Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hell, I'm a Writer! ...for all aspiring writers out there.

I’ve wanted to write fiction for as long as I can remember. I actually started over forty years ago with a novel (thankfully buried) and a couple of hundred short stories. Then life intervened and I found my writing oriented more towards technical papers and magazine/newspaper articles. No, my fictional aspirations were not completely abandoned – I started (note the word) well over a dozen novels, whose premature deaths after a hundred pages or so only served to make me even more frustrated. What was I doing wrong?

It took me a while to figure it out.

I certainly had the time.

My job kept me continually travelling, seemingly between international airports and sterile hotel rooms around the world, and this provided me with huge doses of ‘dead time’ that I could devote to writing. Yet it didn’t happen because usually I’d use the airport/flight time to prepare for meetings and the hotel time to crash and recharge batteries after 16 hour plus days and time-zone differences. What about the weekends, you may ask. Well, often I was returning from ‘somewhere on a different time-zone’ on Saturdays, and Sundays I was teaching free martial arts classes to a bunch of kids in the morning, leaving me only with the afternoon for family – with inevitable consequences.

I had the ideas.

Not only do I have an extremely fertile mind for generating storylines, I have also been formally trained in an inordinate number of sophisticated problem-solving techniques by some of the best – and still use many of these tricks to plot my novels today.

I had the motivation.

It’s in my blood; I can’t really describe it any other way. When I completed my new novel in 2006, it was like having discovered the Holy Grail – I felt liberated, soaring at dizzying heights only meant for eagles.

Yet, before then, I wasn’t writing.   


I realised much of the cause was subtle, insidious procrastination, also known as FEAR. I have always excelled at my job, being able to consistently come up with out-of-the-box solutions for my clients’ problems usually under considerable pressure, and at my martial arts, achieving fourteen high-grade black belts in different disciplines. Yet writing eluded me. Was it because I was afraid I wouldn’t make the grade?

Never one to back down before a challenge (and, boy, has this got me into trouble over the years!) I turned the problem on its head. Not, ‘why can’t I write?’, but ‘what’s stopping me from writing?’ 

At first glance, the same question, yet there’s a fine difference in the wording which programs the mind to answer differently.

I quickly realised that, really, the answer was… NOTHING!

Next step? Address my fears.

Not good enough? Then become better! How does a writer do this? There are only two ways: learn technique from others, and WRITE!

I live in a country where it seems you can only be considered an author if you write essays or dense, introspective ‘literary’ fiction (preferably about the Spanish Civil War). Screw ‘em! Ignore the critics – as I remarked to a friend recently, envy isn’t always green; it’s often black and white! I don’t care what they think, and labels have only ever served to slow down progress. I wanted to write to entertain! Nothing more. I wanted my novels to be chosen by people looking for a dose of evasion in airports and hotels while away on business, or lying on a beach somewhere when vacation time comes around. At a pinch, even for a long train journey! A simple-enough objective, but one I wanted to do well.

I have a life philosophy based upon three simple premises: one which I developed and use as a basis for my martial art lessons (learn the mechanics – internalise them [i.e. adapt them to yourself] – and forget them [they become you]); one which a martial arts GrandMaster told me: ‘use what is useful, and throw the rest away’; and finally: never go to bed without having learnt something new. These in turn are all tempered by ‘Don’t take yourself too seriously!’

So I applied this in earnest to my writing.

I didn’t try to write. No, that’s a BIG MISTAKE. Trying implies you are allowing for failure. 

Don’t try, just Write. Write for yourself not an imaginary following of millions of fans. I’ve had a very complex life, full of strange, even dangerous, always ‘interesting’, events which now fuel my tales. Writing about that stuff, even though it’s hidden behind a cloak of deliberate obfuscation, is FUN! Not only is it cheaper than a Psychiatrist, it makes me feel good every time I finish a writing session. I decided to get ‘hooked’ on that feeling -  a mixture of satisfaction and pride; of accomplishment and triumph over whatever obstacles the day presented.

My biggest discovery was that there is no such thing as an Aspiring Writer.

Either you are or you’re not a writer. It’s all in the (your) mind.

So, to those ‘aspiring’ writers out there, and anyone else who might be thinking about taking the plunge, I say the following:

Do it!

Do it TODAY!       

‘Aspiring’ ain’t going to get it done, bro!

                                                Have FUN, above all else!

The Chinese have a saying, half curse, half blessing: 'May you live in interesting times!'

These are 'Interesting Times!

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Dream Realised

When CERN Director General Rolf Heuer announced last Wednesday morning “We have discovered a new particle; a boson; most probably a Higgs boson”, many people worldwide stifled a yawn. Yes it was yet another undecipherable scientific discovery that the layman could not appreciate.

Yet amongst the international audience a single figure was moved to tears.

Caught on the cameras of the global news agencies, this white-haired gentleman removed his glasses and wiped away the liquid evidence of unbound emotion. He was probably feeling a mixture of joy, sadness, validation and pride.

The joy is understandable; something he predicted in 1964, that subatomic particles gain mass by way of a then undiscovered field or particle, since called the Higgs Boson, has been proven. And what’s more, it’s been proven during his lifetime. Peter Ware Higgs is now 83, and the joy of July 4th will remain with him for the rest of his life.

Sadness? Nobody but Higgs understands the sacrifices that have been made over the years as a result of his theory. These were personal and professional, all felt deeply by this physicist.

Validation? Science and scientists can be very closed-minded. If it can’t be repeated and measured, it doesn’t exist. This is a tenet that rules their lives. Some, however, dream. Even when bigger names in the Theoretical Physics world, such as Stephen Hawking, decried his theories, he stood by his guns. It cost him dearly in his personal life; professionally he was on the fringe.

Everything changed on Wednesday.

Paul Padley, a particle physicist at Rice University, said “the reason why we care about it, is if the Higgs boson doesn’t exist, then we have absolutely no physical understanding of why we exist. You can’t explain the universe.”

The confirmation of Peter Higgs theory has been likened to the discovery of DNA.  Yet in one fundamental aspect it isn’t. DNA was first isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher in 1869, yet it was James D. Watson and Francis Crick who produced, in 1953, what is now accepted as the first correct double-helix model of DNA structure and received a Nobel Prize for their work.

Here we have a man, working against the dominant thought in his field; fighting to make his theories heard; clamouring against many voices raised in opposition; and above all, willing to forfeit a normal life to expand Humanity’s knowledge.

Peter Higgs is a proud man today and deservedly so.

Yet in his unassuming manner, he comments only the following: “It is an incredible thing that it has happened in my lifetime.”

How will this discovery change the way we live our lives? Only the immediate future will answer that. Yet one thing is certain; change there will be, and in ways we cannot imagine today.

For Peter Higgs, recognition should be the next step. A Knighthood; a Nobel Prize; public acclaim. Write to your MPs, the Nobel Committee, your newspapers; tweet and blog all you can. Although the acknowledgment of a Nobel pales in comparison to the cost in his personal life, let’s join forces to ensure his dream is rewarded.

"Don't be afraid of the space between your dreams and reality. If you can dream it, you can make it so." - Belva Davis, journalist.

Eric @