WORDS FROM THE WISE/PART 18 – Pat Cadigan
(Get out of your comfort zone)
It’s easy to fall into bad writing habits, to let your ego get in the way or fall into the oncoming traffic of a rambling narrative. Another problem – one I myself am guilty of – is writing the familiar. In fact, I’ve written seven books set in the Slave State for the past 4 years, without any real deviation from that universe. There’s only so much you can do with the premise that we’re all 4th dimensional prisoners who work in mining enclaves at the behest of alien overlords! Pat Cadigan has been awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1992 for Synners and again in1995 for Fools and a Hugo Award for Best Novelette for The Girl-Thing who Went Out for Sushi. Here’s her ‘Words from the Wise’…
The question posed to each author is – “A young author comes to you seeking advice. They’re riddled with insecurities and completely overwhelmed by the publishing industry. What are your Words from the Wise?”
PC – For writers, the most important thing is that we *write*––which is to say, we apply ourselves. Instead of procrastinating, we sit at the desk (or, as in my case, lie on the sofa with iPad and keyboard on lapdesk) and stare at that blank space, paper or screen, until beads of blood form on our foreheads and the words come into being.
However… The words have to come out of something, out of some source experience that gets fed into the black box of imagination so that it comes out as vivid, three-dimensional story. Reading, of course, is absolutely vital. But reading isn’t *everything*. Sometimes you have to go out in the world and have an adventure. I’ve had a lot of adventures. When I was four, a carnival set up long-term on an empty piece of land next to our trailer behind the gas station where my father worked. It was there for quite a while. I remember being taken there with my cousins on my father’s side. And then one night, when things were particularly bad at home, I ran away to join the carnival. I guess the carnies recognised me because they kept me sitting in the food tent until my mother found me and took me home. A little over 36 years later, I had the privilege of travelling with Carnival Diablo for the sake of writing an article about them for Omni Magazine (thank you, Keith Ferrell, for giving me the go-ahead). Now, I was a theatre major at university (although for various uninteresting reasons, my degree is actually in general studies), but I was well out of my comfort zone with Carnival Diablo––and I loved it. It wasn’t an easy trip––it was December and we had to drive from Calgary, Alberta to British Columbia, which took us through the Canadian Rockies. (In a van. And only two of us could drive.) We were so high up at one point that we drove through a *cloud*, and it’s not like driving through fog.
CK – How important do you think it is for writers to expand upon their contact lists and creative relationships to other types of people? I imagine it’s common that writers all cluster together in daily life, or even at conventions, because of their shared medium.
Setting up, solving problems, finding things we needed, making sure the performance went as it was supposed to––in return for access, I helped out as much as I could, ran the videocamera, made sure the bugs and worms stayed alive so they were obviously squirming when Lady Julianna had dinner onstage, and on one occasion, informed a motel manager that no, there was no way we were staying in or paying for rooms where the temperature was below 40 degrees Farhenheit and if he didn’t turn the heat on before we were in for the night, we’d be going elsewhere, thank you so much I’m sure. It was glorious. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I came back with a head full of ideas and experiences that still haven’t run out…and the friendship of a lifetime, with Scott McClelland, who will always be among those who are for me what brothers and sisters are for other people. My point––and, as Ellen DeGeneres says, I do have one––is that writers have to write…but they also have to have something to write *about.* Get out of your comfort zone––if you can, make friends with people who *aren’t* writers, people who inhabit other worlds, other realities.
CK – So, be bold – run away with the circus basically?
You don’t have to run away with the circus or the carnival but you can go to an event that maybe you wouldn’t consider ordinarily, or take a class in something you never thought you’d be any good at––pottery, cooking, photography, jewellery-making, dance, acting/improv, I don’t know what-all. Meet different people, talk to them. Maybe you won’t become BFFs…but then again, maybe you will, and maybe they’ll open up a world of something new and different. Maybe you’ll go somewhere you’ve never travelled gladly beyond all experience. Maybe you’ll have the time of your life, maybe it will be thrilling and scary and wonderful and you’ll be glad you were in the right place at the right time. Serendipity: chance favours the prepared mind. If your mind is prepared and receptive, the most amazing things can happen to you. It’s good to be alive.
CK – Any other pieces of advice before we sound off Pat?
The other piece of never-fail advice I have for writers is, never give up. I took writing workshop at university with students who were light-years beyond me in terms of raw talent. I would tell you their names but I don’t remember them now. They didn’t pursue their writing as tenaciously as I pursued mine. Maybe it just wasn’t what they wanted to do, I couldn’t say. But when I started out, I was unremarkable. No one pointed at me and said, Hey, she’s going to win awards someday!
Writing is a muscle. You can improve a muscle with exercise; you can improve your writing
simply by doing it. It won’t seem like you’re making much progress for a while; then suddenly you’ll realise you’re doing a lot better than before. You’ll write something and then realise that you turned a pretty good phrase, or you’ll find that not only is your plot motoring along nicely but a lot of details are falling into place that give it even more momentum. Lawrence Block says writing can’t be taught but it *can* be learned. You learn by doing, and you do it because it’s what you want to do