Understanding zen

I’ve attempted zen practice for several years. I’m not very good.

It’s a different thought process, of wholeness and emptiness and eternal interconnectedness, which emphasises peaceful presence in each moment.

Atheism, which I found in my teen years, offers the individual freedom from the tyrannical dogma of traditional religion. Shifting the focus instead onto reason, logic, empirical evidence and a striving toward philosophy, over doctrine and base sophistry. (Admitting that we know nothing as a starting point, as opposed to lecturing others in the guise of special authority figures through ego, tradition, emotion or falsehood.)

But atheism leaves a crater, too. An empty slot. Despite our efforts, it seems like humanity has always had some psychological socket for mysticism. For all its virtues, atheism neglects to provide valuable advice on a good way to live, to be content and satisfied, and a way to know what truly matters. Though I seem to have found something to fill this need, in the form of zen practice.

But what is zen? An image search would imply that it’s all about floating leaves and stacked pebbles, or a kind of weird-ass obsession with purity in all things. Perhaps that’s a stock-photo impression of zen, from the outside.

But zen simply means meditation. To pause our hectic lifelong wheel of desire and suffering, and to simply take a step back to sit in peace, with no thoughts.

It’s a school of Buddhism which emphasises practice, mindfulness and sitting in meditation, without the same trappings of scripture and tradition that come with older orthodox Buddhism. It’s simply a clearing of the mind, and total presence in each moment, without distraction. To focus, without thoughts.

If you’re eating, then just eat. If you’re mopping the floor, then only mop the floor. If you’re waxing on and waxing off, then let every other thought and distraction float on by, like clouds in your still mental sky. Only wax on, and wax off. Be like a still mirror to the world, or water which flows and pools peacefully.

We could see our modern lives as an endless treasure hunt. Searching non-stop for those vital things to complete us and finally make us Happy.

We’re obsessed with Being Happy, and I’m not sure it’s the right way to think. Nobody would want to be happy all the time; that’d be the life of a manic. Perhaps it’s better to search for contentment, rather than unending happiness and bliss.

No thought, thing, desire or person will ever make us contented. Contentment is very much an inside job, and zen practice may be one path toward it. It’s an immensely peaceful way to live, when I can remember to practice it.

Zen isn’t anything. It’s not a blessing from on high; it’s not a magical nirvana state. You’ll find it in feeding sparrows, or mopping the floor.

You’ll know zen by sitting for two minutes, and breathing, without a thought in your head.

Crazy though the world may be, you always have the option to step back, and sit, and not think about anything at all. That’s zen. I rather like it.


Ghost: the black ship cometh.

Hi everyone. Well, Tabitha’s third book is taking wayyy longer than I’d hoped, but rest assured it is still coming. The first draft grew, and grew. I’m taming it now, but there’s lots still to do.

I should probably stop tying myself to certain deadlines for these books, since I don’t stick to them anyway. Guess it just takes a long long time for me to turn my senseless scribblings into semi-coherent books. For which I apologise, and for which I’m hugely thankful for your great patience.

In the meantime, I hope to tide you over in my favourite way, with a theatrical Tabitha snippet written to music. If you’re a writer yourself, this is a great exercise to spur you on and colour your thoughts as you work. Gets the feels going.

So hit play on the following uplifting soundtrack, read on below, and (hopefully,) enjoy.

