Do you like novel sorcery? Do you like new-fangled wizardry?
Are you a creative fantasy fiction author?
If you enjoy playing with magic and conceptualizing & planning your own magical systems, and you love to give new powers and special abilities to your fictional characters, you’ll want to be part of my nifty list (below) of modizardry (i.e. modern wizardry) and brand new pseudoscientific paranormalogicals!
In other words, here’s some crazy new magic conjured-up by me (along with the proper scientific nomenclature)
It’s not a finalized list — I expect to add to it when new ideas occur to me — and I think you can help too…
Here’s a challenge: if you have your own new magic, send it in and I’ll add it to this alpha list.
Submit your idea, with or without scientific nomenclature, and I will add it to this list and I’ll credit you as the inventor. Tweet me @neilmach
Good luck! : )
Agathodemonic Therianthropy – humans that are turned (or can turn themselves) into animal spirits to do the bidding of others
Alchemical Apotropaism — altering or recovering from base metals fundamental substances (elements such as gold or diamond) to counter or protect against demons, ghosts, or evil sorcerers
Bilocating Suffumigation — sending oneself into other dimensions by becoming smoke or flames (an ability to travel as a wisp of smoke)
Postcogniscent Astrality — travelling back in time astrally by leaving one’s mortal body to perceive past events as if one is actually there, visiting as a spirit
Sciomantic Astrality — to leave a mortal body and enter the otherworld as a free spirit with the intention of communicating with the dead in their own plane
Exorcistic Cacodaemoning – working with or controlling bad spirits so they grow within others to do one’s (your) bidding
Psychokinetic Chaldeanics — changing or improving the weather or climate by mental (psychokinetic) means
Faith-Fate Controlling — providing (or taking away) general “luck” i.e. good (bad) fortune by the miraculous laying of hands
Spellcrafting Genethialogy — predicting the future loves of a new born and then providing him/her/it with the necessary spells/charms to protect against, invite or capture that predicted love/romance in the future
Haemonic Entrapment — to magically entrap or enslave a person using herbcraft
Runic Harusipication — interpreting omens and signs by deciphering runes
Metamorphic Perceptionism — gaining or using supernormal, otherworldly or magical senses by becoming an entity from one’s own dreamscape and then travelling through time and space as that dream-creature
Predestinic Necromanticism — to improve one’s own opportunities (or, conversely, to debilitate another’s opportunities) inside “death” (the otherworld) by altering one’s “death” fortunes whilst still alive
Psychoscopic Teleportation — moving back and forth in time (temporarily) by inhabiting an almost eternal substance i.e. space rock, star dust, a meteorite, etc.
Psychokinetic Materialization / de-materialization — making things appear or disappear using the power of astral thought (i.e. by psychokinetic creation)
Prophetic jinxing and hexing — employing curses or hexes that launch or activate at a foreordained or pre-postulated time in a victim’s future
Got your own? Don’t forget to send them to me and I’ll add them to the list and credit you! Tweet @neilmach
For many fantasy fiction authors, therianthropy means raging werewolves, murderous human/beast hybrids (similar to Mr Hyde as shown above) or magical shape-shifting creatures, malformed humanoids, or transformations from frog into prince.
But the voluntary change from human to beast has been an exciting & enticing means of escape, exploration, and liberation for humans since the earliest stone age societies. Plus, it’s a great way for a fantasy author to connect to amazing otherworlds without having to enter phantasmagorical or fanciful rabbit-holes of delusion. In fact, therianthropy can (and is) performed by most of us (if not all… I’ll explain this in a moment) — and it’s a natural part of our shared human experience. So what precisely is it?
The word, at least in ancient Greek terms, meant to become a human beast or, interchangeably, to become a beastly human. But the word also implied a metamorphic transformation (i.e. a morphing) from one “state” to another.
The earliest example of human transformation into bestial form comes to us from a cave painting created at least 13,000 years ago in a cave in south-western France (the Three Brothers). This special cave contains several engravings of human beasts, but perhaps the most famous is the so-called “Dancing Sorcerer” — which is a portrayal of a half-man + half-deer (it might be a bison or an antelope, the jury is still out). When you examine this ancient engraving (see below) it will remind you of what a neo-pagan shaman might do in tribal ceremonies: because we know that a shaman will adopt and dramatise the “guise” of a wild creature to commune with the spirit world, to communicate with demons, angels or deities, to treat disease, to go on a vision-seeking quest, or to undertake some other form of divination (predicting the future.)
You will have seen, for example, images of a tribal “witch doctor” dressed in furs (and perhaps with a head adorned with antlers or wings) and this type of shaman is frequently enlisted by those tribes that hunt & follow a particular animal species (some tribes rely upon just one animal for their food, tools, clothing, etc. for example the Sámi people rely on reindeer, and the indigenous peoples of the Great Plains once relied upon bison.) If the tribe’s beast became scarce… there was a belief that “releasing” the souls of dead animals would also free the herds of living and breathing animals..so they might be hunted again. And that is why the shaman was generally seen “dressed up” as the favourite game animal of the tribe (bison, antelope or deer). More disturbing, though, the shaman might “dress up as” (and therefore take-on the aggressive role) of a fierce alpha predator (perhaps a wolf, a leopard, or a lion) — to claim supremacy over the hunted game (or, sometimes, conquest over a rival tribe.)
