Lost In Translation

I’m out of step. I know that.

There are certain concepts that are alien to me. I can read them only in translation; working out what they mean but never having the depth of nuanced understanding that comes effortlessly to the native speaker.

“Naughty but Nice” is one of these concepts.

I know what it means. I see the appeal it has for people. I see the effect it has on their behaviour.

Naughty but nice is supposed to make me smile as I fondly recall risk-tinged pleasure achieved through forgivable transgressions.

Naughtiness, in moderation, is a proof of virtue.

Nice refers not just to the pleasure but to the unstained integrity of the person being pleasured.

Seriously, how can any adult work with a concept like that except on the basis of willful self-deception?

And yet, I can see that they do.

As I said, I am out of step.

Being out of step is not necessarily a good thing. I’m sure I miss out on a lot, like being able to be both naughty and nice.

It’s just how I’m built.

A couple of decades ago, I made part of my living running assessment centres using various psychometric tests. Before you can do such a thing, you have to go through all the tests yourself.

The woman testing me was polite and professional but I have a talent for seeing past such masks. She was not comfortable with what she had found.

She explained it a bit a time.

„You have a very low need for association“.

„You march to the beat of a different drummer.“

„You have extremely high insight into people combined with very low levels of empathy.“

„You have a strong need to shape your environment combined with low needs for approval.“

I’d done the training by then. I knew the code behind these carefully neutral statements.

I smiled at her. Her level of discomfort increased. But then, I’d known it would.

In a soft, calm voice I said, „So I’m a loner who doesn’t so much break rules as re-write them to my advantage; who can analyse the grief, fear, love or joy of others and still be emotionally distant from it; who takes control and has no agenda but their own?“

There was a pause. She looked me in the eyes as she said, „Yes.“

I admired her for that.

„Smile,“ I said, „It’s not everyday you meet a borderline sociopath.“

She did smile but I could see that she had reservations about the borderline part of my statement.

Psychiatrists have a strong emotional attachment to the concept of normal. It’s what enables them to study deviance.

Normal is a very value laden word, don’t you think? How about we replace it with, average or unexceptional, would the psychiatrists still be so keen to use it as measure of humanity

My version of normal is shared by a single digit percentage of humanity. Still, it’s normal to me.

So in my version of normal, what does “Naughty but Nice” mean?

Naughty is a nursery term that we use to teach children not what is right or wrong but what they will be punished for and what they will not, assuming of course that they are caught.

Nice, as Little Red Riding-hood explained, does not mean good. Nice is one of those M&M words: it’s coated in polite, clean, socially acceptable sugar, but at its heart is the harder nut of almost addictive personal gratification.

Naughty but Nice is a marketing term that gives you permission to play with being bad, to scratch an itch without admitting to having a rash, to give up what you claim to believe to take what you think you need without confronting what any of that tells you about yourself.

I know, for a borderline sociopath, I’m not much fun am I?

I can’t seem to write Naughty but Nice. My heart isn’t in it. Evil? Sure. Guilty?, Definitely. Even honest and loving can make a good tale but naughty? … well, I don’t really get it.

It has all the appeal of dressing up as a Vampire at a SciFiCon and pretending that I become invisible when I cross my arms in front of my chest. I can’t quite manage the suspension of disbelief needed to carry it off and I can’t see the benefit if I succeeded.

I perhaps I’m just lost in translation.

In the spirit of trying to be a better writer, I decided to cook up a naughty little tale for this post. I think I over-shot naughty and landed thigh deep in nasty. See what you think.

I hope to see you again next week.

“Naughty But Nice?”

© Mike Kimera 2010

I shouldn’t have been hard but I was. After the night I’d had any normal man would’ve wanted to be deeply asleep. I’ve never thought of myself as a normal man and I what I wanted was to be deeply inside Christine.

Darkness greeted me as I pushed into the apartment. The blinds were down, blocking out even the moonlight.

Before I could reach the switch, Christine had me pushed back against the door. I could feel her nakedness as she pressed up against me, clamping her thighs around one of my legs.

“Well,” she said, “did she let you do it?”

There was so much hunger and malice in her voice that for a moment I pictured huge fangs ripping at my throat.

“No. She didn’t let me.”