Birdsong sunshine poured golden across Capital City. Flocks of batbirds flurried up from the silent ruins; fleeing suddenly at a change in the wind. Down on the streets, a bright blue fox looked up from its scavenging. It stared away suddenly, sensing something in nothing, and crept off quickly for its pups. All things that hopped and crawled in the ruins poured away from that place, as if life itself fled suddenly from a great calamity. In minutes the distant sky was a churning fallout. The wild world dimming, and silent as the grave. The ground was rumbling now; relentless tremors that only grew. Ash and pebbles rained down from the trembling ruins; the roads fell dark in seeping shadow. The Watchers’ vast ship was moving in its stormcloud. Swimming endlessly overhead, and eclipsing the summer sun. The distant Ministry, hidden in the skyline, stood lonely in the ship’s eerie sights. It lurked on closer, like a viral tide; hell-colossal and wreathed in poisoned night. Its endless belly bulged. A slimy split peered open, all along its length; an oozing highway through a black rubber moon. Pregnant with a giant lightbeam. Creeping its way across the sprawling city, as its horde of thousands chewed and scuttled in the ruins. Looking up suddenly from their devouring, to move as one for their war. Three tiny dots spat from the ship’s hunched back, racing over the city toward the distant Ministry. Inside each strange scaled dropship, a growing roar of unearthly engines and the fleshy shuddering of the hull. Watcher scouts stood ready in grim helmets, dimly lit like staring statues. Swaying slightly to the dropships’ movement. Powering up their rifles into whining life. All their will, hate and dark dominion set against the city’s survivors. Every last one.

Instant motivation for writers

Write fifty words.

It’s such a small amount that you could knock it out in a minute. But it’s just long enough to get your creative mind ticking over.

I know where you’re at with your writing, because the title of this post jumped out at you. Finishing that book you’re writing feels like a marathon through quicksand. Every page so far seems hard-won, if it’s won at all. I’ve made the same mistake – in thinking that book I’m writing is one huge task.

But you’re not writing one gigantic book. You’re writing one sentence, then another, over time. Just as best you can, until the result happens to be a full page. Repeat that process every day for a while, and the result happens to be a book.

To cure that dreaded sense of massiveness, just break it all down really small. Break it down to fifty words, right now, no excuses.

It’s said that the hardest part is getting started. But if “getting started” each day involves rattling out a mere fifty words… is getting started really that hard?

Wake up early, write down that small goal for yourself, and complete it. Cross it off your list. In two minutes, you’ve given yourself a win. Small wins like these are the key to motivation – especially if a whole book seems like an insurmountable task. Just break it down smaller.

(For your reference, that last paragraph was fifty words long.)

The trick here is creating momentum. Momentum is key to finishing a book, so it’s vital that you write something every day. And even if that’s all you do, writing fifty words on your book each day is better than writing no words at all.

But I’ve never known any writer to be satisfied with just fifty words. Surely there’s enough time to get in another fifty before you get ready for work. Hell, make it another hundred.  When it takes longer to clean the dishes than it does to work on your book, “not having time” just isn’t an excuse.

It’s something I’ve realised over time: the extent that we can break things down into smaller achievable tasks has a direct relation to our level of success.

Think about this: while the old workshops could make one new-fangled automobile every once in a while, Henry Ford had the idea to break it all down into small, specialised, repeatable tasks. While “making a car” is complex and multi-faceted, all the small jobs involved are relatively simple and quick. So it was the ease of process that really mattered… and the end result just happened to be an affordable, high-quality car.

Even shipbuilders work one bolt at a time, since there’s really no other way to get to that huge end product. It’s the same for your book: just bolt on another fifty words at a time, as many times as you can each day.

Focussing on the easier process of small repeatable tasks – like sitting down with the intention to write fifty words on your book – means that motivation is never an issue.

Even since you started reading this post, it’s grown now to five hundred words. If you can start with fifty and end up with five hundred, and do that twice each day before and after work, after a month you’ll have thirty thousand words. Three months like that, and you’ll have a good-sized novel at a finished first draft.

The drafting process is another beast entirely… but at least with that you’re working from a finished foundation.

It’s all in that motivation, to start out writing fifty words a day.


Need some more advice on how to write that book? Take a look at How to Write a Novel in 5 Steps right here.

Unless it’s crazy alien action you’re looking for? With space dragons, superpowers and the end of the world? If that meets your very specific fiction criteria, take a look at my Tabitha books for Kindle right here.

“How do I motivate myself to write this book?”

No point dancing around it: even dream jobs have their bad days.

If you’re a writer struggling to see through your next book, then this post’s for you. So grab a drink and take five minutes, and know that you’re not alone.