In some cultures there’s a belief that “invisible stories” can only be seen when a person assumes an animal body. The shamans who see these invisible stories are frequently called “skin walkers” — they are the people with a supernatural ability to turn into any animal they wish, as long as they first use the skin of the chosen animal, worn in most cases over human skin. This is a perspective that will interest you as a writer of fantasy fiction and is an idea that shapes modern ideas around animal cos-play.
“If it were necessary to counter a dangerous dominant spirit, the shaman could take the form of a wolf or jaguar…”
Some animals, even in their earthly & physical forms, are seen as enlightened spirits: and this is especially true in the eagle’s case, and also the snake, the jaguar, the wolf, the cat, and the rat. So, for example, if a tribe asks their shaman to see beyond a mountain range and into a remote valley, the shaman might “take the shape” of an eagle (usually in an ecstatic trance, and frequently after taking a shed-load of mood-enhancing psychoactive substances and putting on a head-dress of feathers) so he’d be able to “fly” into the valley to see the hidden things for himself, and report back to the tribe. If it was necessary to infiltrate a small place, perhaps a warehouse or a grain barn owned by an enemy tribe, the shaman could take the form of a rat to climb into holes and search for treasure in confined spaces. If it were necessary to counter a dangerous dominant spirit, the shaman could take the form of a wolf or a jaguar to “fight” an invisible threat, because such animals are fearless even in the face of terrible danger. As a snake, the shaman could move between dimensions (because a snake swims in water, climbs trees, lives in the utter darkness of caves, wriggles across fire, and moves smoothly through deadly swamps, etc.) As a cat, a shaman might be able pass beyond the boundaries of unseen dimensions (because cats are believed to pass through walls) and “view” intangibles that are too subtle for the human eye.
Often, the shapeshifting experience will occur at a festival (or a special ceremonial time of the year) and will be attended by fasting followed by feasting, vigils followed by parties, rapturous dancing, ceremonial singing, and (often) plenty of mayhem and crazy antics. It will involve the entire tribe and the tribe will witness the shapeshift as the magic “happens.” It is an important shared event because it strengthens and fosters faith in the shaman’s powers, and intensifies & enhances tribal traditions and doctrines.
Think abut using this type of ritualistic temporary therianthropy in your next fantasy tale, and please let me know if you’ve used a shaman in your project. Tweet me @neilmach
A few words about Otherkin and the roots of furry fandom
Some ancient cultures believe there is an animal counterpart to every human person. We often say things like: “don’t be such a greedy pig” or “he’s such a stubborn ass” or “she can be a real bitch” — so the concept is not as far-fetched as you might imagine. While an experienced shaman will acquire the spiritual attributes of various beasts (through ceremonies, dances, trances, and the use of psychoactive substances) — there is a suggestion that everyone (yes, everyone) might be able harness and “tap into” their animal counterpart. We find stories of humans descending from animals in many oral traditions (they often form an important part of tribal and clan histories) and even “modern” societies are distinguished (perhaps caricatured, though not always in a flattering way) by animal counterparts i.e. the bulldog represents the British, the bear represents the Russians, and so on ) — so it might be possible for each of us to transform into the animal of our clan. For example, indigenous North American traditions suggest that some tribes might have bears as ancestors (so tribe members would “tap into” their bear) and in Turkic mythology, some tribes claim wolf ancestry (so tribe members would “tap into” their wolf.)
The otherkin are these same types of people: they are a subculture that identifies as not wholly human because they access their animal inner-selves. Some otherkin believe their beast-identity is derived from reincarnation, while others claim direct ancestry (such as the Turkic peoples that I just mentioned), while others simply claim a metaphorical connection (hidden similarities) or enjoy the role-playing aspect of “becoming” their chosen animal because they feel a special affinity with it (for some, the sense of confinement and restraint when bound inside an animal entity is an exciting turn-on.)
If you ever compared yourself to the traits of your astrological zodiac sign (a lion, a ram, a crab, etc.) or you thought your Chinese Lunar Animal perfectly describes you (a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon etc) you will have (unknowingly) placed yourself in this group because you invoked an anthropomorphic avatar that you connected or sympathised with. Though, I ought to add that some Otherkin folk self-identify with entirely mythical creatures such as angels, demons, elves, fairies, extra-terrestrials, and even cartoon characters.
Some members of Otherkin communities claim to shapeshift mentally and/or astrally into their chosen beast, and this suggests they experience a “sense of alternate being” whilst shifted into their chosen form: even though they haven’t actually changed physicality (they might wear a mask or a very simple costume, perhaps stick-on ears, for example).
This light role-playing version of the Otherkin phenomena is known as furry fandom. Catgirls and catboys are the most prolific identities in the furry fandom subculture, although we’ve seen bunny girls too (they are becoming promoted after an long absence) and foxfolk, dogfolk and wolf-folk are quite common sights on social networks.
This is yet another perspective on therianthropy (shapeshifting) that you might want to explore further in your fantasy writing. Let me know if you have any tips, advice, or suggestions…
It’s a simple question and I ask it because some people have never seen one. If you have lived your entire life in the city, it is unlikely that you have witnessed this amazing spring phenomenon.
