Creativity on rails

You try so hard, so damn hard to think of new things, to write new things. And then something like this happens. Actually, this particular thing happens to me so often that I honestly find it a bit frightening.

Say I’m editing some complicated audio or video and at the end I need to run off a version to send to someone. The process is easy but it’s rather harder to come up with a name for the file. It’s got to be something clear so that your recipient knows what it is. It’s got to have something saying it’s from me so that they can always track me back down if there’s a problem.

I’ve also got one eye to the future and another on just how many of these bleedin’ files I’ve got on my preposterous number of hard drives. So the name needs to be clear to me, too: it has to be so clear that I can recognise it two years from now. It also has to be so clear that when I need to search for it, the words that will find this file are obvious.

I really think about this, I mean I really do. Maybe the most creative thing I do on a given day is come up with a short filename that does all this. Wait: I forgot to mention short. It has to be all this and pithy, too.

The problem is that I’ll come up with this masterstroke of creative thinking, I’ll type that name, hit Return and immediately get: “file already exists”.

All that honestly hard-thought creativity and I’ve done it before. Precisely the same way. Truly, it scares me: I wonder if all my creativity is down precise lines, if I can never break out of previous patterns of thinking.

And then there was this week. Most of which was good.

I read a short story of mine about time at the Birmingham Literature Festival. Then I performed a different short story of mine about time at a book launch, also in the Festival. And on Wednesday I performed yet a third time story in a recording session for Brum Radio. Lastly, very late one night, I flopped down onto our couch, I had a chocolate mini-roll with my name on it – and I didn’t eat it for two hours because I’d finally cracked another short story idea and had to write it down. My hands and arms shook as I typed, I was writing so fast.

It was also about time.

Okay, so maybe a distressing proportion of my creative thinking is spent on this one obsessive topic but I’m fine with that, that’s not the problem. Nor is how having written what turns out to be a fifth story about time, I had an idea for a sixth.

It’s a really good idea. I promise you it is. I’ll even tell you the title: it’s The Pointless Time Machine. I don’t usually write about time in the sense of time travel and science fiction, more in terms of regret and anguish, but here I’ve got a time machine – and, more importantly, the character who makes it – and this machine is pointless. I won’t tell you why, but it is.

Only, give me some credit here, I had an inkling that I may have thought of something vaguely like this idea before. Obviously not the same idea, obviously not the same pointless time machine, doubtlessly not the same character, but the thing that is pointless about it is something that I know tickled me before.

Yes.

In 2012, I wrote something approaching 2,000 words about a story quite a bit like the one I’m working on now. Weirdly for me, that was not 2,000 words of story, it was all my groping toward an idea. Making notes of the things I liked, that tickled me, trying to see what pressures I could put my characters in. And I had quite a few characters. All of them bore me now and from 2,000 words of notes, plans and pondering, I think I’ll maybe take one possible setting.

So that’s all good, that’s all fine.

But, yes.

The notes were saved under the filename The Pointless Time Machine.

To cut a short story…

I was approached by someone earlier this week about short stories and whether I’d be up for contributing to a thing. Then yesterday a new anthology of short stories called What Haunts the Heart was published – and I have a piece in it.

So, it’s official: I’m a short story writer.

This isn’t actually a new thing, and of course it certainly isn’t an important thing outside my own head. This anthology is the second I’ve had a story in and I’ve performed three short stories at various events. Then this year I joined Alex Townley’s Prompted Tales project which is specifically about short stories and pointedly about making us write the bloody things.

Each month, she sets a prompt and around ten of us toddle off to write something. I recognise the benefit of the deadline and the commitment, I also just find it absorbing to see how one thought spins off and out into ten such radically, enormously, preposterously different stories.

But it is the deadline that’s the thing so she sets this at the start of the month, we write and deliver by the end. This should mean that I’ve now written two short Prompted Tales, one for January and one for February. I have – but I’ve also written my March one. For I am a show-off.

Nobody comes to my door asking for a show-off, though. Instead now I get approached about short stories and while I’ve got to underline how rare the approaches are, the reason I’m blathering at you is that there are now some people who see me as a short story writer. They see me as that before they see everything else and there is no reason they should know about anything else.

Here’s the thing. It has taken a couple of years but it hasn’t taken a giant amount of effort: at some point I realised I wanted to write short stories so I did. Now without my truly noticing it, it’s become true.

We can, therefore, you and I, decide what we want to do and then do it and the next thing you know, it’s what we do.

So that’s it. I’m planting a flag in the ground today, this moment, and vowing to you that the next thing I’m going to do is become a halfway decent short story writer.