The 'I' In Experiment

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-11-22 00:00:00 No comments

Sez Steve:

Remember my goal to write at least 24K words, probably 30K, this month? Yeah, still having issues with trying to force myself. ...

Why was I still feeling like I was forcing myself? I didn’t have to go very deep to figure that out.

I felt like I had to do everything right. Or that I had to get it perfect the first time. I had the space, but was trying to get it right the first time.

That’s when I had another realization, fueled by my writing, my observations, and my agile practices. All writing is an experiment.

We’d like to think writing is some kind of precise creation. Perhaps its that we think of it physically, or that we have a perfect idea of what we’re writing in our head. But it’s not, it never is.

John Cage: "What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen." To which I would add, if we are honest, we know full well the outcomes of any action, even the ones with which we believe to be most intimately familiar and believe to be tediously predictable, are not foreseen. Not wholly; not as we tell ourselves they are.

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Even finished products are tentative. They have no choice but to be. They are finished only because someone quit or died. Death or surrender are endings as arbitrary as any dreamed up by some author himself. None of these things are hindrances, just aspects. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa spent his life pondering the story that would become The Leopard, composed that novel over the course of many years, faced almost universal rejection from publishers for it, finished it to his satisfaction only a few months before his death, and did not live to see it received in time as one of the great works of modern Italian literature. The end of his experiment was doubly unknowable to him, but that never constituted a deterrent to him. His experiment was just to see where he could go.

Even the finished works are not finished works. We rewrite them all the time by dint of being passengers through time and history. Current generations of readers open Catcher In The Rye with little to no firsthand experience of most anything Holden Caufield describes (a pay phone?). They are not reading the same book Salinger produced in nineteen-fifty-whatever. That book vanished the moment the first person other than Salinger bent back its cover and started reading. There has not been a person alive in centuries who could ever experience the Canterbury Tales as they were conceived. Maybe there never has been

In this light, everything becomes an experiment by necessity. All work is a conversation, not a definitive statement. It's put together at a moment in time, and by a moment in time (that is, by you). You have no choice but to exist in and embody your moment in time, so you put that into a piece of work and see what happens with it. Sometimes you get really lucky. Sometimes you get really unlucky. Sometimes you don't get a damned thing. But you keep slugging and keep paying attention to what happens.

I'm gonna come down out of the clouds for a sec and point out that none of this is an excuse for being lazy, or for retroactively justifying shoddy, thoughtless work. "I'm just experimenting" is not an excuse for anything. If you experiment, you have to accept the possibility that the experiment might fail. You have to own up to it, eat it, move on.

A lot of people don't want to do this. They think failure is something to be ashamed of, something to throw into the back of the closet and do one's damndest to forget about. That's straight out of the "morality-play" view of creativity, where creative failures are moral failures, that they're proof you're a bad person. Not remotely true, but the idea lingers and festers unless confronted. A failed experiment is not the product of a failure as a human being.

Keep pushing. Don't moralize your experimentation. Own your failures and your successes alike.

Tags: creativity creators experimentation writers writing