On Writing; Your Mill

Every profession has its pitfalls. Some are very obvious – zookeepers, for example, get mauled by lions more than, say, dentists. Others have more subtle troubles – lawyers get asked for legal advice and are then shouted out when the information they provide is misinterpreted and someone goes to prison.

Writers get asked about ideas.

I sit on my old sofa, the sound of a pot of rice bubbling on the stove, and the still cooling argument of how to clean the grill firing my blood (honestly, my way is the best way, if you’d only let me do it). The room is warm with the pink and orange light of the setting sun spilling through the windows. Besides me lays a book and a few feet away my girlfriend does some emailing (no doubt smug that she won the daily argument on how to clean the grill).

The stage, as they say, is set.

I have just created a scene using my Writers Mill.

Your Writer’s Mill is basically your big bag of ideas, scenes, plots, characters and all the myriad bad decisions you think are actually jolly good ones. It is where the odds and ends of life end up; that funny incident in the bank; the way the pasta got burned or how you keep forgetting that one thing. You put them in as wallpaper in your writing or perhaps they become the jumping off point of a story. The recent Alpha Test I put up was born out of a conversation I had with my Dad and another with my DM.

There are three types of things that end up in the Mill; known things, unknown things and things bolted together.

Known things can be anything you know (obviously). I know that yesterday I had a thought about carpets and bricks – could you have a bricks made of carpet? Alright, it’s not the best example, but you get the idea. Better examples of Known things are Terry Pratchett writing about cock ups, King writing about trailer trash and alcoholism, and Caitlin Moran complaining.

I tend to write about my ‘life learnings’. One of the places I got a serious education in life was when I worked for Games Workshop. There I learned two things; that there’s the Rules and then there’s What Happens. I also learned there that there are some right little bastards out there who couldn’t think if their life depended on it. Unfortunately, I’m often one of them.

The Ideas aren’t the hard bit. They’re a small component of the whole. Creating believable people who do more or less what you tell them to is much harder. And hardest by far is the process of simply sitting down and putting one word after another to construct whatever it is you’re trying to build: making it interesting, making it new.

Unknown things are things you don’t know about. This typically takes the form of questions you ask yourself; what happens to toys when you leave the room; where do dreams come from; who pays Santa Clause?

This can even be a technical question; how do undead work? I asked myself that at age ten and I don’t think anything since has led to a greater obsession that I have for the undead (I’m not weird, you’re weird).

As a Writer, you have to keep asking those questions because a good question can spawn a hell of a story.

The final bit of the Mill is the bolted together variety. You know the sort – let’s tell the story of Romeo and Juliette but this time it’s all done in Steam Punk! You’d be surprised how popular this is – Eragon is basically Star Wars with dragons.

An idea doesn’t have to be a fully developed plot, just a place to begin creating. Plots often generate themselves when one begins to ask oneself questions about whatever the starting point is.

All fiction is a process of imagining: whatever you write, in whatever genre or medium, your task is to make things up convincingly and interestingly.

So, go forth and write, whatever you want, and keep developing that Mill of yours.



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