Cognitive behavioural therapy

On Writing


I love Stephen King so I stole one of the titles from one of his non-fiction books for this post. He’s my favourite author and The Dark Tower series of books are the best fantasy/sci-fi/western/mindfuck books you will ever read. Seriously if you have not read King’s opus then you really should. The first book in the series is called The Gunslinger, go get it now! The book I stole the title for this post from is a work discussing the craft of writing. It’s also the closest thing you’ll ever get to a Stephen King autobiography and is very interesting, so you should read it. Anyway moving on, this is a post about writing.

I am not a writer. I used to enjoy writing stories and making stupid comics when I was very young but as soon as I got access to computers any creative part of me died and I became a computer nerd instead. Also, whilst I have a decent command of the English language I am rather ignorant of the proper ‘rules’ you are supposed to follow when writing a novel. I’m not an idiot, I understand the rules of grammar mostly, but I’ve always felt like I didn’t know enough about the syntax of language to make a worthwhile story that would captivate readers. So it’s with some embarrassment that I sometimes tell people that I’ve been trying to write a novel for some time now.

I’ve had a story in my head for quite some time. It’s got the basic elements realised i.e. I know what the main plot line is and where it takes place, as well as the overall theme. However it’s languishing in a notepad file and I haven’t really thought about it for some time until recently.

It’s a semi-autobiographical horror story, set in a somewhat fictionalised version of the town in which I currently reside. I have had the idea for a while but only started actually putting pen to paper back in November when a friend and I both took part in National Novel Writing Month. For those who aren’t aware NaNoWriMo runs every year, and is supposed to encourage budding writers to produce a novel (well more like a novella, 50,000 words) inside of one month by setting daily targets. I started out pretty well but gave up around the 12,000 word mark.

See the thing is, I hate targets. Having a daily word target shoved in my face every time I logged in to my NaNoWriMo dashboard really pissed me off. I gave up partly because meeting targets when doing something for pleasure or because you want to is completely counter intuitive in my opinion and partly because depression sucks your ambition out your ass through a straw. But lately I’ve been thinking about my book and thinking that I want to get back to it. I keep having ideas that I think would work well with the story and my therapist has set me tasks as part of my cognitive behavioural therapy, tasks that involve thinking about the novel.

I might decide to put what I have so far up on here so other people can read it and pass judgement. Like I said I’m not a writer and my writing style is unconventional and probably leaves a lot to be desired (my wife HATES it) so nobody should expect anything great. My biggest gripe is that I just don’t think I am good enough to produce anything of worth. Being a non-creative person who doesn’t really understand ‘how to write’ is constantly playing on my mind.

Conversely though I sometimes think, “So fucking what?”. There are plenty of examples from history where unconventional writers have gained mainstream success. The Beat Generation in the 50’s spawned some fantastic authors who definitely wouldn’t have their books on sale at airport kiosks. Try reading The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs to get an idea of what I mean, the non-chronological structure and obvious drug induced ramblings make it a difficult but worthwhile book to get through. I’m not comparing myself to Burroughs at all, but it gives me hope that there is a place in the world for those who don’t just write cookie cutter style stories that obey strict and rigid grammatical rules. That’s why I like King so much, because he plays with language (seemingly effortlessly) and breaks ‘rules’ all the time.

So tonight I’m going to try and write a few chapters. I’ll have to read through what I’ve got so far to refresh my memory, in the process I MAY upload it here, who knows.



Sonder and Stardust

Sonder is a relatively new concept. In short, it’s the realisation that everyone around you has their own stream of consciousness, their own complex thought patterns, their own dreams & fears. Look here’s a pretentious, artsy GIF that gets the message across better than I can:


So basically when you walk past someone in the street and you see them staring into space and you think “I wonder what’s going on there…” That’s sonder. A strange term but one I like and one I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It’s part of my new and fragile ethos of ‘choose how you react to things better’. Instead of getting pissed off and angry at the guy who rushes past you in the train station and knocks you out of the way, consider that they might be in a hurry for something that is very important to them. Maybe they are running to catch a connecting bus to go to the hospital to visit their dying father, or maybe they are late for a meeting with an old friend they haven’t seen for years. Point is, you’ll never know exactly why. They could just be an inconsiderate asshole who pushes people out of the way because ‘they’ are more important, but you’ll never truly know, so why spend time and energy getting bothered by it?

I should stress that this is really something I haven’t even considered until quite recently. Of course it was right for me to get pissed off at these kinds of GRIEVOUS OFFENCES AGAINST MY PERSON! Of course it is they who are the asshole! I never really saw it from any other perspective, so I’m trying to change that.

So when I see lone people on the street, I wonder what they are thinking. Sometimes when I walk past them it feels like our beta waves synchronise and I can read their thoughts. I can tell if someone is happy, sad, contemplative, worried, anxious, angry. Not all of the time, but sometimes.

Sonder lets me be that person, if only for a nanosecond. I don’t mean I become them, that’s dumb, but on some level I feel like a connection is made to another sentient creature whether we like it or not. Perhaps we are all just a floating consciousness and our physical bodies are nothing more than a projection our minds give us to make us feel more comfortable.

Anyway my point is that sonder is something that allows me to regard other humans as more than just ‘the dick that pushed me down as he ran through the station’ and suchlike. Our shared consciousness is the only thing that really makes us who we are. We are not our physical bodies, it’s just meat and organs and blood. Our minds are not tangible things that you can see or touch, and yet they are still very real.

Which brings me to the other thing. It’s all made of stardust. Everything.

I just had my second therapy session where we started to do some cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) tailored for me. Despite my initial resistance to CBT I am willing to give it another shot, plus the therapist is quite good at explaining how it can be very different for different people and doesn’t seem to be bullshitting me. Part of the first steps in my CBT is to identify what some of my core beliefs are. She had inferred several already from our sessions together and one of the things she put down was nihilism. For those who are not aware Nihilism is a doctrine, most famously adopted by Friedrich Nietzsche, which posits that life – that is, human life and all life on earth (possibly the universe) –  is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value. Now I DO believe this, but not in the way you may think.

I consider myself an armchair progressive nihilist. Life doesn’t have a purpose, there is no crazy god that demands your worship, and there is no real meaning to it all. But that’s the whole point, you make of life what you see fit. The point of life is to come up with a point and that is not a bad thing, it’s actually quite beautiful if you stop to think about it. We and literally everything around us are all composed of elementary particles created in the heart of a star. We are here by virtue of an ancient cosmic explosion that allowed the heavier elements to form out of the fusion of hydrogen and helium which provides the nuclear fuel for all the stars you see in the night sky. We are random collections of energy and matter and the fact that we are here at all to comment on that is incredible, is it not?

We don’t need a meaning to life, we don’t need a big all-encompassing reason to be. We are here and we are conscious and we can observe and influence our environment. There doesn’t need to be a point and there is nothing wrong with that. Some people covet money and some people want fame. Some people wish to eat only of the earth and not from the bodies of animals. Some people want to play music and some people want to play football. Some people take drugs and some people don’t. It is enough that we have those options available to us, we do not need arbitrary reasons for it all. We are at the behest of the cosmic giggle and we will continue to be long after our physical manifestations wither & die and the protons & neutrons that make up the atoms in our bodies become recycled into a tree, or a rock, or a flagpole on a far away alien planet.

We are all made of stars, and that’s totally fine. If that makes me a nihilist then I will wear that badge with pride.


p.s. Here is some music that I associate with sonder because it’s beautiful, just like the concept. Thank You Space Expert: