Is it productive to think about a blog the same way one thinks about one's attic or basement?
I was having difficulty rewriting a scene in Unmortal as part of my latest edit pass on it, so I took a break and tidied up some of the archives of this here blog. Some of this was just cleaning up style information (I had a lot of inconsistent formatting for a long time), some of it was mulling whether or not to reorganize certain categories of things. That brought back to mind the question of whether or not I wanted to spin off big chunks of it into its own thing — and whether it was productive to think about my blog the same way I think about, say, my attic.
On getting hung up finding the right word.
These last couple of days, my editing work on Unmortal has been consumed by the reworking of several interdependent scenes, the success of which hinged — or at least felt like they hinged — on finding exactly the right wording and unfolding of dialogue between a few key characters. I say "felt like" because sometimes it does feel like the absolute success of a story depends on a few such moments being properly phrased.
And the beginning of something far better in my creative life.
I'm about halfway through another edit pass on Unmortal — this is pass 3 of something like 5 total, each one of a different nature — and what strikes me most right now is how I have something like four or five other stories after this in the works, and how it doesn't feel yet like I know how I'm going to get to a point with any of those books where they feel as fully realized and total as the one I'm finishing now. But at the same time, I need to have faith in the possibility — the very large possibility — that by way of the habits I've built up along the years, I'll be able to find myself in that position not just once again, but any number of other times. The fact that it feels like magic to be in this position is absolutely worth cherishing, even when it's not really the way I ought to be thinking about it.
Across the trajectory of my writing career I can plot two arcs, one ascending and the other descending. The ascending arc is my confidence in the end results of my work. The descending arc is the gradual diminishment in the feeling that all of this work, even at its most dazzling and unexpected, is the product of things over which I have no real control — that it's the product of happy accidents, or genius, or luck, or what have you. Magic. The more I do this, the less I feel like it's waiting for lightning to strike, and more like getting out there on the hillside in a thunderstorm with a kite that has a key attached to the string. (Okay, it was an apocryphal story, but you get the idea.)
If you meet one on the road, you know what to do. Right?
There's a great line in The Zen Teaching Of Huang Po (as translated by John Blofeld) that goes like so:
If you WILL conceive of a Buddha, YOU WILL BE OBSTRUCTED BY THAT BUDDHA!!! And when you conceive of sentient beings, you will be obstructed by those beings.
CAPS EMPHASIS!!! are Blofeld's. (His translation is not always the most accurate, but for readability and spirit it's still great.)
Even the books I'm proudest of, I can still find fault with. The ones that I'm less proud of, well ...
"In all of my movies," Akira Kurosawa is reputed to have said, "there are maybe three or four minutes of actual cinema." Talk about being your harshest critic. But boy, do I know the feeling.
To the left of where I'm typing this, I now have a small shelf with copies of all my books as reissued in their new Infinimata Press editions. I can find fault, sometimes serious fault, with all of them. Even the ones I'm proudest of, I can find fault with. The ones that I'm less proud of, well ...
After a certain point in my career, I saw no reason to apologize for writing stuff that made big leaps and took big risks.
One of the most embarrassing moments of my writing career was, mercifully, something I never contaminated the general public with. It was a project I worked on sometime in the early 2000s, easily the most depressing and depressed thing I'd written up to that point. I got almost all the way through it before I stopped and realized I'd essentially written a modern, and rather stupid, riff on Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground.
I threw it out.
If I were to make a Venn diagram with two elements labeled Things I Have Fun Watching/Reading and Things I Want To Bring Into The World, one would be an entire subset of the other.
If I were to make a Venn diagram with two elements labeled Things I Have Fun Watching/Reading and Things I Want To Bring Into The World, one would be an entire subset of the other. Everything I make, I also want to enjoy, but the number of things I enjoy are larger than just the things I want to make.
Here's another way to put it: there are things I have fun watching or reading that in no way, shape, or form reflect the sorts of things I want to bring into the world.
What lessons there are to learn from Bad Movies We Love.
"It is a curious attribute of camp that it can only be found, not made." So observes Dave Kehr, in his New York Times review of "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra." I did not read the rest of the review, because (1) I had to write my own, and (2), well, his first sentence says it all, doesn't it? True camp sincerely wants to be itself. ...
"The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" has been made by people who are trying to be bad, which by definition reveals that they are playing beneath their ability. Poor Ed Wood, on the other hand, always and sincerely made the very best film he possibly could. How rare is a director like Russ Meyer, whose work satirizes material that doesn't even exist except in his satire of it, and who is also very funny; no coincidence that the "Austin Powers" movies are always careful to quote him.
Emphasis mine. I mean, I get that movies like this are loving homage to the material; the intentions are hardly assailable. The problem is twofold. One is, you can't synthesize cult appeal. That part should be self-evident. All the movies with genuine cult followings out there were not created by people who said "Hey, let's make a Cult Movie™." They just sort of happened, and happy accidents are how so many great creative things come to be.
The other problem is that when you make something like this, what you end up with isn't evolutionarily superior to its source just because it postdates it.
You don't have to pump out a novel a week to be "productive". You just have to be able to sit down for a few minutes a day and do something to turn the wheel a little.