The hand that had been stroking the length of my erection through my trousers suddenly grasped me hard enough to hurt.

“No?”

I laughed.

“She didn’t let me. She begged me.”

“Sally begged you to fuck her arse?”

“On all fours, arse in the air, looking back at me over her shoulder.”

“Good boy,” she said, unzipping me and roughly yanking my erection out where she could get at it. “You followed my instructions?”

“No condom. No shower afterwards. Left as soon as she fell asleep. Yes ma’am.”

“I can smell her stink on you.”

She bit my neck and worked my cock with her hand.

“I have to taste it.”

Christine slid down my body and took me into her mouth.

“The Valentine’s gift worked a charm.”

The image of it blossomed in my mind, a camisole and panties in a truly dreadful red silk with white lettering.

“Little Sally’s nipples pushed through “Naughty”,” I said. “Her clit was a prominent ridge beneath the “I” in “Nice”. I’ve seldom seen anyone who wanted it that badly. Other than you, of course.”

Christine stood, wrapped one ballet-trained leg around my hip and fed my cock into her wet cunt.

“And did you fuck her badly?” she said, grinding against me.

“I bound her wrists with my tie, pulled her to the floor, ripped off her panties, pushed them into her mouth and set to work giving her the rimming of her life.”

“Poor little Sally. You must have driven the frigid little bitch wild.”

“I told you I could.”

Christine stopped grinding.

“Yes you did.”

“So I won my bet. I drilled your too-nice-to-be-true little sister’s arse. Do I get my reward?”

“Do you want it?”

“It’s Valentine’s night. What could be better that having anal sex with two sisters on the one night?”

Christine pulled my cock out of her but didn’t let go of it.

“You are not a nice man,” she said, squeezing my cock. “You can have me until dawn. You have to leave before my husband gets back tomorrow. You have to use a condom and if you call me Sally I will castrate you.”

Grinning, I let Christine lead me by the cock to her husband’s bed.

Sin, Shame and Secrecy



 

Writing fiction, particularly erotica, is a very intimate process.  Consciously or unconsciously, you mine your imagination and experience to provide the stone you sculpt your stories from.

As your fiction piles up behind you like a series of cast-off skins, themes and attitudes emerge that tell you and your readers something about how your mind works and where your heart lies.

It turns out that my heart lives in the gap between who I want to be and who I am.

What I yearn for, what I struggle to achieve, what I sometimes fail at, is to be faithful: to myself, to those I love, to doing the right thing rather than the easy one.

Much of my writing is about people coming to terms with the “infidelity” that keeps them from being who they want to be. People who understand, deep in their bones, the nature of sin, the shame it breeds and the secrecy it wraps itself in.

I don’t believe in god, but I do believe in sin.

Sin is about persisting in behaviours that damage your ability to see the world in a way that enables you to choose good over evil.

“Sinful” behaviour is pathological, it shapes the sinner, twisting them, perhaps crippling them, and making it harder and harder to be a person who does not sin.

I see infidelity is quintessentially sinful.

I also see it as a normal, perhaps inevitable, part of being human.

That’s why I write stories and not sermons.

I want to ground all of this in the physical and emotional reality experienceed by those who know, deep in their gut, that if they gave themselves up to the sexual desire inside them, the world would not be enough, who struggle each day to find the grace to live well and who sometimes fail. Those points of failure are the jumping off point for a lot of my stories;

“Deserving Ruth” about a man who has failed his wife.
“Happy Anniversary” about a man in a long term affair with his sister-in-law who is forced to face the kind of man he has become,
“Happy Hour” about a woman in an affair that is consuming her but which she cannot end
“Nadica
about a good man with the opportunity to do a bad thing.
Back When We Were Happy” about a woman so lost she no longer wants to live,
“Paying For It” about a man who betrays himself, and so on and so on.

These aren’t happy tales but they aren’t the kind of thing you’d find in a Hallmark movie either. For a story like this to work you have to feel the lust, to share the humanity, to care about what happens next.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a short monolgue that gets to the heart of the matter.

I hope to see you again next week. In the meantime, enjoy.

Secrets

(C) Mike Kimera 2006

We all have secrets. You have one don’t you? Don’t look so shocked. You’re in your forties. You have a ring on your finger. My guess is that you’ve been married a good long while now. You look like a nice person. I’ll bet you’re good with kids and animals and so on. So, seeing all that, I know you have to have a secret.

