PATREON

I am a writer. This is how I perceive myself because this is the thing I’m most passionate about. It’s also the thing I’ve spent the most time working towards. Ever since Year 9 English when the class was instructed to write a five-hundred word piece of creative fiction and I handed in a short story of one-thousand, two-hundred and six words to my poor over-worked teacher, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I left school knowing this and did a writing course to chase this dream down and grapple it into a reality.

But, I am also a nurse. I’m a nurse for two primary reason:

  1. I wanted a job that exposed me to the world’s realities, that showed me stories, and that let me connect with people in a deeper sense than the superficial, “How are you? I’m good,” sort of way. A job I could respect and be proud of. A job that let me help people.
  2. I also needed the money.

I don’t like the latter fact, and I don’t like that the latter fact is a motivator in my decision-making process, but that doesn’t change it from being a fact. The world is expensive and often unforgiving in this regard, and I can accept that if I want to live in the modern world, it comes at a cost.

But ideally, this fact would be addressed by my writing. To be able to make money from my writing, to fund writing with writing, is the dream fifteen-year-old me had back in high-school. It’s what I’ve been working towards for the past fourteen years.

But working full-time as a nurse leaves very little time for sitting and writing, to dedicating myself to the craft I love. After years of working as a nurse and collecting stories from the people I’ve worked with I’ve reached the point where I want to shift away from gathering stories and towards sharing them.

Because of this, I’ve joined Patreon.

Patreon is a website built around providing artists with an outlet for their work while also allowing them to obtain payment for their art. It works like this:

I upload short stories or chapters from my novels and people can subscribe to be a patron at a price of their own choosing. Patrons pay what they want for the uploaded work — a dollar, fifty dollars, or nothing at all, they can have it for free if they like. It’s a way of my work getting out their, people getting entertainment and enjoyment from it, and a way for readers to support the writers they love.

If you wish to read my stories and be a patron, and to support me along the way, please follow the link below:

https://www.patreon.com/jonathanrobb?ty=h

So far one piece of writing, a story called When You’re Older, has been uploaded, but more will follow. For those wishing to read it on a iPhone or iPad, please download the .epub version, or for those who want to read it on a kindle, please download the .mobi version.

Thank you for your support, and for reading.

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EXTRACTION

For those regular readers of my site, you may have noticed my posts have been a bit more sporadic of late. Some of you have been vocal in this, curious as to what I’ve been working on. Some have physically abused me, demanding more  and more words to satisfy them.

As I appreciate this feedback and unique show of support, I thought I’d placate these avid fans by assuring you all that more words are being typed every day, they’re just being done in the form of a novel. Two novels, in fact.

As I work full-time as a district nurse (have I mentioned that in the past?), it’s usually in my half-hour lunch break that I sit down and tap out the words bottled inside my head. Unfortunately, this being only a limited slice of time, and given that by the end of the working day I’m mostly used up and wrung out to the point that just preparing a healthy dinner is an accomplishment worthy of the highest praise, it makes writing anything of length a timely process.

But I appreciate every bit of encouragement I get from readers, so to reward your patience I thought I’d offer an extract from one of my novels-in-progress, I’ll Take it From Here. It’s the opening piece of the novel so you can’t get lost.

It can be found in the Writing link on this site, or simply by clicking here.

AUDILE

Before I gained the ability to tackle novels, back when I was still mastering picture books like “The Strongest Baby In The World,” my father used to read novels to me and my siblings. I can remember my dad seated on a sofa in the corner of the living room and us kids sprawled around him, the semi-shag carpet cushioning my head as I lay listening to his narration, letting his voice weave stories in my mind.

I loved these nights, and loved the ability of someone else’s words creating worlds and characters that I could envisage from the comfort of my living room floor.

Having outgrown the age when it is socially acceptable for my father to read me stories before bed, I still enjoy spoken prose through the art of audiobooks. Working as a district nurse inherently involves a lot of driving, and to pass the time commuting from patient to patient I have my iPod playing in the car, and stories playing in my head.

There is a power in having a novel read to you, in having the sensory elements of sound and tone help build the details of the story. Character’s voices flesh out personalities, pauses create suspense, and you can close your eyes, block out any distractions, and picture the world that’s being described to you.

