Flight of the Vajra: On Not Blaming The Sandbox Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2012-11-29 21:00:00 No comments

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There is a story related in Skywalking, Dale Pollock's book about George Lucas's life and career (up until about the mid-'80s, anyway), where Lucas was attempting to write an early version of the outline for Star Wars and just auguring head-first into the same walls over and over again. "Why can't I make this work?" he lamented. The fact that he was not gifted with a writer's voice only made things worse; everything he put on paper only seemed to thicken the murk, not lift it.

There have been many parts of working on Flight of the Vajra that were like that for me, and which remain like that even now that I'm halfway through the second draft edit process.

It's been bad enough at times to make me think, "I hate science fiction." A selfish point of view to be sure: yes, you only hate it because you can't pull it off. The attitude of the jealous quitter. Some parts of what drove me crazy were things echoed in critiques of other SF works — namely, the nature of so much SF to be built on top of esssentially arbitrary rules. How the author bends (or breaks) those rules says a lot about his attitude towards his material and his story, which is why a common critique of storytelling generally, not just SF or fantasy, is that it's contrived.

I felt annoyed with myself for seeing how this was a problem, and yet at the same time spinning out one airtight justification after another to keep right on indulging in it. Those stories didn't work because they were "contrived", but mine wasn't contrived because ... you get the idea. The second draft rewrite process has only rubbed my nose in those mistakes all the more abrasively. Well, that's why you rewrite: to see what you did wrong and to do what you can about it.

All the same, I have no delusions that I'm only going to be able to improve this story so much. The old saw about creative work never being completed but only abandoned applies here. I could polish this thing until I was fifty, or I could give it the best whack I can, kick it out there, learn what I can from it, and move on to the next thing — which may not even be better, but at least will be different.

If nothing else it's a good proving ground for dealing with the I-hate-SF-for-being-arbitrary bugaboo, which in my case I know it is little more than an attempt to shift the blame for my own shortcomings. A friend of mine who had more patience than any five of me put together once admonished someone else about a particular online form for (gasp) having rules: "Have fun, and if you can't have fun, then don't blame the sandbox." Blame the sandbox as I might, that didn't change a thing about it; why blame a mountain for being tall?

It's also not like I didn't know what I was getting into. And when I look into it as best I can, it's not as if I think there are "better" things that lie elsewhere outside of SF. I picked SF for a reason, not least of which being there are things that can be done with it which simply aren't possible elsewhere. Or rather, they're possible, just not in the manner, the form, the mood, or the tone that you get from SF — all of which when rolled together become as idiosyncratic as the differences between whole authors.

As painful as it is to know I might not be very good at this, it's enlightening to find I have the nerve to try and better myself. If I didn't, I find it unlikely that I would have written 350,000 words, let alone gone back to rewrite it. Out of that will come whatever capacity I have to improve. Besides: what other mind, except the one I have sitting here, do I have available to write this thing with? Nobody summons the future by waiting for it with their hands folded. So off we go, chaps.

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Also. I've written before about other writers having contempt for "in the house and around the yard fiction", which manifests either as recherche experimentalism or as SF/fantasy (and I find the impulse to write the latter as a response a tot healthier than the former, but that's another essay). The Four-Day Weekend was as "in the house and around the yard" as I was likely to get, and even there I wanted to mine things that I felt sparkled a bit more than the other things in my life. Jumping away from that to Vajra wasn't me flipping my nose up at the everyday, just as leaving Vajra to work on something more quotidian isn't going to be a sign that I think SF is a bag of tricks at best and a literary con game at worst. These dichotomies only exist when we demand they do.

Tags: Flight of the Vajra science fiction writing