Can We Separate the Artist from the Art

Two weeks ago I posted Part 1 of Alexander Greco’s essay, Lovecraft: The Never and Forever King Part 1.

You can see where I’m going with this, right?

Yup, you guessed it! This week’s post is PART 2!

But first, a quick recap.

Alexander Greco is the founder of Fifth Wall Renaissance, an online magazine for and by creative minds and free thinkers. I was recently lucky enough to have a collection of my essays and a scholarly article, A Brief History of Fear, published by them.

I first met Xander through Instagram when he commented on one of my blog posts. This interaction quickly turned into a discussion about the creative process and before long, we decided to collaborate on a project. This post is part of that collaboration.

Time for some hand to bible honesty. Prior to reading Xander’s essay, I didn’t know all that much about Lovecraft. What I did know was that one of my writing buddies loves him and another cannot stand him.

Lovecraft was a self-professed atheist and many scholars describe his work as xenophobic and misogynist (via the exclusion of women in his fiction). And yet, concepts of Lovecraft’s work can be found everywhere from music (Metallica’s Call of Cthulhu) to games (World of Warcraft) and even religion (ironic)! Lovecraft’s ongoing influence and his questionable ethics raise the age-old question:

Can you separate the art from the artist?

I’ll let you decide.

For now, I’m handing the reins over to Xander. Here is PART TWO of The Never and Forever King, Lovecraft.


Lovecraft: The Never and Forever King Part 2

Lovecraft’s Late Writing

Throughout the rest of Lovecraft’s life, he continued writing, though saw only scraps of fame, and even less fortune.

Most notably during Lovecraft’s later life, he wrote:

  • “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (1927)
  • “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” (1927)
  • “The Colour out of Space” (1927)
  • “The Dunwich Horror” (1928/1929)
  • “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1927-1930/1931)
  • “At the Mountains of Madness” (1928-1930/1936)
  • “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1931/1936)
  • “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (1933/1934)

With these stories, Lovecraft continued to develop his Cthulhu Mythos and his Dream Cycle, while also introducing new elements of his own philosophy and thought.

“The Colour out of Space” is literally about a color that came from space—a color which was previously non-existent on Earth. It is a color that does not exist in the known spectrum of light, it appears as some amorphous glob of this “color”, and it appears to be sentient on some level, though its motivations, the substance it is made out of and its purpose are entirely unknown. Lovecraft never really describes what the color looks like, only that it is a color that has never been seen before. It is a story about something we cannot technically understand, or even technically describe, because there isn’t a technical framework to understand/describe this thing.

The story also details the effects that this color has on the surrounding countryside and the nearby inhabitants of that area. Namely, this “color” seems to suck the life out of everything around it, and cause organisms to mutate and deteriorate. Considering that radiation is on the same electromagnetic spectrum as the color spectrum of light, it’s possible that this “color” is actually referring to radiation that came from outer space.

“The Whisperer in Darkness” coincided with the actual discovery of Pluto, and describes alien creatures who come to Earth from planets on the edge of our solar system. The story makes allusions to Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep, but also introduces a concept similar to the “brain-in-a-jar” thought experiment. In the story, the brains of various people are put into metal cannisters, which are then taken to the aliens’ home-world. The reader is left to speculate whether the aliens bring the jars to their home-world for good or bad intentions.

This story is about aliens, dubious cosmic forces, and the conflict between earth and these forces, but it is also about our perception of reality. Philosophically, the brain-in-the-jar thought experiment asks us, “If we only know what reality is because our brains tell us what reality is, then how can we be sure the reality we perceive is real?” If physical reality is nothing but chemicals and electric impulses in our brains, then what if a brain in a jar was electro-chemically stimulated to perceive a false reality? Lovecraft asks a similar question with his “brain-in-a-metal-cannister” trope.

“The Shadow over Innsmouth” is all at once a Kafka-esque work of existentialism, a social criticism of conservative New England communities, and possibly Lovecraft’s most exciting story. One of Lovecraft’s dozen or so faults (several pages could be written on these faults) is the dryness of much of his work. However, in “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, Lovecraft provides a surprisingly thrilling climax, while also presenting a disturbing story about an isolated community of religious zealots.

The story is about a man investigating the town of Innsmouth—based on the actual city of Newburyport, a small coastal city in Massachusetts—and discovers that the town is filled with subtly fish-like people. Later, he discovers this town has made a pact with an underwater, reptilian civilization, and that the people of this town worship Dagon (the same Dagon from the story “Dagon”). As the protagonist explores the town of Innsmouth, he is eventually beset upon by the inhabitants of the town, because he is an outsider who will not convert to Dagon.

The Shadow over Innsmouth is about mutant fish-people hunting a man down, but it’s also about a religious witch hunt, and the witch is the well-educated protagonist. Though Lovecraft held several deeply conservative beliefs, Lovecraft, in practice, was actually quite the Cosmopolitan for his time. He was well read on texts from across the world. He travelled quite often, and quite often travelled with friends who were homosexual, were from other countries, or held friends who held remarkably Liberal beliefs. He also has written letters to hundreds of correspondents, from all walks of life, and it would be difficult to call him a close-minded person. On top of this, Lovecraft was an atheist, and likely considered himself to be a man of science, despite his wildly fictitious work.

Whether he was right or not about it, Lovecraft looked down upon individuals with strict religious beliefs, individuals who upheld what he believed to be ignorant practices, and conservative communities of cultural traditionalists. In “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, Lovecraft compares a community of isolated Puritan-fundamentalists to a city of deformed frog-like humanoids, who worship a reptilian god. Though elements of this story are wildly fictitious, at their core they are based on Lovecraft’s real-life experiences, and express his own beliefs of society and religion.

Lovecraft Compared to other Modern and Early Modern Writers

Many of Lovecraft’s stories, including “The Shadow over Innsmouth”, are comparable in depth and quality to the works of contemporary modern writers. Sadly, though many of Lovecraft’s works ought to be spoken of in the same breath as other great modern writers, HP Lovecraft’s books have remained primarily in the Weird Fiction section of the Library (though his Penguin Classics Collection now sits near Jack London titles).

If “The Shadow over Innsmouth” was written by Franz Kafka, we would be discussing how society contorts and morphs the individual into a grotesque abomination. We would be discussing what it even means to be an individual within a society, and where the border between “us” and “everyone else” resides.

I’ve previously made the case that “The Outsider” could be compared with Camus’ “The Stranger”. Both stories are about a man’s relationship with society—the people they interact with, the protagonist’s perception of reality vs. society’s perception of reality, and the protagonist’s perception of their self vs. society’s perception of the protagonist.

