Writing With Your Body

Among the many ideas I like to poke holes in is the concept that our bodies and minds are somehow separate things. Our bodies are absolutely fundamental to the way our thinking works, and can be a great source of writing energy and inspiration. Yesterday I had the honour of rambling on this subject over on Felip Adan Lerma’s blog. Here’s the beginning of that post:

Writing with your body

Sancho McCann

Thinking, and therefore writing, is about more than just our brains. Those squishy masses of grey cells and synapses sit within our bodies and are inextricably entangled with them. Despite the dualistic thinking that we sometimes slip into, the mind and body are not separate.

For writers this has two main implications. One is that you really need to take care of your body. But the more exciting implication is that you can use your body to help you to think and write better…


To read more, including some practical ideas for moving your body around and so sharpening your writing, head on over and read Guest Post : Andrew Knighton – Writing With Your Body.

And tomorrow the roles are reversed, as Felipe Adan brings his own thoughts on writing to this blog, celebrating the joys of short form writing.


In the meantime, don’t forget to check out my new story collection, Riding the Mainspring, available on all your different Amazons, including Amazon.com for the Americans, Amazon.co.uk for us Brits, and of course the much-neglected Canadian Amazon (there you go Sue – this time I included Canada!).


Exercise photo by Sancho McCann via Flickrcreative commons.

Enough with the ‘steampunk’ already! – a guest post on JoshPunk

I’m a bit of a pedant when it comes to words. Precision matters. Meaning matters. The subtler implications of words matter.

And on that theme, my blog post for today isn’t actually here, but is over at Josh Stanton’s excellent JoshPunk blog. It starts something like this…

Enough with the ‘steampunk’ already!

I love the things that make up steampunk. I love the strange, half-historical style. I love the adventurous literature, comics and music. I love dressing up as a Victorian manservant with a tea tray full of cake and bullets, ready to take on Rasputin and his automaton minions (OK, they were ninjas not automata, but other than that that’s how I once spent my Sunday).

But there’s one thing that bugs me more and more. It’s the word we use to identify this style and this culture. It’s the signifier of what it’s all about. And for me, it’s starting to fall flat.

It’s calling it ‘steampunk’.

To read the rest of the article, please hop on over to Josh’s blog.

Joshua Stanton – gentleman, scholar and steampunk gunslinger

The Freedom of the Modern Writer

I had a guest post earlier this week on Wayne Halm’s Golfing on Kauai blog. That might seem an odd choice, given that my one encounter with golf involved ripping my back open on barbed wire at the age of twelve (it’s a funnier story than it sounds – well, less hideous anyway). But Wayne also discusses writing on his blog, and my post is about that – about where we’re at right now as writers and readers. So please pop on over to Wayne’s blog and enjoy The Freedom of the Modern Writer. And while you’re there why not read up on your golf? Just beware the barbed wire.

* * *

On an unrelated note, thank you to those of you who took the time to respond to my post yesterday about depression, whether with a comment, a like, or talking with me about it elsewhere. That was a tough post for me to write and put out into the world, but it was important to me to say it, and your supportive feedback meant a lot.

Tomorrow there’ll be a link to another guest post I’ve written, this time for Josh Stanton. So the second half of my discussion from Monday will finally appear on Friday. Maybe. Assuming nothing else comes up in the meantime.

Wow, when did this place suddenly get so busy?

Dealing with depression

Today is going to be different. I’m going to talk about depression, without flippancy or silly captions. I’m going to share something I’ve only skirted around here before. It seems the most appropriate response to today’s sad news.

I was in my mid teens when I discovered Dead Poets Society. I loved that film and what it stood for, the idea that we could break the mould of expectation and live the lives we wanted. The film’s ending, which shows how social disapproval can break some people but can never break those dreams, added to the film’s power.

Over the years that followed I lost track of that message, of the value of living the life your really, truly want. That led to years wasted in dissatisfaction, followed by my own fight with depression, a fight that I still face even as I type these words. I am healthier and happier for facing that depression, for acknowledging and coming to terms with it, but it has been, and still is, a terrible journey.