When I was a teenager I lived on the North Downs in England and so I have seen quite a few swarms for myself. And they can be very frightening.
If you didn’t know, honeybee hives tend to divide from time to time. A new queen is raised, and soon a new swarm of bees will emerge from the hive to seek a new home. This swarm tends to cluster into a large, vibrant mass, often seen hanging from a tree branch like a brown and bubbling boiling-pot of anger. As a group, they will move off in a day or two to find a suitable nesting site. Encountering a swarm of bees can be very alarming. They are very boisterous and seem filled with aggression & hostility.
Near us lived a beekeeper. And the beekeeper would attend reports of a swarm, with his sack (and a stick). He would pick up the bees with the stick (a bit like collecting cotton candy) encouraging the entire whirring and angered blob to crawl the length of his stick and into the dark safety of his sack. And that was that. He would relocate them.
American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, in his 2012 book “The Righteous Mind” outlined a theory that we are apes in our expectations and views: always seeking to take advantage of competition and always seeking to improve our luck (perhaps at the expense of our closest neighbors) but we are also like bees in the sense that, as highly social creatures, we have hive-minds that have been formed over countless generations to incessantly compete with other groups, communities, and societies.
This bee-like behavior and our “groupish” swarm mentality helps us unite and collaborate with each other to outperform all other cultures and (even) all other ecosystems. That is why we are the paramount life-form on planet earth. It’s because, as Haidt describes it, we are “conditional hive creatures…” in the sense that we have the ability to transcend self-interest (at certain times) and to lose ourselves in something that is “larger than ourselves.” In other words, at times of stress, we tend to swarm!
I guess it’s when we feel disconnected or dissociated from living a meaningful and purposeful existence, or perhaps when we feel disengaged from politics, or alienated from society at large, or unanswered by traditional religions, or neglected by established media — it’s at these times that we are likely to seek answers or look for peace & knowledge in new and unexpected places. We might even seek to do this in quite alarming ways. At times of increased stress we might feel the need to “fly away” from the obvious safety of our previous existence and experiment with new (perhaps outrageous) scenarios. It is times like now that we’re likely to swarm!
Why do we swarm? Maybe it’s because we want to control our own prospects. Or it’s because we don’t trust what has happened before or those that are supposed to “lead” us. So some (not all) are prepared to take a risk, perhaps a greater risk, when new opportunities present themselves or things outside seem more promising. If the alternative seems better (even if it’s more dangerous) we’ll sense the urge to “break away” from the main group and strike-out in a smaller group.
So, if you have the baffling urge to escape safety and join the swarm, it is quite understandable and perhaps even unsurprising (though of course, it’s irrational). But it’s natural. It’s because you’re an anthropoidal honeybee!
The Hall of Mirrors (like the grandiose one in the Royal Palace of Versailles near Paris, which has 350 mirror surfaces) is designed to display the wealth of a king, and make the place appear larger than it actually is and to reflect the faces of those who promenade past.
Even if you haven’t been to Paris, you’ve likely been inside a hall of mirrors. They are a traditional attraction at carnivals and amusement parks. If you’ve ventured into one of these attractions, I’m sure you’ve found them a bit labyrinthine and when the mirrors are distorted, due to their curves, they might have given you an unusual or confusing reflection of yourself that could have been funny, but might have been terrifying.
Scaramanga used a hall of mirrors to trap James Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun and Batman chased the Joker through a hall of mirrors in The Dark Knight Returns.
But do you exist inside a gazebo of mirrors? Are you trapped inside the hall? Do you know the way out? Socially, when you have surrounded yourself with reflective images of your own views, judgments and opinions, it is sometimes difficult to find your way clear.
When you are trapped inside a hall of mirrors, it feels impossible to see things in their true light. And as long as you are trapped inside the hall, the perverted & deceptive images you see all around you will mock you… don’t you know they are just mirror images of your own unstable impressions?
Everybody has a level of unconscious emotional patterning. In other words, we all want to “fit in.” We think we know what society expects from us, so we prefer to be a reliable “cog in the machine” rather than a flying bolt that looks as if it’s escaped from the gubbins and is causing havoc. That makes sense. Society is about compliance & conformity. It is about following certain axioms. But what if we don’t see society “the right way” because our view has been skewed by distortion so all we now see are perverse reflections of our beliefs… Are we tempted to think the skewed reflections we see all around us are the truth?
What if the truth (we believe we see) is just another reflection of the truth ( we want) to see?
Freeing ourselves from the corridor of mirrors is about letting go of everything we think we know. It is about separating ourselves from social conditioning, ideologies, political opinions, music, images and memes… all the things that we see every day that appear to remind us we know we are doing the right thing… in other words, all that stuff that seems to confirm to us that what wethink is broadly the same as what everyone else thinks; in other words, our perspectives are correct. But, to become an honest, free-thinking and broad-minded artist it’s vital we break free from this echo-chamber of opinions.
When we see ourselves in the wonky reflection at a funfair, we might “lean” a certain way to “right” ourselves or to adjust our perspectives, or we might make ourselves look more ridiculous, just for fun. Buy when we’re at the funfair, we know the reflection is not us and we know the distortion is just a silly game. We can walk away. We know the reflections are merely distorted lies of ourselves. But it’s not so easy to walk-away from the hall of mirrors in real life!