“The Outsider” is about a man emerging from the depths of a large, medieval building, and witnessing people fleeing in horror. The person tries to understand what is happening, why the people are fleeing in horror, and tries to communicate with these people. In the end, the protagonist looks at a mirror and realizes that he is the monster that all the people are fleeing in horror from. “The Stranger” is about a man going to his mother’s funeral, then returning to society and indifferently forming relationships with others. In the end of the story, the protagonist becomes the primary villain of everyone else in the story, and faces the absurdity of life with an indifferent conviction.

A similar case could be made with “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” (1915). Both deal with the transformation of a human into something disgusting and monstrous, both have elements of existentialism, and both are about one’s relationship with society.

However, the key difference between the two is that “Metamorphosis” is about the transformation of the individual within society, whereas “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is about the individual within a transforming society. Kafka focuses on the effects society has on an individual, and how society transforms someone into a monstrosity. It is the internalization of external forces, and the death of individuality within collectivism.

While Lovecraft’s story has many direct parallels, he focuses on society as the monstrosity, rather than the individual becoming the monstrosity. In fact, “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is about a collective striving to become a single, homogenous individual. It is about a society that worships a singular identity/ideology/way of life (Dagon), and how that morphs them into something inhuman. It is the externalization of internal forces, such as religious belief and collective identities.

The entire society transforms itself to conform with the identity of “Dagon”. So, where “Metamorphosis” is about the identity of an individual being destroyed by the collective, “The Shadow of Innsmouth” is about the identity of a society being destroyed by an individual. This added layer of the story’s meaning compounds on Kafka’s idea, since this transformed society seeks to destroy the individuality of the protagonist in order to maintain its homogeny.

Not only does a society seek to crush and contort the individual, but, in doing so, they weaken and morph themselves. In the act of destroying individuality in order to find homogeny, the society begins destroying itself, by transforming itself into a lesser creature.

Lovecraft’s “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” could easily be compared to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” (1865) and Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” (1816). While “Alice in Wonderland” does employ a number of inventive devices, and acts, in an odd sense, as a platform for mathematical logic, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” is an impressively unique and strange surrealist horror that dwarfs both “Kubla Khan” and “Alice in Wonderland” just in sheer scope of creativity. It could even be compared, in some ways, to the near-surreal and highly symbolic journey in Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759).

It involves a man journeying through his dreams, searching for a city he’d once dreamt of, and in the process is beset upon by dozens of surreal nightmares, many of which attempt to harm or enslave the protagonist. In the end, the protagonist realizes the city he had been looking for was his childhood home. The protagonist wakes up, and realizes he does in fact live in his childhood home once again. Psychoanalytically, one must then ask, “What were the monsters in his dream?”

More and more comparisons like these could be made. Lovecraft’s literary study of the psyche and the objective/subjective reality of a human could be compared to the works of Henry James and James Joyce. Throughout many stories, Lovecraft’s intent seems to be describing an objective reality through an entirely subjective lens. Lovecraft’s stories are scattered and schizophrenic (such as in “The Call of Cthulhu”), but they are aimed at uncovering secrets and truths about an objective reality. Similarly, James and Joyce write highly subjective and abstract stories, though their intent is to uncover truths about reality.

The fragmented yet relatively cohesive scope of the Lovecraft Mythos could easily be compared to the near-biblical mythos of Tolkien’s fantasy world. If one took the time to piece together the stories, characters, entities, settings and events of Lovecraft’s stories (which many have done), you would find an even deeper, substructure to Lovecraft’s stories. We find societies of different alien races at war with each other, or societies of extra-planar/extra-dimensional beings, and the machinations and relationships of gods and other entities.

Though I would say Tolkien’s mythos is far more developed and detailed than Lovecraft’s, Lovecraft’s mythos—in my opinion—is far more expansive in scope, and much more imaginative.

Although the content of “Colour out of Space” is quite different in subject matter than Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” (1941), they share many of the same characteristics. Both are, at their core, hypothetical stories answering hypothetical questions. Lovecraft asks, “What would a color that existed outside of the known color spectrum look like?” and then Lovecraft uses his story as a device to answer that hypothetical question. Jorge Luis Borges asks, “What would the universe be like if it were an infinite library of every possible 410-page book?” and then Borges uses his story to answer that hypothetical question.

They do this because they ask questions that are far better answered with an imaginary experience, rather than formally answer the question.

Additionally, you can find Lovecraft using Postmodern tropes long before Postmodern writers (not to dis on Burroughs, Pynchon or Danielewski). In particular, Lovecraft has used shifts in POV, fragmented story structure, non-linear story-telling, unreliable narration, subjectivism, and occasional uses of stream of consciousness writing. Though Lovecraft did not employ (at least not consciously) the philosophic notions of the Postmodernists, Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was written 4 years before Derrida was born, and around the same time Michel Foucault was born.

This is purely speculation, but it is not impossible that Lovecraft’s notions of intellectual anthropomorphizing, Cosmic Existentialism (fundamentally synonymous with Cosmic Horror), and the human inability to comprehend reality may have influenced Derrida’s ideas of Deconstruction and Phal-Logos-Centrism. It is also not impossible that Lovecraft’s use of historical and mythological allusions, along with Lovecraft’s almost-blatant satirizing of religion and society might have influenced Foucault’s concepts of historical uses of power (though I will admit these are stretches).

It is not impossible that Lovecraft’s considerations of epistemology, phenomenology and idealism—which Lovecraft, the Gothic bibliophile, likely discovered from Hegel, Heidegger, and Schopenhauer—influenced later ideas of Moral Relativity and Hyperreality. Lovecraft’s characters are

Like I said, this is all speculation, and it would be an incredibly daunting task to credibly link Lovecraft to the birth of Postmodernism. Nonetheless, Lovecraft’s influence in the literary world did eventually grow, though it was not until after Lovecraft’s death in 1937 that his works would become commercially successful. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, Lovecraft has grown a literary cult-following of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror fans, and is now a major counter-cultural figure in the literary world.

Lovecraft’s Influence and Legacy

Lovecraft has been cited as an influence for Neil Gaiman (writer of the Sandman comics and the American Gods novel), Alan Moor (Watchmen and V for Vendetta), Mike Mignola (the Hellboy comics), Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Shape of Water”), and Stephen King. In fact, Stephen King cites HP Lovecraft as one of his primary literary influences (“The Mist” is all but a blatant rip-off of Lovecraft (a good rip-off)).

The list goes on, even into popular media. Critically acclaimed “Rick and Morty” is essentially an absurdist take on Lovecraftian Cosmicism. Legendary Japanese comic books and anime series, “Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood” and “Neon Genesis Evangelion” are clear derivations of Lovecraftian subjects. And, I’ll say it again, Stephen King is a massive fan of HP Lovecraft, and has even said Lovecraft is “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale”

The King has spoken.