But like any art form you are reliant on the artist to dictate the perspective you take when perceiving the piece. For someone reading a novel, they are building on top of a pre-existing piece of art, adding another layer of texture with a new medium. This new layer, this alternative perspective, can make or break a story. It can enhance what was already there and bring new body to the work, or it can cheapen it and detract from the power of the piece, dependant on the reader’s skill. I have listened to some readers that have made characters come alive, and others that have only succeeded in making them annoying. Realising the importance of the verbal narrator’s skill has made me admire the former and their vocal abilities.

With all this in mind, for today’s post I have attempted a reading of my short story Remembering The Mimi. The process of recording this only increased my admiration for quality readers as I mumbled and stumbled my way through multiple takes. It also gave me a newfound respect for people who use audio-editing software, as I had to learn how to remove my numerous errors.

So put in some headphones, close your eyes, if it’s available lay down on some semi-shag carpet, and let me tell you a story…

STARTING SOMETHING

I started writing a novel today.

It’s a strange thing, starting something. I always seem to have a nervous energy when I begin a project, and that energy is always somewhat driven by fear. Fear of failing. Fear of it not being as good as I can picture it. Fear that this time when I put pen to paper I’ll find my ability is gone, that the spark of creativity in me has fizzled out and I’m boring again. It’s irrational, but I’ve found a way to overcome it.

Start anyway.

This seems to be the hardest part. That first burst of motivation and inspiration. Until that initial moment of creation, my idea is perfect. It’s in the starting that I open the door to faults and flaws, that I can introduce my imperfect technique and see my ideal concept become something common. Of course the irony is that a concept is nothing, and so much lesser than a flawed something.

A lesson that has recently crystallised for me is one of the path to success. My sister once showed me a diagram that displayed the two perceived paths to success. On the left was a road that diverged to two outcomes: Succeed or Fail. This is the commonly believed path to success. Win or lose. To the right was an image of a road which zigzagged, and at each bend was a signpost which read “fail.” But at the end of the road was a trophy which read “succeed.” The actual path to success.

The problem with the former view is you only get one chance; you win or you lose. There’s no room for error in this path to success, and this makes starting something a nerve-racking voyage to make. With this concept in your head you launch yourself into the unknown and are snatched down the first time you trip up. Done. You failed. Thanks for playing.
This daunting potential for failure can be enough to stop someone from even starting. Much safer to avoid the risk and stay off the path all together.

Luckily this view of success is entirely wrong.

It’s the latter that encapsulates any experience of success I’ve ever had. This truth became starkly apparent when I first attempted to crochet a beanie. I’ve mentioned in a previous post that after envying a beanie my cousin owned I set out to duplicate the garment. Since then I’ve made about ten beanies and it’s gotten to a point where a person can’t visit my house without leaving with crocheted wool draped over their head. This end result shows I succeeded in my goal. But that was the end result; the path to that point was a bloody mess.

To begin my beanie I first had to master the initial ring of stitches. It’s called the magic circle. The magic of this circle proved to be its ability to provoke a string of curses from a man who normally remains quite calm. The wool slipped from my fingers, the hook refused to weave through the gaps I wanted it to, and the stitches were either too loose or so small that no grown man’s fingers could hope to navigate them. After hours of work, after a conglomeration of failures, I had a rather rough, but technically correct, magic circle.

I then laboured in mastering the following rings of stitches. After hours of studying the YouTube tutorial I was watching, stopping, rewinding, rewatching, and stopping, I had added a further six rows to my creation. I was feeling good, I was about halfway through, and the tangle of stitches was starting to resemble a beanie.

But as I bent to watch my online teacher begin the next ring I noticed something. Her needle was slipping through two loops each time she made a stitch whereas mine was only slipping through one. I looked back at my work and immediately saw the neglected loop I had been failing to hook with each stitch. While my beanie still held together, the missing loop meant that it wouldn’t be as strong as it should be and prone to stretch. I was doing it wrong. I would have to start again.

It should have been demoralising to have to pull apart the hours of hard work I had spent sweating over wool and crochet needle, but in all honesty it was a relief. I didn’t trust my new skills enough to presume I had been proceeding errorless, and I now felt I had caught my error. I may have been back to nothing more than a tangle of wool and the prospect of reattempting the magic circle, but I had learnt from my mistakes, which meant this time I would do it right.

