Archive for February, 2012

Shared pain? Good grist for the writing mill!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

My last post about writing through adversity covered how to use your own tough life experiences as a well-spring of new ideas for your writing. This post is about using those experiences that you share and that others share in return to inspire your writing.

One thing I have learned lately from my journey into the world since the break-up of my marriage is that a lot of people have problems. Not just me! ¬†ūüėČ And sharing your problems with people involves listening to theirs too. Usually a story they share will relate in some way to your own experience, so it becomes a dialogue of stories and experiences shared as lessons for all those taking part in the conversation. Humans love to teach!

Recently I’ve heard a lot of stories. Some that make mine seem very minor indeed.¬†That brings with it gratitude and a sense that ‘no matter how hard my life is right now I am glad I am not in your shoes’.

Right after that feeling comes the urge to write. To save the lesson I’ve learned, record the insights that person has given into my own problems and preserve the gemstones of life experience I’ve received from listening to theirs.

Grist for the Writing Mill?

Maybe, and this is a slightly guilty confession, their problems give me a few ideas for new writing. Fresh unexplored characters spring to life. Scenarios that I had never thought about before are laid out before me like a new and as yet undiscovered landscape.

Should that be a guilty confession? That I use these things to write?? ¬†My answer is no. I don’t think so. Most people share their story with you as a lesson, a little parable to help guide you on your own journey. ¬†So if you as a writer are able to take that lesson and make it into something that can be travel further and help spread a little more light in this sometimes dark and lonely world, where’s the harm?

A Few Rules

That said it’s important not to tell their story exactly – use it to inspire you.¬†It’s important not to be mercenary about it or¬†cannibalize¬†their lives. In reality few people’s real-life stories would ever fit exactly into an appropriate narrative structure – especially for the screen – so writing from life almost always requires reworking. This is usually enough to make it difficult to recognise themselves in your writing.

And it’s important never to include names or details that could be used to identify that person.

If in doubt be straight – and ask for the life rights to write about their story. Most people will be flattered at the notion and will happily give you permission.

Giving Back

It is also important to say thank you. If someone has inspired you why not say “Wow the other day after talking to you, I forgot my own troubles enough to write a story and I wanted to say thank you.

Most people are thrilled to be included in a writer’s work. And if they read your work chances are they will only recognise the parts of their own story that you used to inspire you in a casual way. “Oh my God, that’s just like what happened to me.” ¬†People, in my experience, rarely recognise themselves in what you’ve written.


Occasionally, I find people are nervous when I say I am a writer. People will ask me if I am there to steal their story or to make them into characters in a film. ¬†I even got accused once of being “another scumbag writer” by someone ¬†who’d had a bad experience with a journalist once.

Usually though, if you are honest and open people will quickly relax and start to share their ideas and will often even turn around and say later on “you know what because you’re so nice, I don’t mind if you DO use me in one of your stories”. Result!

My main caveat in writing from other people’s experiences is that you must have a good purpose behind what you write. It must be for good – to help, to educate, to raise awareness or to alleviate the suffering of others.

Otherwise that would be just downright scumbaggery that gives all of us writers a bad name!

e-family: The Seeds of Recovery

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

An update to my previous post about our little e-family since last writing:

Well, I am pleased to say that the kids have plunged themselves into activities in the outside world. This is a happy discovery. Living the way we did does not seem to have had any impact on their ability to socialise and meet new friends. They are likeable and well-liked, mature for their ages, outgoing and friendly. Thankfully they have found some good friends!! It is hard to keep up these days and after a few short weeks they are involved in different interests and productions.

This is all great, although for me personally it is a harsher reality to accept. No longer is everyone together, now none of us are together. And that gets a little lonely for me at times. It is however heart warming to see the progress they have made.

Well the iPad is never far from my hand still, but I do find that I enjoy the days when I have left it behind more.  I even deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps temporarily, but I have put them back on now. The iPad is not nearly so cool without them and social media is important for communication with colleagues and also my main method of support in these difficult times. I do need to get out and meet people in the real world more Рand I am! Рbut it takes time to build new friendships. In the meantime, killing the apps was cutting off my nose to spite my face.

I find I use the phone for communication much more now. I have seen so much miscommunication that has come about from text, iMessage and email over the last six weeks. It is hard to trust it with important communication anymore.

Well my work has largely gone out the window of late. Oh to be a man! Men tend to throw themselves into work after a split (rightly or wrongly) whereas women often have so much else to deal with that work gets forgotten or pushed to one side.  This must change!!

This is the same with the kids and their education. Perhaps this is a real drawback to home education. If they had gone to school then they would have had that to focus on daily and their work would have continued. It is very hard for them to settle down to study in a home that is so very changed.