You don’t even have to think about it do you? I can see it in your face. It’s there, just below the surface of your mind, pecking at you like a chick trying to hatch, that thing that you know that your wife doesn’t, the one that would change everything, the one that you desperately hope doesn’t define who you really are.

No. Don’t get up. If you’d really wanted to get up you’d have done it when I sat opposite you in this cosy little booth, in this quiet little bar, where it feels like midnight even when it’s noon outside.

Stay. Finish your drink. Let me tell you more about secrets.

Well that sat you down fast enough. Who’d have thought that a cute little thing like me could make a big man like you sit? Amazing what producing a brown envelope and a smile can do.

Do you know you’re holding your breathe? I’ve been told that men feel it in their balls; the anticipation of being caught. You’re wondering what I know and what I can prove and whether there is hope for you in the gap between the two.

But I bet that some small part of you, possibly even the part that you think of as “really” you, is more relieved than afraid.

People start out thinking that the hardest thing about a secret is keeping it. But someone like you, someone who’s had a secret for a while, someone who’s learnt that they can smile and lie and not get caught, you know that the hard part is that, in the end, the secret keeps you.

You’re good at this. By now lots of guys would’ve started to speak. Started to deny or threaten or even plead. But you’re sitting there silent because, speech, any speech at all, might give you away. I bet you’d be a real good poker player, except I suspect you don’t like to gamble unless you have to.

You know, the sad thing is that most guys, right up to the moment that they’re caught, don’t really know what their secret is. Oh they think they know. They think that’s it’s the mistress that they slip it to when they can’t face going home, or the whores they buy when they’re away on business, or the preferences that they only reveal through their (highly traceable) choice of on-line porn.

No. Don’t relax, not yet, I didn’t say that your secret was like that. Because we both know that the real secret is about who you’ve become.

Do you do that a lot, turn your wedding ring between finger and thumb? I bet you do. I bet you know why too. It’s because you love your wife. And you want her to love you. But even when she looks in your eyes and says she loves you, when she opens her legs and welcomes you in, when she comforts you on the nights you can’t sleep, you know she doesn’t love you. She can’t love you because she doesn’t really know you. If she knew who you really are then she’d know the secret and then what?

What do I want?

That’s what you say when you finally decide to speak?

Nice move. Let’s stop talking about you and talk about me instead.

Nope. That’s not going to happen. This isn’t about what I want. This is all about you and your secret.

Do remember what it was like before the secret? When your wife trusted you and you knew you deserved it? Then, if she was sad, you knew it wasn’t your fault. If you made her happy you knew her joy wasn’t tainted by lies. You were happy then.

Those nights when you can’t sleep no matter how tired you are, the ones when you lie awake thinking and hope that she won’t notice. Think about what’s really keeping you awake. With some men it would be the fear of discovery. Not you though. You’re careful. Very, very careful.

But you’re still afraid.

You’re afraid that somehow, at some level beyond facts and logic, she already knows.

You’re afraid that she is also pretending.

You think about it don’t you? What it will be like when the kids have gone and there’s just the two of you, alone in the house except for the secret that neither of you mentions.

Tears. Good. I hoped for tears.

I cried when this happened to me. When I was liberated from my secret.

The envelope is empty by the way.

What happens next is up to you. I think you’re brave enough to break free of your secret. I hope so.

If you do, I ask only one thing: find someone who needs this envelope, needs it as badly as you did, and give it to them.

 

Why I’m addicted to feedback from readers

To me, a story without a reader is incomplete. I want my stories to be read. I want to *know* they are being read. I want to understand the impact of the stories on the reader. That is why I keep my stories on a website that allows comments and part of why I’m a member of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association forum.

Writing is a solitary occupation (not a lonely one – there are too many voices in my head for writing and loneliness to share a room -it’s one of the reasons why I write – to keep those voices alive). It takes me weeks to get through a story unless it’s one of those “channelled” stories that come from nowhere once in a while.

To keep at it, i need to fall in love with the story. I also need to be able to take the story apart and reassemble it: language, characterization, tense, point of view, plot, pace, tone, timeline etc etc. Both of these activities get me so close to the story that I am incapable of knowing how it will come across to a new reader.

