The God Complex vs. Non-Literary Sources of Entertainment
by Jeff Bowles
The written word is dying. You know it, I know it, and so does anyone else who’s taken a serious look at book sales in the last twenty-five years. Academics and the literary elite have been decrying this death for some time. Growing up in the 90s, I was told again and again my generation represented a kind of last ditch effort to save literacy before it was too late.
Does it have to be this way? Popular opinion would have you believe so. Then again, any form of creative expression that becomes less and less popular with each successive generation is doomed to fail at some point, right? Kids today. They’ve got myriad distractions. Movies, video games, the internet, comic books, television. The ones who grow up readers will probably stick with it. But young people without an inherent need to devour that latest giant book release tend to shy away from recreational reading their whole lives.
See, prose is a beautiful textual form, but it also requires the kind of attention span that went out of fashion with fax machines and cassette tapes. It requires imagination, particularly in regards to participation, and make no mistake, if you’re reading your favorite author, you’re a participant as much as a consumer.
I’ve often heard it said all great art forms thrive on limitations. Music, for instance, is built on sound, rhythm, aural evocation, but there is no visual component, and often when we listen to music, the absence of something interesting to look at often heightens the experience. Film, too. We have the visual, we have sound, but we cannot readily discern the thoughts, feeling, and motivations of the people onscreen; in other words, we can’t be inside their heads. Which is why world-class actors make all the difference. There’s an entire hidden world bubbling to the surface in great films, and our imaginations help complete the picture.
The written word is a lot like that, except that in a good piece of fiction, we may know the inner workings of our favorite characters. We just can’t see or hear them. A good book is a wonderful tool for sharpening the mind. As much as I like video games, movies, and comic books—and I do—they just aren’t as fulfilling on that level.
If you’re a fan of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror, you should know your go-to genres have been coopted by video game developers and movie producers all over the world. They’ve taken the hallmarks and defining tropes you love and turned them into heightened visceral experiences that in the short term at least can blow even the best novels out of the water. I love reading about space pirates and interstellar imperial armadas. But somehow, when a PlayStation game puts a blaster rifle in my hand and lets me save the galaxy, it’s just too fulfilling a spectacle to ignore.
I’m 32 years old, which makes me a quote, unquote “older” Millennial. My generation takes a lot of guff out there, but no one can deny how skilled we are in the ways of media diversification. I have no problem switching between novels and games and comics and TV shows, because I know each unique format can render enjoyable stories. And that’s the thing, really. Stories are the key. We still love and crave them, spend a lot of time—too much time—in a kind of mad rush to consume them.
It’s just we’re less likely to turn to a good book to find them than Baby Boomers or even many Gen-Xers. The as-yet-unnamed generation coming up behind us is even less likely, and in fact, their concepts of good stories are even stranger, owing to the fact that many kids today worship YouTube and the limitless hysteria and disjointed infotainment it provides.
Oh sure, there may be a place for good books for years and years to come, but if you as a writer are in any way worried about their ultimate viability, might I recommend you study these other forms of entertainment and discover what makes them tick?
Are video games truly mindless? Or do they simply manage to capture the heat of battle like no other storytelling medium before? Are serialized “shared-universe” movie properties a waste of time, or are they the next step in branded and concise science-fictive intellectual properties?
I think we can make our prose more electric, our ideas bigger and harder to ignore. I think our fiction can be faster, more dangerous, put together like any good hybrid. Otherwise, I fear, we’re going to get out-shouted, the carnival barkers of a million different industries drowning out our unique voices one-by-one
I’ve dedicated by publishing history to this very principle, but I certainly understand the hesitancy I sense each time I tell fellow writers most of us aren’t ready for that kind of transition. Rather than allowing our favorite literary forms to die, we should encourage them to evolve. Ultimately, how many new fans a fresh-faced writer can hope to gain depends on the lengths he or she is willing to go to in an effort to stand out in the crowd.
By the way, the crowd in question? It’s full of billion-dollar storytelling giants, and the almighty dollar just ain’t what it once was. Hollywood still loves to adapt a book, though. Take my advice, folks. Write that which is entertaining enough to create and convert new book fans. The pool of international readers grows shallower every year. Let’s encourage more people to come take a swim, huh? Those who know more about Mario and Master Chief than Tolstoy or Shakespeare. It starts with you, dear writer. Just how damn entertaining can you be?
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F
YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ
Writer’s Block vs. The God Complex
by Jeff Bowles
Traditionally, I’ve never been a fan of taking breaks from my writing. I’ve advocated others not break from theirs either, telling myself and the entire writing world to keep pushing no matter what the circumstances. I’m having to alter that perception somewhat. You see, life can and does get in the way at times, and I don’t think there’s any use denying it. Staying driven and defiant in the face of adversity is all well and good. But what about personal tragedy, financial setbacks, lingering doubts, bouts of depression?