I suppose I knew this was a problem for home educated kids as I have heard of other families that worked just fine up until their parents’ separation and then it all fell apart. But it’s not like they can start school now in light of this so I need to stay the course with home education, even if it is the last thing that they, or I, feel like doing. ¬†Their education as younger children was autonomous – that is entirely self-directed – but now they have courses to follow and deadlines to meet. Self-direction helped them meet those deadlines before, which is not the case now. However, most people achieve things through extrinsic motivation, because they have to and this is an important life lesson. Sometimes you have to knuckle down!

So I need to kick ass on this as they can’t let their education slide just because of everything that has happened. ¬†“Life is hard” and “life moves on” are both ¬†important lessons – no matter where you do your learning!!!

One of the things that the kids don’t like is the suggestion that their old life was bad or wrong. It is their background and their foundation and I must respect that. Kids whose parents separate often feel their life before is invalidated by the separation, which is very difficult as it also invalidates part of their identity. ¬†This is even more the case with my kids because in a very real sense it is all they have known.

Maybe in light of that, my previous post was mis-titled as ‘The End of the e-Family’. I think it is perhaps more of a ‘re-imagining’.

Either way, it is up to me to stay the course!!

Between sleep and waking

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

Between sleep and waking
I hear you turn beside me
and feel soft breath
upon my neck. Life’s
overwhelming warmth
envelopes me.  Greedy,
I turn to face you,
waking myself,
destroying the dream,
and, with my eyes open,
I greet the empty
mourning of another day.


by Kathie Kingsley-Hughes

Writing through Adversity

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

One of the things I want to share on here are some of the great tips that I have received from generous people about ways to get through everything that has happened recently.

Of those tips, the greatest is to write, write and write some more.

In fact I am writing around 8,000 words per day at the moment. And that’s in addition to my regular writing work. ¬†It is a phenomenal output for me and has really made me glimpse what I am capable of in terms of sheer daily¬†word-count. All this writing reduces the ‘activation energy’ that is normally required to start getting words out onto the page, which makes the writing flow better all round, including my work.

Write. It helps!

The most important thing about the writing, though, is that it helps. It is a cathartic process, but a discreet one. It’s all too easy to go telling all and sundry your problems and it’s easy to turn into a relationship bore, which not only turns off your existing friends but also gets in the way of making new ones. More than ever during a relationship crisis it’s important to get a life. Going over and over your old one will just get in the way of moving on. If you can tell most of it to the page it means your friends are still ready, willing and able to help out with the practical things and for those times when nothing short of crying on someone’s shoulder will do.

The page comes in very handy. It doesn’t care how much you bang on about stuff. It doesn’t care whether you repeat yourself, or constantly go over old ground. It doesn’t judge you. It doesn’t try to advise you. It doesn’t have an ego to get in the way. It doesn’t care if what you say today completely contradicts what you said yesterday. It doesn’t have a vested interest in the you of the past or the you of tomorrow.

Great Prep for Relationship Counselling

If you are receiving counselling your writing can be very useful in clarifying your thoughts and aiding in your homework (One thing about break-ups is not just counsellors seem to be setting me homework. I have found even total strangers telling me to read this book, or to ponder on that.)  This part of life is a learning process, or perhaps a crash course, and it seems like everyone has something to offer. Distilling all this wisdom as well as your own revelations onto the page gives you a rich repository to call when you need it.

Build yourself an Emotional Nest Egg!

What’s more all this writing will come in very useful later. If you keep a blow-by-blow account of everything you’re feeling and experiencing at this difficult time you will find it pays dividends not only in terms of charting your growth and¬†giving you a perspective on your thoughts and feelings now and in the weeks to come that you wouldn’t be able to recreate in retrospect, but also in terms of being a rich vein of raw life experience that you can refer to later in your writing career. In those terms, that raw tear-streaked emotional record will be worth more than gold!!

So write it down!

And good luck! Please share your comments and feedback below. I look forward to hearing from you if you found this useful – or even if you disagreed! Let me know how you get on!!


End of the e-Family

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

In so many ways this is the blog post I never wanted to write. And I can honestly say I never thought I would write it.

In the middle of January Adrian told me he was leaving, suddenly, scarily, angrily. My world shattered. We have been married for 18 years and most of that was spent inside a bubble of technology.

Raised in an Internet Bubble

We home-schooled our kids who were born into our strange Internet world where they learned to use computers before they could walk. Ours was a private, intense little geek existence where the outside world didn’t exist – except for the one that came in via the phone wires.

We wrote technology¬†books, we taught online classes at ZDU and Element K (and others) and we wrote for magazines and online outlets like CNET and ZDNet, where we covered Apple press conferences like a well-oiled press room, despite being two adults and two children. Our kids didn’t grow up so much¬†hanging finger paintings on the fridge as taking screenshots of their Age of Empires villages and uploading them to their spaces, along with their latest Photoshop creations, Poser animations and home-made videos.

Our lives were downloaded, uploaded, virtualised and streamed to one other.

