Character Building Exercises Dept.

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-05-04 12:00:00 No comments

That Nile Rodgers interview, man. So much to mine out.

In the old days, Rodgers said, "we have to overcome all of those [technical] problems that the equiment gave us, and the net benefit of overcoming all of those variables was an artistic statements in and of itself."

This is a slice of something from that interview I've chomped out before — the idea that, as Nile put it, "the old restrictions in technology forced us to do things right." There's a danger to romanticizing that idea — just because you've made things hard on yourself doesn't mean the experience automatically "builds character" or what have you — but there's a grain of truth there.

Writers, as a general rule, are not bombarded with the same farrago of technological toys that, say, programmers or musicians are. Programmers have endless choices: what platform, what language, what IDE, what GUI toolkit, what web framework, what JavaScript front-end. Musicians could spend their entire lives figuring out which brand of guitar to play. Writers, though — most of their arguments tend to boil down to some variant of "Microsoft Word, LibreOffice, or Scrivener?" And sometimes not even that: I still know people who prefer to write first drafts longhand.

I was long inclined to think this wasn't a bad thing. That many less artificial choices meant that much less time dithering between options that ultimately didn't amount to much. I stick with Microsoft Word not because I want to defend it in the court of public opinion, but because it works more than well enough for what I do, because I'm intimately familiar with it, and because it handles some things (e.g., long documents) better than anything else I've worked with. Not having to worry about word processors meant that much more mental energy that could be devoted to more genuine problems, like what to write in the first place.

That said, I'm well into the third book I've written that I have planned by way of additional software (TiddlyWiki), and I'm realizing how badly I handicapped myself by not even considering tools like these before. There is a case to be made that for authors who tackle certain kinds of work, it is wise for them in the long run to develop the technical acumen to pick up new tools — toolchains for creating e-books, for instance, or things like TiddlyWiki for project management. 

But the real regret I have, now that I think about it, isn't that I shirked the tools, but that I shirked the techniques that the tools have only made easier. I didn't keep "story bibles" or character sheets; all that stuff was supposed to live in my head. Because if I couldn't make it live in my head, then I didn't deserve to call myself a writer, a no-miss formula for making things more difficult for yourself than they really need to be. But I didn't see it that way, though. I saw it as a kind of self-imposed character-building exercise.

When I first learned to drive a car, I learned to drive stick, and the rationale for that was simple. If I learned to drive stick first, I would be equipped to drive just about anything life could throw at me that had wheels. This proved mostly correct. But there's a big difference between that and just making things hard on yourself because you believe it'll "build character" or "up your game", especially when there's no evidence it'll do that.

To say nothing, I should add, of how making things hard for others doesn't always help them either. But that's something I should save for its own discussion.

Check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.

Tags: TiddlyWiki software writers writing