"Don't worry about someone stealing your good ideas. Worry about someone stealing your bad ones!"
Not long after I published the original essay with a title something like this one, Steve Savage chimed in and said, half-kidding, "Don't worry about someone stealing your good ideas. Worry about someone stealing your bad ones!" I think he is in fact right.
I am aware that in books as in movies, the modern taste is for brevity. At some point early in the next century, I suppose, novels will intersect with the sound bites on the TV news and the bright little self-contained paragraphs in newspapers and magazines. All imagination will be boiled down into smug little info-nuggets. Why is it nobody seems to realize how lots of short little things are exhausting? You have to keep setting your mind back to zero. But the long, deep stuff--the long books, the long movies, and even the TV miniseries--are refreshing, because they give you the time to understand other lives and even, for a time, seem to share them.
Emphasis mine. Written in 1992.
The most amazing thing about the next draft of 'The Fall Of The Hammer' is how much of it will end up not getting ditched, as I feared might happen.
Over the last couple of days I have put together a fresh, second-pass outline for The Fall Of The Hammer, the new book. This is a habit I've only recently accustomed myself to: write an outline, write a draft, then create a new outline that reflects the changes you want to make, then write the next draft. This time I got a head start: I bailed before finishing the first draft, and wrote the next-iteration outline as a way to get out of the thorny cul-de-sac I'd written myself into.
Purging bookshelves, freeing up space, lightening the load.
Some time ago I mentioned how I went through my book collection and tagged everything with copies available in the Open Library or through my state library system. This past week I decided to bite a bullet I'd already put into my mouth in some form and purge my collection of the vast majority of those books. As before, I find I don't miss them.
Learn to cut stuff, lest your creative work becomes one giant act of paralysis.
I once half-joked that I knew I was done with a book when I'd spent an entire editing pass taking out commas and then putting them right back in again. Half-joked: there are times when I've done precisely that, and ignored my own advice about whether or not that meant there was no more work to be done.
We all know the adage that art is never finished, only abandoned. But that's only because the artist, god love 'em, sees so much with their work that we never see. They feel obliged to do justice to all that comes to mind, and they have a hard time saying no to any part of the vision. Leaving out anything feels like self-betrayal.
There's more than one way to mark progress for a work in progress. Sometimes it's when you take one step back so you can take several more steps forward in a new direction.
It's been a busy week or so -- lots of running around, some family stuff, nothing worth crowing about in public but it did keep me away from the keys. Enough time away from the keys for me to take a new tack with the current novel project (Fall Of The Hammer): start re-outlining.
I have enough of a "zero draft" done to know what the limitations are of the project as I have it currently conceived. There's a lot of them. Next step is to take the pieces I have, use them to compile what amounts to a new story with a new scene breakdown, and then write that as my next draft.
For a creative person, I have some of the dullest dreams around. I don't get it either.
Here is what may sound like a truly bizarre confession for an author: My dreams are some of the most boring, repetitive things you could ever find this side of the last time you waited for your number to be called at the DMV.
Ideas aren't what matter, anyway. Execution is. And beyond that, the habit of executing. But why do we get hung up about great ideas?
Among most any subreddits you'll see the same questions posted, worded almost to the letter, by different people at least once a week. One of the subreddits I subscribe to, /r/gamedev, has some variant of this timeless classic pop up at least once every couple of days: How do I keep people from stealing my fantastic game idea (which, odds are, the person in question hasn't gotten around to actually making into a game, and which -- spoiler alert -- they probably never will)?
The most beautiful Mozart you'll hear, the one from your own fingers, is beautiful because you now know what it costs to have even a bad version of Mozart out there.
I don't remember where I read this, but someone once said that if you want to hear the most beautiful version of a piano piece by Mozart, or Erik Satie, or whoever, it's going to be the one you learn how to play yourself.
For a long time I filed this one under Narcissism, because I didn't like the idea of encouraging people to be fascinated with their own work, their own selves, at the expense of others. It took a lot of time to get settled with the real truth of it, which isn't about narcissism but is about self-reflection. No prizes for guessing it was Zen that helped me see this.
When does a story's logic hold fast, and when does it break?
I need to think about something other than mass shootings or melting glaciers, and I suspect you do too, so here goes.
Articles dissecting the illogic of blockbuster films are a dime a dozen, so here's a dime for you -- an analysis of all the logical inconsistencies of Avengers: Endgame. What I liked best was not the article itself, but this comment: "In all honesty, this is a world where a boy mutates to a spiderlike creature, a god is playing Fortnite and grows a beer belly and racoons have an amazing sense of humour so I’m certainly not going to fuss about some illogical stuff."
This provokes a useful question: Where in such a story is it safe to call certain things illogical and other things not? Where's the logic and illogic coming from in the first place?
A letter to a long-dead friend.
As best I can reckon, it has been a little shy of eighteen years since you died. You died in 2001, days before 9/11 -- not of a terrorist attack, not because of some horrible hateful maniac with a gun, but of natural causes, an undiagnosed medical condition that took your life within a matter of minutes.
There hasn't been a month since then when I haven't wondered what you would have made of all this. Knowing you -- or maybe better to say, reconstructing you from what I remember of you -- you would have shaken your head and wondered, why the hell do people have to be so goddamn mean?
"Don’t think about your discipline, don’t think about your craft, just play at this."
The great blessing from Jim Henson was, “Don’t think about your discipline, don’t think about your craft, just play at this.” Get thinking about the craft out of the way, and the rest will come to the surface.
Recent scholarly work about play tells us it is a kind of rehearsal process. You play to run through various scenarios about how things might play out, to throw things at the wall and see what sticks. People who get into the habit of play as a way to turn ideas around in their heads tend not only to be more adept at it when they do it, but more willing to engage in that kind of play in the first place: the what-ifs, the counterfactuals.
This page contains an archive of posts for the month of August 2019.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind