Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: stories

A Billion Stories to Tell

     I’m about 18,000 words into book two. And I’m dry inside.
I had another idea for a book. A great idea. Just as good as the series I’m on now. So I thought that my dryness in the sequel meant that my muse wanted me to write the other idea first. I got 2,800 words in before I turned dry again.
     Then I had another idea. And another. And then I remembered.
     The muse has a billion stories she’d like you to tell. And she couldn’t give a rip which one you do first. If she had her way, you’d be somehow writing them all at the same time. And then you’d have a nervous breakdown because muses don’t care much about human frailties and the like.
     I haven’t written much in about a month. Maybe more. And I’m starting to feel it.
     When the creativity doesn’t seep out, things get stale inside. It’s like a pool with no stream running out of it. It stays still and grows stagnant. And it stinks like poop. It needs to flow or else nothing but mosquitoes and parasites will live there.
     Stop blogging, Matt. Go write a story. Write about the Bard and his wife. Write about the Chronicler and his god. Write about the people of the Expanse and call their tragic stories into existence. And when you feel the wells of self-pity rising up within yourself, think about the blinded Skotons and the doomed men and women of Al Ryaal. And count yourself lucky.
     Write, Mr. Cook. It is your calling. Your well-being is at stake. And the world wants to hear your story.

Escapism in Entertainment and Religion

        Ever notice how similar religion and entertainment can be? I bet if you thought about it, you could come up with a list.

        I think about the religion I was raised in; fundamentalist evangelicalism. Nice people, more or less. All my life I heard stories about how much our human society sucked and how great it was going to be when Jesus burned everyone else up and took us away to live happily ever after. The gospel was like one of those escape route maps you find in the back pocket of the seats on airplanes. Go from A to B then C to avoid burnination.

        Alas, during my formative years, I never really heard about any of the amazing things I could do to make the world a better place. The entire focus was on abandoning ship. My religious education never encouraged me to take an interest in politics (except for being sure not to vote for people who supported gay marriage). I was rarely encouraged to care for the environment or social justice. Instead of trying to fix and redeem the world, we were content to sit back and let it burn as we wore our asbestos suits and neckties.

        Not that this is a problem specific to fundamentalism. Every religion I’ve had relationships with leans this way.

        But I’m optimistic. I think that our religious climate is starting to look at the human experience in a much more holistic way. Yay for that.

        But I fear that this obsession with escapism has trickled down into how we view our entertainment.

        Why do you read books? Why do you watch TV? Most people will say, ‘To get away for a while.’ To unplug. To let go. To escape.

        Let it never be!

        A human being, carved from dirt into the image of the divine, has poured their creative energy, inherited from God, onto a page or a screen or a canvas. They have, in their own weak and fledgling way, become a creator of worlds and stories and lives and people. With ten fingers tapping they have called something from nearly nothing. And you want to use their world as a place to escape?

        No!

        Stories are not a place for you to escape the real world. They are images of the real world. They are not idealized life, but elevated life. Through stories we see our own world ever more clearly. And through their invented wonders we more clearly see the wonders of our own world and characters and societies. Stories ‘make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water (G.K. Chesterton).’

        I beg you, friends, do not escape! Do not run away. Not to religion and not to stories. Because both of them are such mind-bogglingly powerful things that to use them only for escape seems as trite as using a jackhammer to kill a butterfly. Not only is it a supreme waste of energy, it begs the question as to why you want to kill something so beautiful as a butterfly in the first place.

The Storyteller as Translator or Calliope Mumbles

       Creative people debate about where creativity comes from. It’s either something born deep within us that we painstaking bring out. Or it’s something on the outside that we reach out and touch. For the most part, whichever view helps you be creative is probably the best.

       I’m in the second group, though I think the first group is on to something. I think the stories come from an outside Source. I believe that muses are spiritual thingies (yes, thingies) that whisper our stories in our ears. And I think that they’re always whispering.

       Have you heard them? You probably have. Whenever a brilliant idea for a story or a painting or a recipe or a dance forms in your mind, that’s the muse poking you. You’re filled with excitement and you rush to your computer or sketch pad to throw that idea into the world. But as you pick up your pen, you stop understanding. Your muse is mumbling. Or she’s speaking a higher tongue. Either way, the story is not as clear as you thought it was.

       Two choices, at this point: (a) Decide you’re not really an artist after all and the story sucks and throw your tool away and walk because it was a stupid idea to begin with. Or (b) write it down anyway. Move forward. Trust that you are not being given a crap story and commit to seeing it through.

       (b) is, of course, better.

       The muses always give good stories. Alas, they speak no English. As creative people we are meant to listen deeply to their sublime tongues and work out the story they want us to tell. It’s a hard, harsh discipline. But if we’re faithful to the story, the muses will be faithful to us. The universe wants her story told, after all. But she needs a translator.

