Yesterday, I decided it would be instructional to read this blog of mine. All of it. From the beginning.
It’s taking a while.
But it is, indeed, instructional; I have found that I do come to the same conclusions over and over again, meaning both that they’re sound conclusions given my circumstances, and that I keep forgetting. But I think it’s more that I just get carried away with the next thing and fail to remember, rather than actively ignoring, these lessons, which is hopeful. And I have also found that I don’t mind that it happens, which is nice. It’s just writing.
Then again, I can be very dismissive about things like that. “It’s just writing”, yes, and it’s important to have a healthy relationship with your writing (or any self-directed activity) in terms of the amount of pressure you put on it to fulfill you – but on the other hand, plenty of advice that I end up giving myself to get out of writing slumps, for example, could probably work very well in other contexts as well. I just don’t think about it. And for a very long time, I’ve been aware that I don’t make connections like this, use lateral thinking, and it’s always an after-the-fact kind of lamentation of “dammit why can’t I be cleverer”. Always comes with a bit of self-hate. Which is not cool. I want to work on that. It’s just thinking.
Lately, though, the thing confronting me is not ideas that I should have had on my own, but ideas that other people have already had and how attracted to them I am.
This article found its way to me today, and two points stuck out to me as particularly salient to my current situation. The first one is #6, in which cool ideas are really quite common. This isn’t the same as “everybody uses the same ideas”; it’s much more generous than that, while at the same time kind of even more of a downer: everybody has cool ideas, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything good will come of it (“good” in this case = publishing deal/worldwide recognition for your cool idea). At the same time, whenever we talk about “cool ideas” we are automatically referencing the possibility that our cool idea might just be the same as somebody else’s cool idea. I only recently learnt that Alfred Russel Wallace was a person, let alone the fact that he came up with the concept of natural selection independently of Charles Darwin. Their idea was the same, and it makes sense that they came to the same conclusions because they were interested in the same things. Likewise, all of us humans who belong to the same culture and are interested in certain things in big clumps will probably have a considerable amount of imaginative overlap. I mean how many Giant Robots exist concurrently in our popular consciousness? It definitely depends on what media you’re exposed to – but that’s my point. There’s Transformers, there’s Gundam, there’s Metal Gear, Voltron, Power Rangers, Gasaraki, Evangelion, Star Wars; and all of that came from somewhere. Nothing, not even imagination, happens in a vacuum, without outside influence and a convergence of contexts. So ultimately, our “cool idea” is probably similar to somebody else’s – it’s just that we haven’t heard about it. A cool idea is not the same as a well-publicised idea, but that doesn’t mean it may not be making the rounds all the same.
In short: whatever your cool idea is and wherever you trace its origins from – it’s still a cool idea, and there’s no reason you can’t use it. Other than copyright, but these days copyright is undergoing some interesting evolutions, so one day that may not even be a barrier to entry.
The other point was #8, in which most trends are over by the time you hear of them. Kind of like how the light from the stars is light we on earth are only getting some X-billion years after the fact, and many of the stars we see actually don’t exist anymore.
Hell, there’s a cool idea right there: what if one day all the stars simultaneously went out, and we realised that we’d never actually seen the stars at all?
I don’t know where that idea goes (see #4, in which ideas aren’t stories), but it’s cool nonetheless.
Vampire romance novels are, I mean, were they ever popular? As a trend I mean. There was a lot of hype about vampire romance novels, but hype is not intrinsically linked to thorough research. You can hype something you know almost nothing about, and part of the hype in the case of vampire romance novels was the controversy of the Twilight saga, its depiction of romance and sexuality combined with its (supposed) target audience. But people would make jokes about “teen vampire romance novels”, as if that were a thing. I know there are, indeed, many young adult novels wherein vampires fill romantic roles in the narrative tapestry – but does that make it a thing? A thing-that-exists, sure, but a thing-with-social-relevance? We have Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, Vampire Academy and True Blood that seem to have “made it”. That’s four. Four franchises. And True Blood doesn’t even count, because it is not for teenagers. So it may not even be that trends are over before they begin; it may be that trends never existed to begin with.