It’s a shame Lovecraft’s work has not seen the same levels of notoriety and literary appreciation as other authors. All too often, great writers like Lovecraft, Tolkien, Alan Moore, and Neil Gaiman get thrown into the “genre fiction” category, without much thought to their literary quality. Much like Cthulhu is not actually “Cthulhu”, Lovecraft is not “Weird Fiction”. Lovecraft’s work is a misunderstood body of science, surrealism, Gothic horror, various philosophies conjoined under Cosmic Horror, and criticisms of Modernity.

Still, Lovecraft has seen increasing levels of fame and admiration from a growing, global fanbase. Although the majority of Lovecraft fans are fixated upon Lovecraft’s eldritch gods, and his daemonic sultans of the cosmos, rather than the underlying meanings of his work, it is still good that his work has become a household name in the world of counter-cultural literature. Lovecraft was simultaneously a Baroque gentleman pulled from the past, and a thinker beyond his time, but ultimately he was an unfortunate social pariah of the early 20th century. Hopefully his work will one day be widely appreciated for its full merit.

Interview with Fantasy Author Shayla Morgansen

Interview with Fantasy Author

Shayla Morgansen


I first met Shayla a year ago while attending the WRN Conference on the Gold Coast. Quickly after meeting, we discovered a shared interest in Fantasy fiction and self-publishing. Standing beside the catering table with glasses of orange juice in hand, Shayla told me about her Elm Stone Saga, her decision to self-publish and the research she is doing as a PhD candidate.

Shayla Author Photo

 

 

Shayla is generous, sweet and incredibly hard working. The latest novel in the Elm Stone Saga will be released this June. In celebration of the launch of Haunted (coming out on Saturday, 15 June 2019)  I decided to bring Shayla onto the blog for a wee chat. If you’re fantasy fan, considering self-publishing or a PhD candidate wondering how to balance research and creative writing, this is the interview for you.

 


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Now, over to the interview.


  1. Can you tell us a little about your series The Elm Stone Saga?

Sure. It’s a six-part Young Adult contemporary fantasy series following a modern Irish witch called Aristea as she navigates life as an apprentice to a centuries-old magical council. She’s a bit offbeat and she quickly connects with one of the youngest councillors, Renatus, who’s kind of the black sheep of the council. They find out they share a really tragic past, and though their journeys are darkened by secrets, losses and failures that make each character really struggle, their growing loyalty to each other is very sweet. Romance isn’t a central feature of this series; I like to explore other forms of love, since those are just as intense, important and sometimes reckless, and are much more prevalent in our lives. I think Renatus and Aristea fulfil the quotas for devotion, trust, risk and interdependence that many of us are seeking in a compelling romance anyway.

The series is about to release its fourth part and started in 2014. It’s mostly in first person POV through Aristea, but she’s a young and naïve perspective, so every third chapter steps back into the third person view of one of the adult councillor characters. I think it rounds out the book and gives it a unique feel, while also giving me – and the reader – a regular break from Aristea.

  1. What is your favourite thing about writing Fantasy? Has it always been your preferred genre to read?

I think so. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia at my school library when I was a kid, but also loved horse books. All of the horse books. These days with both books and TV shows, I warn people trying to recommend me stuff that if it doesn’t have spaceships, magical powers, police work or at the very least, horses, not to bother me with it, because I won’t look at it.

My favourite thing about writing fantasy is the imagination. Getting lost in my own daydreams and weaving my way back through words. Plus, I would really like to have magical powers. I love magic! But I also really like rules. As in, whether it’s science fiction or police procedural or a really tight magic system, cause and effect should always be clear, and I enjoy creating tight stories within those genres because they’re what I most like to read and watch.

  1. Why did you decide to self-publish your novels?

It wasn’t my first choice, but five years later, it’s what I’m planning for my next series. I submitted to traditional publishing but didn’t know what I didn’t know, and found the rejections very frustrating. Through a twist of what I like to believe was Fate, my husband met a friend of a friend at a party who had recently started a small press and was seeking fantasy writers with manuscripts. Sabrina at Ouroborus Books gave me a start in the industry that, having now done my Masters in Editing & Publishing, I realise I wasn’t going to get otherwise. I was young, female, Australian, with no publishing history or formal qualifications in writing, no social media presence, and producing very large fantasy novels in only one long series. I understand now that I was not a good bet for a publishing house. Next time I approach them, I won’t be a little girl. I’ll have two postgraduate degrees in Publishing, two series to my name, established social media with a loyal organic following, and a whole lot of experience I didn’t have before. It’s not off the cards.

  1. What advice do you have to other writers considering this option?

My advice to others is to be prepared to play the long game. Overnight successes are either a farce or at the very least, outliers, and it’s foolish to throw your heart behind the belief that you’ll be ‘that one’. Most of the overnight success stories you hear about authors make those same authors laugh – they know that they’ve got four failed novels behind them that the media neglected to mention, or that they’ve been submitting and reworking and resubmitting versions of this debut novel for years. Persistent hard work is still the most solid and effective path to success.

  1. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing routine/process? For example, do you prefer to work in the morning or at night? Do you write every day? Are you an outliner or a discovery writer?

Ooh, I haven’t heard those terms before. I guess I’m a discovery writer? I plot out main checkpoints to work toward and then let it unfold organically. Sometimes characters I introduce to deliver one line, or one scene, grow to take centre stage (Renatus was meant to be a very very minor character, but with each draft he became more prominent until we’re essentially reading his story, told through Aristea) and sometimes I don’t know what’s going to happen in a scene until I get to it. I like to write in the evenings but I write better when I’m on a roll from the previous night. I look forward to blocks of several days in a row where I know I can get some momentum – no appointments, no deadlines, no people coming to visit – and write all day and into the night without being made to stop. I do the same with my academic writing.

  1. You’re currently completing a PhD, can you tell us about your research project?

It’s in Publishing Studies, crossing over into Creative Writing Pedagogy and Fanfiction Studies. Essentially it’s exploring the ways that writing fanfiction helps develop the skills of young writers. The teaching of writing in fun and authentic contexts is something I’m very passionate about – I was a Year 2 teacher for seven years – and the fanfiction community is a place I learned a lot about writing through experimentation and peer feedback. I had never intended to go as far as a doctorate but after finishing my Masters, this amazing way of blending all my passions together struck me in that way only great flashes of inspiration do.

  1. How do you balance academic research with your personal creative projects?

As best I can! I don’t think I do a very good job of balancing but I suppose I still manage to get everything done to a level that satisfies me. I guess that counts? For me, balance is achieved through intensive bouts of creative time alternated with intense blocks of study. When I was in high school I used to only write on school holidays, and that habit carried through my undergraduate degree and into my career as a teacher. I struggle to switch between creative brain and analytical brain, so instead, I make whole weeks academic-only time and then set aside a block of fun writing time at the end of it like a carrot. Then between semesters, I just write every day for weeks on end.


