Simple Words and Great Inspiration

“Keep going. You’re a mess and you’re happy.”

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Eight simple words, in two short sentences. Nothing elaborate or fancy and yet those words reached something in me that had long since gone into hiding. Those words took that elusive something by the hand and led it from the murky, shadowed depths of my mind, where it had been crouched, waiting for the right opportunity to rise again. What I mean to say is that, all flowery description aside (for which I must ask you to forgive me, it’s been a while since I’ve felt the urge to write like that), upon reading those few simple words in the author’s note at the front of my edition of The Book Thief, my inspiration to write was once more upon me.

I go through stages in my writing, as I imagine every writer does. Sometimes I can sit at my laptop (fondly and perhaps ever so childishly named Atticus) for days at a time and blast out pages upon pages. Other times I can sit in front of Atticus all day and write not but a few simple paragraphs. And then, of course, there are the frustratingly lengthy periods of time between my few inspired moments, during which I cannot write a single word and begin to fall into a pit of self doubt and self loathing. I confess, it is during those times that I feel compelled to ease my despair with excessive amounts of chocolate and something Jeffrey Dean Morgan related.

This blog is the only consistent(ish) writing that I do actually, and it’s rather tragic. You think tragic is too dramatic a word? Dear reader, if you have ever sat up at three in the morning, cradling a rapidly cooling cup of tea, staring at a blank computer screen and willing your brain to be a creative genius with little or no result, then you will understand that tragic is most definitely the right word. A lack of inspiration is a terrible thing for a writer, indeed for any creative person. My problem is not that I am short on ideas – in fact I have rather an abundance of them, to the point of being often overwhelming – but rather I am one of those people who is constantly doubting myself and my abilities as a writer. Strange really, considering I am somewhat aggressively self assured in most every other aspect of my life.

Unfortunately, when I cannot write as well or as much as I would like, I inevitably think of myself as a failure, which is followed by an imaginative slump and subsequent anger at my own inability to create. From there, I give up writing altogether and try to occupy myself with a sewing project or a book or some other activity that in no way reminds me of how appallingly bad I am at my chosen art. I know, I know, being so blatantly pessimistic about the whole endeavour is no way to achieve success but I am self critical to a fault. One of a number of character flaws that tend to directly affect my creative process.

Late last year I started writing a collection of somewhat macabre short horror stories. As a horror fan myself, my intention was to emulate the feelings I get when I read the work of Susan Hill or Joe Hill (incidentally no relation, but both fantastic authors in their own right). I have planned for at least ten of these short stories but as yet have only successfully completed one, and even that needs some adjustments and improvements. Again, my issue with being my own worst critic comes into play. I do find however, that by sharing my work with a select couple of people and receiving constructive criticism and helpful feedback, my writing is greatly improved. Except here of course, where I am not particularly concerned with much more than getting down the thoughts in my head. Alas, my horror stories showed such promise at the beginning, and now almost all interest and inspiration has dwindled to nothing and I can’t seem to reclaim either. See, tragic.

And yet, against recent odds and despite my crippling self doubt and lack of motivation, today I was inspired. Though I have never met him, and he hasn’t the faintest clue who I am or that I exist, Markus Zusak has given me a great gift. I had not expected today that when I picked up a book to read I would in fact not read it at all, and instead have the urge to write. Nevertheless, I am grateful.

To Markus Zusak, though you may never read this and never know how you have helped me, I thank you. You have inspired me, and I’ve not yet even read any of your work. I rather think that says a lot about an author and can only hope that one day, I shall be able to inspire someone else in the same way.

Books vs Film

Last night I attended a debate with my friend, during which the three women on the panel discussed at length whether books and films can be compared, and if one is better than the other. Now, seeing as I suffer from a debilitating inability to participate in group discussions without getting shaky hands and clammy palms, I figured I would voice my opinion, as I am wont to do, in writing.

The ‘book vs film’ topic is hardly anything new. People have been arguing for years which is the better storytelling medium and as yet I don’t believe anyone has been able to reach a satisfactory conclusion. That’s because, on the whole, you cannot compare the two; they’re simply too different. When it comes to specific examples however, there will always be two sides to the argument.