When we leave the funfair hall of mirrors we see our “real” selves again, don’t we? But some people are tempted to hide in a mirror maze all their lives. As an artist, we can’t afford to be one of those types.
Here’s a test to see if you have escaped the hall of mirrors:
Do you find yourself at odds with authority figures (scientists, teachers, academics)?
Do you find everyone you know agrees with you on most issues?
Do you often share memes or images you find funny or instructive?
Do you often re-post friends’ opinions and their jokes and memes on social media?
Do you enjoy getting rave reviews and lots of likes when you make a good point?
Do you have to stop being friends with people sometimes because they post something disagreeable?
Do you ever ask others for help or advice?
Do you have lots of friends on social media that don’t think the same as you?
Do you have friends who some might describe as “way out there” in beliefs or lifestyle?
Do you have religious friends? Do you keep in regular contact with them?
Do you like to listen to the opinions of others, even if they do not correspond with your own thoughts?
If you answered mostly yes to questions in higher group A and mostly no to those in lower group B, then you might need to ask yourself some additional questions:
How will you avoid following the pack?
How will you know what to believe?
How will you know which opinions should be questioned?
How will you come up with original & creative content?
How will you present your own ideas on social media?
Can we break free from the hall of mirrors? Yes, but we have to do the following:
Understand what matters to us by searching (in our hearts) for our core beliefs and trusting in those beliefs
Trust in our own resolutions, knowing we don’t need others to help us decide what is best for us
Take ownership of any unwise decisions we made and acknowledging our mistakes
Understand our flaws and know that our mistakes make us resilient in the longer term, because there is less chance we’ll make the same mistakes again
Believe in ourselves. Understand we you are capable of making the right decisions.
Acknowledge that we don’t need someone else’s point of view to understand what is happening around us… if we don’t understand exactly what is happening, we can find out the facts for ourselves
Know that the best and truest answers lie within ourselves. When was the last time we searched our own conscience for an explanation? We must learn to do this before accepting another person’s opinion.
Ask ourselves questions to get answers: We must use common sense, intuition, and instinct before we seek the opinion of others
Learn to trust our own judgment. It is usually reasonable and it does not need to be confirmed by some other person
Recognize that it is sometimes wiser to consult an expert for guidance or information than an opinion-holder
Our life right now is full of worry. We have so many anxieties that we don’t know where to start. How do we continue? What will happen next? But the biggest threat to our mental health is caused by circumstances beyond our control: things that happened in the past or that could happen in the future.
If you think you may have lost orientation in the last few months; and you are confused about what is best to do, for you and / or your loved ones, and you guess that you may be suffering a crisis of confidence as well as a personal identity crisis and you’re becoming evermore disoriented by all the bad vibes that the Universe is throwing at you… it is likely that you have lost your way. You have lost your way to now.
They say that living in the present is a great awakening… but what is it a great awakening from? Is it an awakening from past bad dreams? Is it an awakening from future nightmares? If you are one of the many who struggle against the trials of the past and the (imagined) dangers of the future, then it is time for you to live in the now. The truth is that neither the past nor the future have any power over us. Yet we spend so much time preoccupied with what are, in essence, metaphysical constructions. The past and the future exist outside our plane of existence. The only thing that really matters, actually, is the immediate herein.
So here are some tips to get you back on track, so you can start living in the now:
Living in the present is likely to be a new skill for you. So you will have to learn to do it! First, write a list of everything you have to be thankful for today. This should not be a list of accomplishments, achievements, nostalgic joys, or past glories, nor should it be a list of aspirations or expectations. See? It’s harder than you think, listing things that are important right now. So take time to consider your list carefully; reflect on it; spin the ideas in your mind
Dive into a project that’s creative, start a new hobby that incorporates both an element of play and technique: drawing, air-fix modeling, Lego, jewelry-making, scratch art, flower crafts, or anything that provides a sense of accomplishment with a degree of concentration. The idea is to focus on something that brings joy and isolates you from the extraneous & jarring noise of the universe.
Now has never been a better time to be a kid in your own world. See the world from knee height (you don’t have to literally get onto your hands & knees to do this), but maybe envision your day as your six-year-old self. What’s fun about right now? What do you really want to do? What do you really want to eat? What do you really want to play? What do you really want to wear? How do you really feel most comfortable? How do really you want to sit? Nothing can bother you now, because you have such meager expectations. You don’t need permission from anyone else for these immediate wishes to come true (although it might be a good idea to tell your partner or family member before you come-over all childish) but this exercise is about creating an easy perspective
Problems are unavoidable, but they only occur in the future or are “felt” when they intrude from the past. If you continue to focus on problems (and even solutions), you will find yourself trapped in a never-ending cycle of worry and defeat. So close your head to problems and focus on someone you love. Write your dearest heart a poem (it doesn’t have to rhyme) or a story (with them as the main character) or if you don’t like to write, draw a picture or make a greeting card for them. Or you can use one of your newly learned skills (from your creative hobby, as described in paragraph 2 above) to make a special gift for them. Your creation does not have to be handed over to the apple of your eye, that’s not the point, the goal here is to dedicate time, energy and spontaneity to another
One of the reasons we worry so much about the future is because we don’t trust the flow of the Universe. However, the universe is quite reliable. One way to prove this to yourself is by breathing. When you breath in it’s called “inspiration” and when you breath out, it’s called “expiration.” Throughout a worrisome life, many of us have adapted a “stressed” breathing pattern in which we breathe too shallowly (often due to poor posture) and too quickly — when we ought to be taking nice, long, deep, slow and steady breaths. And we ought to be concentrating on the “inspiration” bit that comes during the inhalation, and we must learn to push away all the unwanted stuff in our lives during the exhalation. So why not give yourself the easiest workout of your life! Set your timer for two minutes and try breathing! You don’t need to hold your breath, you don’t need to count to any special number and you don’t need to “feel” your diaphragm or any other mumbo-jumbo hippie stuff… just breathe for two minutes and focus on “inspiration” and “expiration.”
