Do or Do Not.

Archive for May, 2006

Link: How Never To Reach Your Goals

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Achieve-IT! lists ten methods for making sure that you never, ever reach your goals. I think that these “tips” were supposed to be funny, but I couldn’t find my way to the laughing for all of the crying I was doing. I’ve consistently done every single one of the items on this list for years.

8. List why it’s impossible – Now we are getting into the mental game of failing. This is quite possibly your greatest weapon against achievement because it destroys hope and optimism. So as soon as possible, set aside some time to create a long list of how impossible your goal really is. No matter what your target is, I am sure you can come up with plenty of reasons why it’s impossible.

I’ve been reading and thinking quite a bit about my goals (or lack thereof) lately, but sometimes it takes this kind of slap in the face — to have someone hold up a mirror showing exactly how well you’re not doing — to make any real impact.

So excuse me, but I have to go write up some more goals now.

Written by Allen

May 25th, 2006 at 11:29 am

Posted in Inspiration,Organization

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“Astonishing”-ly Cruel

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Y’know, I’m a nice guy. I like being a nice guy. I don’t mean to say that I’m perfect or that I’ve never done wrong by anyone, but in general, I’m kind to most people. It’s one of the things I like about being me, and in general it’s worked out pretty well for me, I think.

Except, of course, when it comes to writing fiction.

My niceness unfortunately extends to the characters I’m writing about — I don’t like seeing people in pain, so it’s always been difficult to be the one responsible for causing pain, even if it’s happening to people who exist only inside my head. But I honestly don’t see a big market out there for stories about happy characters who just, I dunno, sit around and talk about how happy they are, characters whose biggest conflicts come in the form of fluffy pillow fights with their best friends.

Man, I managed to bore myself to tears just typing that last sentence.

However, I’m learning. No more Mr. Benevolent Uber-deity for me. This particular lesson, though a common precept of fiction writing, I’m taking from Mr. Joss Whedon because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about his characters recently. See, Joss has no problems thoroughly f*!%ing up his characters, even his favorite ones — hell, especially his favorite ones. He knows, as all (well, most) successful fiction writers do, that you get to the good stuff by throwing adversity at your characters and seeing how they deal with it. That’s when you find out what your characters are really made of — to hell with what they say, what do they do when they’ve just found out that their vampire boyfriend has once again turned into a murderous, insane monster?

All of this is why I’m suddenly very, very afraid for Kitty Pryde and Colossus in Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men.

I’ve watched enough of Whedon’s TV shows (and by that I mean every episode of all three of his series) to know that if there’s one thing he can’t stand, it’s a happy couple. Happy couples exist (usually only temporarily) in the larger Whedonverse specifically so that he can destroy them, tear them to shreds and see if they give up or come back together stronger than before. And right this very second, Kitty and Peter are happy, having just gotten together for the first time after years and years of being kept apart by small obstacles like other lovers, being on opposite sides of the ocean or one of them being dead.

So something very, very bad is about to happen to one — or both — of these two characters I care about.

I sincerely doubt that Joss is going to kill off either character: Kitty’s supposedly his all-time favorite comics character (not that I think that fact alone would stop him from killing her if the story demanded her death) and he just went to a lot of trouble to bring Colossus back from a several-year-long dirt nap. I have absolutely no idea what he’s got planned, though I suspect it’s going to end up being something horrible emotionally rather than physically. Whatever it is, I think it’s a fairly safe (and upsetting) bet that those two won’t be together once Astonishing‘s current story arc is done.

And Joss is willing to do whatever it is he’s got planned for Peter and Kitty because his love for the story is greater than his love for the characters. [1] Whatever he’s going to do to them will reveal a lot about their inner workings, likely in a way that’s obvious in retrospect but hasn’t been considered before. (Remind me to detail for you later the brilliance of what he just did to/revealed about Cyclops. My god.)

I hope I’ve learned this lesson well. Last night, I wrote the first draft of a scene that would come toward the end of Act 2 of the ginormous comic book opus I’ve been chewing on for awhile. (Yes, I actually wrote something! No, I can’t post it, sorry.) And while that scene itself isn’t particularly brutal, it immediately follows a scene which clearly must have been, and the implications it has for the story’s characters are dire. Even better? That scene allows me to start setting up some hints and foreshadowing going all the way back to the beginning of the story, plot points and character moments I had no idea would be necessary until last night.

My point, if I have one? Be cruel to your characters and they’ll be good to you.

[1] I’ve talked about this topic before in relation to Whedon’s movie Serenity; if you’ve seen the movie or can deal with serious spoilers, please go check out that article. I was proud of that one.

Written by Allen

May 24th, 2006 at 8:51 pm

“Taking the Long Way” To Greatness

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I’d really love to talk about the new Dixie Chicks record, Taking the Long Way, without discussing the political overtones woven throughout the album’s fourteen songs. I’d love to talk about the record without bringing up the controversy which the Chicks brought on themselves three years ago. I’d love to talk only about the music, amazing as it is. But I can’t. Chicks singer Natalie Maines won’t let me.

The first single, “Not Ready To Make Nice,” has been a lightning rod for those reactionaries who castigated the band for Maines’ gall to speak her mind in the first place; clearly, the only appropriate reaction (so intimated by country radio program directors) would have been an ass-kissing apology from the Chicks — and that’s exactly what “Make Nice” is not. Yet I have a difficult time imagining how anyone who takes the time actually to listen to the song’s lyrics could find Maines’ non-apology offensive — she’s the one who had to deal with death threats for criticizing the President. It seems to me she’s the one owed an apology, but it’s obvious the Dixie Chicks and country radio have signed their divorce papers and parted ways for good. If “Make Nice” wasn’t the final closing of that door, the scathing “Lubbock or Leave It” (ironically, the most country-flavored song on the album) surely is, a diatribe slamming the hypocrisy and closed-mindedness so prevalent in the Chicks’ former fanbase.