Being in love with the story means I sometimes assume that more is on the page than I’ve actually put there (backstory that’s still in my head, emotions behind the words that haven’t made it to the surface, missing details of time and space that will trip the reader up). It also means I read my story with a generous heart and a knowledge of what it aspired to that I cannot expect the reader to share.

Taking the story apart sometimes means I can no longer see the whole. I can’t judge the pace or the tension or the level of emotion. I believe that a story read for a second time is no longer the same story. The reader cannot “unknow” the story. Each subsequent reading changes the knowing. So taking the story apart over weeks denies me the experience that a new reader has.

Comments from readers put me in touch with the reader’s experience.

No. Stop. That sounds way too academic for what I really mean.

Let me give you a very male analogy here: after the laughter of foreplay, after the fierce heat of the first deep penetration, after the slipping and sliding and groaning and biting, after the thighs tensed and the back arched and the rush of sperm stripped his mind of function for a second or two, at just the point where she is thinking of love or sleep or whether he can do it again, or how he can be done already, he has only one question that he wants to whisper in her ear: “Did you come? Did you come good?”

Stripped of the academic gloss which argues that interactive media enables a creative discourse between writer, written, read and reader, this is the egotistical question the writer-lizard wrapped around my hind-brain want to know the answer to – Did you come good?

I grew up in that “Joy of Sex” generation who poured over drawings that seemed to suggest that a man needed a beard to have good sex but which left me wondering if men washed their beards after oral sex or wore their woman’s scent like a cologne – hey, I was sixteen with nothing but hormones, imagination, fear and excitement to guide me- so perhaps my second question is inevitable: “How do I make you come better?”

When I ask this question of readers I want the equivalent to “well that felt nice but if you moved your tongue up a little and used a little more pressure I’d be bouncing against your face”.

When I ask this question of another writer I want the equivalent to “if you want to stay hard a little longer, put a finger, yours or hers at the base of the penis just here and press like that.”

So what I want from comments ranges from: “this is how your story made me feel” through “this part of your story had my toes curling but around about here I started to compose my shopping list” through “You use language and imagery like whore with a long tongue and lots of practice but your characterization has the authenticity of a blow-up doll with a slow leak.”

What comments mean to me is that someone read my stuff and took the time to tell me about what it meant to them. The generosity of that never ceases to amaze me. They help me take a fresh look at what I’ve written and they help me to improve my craft. Most of all, they keep me writing

Chasing Words

Where do the words come from?

Words come to me when I have no time, when I’m under pressure, when I’m tired, when I’m locked in a plane, or trapped in an airport. They race across my mind like bitches in heat, willing to be caught but determined to make me work for it.

Words do not come to me when I clear my desk and my mind and set aside time to write. Then I have to go to them.

I seek them like a dog looking for rabbits in an empty field. I work at it, poking my nose into one empty rabbit hole after another. When I’m tired, and almost out of time the words will pop up out a hole I’ve already looked in, right on the edge of my vision, and make me chase them with what little energy if have left.

Sometimes, when I have left the chase behind and turned my mind to real life, words will come to me in dreams, pouring themselves across my consciousness like spilt ink. To catch them I must wake swiftly and work hard and at the end it seems to me that the best of them have escaped to haunt me another day.

I may never catch enough words to write a novel but I have learned that I will always be chasing words.

Writing beyond what you know – telling old truths in new ways

Art students who want to learn to see what is in front of them, rather than what they have been taught to expect to see, are set the task of drawing the naked human form. With no clothes to set the body in a context (social rank, historical period, personal taste) the students are left only with the flesh before them to drive their art.

The students must decide what to do with the naked body: Make a photo-accurate copy? Try to capture the spirit of the sitter? Draw attention to particular attributes of the body itself? Translate the body into an abstract statement, a thing of shadow and light that starts from the human form but reaches outwards towards something more spiritual?

For those of us who are trying to learn to write, the equivalent challenge to drawing the human nude is to write beyond what we know. This removes the props that produce easy prose – local colour, stereotypical characters, well established conventions for interaction that we can present without having to analyze and makes us think through everything afresh.