 

Haunted.jpg

Sometimes we escape the past. 
Other times we are left haunted.

With the world watching after the tragic events in Prague, the White Elm is on damage control. A councillor lost. An apprentice scarred. Ancient alliances shaken. Power seems determined to find its level.

Amidst this escalating chaos, Aristea and Renatus struggle to reconcile their failures and the toxic secrets fostering new tensions between them. Aristea tests the boundaries of their friendship – and her position as a council apprentice – in her fixation with saving him and the others she loves. The mistakes of the past continue to unravel but for the Dark Keeper and his apprentice, who they were and who they want to be weighs heavily when each choice might be a step down the wrong path…

 

Purchase Haunted: https://ouroborusbooks.onlineweb.shop/Shayla_Morgansen/cat6324676_4504919.aspx

Follow Shayla on Social Media:

Facebook: /elmstonesaga

Instagram: @shaylawritesmagic

Twitter: @shaylawrites

Website: https://elmstonesaga.com/

100 Blog Posts

I’m not sure how I missed this, but my most recent post was my 100th blog!

To celebrate reaching 100 writing advice posts, I’ve decided to curate my most popular blogs into one tidy post. You’re welcome.

Writing, revising and publishing these blogs every week has added so much value to my life. You would think that coming up with a new blog every week would be difficult, but when you know you “have” to post something, a new idea for a blog always appears.

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If starting a blog is apart of your writerly dream, consider signing up for my email newsletter and grab your FREE downloadable copy of the Writer Kickstarter Pack: How to Start a Blog and Get Published.

 

 

Thank you so much for following/reading/subscribing to my blog.

Your presence, time and attention mean so much to me. 


 

Interview Posts:

Interview with Kate Goldsworthy

Interview with Crime author Gregory James

Interview with Author Jay Ludowyke 

Writing Routines:

Writing and Music

Messing with the Routine

New Project = New Routine

Productivity:

Five Things that will Derail Your Writing

Batching Your Tasks

How to Produce Content Regularly

Writing Advice:

How to Title Your Book

Slow Writing

How to Redraft Your Novel

The Writers’ Interrogation List Series:

Are Your Characters You?

Daily vs Binge Writing

Lark vs Owl

Penmonkey vs Typist

 

Lovecraft: The Never and Forever King Part 1

For something different … alright … very different, this week’s blog is a guest post from the founder of Fifth Wall Renaissance, Alexander Greco. Fifth Wall Renaissance is an online magazine for and by creative minds and free thinkers, and a collection of my essays was recently published by them. Fortunate, no?

I first met Xander through Instagram when he commented on one of my blog posts. This interaction quickly turned into a discussion about the creative process and before long, we decided to collaborate on a project. This post is part of that collaboration.

Time for some hand to bible honesty. Prior to reading Xander’s essay, I didn’t know all that much about Lovecraft. What I did know was that one of my writing buddies loves him and another cannot stand him.

Lovecraft was a self-professed atheist and many scholars describe his work as xenophobic and misogynist (via the exclusion of women in his fiction). And yet, concepts of Lovecraft’s work can be found everywhere from music (Metallica’s Call of Cthulhu) to games (World of Warcraft) and even religion (ironic)! Lovecraft’s ongoing influence and his questionable ethics raise the age-old question:

Can you separate the art from the artist?

I’ll let you decide.

For now, I’m handing the reins over to Xander. Here is part one of The Never and Forever King, Lovecraft.


 

The Never and Forever King, Lovecraft:

Part I

Born seven years after Nietzsche’s initial publication of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” and twelve years before Einstein developed his Special Theory of Relativity, Howard Phillip Lovecraft is an Existentialist polymath, who has somewhat misnomerously been labeled a legend of weird fiction, though his work far outmatched his “weird” contemporaries. HP Lovecraft died nearly penniless, but has now become one of the most influential writers in Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction. However, Lovecraft’s work is still widely unappreciated when compared to his Modern counterparts. Upon deeper analysis, Lovecraft’s work is on par with contemporary writers like Albert Camus, Franz Kafka, Henry James, Tolkien, Samuel Coleridge, and James Joyce.

Childhood and Early Years

HP Lovecraft was born on August 20, 1890, in Providence Rhode Island. His parents were Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a salesman, and Sarah Susan Lovecraft, the daughter of a wealthy businessman.[i] [ii] By the age of 3, Lovecraft was proficient in reading and writing. By the age of 5, after being told Santa Claus wasn’t real, Lovecraft proclaimed himself an atheist, asking in return, “[why] God is not equally a myth.”[iii] At the age of 7, Lovecraft was rewriting the Odyssey into his own poetry, and by[iv] 8, Lovecraft was studying astronomy, chemistry, anatomy, ancient mythology, and classical literature.[v]

Throughout his life, Lovecraft was afflicted with crippling neuroticisms, which began to manifest in adolescence. In 1908, shortly before graduating high school, Lovecraft suffered what he described as a “nervous collapse”, and afterwards dropped out of high school prior to graduation. Lovecraft was supposed to go to Brown University after graduation to study astronomy, but there is speculation that Lovecraft could not attend because of his math scores, and this led to his breakdown.

In late 1918 and early 1919, Lovecraft’s mother began showing signs of her own mental breakdown. Anecdotal evidence from those who knew the Phillip-Lovecraft family at the time states that Lovecraft’s mother had been experiencing hallucinations, mood disorders, and memory loss. In March 1919, Lovecraft’s mother was committed to Butler Hospital and died in 1921.[vi] [vii] This had a significant impact on Lovecraft, who withdrew into a deep depression. However, this period of Lovecraft’s life would be one of his most prolific periods.

Early Influences and Writings

Lovecraft’s upbringing included a quite conservative Victorian sense of morality, which included Anglophilia, xenophobia, and some levels of misogyny (though typically Lovecraft erred on the gentlemanly side of Victorianism). These influences heavily swayed the content of Lovecraft’s writings, along with his complex relationship with Modernity and Cosmopolitan. He was highly critical of modern liberalism and much of modern literature (especially more commercial literature), but he also grew more liberal in his thinking as he grew older.

Lovecraft was also deeply influenced by his dreams, which can be seen in much of his work. Frequently, Lovecraft alludes to some dream of the protagonist, or the ability of an antagonist to enter one’s dreams, and so forth. In stories like “Dream Quest of Unknown Kaddath”, Lovecraft’s protagonist completely enters the realm of dreams, and explores it.

Lovecraft’s primary literary and philosophic influences come from Classical, Enlightenment, and early Modern literature and philosophy. Lovecraft’s most prominent influence was Edgar Allen Poe. However, Lovecraft has also been influenced by Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany and Jonathan Swift, as well as many other 17th-19th century writers and thinkers, such as Ernst Haeckel, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Bertrand Russell, and ancient thinkers like Democritus and Epicurus.