Sometimes writing a book can feel like moving a mountain, one aching rock at a time. When you’re throwing every creative thought in your head at your manuscript, and searching non-stop through everyday life for ideas to pack into your story – and you can’t switch it off, and you know you can do better than this, and you’re starting to wonder if you’re even truly cut out for this whole writing business – then yep. It will wear you out.

If you’re writing more than one book at once, it’ll compound the effect too.

I don’t subscribe to the idea of writer’s block. But I do believe that writers, like anyone in any job, can get worn down and burned out. It’s not an issue of inspiration, but of energy and willpower. Like your car’s fuel tank running dry.

What I’m really trying to say is this: that wherever our creative flow comes from, it can suddenly get shut off. We’ve all been there – but there are ways and means to work around it.

The first thing you can do is stop, and take a step back. Regain some perspective. Remind yourself that you’ve been in your creative flow before now, and you will get there again. This isn’t an issue of your creative talent, or your passion to write. You’re simply running on empty. And wait… when was the last time you took any days off? Like, at all? Visit new places. Experience new things. You can’t create anything out of a bored same-old mind.

Second: top up the tank. Could you drive a hundred-mile stretch on an empty fuel tank? Not really. You could want to; of course you could. You could will your broken-down car to stop being empty of fuel, and just carry on right along. Wish as you may, it won’t change the laws of physics. You simply won’t get creative energy out of your head without first putting it in. What new movies have you seen lately? When was the last time you stopped being a writer, and enjoyed being a reader instead? If in doubt, read a book. Even those bestselling authors only have the same old words to work with, like you. So read them.

Third: punch back. If you’re rested and reading again, and full of other writers’ ideas, then the worst thing you can do is leave your work-in-progress untouched. The sooner you get back to fighting that word monster, the better. A favourite trick of mine is to forget about the book as a whole, and zero in on a certain paragraph that I really want to put on creative steroids. I’ll bring up YouTube and play a certain song or a movie theme, over and over if necessary, until I’ve just stopped thinking about writing, and I’m writing. (Click here to hear a particular favourite of mine.) Instead of trying so hard, just pick the music that puts some real feeling in you. When that happens, the words will come pouring out on the page – from somewhere deeper. Instead of writing from your critical “top thoughts”,  get to feel what you’re trying to say. Dig down into that, rewrite that paragraph over and over if you have to, and you’ll find your passion that started this book in the first place.

Well, I hope this helped ya. There are tons of ways to motivate yourself to keep on writing that book, but this is a favourite process of mine. It gives me the musical feelgoods, and I like having the musical feelgoods when I’m writing.

Got your own tips to break that motivational wall? Let your fellow writers know in the comments below.

Or, if you’d like to know more about the books I write and self-publish, just click here to find them in the Kindle store.



What can you do with your English degree?

Oh, you poor bastard. You majored in English, in an English-speaking world. Me too. Shame they didn’t teach us about supply and demand.

Well. Generally speaking, you can teach or you can write. Personally, I’d recommend that you write.

There’s no one particular way to kick off a writing career… but you can bet there may be some unpaid writing involved to get it started. I can tell you what I did, at least, and maybe something in the ramblings below might give you an idea to start your writing career. Or at least give you a poke in the right direction.

Me? I’m a free-market person. I’ve never liked the idea of teaching. After graduating with my English degree I really just wanted to put my senseless obsession heartwarming passion for writing to good use.

I’d tried contributing blog articles, and a bit of spoken word, but you ain’t gonna see a penny there. Scriptwriting was a drawn-out lottery, and poets die poor for a reason. The only real practical avenue was copywriting, or content writing as it’s more widely known.

(Because everyone assumes that a “copywriter” has something to do with legal and copyright. Calling yourself a content writer will make you more friends.)

Alongside a few menial jobs to pay the bills, my ceaseless pestering eventually bagged me a snip of work experience with a radio station, scripting ads. Following countless job applications and some freebie articles in the meantime, this was enough to persuade another company to give me a three-month contract as a full-time writer.