For those of us who are trying to learn to write erotica, the equivalent challenge is to write beyond our own erotic experience. This can be done by writing from a different gender or by writing about a sexual orientation other than your own or by writing about a fetish or kink that you have no experience of.

Let’s assume that you have no experience of Dominant/submissive relationships. how would you go about writing a story that rings true, even though it goes beyond what you know?

The first step is to put superficial realism to one-side. No one lives life the way it is in books. Books describe only those things in a life that are of use to the story, yet most of us stagger through our days besieged by details and much of the time we only understand what the storyline was after the event.

That’s why books are so much better than life. It’s also why reading (and writing) is ultimately less important than living.

So your task as a writer is to pull out those things in the Dom/sub relationship that make it what it is; to help your readers to identify with that world; to make your characters unique and human and credible, and yet keep the focus on the act(s) of dominance and submission that are the launch-pad for the story.

How do you do this when you have no personal experience of the Dom/sub scene?

Some writers might do this via research. But this is like dressing the nude before you write about it – it doesn’t really help you to get closer to the inner truth of the story.

I suggest that you start with questions that will help you apply your imagination to understanding and conveying what you see when you look at the nude in front of you. Try the following:

Why do Doms behave the way they do in the Dom/sub relationship?

How much control do they have?

How much does being a Dom define who they are?

How successful (or unsuccessful) are they in integrating this into the rest of their lives?

What was their first time like?

What is sex like now?

What is it in this behaviour set that is absolutely essential to satisfying the motivation that drives them to the behaviour?

How has that changed over time and why?

What do they look for in a partner and why?

How do they find it?

What makes them ashamed or afraid?

What would they decline to do?

What makes them proud?

What makes them feel more complete?

Are sex and love cohabitants in this person’s life or do they have different addresses?

As you play with these questions and the answers they produce, reach into yourself. Make the story about you even if it is not about your actual experience.

Start of by telling a story about your first time in a Dom/sub relationship. Given that you personally have not spent much time tying someone up and hitting, flogging, pinching, biting, twisting, and waxing them until they cry with pleasure and relief, starting at the beginning makes our task easier.

Imagine you’ve found a woman who you know wants you to be dominant when you have sex. What is the Dom’s reaction?

If he has to stretch his imagination to figure out what is required of him then he’s not going to be a convincing Dom. He is trying to be something he’s not in order to please his lover. This is almost certainly doomed to failure – like most passions, this one is hard to fake. So the challenge of the story will be the gap between will and performance, desire and intent, and the extent to which the participants in the relationship will acknowledge that it and they are failing.

If, on the other hand, the woman’s desire to submit awakens a hidden or suppresses desire or one that has been surfacing for some time but remained unnamed and un-acted upon then how the does the would-be Dom feel? He might feel gleeful and afraid at the same time. It doesn’t matter that fear isn’t part of the porno paint-by-numbers BDSM story play-book. What matters is whether his anxiety resonates with you and your readers and whether it helps to move the story forward.

So how does our novice Dom get started?

She’s waiting. He ties her up because he knows she wants that and because it is expected but he immediately understands that this is a preliminary not the act itself. What urge surfaces in his mind then? What is the thing that he is going to do that he wouldn’t normally let himself do? Hit her? Fist her? Force something into her? Slap her with his cock?

And how does it feel finally to let yourself do that?

What have you learned about yourself?

What have you learned about her?

And what if she liked it and you didn’t? Or you did and she didn’t?

And so on and so on

The purpose of these questions is to explore the emotional reality of a sexual act.

Graphic, hard-core sexual images are used in erotica for quick warmth, to light the fuse of the story.

Emotional realism is what gets beneath the skin of the reader and stays in the mind after the initial heat has subsided.

Check out the stories here in the Dominance and Submission category and in the  BDSM section of the Treasure Chest of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. See which stories resonate and then ask yourself:

Why do they resonate? Because they sound real? Because you’d like them to be real? Because the confluence of restraint and release, desire and fear, dominance and submission, pain and pleasure captures the existential defiance inherent in a sexual act that, for a while at least, stems the entropic tide of universal decay? Or because it gets you from hard to soft in the shortest possible time?

What are the writers paying attention to? The mechanics of this toy and that knot? The gynecological detail? The taboos being broken? The slap of leather on Willow (or whatever her name is)? The nature of the relationship between D and s?