Lovecraft’s earliest original writing can be traced back to a period of Lovecraft’s youth between 1897 and 1902. During this time, he wrote “The Noble Eavesdropper”, “The Little Glass Bottle”, “The Mystery of the Grave-Yard”, “The Mysterious Ship”, and other short stories. Lovecraft’s first well known works came in 1905 with “The Beast in the Cave”, 1908 with “The Alchemist”, and 1917 with “The Tomb” and “Dagon” (a predecessor to the now-famous/infamous “The Call of Cthulhu”).

In 1919, Lovecraft wrote “The White Ship”, “The Doom that Came to Sarnath”, and “The Statement of Randolph Carter”. In 1920, he wrote “Celephais”, “The Cats of Ulthar”, and his poem, “Nyarlathotep”. These, followed by the short story “The Nameless City” in 1921, formed the foundation of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle. In these stories—in conjunction with 18 other known works produced between 1919 and 1921—Lovecraft began exploring the subjects and concepts that would later make Lovecraft famous(/infamous).

The beginning of Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Walls of Sleep” (written in early 1919) epitomizes the nature of his Dream Cycle works, while also reflecting the subject matter of his Cthulhu Mythos:

“I have frequently wondered if the majority of mankind ever pause to reflect upon the occasionally titanic significance of dreams, and of the obscure world to which they belong. Whilst the greater number of our nocturnal visions are perhaps no more than faint and fantastic reflections of our waking experiences—Freud to the contrary with his puerile [childish] symbolism—there are still a certain remainder whose immundane and ethereal character permits of no ordinary interpretation, and whose vaguely exciting and disquieting effect suggests possible minute glimpses into a sphere or mental existence no less important than physical life, yet separated from that life by an all but impassible barrier.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 37)

These two Lovecraftianly long-winded sentences, which are laden with Lovecraft’s signature purple prose and excessive yet uniquely expressive adjectification, showcase Lovecraft’s enduring obsession with exploring dreams and unknown vistas of frighteningly bizarre reality. Throughout stories such as “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, “The White Ship” and “The Doom that Came to Sarnath”, and works like “The Cats of Ulthar” and “Celephais”, Lovecraft’s stories exhibit literary surrealism, elements of existential horror, and an exploration of the supernatural through a filter of Baroque intellectualism.

Dagon

The story “Dagon” (1917/1923)a recounts the narrator’s brush with the inhuman, ocean-dwelling god, Dagon. The entire story is told with a mix of 1st and 2nd-person point of view, which creates the effect of the narrator directly speaking to the reader, while the narrator recounts their experience in 1st person. Lovecraft also makes use of his “incomprehensible trope” (a trope used throughout his work), in which some of the primary descriptions of a setting, subject or concept are that it cannot be described with anthropocentric means.

“The region was putrid with the carcasses of decaying fish, and of other less describable things which I saw protruding from the nasty mud of the unending plain. Perhaps I should not hope to convey in mere words the unutterable hideousness that can dwell in absolute silence and barren immensity.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 24)

The narrator’s encounter with the god, Dagon, is brief:

“Then suddenly I saw it. With only a slight churning to mark its rise to the surface, the thing slid into view above the dark waters. Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 26)

However, Dagon itself is only a plot device. On the surface, this is a story about a man lost at sea, who finds a strange landmass, and eventually encounters a horrific entity, then goes insane and eventually comes to his wits in a San Francisco hospital. The story ends with the narrator obsessing over the creature he saw, and either meeting the creature again, or going insane:

“The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 27)

And this is where we find the deeper subject matter of “Dagon”. One of two things happened in this story. Either the protagonist went insane, and hallucinated his encounter with Dagon, or the protagonist actually encountered an ancient god, and this entity defied the limits of conventional science, thus sending the fragile mind of the narrator into psychosis. The beauty of Lovecraft’s writing is that we can never be sure which of the two it is.

In this story, we find the germinal seeds of Lovecraft’s later work, “Call of Cthulhu”, which truly embodies the ideas found in “Dagon”. This is a story that is told to us by the narrator, recounting the narrator’s personal experience. In this story (and many others) Lovecraft provides us with an unreliable narrator, and blurs the line between reality and insanity. For Lovecraft, the human mind was a fragile and vastly misunderstood system. The universe is a place we have little true understanding of, and what we do understand is limited by our anthropomorphic perception of reality (both physiologically/biologically, and culturally/psychologically).

This story is a reflection of the science and philosophy of the time. The classical frameworks humans used to understand our universe (religion and antiquated metaphysics) were flawed and inaccurate, and that the physical laws of our universe (namely Relativity and Quantum Physics) were far more nuanced and complex than we had previously imagined. Lovecraft’s works play on this quite often, and part of what makes Lovecraft so fun is that he often stands on the knife’s edge of reality and surreality.

Fantasy and science fiction rely on the reader’s suspension of disbelief, often to a great degree. Lovecraft’s writing relies only on the reader accepting a single concept; reality is often stranger than fiction, and there is far more that we don’t know about reality than what we do know. Lovecraft compounds this with the fragility and limited scope of the human mind. He brings us to a dark, chaotic state of being, and forces us to question our knowledge and our grasp of reality. As I said before, the god, Dagon—along with many of Lovecraft’s other creatures, entities and gods—are merely plot devices, which have often been fetishized as Lovecraft’s true creative genius. Lovecraft’s actual genius is the perceptual framework in which he presents these plot devices. What knowledge can we be sure of? What of our own psyche can we be sure of?

This Lovecraftian philosophy would later be called “Cosmic Horror”, though this name is something of a misnomer. For Lovecraft, the true horror of the Cosmos is not the terrible things that reside in it, but the shear insignificance of humankind when compared to the Cosmos. The monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos are not evil, they are indifferent. Their motivations are so alien from ours, that they simply cannot be understood by a human. The omniscience and omnipotence of cosmic forces are so vast in comparison to a human’s intelligence and power, that humans are little more than amoebic monkeys to the rest of the universe.

The genre of Cosmic Horror is not at its core about horror. Rather, it is fundamentally existential and nihilistic. It retrieves elements from Cosmology, as well as from philosophers such as Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Man is weak, fragile, irrational, and blind. Our perceptual frameworks of reality are ill-informed and grossly incomplete. Our place in the grand schema of reality is insignificant, almost to the point of mathematical irrelevancy. Those who peer at the truth must either accept the absurdity of their lives, or go insane as their perceptual frameworks collapse.

To quote Lovecraft’s over-quoted opening paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all of its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 355)

Lovecraft has admitted that much of his work during his early years imitated authors like Poe, Algernon Blackwood, and Lord Dunsany. Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” has clear parallels to Poe’s “Berenice” and “The Masque of the Red Death”. On “The Outsider”, Lovecraft has said, “[‘The Outsider’] represents my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe at its very height.”[viii]  However, even in “The Outsider”, Lovecraft begins to find his own voice, and his own philosophy.