With some hard work and study on the company merch, along with a good few books on copywriting to learn more about the trade, I stretched out this short-term contract to a few more months. (It’s really just about getting more experience on the clock.)

Balancing perilously on a couple of months’ savings, I landed another job as a copywriter and proofreader. Then another job a couple of years later, where I could dedicate all my time to copywriting in sales. And another content writing job twelve months after that, which I left last year to work for myself.

Because every night since I’d graduated, I was writing stories as well. The vast majority got binned; they were shit. But getting gradually less shit every time. The way I saw it, the day jobs were paying me to hone my skills. Paid training all week, and unpaid fiction training during evenings and weekends. Now, thankfully, I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do since my student days: writing fiction full-time. I just self-publish on Kindle; no middle man.

I’m not saying that to brag, but to tell you that it’s absolutely possible if that’s your dream as well. I know, for me, that it’s always been the ultimate end goal of my writing career.

It’ll take a lot of late nights, but you’ll get there too if you really want it. But the first step is to get your writing out there.

Don’t be afraid of critique and rejection – it shows you the boundaries and tells you how to improve. The more criticism you can take, and the more time you put into your writing, the better you’ll become. With enough time and willpower, you can make any career in writing that you like.

But you have to start now.

Why didn’t they use the eagles in the first place?

It’s a classic question asked of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As storytellers, we should be thinking about this kind of hole-poking in our own plots too.

If old Ganders was best mates with those great big eagles, majestic lords of the sky and all that – and knowing full well that they were only ever a mothmail away – then why didn’t he use them to carry Middle-Earth’s greatest heroes straight over Mount Doom in the first place? Like, straight from Rivendell?

They could’ve dropped The One Ring into that fiery chasm on the first day and had done with it, and been back home in time for mystical Elven slow-motion tea. Maybe some orc-slaying action for Aragorn & Co. in the middle, to cover their backs while our brave hobbits cast the ring into the fire… but all completely Gollum-free. Saving thousands of lives, two war-torn realms and Frodo’s best writing finger in the process.

But nooooo.

Instead, Gandalf – the wizened, scheming, arch-sadist that he is – sees fit to wander our heroes all across pretty New Zealand enchanting Middle-Earth, getting his “pals” into all manner of scraps and scarytimes.

He gets them chased. He gets Frodo stabbed. He leads them up a deadly mountain in a snowstorm, and back down again. He gets them captured by Cate Blanchett and her crazy forest people, and he gets himself killed when he pits his own outsized ego against a frickin’ Balrog.

Why would you do that Ganders. Why.

Ohhh yeah. You wanted the upgrade to Gandalf White Version, didn’t ya? Always just thinking about you, eh Gandalf? Looking out for number one?

He also makes Christopher Lee so upset that he unleashes a horde of genetically-engineered super-orcs to chase them down and kill them. (Do you know how upset a man has to be to do that?) Said super-orcs capture two of his most vulnerable friends, drive the band of buddies apart and even kill Ned Stark – the greatest military leader that Gondor has known in centuries. Gandalf then takes control of Theoden-King’s mind for his own agenda, positions himself as the saviour of Rohan, and tries to topple the steadfast (and understandably cynical) steward of Minas Tirith to take control of the city himself. Oh yeah, and sent Frodo to his death. He admitted that much.

You get the point. All because good old Gando wouldn’t MothsApp his giant eagles from the start, when life was easy and Ned Stark didn’t have all arrows in him.

If we accept this theory, then from a realistic, strategic point of view the story has flaws. But it’s a fable. It was never meant to be an extended treatise on the wartime strategies of Middle-Earth. The Lord of the Rings isn’t a military campaign. Of course, some people are all for the military campaigns of Middle Earth. There are boardgames for all that. But as storytellers, we need to be more concerned about the people involved. Their fears; their passions. Their lives. We can write about ranks of warriors, but readers have to know them and care about them too. They need to feel like real people – not just pieces on a chessboard. (Yeah, Gandalf.)

