My main creative work since my book contract has either been editing my manuscript or developing my (approach to) social media. By any commercial measure, that’s what I should have done. Polishing and sharing best honors my creative expression.
One has creative intention too, and each success makes one’s ground more fertile. Recently my editor Vivian Caethe, fresh off her first Kickstarter success, turned a Tumblr post into a new anthology on Kickstarter, which shows how quickly ideas can bloom.
I need to be there for my finished work. I also need new work to do.
These last two weeks I’ve been making myself make things up, just opening blank text screens and letting words fly. It’s not exactly automatic writing but it’s my least self-judgmental form of creativity. Nothing that will go further in this form. Nothing anyone’s waiting for yet. It can be stupid and playful. I even wrote the outline of a wordless ten-minute play, mostly on my smartphone, in a car.
Most of these ideas will go nowhere. A few return in funny ways. A jokey conceit I never developed for my blog became a Russian propaganda television serial in my NaNoWriMo manuscript. That manuscript was once a dream, hastily written down and played with for weeks thereafter. In another year it could be a book.
It’s important to make new things, especially if it feels unimportant. Something takes root if you keep seeding.
My first draft was 220,000 words of symbol-laden passages and over-described locales. Over years I steadily replaced sets of words with smaller stronger ones, refining the language to heighten the story and the emotional viewpoint. The never-quite-articulated goal was for the words to hold more weight relative to their size thanks to their structure.
In four passes I got down to 120,000 words. I cut few complete scenes. Mostly I just kept redoing the language, finding slenderer shorter beams for each bit of structure, abandoning ideas that were less essential. It was like starting with an Art Deco skyscraper and renovating it into a geodesic dome, bit by bit.
Now I hope to write less in the first place but I am not sure it is turning out that way. At least I outline more, or more frequently, nothing grand but enough to guide me. Still, once it’s prose, my process scales to it. Less is an asymptote. Even a small post like this, I write and rewrite, in layers, questioning the questioning.
Yesterday going through the magazine pile for something to read with my soup, I stumbled upon an article discussing linguist Noam Chomsky’s controversial recent ideas about the beginning of language. Chomsky theorizes early humans created the foundations of language by developing a new ability Chomsky calls Merge, the ability to group mental objects and work with them as a unit.
I’m no judge of linguistics theory but as an idea Merge resonates with me. Something in my process also looks to merge, or at least more densely encode, meanings – and wants a lot of meaning to encode. Just as we care about both increasing bandwidth and compressing data, maybe the drive to merge is tied in with communication in multiple ways, a circle of acquiring and optimizing we have yet to map out.
I also confess a happy feeling about my own fiction’s truth. One of the angels to appear late in my novel is of_clumping, which I felt was a driving force in our universe, from stars to black holes. How nice to think this is an angel of meaning as well.
The heck with this, I know — but I am editing the book again.
I thought I was done, or done for now. At 138K a little big but, you know, big-boned. It was fine. I could write new stories now, send out queries, sure that some kind agent would understand me.
A major contest starting in three weeks has a limit of 125K. I asked my wife and my writing group, and most everyone thought it was worth it to try to reach the goal, contest or no. They are right, of course. But it is an aggressive deadline.
To look fresh at the material, I chopped the file into chunks around 3500 words long. Continue reading →
I think my creative retreat is deeper than I first acknowledged. For professional reasons I want to leap into writing short pieces but I am far from leaping. A novel is a great mecha suit, immense powers but within strict rules. Wearing it so long has left a host of implants and fixators that need to work themselves out of my creative body.
I need to figure out where I am. I have an attraction for things macabre, things out of joint, and even archaic language and rhythms. Not that I want to write pastiche, but perhaps some fantastic tales in a place with a passion for elegance over speed. I think I am not alone in wanting to find such a terrain, neither as artist nor as audience. But maybe it will only be found blindly.
I have already made the mistake of starting too soon. I dove into writing days after leaving my technical career, which made my new job less a reward than a demotion to something far less glamorous and energetic. I should have taken a long car trip but instead I sat in my basement and withered. I have the same feeling now. Continue reading →
As I wrote a novel with a corporate setting, florid language became dead weight. I needed to make a corporate motif, a slickness half jet-age half cyberpunk.
It took many drafts to make that happen since it was a big story. I resolved not to write like film or for film, but to edit my work into efficiency. Like compression in computing, to convey the richest illusion in the least time without being too lossy.
In the last two years I have taken almost 40% off the first draft manuscript. I may not be good but I am trying hard. One day I will learn to say less from the start.
I am starting to feel done with the manuscript. Continue reading →
In a marathon session a week ago I interleaved the chapters of the manuscript. As I posted earlier it was Kathryn Johnson’s idea. Until now the points of view alternated in long chapters of 8,000-10,000 words. By alternating individual scenes from these chapters I now change viewpoints every thousand words or so. A few chapters resisted interleaving but most folded into each other neatly. I am excited to try a new structure this late in the process.
The work of interleaving was programmatic: copy and paste, merge scenes for pacing. My weird obsessive ordering with numbers for each part helped hugely. The work had its own rhythm, in great part repetitive, so there was a benefit to sticking with it all afternoon. Still I am surprised. Clearly its structure was compatible, without my ever once making it so. I had been noodling with it for several days and here it just came together.
One help was to realize I didn’t need to renumber the chapters. Modern editing tools map heading lines but keeping the chapter number is extra information that people can use. There is even a hypertext element. My wife suggested having two different tables of contents, one where the reader follows the alternating scenes, the other where the reader alternates large chapters.