In my life as a writer I’ve received well over 600 rejection slips. Trust me, I’ve counted them recently. That’s never been enough to put the nail in the coffin of my work ethic, but somehow when it comes to my life in disarray, a hard fight is just about the only kind I know. Sometimes existence is smooth and sometimes it’s bumpy, and after all, that which you leave behind is paramount. So working your butt off no matter what, creating stories, filling your hard drive with new material, it’s got to be a saving grace of some sort, hasn’t it?
Only I’m not a machine, and neither are you. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Here on Writing to be Read, we hand out a lot of pro tips and offer words of wisdom for writers just starting out. I’d like to give you your concept of the morning: forgiveness. As in self-forgiveness, the only kind no one ever wants to grant. It’s so very easy to pretend your problems don’t exist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter, and when life catches up to us, there can be a letdown in creativity.
Writing is a hard business to pursue day in and day out. Rather than being purely creative, it’s startlingly cerebral, which means those lovely brains of ours need to be in tip top shape if we’re going to create brilliant prose (which is always the goal, right?). The mind gets tired sometimes. What’s more, it’s far easier to produce another story when a deadline or paycheck is in play. But how do we put up with the work load when all guarantees of future success are null and void?
The answer is passion, I suppose, and a healthy dose of resolve. Discipline will get you to the finish line with startling regularity, but everyone gets burned-out sometimes, right? I would submit that what most people refer to as burnout is more attributable to depression. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t ignore what your mind and body are screaming at you to acknowledge.
How do we refresh ourselves when we’re not in the mood to write? Creatively speaking—and this is just an example from my own experience—it’s always a good idea to have some kind of hobby or art project on the side. For instance, let’s say that 120,000 novel is really starting to drag you down ‘round about the 90,000 word mark. Why not go outside with a camera and begin a fun photography project? Or maybe pick up some paints and toss them at a canvas? Reading is also good, the kinds of stories you’ve always enjoyed most. Take a breather if you have to, though if I were you I’d narrow your daily word limits rather than abandoning your manuscript completely.
To be perfectly fair, I have never been great at refreshing myself in the middle of a long-haul project. The one thing that usually seems to work is finding escape in my words. Instead of viewing my writing as a crucible, I try to envision it as a form of therapy that allows me to escape my troubles and heal that which is damaged or broken. I don’t think this is easy for everyone to do, because the longer you’re at this thing, and the more life is stressing you out, the harder it is to view your writing in a positive light.
I know there will be plenty of writers out there who do not share my experience. After all, talent and depression don’t always go hand in hand, nor do they need to. But sometimes people go through bad months, bad years, and unless I miss my guess, during those times even the most productive writers find the work difficult. On social media the other day, a fellow author asserted writer’s block is just an excuse. I actually agree with the sentiment, though not by his same reasoning.
You see, calling a slump writer’s block allows us to focus on the results of our output rather than the cause. It’s like 17th century Salem assaulted by tragic events, blaming the whole thing on witchcraft. Writer’s block is a nothing phrase, a catch-all that doesn’t describe anything pertinent. Does it exist? Certainly, but not as an end itself. To me, writer’s block is and always will be a symptom of some form of depressed thinking.
When writers slow down, it’s important to consider life circumstances. Maybe the bills aren’t getting paid. Or perhaps there’s too much to do at the office. We humans are extraordinarily skilled at ignoring our troubles. Remember, everyone has bad days, months, years. It does no good to pretend we don’t. In fact, it only serves to make our writing woes that much harder to overcome.
Are you a writer who’s having trouble maintaining a steady workflow? Don’t get angry and do not criticize yourself. Call it writer’s block if you have to, but realize there’s a genuine cause that you can in fact address. Do a little soul searching, reacquaint yourself with your situation and get honest about what’s causing you difficulty. You understand best how talented you are. You are irreplaceable as a voice and as an individual, so get introspective and really try to parse out this downturn.
Consider a little self-nurturing. It’s not a sin to pause your work. It’s just not. Besides which, many of us consider writing a calling and a passion, no matter how successful or productive we are. You’ve come this far. If we can purge the negativity and bad emotion, the self-destructive tendencies and malaise, writer’s block is no longer such an issue. I’d rather work in a mind space free from all that crap. Wouldn’t you?
Most of the time writing is a damn thankless job. Let’s all be honest about that. It isolates us even at the best of times, so why’s it so hard to believe we sometimes need a little mental and emotional care? Be kind to yourself and respect your ability to produce. If you’re not feeling this right now, no worries, take a breather and work on yourself a bit. Until next time, everybody!
Interested in my writing? Check out my latest collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces: Short Stories — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F