We know, instinctively, that the story’s ruined when “the eagles are coming”. It’s cool for all of two seconds, before we feel cheated out of the whole bloody tale. Because now we know, the eagles were always an option. The eagles remove all the hardship that causes our heroes to grow. Without that hardship, they aren’t really heroes. Suddenly, they’re just passengers. They could’ve been passengers from the start.

Ha! What were you thinking, Tolkien? What a cop-out. Guess he wasn’t that great after all.

But ego is a fragile, and often ugly, influence. It makes critics of us all. We could be the kind of people who look out for movie mistakes. Who search for flaws in paintings, to make ourselves feel better. Sneering at plot holes in every book there is, seated atop our mountains of all the great things we never achieved.

The Lord of the Rings isn’t about orcs, monsters, dark lords or the races of Men. It isn’t about eagles, or how best to dispose of a ring. The ring’s just a token; a signifier for the frightening potential in all of us to commit ungodly acts of evil. One look at the century those books came out of should be enough to tell us that. Gulags, death camps, atom bombs… Sauron’s soft in comparison.

LOTR is a story about human beings, with human whims and fears and emotions, being called upon to do the impossible to protect all that’s good and growing in their world. They mess up, and come back stronger, and learn that “in the caves they fear to enter lie the treasures they seek”. (Read more about the Hero’s Journey here).

Yes, Gandalf’s plan might be flawed, but what plan isn’t? Anyone who’s ever done anything knows that reality isn’t kind to our best-laid plans. Maybe the entire scheme was wrong from the start. People get hurt; friends are lost. For all the joys, death’s a constant shadow. But given the choice between an epic odyssey and an avian airstrike, I know which story I’d read.

We read Tolkien’s books for the characters’ journeys. We want to see how hardship hardens them; how love enriches them. How our unassuming selves could rise to great heroism, if what we believe and fight for is virtuous. We read to train ourselves, subconsciously, for life’s slings and arrows and ends.

It’s easy for us to heckle and find fault from the side lines. It’s hard to hear about our own faults when we try.

We could slip through life on the wings of a plot device, safe and protected from the orcs and monsters below. We’d land unscarred on that final mountain, and see our death staring back from the fires. And we’d tremble. We’d wail, that our end had come and we’d done nothing we wanted to do. And we’d ask ourselves, whether the life we’d lived was truly lived at all. We’d done nothing; suffered nothing. We’d existed. A robot, just dropping the ring.

Things would stay as they were. Fools of Tooks wouldn’t show their great worth. Striders wouldn’t become kings. Elf-Dwarf foreign relations would remain at an all-time low. Shieldmaidens wouldn’t drive their swords through the hooded spectre of death itself. Gorgeous Arwen Evenstars would remain unsmooched. Once-mighty Theodens would wither on their thrones. Sams wouldn’t know that a wife and family is all that counts. And the restless Frodos of the world wouldn’t realise, that there is no place called home. That to sit and hurt and remember is no life for them, and the next adventure is all that would give them peace.

That’s one way to live our lives. A life of absence, and regret.

Or, we could take a risk. And another. Take that first step out of our door. Home is behind, the world ahead; there are many paths to tread. We’d face fears, and forge friendships, in the fires where friendships really come from: hard fucking times. Simply put, we’d live a real life.

We’d take scars that haunt us, and we’d learn how to fight, until all those caves and spectres and spiders didn’t scare us. We all hold the potential for so much evil in the palm of our hand – or the power to vanish completely from the world. It’s up to us, to resist those temptations. It’s up to us, not to hand our power to someone else. Someone wiser, or stronger. It’s our burden to bear.

We come to recognise great evil by the sight of it, and by doing so we truly recognise the good. We didn’t see our home for what it was before; an uneventful place that might’ve held us in low regard. Until we face life’s horrors, and come back all the stronger, when we realise how rare and precious a peaceful life really is. Food and drink; friends and family. Contentment in the small things, and good long stories to tell. No great lord or leader in their halls could ask for more. Truth is, they often have it much worse.