Much like Albert Camus’ “The Stranger” (1942), “The Outsider” (1921) is essentially a story about a man who feels ostracized from society. The narrator and protagonist of “The Outsider” emerges from a dark, subterranean world, and into a brighter, above-ground world where he is seen as a hideous monstrosity by other people. Though even more nihilistic than Camus’ story of the absurd hero, “The Outsider” similarly explores the relationship of the self with the society one is embedded in (self vs. super-ego), and the relationship of the self to one’s perception of the self (self vs. ego).

Middle Years

Shortly after his mother’s death in 1921, Lovecraft met Sonia Greene[ix]—a divorcee seven years older than Lovecraft. It has been speculated that Sonia was Lovecraft’s first, and likely last, romantic and sexual partner. The two married in 1924, and Sonia began to support Lovecraft financially as he tried to make a name of himself as a writer. The two moved to New York, where Lovecraft befriended several writers and intellectuals with similar tastes to his (though most of these friends had much different political and cultural views that Lovecraft).

In New York, Lovecraft began submitting his writings to a pulp magazine called Weird Tales. From here until his death, Lovecraft submitted almost exclusively to Weird Tales—whether because of his social awkwardness, his lethargic, sedentary tendencies, or because of his malice towards commercialism. Between 1922 and 1926 (at which time Lovecraft and Sonia ceased living together), Lovecraft wrote dozens of short stories, including several of his most well-known stories, and expanded upon his Dream Cycle and Cthulhu Mythos.

This period of Lovecraft’s writing begins approximately with “The Other Gods” (1921/1933), though one could argue “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922) was the first of his major works during this time. “The Other Gods” was written shortly after the death of Lovecraft’s mother, and around the time he met Sonia. It expanded upon the idea of unknowable and wholly inhuman entities, which reside in greater or more terrible realms than “human gods”. This story makes several allusions to characters and places in previous texts (such as “Polaris” and “The Cats of Ulthar”), and elaborates on his notion of Cosmic Horror.

In this time, Lovecraft also wrote stories like “Azathoth” (1922)—a three-paragraph fragment of a never-written novel—which alludes to the Azathoth of Lovecraft’s later work, “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath”, where Azathoth is described as, “that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion where bubbles and blasphemes at infinity’s centre the mindless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 487)

There are others like “Under the Pyramids” (1924)—which Lovecraft wrote for Harry Houdini[x]—in which the protagonist is lost beneath the pyramids of Egypt, and encounters gods and demons from the ancient world, or “The Horror at Red Hook” (1925/27) and “He” (1925/26), which are often regarded as Lovecraft’s most overtly xenophobic stories.

The Call of Cthulhu

Near the end of this period, Lovecraft started his most celebrated story, “The Call of Cthulhu” (1925-1926/1928), though he didn’t finish it until after he and Sonia separated. Like many of his other stories, it uses a mix of 1st-person and 2nd-person point of view, the unreliable narrator trope, and often alludes to unnamable and indescribable horrors. Likewise, the Cthulhu creature is used only as a plot device, and Cthulhu itself may only be symbolic. The story is also highly fragmented, told in a non-linear fashion at times, and uses the story-within-a-story device. While Lovecraft continues to write in Baroque style with a heavy saturation of purple prose, the story is actually highly Modern in structure.

The story is about the narrator’s recounting of going through his grand-uncle’s belongings after his grand-uncle had died, and discovering a clay tablet depicting a monstrous creature, which is later identified as Cthulhu. The narrator then goes on to tell the story of how his grand-uncle discovered the clay tablet, tracked the artist who created the tablet, and eventually tracked down evidence of cults throughout history that have worshipped Cthulhu. Here, the story begins to fragment into his grand-uncle’s retelling of various other individuals’ experiences.

There is a retelling of the artist’s experience. There is a story about an inspector who discovers a cult in Louisiana that sacrifice humans. Then, one of the cult members recounts their own experiences, as well as their knowledge of Cthulhu and the other gods of the Cthulhu Mythos. The narrator discovers some notes left behind by his grand-uncle about a man named Johansen, who was the single survivor of some unknown tragedy at sea, and then the narrator goes onto to recount Johansen’s experience.

The climax of the story comes during Johansen’s recounting of what he saw at sea:

“Then, driven ahead by curiosity in their captured yacht under Johansen’s command, the men sight a great stone pillar sticking out of the sea, and in S. Latitude 47o 9’, W. Longitude 126o 43’ come upon a coast-line of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh, that was built in measureless aeons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults and sending out at last, after cycles incalculable, the thoughts that spread fear to the dreams of the sensitive and called imperiously to the faithful to come on a pilgrimage of liberation and restoration.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 375)

The thing is, this is only the narrator retelling Johansen’s story, and the narrator never saw Cthulhu. In fact, it’s revealed in the next paragraph that Johansen never saw Cthulhu, and that the narrator was simply inferring Cthulhu’s existence. Lovecraft’s most famous creation, Cthulhu, never actually appears in Lovecraft’s most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu”. This is because the story is not about Cthulhu—Cthulhu is only an alluded-to plot device.

The brilliance of the story is that Cthulhu might not exist. The very name “Cthulhu” isn’t even the actual name of the alluded-to entity. Cthulhu is essentially a linguistic symbol of a “name” that cannot be pronounced by man. While many pronounce Cthulhu as three syllables (kah-thoo-loo), Lovecraft actually intended it to be two syllables, and it’s supposed to be pronounced similarly to a dog barking “kloo-loo”.

Not only is Cthulhu possibly a hallucination, and “Cthulhu” isn’t actually Cthulhu’s name, Cthulhu might not be a “thing” in the traditional sense, even if Cthulhu was “real” in the story. Cthulhu is described in vague, surreal and ambiguous ways. Though Cthulhu is depicted on the clay tablet as a vaguely humanoid creature with an octopus-like head and large bat-wings, Cthulhu is also described as a chaotic being, and a priest of the elder gods—the Great Old Ones. These Great Old Ones were described as “not composed altogether of flesh and blood. They had shape… …but that shape was not made of matter.” (Lovecraft 2011, pg. 367)

The Great Old Ones, including Cthulhu, are not tangible—if they can even be said to “exist” in Lovecraft’s stories. The name “Cthulhu” is only a symbolic representation of something we cannot comprehend. Cthulhu itself may only be an idea, an entity that exists in our reality only as a concept or psychological force, or Cthulhu might not exist at all.