At least not with that level of specificity. Because what I did see, and what everybody else saw, was a huge rise in interest in paranormal romance (rather than vampire-specific romance). Vampires may well have kicked things off, but even though Superman was the first superhero, Batman was the one who started the trend of superheroes, by proving that there was a resilient formula inherent in the Superman story that could be generalised and perpetuated in different specific forms. From Twilight we got Hush, Hush, we got Beautiful Creatures, we got Tiger’s Curse, Wake – and, despite what Richelle Mead might have to say on the matter, we got Vampire Academy, and I’m glad we did.
ampire Academy is one I might actually still review just from a genre perspective, simply because on the surface it comes across as the most cash-grabbing, zeitgeist-chasing undertaking you’ve ever seen, in which teenage vampires go to a high school where they learn to do magic. But none of that changes the fact that, whatever Mead’s own personal motives for writing VA when she did, it doesn’t matter whether she did it for the intents and purpose of making a quick buck, or because this story had been burning inside of her for release and the catalyst of Twilight andHarry Potter‘s success gave her the opening she was looking for. It does not matter. What matters is that the hype was real at the time, and the series benefited. (I still haven’t looked at Bloodlines, but I really want to know what the hell happened after Last Sacrifice so I may just have to get around to that.)
And, if this article is to be believed, it was lucky in that regard. But I don’t know how much I buy that one. I mean obviously, yes, trends to come and go; but logically, if trends are on their way out by the time you hear about them, and you’re a writer, and you don’t know they’re on the way out and you write your thing anyway and it sells, then surely you are adding to the lifespan of that trend? Like, I dunno, Divergent? And this is why #8 stood out to me: because trends don’t just die – they come back. Dracula begat LeStat, LeStat begat Angel and Spike, Angel and Spike begat Edward and Bill, if you think vampires are straight you’re missing the point – and even though Animorphs hasn’t seen its Second Coming quite yet, stories about people turning into shit are not uncommon. It was just that Animorphs had some really interested, seriously fucked-up lore to go along with it. From what I’ve heard. I really should go read that series at some point. It seems important.
Particularly as people-with-animal-powers is one of the ideas that’s been kicking around in my head and screaming for attention over the past few weeks.
I have a lot of ideas and not enough stories to give them to. It’s a problem, but not, like, an urgent or even important one. And I feel it would be even less significant, perhaps even cease to be, if I could just get over my insecurities about re-treading the ground others have already walked before, especially since I am fully aware and even proud of the fact that there is a huge part of my identity as a writer that loves doing that. I love copying and pasting; I love reiterating the already reiterated concepts and tropes and conventions everybody’s seen a million times, because it’s established and predictable and going through it yourself is a clear way to measure (a certain type of) proficiency and skill.
I think my biggest obstacle is that, much like how I don’t really think about how concepts in one context could apply to another – writing advice being relevant in tense social situations or moments of frustration, for instance – I tend to think, in this case, “people with animal powers” or “people with giant robots” and then go straight to “… has already been done before and I have nothing new to offer”, rather than, I dunno, literally anything the fuck else. It’s not just dispiriting to think that way; it’s dispiriting to know that I think that way, that this is the treatment of myself that I default to. Part of it could be that I’m still more or less in holiday mode and just cannot be fucked thinking outside the box, but then again, when else is a good time to think outside the box? If this isn’t the free time I was looking for, when is? When semester starts again?
And you can’t force inspiration, but you can force effort. And at the end of the day, maybe that’s the reason I’m stuck on the Last Big Thing: I don’t put in any effort into exploring the idea and seeing what hasn’t been done – or, more organically, what I think would be interesting to add to it. I just fall instantly into a self-defeating slump of “well, it’s been done, why bother”, and it pisses me the fuck off, because I know I can do better than that.
My imagination has been so narrowly framed as well lately, and by “lately” I mean “all the way through university”; sociopolitical issues and formal deconstruction are pretty much the two nodes I swing between, to the exclusion of all else. It’s just not very … varied. And it’s getting to the point where it’s actually stifling, where I need to be able to concern myself with other ideas and inspirations, otherwise I feel like my thoughts are going to shrivel up and die from lack of nourishment, that my imagination will become more mechanical and conveyor-belt-y – which is all very ironic, because supposedly studying arts helps you to counter that kind of thinking.
I’m also thinking of giving psychology another go, because at least I know where I’d go with it career-wise.
And I had some cool ideas while I was studying psychology; and to be fair I’ve had a lot of cool ideas while studying arts. Probably the biggest wealth of cool ideas I’ve ever had, actually, so maybe it’s just a “grass is greener on the other side” kinda thing. Doesn’t mean I shouldn’t go roll in it for a while though.
With giant robots that have animal powers.
Hell, maybe it’s just the heat. It is disgustingly humid where I live at the moment, and heat never does much for your motivation or creativity, unless it’s motivation to lie in the shade while creatively angling yourself so as to best catch passing breezes.
It’s not just the heat. It’s a habit I’ve built up over a very long period of time, and it’s time to break it. Time to actually start letting myself explore ideas again, and find the fun that repels the doubt.
Time to not care if it’s the Last or Next Big Thing, and just let it be my thing.
Also maybe take a shower because JFC this heat …