After hardships, normal life seems so much sweeter; we never saw that before. We were just missing the context. We found out what was at stake.

You don’t gain life’s great insights from staying put in the same old Shire. Or travelling safe on some giant bird. You have to laugh and journey and sometimes suffer through life – your own epic story – for it to be a story at all.


“You’re very stubborn, aren’t you?”

Show me a better quality in someone than pure rock-headed stubbornness.

I like stubborn people. They give me faith in humanity. They make things happen, and they won’t listen to a damn word otherwise.

It’s the movie underdog who takes a royal beating, over and over,  and won’t stay down. It’s the artist who hangs from ceilings, until the damn church is painted. The musician who plays ’til their fingers bleed, just to be better.

Life hardens these people. When anyone tries to change them, they dig their heels in more. They’re doing what they’re doing, regardless. Even if it seems like they’re bashing their head against a wall. But guess what? The wall’s going down before they do. Brick and mortar’s got nothing on will.

It’s that industrial grit my forefathers were made of, who fought back the Romans and the Vikings. And the Normans. And the Saxons. And the Spaniards. And the Nazis. Wherever death and tyranny tried its luck, my nation was up in its face.

I mean, my own gramps fixed Spitfires in the Saudi desert. A German bullet cut across his throat. An inch to the right, and it could’ve killed him. He never said a word about it, and he wasn’t the fighting type. He just wanted to run his shop. For the rest of his life, I think he was just sad that the whole bloody war had to happen. That so many people could lose sight of common virtue.

He was stubborn.

There’s no glory in war, and I thank god my generation hasn’t been drafted into one. Me? I’m living in luxury – I’ve got food and a safe home. There’s hot running water. On tap. There’s no ruler I have to kneel down to. I don’t even farm my own grub.

It’s said that we should know our history, and it’s true. Even just to remind us of how good we really have it. So we have to work a little, safe and warm by our computer screens? Poor us. Our ancestors would wonder how we cope.

We may not be the generations before us, but we’re still their children. We’re the descendants of soldiers, and nurses, and pioneers. The sons and daughters, way down the line, of ordinary people who built this world and defended it. They did all the hard work for us. They fought and died for us.

These days, all we have to do is maintain the machine. Keep the pistons oiled, and keep the cogs from falling out. We just have to pay attention, and stop people pissing all over what our ancestors built.

But, who cares about that. I wonder what’s on TV.

There’s a streak of stubbornness in all of us. It’s our wealth, our inheritance, built up over thousands of years. To make the world better, whatever our talents and whatever we do. To be god-damned hard-headed buggers, if we know what we’re doing is right.

Yes, some people are stubborn. We’re the children of proud stubborn bastards, and we’ve never been more free to spread their virtue to the world.

I’d say it’s our duty, our obligation, to put that great heritage to use.


You’ve never slept well. Me neither.

Maybe one evening, you try to be good. Switch all the screens off and chill the heck out, and commit yourself to a good early night. Maybe half past ten.

…And you’re wide awake by three.

Trying to get back to sleep? It’s like holding down a spring. A huge, powerful, very insistent spring, like the kind in a car suspension. Your mind knows all too well that there’s stuff you need to make. Like, right now. At three in the morning. Grunting, hateful, you crawl downstairs for coffee. And so it goes.

There’s a frantic mental energy in us. If you don’t get busy and make something, it’ll come knocking. It’ll knock harder, and harder, until you let it out. It tends to happen every day, and it tends to take over when it comes. Nothing else really matters all that much, until the words are down or the brush is in hand, or the statue’s peering out from that stone.

Strange? Of course it is. Most people really aren’t wired this way. From an outside perspective, it might look like madness. But what do you care? You’ve got things to create. And it really won’t wait until you feel like it.

My advice is: go with it. If you’re up all night to sift through your mind, so be it. It’s the day job that should suffer – not your ideas.

