In March I lost my sight in one of my eyes and have spent much of the past two months face down with an eyeball shot full of gas. Skillful surgery has saved most of my sight, thankfully.
Being forced off the computer and unable to move too much, I could do little but think, read and write by hand. And I gained a different point of view.
Before this happened, I’d planned to write a Chinese New Year article—here are the pictures I took. Blue lights in Taipei.
Years ago, I read a Michael Moorcock novel (The Knight of Swords) in which the hero is given a magical eye, and whenever he lifts his eyepatch, he sees into another world. I’ve felt something like that recently as I looked out of my gassy eye looking into a strange world.
The first silver lining was reading (with one eye). I read a lot: fantasy and nonfiction. I finished Robin Hobb’s Rainwild Chronicles, then moved through her Fitz and the Fool trilogy, and the less exciting Soldier Son trilogy. I read a lot of more recent fantasy, including many authors I’d not tried before: Mark Lawrence, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, DW Hawkins and more. Too soon to know what I think about some of these, but I loved the Robin Hobb’s elderling series—Nighteyes is maybe my favourite fantasy animal.
An anime hero in Ximen, Taipei.
I read nonfiction, too. I reread Robert McKee’s Story, which has given me ideas for outlining my third novel and speeding the process up (ironically, after writing about speeding up my writing a few months ago, I go and lose my sight and slow it down instead). I also read on developing creativity and using creativity in business. Working on my creativity was my second silver lining.
Lanterns in Ximending, Taipei.
I experimented with several methods to increase my creativity. Although I feel that I’m creative, I’m always interested in new ways of thinking and seeing the world, and in generating new ideas.
When writing fantasy, I feel very creative, but when I try to write nonfiction, I’ve felt blocked. As the source of much creativity is the unconscious mind, and I’ve been experimenting with several methods to connect the conscious and unconscious parts of my mind. All methods I’ve played with before, but this time I took them further.
I’ve tried to meditate several times in my life; each time with some success, but I’ve never followed through. To be honest, it’s not my favourite activity, but it has benefits: it focusses my mind, and at times, generates ideas or helps me solve problems. I’ve unblocked myself creatively by focussing on a single question and holding the question in my mind. The answer might take a few days to come, but it usually does come, and I’ve sometimes had to jump up and get a pen and paper to start writing while the flow of ideas lasted.
I work part-time at a buddhist university in the mountains in the north of Taiwan, and I’ve spoken to friends and students who spend hours a day sitting in meditation—I’ll never do that—but I’ve experienced benefits from meditating for much smaller amounts of time. My goal was simply fifteen minutes every morning—which was achievable.
My University Library—Clouds sometimes drift through my office.
While I couldn’t write on my computer, I could write by hand in notebooks. I wrote a lot: outlines, plans and parts of stories, and I also restarted free writing.
A few decades ago, I read Dorothea Brande’s, Becoming a Writer, and one of the methods she suggests for all writers is free writing (writing fast and freely without thought for grammar, punctuation or the best word choices, and if you can’t think what to say next, just keep repeating any word or phrase you want until your mind jumps over the block). As a method of creativity, and of overcoming writing blocks, it’s very good.
I’ve recently felt divided between my fiction writing self and my nonfiction writing self: stories seem to flow, but articles, especially those in any way related to the themes of my fiction, have been blocked. Free writing has helped me unblock and connect these two parts. I’ve now filled three large notebooks with free writing, giving me enough ideas for several articles.
I used tarot cards for inspiration, drawing two cards: the first to inspire the direction of my writing, and the second to provide help, if needed. The aim of the free writing has been always to create an article (in the future I’ll focus on other aims, too).
I keep going, even during the moments I’m just writing the same words repeatedly until my brain kicks back into gear and I can start again. A lot of junk comes out, but interesting ideas, too. I plan to continue free writing for the foreseeable future.
Also, writing by hand frees up ideas—and it saves half-formed ideas from the almost instant deletion they’d face on my computer.
The expression, silver lining, most likely comes from the poet John Milton:
Was I deceiv'd, or did a sable cloud
Turn forth her silver lining on the night?
Parts of Paradise Lost inspired characters in my second novel, The Darkling Odyssey—which I’ve just sent to the editor. He went blind when he was in his forties, probably from a similar problem to mine, making me very grateful that I live at a time when surgery has advanced enough save me from the same fate.