Neil Mach

Author – Fantasy Realism

Reality is not a thing but a process. Reality is a transition infinite process.

Reality is a Möbius strip that goes around-and-around and on-and-on forever. Reality is eternally looping on itself, as if seeking some kind of endpoint: though it never properly arrives.

As you roll out the words of your novel, some words come easy, some words don’t, but as you endlessly roll-out words, it must have occurred to you by now that a book is a process rather than a thing.  

Reality is not a “thing” at all, but a set of infinite processes…

And when you start the editing processes (if you haven’t already) you’ll become even more convinced that a book writing journey never properly ends— it simply rattles on endlessly, hardly moving anywhere or moving so slowly you can’t be sure it’s not entirely stopped. But it jolts into life again, improving, growing or developing (although one can never be sure.) The only thing that is indisputable about book writing is that a satisfying conclusion can never be reached!

Don’t be fooled! Just because you wrote the final version and sent it to a publisher or printer, having completed a brilliantly perfect concluding chapter, and having already completed your re-writes and rereads, it doesn’t mean the end. There is no end! There is no end to a book writing journey. Because, after the slow-drift of editing (editing proceeds at the speed of cooling tectonic plates, you’ll know that!) there’s the book-launch and first sales. Then reviews. Guess what? When others see your book, they’ll make comments. You must address those comments. This will require more editing! Even when you finish a book, it isn’t over. The procedures go on. Others will poke their noses in, keen to improve. And so it goes on. Forever.

The ancient Greeks thought that the basic nature of all things is *change* Therefore reality is not a “thing” at all, but a set of infinite processes. For example, a river is not an object but a process of flow. A sun is not an object but a process of conflagration. A book is not an object but a process of drafting.

As an author, you’ll know that strife & conflict are the primary motivators in a novel, because that’s what brings a good plot. But take the idea of life. Life is not a thing, it’s a process with bits of strife & conflict along the way, to make it interesting. Take love: a process with bits of strife & conflict along the way, to make it interesting. Take humanity: a process with bits of strife & conflict along the way, to make it interesting. Take fitness: a process with bits of strife & conflict along the way, to make it interesting. Take knowledge: a process with bits of strife & conflict along the way, to make it interesting. And so on… you can think-up your own!

It makes sense, doesn’t it, that nonphysical and nonmaterial things, intangibles if you like, are processes rather than “real and actual” things? But it’s harder to acknowledge that the things we bash, the things we buy, the things we sit upon, the things we eat, the things we build with, all these items and objects are also processes and not “real and actual” things. That sort of wobbly-headed unclearness requires the use of a springboard into intellectual peculiarness!

Last week on Myth & Magic Episode 98 I spoke about Göbekli Tepe, the oldest stone structures in the world, but I forgot to tell listeners that the Mesolithic people who built these extraordinary monuments chose stones they figured-out would last longer than all other building materials (perhaps they chose the stones instinctively, perhaps analytically, who knows?) Yet even the ancient stones of Göbekli Tepe won’t last forever. In fact, modern archaeologists are already correcting stones, recovering and re-aligning bits of structure and re-building the circles. Modern archaeologists are now part of the transition infinite process. And so, like a book, the ancient monument at Göbekli Tepe goes on-and-on, it is never completed, because it is always being re-drafted!

This argument seems to suit the Buddhist doctrine that states *all* “is “transient, evanescent, inconstant.”

  • Transience = nothing ever reaches a permanent state
  • Evanescence = everything passes through phases
  • Inconstance = everything is frequently changing, always shifting

If you look at your face in the mirror, you may (confidently) recognize yourself. But the skin cells that “live” on your face have only existed there for two to three weeks— next month they’ll be gone, replaced by others. The person you look at today is entirely different from the person you looked at ten years ago! We replace skeletal muscle cells every fifteen years, we replace the entire body skeleton every ten years. It takes six weeks for an eyelash to grow and fall out: they go through a resting phase known as the telogen phase when they remain almost unchanged. But then they move on. Brain cells last longer than other cells (scientists guess they last about thirty years) but we replace our red blood cells every four months. Our bodies replace billions of cells every day. We are the perfect shapeshifters and yet, um, we recognize ourselves in the mirror! It’s because of the uncanny skill we have of being able to recognize ourselves as “conscious” and “different” that makes us think we are a “thing.” But, ha ha, you guessed it… we are not a “real and actual” thing! We are transient, we are evanescent, we are inconstant. We are nothing and we are everything. We are transitions in infinite process.

We are nothing and we are everything. We are transitions in infinite process…

— Neil Mach

The reason it’s worth pondering the incorporeal nature of existence and the wobbliness of reality is that, as a fantasy author, you’ll be dealing with paradoxes, ambiguities, monstrosities, transfigurations, incongruities, precognitions and all kinds of weird ultramundane mumbo-jumbo in your work… so perhaps, at times, you’ll become distracted (even confounded) by the boundless mystery of it all. If that’s the case, and you get rabbit-punched by the sheer nebulousness of what you’re writing, just look in the mirror. Remind yourself that everything is viable, and nothing is real! Not even the author looking back! You are every bit as weird as the werewolf, the zombie, the vampire, the elf or the diaphanous, or even the fluttery halfling you just created from your imagination…

Good luck with your transitions today!

Words: @neilmach September 2021 ©

Any comments? Tweet me @neilmach

Neil Mach is the author of “So You Want to Write Fantasy?” and host of the Myth & Magic fantasy writer’s podcast.

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