Write those words that are gnawing at you. Paint what’s swirling in your soul. Carve it out or stitch it together, or play it all out on the strings. God knows, you can’t explain it in conversation. It has to grow, to explain itself.

It’s not some strange burden, this obsession to create things. You’re wrangling with a constellation. When you grasp it, and act on it, it’s a joy. If it comes along at three in the morning, so be it. That’s when you’re obliged to act.

Maybe some people think obsession’s unhealthy. For you and me though? It’s a blessing. It’s the greatest tool there is.



Writing stories requires us to build worlds. It’s a conjuring spell; a kind of alchemy.

For the spell to work, we have to make this other world feel real. Play tricks on our readers’ minds and immerse them in it, even just for a moment.

But first we need to understand how people actually see the real world around them. How we see it ourselves. Once we can do that, we can replicate this “way of seeing” in the way we write fictional worlds too. This is how we suspend disbelief.

Think about it: we’re myopic creatures. Our brains are short-sighted. While we’re capable of big ideas and long-term thinking, it’s the small thoughts and short-term matters that make up the vast majority of our lives.

We think of the world as a vast endless place. But in reality, it’s six feet across. The few feet around ourself. In reality, life is lived one moment at a time.

Our real world exists at arm’s length. It’s made up of what we can taste and feel, then reach, then smell, then hear, then see. Maybe a sixth sense too, if our tangible world gets too boring. Each sense detects the world a little further, but everything extends and returns to the centre. Our higher brain, then our primal brain, but most of all our gut feelings. We are, first and foremost, an elaborate digestive system in search of food. That’s the primary reason that we sense the world around us. Our world is whatever’s within reach – and whether we can eat or drink it to stay alive.

But how does this relate to storytelling? Well, the real world, the world within reach, also possesses a pervading sense of the mundane. Most of the things around us don’t shock or excite us. We aren’t thrilled by the novelty of a pen we’ve owned for years. We can use this mundane quality to make our fictional worlds feel real as well, and relax our readers into strange places that are still somehow familiar. We can weave in the boring and everyday with the spectacular, to strengthen that spell. A fantastical world, but one we can relate to through its sights, sounds, smells, and objects. We add clutter.

Most of the time, we don’t see the world as a vast landscape. It’s one room, then another, then maybe a wide open space. While we’re entirely capable of big ideas and huge achievements, most of the time we’re living from task to task. Chore to chore, and person to person. And, crucially, from object to object.

We don’t just “cook dinner”. That’s the wider process. In reality, we wash vegetables. We use a knife. We turn the gas on, and boil it up, and stare out the window, and wonder about our life for a while. Maybe see a small dead fly on the sill or something. Then the dust on the frame. Then decide the window’s due for a clean. Grumble at the ads on the radio. Wonder why gas flames are blue. Hope the meal’s going to taste alright when it’s done. Use a pinch of salt, or a spoon.

The point is, we move through a world of fragmented thoughts and objects. Life’s a constant string of microscopic events. A smell, a sound, a thought. One after one after one. It’s only by building up these tiny events over time that we have what we think of as “life” or “the world”. It’s not one monolithic entity, a single slab of stone, but layers and layers of experiential sediment. To make our stories feel more real, we can use words to build up this sensory sediment of its own.

The more you can focus a reader’s attention, the more you’ll suspend their disbelief. To build a convincing world, try to clutter it up with tons of tiny things that the reader, through the character, can interact with. A tool, or a passing bug; maybe an ornament over a fireplace. A cough, a scratch, a sneeze while someone’s talking. The feel of itchy robes. Tons and tons of tiny things.

Building a world isn’t just about vast landscapes. Paint the trees or buildings in the middle ground too. Make them feel real with cracks and weeds, as if we could walk up and touch them, and bring all that huge world into short focus too. The stuff we know, and see, and could touch up-close.