And this is the lesson of the latter: the path to success is littered with failure. But each failure isn’t a slipping down a snake back to the start, it’s a step forward with new knowledge earned from that failure. Each mistake I made was a lesson in how not to do it, meaning all other attempts were done with a higher ratio of success.

With this in mind, starting something is a much easier journey to make. I may trip the minute I step onto the path, but each trip is something I can improve on, and something that is now behind me.

So today I started my novel. I did it with the belief that all errors I made could only, inevitably, make it better.

For those of you playing at home, the first word of my novel is “The.” An auspicious start in its vast scope for potential words to follow.

And it can only get better from here.

I HAVE AN IDEA

Story ideas are elusive things to define. I think the most repeated question writers must encounter is: “Where do your ideas come from?” And even though this question has become a cliché and the bane of writers during interviews, every time I come across an amazing idea/concept/character, I can’t help but stop, lower my book and wonder, “How the hell did they come up with that?”

In interviews, the writers always seem to struggle to come up with an answer that satisfies them. I think the reason for this is that writers want to create an answer that is clever and apt; but there is no clever and apt answer. The question would probably have to be delivered on a case-by-case basis for the writer to provide an accurate answer.

i.e.

Q: “In scene x with character y, how did you come up with the idea for character x to say dialogue z?”
A: “I read it on a cereal box.”

As you can see this process would be rather tedious and make for a long-winded interview.

But despite the logical answer most writers eventually give, “Lots of places,” the desire to know, to understand the fountain of greatness and where it springs from, is still there. As an aspiring writer, I can’t help but hunger to understand the workings of their minds and follow the track their synapses took to come to the amazing conclusion that is their piece of writing. The reasoning is a simple one: If I can understand it, I can replicate it.

Recently I’ve been looking over some of my old writing and found myself asking the question of where the ideas came from to myself. Time has fogged my memory enough that the exact moment of inspiration has faded leaving me in a dementia-like fugue about how I came to put those exact words to paper. But my weak long-term memory gives me the opportunity to answer the question of where ideas come from to myself:

Ideas come from lots of places. (Wait, there’s more). So many times it is a random string of events that results in an idea. It could start with the briefest glimpse I get of a man and a child on the footpath as I’m driving down the road. Maybe the boy is picking something off the pavement and the man is bending down to see what he’s found. And maybe as I’m driving past I’m not thinking about writing or stories, I’m thinking about the dessert I’m going to eat that night, but that fleeting images snags something in my head. The image sticks and dessert slips from my brain and I find myself wondering what the boy might have found. Idea.

The next stage to the answer is that ideas are usually more than one idea, they’re a mutated amalgamation of ideas. Maybe earlier that day I was shopping for dessert when I came across a metallic frog that when you click its belly it sounds like it’s croaking. (This item actually exists, my dad has it, but for the purposes of the example let’s say I found it at the shops). I remember this curious item and suddenly I know in my story what it is the boy has found. He brushes off the dirt to reveal a tarnished and beat-up metallic frog that croaks when you push its belly. Idea.

Now this is just the frame of a story, a starting place, but through this string of memories, moments, and images, a story idea is cobbled together. Questions come from this beginning: “What does the boy do with the metal frog?”, “What does the man do with it?”, “Will the frog become an animated spirit, whispering to the boy in the night, speaking of greatness in a croaky voice?” The answers to these questions are part of the story idea process.

And maybe at this point I want to insert a moral or meaning to the story. Maybe I know an elderly man who collects wombat paraphernalia, only now in my story the old man has a frog paraphernalia collection. And maybe the metallic frog was the first item he ever received, and suddenly the story’s about ownership and lost things. Idea.

The beauty of this demonstration is that anything can be story. Or maybe it should be everything is story. Every conversation, every freeze-frame image, every unique quirk, every memory, or smell, or taste can go into a story. These details are what make a story feel real and special and makes readers like me stop and wonder how they came up with something so original and perfect.

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is there is no such thing as wrong. Anything that is sticking to the roof of your brain can be jotted down, explored, and fed with creativity until it becomes something bigger that the original image of a boy and a man finding something on the pavement. It becomes plot, and interesting characters, and mythology, and a mini-reality put to paper.

Where do stories ideas come from?

Where don’t they come from.

POST-TURBULENCE

I’m writing this as I sit in my empty new house. It’s been a busy few months.