       Stories are from the Outside. But it’s our painstaking translations and revisions that show them to be the glories that they really are.

Ontario Writers Conference

Was a blast! I’m still reeling from the exhausting glory-fest that it was. Here are some things that have stayed with me so far:

  • Setting is powerfulGwynn Scheltema led a great workshop on crafting setting to push your reader in the direction he ought to be. It was probably the most informative session of the day.
  • Connections are powerful – I had never really taken my writing ‘outside’ before. To meet others who were at similar progress levels to me was a very comforting experience. I made some great new friends and I hope I’ll see them again as we chase our stories.
  • Spirituality must be practical – There was an amazing author who helped me one-on-one with some of my writing (which is now listed as one of the most encouraging moments I’ve ever had) told me an amazing story of two Taoist monks which brought forth that life-giving truth about how anything spiritual must be practical.
  • The first draft is the hunk of marble – Just get it down. Then begin to chip away to reveal the masterpiece.
  • Stories are sacred things – Because they are acts of creation. Because they hold meaning. Because they give life. Because they hold so much more meaning than sermons or lectures or lessons. And that makes the writing of stories a sacred thing.
  • Writing is hard work – I knew that already. I also knew that anything good is hard. But I think I know it even more now. That’s a great thing to remember because it means I won’t be seeking the ‘ideal’ writing mode or mindset or environment. It’s like a job. Show up every day. Play hurt. No calling in sick.
  • While the specifics of publishing look confusing the core is very simple – Write well.
  • Your writing space ought to be ugly and uncomfortable – You’re not on vacation, after all. You’re writing, for crying out loud.
  • I am a writer. – My one-on-one session was one of the positive experiences my writing life has ever had. It went just about as good as it could have. But that’s not why I’m a writer. Even if it had been a horrible experience, I’d still be a writer. Even if my Blue Pencil mentor had written pages of harsh criticism and marked up my whole piece with piles of corrections, I’d still be a writer. Because writers are just people who write, not people who get paid for writing. And I write. I create stories. And stories are little universes. So I look at the label with respect and a touch of awe. And then I step forward and own it. And that feels pretty damn good.
  • Thanks, OWC. It was a great time. See you next year.

    The Greatest Writer in the World!!!!1

         She was the best writer in the world. Susan Less. Sue, to her friends. Never heard of her? That’s a shame. Because she was the best. Like, mind-bogglingly greater than any writer you’ve ever read. She would have made Stephen King look like Dr. Suess. She would have made Dr. Suess look like Spongebob. She would have made Spongebob look like … well, I guess it’s not hard to make Spongebob seem trite.
         You like Dickens? Austen? Twain? Their plots and characters would have looked as shallow as Dan Brown’s compared to Sue’s. And you want deep and hidden meanings? Yann Martel would have seemed preachy and infantile next to the gems Sue would have laid out for you. In fact, after reading one of Sue’s books, you would instantly be morphed into a newer, better person. Your eyes would be opened. Reading one of her books would, I imagine, be like beholding the face of God, watching him smile and say to you ‘Finally, my favorite child has come home.’ Yep. That good.
         What, you’re skeptical? You don’t believe me? You’re checking her out on the Internet now and can’t seem to find were bibliography? Let me prove her worth to you.
         They say the average person has a vocabulary of 4000 words. Shakespeare have something like 29,000. Slick, eh? Well Sue Less blows them out of the water. She knows at least 100,000 words! That’s right, there are English words out there that only she knows! Put that in your pipe and smoke it!
         And they say the best writers are prolific readers. So Sue rises again to the top. I can say with 100% certainty and no fear of hyperbole that she has read more books than every English-speaker put together! Boom!
         And as to the writing craft itself, she listens to every podcast, reads every blog and attend every single writing conference. The money she has spent on conferences, writing workshops and books numbers in the hundreds of thousands. No one has spend more resources on the craft than Sue.
         So there you go! I think I’ve made my point. It’s obvious that she is the best out there. Who else has such a deep, intricate knowledge of language and stories and style? No one. That’s who.
         I can’t wait until she finally writes something. Surely once she does, the world will be changed forever. Surely peace will come. Surely we shall all be forever changed and our hearts will turn to gold.
         Surely.

    Tell Me a Story

    Stories are important to me.  You want to know why?  I’ll tell you.

    1. Stories can hold a lot more meaning and truth in a shorter form than mere preaching and info-dumps.
    2. Stories are an expression of the creative spark that God placed in every human.
    3. Stories can preserve, proclaim and process Truth.
    4. Jesus told stories.  Much of the Bible is devoted to stories.
    5. Stories, when properly enjoyed, are more fun than TV, movies and video games put together.
    6. Stories are able to tell us many things about many subjects in a very short time.
    7. Stories exercise our creativity.
    8. Stories last forever.
    9. Stories, when written well, can be a powerful force for good.
    10. I like stories.

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