Steven Savage has been blogging about applying agile methods to creativity, with the most recent installment being about the virtue of keeping things simple. When you know what you are and aren't delivering, you don't waste time or bandwidth, you keep your own mission clear, and you deliver more of the right things from the outset. This is trickier than it looks.
Some of my go-to quotes have been about this idea. Miles Davis once said that perfection is about not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away. Milton Glaser once put a spin on the old adage "Less is more": "Just enough is more." And so on.
These principles are best learned from the inside out rather than applied from the top down. They are not checklist items, but living principles that you have to awaken within yourself afresh for each separate job.
Here's one example. I was unhappy with the way my latest book Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned came in about one and a half times as long as I wanted it to be, but that length proved to be self-justifying. If I had tried to take a hatchet to the book in some misguided effort to cut it down, I might well have gone from a book that was too long based on my original (possibly mistaken) estimate, to a book that was too short to be effective. And at the same time, I'd already cut a lot of things that didn't fit or didn't drive the story forward in some palpable way. Trying to impose simplicity that was merely compulsive austerity wouldn't help.
Another example. The first book I finished under the Genji Press imprint, Summerworld, was potentially the beginning of a multi-volume series. I toyed with that idea for all of about a day before realizing I had no real inclination to do it. I could have twisted my own arm, I guess, and whipped up more stories about Gō-sensei and his friends, but I didn't want to do it just for the sake of doing more. I was done with them, and they were done with me, too. The degree of resistance I encountered even thinking about the idea told me it was best to leave it as one volume, to move on and find another story to work on. The simplicity was in leaving well enough alone.
None of the specific details I'm talking about here apply to anything else, though. I'm not saying if you just finished the first book of a three-book cycle, you should dump it and work on something else. I'm saying, have the courage to recognize when something is truly finished and why. Set delimiters and parameters for the work as early on in the process as you can, and respect their purpose.
And do all of that anew for each work. The scope of Summerworld was one volume; the scope of AONO was not necessarily its length, but the kinds of things it covered in the bullet-path of its plotline. No good story is ever too long, and no bad one is ever too short.
Constant readers know I am not a fan of Game Of Thrones. There's many reasons I dislike that property — I find its worldview appalling — but time and again it comes back to the form factor. It's shapeless, undisciplined, rambling; it's the fantasy-novel version of Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans, except there are also going to be sides five and six and nobody knows what year they're coming out. It's not a story, but a continuum, and while I guess there's an audience for such things, it's not an audience I want to cultivate, and not a role model I feel is worthy of emulation. There's no sense of simplicity there. Not because it's long, but because it's impossible to say how long, or why, or to what end. No sense of scope. Even George doesn't know what that might be. How is that not a tragedy?
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