That e-book I’ve been talking about for ages? The one I’ve got a cover for, remember that? The main reason it’s not out there and in the hands of readers is my struggle with depression. Because sometimes, when I get emotionally tangled, a ten minute task can feel like a labour beyond the will of Hercules.

The sad news that Dead Poets Society star Robin Williams killed himself following a battle with depression therefore feels horribly poignant. While I have never felt a suicidal impulse, I understand why someone suffering the crushing weight of depression might take that way out. It is never the right answer, but when you feel an unbearable strain just at the thought of getting out of bed in the morning, of deciding what to eat, of putting on your pants, it’s easy to see how oblivion appeals. I wish that he had found another way. I wish that more people did.

For all that our culture has spent years trying to teach us to follow our dreams, society shows us a very different model. That we should live the lives expected of us. That we should not try to live by our desires or express our despairs. It’s no wonder that depression is so prevalent, or so misunderstood.

Clinical depression is not just a bad mood. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain that can make it impossible to recover without help. It often goes undiagnosed and untreated, festering and worsening.

There is no shame in seeking help when you are feeling down, in seeking medical advice and rest when the sad feelings become too much. The part of your brain that’s telling you to be strong, to pull yourself together, to keep it all in – that’s bullshit, that’s like telling someone with a broken leg to go run a marathon. It’s keeping you from getting better, and it’s making the problem worse.

People around you will want to help. Let them.

I’m going to finish with a section taken from the NHS website on symptoms of depression. Please, have a read, and if you think there’s a chance you might be suffering from depression then go and see your doctor. If there’s someone close to you who you think might be suffering, share the list with them.

I struggle with depression still, but it has got better. It keeps getting better. There is always hope.

From the NHS symptoms of clinical depression page:

If you experience some of these symptoms for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.

Psychological symptoms include:

  • continuous low mood or sadness
  • feeling hopeless and helpless
  • having low self-esteem
  • feeling tearful
  • feeling guilt-ridden
  • feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • having no motivation or interest in things
  • finding it difficult to make decisions
  • not getting any enjoyment out of life
  • feeling anxious or worried
  • having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself


Physical symptoms include:

  • moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • change in appetite or weight (usually decreased, but sometimes increased)
  • constipation
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • lack of energy or lack of interest in sex (loss of libido)
  • changes to your menstrual cycle
  • disturbed sleep (for example, finding it hard to fall asleep at night or waking up very early in the morning)


Social symptoms include:

  • not doing well at work
  • taking part in fewer social activities and avoiding contact with friends
  • neglecting your hobbies and interests
  • having difficulties in your home and family life


Fighting writing pains – some exercises for the shoulders

One of the biggest problems I’ve faced working full time at a keyboard is muscle pain. As human beings we’re just not built for this posture, and sometimes it really hurts. So today I have a guest post on Everwalker’s blog about how to avoid those pains, including some practical exercises. Please, if you sit at a computer for much of your day, go check out Fighting writing pains – some exercises for the shoulders.


Guardians of the Galaxy

I’m going to keep this short, because it’s not going to be very balanced or intelligent. I loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Prime reasons include:

  • the characters – all five leads were interesting in different ways
  • the humour – including the fact that Starlord knows he’s making jokes at inappropriate moments, and that’s the only way this ridiculous man-child can get through life
  • the emotional beats – yes they were a bit cheesy, but they worked
  • the visuals – they took the absurd mishmash of Marvel’s cosmic continuity and ran with it – giant head-mine floating in space anyone?

This is the opposite end of the Marvel film spectrum from Captain America. It’s knowingly silly. It takes characters so obscure I’ve barely heard of them and makes you love them. It uses special effects not to create something believable but to show something so inconceivable that you just roll with the technicolour glory of it all.

I had high hopes for this film. It lived up to them. I am very pleased.

A raccoon with a gun - the film summed up in one absurd image
A raccoon with a gun – the film summed up in one absurd image

Art, gender and the magic Pope – some weekend reading

Hey hey hey, it’s Saturday! Time to watch cartoons in our pyjamas then curl up with a good book. Or to cram in some fun writing while we’re not busy trying to earn the pennies to pay for those Batman pyjamas (only kidding, I don’t have Batman pyjamas, I have Animal from the Muppets instead).