Adrian and I raised our kids as co-parents. No one was the main caretaker, which is an awesome thing for a man to do – provided he can stay the distance. We were building a new kind of family, all very nineties, telecommuting, distance learning, etc. When NASA ran experiments putting people into biospheres to see if they could survive the isolation of living in space on a Mars mission, we laughed at them. They had nothing on us! A lot of people were inspired by us and thought we were the coolest family in the world. Some people thought we were mad, but then we didn’t give a FF what they thought. This was us, living the geek dream. ¬†The kids were used to being there with us ¬†24/7. ¬†We lived and worked and played computer games and built websites and animated stuff and surfed the web and built computers and took tech apart and hacked the firmware and dropped stuff off cliffs and blew shit up.

How could all that suddenly … end?

A lot of my time is spent in shock and disbelief now. Mostly there are questions and no answers. How did this happen? How am I supposed to look after two shattered teens who only know that strange insular Internet world? Did this really happen? The only answer is that yes ¬†it happened. Our little office is getting emptier by the day. This was where we sat writing, programming, ripping apart technology and teaching people from around the world how to use it. Just the flotsam of old Buzz Lightyear figures and Simpsons toys that adorned the tops of monitors for decades, old floppy disks, and a hole in the carpet from where the office chairs rolled over the same spots day in, day out. ¬†All our past is being slowly swept away. ¬†It is tragic. Yet it seems to be a tragedy that only I am witness to. Adrian, in whatever world he has spun off to, doesn’t seem to notice or feel sentiment for the end of our sad little Borg family social experiment. But I see it and all I am left with is disbelief.

Pro-blogging and the family

The pressures of tech journalism seem to make people blind to much else. And it gradually takes over your life so that things you once held dear, like love, your kids and your family, are nowhere near as important as blogging and the next big story. Basically it eats you alive. Eventually all that is left are a single-track brain and fingers to do the typing. Of all the areas of technology we ventured into, professional blogging did the most damage to us.  If you’re not careful it becomes the thing you love more than anything else. But it can’t keep you warm, can’t give you a hug, can never bring you the joy a family can. What have you got left, except page views, feedback and Google juice?

Back in the nineties, when we hacked our way into the deepest part of the tech jungle in those heady early days of the web, we saw endless possibilities, new age thinking and new ways of living. The Matrix, Star Trek TNG on first run, Internet Explorer 4 became THE biggest thing, all cascading style sheets and JavaScript and fun, fun, fun.  But time moves on and social media meant you were never truly alone anymore, and blogging meant getting the story became THE big thing. Technology almost came second in that regard. Never being away from work for a moment via mobile devices meant never really having any down time. Twitter and Facebook can make you think you have all the friends in the world yet you are still sitting there alone.  Our life was run on the iPad, organised by Google calendar, uploaded to the cloud so you never left anything behind, Facebook, iTunes, GPS, Twitter, Google maps, everything intermingled around us all like a sticky, sticky web.

Vanguard of the iGeneration

Technology, which played such a huge part in building our family and our careers, was of course integral in its demise. Find my Friends meant endless confusion over where someone was and why they were there. Facetime meant you could be apart but still be together, never away from work, never away from each other. But is a relationship really thriving via Skype and FaceTime? Just because you can see one another and talk to one another, isn’t the same as sitting side-by-side, is it? Even iOS autocorrect fail played a part that fateful Saturday¬†(with iPhone autocorrecting the word ‘unreachable’ to ‘untraceable’ in an iMessage, delivering a subtly different meaning that sparked the end of a family).

Technology screwed us over just as happily as it had created us.

Our little family were the vanguard of the iGeneration who are growing up on the web. In many ways we were a prototype for the e-family, born in the information age, and it was consumed by and driven by the pursuit of technology and whatever you could make technology do.

But now that tech is falling silent. All the ways our lives were interconnected by technology are unravelling, unfriending, unsharing, disentangling, snaking apart.

And whatever happens, whether we as a couple get back together eventually or stay apart, it’s the end of an era. Two tech geeks who lived and worked in our own private tech bubble are now just two people, starting over. ¬†That wonderful nineties dream of living in a different way, a better way, is over. And so it should be, I hear a lot of techies say, because it’s 2012 now and time and tech move on. But the same can’t be said of families, surely? They are fragile, living things that need protecting from the vagaries of technology. Wait! Did I just say that? Man, have I changed my tune! ¬†But yes, while I am not blaming tech for what happened to us, ultimately I am left with the conclusion that technology is no basis for family life.

If any elements of your family life remind you of our lives, consider yourself warned. ¬†Do something about it before it’s too late.

Go outside your door, there is a world out there. Interact with it. Leave your tech behind. Find something else to talk about.  Let getting the big story go for today. There is more to life than writing and more to life than technology.

And hug your kids, your spouse, your friends.  Actually hug them! Coz ((((this)))) is not the same.

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