the anthony dobranski blog


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Regaining the writing habit (hours not words)

I think it’s official now: I have fallen out of the habit of writing. I don’t mean to say “I’m not writing” or #amwriting – just that over the past year it’s been an ad-hoc effort, when the mood takes me.

I’m not in a panic – I have a new project, and I am even taking a class so that I have a talented writer to hold my nose to its grindstone. I am simply surprised not to be more weird about this.

I suspect it’s because the effort to market Demon turned out to be so creatively interesting – something akin to the difference between writing the play and acting in it.

Plays close, of course. Demon, I hope, will keep going. Perhaps the better analogy is to a previous album, songs on which I will perform for years after – but I’m more likely to perform the old songs if I keep coming out with new ones.

I don’t know if it will rise to the level of a New Year’s Resolution – and that would be a telling thing if it had to – but I need to start cultivating a writing habit again. That means approaching it with scheduled regularity for the next long while.

For me that means hours, not words. My colleagues often post their daily word counts, but that method never worked for me, probably because I don’t just write while I write. Like Penelope, I undo my work as I go, though unlike her I do it first thing in the morning. Even during the headlong charge of NaNoWriMo 2015, I couldn’t keep myself from editing, especially once I was three-fourths of the way to the 50K word count. People who write productivity books cluck and ruffle feathers, and isn’t that an analogy that’s not going anywhere kind to them? Stepping back….

I feel a pressure to keep it neat, akin to a bricklayer making sure to scrape away excess mortar. Perhaps that comes from the huge amount of words I threw out of early Demon drafts, and my desire not to write so inefficiently again. Perhaps I am just afraid the words will dry.

Perhaps, in my process, whatever it is, words can dry, and I’d be a fool not to respect that – whatever reality or self-indulgence that woolly concept implies to my number-crunching colleagues. They write them and I write me and I dry.

I get the rest of this week to play and shop. On Christmas night, I have to make a schedule. Maybe I should throw in a little time to exercise too. Or maybe that’s the New Year’s Resolution!


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Twenty lousy minutes on the Freewrite (review)

Less tool than fetish, and disappointing.

Funded on Kickstarter, the new Freewrite is a solid, lovingly-crafted device that promises to return writers to a place of distraction-free spontaneity. From its low-power e-ink screen to the aluminum case – with handle – to the deep-traveling satisfyingly-clicky Cherry keys, the Freewrite consciously recalls early computers, manual typewriters, and a more physical, engaged time. I love touching it. Really.

freewrite-blog-1

Alas, none of those keys moves the cursor.

“Distraction-free” writing is not a method like touch-typing, but an ideal. For some, it means paper. For others (like me), it means starting my work in a text editor, not a print-oriented word processor like Word or OpenOffice. For still others, it means gimmicky apps that literally delete your writing if you pause too long. Whatever works, right? And if it doesn’t work, you can do something else.

Not on the Freewrite. For the Freewrite, “distraction-free” means, and only means, a weirdly oppressive no-turning-back mentality, like Allen Ginsberg’s “first thought best thought” warped from liberating ideal into blind diktat without recourse.

You can only keep keying. You can’t go backwards, save to delete – and that has the acceleration of a Tesla, one word, two words, a paragraph whoa! You can’t go up three lines and add a header. You must go forward, only forward, like Orpheus leaving Hades.

I don’t even write that way on paper.

The Freewrite also requires a better computer to finish one’s work. Just getting text out of it – set up a special account, to either e-mail the work as an non-editable PDF, or to push it into Dropbox folders as Word .docx files – is a ridiculous kluge, a giant chicken-wire afterthought that makes the whole Freewrite process feel like something out of the movie BrazilContinue reading


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Merge and purge (writing and language)

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.