We live in a time of constant distraction and the past and future continue to scream at us from televisions, screens, gadgets, written words, music, slogans, memes, adverts and messages. Shut them out! Take back control of your happiness! You don’t have to do this all day. Or even half your day. But you should be able to prevent distracting pollution coming in from the leaking Universe for at least a short period. Put your devices away, turn off sounds, close your eyes (put on a serenity mask / sleep mask if it helps) put in some soft foam earplugs (or noise-canceling headphones, with nothing connected, of course), calm down and indulge yourself in a settle. Go ahead, give it a try. You don’t need to meditate, or pray, or get into a difficult yoga position for this nowness exercise … just practice emptiness ten minutes each day.
Ideas, questions, or comments? Tweet me @neilmach Let me know if you have found your now
How to illustrate superstitious thinking in your fiction
Magical thinking is the belief that events are connected to each other even though there is no plausible link between them, except for some curious and inexplicable supernatural phenomenon.
Although most theorists think that magical thinking is irrational, the belief that one’s thoughts by themselves can produce effects in the outside world… or that a thought on its own can somehow correspond to something (usually bad) that happens, is a powerful and compelling assumption that most of us have, at some point in our lives, succumbed to.
For example, if you’ve ever said, “I don’t want to tempt fate” or you have casually flicked a coin into a “wishing well” or you used a euphemism for death to avoid conjuring it, or you “knocked on wood” after making a favorable prediction, then you are guilty (like all of us) of magical thinking
Lines like “I don’t want to tempt fate” and “touch wood” are mystical phrases that we use all the time in everyday life.
I think we’re drawn to magical thinking because — deep down — we’re still four years old, and we hold-onto that nicer time in our life when we utilized make-believe & fantasy to help us understand very tricky and complicated things: so we still believe in magic because it helps us understand problems that we can’t deal with or grasp easily — for example, we believe in the magic of special places (like churches, old stones or graveyards), we believe in the magic of special people (like priests, fortune-tellers, mentalists, or aromatherapists,) we believe in the magic of coincidences (thinking about somebody and then they call us on the phone or they turn a corner) and we believe in the magic of serendipity (solving problems by so-called lateral thinking) and the magic of good fortune (if you blow on a dice, it will roll the number you wished for.) It seems that we wander through this world with our kindergarten mind still open to magical thinking… we explore with the willingness of a child.
If you want to introduce an element of magical thinking into your writing, I suggest that you blur the boundaries between magic, science, and religion in your story. If you are describing something technical, give your technical object a dash of sentience, if you are describing something magical in your story, make it sound sound plausibly mechanical, and if you are describing something that’s spiritual in your story, make it sound pragmatic and tangible. Once the boundaries are properly blurred, you will find that anything can happen in your plot and, actually, the blurred lines will become your plot-drivers.
When using elements of magical thinking in your fiction, try to describe a character’s sense of joy when his/her magical thinking comes true, and their sense of loss when it does not. Also, do your best to describe a person’s everyday struggles with life and how they deal with challenges by using magical thinking. Also consider and explore the argument that if a person believes in something strongly enough, then that thing will happen.
Also, try using lots of
Good luck with your magical thinking. Please let me know how your fiction project goes. Share your thoughts on twitter @neilmach
Dealing with criticism (you can sweeten it by calling it feedback, comments, or impressions if you want… but they all amount to the same thing: disapproval) is never an easy thing because it can poison your soul and destroy what you love most: your creativity.
The reason criticism hurts so much is that an artist puts his or her own identity in their representation or interpretation, so that a casually given two-star review or a disposable hurtful comment on a social network can feel like an attack on your unique character. It feels personal because it is personal. It’s as rude as saying you have an enormous nose. Except it’s actually worse than that: because the artist has put themselves (their innards) on the line for that piece of writing… they labored for their artistic creation and they made themselves vulnerable — they revealed themselves — just to guide, help, or entertain those weaselly critics.
The writers knew from the start that by revealing their sensibilities and conceptions, they would face criticism, because that is the transactional nature of art, but when criticism arrives (as surely it must) it will be a demoralizing experience that might lead to a period of self-examination, self-discipline, and even self-persecution. Where does this take an artist? It takes the artist into a place of meanspiritedness (for his neighbour) or worse-still, into a period of self-inflicted demotivation.