I haven’t updated the site in a while for a few reasons. The first and most important reason is that I’ve been channeling my writing efforts into actual fictional writing. I’ve found with this site it’s easy to sate the writing appetite by publishing a new post. One click of the mouse and you’ve dispensed words to a potentially enormous audience. So in an effort to be more productive I’ve been working on some writing that someone else might want to publish.

Secondly, and as hinted at in the opening line, I’ve bought a house. It turns out the process of acquiring a home can take up a lot of your time. The search, the open houses, the negotiations, the meetings with brokers, realtors and solicitors. I was shocked at the cloud of stress that descended once the search began. But the good news is the house is bought (although still far from paid for), and the cloud is breaking apart, and as I sit in my empty house writing this it feels good to be a home owner.

Right now my house is like a blank page, waiting for words and stories to fill it. Empty rooms always feel so strange and incomplete, but right now it just feels anticipatory. Like the heaviness in the air before a storm breaks. I can’t wait to find out what stories unfold to fill these walls.

The final reason for the lack of writing is that I’ve been doing the artwork for a children’s book. I’m not the writer on this project, just the illustrator. Whilst I’ve always enjoying making art, I’ve never been commissioned for any project. When the opportunity came up I thought it would be brilliant. As with purchasing a house, I was unprepared for the effort required to create the artwork for a children’s book. I have sunk hours into sketches, drafts, and learning illustrator software. It resulted in a new found respect for anyone working in the graphic art industry.

The book should come out before christmas, all things going well. I’ll post more as it develops.

So, now that my few months of turbulence is winding down, I thought it only fair to post something on the site. In an effort to entice readers back I’ve posted a new piece of short writing which can be found in the writing page, or simply by clicking here.

In complete honesty, it’s a bribe. Take it. You know you want it.

FRAMING REALITY

Once when I was having a short story of mine work-shopped my lecturer stated that I had written an anecdote, not a story. This irked me at the time; I felt he was being pedantic and finding fault to complete his role as educator. This was perhaps a bit arrogant because after giving it some space, I looked back on this particular story and saw that he was absolutely correct. I had written an anecdote.

The difference between an anecdote and a short story is one of framing. An anecdote, as my lecturer explained, is a situation, an occurrence that lacks the correct framing of a story. This framing is a familiar one we’re all taught from primary school: beginning, middle, and end.

My anecdote had characterisation, dialogue, imagery. It had things happening. What it didn’t have was a point.

After realising the truth behind my lecturer’s advice, I gave the problem a lot of thought. I attempted to create a story that had correct framing. Unfortunately, being not yet twenty at the time and having spent a lot of my childhood in front of the television left me reaching for clichés to structure my stories. I used episodic formats and overused ideas. In other words, my stories weren’t very good. I became frustrated.

After months of frustration I pinpointed the cause of my irritation; life is messy.

I wanted to capture reality in my writing. I wanted to take the chaos of my experiences and display them in my text as they had felt. Even if what I was writing was fantasy, I wanted in to feel real. And life is messy. It lacks format, and at times it even lacks a point. I was frustrated because I felt my anecdotes more accurately represented reality than a neatly framed story. Granted, they were basically a description of events, but then so is life.

I didn’t write for a while after that realisation. I decided I’d wait until I thought of a story that had the correct framing, but at the same time allowed me to express my version of reality. And for a long time I didn’t think I could do it. I thought that any attempt to reshape ideas and events into a neat package was sacrificing my representation of a messy reality.

It took me a while to realise that I was looking at it from the wrong side. I had a story line and was trying to squeeze reality into that shape. But that’s not a writer’s job. What I actually had was reality, and what I should have been doing was looking for the story within it. Because even though life is messy, it’s a writer’s job to take that mess and search for a meaning. To find the point.

A well written story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It has motifs, and loaded dialogue. It has subtext. It has a point. It’s a writer’s job to scroll through the mess of reality and find these elements in life. By writing an anecdote I was simply being lazy. I was failing to cut away the excess to find the structure buried inside.

By writing a story you’re finding the point amongst the mess. You’re pulling out the meaning from the chaos of events and structuring it so that meaning is more evident for the reader. An anecdote may capture a messy reality, but then so too does a diary entry. Or, god forbid, a blog. And while these types of writing have their purpose, they aren’t a story.

A story isn’t simply about photocopying reality; it’s about finding the meaning in the mess.

Thanks to my lecturer for pointing this out to me by criticising my work. It was the best thing he could have done.