I love books. I was that nerdy kid who got put up three reading levels in primary school because I devoured every book I could get my hands on. I was reading at high school levels by the time I was eight. My love of literature has been a part of me since I was a wee little’un but it was only later that I developed a real interest in film. Reading has always been a passion of mine and my love of the written word was one of the reasons I got a job working at a bookstore. Though to tell you the truth, my ex-boss and good friend informed me that she hired me first and foremost because I talked so much.

Loving film and loving books aren’t mutually exclusive. I know many people, myself included, who love both. Of course, then there is my brother, who thinks reading is for losers and frequently tells me that my beloved books are only good for kindling, but he is an uncultured swine and so his opinion doesn’t count. (For the record, that was a joke. Regardless of his disdain for books, my brother is one of my favourite people in the world.) I think film and literature can help each other in a lot of ways. When I worked at Collins, I had a customer who had just seen the film Stardust, and upon learning it was a book, came in to buy it. That struck a chord with me both because I was glad a girl so young was reading and because I have a particular fondness for Neil Gaiman. Similarly, I had a customer asking about Chuck Palahniuk (incidentally another of my favourite authors) and I was able to recommend that she watch Fight Club, as I felt the film adaptation of the book was excellent.

Being a self-confessed book geek in no way inhibits my ability to appreciate a good film. And while I often believe specific books are better than their silver screen counterparts – for a varied number of reasons – there are definite exceptions to that rule. Bridget Jones’ Diary is one of the few chick flicks that I really enjoy and yet I found the book to be tedious and dull and once I had read it, I went entirely against my nature and gave it away.

Though I do actually enjoy both versions, the Harry Potter series is one example where I believe the books to be better than the films. The reason I prefer the books is largely due to the fact that Peeves was omitted from the films entirely and I felt ever so slightly cheated by this. Another main reason for me was the portrayal of Sirius Black’s death in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I know it’s a cliche but when I watched it, I couldn’t help but be underwhelmed and notice that it had occurred in a completely different way inside my head. When I read the book, I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled my eyes out at the loss of one of my favourite characters but I was completely unmoved by the same scene in the film. There are other reasons I prefer the books too; small things, perhaps, yet they make all the difference.

I don’t hold with the notion that films have no merit, in the same way I get offended when someone says books are pointless. It has been my experience that some book lovers can be rather judgemental about those who prefer film and take the stance that they they themselves are more intelligent because they read. I find this to be a pretentious and rather a rude point of view. Both books and movies can be useful, entertaining and even educational. My youngest brother has no interest in traditional learning but sometimes he comes out with facts that surprise and impress me. When I ask how he knows any one piece of information, often his answer will be that he learnt it from a film. I’m talking about real factual information too, not something dragon related that he picked up from Game of Thrones and assumed was real history.

There are always going to be people who prefer movies and those who prefer books. Even down to individual adaptations there will be two sides to every argument. I personally believe polite debate on the matter is healthy,and the more perspectives you can get about either side of the argument, the better. For me, I cannot say whether books in general are better than films or vice versa. I know there are certain books that I prefer compared to their film equivalent and other films that I prefer over the books. So after all this, which is better; books or films? The answer is, paradoxically, neither and both. It all depends entirely on your preference. Regardless of what that may be, enjoy them both freely and happily. I know I do.

Just Your Average ‘Boy Meets Girl, Girl is Insecure and Paranoid’ Story.

It’s no secret that I read a lot. I am a self confessed book geek after all. And while I do read a variety of different genres, there is a fair bit of teen fiction in my bookcase. I’ve recently been rereading the Soul Screamers series by Rachel Vincent, just as a bit of light reading after finishing Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted just recently. It was while reading the second book in her series that something occurred to me.

‘Nash Hudson could have had just about any girl that he wanted – he’d already had more than a few – but he was with me.’