In one way or another, most of these writers are trying to get beyond threadbare formulas and pantomime characters to an emotional reality that drives the behaviour of the people in their stories.

And therein lies the challenge of writing beyond what you know: the opportunity to tell old truths in new ways.

Writing beyond what you know lets you step out of your skin and into someone-else’s.

If you can do that successfully, then there is a strong likelihood that your readers can follow your footsteps.

The Three Fs of Fiction Writing: Finding, Fixing, Finishing

Writing is a refuge from my day-to-day, deadline-driven, write-to-order world of management consultancy. It’s a deadline-free, non-goal-oriented zone where I try to make no demands on myself other than to write good stuff on the day – whatever that turns out to mean.

I don’t mean to give the impression that I’m careless about what I write – one of the joys of writing is that it takes my full attention – I only mean to say that I am not writing to a schedule.

The combination of having a compulsive need to write and no pressing requirement to publish means that I always have several unfinished stories on my C Drive at any given time. As of this morning, my WIP file (Work In Progress file – hey, I’m a management consultant, of course I have a WIP file) has thirty stories in it.

When I feel the need to write, usually when I’m away from home on business, often in the early hours of the morning, I open up my WIP file and browse the stories until I feel one call to me, demanding completion.

Sometimes I’ll open a story, make some progress or do some tidying up and then pop it back in the WIP file until the next time it calls to me. Sometimes I open story after story without stirring my own interest. Then, if I’m lucky, a new story will push its way to the front of my mind. If I’m very lucky, most of the story will be in my head already, waiting to spill out over the keyboard. The only question then is whether I can write for long enough to get it all down before the creative tide ebbs.

But most new stories aren’t like that. They give up little pieces of themselves, like young girls wearing clothes that hide and display at the same time. I capture what I can- plot, dialogue, imagery, character – and leave myself clues about what I haven’t yet seen – what might happen next, how the characters feel, phrases they might use, images that aren’t yet connected to the body of the text. Think of them as jig-saw puzzle pieces that have been selected because they’re probably pieces of sky but you can’t link them yet and besides they might turn out to be part of the ocean.

Recently I’ve been trying to figure out what it is that gets some stories completed while others remain as creative driftwood, just attractive enough for you not to want to throw them away but not really useful for anything.

For those with an editor to placate, bills to pay and a deadline to meet, I suspect the answer is focus and will power. That’s how I turn my words into cash in my day job.

I’ve been looking for a different solution for writing stories: one more in keeping with my dilettante motivations. It seems to me that sailing provides the metaphor here. Sailors go where the wind blows. The speed they travel at and their ability to choose a course depends at their skill on harnessing the wind and their ability to navigate.

I need to find a way of harnessing the creative breeze so that it will carry me further and with greater control.

So, being a management consultant, I analysed the data and developed a hypothesis. Don’t worry, I won’t be using gant charts or PowerPoint slides.

I decided that there are three parts to writing a story and I couldn’t resist the alliterative opportunity of having them all start with F.

So here are the Mike Kimera 3 Fs of story writing:

Finding, Fixing, Finishing

Finding
is about the new, the joy of the blank page, the endless possibilities of beginnings, the buzz you get from making new connections to old ideas. Finding involves reaching into the great swirl of stimulus and response just below the conscious surface of my mind and pulling out things and making patterns. It’s a little like fishing – you need to be still and calm so as not to spook your prey and it helps if you can cast a hook to catch them on.

Finding is also a little like fresco painting: you have to act boldly before the plaster dries and nothing more can be added.

I Find best when my mind is open and my emotions are engaged and when I feel so full that if I don’t write something I will burst.

I Find badly or not at all when I’m empty or jaded or tired or depressed. If I keep trying to Find when that mood is on me I either come away empty-handed or I fool myself into seeing silver where there is only tin. In the first case I feel sterile and talentless and in the second I feel foolish and frustrated.

When the glamour of the initial Find wears off you realize that sparkle alone is not enough. A good story structures imagery, dialogue, character, plot and pace to create something coherent, something that presents the sparkle effortlessly. The structure is something that should not draw attention to itself but is absolutely fundamental to what’s going on.