I keep meaning to make Saturday the day when I share cool links I’ve stumbled across during the week, for your entertainment and my lazy blogging. But then I think of something I really want to write about and that falls apart. Well not this week. So this week here’s some links:

Some beautiful pictures to look at – Chinese covers of Lord of the Rings books, courtesy of Tor.com.

Something to think about – a discussion of strong female characters from Dan Diego Comic Con, again via Tor.

Something to make you go wtf, and maybe inspire some writing – Dr Beachcombing on a real life sorcerer pope.

And finally something gloriously joyful to listen to, from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s The Heist, which is currently on heavy rotation on my iPhone:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes&w=560&h=315]


Have a great weekend folks!

How to Communicate With Your Dragon

I’m a big fan of How To Train Your Dragon, and also of Sue Archer’s Doorway Between Worlds blog, where she discusses communication lessons from science fiction and fantasy. So today I’m proud to present a guest post for DBW all about communication in How To Train Your Dragon. Please go check it out, and while you’re there have a browse around Doorway Between Worlds – I particularly recommend the article ‘Would Your Captain Be Proud?’

Addiction, loss and division – internal conflicts in The Drawing of the Three

Whether or not you think that characters are defined by their conflicts, those conflicts are clearly important to telling a good story. Internal conflicts and struggles make characters more interesting, and make it more difficult for them to face their external conflicts, adding to the tension in a good plot.

Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three, which I talked about in general terms yesterday, is a great example of this, and of how to create these conflicts in different ways.

Dark Tower 2a

Physical challenges – Roland’s fingers

Roland, the protagonist of the book, is a gunslinger. His skill set, his confidence, even his sense of identity is built around that role. And straight away, within a few pages of the start of the book, his gunslinging ability is impaired when a lobster monster hacks off two fingers from his right hand.

Suddenly Roland is in conflict with his own body and his own instincts. He has to learn to function without wielding a gun in that hand, to re-make the habits and ways of behaving that keep him alive. King has inverted a common trope of both fantasy and westerns, where the hero shrugs off and forgets serious wounds, and instead made his hero’s struggle with his own body a major plot point.

Challenges of will – Eddie’s addiction

Eddie, the first of the three characters Roland draws to him, is an addict. His drug habit defines his whole life – his friends, his enemies, the trouble he’s in as we first meet him and the far greater trouble he gets into later on. But this is about more than providing external threats, it’s about defining Eddie’s internal conflicts.

King provides a compelling picture of a man facing that addiction. Eddie wants to be free of the drugs, yet at the same time he doesn’t. It’s a conflict that highlights the complexity of human will. Not all of our conflicts are as straightforward as wanting something and striving to make it happen. Desire is complex, willpower can be hard to muster, and that battle for will is Eddie’s conflict. It makes it hard for him to achieve what he needs to at times. It breaks both his body and his mind. But it also allows us to see Eddie’s strength, the battle showing that he might have the will to get through this, and through the other challenges on the way to the Dark Tower.

Odetta and Detta – extreme internal conflict

Then there’s Odetta and Detta, two personalities inhabiting the same body, both in denial about the other’s existence. It’s like King has taken the idea of internal conflict and pushed it to the greatest extreme he can think of. The two personalities are so distinct it almost becomes an external conflict, as we wait to see whether Odetta can fight off her dark self and retain not only control of her own body but continuing existence within her own mind.

The whole spread

King shows us a wide range of internal conflict in The Drawing of the Three. Each character faces a different sort of major conflict, and lesser struggles deriving from that. These conflicts are externalised through the character’s actions, not just dealt with through paragraphs of inner monologue. They make everything else more difficult and more interesting.

If you’re thinking about how to write internal conflict and so make interesting characters then I really recommend reading this book. And if you’re reading it already then keep an eye out for internal conflict, both as a writerly tool on display and as a theme of the story.

Enough from me. If you’ve read the book what did you think of its exploration of these characters? And even if you haven’t, what other great internal character conflicts can you think of?