In addition, the very subject of the story—Cthulhu—is not something we can understand. If Cthulhu can even be said to exist in this story, then Cthulhu is a cosmically ancient (“deep history” ancient), alien god, who lives only partially in the physical world. Cthulhu is not a thing that could be “understood”, as even “understanding” might be an anthropomorphic illusion. Cthulhu might not even have an actual name, and the unpronounceable symbol may only be a vague interpretation of what “Cthulhu” “is”, but whatever Cthulhu “is”, it might be so perceptually incompatible with human cognition that it would be technically impossible to speculate about Cthulhu’s existence.

In “The Call of Cthulhu” and many other stories, Lovecraft forces us to question our understanding of reality, or if the “true” reality we live in is even something that could be understood. Lovecraft challenges our core presuppositions about life, and our very perception of reality. There are forces and “things” in our reality which we haven’t even discovered yet, let alone begun to fathom. Lovecraft simply asks us to accept that we as a species don’t know everything yet, which isn’t difficult to ask in a universe comprised primarily with “dark matter” and “dark energy”.

In Part II, I’ll continue discussing Lovecraft’s ideas, and tie them in with other modern movements in literature.

References:

a (year written / year published)

[i] Joshi, 2013, pg. 16

[ii] Joshi, 2013, pg. 8

[iii] Joshi, 2013, pg. 42

[iv] Joshi, 2013, pg. 38

[v] Joshi, 2013, pg. 60

[vi] Joshi 2013, pg. 301

[vii] Joshi 2013, pg. 390

[viii] Lovecraft 2011, pg. 164

[ix] Joshi 2013, pg. 400

[x] Lovecraft 2011, pg. 270

Creating a Writing Tribe

If you’re a writer, it’s likely that you spend a lot of time by yourself. While you can talk about your writing process, current WIP or latest bout of writers’ block with your friends and family, it is a vastly different experience to have those conversations with other writers because they actually understand what you’re saying!

A writing tribe has many benefits, both creatively and professionally. Depending on the level of experience held by each member of your group, a writing tribe can support you through the editing and revising of your novel, offer encouragement or suggestions when issues arise during the writing or publishing stages, and they can even introduce you to other writers or professionals in the publishing industry.

Typically, writers are a friendly bunch—despite our preference for isolation!

Most writers are happy to help others and to provide advice from their own lived experience. If you don’t have an existing writing club in your community, you can always make one. Most libraries are happy to provide a space for a writing club to host their meetings. You could post an ad on your local community Facebook page, gumtree or you could create a group page on the site ‘Meet Up’ to see if there are any other writers in your area interested in creating a club.

There is also a host of online communities you can join via Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube and Instagram.

However, building real-life relationships with writers in your own town and region is far more powerful and rewarding.

Attending workshops hosted by your state’s Writing Centre is another great way to meet people, same goes for attending writing festivals and conferences. Being on a budget is no excuse as most of these events are desperate for volunteers. Volunteering at a conference and festival is not only a great way to give back to your community and support the organisation running the event, but it is also a great way to meet other volunteers, committee members, staff and guests. The bonus here is that you all have something in common: a deep love for writing and reading.

As a writer and lover of books, you may consider yourself an introvert and therefore incapable of introducing yourself to a stranger.

Dear friend, if you are at a writing festival, workshop or conference, you are already among your people.

You are surrounded by introverts who are just as nervous, anxious, and worried about saying something weird/stupid/foolish as you are. Also, everyone attending such as event expects to be approached by strangers. That is the whole damn point! To make new friends and contacts. So, don’t be shy. If you need a few introductory phrases to break the ice, here are some conversation starters to get the ball rolling:

  • Are you a writer? What are you working on right now?

  • What are you reading at the moment?

  • Are there any speakers you’re looking forward to seeing?

  • Is this the first time you have volunteered? Are you enjoying it?

Part of being a writer is spending a lot of time alone.

The gift of creating a writing tribe is that you can meet other people who also express their inner thoughts, their observations about the world and the bizarreness of our human lives through the act of storytelling.

Writers need time alone, but we also need to be around other writers.

Home to Make Working from Home Work

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If you are self-employed and work from home, then you are largely in charge of your schedule. People around you (family and friends) may misinterpret this control as meaning that you work “whenever you feel like it.”


(Watch the video version here)

Creating an ideal writing routine takes time. We have to figure out whether we work best in the morning, afternoon or night. We trial different creative processes such as outlining, discovery writing or a combination of both. We test out different cafes and libraries to see which ones have the best lighting, non-invasive music and relaxed staff. We learn whether we are disciplined enough to check email and social media before we start writing, or whether our Wi-Fi has to stay off until the session is over.

The writing routine is often fetishized, but the reality is it takes a long time and a lot of experimentation to develop a routine that supports our creative practice and goals.

When we find something that works, we stick to it.

Unfortunately, these routines are also very fragile.

We need to set aside a reasonable chunk of time—preferably during our optimal working hours—in order to do the deep work our novels/short stories/articles/essays require. A knock on the door, a text message or email can be enough to throw us off our game. For every interruption that occurs, it takes fifteen minutes to get back into the ‘zone.’

A friend may call or text to invite you out for a morning coffee or to go see a midday movie. Because you work from home they just assume you’ll make up those lost hours later.

The problem is, you only have so many good hours in a day.

If you spend three of your optimal morning hours having coffee with a friend, you are not going to get those hours back. Of course, you can push yourself to make up those lost hours later, but the quality of that work will not be equal to what you could have produced during your optimal working hours.

There is only one way to negotiate your work schedules with loves one: communication.

That means you need to tell your family and friends what your non-negotiable work hours are. If you consider yourself a morning person, get yourself into your office as early as reasonably possible and firmly close the door. You can even put up a nifty sign if you like. Tell your family that you will be unavailable between 9am-12pm. You can then reserve less urgent tasks such as administration and email for the afternoon. Though it may still be undesirable to be interrupted during this time, you can let your family know that they can come to see you between 1-5pm.

If you have adult children, teenagers or friends that you connect with on a daily basis via text message, tell them not to text you during your dedicated writing time. You can also switch your phone to flight mode or leave it in another room, but some people prefer to keep their phones handy in case of emergency.

That being said, there is no reason to keep your inbox or social media pages open during your writing time. You need to make it MORE difficult for people to interrupt you, not easier!

And no-one is going to contact you about an emergency situation via email or social. If the house is on fire—metaphorically speaking—people will call you.

Being self-employed and working from home is a dream scenario for many people. The downside is some people see home-based businesses as less serious then brick and mortar businesses. As though the money earned through writing articles is less real than that earned through an employer.

Being a full-time writer who works from home is a privilege, but it is also a job. A job that you need to dedicate time to. A job that requires a schedule and that requires you to stick to that schedule. Family and friends may never see your work in this way, or they may forget when your non-negotiable work hours are, but there are so many distractions you do have control over. You have the power to say no to invitations and requests. To switch off your devices. To close your web browser.

