On creating an internally complementary cast of characters.
For some strange and wondrous reason, the Nile Rodgers interview in Behind the Glass has proven to be an endless source of wisdom for me. At one point he talks about complementary dynamics in a song, and how analogies can be drawn between those things and, say, food: "I think of weight and substance, and I understand flavors and ingredients and textures and how to work with sweet and sour, hot and cold, funky and smooth."
Notions like this tend to wash around in my head and attach themselves to all kinds of things. The other day, they attached themselves to the idea of the cast of characters present in a story. The implications should be obvious: you don't want everyone in the story to be the same way, because a) you can't tell anyone apart and b) that's boring. But c), the differences need to be more than cosmetic. Not just in the sense of physical makeup or even personality, but outlook, attitude to life, methodology of living.
If past, present, and future are all unknowable, what's left? (And why frame things that way?)
One of the things that bugged me about Buddhism (Zen and otherwise) when I first ran into it was something that is typically encapsulated with the following formulation: The past, the present, and the future are all unknowable. You only know about the past through traces left behind, and those aren't really the past; they're traces left by the past. Likewise, you only know about the present by way of your tiny perceptions of your tiny slice of it. And the future — who knows about the future?
Tim Hall, one of the good guys, is leaving us.
Wish him and his well while it's still possible. Twitter seems the easiest way.
" ... his goal was making someone’s favorite movie of the year." Whoever that someone might be.
“Tramps” director Adam Leon once said something in an interview that I will never forget. While talking about his gritty debut film “Gimme the Loot,” about two young graffiti writers wanting to tag a New York City landmark, Leon said that his goal was making someone’s favorite movie of the year. That’s quite a novel idea that only interesting filmmakers could accomplish—to make something that speaks to a viewer so directly, it essentially fulfills what they need, what they've been yearning to see.
I like the idea of making someone's favorite something, even if that someone is only yourself (or maybe one other person).
On the idea that we can use technology to amplify human intelligence.
For the last eight months, serial entrepreneur Bryan Johnson has conducted an experiment: He invites a small group of the smartest people he knows to dinner and asks them what they think needs to happen to reach their vision of an ideal world by 2050. The answers–from solving the climate crisis to curing cancer–never focus on improving human intelligence. But Johnson, who has committed $100 million of his own money to develop a wildly ambitious “neural prosthetic” that would essentially be able to reprogram the brain, believes that making humans smarter is key to helping solve every other problem.
First of all: what do we mean by "smarter"? Most people seem to think "smarter" means "I have more facts at my command", but here we are in 2017 walking around with always-connected supercomputers in our pockets and the sum total of human knowledge one Google search away, and even many "smart" people still don't know the difference between "equity" and "equality". Don't even ask what the dumb ones don't know!
Any discussion of augmenting anything needs to be opened up with a discussion of what that thing actually is before we try to "augment" or "improve" it. It's not as if we aren't doing that work; it's that such work is agonizingly slow and difficult, and a lot of what we thought we knew about the brain, about intelligence, about human behavior, etc. has been shown to be misguided, or flat-out wrong, or just plain incoherent. I still run into people who analogize brains and computers, even though a digital computer is an entirely inapposite analogy for a brain — but there's been little incentive to disabuse people of that delusion.
The real story about writers' block, or lack of same.
The most important step in overcoming writer’s block, then, may be cutting it down to size: grasping that it’s just a situation, not an underlying condition, and that it’s solved, by definition, the moment you write anything. You could keep a dream journal, as Graham Greene did, or do “morning pages”: three pages of whatever comes to mind first thing. Give up writing in binges, and focus on doing a tiny amount, very regularly, including stopping when time’s up. Oh, and stop expecting writing itself to be pleasurable. (I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who claims it’s fun.)
Suspect me, then! I like writing; I think it's a blast. I also think it's hard freakin' work. The two are not mutually exclusive. Many people I know, myself included, are at their most engaged and "present" when they are working on an intractably difficult problem.
Do I call myself a Buddhist? I'm not sure I ought to.
Not long ago someone said to me, "I noticed you have a great many notes about Buddhism and Zen on your blog. Does that mean you are a Buddhist?"
My short answer was, "I'm not sure."
My long answer is much more involved.
Notes towards using a wiki for managing a writing project, 2017 edition.
For some time now I've been using a personal wiki product, called TiddlyWiki -- stupid name, great program — to do all the organization for my writing projects. My original approach for tracking all the stuff associated with a writing project was just to dump everything in a Word file, but over time that grew unwieldy, and having everything in a wiki makes it easier to search, cross-reference, organize, and reason about. I didn't like the closed-ended approach provided by apps like Scrivener, either, so I decided I'd use a wiki to hatch my own organizational system and see where that took me.
I've written about this before, but every so often I like to circle back and extract key pieces of wisdom about how to use such a system. Here's where my current thinking lies.
On politics in literature, again.
Some time back I wrote that there seemed to be two conditions for how political opinions and creative work could be intermixed successfully:
Of the two, I think the second point is the slightly more important one, in big part because a good piece of creative work shouldn't have those attributes in general. If the only way you can make your case for your work is by making some specific group out as losers, there's a good chance you don't have much of a case. In other words, if your whole way of adding politics to a story is to take cheap shots at someone or something, you've cheapened both the politics and the story.
Writers have a hard time reading industriously without feeling like they're goofing off.
One of the downsides to putting yourself on a fairly industrious writing schedule is that your reading schedule suffers. I could be writing, I could be productive, you tell yourself; what am I doing here goofing off? And so you end up not reading.
On the urge to find validation for one's work.
Of all the temptations writers can succumb to, few are more all-devouring than the urge to show someone a rough draft — especially a rough draft you know is a rough draft, with all of its continuity errors and inconsistencies of tone and speeling mistaekes.
Don't think good and evil; think why and how.
My friend and creative colleague Steven Savage has published several books about creative processes and tooling. The latest of these is actually a sequel to a previous book about worldbuilding. Way With Worlds 2, as it is called, can be read standalone, but it works best when paired with its predecessor, since it expands on and provides additional discussion for many of the ideas in the original.
The book has been hugely useful to me as of late. This is less because it taught me things that were strictly new, more because it reacquainted me with things I did know but had allowed to slip from view, and allowed me to reconsider them in the context of my current writing project.
The first reminder was something Steve phrased this way: "Stop thinking 'good and evil'. Start thinking 'why and how'. ... Few people seem to think "I wish to be an awful person" in real life, yet many do awful things." The awfulness is about lack of perspective, or about conceitedness, but rarely about the actions themselves. It's about the motives and the methodology.
Creative advice from a former Black Flagger.
When something’s done, I’ll go, “Okay, cool,” and I’ll shelve it, and I’ll rejoice that the damn thing is done and my desktop is empty so I can fill it with the next project. I’m a shipbuilder. I don’t want to sail in them. I want you to sail in them. I’m just happy that they leave the harbor so I can have an empty workplace. And the glee of getting the component parts and starting from scratch starts all over again, and we build the next ark.
Emphasis mine. Couldn't agree with this more myself.
Rollins was always a model and an inspiration, right from when I first encountered his description of himself — that he was "just pretentious enough" to put his work out there on his own for whatever audience might be waiting for it. That gave me permission to go and do things and not worry too much about whether or not anyone would care. Doing something earnestly is why you do anything at all; if it isn't, then ask yourself why the hell you're bothering.