One of the reasons that a story lingers on my C Drive is that the underlying structure is broken. Something doesn’t work. The next piece of the story refuses to be grafted on to what went before or else simply refuses to reveal itself. This is where Fixing comes in.

Fixing
is an ineffable process; a hybrid born of craft and intuition. A sculptor was once asked how she turned a piece of rough marble into a life-like statue of a dog. She replied that she simply cut away all the stone that wasn’t dog. This kind of intuition helps you sense where there story is broken and how it needs to be reset to grow whole. Craft provides the tools to make the repairs.

Sometimes the break is because the narrative thrust has run out of steam and the whole thing is taking too long. Sometimes the plot dead-ends or you have no idea what the character will do next. Finding the break is a little like searching for the puncture on tire that seems to be whole but deflates under pressure.

Once my intuitive sense of the story locates the break, I lay out my craft tools to fix it: can I change the point of view, edit down the text, put more exposition in dialog, change the tense or the timeline or simply leave stuff out.

I Fix best when I’m focused and patient and intolerant of imperfection.

I can’t Fix in a hurry.

I can’t Fix until I have some distance from the story.

For me, the hardest of the three Fs is Finishing.

Finishing
is the eldest child in the family, the sensible one that is right more often than they are fun. A person can lose themselves in endless rounds of Finding and Fixing because they are fun to do. But without Finishing, Finding is just a game and Fixing degenerates into tinkering, a triumph of craft over purpose.

Most stories, when you read them, have a beginning, a middle and an end. But when you write them, stories are not at all like that. The middle demands that you move it, the beginning wants another turn and the end refuses to come when you call.

Finishing is about discipline and clarity. It is how writers keep their implied contract with the readers. Mondrian’s work has been described as taking a line for a walk. The writer takes the reader on a journey and has the responsibility for deciding when the destination has been reached.

Finishing involves being able to hold the whole story in your mind and survey its proportions. Like Fixing, it involves intuition – this time of the “is it done yet?” kind.

In some ways Finishing is the antithesis of Finding. It is about resolving probabilities to 1 or O not about extending the curve.

Finishing requires judgment and confidence. If Finding is infatuation with a new love, Finishing is affection for a long term friend.

I Finish best when I am alert but not excited. When I feel the pull or structure and order.

I Finish badly when I am frustrated or bored or out of time. In those circumstances I end the story rather than finish it.

So how does a dilettante like myself use the three Fs to get produce stories without feeling like I’m back at work?

The first step is to be clear on which F I’m going to use today – each F is a sail I can catch the wind with but I can’t put up two sails at once.

The next step is being able to link my mood, my reason for writing today, to the appropriate F, there’s no point trying Find when I’m tired, or Fix when I’m urgent or Finish when I’m still in the love with the idea.

Keeping It Real – How to avoid writer’s burn out

Hi, I’m the new guy trying to fill Ashley Lister’s shoes each Thursday on “Oh Get A Grip”.

Under the name Mike Kimera, I write fiction about sex and lust and the things they do to us. Under my real name, I make my living as a management consultant.

So, does that make Mike Kimera real or fake?

I chose the name “Kimera” thinking that it would be obvious that it was not a real name (Kimera = Chimera – how smart am I?). I wanted to be honest about being fake. I didn’t realise that in the US, Kimera is a real name so the only one who knew I was fake was me.

That happens to me a lot.

I’ve been writing as Mike Kimera for ten years or so now. Over that time he has become real to me. There are things he would write and things he would not. He is a construct, a cyber-life, but he is, in his way, as real as the person who turns up at clients and helps them build strategies.

What does any of this have to do with burn out?

I created Mike Kimera as a way of avoiding burn out.

I have the kind of job where talented people think that they can solve any problem if they work hard enough and long enough. It’s the kind of job where people push themselves until they break. Then, one day, they can’t cope: they are overwhelmed, hollow, hopeless, useless to themselves and others.

We all know this. We’ve all seen it. We just know it won’t happen to us because… well it just won’t.

I realised that, to avoid burn out, I needed to have something else in my life. Something that allowed me to exist beyond work. Something that set me free.

At first, that was all there was to it. But freedom, unfettered, boundless, ruleless, targetless freedom is not something I have a talent for.

I’m obsessed with patterns and structures and relationships. I couldn’t just be Mike Kimera, I had to have a rationale for being Mike Kimera.

