Those One-And-Done-Isms

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017-11-18 00:00:00 No comments

A line worth commenting on from Steve:

My friend Serdar, a consummate experimenter, never even writes in the same setting, to keep himself going. I never quite got why he might want to do that (which is not my cup of tea), until realized writing is an experiment. The more you have, the more that push you, the more you grow.

Me, I like to play in the same settings, but I do explore elsewhere. That’s how you keep growing.

There's much more to this discussion, but I want to start with that line in this post and then leap back later to tackle the other things mentioned.

I don't know that my choice to not do the same thing twice if I can possibly help it was something I arrived at consciously. It was a habit I found myself in, and I think it was reinforced in a few stages.

Stage One was when I was first thrashing around and trying to find an identity as a writer. That period extended from the first time I cranked a piece of paper into a typewriter all the way to a couple of years after I left college.

Because I didn't know what I wanted to do or why, or how to embody any of that in a piece of work, I did a lot of toss-and-test — a lot of the experimenting that Steve talks about in the above-linked item. It didn't make sense to try to do "the same thing" in a different way, because it wasn't going to be "the same thing", and because the choice of thing in question (and how to approach it, and all the other details I chose to bring to it, etc.) were artifacts of the creator I was at the moment in time I elected to work on the thing.

Stage Two came after I had a better sense of what I was trying to do — the first days of Genji Press, more or less. I wrote Summerworld and was pleased enough with it that I felt like I'd arrived somewhere. After putting it out into the world, I mulled the idea of sequels. It took a day of puzzling over the idea to put it to rest. Everything I had wanted to say about that setting and those people was finished. Some of that I attributed to how the main character was something of an orphan — he'd bopped around in my head from story to story until I finally found something that complemented him, and now I wanted to let him rest in peace.

The other part of it was that once I'm done with something, I'm actually a little bored with it. I don't want to go back into it; I want to see what else is possible. Life's short, and that alone seems like a good reason not to repeat myself.

Stage Three was the further refinement of the above attitudes. Each long-form work tends to be its own thing — not just because it's a treatment of a new idea, but because that treatment is tied to a set of assumptions I have about it, and to the snapshot of who I am at the time. When I'm done with all that, my impulse is to take what I can from it and move on to something as dissimilar as possible, the better to see how much I've really progressed.

This last part is the kicker. If I wrote 26 books all in the same universe (I'm caricaturing for effect here), it would be harder to determine what kind of progress was being made. Not impossible, because it's plain that some of, say, the Inspector Maigret or Vampire Hunter D books are better than others. But hard enough that I'd rather tie the measure of my progress to work that is as dissimilar as possible, so I can see how much better I do when I don't have the crutch of anything familiar to lean on.

I don't like the idea that this attitude, because it works for me, should therefore be everyone else's attitude. That's snobbism. Steve wants to do multiple things in the same universe(s) because he feels there's more to mine out of each one than can be had in a single stroke. That's fine, and a large part of that is I think due to the way he selects and assembles his material. If at some point I hit on something that I felt I could produce a few different pieces of work about, without feeling like I was being redundant, then I'd do it. But it hasn't been as high a priority for me as addressing other, more pressing things that each demand their own self-contained implementation.

Also, one of the hallmarks of an experiment is that you have to admit the possibility of failure. Not necessarily total failure; even admitting to partial failure is useful. Sometimes the failure of something is bound to the setting, and so it makes sense to leave behind a setting that embodies some of your own limitations from the time you made it. Among my crumbling notes from decades past are bits and pieces of worldbuilding that would be embarrassing to resurrect today, because the way those worlds are built and the implications they carry stem straight from the mind of a callow fourteen-year-old. Hell, there are days when I don't like the mind I had five minutes ago. Maybe there are pieces of those things that can be reincarnated in a new work, but that's all they are — pieces, ingredients. The act of moving forward matters to me more than finding specific things to settle on.

I'll have more to say about Steve's "experimental" notions in the next post.

Tags: creativity sequels writers writing