You can’t stop life from happening, but you can minimise its ability to distract you. And don’t worry, all those requests, invitations and interruptions will still be there when you open the door and emerge from your writing cave. At least you will be more generous in dealing with them because you’ve already tended to one of your highest priorities: writing.

 

 

Self-care For Writers

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(Watch the vlog version of this post here)

We’re all familiar with the image of the brooding writer with unkempt hair leaning crocked back over their desk with a bottle of whisky carefully concealed beneath a mountain of notes and crumpled cardigans as they pen the next international bestseller.

Many famous writers contributed to this cliché through their substance abuse, intense isolation and generally manic behaviour. Little wonder writers aren’t known for having good self-care.

We all experience burnout and writer’s block at one time or another, and no author wants to hate the practice that used to bring them joy/satisfaction/meaning.

If you are a writer then finding the time to write is good self-care.

After all, a writer who doesn’t write may very well go insane, what with all those unexpressed voices, stories and characters bumping around in their head!

But you don’t have to go insane in order to be an “artist”. In fact, it is preferable that you don’t.

Self-care and productivity are not polar opposites. When you tend to your stress levels and take care of your mind and body then you’re in a much better position to write something that someone else will actually want to read. And that is the whole damn point of all this, right?

Below are the six ways you can start taking better care of yourself, and your creative practice, right now.

# 1 / Give yourself a break

The expectations we put on ourselves are immense:

  • We have to write every day
  • We have to hit our word count every day
  • We need to write more guests posts
  • We need to start a blog
  • We need to research editors/agent/publishing houses
  • We need to research police procedure/how boat motors work/astronomy
  • We need to find and enlist beta readers and create a street team.

How often have you written a sentence, feel smugly satisfied for a moment, and then quickly nit-pick it to death because it failed to re-invented the wheel of this vast and complicated craft known as WRITING?

We need to give ourselves a break.

There are many steps on the road to publication, and while it may feel as though we are behind in the publishing rat-race, the truth is we are not. Books aren’t going anywhere; neither are readers. Writers should do their best to make time for their practice, to educate themselves on the industry and to put their best work out there. Books and words are powerful, but they are still only books. Don’t let your own sense of perfectionism or the societal belief that productivity correlates to self-worth lead you down the destructive path known as burnout.

Take the pressure off.

Writing can be really fucking complicated or really fucking easy. Open a Word document, type some stuff, hit save, close the Word document and then get on with your life.

# 2 / Take an actual break

Re-framing the way you perceive writing, your current work in progress and the industry, in general, is vital if you want to avoid crumpling beneath the pressure of your own expectations.

Sometimes, this re-framing is not enough. Sometimes you need to take an actual break. As in, go outside and lay on the grass with your dog and watch the clouds go by. It’s amazing. The world does not in fact implode.

How long your break goes for depends entirely upon you. Do you need to take an hour off after lunch or the whole afternoon? Maybe you need to take a whole day off or even a week? You may want to create mini-breaks throughout your entire day, set specific “office” hours or organise your schedule so that you can take 1 or 2 days off every single week. Do you.

Burnout and writer’s block suck, but the good news is that avoiding and mending these nasty buggers is both easy and free: take a break.

#3 / Read for the pleasure of reading

 Writers are told to read widely and to read as writers. The intention here is that you are reading in order to improve your own writing. By seeing the patterns and traits of other genres and other authors, you can adopt the best and avoid the worst. The only apprentice available to writers comes in the form of reading.

Reading a novel with a critical mind, dissecting its plot, characters and structure and analysing the technical use of language is the best way to figure out how that author wrote that novel and how you might be able to do something similar.

Reading as a writer is exhilarating and exhausting. It can also kind of ruin reading.

Turning off this analytical lens can be difficult, especially if you’ve trained yourself to read in this style. No reader appreciates poetic pose the same way that a writer does and it’s likely that you became a writer because you read a book that made you feel something. Setting aside a little time to read something beautiful each day will help remind you of that fact.

# 4 / Work on something fun

If your writing is starting to feel a little rigid or if you regularly find yourself cleaning the refrigerated during your writing time, maybe it’s time to work on something different?

You could grab a notepad and pen spend an hour practising writing exercise and responding to prompts. Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life and Writing Down the Bones are full of inspiring writing exercises, but you can also find a million helpful websites by googling “Creative Writing Prompts”.

If a particular chapter is feeling stuck, try working on a short story instead, or maybe spend some time writing a blog post or article. You do not have to publish what you write, in fact, it may be better if you don’t. The purpose of this exercise is to make writing fun again, whether you tap into that energy by writing a few pieces of flash fiction, an article about your dog or completing a series of exercises is completely up to you!

#5 / Routine vs spontaneity

Sometimes burnout may be the result of a stifling routine or a lack of it. If you write at the same location, at the same time, on the same project, hitting the same word count, it’s likely that you are VERY productive and VERY bored.

Are you an artist or a drill sergeant?

Yes, we’re all professionals here and part of being a professional means doing the work whether you feel like it or not. But Jesus, do you have to be so miserable while doing it?

Write somewhere different, at a different time of day, wearing different clothes, using a different device (pen and pad?) and drinking a different beverage. Organise your writer friends to come over for a “writing sprint” or organise one online. Write for ten minutes, then go stare at the clouds for ten minutes, and then come back and write for an hour. Shake our those stiff writerly muscles.

Alternatively, you may be suffering from a lack of routine. If you are super busy because you work full-time and are taking care of your family, it’s likely that you are constantly on the lookout for writing windows.

Writing windows are fragments of time when you write in between completing other tasks. Maybe you scribble out scenes during your lunch break or between loads of laundry?

The problem is, if you don’t know when your next writing session is, what you are going to work on or how long you are going to write for, that’s a whole lot of unknowns and unknowns lead to anxiety and stress.

If that is the case, you may benefit from creating a specific, non-negotiable time each week when you get some writing done. If you live with other people, tell them that you will be unavailable between 2-4pm every Saturday (or whenever you choose!). Better yet, leave the house and switch all your devices on to silent.

# 6 / Eat well, drink water, and exercise

Writing is an intellectual exercise, but we still have bodies. Sometimes when the muse has found us—or a deadline is looming—taking the time to refill our water bottles, make a healthy meal and exercise slip right off our radar.

And yet, eating well, staying hydrated and moving our bodies are basic self-care principles that support our writing practices. If you eat badly, drink nothing but coffee and spend twelve hours a day looking at your screen, you will start feeling very crap, very quickly and your work will suffer.

Eat well, drinking water and exercising isn’t rocket science, so don’t act like it is.

Writers need to learn to take better care of themselves. As communicators and story-tellers, writers have skills that others do not and the world needs those skills now more than ever.

Take care of yourself while you are writing and publishing your brilliant prose; that way, you can write and publish more of it.