By no means, however, is Taking The Long Way all angry defiance; many of the album’s songs deal with the love and comfort the women find in their children and families. And if country radio won’t dare play the Chicks’ music anymore, there’s plenty of songs here, such as “The Long Way Around,” which should find significant airplay on the sorts of stations which keep Sheryl Crow in heavy rotation. (In fact, Crow was one of several noted songwriters who contributed to Taking the Long Way.)

Produer Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Sir Mix-a-Lot, among many, many others) said he was going for something of an Eagles vibe with this record, a 70′s mellow California feel. That’s not exactly what I came away with — to me, the album felt more like a collection of mellower tunes from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. (Of course, that’s likely due in no small part to the fact that Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench played on the album.) The laid-back atmosphere, while in such direct contrast to so many of the lyrics, fits these more cosmopolitan Chicks perfectly and allows Maines’ voice to shine (admittedly, that last part’s not difficult). Even the traditionally-country instruments plaed by Chicks Emily Robison (banjo) and Martie Seidel (fiddle) here are used in a less honky-tonk manner and more as accents for the string section which flavors most of the tracks.

The theme of Maines’ doing what’s in her heart rather than what she’s “supposed to do” repeats throughout the album’s lyrics — honestly, my major fault with the album it’s that she hits that point a bit too hard and a bit too stridently. Given the circumstances, though, I’ll forgive her. It’s a shame country music fans won’t do the same. A shame for those former fans, I mean; the Dixie Chicks have channeled the torturous events of the last three years into the strongest album of their career.

Written by Allen

May 23rd, 2006 at 10:15 pm

Posted in Music,Pop Culture

On Pre-Writing and Rewriting

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My boy Timmy B has come to one of those conclusions that a great many of us who’ve tried to write any fiction have come to at one time or another: eventually, you’ve got to stop all of the pre-writing, get past all of that “planning” you think you’re doing, quit futzing around and dive into the real writing.

I know what he’s talking about, of course; I’m a Four-Time Procastination Through Pre-Writing World Champion (I pulled a John Larroquette and took my name out of consideration after my fourth win back in ’96). I’ve got what feels like thousands of Microsoft Word documents and text documents and 3×5 note cards all with scribblings about my stories — and very, very little that’s actually part of the stories themselves. I know a whole bunch of reasons why that’s true, and I’m sure I’ve delineated them here before. I’m less interested right now in rehashing the why nots as much as I am in finding ways to break through them.

My latest experiment, which I haven’t really tried yet though I’m prepped for it, is a return to my roots: that’s right, I’m coming back home to pencil and paper. One of my problems (OK, so I lied — I’ll rehash one problem) is that I have this irrational feeling when I pull up a blank document on my computer that whatever I write has to be perfect. Whatever pours from my fingers into the keyboard isn’t a draft, it’s a final, publication-ready masterpiece. And that, of course, is just dumb. It’s also one of the chief causes of my creative paralysis.

Therefore, I’m hoping I’m able to trick my head into loosening up some by using tools which, by their very nature, can’t be used for a final draft. Anything I write on the loose-leaf paper I bought a few nights ago will automatically have to go through the revision process when I type it in, so, really, it’s okay to let it suck. I’m gearing up to try actually working on one of the stories that’s been simmering in my head for awhile, so wish me luck.

And wish Tim luck while you’re at it. He’s going the “if I tell the public that I’m going to write $thing, people will by-damn hold me to it” road, so I’m throwing all of the considerable support of Do or Do Not his way. Get to work, Tim!

(Speaking of rehashing, by the way: it turns out this is the second time I’ve written on this topic. The first time was almost exactly a year ago. I’m sure there’s something to be said in there for the cyclical nature of something or other, but I couldn’t possibly tell you what it was. Unless I went and wrote it out longhand first.)

Written by Allen

May 22nd, 2006 at 9:55 pm

Posted in Writing

Where’s Neil When You Need Him?

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Okay, I’ve got a question that’s been bugging me for three years, and I think you people reading this site are just the ones to help me.

For the first ten years of my Neil Gaiman Fandom, I pronounced his name in my head so that it rhymed with “Hey, man!” Never once did it occur to me that this pronunciation might not be correct — the word “aim” was right there in the middle of his name, so GAYM-en it was.

But shortly after I started at the job I have now three years ago, one of my coworkers insisted (with some vehemence, I might add) that Gaiman’s name was pronounced so that it rhymed with “Pie, man!” I didn’t feel I had any grounds to be able to argue my opinion with any certainty, as I’d never heard his name spoken by anyone I could think of as an authoritative source on the matter. So I did what I frequently do in arguments: I shut my mouth and let the other person continue in his belief, whether said belief was correct or not.

Since then, I’ve heard the name pronounced both ways. The Wikipedia entry on Neil backs up my long-held supposition, but I don’t consider the Wikipedia infallible with this kind of info. I know that at least a couple of my friends have seen the man speak live, so I’m hoping you folks who have done so can give me something definitive — did he speak his own name? And if so, how did he say it? Is he the HEY-man or the PIE-man?

Written by Allen

May 21st, 2006 at 3:50 pm