How does a writer deal with a confidence crisis?
We could take a lesson from Mozart who said, “I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings...”
And that’s quite a good place to start. But here are a few tips that go a little deeper.
Self-confidence doesn’t come free with oxygen. It has to be earned. As an artist, you must refill the confidence-cup every day. How? By performing better (in your own eyes) that’s how! — and when you perform better in your own eyes, you’ll know it! Because you’ll feel the pleasure inside your heart. You will know when you have done well because intuition will tell you so. How can I be so sure of this? Because that’s how we all work. It’s a natural human sensation.
But beware the little seed of doubt that is laid by something I call the hesitation-goblin.
The nasty little hesitation-goblin hides a seed in the back of your mind where you don’t notice it at first. And in the darkness the seed grows into something that’s quite difficult to cut down. Before you know it, you have a fully developed confidence crisis blooming inside your brain and what happens then? I’ll tell you what happens: Some mouthy gadfly comes along and drops a flipping-great wodge of smelly slurry all over your precious creation. What did they do? They fertilized the seed of doubt didn’t they? They fertilized the seed of doubt that was already growing in your mind.
So the best news is that you can forgive all the critics, even the prominent critics, and all the naysayers, and all the carpers too, because it’s not their fault. All they did (the nasty, vapid, dross-wits that they are) was to re-vegetate your own secret misgivings by pouring manure all over the seed!
So, first, you must remove the critics from this feedback loop. Turn your back on their weasel words. The next thing to do is to take back control of your honest writing… that way, you’ll ward-off the pesky hesitation-goblins. But how do you do this?
Write about things that excite you
Write directly (and only) from your heart
Write what you feel
Write about what is activating you right now. Find the trigger, then release the energy
Write when your heart is full of ideas
Write without self-judgment, discover your own solutions
Avoid fixing and proofreading as you go along (wait a few days before proofreading for grammar, punctuation, and formatting, for example) this allows you to enjoy the free spirit of writing
Be impish, be feisty, be impetuous. Write with gusto
Be brave enough to dig deep. Gone deep already? Go deeper!
Write every day… write big, write small, write long, write short… but above all write passionately
Good luck! And I wish you lots of happy creative writing! Thoughts or comments? tweet me @neilmach
You might have heard that some folks have been buying books.
If you’ve ever wondered if this is an activity that you could get involved in, here are a few tips that will help you get started. However, I warn you that buying a book is often a formidable and bewildering experience. I suppose, in the past, the sheer complexity of book-buying might have left you discouraged. Perhaps the worrying complications of all the processes involved left you frazzled. But let me assure you that, although it is a very challenging experience, with many obstacles to overcome along the way, many people have successfully purchased a book and survived… So, take a deep breath and let me help you do this thing…
First, it is crucial that you get into the right “frame of mind” before proceeding with any book purchase. You will need to do this over a period of months. I suggest you sit on a couch (or an easy chair, if you prefer) and binge watch TV shows until you are quite literally sick of them. Once you’ve done this, try listening to your music. Listen to everything you own twice (it might take weeks), but eventually you will come to the inescapable conclusion that “everything sounds the same.” At this point, you are almost ready to buy a book. But not quite. First try adopting a new exercise regimen. You’ll soon tire of that as well. I reckon it will take a week. Then play all your console games until you are completely exasperated. Okay, now you are ready to buy your first book.
Things you might not know before heading into the wild world of book ownership:
Owning a new book takes more time and attention than you might expect. Having a new book is a lot like having a new puppy. Books should be cared for, homeschooled, and admired. You will probably spend a lot of time just looking at your new book. And stroking it.
You will ask your book to “sit” or “stay” when you go to fetch a drink or answer the door, but don’t expect it to behave. Expect a few little “accidents” when you first start out. I often find that a new book has hidden itself under the furniture. Or made a mess in the corner. Of course, for much of the time, your new book will be sleeping. That is quite normal and it is nothing to worry about. Just brush it off, pat it down, and you will see it is ready and willing to “go again” in next to no time.
Books like to be taken outside too. It might surprise you how often your book wants to go out for a walk. Therefore, you will need to invest in a jacket or coat for your new book, if you want to protect it from the elements. I use a soft bag. The only difference I can think of, right now, between books and puppy-dogs is that books don’t have to be de-wormed. But otherwise that’s about it. Books are, basically, the same as puppies.
Choosing your first book
How will the book fit onto my shelf? Most people these days buy books by colour. Book enthusiasts tend to “colour code” their shelves (see above.) If you prefer bold colours, consider this a factor when buying your book. Ask yourself how it will fit into an arrangement or display. If you’re a fan of neutral tones, think twice before buying a book with an eye-catching cover. Instead, opt for pastel (or lavender) tints.
How will the book fit into my living space? In the 1970s, people bought lavishly illustrated books to be left (unread) on coffee tables. Fortunately, coffee tables are a thing of the past, and so are bulky books. Now, you will find books come in more agreeable shapes and sizes. What size and shape is best for you? Unless you are an eccentric person, I would steer clear of any book that is hexagonal, pentagonal, spheroid, or pyramidal. Instead, choose a book that’s been made in the traditional shape, especially if it’s your first purchase. I have found that rectangular books fit most easily onto shelves.
