I’ve never been much of a painter. The works I have produced, in particular in the last handful of years are a long way from where I started. It isn’t a craft though that I have focused my energies into honing. I find this curious, because when I write, in my mind I see it as indistinguishable from painting. They are one in the same activity for me.
When I sit down with a blank page, I don’t sweat the individual words choices. My first drafts are laden with adverbs, passive voice, run-on sentences and complex words. These get carved into more elegant shape in the many rewrites before I show drafts to other people. When I’m creating the piece though, I focus on the feeling of the scene, and of my characters.
For me, another equivalent like writing and painting, is my characters and my settings. Ore Railway Station is as much a character as Heather; the dead world of Ori as much as any inhabitant upon it. And with all my characters, I see a painting of them made from their embodied emotions. I paint these scenes and characters using my own emotions as the basis.
And as such, my most prominent emotion is the foundation of my work. For those who do not know me all that well, it can be a surprise to know that emotion, by far, is hate. Hatred has been the foundation of who I am as a person for the better part of 15 years, since my early teenage years. Some of it is hate in response to events, in response to my own shortcomings, and to those who cause me grief. But the majority is hate for no reason at all.
In the last five years, I have come to accept that this is a part of me, and in turn, to recognise the fires for what they are. Hatred more than another colour on my palette; it’s my base. My stories are set across many backdrops and house many characters. But for me, writing is about channelling the same story over and over again: the ascension of hope from hate. They are the stories of characters overcoming this raw emotion from others, and from themselves. In many cases, it’s from both.
For several years, I hated the act of writing itself. I would write for manic bursts, a couple of months of extreme activity with some large chasms within. And then, once the project was completed or reached a certain point, the crash lasted for, at times, years. I powered through the creative process with pure rage and then left myself a burned-out husk. I don’t do that anymore, but my fuel remains unchanged after all these years.
So what is the point of this essay? Well, it comes from a brief conversation I had a short while ago on the WattCafe Discord server. In that talk, we discussed writers having stories they hated. I, of course, have two stories – one in progress, one never to see the light of day – that I despise for reasons other than quality. But I rejected the notion that “the correct way” to write was to discard these for stories that I “enjoy”, or made me “happy”.
Happiness is as much of a drain on the human psyche as hatred. I know this because I experience the extreme ends of both. Every emotion I have is an extreme I must reign in, a lifelong problem. It took paying closer attention to recognise the truth that drives my work now. That all emotions have equal footing in writing, and to hate, love, or even fear a story is to apply a different base. And all have their dark sides.
I base all my stories off of those inner fires of undirected fury I deal with every day. But the stories themselves then gain vivid flourishes that give them far more depth. Hate is the base, but it’s not what the reader sees on the final layers of the work. I don’t hate all my stories either. In the series I am writing, the only story I do hate is The Wanderer, but that story is the base for a much broader picture.
I’ve never been much of a painter using paint. But when people read and like my stories, it is because what I am good at painting is emotion. That comes from knowing your full palette. Never be afraid to use any colour. Even those colours you know have tainted your heart for as long as you can remember. If you hate a story, it’s important to ask, do you hate it because it is bad, or is the whole point of the story that you hate it.
Food for thought.