkward moments when you show up just as I’m drifting off to sleep or driving in the car.

     And if that’s not possible, I totally understand. If the way it is is the way it’s gotta be, I can accept that. I’m willing to work around your schedule. Just wanted to throw that out there.

     Anyway, I’m still your biggest fan. Thanks for the great run around you gave me this morning.


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.

Can You Spell SOPA?

     Wikipedia’s down. xkcd, too. Go see if you don’t believe me. A lot of web sites are protesting this bill called SOPA. It’s creating a lot of on-line tension.

     Protests like this tend to produce knee-jerk reactions. Have you noticed that? Do you know what SOPA is? Or PIPA? Odds are, you don’t know the ins and outs of it. Most people don’t, unless you count a quick glance through a wikipedia article. But that didn’t stop you from forming an opinion as soon as you saw people protesting about it, did it?

     Maybe it did. Maybe you’re one of those rare people who thinks things through and gathers information before you decide to oppose or support something. If you are that kind of person, I thank you. You are saving the world.

     But let’s be honest, most of us don’t do that.

     When the Occupy Movement was at the height of its power, most folks did not take the time to understand it or its goals. They just rejected it (if they leaned to the right) or fully embraced it (if they leaned to the left).

     The same thing happens at most elections. Folks just vote for the party that has the honour of being listed in the ‘good guy’ section of their brains. And they are opposed to politicians and preachers who are in the ‘bad guy’ section.

     It’s hard to be informed, though. Most issues are complicated and it takes more than a quick skim through a web site to get an honest grasp on things. No one is obligate to get informed, of course. But I just think that if I can’t be bothered to understand things, I probably don’t really have the right to argue with people about them.

     I think SOPA is a bad and dangerous idea that will hurt the Internet. But don’t take my word for it. Read about it yourself. And then take action.

Thoughts on Starting a Novel

     You might be tempted to think that a writer deserves a break once he or she has finished a project. I don’t really think so, though. Writing is a habit. And there’s no reason to kick a habit in the shin once it’s started to pay off.

     So I started my next book already. It’s neat to stand here, staring out at the ocean of blank pages to fill.

     It’s scary, too.

     I’ve got amazing plans and visions and ideas. A billion of them. They’re everywhere. And they scare the shiong mao niao out of me.

     Sitting down to write a book is like deciding to procreate. It’s generally a pretty easy process to get started. But it’s a terrifying one to see through. Getting ideas is as easy as having sex. But turning those ideas into a good and true story is as hard as raising a son or daughter to fulfill all the infinite and beautiful possibilities they are born with.

     So, yeah, I approach this new book with a healthy amount of trepidation.

     But if writing a book is scary because it’s like raising a kid, then it’s exciting for the same reason.

     My kids are wild. Ask anyone who knows them. They are bursting with personality and ideas and that wild, creative spirit that makes them little snapshots of God. And they have hardly even begun to show the world what they’re really capable of. I try to guess what they will turn into, and I can’t. Sometimes I think it’s blasphemy to even try. So I sit back, tweak things here and there, and let them run free.

     Starting a novel is like that. The idea was mine. The initial acts were mine. And I retain control even as the story progresses. But, in the end, it goes wherever it wants. And I’d be a fool to hinder it.

     So I stand on the brink, looking down at a virgin world, and wonder what will grow there when I start plowing and planting. It scares me, because I could screw things up royally. But it excites me, too, because the possibilites are endless. And I know, deep down, that if I just let the story be what it is, it’ll turn out fine.