I spent part of yesterday in a dentist's chair, getting two wisdom teeth extracted. I spent the rest of the day in bed, recovering.
I spent part of yesterday in a dentist's chair, getting two wisdom teeth extracted. I spent the rest of the day in bed, recovering. That stuff knocks you out, even when you don't actually hurt.
How I tried to write my new novel and failed, but now have a far better battle plan.
This past weekend I finished assembling a document — outline, synopsis, "description draft", maybe? I'm not sure what name would be best. It runs down the entire storyline of Charisma in significant detail — not just the plot but also the mood, the flavor, bits of dialogue, key pieces of interiority, etc. All this stemmed from attempting to write a first draft based on what amounted to a bullet outline, and failing.
In creative work there are no genres or labels, but only problems and the attempts to solve them.
Karl Popper (in Conjectures and Refutations) once said: "Genuine philosophical problems are always rooted in urgent problems outside philosophy, and they die if those roots decay." He wasn't interested in philosophy for its own sake, as that tended to turn sterile and reductive, spiraling down into meaningless arguments about the definitions of words. He was interested in the way real-world problems gave rise to larger questions: "What is the nature of light?" for him was a far less interesting or useful question than "Why does light bend when it passes a strong gravitational source?"
This went hand-in-hand with another belief of his: there are no such things as disciplines as such except in a taxonomic sense, but only problems and the attempts to solve them. Physics, for instance, is just a name we give to certain problem-fields or problem-aspects. It's useful to remember this as a guard against the snobbery of specialization. I feel you could say the same things about art, or storytelling.
If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you’re not a writer. But that doesn't mean other writers owe you anything.
From a great story about how screenwriter Josh Olson got cornered by an amateur and forced to give some feedback on said amateur's (terrible) screenplay:
I was dying to find something positive to say, and there was nothing. And the truth is, saying something positive about this thing would be the nastiest, meanest and most dishonest thing I could do. Because here’s the thing: not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you’re not a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, I’ve done you a favor, because now you’ll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty screenplays and asking me to read them.
Or at least transcend them. How my childhood fandom interests pointed the way beyond to future creation.
I don't think I'm going to surprise a single living soul out there when I say two of the big things that filled the space of my imagination in my childhood were Star Trek and Star Wars. What might come as more of a surprise was how, now that I think about it, any feelings I had for those things were paired with another set of feelings that took a long time to articulate.
Those other feelings were, as I came to realize, a sense of dismay and dissatisfaction — the feeling that just receiving these things as-is wasn't going to be enough for me, the sense that I had to transcend them and build the things I would really care about, that the things that truly mattered didn't yet exist — and that I was not good enough to make that happen. Certainly not as a kid barely into his double digits, and maybe not even as a young adult.
Each book of mine has been about going a place I haven't gone yet, and seeing what I can bring back with me.
I have always been restless in my work. Each book has been an experiment with a form and a genre, sometimes a sub-genre. Each has been about going a place I haven't gone yet, and seeing what I can bring back with me. Sometimes it's a little, sometimes it's a lot. Sometimes I come back empty-handed. But I always want to keep going somewhere new and reporting from that front.
Another year, another round of book purging from my collection. What stays and what goes, and why?
One thing moving three times in around ten years taught me was how not to cling to things so aggressively. This past weekend I pulled everything out of the bookcases in my office and gave them another long, hard look, and sent another 20-30 volumes into the donations box. The most consistent theme with the books I purged is Stuff I Hung Onto Out Of Some Sense Of Obligation — things I was going to write about, or which I persuaded myself were "important", or some mix of the two. Now I look at them and realize any window of time I had to use them in the way I had in mind has closed, or that I've already taken everything I can from them and don't need to kid myself.
On reading/consuming for enjoyment vs. reading/consuming for research.
I eat around three meals a day, sometimes a sort-of fourth if I'm up late. I also take two prescribed drugs, although there's a good chance one or both of them will end up being merely provisional. When I eat a meal, I know it's for the sake of my survival, but I also try to make it enjoyable. The world would be a far less interesting place without cuisine as opposed to mere nourishment. But when I take medicine, I wash the pill down with a gulp of water and go back to business. The most we can realistically expect from medicine is to allow it to do its job with minimal side effects. Enjoyment is not part of the package.
I think I've been experiencing a confusion, over the last several years, between the things I read or watch for enjoyment (the "cuisine") and the things I read/watch/consume for constructive application (the "medication"). That is, I have a bad tendency to stall on reading this or that book because I feel like it's not going to be immediately useful to the project I'm working on. It's not actually research; it's goofing-off. But then I have a hard time finding "research" material that's directly applicable to the subject I'm employing in my story, and so I end up in a paralysis loop that only breaks when I just pick something up and crack the spine.
My weekend PC misadventures and beyond.
Well, I was going to get some work done on Charisma over the long weekend. I did, sort of, but only in the face of some serious technical difficulties.
For any one truly good book I would risk being bored by ten more.
I have, as far as I can recall, only ever walked out of two movies that I paid to see in a theater. The first was Big Trouble — no, not the Tim Allen movie (which is actually decently funny), but the 1986 Peter Falk/Alan Arkin movie, now almost entirely forgotten, and blissfully so. I sat through 40 minutes of this thing, which felt like it had been pasted together entirely from rushed first takes of scenes, before deciding the walls in the theater bathroom looked more interesting. The other was Crash — no, not the David Cronenberg adaptation of J.G. Ballard's novel, but the 2004 Best Picture winner that for me was further evidence of how most Best Picture Oscars have shelf lives comparable to room-temperature milk. I didn't walk out of The English Patient, but only because I saw it at home — I sat through a little over an hour of that solemn twaddle parade before turning it off. And I ended up going back and rewatching what I didn't see of Crash when I came across it on TV one night, and it confirmed that I had indeed spared myself the cinematic equivalent of a case of food poisoning.
For the most part, though, I don't walk out of something I took the trouble to get out of the house to see. I'm picky enough about what I see in a theater to generally ensure I'm seeing something I'm at least curious enough about to finish. Very rarely do I bail from something I have already made an initial and sizable commitment to. I stay through mostly to be able to say my sense of the thing is valid.
But books are a different case, and I don't know if that's because of the form factor or because I've tried to read far more books in my time than I have tried to watch films. I bail on books more aggressively now than I used to, because I somehow feel far more acutely how even an only mediocre book (as opposed to a flat-out bad one) is not a worthy investment of my time. I feel more these days that given the choice between a middling or bad book, or no book at all, I'll take no book at all.