Terry Pratchett is said to have written a mere four hundred or so words a day, but consistently so, and that helped him produce dozens of books in his lifetime. For a long time, my goal has been a thousand words — a little more than half that — but this has not been a hard limit. If I couldn't produce a thousand, I'd produce five hundred. If not five hundred, then three hundred. Something was always better than nothing.
Want to buy copies of my books signed by yours truly? Here's what you need to do.
Want to buy copies of my books signed by yours truly? Here's what you need to do:
The prices for all the books are the same as their list-price counterparts, plus shipping and any applicable state sales tax. Note that the more items you purchase, the more likely I am to use flat rate as that tends to be a more economical and reliable option than Media Mail.
Also, depending on supplies and inclinations, I may throw in a bonus or two!
On that tricky phrase "Do not compare yourself to others."
I think back now to one of the first times I encountered the phrase, "Do not compare yourself to others." Of course you have to compare yourself to others! I whined. There just ain't anyone else around these days to compare one's self to! And don't give me that chaff about comparing yourself to your past self, that doesn't count!
Sometimes, a readership. Not that it's worth it.
This is a comment I bumped into when reading a review of a book on Goodreads:
The main distinction between characters in this novel is which precise arcane subject they are obsessed with. Is it fonts? Is it miniature practical effects? Ancient architecture? Data visualization? Life extension? In typical nerdbro fashion, people are not interesting for their emotional or psycho-social development (we are left to conclude they have none) but rather for their nerdly obsessions. I have no problem with nerdly obsessions, except that they are a poor substitute for actual character development.
I have no say pro or con about the book in question, which I haven't read, but this mode of characterization is familiar to me from many other things. It feels like something that started with the likes of Thomas Pynchon and later under David Foster Wallace, where a person's vertical, topical obsessions are used as a substitute for actual character.
One must have concrete critical standards of some kind, or one ends up in a kind of death spiral of hopeless idealism.
A post back I mentioned something that was worth its own discussion. Here 'tis.
There was once a blog (staffed by a number of people) that did a kind of indie-review-and-crit circle of fantasy and SF (and video games, and movies). They called it quits a few years back. I followed them for about a year before they stopped, and it was all really sharp and insightful stuff.
Still, before the site folded, I could see a pattern emerging from my own engagement with the site. It wasn't the positive reviews I engaged with most, but the negative ones. I came there to see nothing but takedowns and beat-downs, and once I realized that, I felt bad about it, and stopped going there as a pre-emptive way to stop feeding that part of myself.
I give you permission to shoot me if I ever turn into a tiresome old bore.
Some time back I wrote about a blog named Something Old, Nothing New which wound down its self-stated mission after a number of years. Many blogs that cover some specific flavor of thing tend to do this after a while: they either run out of material to cover in the subject (as did the blog Space: 1977), or the blog's maintainer loses interest or gets caught up in other things.
I've also been around long enough to witness the decay of a number of personal blogs — some kept by SF authors, some by ordinary folks. Sometimes it's because the maintainer died or moved on to other things. But the kind of decay that's most disheartening is when you witness the slow degeneration of a personality into a crank.
The "arc of coming-together" for my new book was very much in line with how it's been for me with past projects I thought highly of.
Last night I finished the first big draft 2 pass on Unmortal (check out the latest revision of the cover art). This was the last "structural" pass for the story, meaning all the scenes we need are there and in their proper sequencing. Next comes all the fit-and-finish stuff: polishing dialogue, cutting redundancies, avoiding clichés, etc. After that comes the cleanup pass for grammar and spelling, and then after that I take everyone out to dinner to celebrate.
There's enough in place at this point, and of a high enough quality, for me to feel happy about it. The arc of coming-together for this project was very much in line with how it's been for me with past projects I thought highly of. Something like this:
What's the real creative motive - making something, or making something of yourself?
Creativity is a messy way of bringing about order – or an orderly way to make a glorious mess. It’s hard work because no matter what magical spark you have, it takes work to make it real. The reception of creativity is unpredictable, as many a talented person can tell you by pointing to their bank account.
It may soothe egos to believe one is a great auteur or give one license to take the frustration out on others. It may boost one to think they have some unique divine creative spark burning within them. But we only delude ourselves with such thoughts, and delusion rarely leads to creativity.
Whenever someone comes to me with ambitions about a creative project, I can't help but ask questions that tease out what their real motives are. People still walk around with the delusion that a fast way to fame and fortune is to write a best-selling book (or at least a fast-selling one in a recognizable category). It's not that it's impossible to get rich that way; it's just that it's often far easier to get rich other ways, especially if getting rich is the real goal.
The best art all looks effortless, and the best artists all make it seem like play.
The best art all looks effortless, and the best artists all make it seem like play. The trick is to take everything that looks like work and make it not look like work.
Show the things that are best dramatized; tell the things that are best spelled out.
Once upon a time I had a writing teacher tell me "Show, don't tell". I know now this is incomplete advice at best. A better way to put it would be, "Show what needs to be shown, tell what needs to be told."
That leads us to a new problem: how to know when to do either of those things. And, again, that led me to come up with a further refinement on the slogan: "Show the things that are best dramatized; tell the things that are best spelled out."
This process is an art, not a science (like all writing is), and so sometimes the only way to figure it out in a given work is to feel your way through it.