But anyone who has tried to organize a bookshelf will tell you that not all books are the same size. This can be infuriating. Apparently this is because some books contain more words than others. In general, books are made to be portable. They are not made to be stacked on shelves. This is an irritation (I know), but one that you must overcome if you ever want to become a serious book hobbyist.
My advice is to check the dimensions of any book that interests you. I frequently carry a tape measure, a digital kitchen scale, a micrometer (shown above) and a depth gauge when I go shopping for books. I verify all the vital proportions, attributes, and characteristics of any book before I make a purchase. This is often to the bewilderment of the bookseller. But I know that a poorly chosen book has terrible ramifications… it’s better to get it right first time.
Should I buy a popular book —or risk a book that no one has heard of?
This is all about bragging rights and it’s important because, of course, it’s how you earn everyone’s admiration. Buying a book is as much about showing-off your wealth, knowledge, and achievement as it is about satisfaction and indulgence. If you intend to impress people with the purchase of your book, keep in mind that they may already own the book in question… so they might think you are “late in the game,” and despise you for being “behind the times.” They will call you a loser. On the other hand, they might have already considered the very same book, but rejected it, for reasons of colour, shape, size, etc. This means they will belittle your choice. They will mock you. And you will endure many sleepless nights, struggling with the shame. Yes, it’s a troublesome challenge and can be very confusing for a first-time buyer. My suggestion is to find a book that absolutely no one has ever heard of. That way, you won’t risk humiliation or a friend’s criticism. It might also earn you much admiration because your friends will think you are a visionary book buying pioneer.
Should I buy a book written by a famous person?
The simple answer to this is no. If you think about it, it’s obvious. Famous people don’t have time to write books. They spend their days appearing on chat shows, gossiping at cocktail parties, flying to exotic islands, bubbling in hot-tubs, lounging on luxury yachts, or posing near sports cars. When and how did they find time to write that book? They didn’t. Most struggling authors will tell you they spend (on average) ninety-seven hours a week writing a book. Followed by a hundred hours a week editing a “first draft”. This process takes several months. They don’t go out to the shops, let alone to parties, appear on chat shows, or lounge by pools. It’s typical that a real author will not see the sun for many months at a time. On average, a real author takes three long years to write a bog-standard book and by the end of it has a really bad complexion. It took some guy named J.D. Salinger ten years to write a flimsy book called the “Catcher in the Rye.” That’s 52,000 hours of his life. Spent writing one lousy book. So any famous person that tells you they wrote a book 1) used a ghostwriter, or 2) wrote a crappy book.
Should I buy a book written by a deceased person?
This one is tricky. Lots of dead people write fantastic books. Dead people wrote some of the best books I ever read. But try not to “get into” that whole trilogy or box-set thing, especially if the series is written by a recently dead person. Some of those sets are never properly finished, and that’s pretty disheartening if you are following the series arc.
What about ghosts?
Yes, indeed, what about ghosts? I have found that it’s best to take a professional exorcist with me when I go book-hunting. You never know if an evil spirit resides within a book. This is a common problem with old books, so better safe than sorry. If you cannot afford to hire a shaman or demonologist, I strongly suggest you bring along a bell, a candle, a crucifix, and a chalice of holy water. Say a few words, in mock Latin, over the chosen book, kiss the cross and dip it into the water, then pass the cross around the book three times. Ring the bell and pass the candle (unlit) over the book cover. That should do it.
But don’t books just contain words?
Many first-time book buyers get confused by this aspect of books. They feel defeated when they open a book only to find, with some level of disgust and confusion, that it merely contains a mixture of what seems like a jumble of nonsense words. Yes, this is the most disgusting thing about books. Many have said it before, and many will after you, so why not let your anger gush out at the very top of your voice, when you are next in a bookshop: “But this is just a whole clutter of words…” you will exclaim. Tip: put away the bell, book and candle before you do any shouting.
Don’t despair. I want to tell you a secret. It’s a secret that only book lovers know… are you ready? Books don’t just contain words. They contain thoughts. And images. And ideas. And personalities. And places. And memories. And tastes. And sounds. And smells. And seasons. And costumes. And space. And magic. And complete worlds. And whole lifetimes. And entire galaxies.
Go on. Treat yourself. Buy a book before the sales assistant calls security.
I can heartily recommend the book shown below. It’s a sensible shape and size, written by someone who’s not at all famous (almost completely unheard of, to be honest) and it’s relatively unhaunted and comes fully house-trained: “Moondog and the Reed Leopard” is available for purchase now:
Fifty years ago when I joined a uniformed organisation (the Scouts) my father, a WWII veteran who served on active duty in Northern Italy, gave me this advice: “Never stand out, never volunteer. Always keep your head down, never talk back. Don’t look them in the eye. Be unobtrusive. Be modest. At all times be unremarkable. Most important: be unexceptional.”
These were words of wisdom that served me well through life. I later learned that the way to manage a discreet presence within the herd is:
understand how most people see you (because they unwittingly evaluate what they see, not what they know), and try to adapt your behavior to what they expect of you
Recognize how most of the population, through shared perception, discriminate against those who “stand out” — any obtrusive behavior may reflect poorly on them
The trick is to adopt the same image as everyone else in any given environment — do not fight to remain unnoticed, on the contrary — recognize yourself as one of those who belong “inside” the obedient flock. Always look as if you belong. Always obey.