Our minds are hungry, and they came into your story to eat. Lay out the whole fantasy banquet, but also give us the reward of that first bite. Lay out the wider meal, then zoom us in on the main platter. Cut us a slice. Tell us about the slight steam on that glazed roasted meat. The homely smell of it, warm and welcoming while the snow falls outside. Tell us how it’s dripping with a rich gleaming sauce. Give our senses the payoff, for paying attention to your words.

As writers it’s our job to present meaning through story. That’s why people read, because it’s also why people think. But let’s not beat our readers over the head with just the big ideas; the big meanings. Present the huge landscapes in passing, then give people a closer look. Present the whole banquet of meanings, then give them a small single taste.

Walk with them slowly, right up close to the whole vast painting, and point out just one cherry in a bowl. That’s when we switch on their senses.

That’s when the fiction feels real.


I’ve been trying to achieve this with my own science fiction. If you need a new read, try it out here. Let me know if I’ve managed to do this, with the clutter in my stories – or what I should do to improve.


Creativity can be a big concept. So big, in fact, that maybe it defies exact rules and definition.

But making a living from our creativity means conducting business. And business relies on rules and definition. Boiling it all down to black and white; yes or no. Will it sell. If you don’t create what people like, you don’t eat.

If we want a viable career from our creative endeavours, then we really have to find a way to make business and creativity fit together. Square pegs in round holes, etc. etc. You get me.

As I learn more about self-employment, mainly via books and YouTube, I’m starting to see recurring themes. Authors, rock stars, economists, entrepreneurs and creative success stories are all very honest about their thoughts and processes, and the obsessive passion for what they do is always the engine of their achievements. (See: Dave Grohl.) But there’s something more than that.

It’s this ability they share, a cultivated confidence and experience, that allows them to deal in fundamental principles. The basics, at work behind the scenes of business and success. But these fundamentals aren’t anything mind-blowing. If anything, it’s more like a minefield of clichés.

Do what you love. Work every hour. Work harder than everyone else. Practise. Put in your ten thousand hours. Get out there. First impressions count. A business exists to make money. You need to make more than you spend. Nothing sells like sales. Keep things simpleIf you don’t ask, you don’t get.

There’s no rocket science here – or is there? Even rocket science relies on first principles, (that which is basic, foundational or self-evident) to build upon first. You don’t get people into space without first acknowledging the law of gravity. Those poor people won’t last long up there if you don’t first recognise that we need air, water, food and warmth, before achieving incredible things like science experiments in zero gravity.

Whether in business, creativity or indeed rocket science, beneath all the expertise and complexity is a much more basic foundation. Our tendency to overthink everything and turn our backs on the mainstream, maaaan, would probably explain our lack of success in the creative business. It’s good to feel like the outsiders, of course… but people die in the wilderness. There’s a balance.

Success seems to rely on the ability to keep these basic truths in mind, as often as possible. And, crucially, the confidence to act on them in the world of business. But we overthink everything – and the basics get lost in the noise.

If you’ve ever wondered how some people get so inexplicably far ahead in life, then wonder no more. Maybe they’re just rich, or loud, or like, really really good looking. And yes, they seem to get everything just handed to them. It’s their unfailing ability to keep things exceedingly simple.

And/or, maybe they work their arses off, every day, to be extremely good at the things people like. Whatever people might call them, they’re not lazy.

I realise that this entire post has been stating the bloody obvious. But the obvious is often ignored, especially if we’re preoccupied with creativity.

But things really aren’t as complicated as we’d often like to think. As creative people, just trying to make a sale so we can eat, we have a tendency to reinvent the wheel. Produce art so fresh and edgy and out there, that no one actually wants to buy it.

Meanwhile, success stories just learn the rules of the game, and play it. Maybe we ignore the simple stuff, the fundamentals, at our professional peril.

Now buy my book, right here. Everyone’s reading it, so don’t miss out. Grab your copy today. Yours to own on Kindle. Tell your family, tell your friends. Yours to own right now. E-everyone’s er, talking about it. Yeah. It’s like, super hot right now. It’s lit, and it’s lit. Etc.

…I must wash now.