The protagonist seems to be constantly in awe of the fact that her boyfriend is with her and not someone else. This seems to be a common theme within teen fiction, especially those centering around a female character. Look at any popular teen fiction set in high school, as they often are, and you will see that a lot of these books follow a similar formula; shy girl falls for hot, popular boy, they get together and then she spends the rest of the book questioning why he isn’t with someone else instead of her. This is usually accompanied by the female character’s commentary on exactly how ‘plain’ she is, and why other girls are more attractive and thus, more suitable for her boyfriend.

That doesn’t exactly paint a positive picture of teenage girls. So many of the central female characters in these books seem to have an astonishingly low opinion of themselves. And not a whole lot of trust in their boyfriends either. The sad part is that it probably isn’t all that inaccurate.

Being a teenage girl can be a difficult thing. I’ve been there, I know. You’re learning about yourself and discovering who you are, testing the tempestuous waters of impending adulthood. Your teenage years are rife with insecurity and adolescent worries and woes. Among the biggest of these for teenage girls is negative self image. So many young girls think that they’re ugly, or compare themselves to others and often find themselves coming off second best, at least in their own minds.

I’ve never really held with such nonsense myself. For a start, I’m not a jealous person by nature, so I don’t envy other girls because of the way they look. And secondly, I don’t think I’m ugly. Sure, I have flaws. Everyone does. But I’m not in the habit of focusing on them and deciding that having flaws – otherwise known as being human – means that I’m repulsive to the opposite (or the same) sex. And while we’re on the subject, I don’t see my differences from other girls as flaws either. I’m proud of my idividualities and eccentricities, and happy not to fit into a generic mould. To be honest, I think I’m a pretty rad dude and I also happen to think that I’m attractive. Now, I’ve been told that I suffer from an overinflated ego but the truth is that I’m just happy with who I am and the way I look. And there is no shame in that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t have days where I feel like I look terrible. There are days when I do look terrible! But I don’t buy into the idea that if you don’t look or act a certain way, then you aren’t attractive. Everyone is attracted to different things, it’s just that simple. However not everyone thinks the same way I do. It can be hard for young women to come into their own and feel confident about the way they look if it in any way differs from their preconceived notions about what beauty is. Notions based on the media’s portrayal of women and things they read or watch or hear. Because surely, if you aren’t a size six with big boobs, blonde hair, long legs and a ‘box gap’, then you’re ugly as sin and need to wear a paper bag over your head for the rest of your life.

I realise that I’m making a bit of a generalisation there too, but hopefully you get my point. The thing is, it can be very difficult for girls to learn to love themselves when everything from media to literature is telling them that they aren’t enough. That having small boobs means you aren’t as pretty as a girl with DD’s. That being a size twelve makes you less attractive that a size six. Or that someone you find attractive wouldn’t look twice at you because they’re out of your league.

Which brings us back to teen fiction and that oh so familiar ‘boy meets girl and girl constantly questions why he likes her’ plot. It’s possible that these stories pair an ‘unlikely’ couple together in an attempt to provide good role model type figures for adolescent women. I mean, there is always that underlying idea that if a shy, self-depreciating girl can get a hot boyfriend then anyone can. But that’s really more of an insult to shy girls than it is a positive affirmation. So many female protagonists are insecure and paranoid. Having a boyfriend can be an important thing for a teenage girl. I’m sure there are plenty of young women out there who can relate to the idea of having doubts about what their boyfriend sees in them. And honestly, I think that’s really depressing. Me personally, I’d relate more to a female character that knows how awesome she is without needing to hear it from her boyfriend. Or better yet, a protagonist who doesn’t need a boyfriend at all in order to feel good about herself.

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Rachel Vincent’s Soul Screamers, volume one. The inspiration for my rant.

What it comes down to is that if you and someone else share a mutual attraction then it doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) matter what social circles you travel in, or how many previous relationships either one of you has had. Ladies, it doesn’t matter whether you boyfriend ‘could have any girl he wants’. If he’s with you, then that’s all that matters. You should be confident in the knowledge that he loves you and thinks you’re beautiful. And if you’re not, then perhaps consider the possibility that your issues aren’t with him, but with yourself. Just a thought.