I arrived at the understanding that I didn’t want to be free; I wanted to be real.

I wanted a space where I could say all those things that the other me would self-censor out of existence.

I discovered that what interested me about sex and lust is that they can tell us who we are. The insights we have about what we want, what we lust after, what we yearn for, and the things we are willing to do, and the things we refuse to do, to get them define something real at the heart of our identity.

I discovered that what I found compelling about writing is how all consuming it is. There is just you, your imagination and the blank screen… until you write the first sentence. Then there is you and the story and the fight to get the story on the page. When I’m writing, there is nothing else. It is what Csikszentmihalyi meant by a “flow” experience: intrinsically motivating, a source of happiness.

And then, one day, you lose it.

Writer’s Burn Out.

I don’t mean being too tired to write or having no ability to write. I’m talking about losing the will to write because writing no longer makes you happy.

When this happens to me I realise that I’ve started to treat writing the way I treat my job: something that I’m good at and do as well as I can but which doesn’t really mean anything to me.

I’ve stopped being real.

The real part is the source of the joy. No real, no joy. Simple.

So how do you get the real back?I’m going to offer two things.

The first is from the management consultant me. Don’t panic, I’m from the keep-them-entertained-and-they’ll-pay-more school of consultancy.

The second is a short piece of text that I wrote when I was feeling burnt out and needed solace.

So here’s the first part.

In management consultant land, one of the currently fashionable ideas is “authenticity” (a hard sell in the business world -“Authenticity? Yeah, I can see that’s important. If we can fake that, everything else will be easier). To make money from an idea like that, you need a quadrant diagram. I’ve adapted the one that Pine and Gilmore came up with back in 2007.

Here’s the deal.

As a writer you have two opportunities to be real. The first is to be true to yourself: what you believe in, what you want the writing to achieve, what turns you on, what means something to you. The second is to be true to the expectations you set with your readers about the kind of story this is, about the kind of writer you are, about the kind of reader you expect them to be.

The diagram shows these two opportunities to be real as a quadrant.

Fake Fake: the bottom left-hand corner is always the worst place to be on a quadrant diagram. Here what you’re writing is something your readers won’t believe and something that you don’t believe in.
My advice: stop writing, you’re wasting everyone’s time

Real Fake:This is where the reader accepts the reality of what you’re writing. You get fan mail saying how great it is. BUT you think it’s phoney, pulp fiction churned out to a formula.
My advice, if you need to pay the bills and there’s a good market, go for it but don’t expect joy; that’s why pay is called compensation.

Fake Real: you’ve written your heart out. You’ve described the essence of the human condition, your own prose leaves you in tears but no one else gets it. To them is seems contrived, over-written, unrealistic, inaccessible. Perhaps “Finnegan’s Wake” is in this quadrant or perhaps Joyce was just taking the piss.
My advice: if it gives you joy, if it helps you to see the world more clearly, write it anyway BUT challenge yourself. Blake said “Truth can never be told so as to be understood and not be believed.” Maybe you have to work on how you tell your truth.

Real Real: the top right-hand corner is the source of maximum joy: you are writing what you feel in your heart, what you know in your bones. You are pushing yourself to do the difficult thing and write naked in front of your audience, AND they’re right there with you. Your story stays on their skin like the sweat of a lover after sex, it touches something inside them that goes beyond words, they use your words to express their truth.
My advice: If this isn’t what you’re trying for when you sit at the keyboard, you’re really missing out on something. When this works, even a little, there is no greater high.

O.K. , seminar over. Here’s the piece of text that I promised. Enjoy. I hope to see you next week.

“Fireflies”

(c) Mike Kimera 2010

When the wounds of the day
And the sleep-debt of the week
Tap in to my bone-deep well of sadness,
Fierce anger ignites
Bringing momentary warmth and light
At the cost of a mouthful of ashes

Afterwards, in the cooling dark
Rocking slowly back and forth
I wrap myself in a thin blanket of regret,
Mourning the delight life once brought me

Finally, in the still quiet of my exhausted mind,
Words, unbidden but welcome, flicker into being
Little fireflies of hope dancing in the dark
Dispelling gloom with evocations of past happiness
And the promise that joy will rise with the sun