I only started having problems with writer’s block when I hit my 30s. Most writers know the symptoms all too well. Do you have a fantastic idea for a story but just don’t know where to start? Do you find yourself staring at a blank screen for hours? Do you feel like a failure and doubt whether you will ever be able to write anything of worth again?
I had an epiphany when I realised the true source of the problem: that I didn’t need to write. I had a fine job that paid the bills. Writing was a bonus extra – fun, but in no way essential. I thought of writers who have inspired me. Young Philip K Dick (who I tweeted as) lived in squalor – a leaky house full of mice – and he hated the idea of a standard 9-5 job so much it pushed him to write to pay the bills. Kurt Vonnegut was similar: he desperately wanted to quit his PR job working for General Electric and knew his only escape was selling cynically targeted short stories to mass-market ‘slicks’.
This led me, a number of years ago now, to crystallise my first piece of advice for aspirational writers:
Find Your Need
Find your need, and once you’ve found it, put it in front of you. Literally put it in front of you. Staple your energy bills to the front of your writing journal. Blue-tack The Guardian’s ‘Top 100 novelists’ to your wall (you need to be in there). Take a photo of the rejection letter from that pompous editor you need to prove wrong and save it to your homepage.
But that’s not enough. Continue reading “Feed That Dog! – How I smashed writer’s block and you can too”
I have long wanted to write a story involving computer games, but only this year have I felt sufficiently inspired to actually do so. This is the story which serves to justify the many, many hours I’ve put into games over the last two decades: this was not wasted time, it was merely research.
As they reached the lift, Imogen got out her phone. She did a quick border check, finding no immediate threats. She scrolled through the messages, but she’d read them all before. Arushan still hadn’t made an official response to her trade offer. Expansion on her south-western border was progressing fine-
“Hey, I thought we said no playing on nights out?” Mark said, half-mock-whining and half-plain-whining. Continue reading “Empire”
I was honoured to have a 10-minute version of my ‘Two Together’ script chosen to feature at ‘Streatham Shorts’ yesterday, organised by Streatham Theatre Company. This was the first time it’s ever been staged and it’s a wonderful setup they have there: 6 10-minute mini-plays workshopped by actors who are all too happy to read the scripts cold (I hasten to add that I myself did not have the guts for this). I was very fortunate in the casting I got: Peter Kelly and Sarah Redmond, both of whom had their own great mini-plays, and Ben Davies playing the pivotal role of Ticket Inspector(s). All of the plays had something to offer and I recommend that anyone seeks out similar events run in their local communities…
We knew it was coming. Perhaps we had precogged it, perhaps we’d received the information in a hallucination beamed to us from a higher life form, or perhaps we’d just read about it on Wikipedia: we knew that Philip K Dick would die, and @DoAndroidsTweet would end. Here are some final words on the project and the man himself.
That we knew it would come didn’t make it any easier. Yesterday I was slumped over in my chair and I must have been looking pretty down as my wife asked me, “What’s up?”
“Philip K Dick’s dying,” I said, “I’ve just written his last tweets. He just wanted to get one more novel out.” It was very sad to write these tweets, knowing he had been struggling even at the end. Continue reading “Remembered for you wholesale”
Here’s a story I wrote which follows a man going for a routine eye test. Nothing out of the ordinary happens. Everything goes completely as planned. The protagonist ends up at least as satisfied as when he began.
If only stories were like that.
The Optometrist’s Door [–> Read PDF version]
Richard Palmer waddled to a stop on Streatham High Street and checked his scribbled to-do list. After some deliberation he decided to go for ’10:30 Optician’ instead of ‘Buy bread & corned beef’. He’d get to the optician early, but he couldn’t stand the thought of arriving late for his appointment, only to be told he’d have to wait 3 weeks for another. He set off with a determined stride. Continue reading “The Optometrist’s Door”
Just an update to say ‘Philip K Dick Tweets’ is still going strong. He’s just reached the momentous point in his life which he’ll later refer to as ‘2-3-74’. Head over there to see how he’s coping with it all. I’m very honoured by all the comments I’ve received on this project; if there are any sci-fi fans out there who don’t know about it, please let them know!
On Monday we opened doors to Happy Teacher: http://happyteacher.org. It’s been a really interesting few months since I wrote this article, and met up with John, the web developer who shared my passion for the project. So do you think Happy Teacher is a good idea? Should teachers have a site where they can write anonymous reviews of what it’s like to work at their school? Will it do anything to provide more incentive for school leaders – including both headteachers and the DfE – to put more a higher priority on teacher wellbeing?
So last year I wrote up the skeleton of a play to be performed at e.g. The National, centred around the use, misuse and romantic implications of the Two Together Railcard. But I did actually write the play itself. I sent this off to a few places, who presumably thought that a 30-minute play about a little-known British railcard was a little too niche. If you disagree, there’s nothing I’d love more than to see this play actually performed. If you want to, please just me know – or even better than that, please just produce it and invite me to its premier as a surprise.
Very excited to start off (@DoAndroidsTweet). It’s taken me a while to find someone who’s fascinated me as much as Wittgenstein and Oppenheimer did, although I’m not sure even a futuristic super-computer of Philip K Dick’s devising could work out the logic behind the sequencer Wittgenstein – Oppenheimer – Dick – (?? what next ??).
I think it was Paul Verhoeven’s ‘Total Recall‘ (1990) that switched me on to Philip K Dick’s work. Then the short stories, some of his more famous novels, and Spielberg’s ‘Minority Report‘ (2002). It was when recently reading his short story, ‘The Minority Report‘ (1956), that I got really interested in Philip K Dick the person. The more I read, the more amazed I was that no biopic has yet been made of this man’s life. I read Lawrence Sutin’s ‘Divine Invasions‘ (1989) and knew I had to fire up the old coin-operated, part-man-part-android tweet machine. For more on the project, please see here. Hope you like the tweets.
Very happy to see my article on teacher wellbeing in the Times Educational Supplement here: One Teacher’s Radical Proposal for Reversing the Slump in Teacher Wellbeing. This centres around the problem a dissatisfied teacher might have when considering a different school to work at. Currently we operate with a thick fog of war obscuring our view of what it’s actually like to work there – something which probably affects a lot of other professions too. I think that teacher wellbeing should be higher up on the agenda at every school, and here is one proposal to help move in that direction. Unfortunately this contains no sci-fi, and virtually no frivolity, which is why I allowed my title here to be inspired by video games.