Sorry, creative group. I meant creative group.
Snake cult part optional but highly recommended.
I went to go see Justin Cronin speak the other night and it was a very pleasant little gathering. They filled every seat in the store and had a standing room section packed in like sardines on top of that. He read a passage from the third novel (very well, I might add, having listened to a lot of authors get nervous and fall flat when it came time to speak their stuff out loud – I am one of those, on occasion) and took questions from the audience for about an hour. It reminded me just how absolutely important it is to maintain contact with other creatives and to listen to and watch them.
For awhile I did buy into the myth of the writer as a solitary creature. I’m a fairly introverted person who needs a lot of time to recharge after being social with extended periods, and the act of writing itself is definitely something better done in solitude for me. I need atmospheric music and the bare minimum of human distraction if I want to exhale some words onto the page.
The thing is, if you only exhale, you’ll run out of oxygen and you’ll die.
After university and having learned a lot of the mechanical aspects of writing, which don’t get me wrong are really important and should be learned even if you intend to break those rules, I found that one of the best things to do for my psyche was to interact with other creatives on a regular basis. It’s tremendously uplifting and inspiring to hear other people geek out about their current, past and future creations. It gets my own brain spinning up by sheer proximity. Listening to a writer talk about how he wants to structure the dialogue in his upcoming story based on certain rules that will remain invisible to the reader, or seeing a more visual art grow from sketch to completed project not only intrigues me and makes me happy for the artist in question, it also gives me fuel for my own work. When I finish watching a Brandon Sanderson lecture on worldbuilding techniques, even if his style of worldbuilding is the polar opposite to mine, I come away feeling the residual excitement he obviously bubbles with for getting to write something cool that doesn’t yet exist on the shelves. Same with reading old Tolkien research letters and notes, or interviews with bands about concept albums and the inspiration behind them. Working with other writers on collaborative pieces is great because if your momentum flags for any reason, you can hitch yourself to theirs until you get back on your feet and they can do the same to you. It’s one of the reasons I’ve had a lot of luck doing partnership projects with either written or visual artists – it’s hard to get discouraged about your work when someone is actively getting pumped up about it right next to you, whether it’s to illustrate something you’ve worked on or a joint story venture where you’re trading off bits and pieces of story to one another.
There’s a reason that many very successful authors joined or formed clubs, even if they were complete misanthropes who wanted to be left alone in a cabin out in the dismal forests of their native land. You still need a little bit of that interaction, a little cross-pollination and surge of camaraderie even if your notion of the creative is a miserable and lonely person. How are you going to write about group dynamics if you don’t experience them, for one thing? How are you going to juggle an adventuring party and their disparate personality types and goals if you don’t give yourself a regular taste of that and a group of real people to be inspired by? That’s something I think that creative writing courses in school should be teaching just as strongly as the rules you’re expected to abide by or creatively break. Some courses do, but at my university it was never encouraged outside of a very brief and lackluster announcement for a small creative writing club that no one ever went to. Once I got out of that setting and started watching lectures by authors, connecting with other aspiring writers online and in person though? My own stuff took a huge, huge leap forward from the dreck it had been.
And, should you form one of these amazing groups and find yourself in need of a mascot, I heartily recommend the Snake God Glycon. You don’t need to be an orthodox Stygian and make human sacrifices to earn his favor, good lord no – actively turning into a snake-headed beast is fully optional, it’s much more about sock puppets, bath bombs and unwavering worship.
In other news, I finished up The Last Days of New Paris last night. Boy. Boy, China Mieville. It is incredibly telling about his writing style that out of his last three or four books I could classify this as the least weird, when it’s about the French resistance setting off a reality bomb in Nazi-occupied Paris and flooding the city with sentient manifestations of surrealist art, which in turn causes the Nazis to open a dimensional rift and reinforce their besieged lines with kidnapped demon princes. It follows a much more conventional story structure than some of his other recent offerings like This Census-Taker, or the short stories from Three Moments of an Explosion which included tales of dust unionizing and a travelogue from floating glaciers over the UK. Comparatively this is an adventuring story with a small party traveling through occupied territory to stop an evil plot, just with a lot of weirdness speckled in. It opens with Nazis skirmishing with a living manifestation of I Am An Amateur Of Velocipedes, a work by Leonora Carrington that combines two women and a bicycle into a warped and rubbery monster that can chew soldiers up beneath huge, crushing wheels. It gets stranger, and while a little bit of background in art history is useful it isn’t required. Being an alt-history piece with a divergence point in the 40s, there are plenty of neat little cameos from actual historical figures and references, which was a bit of an easter egg hunt for me with my background in the era. It was a fun book overall, I think it had one of his better endings and the text reading up to it was pure comfort food; it was the prose of a writer obviously in love with and wanting to share this outlandish concept he’d come up with. It gave me the warm fuzzies in the same way that Railsea and The Scar did when I first read them, so that that as a ringing endorsement.