Camouflage works the same way, you don’t try to be unnoticed: on the contrary, you strive to be obvious but ignored. The idea is to blend in with the environment.
As you can imagine, this must be quite difficult if you typically “stand out” from others (through no fault of your own). Perhaps you have unusual hair , or you are taller than the others, or you have facial differences, or the “wrong” skin colour. Or there is some other type of mismatch. If you cannot be inconspicuous by nature, you will have to work doubly hard to mingle and stay camouflaged. You must be a genius at unnoticeableness if you want to look the same as everyone else in the hominidrove.
The main problem I have with all of this, even if it is sober advice, is that we are not unthinking quadrupeds, right? We’re not designed to be jawless, submissive, spineless, oinkers, are we? We are not cattle. If you accept the evidence for evolution, then you know we are intelligent primates. So why, when and how did we become cattle? Why did we become sheeple? Well, it’s a long story…
Livestock farming is wholly related to production and has nothing to do with exclusivity and uniqueness. Yes, some in the herd might be selected for breeding… but most of the herd will be consistent, standardised and identical. Most importantly, they must remain obedient.
The breeding, keeping and slaughter of livestock, known as animal husbandry, has been a major component of agriculture and practiced in all cultures since humans first transitioned from hunter-gatherers to sedentary farmers, thousands of years ago. Along with agriculture came landlords, farmers, peasants, exploiters and slaves. From the moment a powerful man claimed land for himself, then demanded others to work on it, he created a class system.
It didn’t take long for landowners to see themselves as superior, perhaps even eminent. They saw themselves as the intelligent primates, while “everyone else” born lower in the power structure could be grouped under the same term. It’s a term they would typically use for their livestock: the herd. The ancient Greeks called the superiority of one group over another: hegemony. Whenever you see cries of “authority” “rule of law” or “leadership”, be vigilant — in the post-classical world, all these terms meant the same thing: the perpetuation of hegemony.
And so, along with kings and princes, priests and druids, landlords and free-holders, came lower ranks of dependent, uneducated, poor and illiterate workers. It is in the interests of the ruling oligarchs to keep the peasantry in their “rightful” place. The oligarchs reasoned that — only if the peasants were “tame” — would they willingly work in fields and follow difficult orders. And the peasants themselves preferred to be unobtrusive, modest and unremarkable —otherwise they might be singled out and chosen for more work, or more dangerous tasks. Their neighbors and relatives wisely encouraged them, like my father, to “keep their heads down” or risk drawing attention to the entire clan.
During the industrial revolution and the emergence of the modern capitalist economy, when the population grew beyond bounds and the standard of living rose, the need for herdfolk continued. Landowners became industrialists, landreeves became middle-managers, and overseers became bookkeepers. But, at the bottom of the pile, those reliable beasts of burden were still required; in fact, the system required even larger quantities. Now the peasants became consumers as well as functioning livestock.
The culmination of the industrial revolution should have ended with the slaughter of over twenty million peasants (those lions led by donkeys) in the Great War of 1914 -1918. Yet even after this industrial cataclysm, the rulers and their sycophants did not weaken the reins on the enslaved flocksitizenry. And where capitalism once promised democracy, instead it brought fascist regimes, absolute monarchies, one-party states, and authoritarianism.
And so we limp towards 2021 in the fastest-growing global capital economy ever seen. But let’s not forget that over 60 percent of Forbes’ 400 richest Americans grew up with privilege right from the start. They are descendants & heirs of those same ancient landowning families that started all this. And it is in their personal interest (perhaps performed without conscious knowledge, I’ll allow them that) that they keep the herds in their place… while, of course, they continue to enjoy the abundant benefits of a higher position.
Meanwhile, the beast of burden might consider itself free, but this will never be the case. The beast of burden will never be free. Herd members might choose where and when they eat. They might sit down. Or stand. But that is the limit of their freedom of choice. For example, a beast will /will not reproduce offspring as directed by owners. A beast of burden lives and dies at the will of a master. A beast only works/doesn’t work as the owner decides. We have seen evidence of all these things during 2020.
And, of course, the beast will never think for itself. Or ever consider breaking free. Why would it want to? Why break free? Why would a member of any herd want freedom? It has everything it needs right there. The owners provide a herd with food, water, security, and amusing distractions. Why does a beast need anything else? Moreover, membership of the herd brings a sense of comfort. And a sense of continuity.
The problem with herding humans and treating them as flocksitizenry is that the drovers who fumble their flocks will always underestimate (even hate) exclusivity, uniqueness, and any particularity they see from their livestock… because they view these attributes as inconsistent aberrations or non-compliant deviations. Aberrations must be stamped out. That’s why my father told me to “be unexceptional”. He was sincere when he gave that advice.
Remember, my father was a product of the 1920s, so saw for himself the rise of fascism and the spread of communism. He survived the Great Depression, he worked in heavy industry, then was called-up to fight in World War II. So, my father knew, from personal experience, that the cattle might smother a guy who stands out from his herd: “Keep your head down, never talk back, don’t look them in the eye…”