Update on that no-media experiment

Things I successfully avoided in my experiment: Fiction. Surprisingly, that was the easiest thing to do. Mostly because there is such interesting nonfiction in the world! Podcasts were easy to avoid, too (with one exception that I knew I couldn’t quit. PCHH, I love you too, too dearly.)

Otherwise, I cheated a whole heck of a lot. I did occasionally still watch things, but I tried to keep it as a reward at the end of a week, or documentaries. I found myself replacing my TV-downtime with games, which I honestly hadn’t thought about. I replayed most of The Talos Principle, which was not the best use of my time, but oh well.

(Sidenote: Seriously, if you haven’t played The Talos Principle, maybe you should?? And then we can talk about it??? It’s about consciousness and puzzles and what it is to be a person and free will and lasers and a storm-engulfed tower and robots, so I don’t know how there isn’t something for everyone in there.)

And then I played through Botanicula and was this close to replaying Samorost and the Submachine games…

So instead, since it’s been about a month, I’m taking a moment to look back on the experiment.

Among other small accomplishments, I did write messy drafts of two new stories, and I got two of the three workshop stories out on submission. That’s not bad. I’m not really attempting to write poetry so much as literally playing with it — I took some paragraphs of stories I’ve written, and pages out of books I was reading, and I cut them into their component parts (copies! don’t worry) and have, occasionally, while listening to music, been reassembling them into poems. And realizing that magnetic poetry is a form of dada cut-up, and yet somehow misses the spirit of the game entirely.

As September creeps into view, I’m going to shift the experiment a little. After a month, I was craving some fiction. So I picked up The Sundial and am reading it, nice and slow.

As for TV: does anyone have some willpower they could loan me?

Too much talking and too many rules

On Twitter, someone linked to this post (I want to say it was Kelly Link, but it was sometime last week, and I’m pretty sure Twitter doesn’t exist more than 24 hours into the past) and when I finally read it, it felt like sinking into a chair I forgot I owned, and thinking, “When did I put this in storage? Why isn’t this in my living room?”

Anyway, the post is Reality Affects by Matthew Cheney, talking about another essay (What Should Fiction Do by Bonnie Nadzam).

When you hang out with a lot of readers and writers, it’s really easy to get caught up in what others think fiction ought to be. If there’s a formula, if there’s a map, if there is a right and a wrong when it comes to shaping a story, that makes things easier. If there’s a way to do it right, wouldn’t you want to do that? If someone says they know how to write a story that will get an agent’s attention, that will be a bestseller, well, heck, maybe they do know! Maybe if you do what they say, you’ll sell your next book, and everything will be okay.

Writing from inside these conversations, while surrounded by movies, while seeing each book-of-the-moment pass by, at some point you might accidentally absorb all these rules about stories. You have to have an inciting incident. Your character has to go on a journey. They must refuse the call and have a thousand faces. Your protagonist must try and fail and try again, try bigger, fail harder. There must be scenes and sequels, action and cliffhangers, emotional processing, a familiar shape like a mountain, like a bell curve…

But is that all? Of course not.

I don’t think I even noticed that I’d absorbed and built up these rules around me, until they started to chafe. I wanted to follow patterns, to obey plot structure, and by God, I wanted to do things right. If I’m going to do a thing, I better do it right. I will listen, I will take notes, I will show up and do it exactly as you’re supposed to. I will analyze and figure out what the heck a chapter is, where and how often to drop foreshadowing, how much to worldbuild, when exactly to have the protagonist hit their dark night, their nadir, and when I finally slog through writing this book, I’ll have done it up right.

Oh, Lord, is it tiring and deadening to think like that. Do it right? What’s that even mean? everything is made up. Like, all of art is a construct of one sort or another. The rules come from the last group of people who were making it up as they went along. They looked at what had been done, and did something a little different. And a little different again. Or a lot different! Transgressing the established formula speaks to the thing you’re transgressing as well as asking a reader to be more conscious of what they’re reading. And I find that very interesting. Not the idea of breaking all the rules for the sake of breaking things, but not being beholden to them.

Literature deserves more than formulas, more than cinema. The written word can do interesting and complex things, different from the mapped out swoop of a story, something other than fake cinema. Written stories can do so much more than what’s popular and salable right at this moment. Beyond all that writing advice that’s in digestible bullets and charts. And I’m very interested in all that lately, freshly, again.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that literature isn’t doing any of this. Only that’s it’s very easy to find myself suddenly wearing blinders I didn’t know I’d picked up, and get trapped into thinking X the only way to do writing right. Cheney’s essay was like a cold splash of water to wake me up and remind me of the things that excite me most. I read it at a good time, when I was feeling weary and sort of confused about this one project, and realized I was weighted down by the idea of doing all these things right.

It’s nice to be reminded that “right” is debatable, and so is the idea of what fiction should do.

 

Complete do-over: On rewriting, maybe

Let’s be honest: Anything anyone’s ever told you about writing? There’s like a 60% chance it’s completely wrong for the project you’re working on. So don’t mind me as I waffle endlessly about how to do things.

My current “am i doing it right is this okay or have i gone round the bend” thing is this novel I’m working on. And have been, for quite some time now. I spent months last year doing a serious edit, and this spring was finally able to get some writing friends to critique the draft. I received such great, thoughtful, engaged, and excited feedback that I was freshly pumped about a story I was feeling run down on.

The next day, I was accepted into a short story workshop. After some frantic note-organizing, I completely switched gears to short stories for about two months.

Yesterday I returned to the novel and all the notes I had made. And I thought “I should rewrite this entirely.”

In various drafts, I had already made some rounds of serious structural edits, so I felt like I knew what I was comparing. I knew what it meant to look at the draft and my notes and prep another revision. I knew how much I would want to cling to what was already there. And I knew what I really wanted this novel to feel like, the energy I wanted it to have, the plotlines I wanted to focus on…

And some part of me said, “I should rewrite this entirely.”

It’s a lot of work. My god, it’s a lot of work. Because that fresh draft, while backed by years of thinking about this story and working out kinks in character, plot, and world-building, will take X weeks to write, will need a new round of edits, will want a new round of early readers (if they’ll indulge me).

But today I’m looking at my notes on a potential new outline, and I’m thinking, “I should rewrite this entirely.”

I’m giving it a week for the shock of the idea to wear off, so I can sit with it and decide if it really is a good idea.

Reader (if you are reading this, ever, at any time), how do you figure out rewrites and/or edits? Alternately: Have I gone round the bend?

Confession of failure, already?

That grand plan of mine? I already kicked it over. Yesterday I came home with a headache and feeling rotten, and it was hot, and my cat was cute, and I just, I just really wanted to watch some NewsRadio with my eyes closed, okay?

Back on it today, though. Stories out on sub, having a staring contest with another piece, and I’m about to settle in with a delicious book about a mill strike.

Considering how much amazing free food I got today, I think the universe is okay with my day off yesterday.

I’m going to say right now that there was always a caveat for “movies or TV watched at the behest of friends” so if I happen to go see Ghostbusters then so be it.

But I do want to have as few exceptions as possible, because I’m curious about effects. Everything has an effect on the way you see the world, the way you think, what rattles around in your brain. So what happens when you take a hard right and change a large chunk of the input?

Hopefully genius.

On taking a break from media

I went to this two-week short story workshop, which was amazing. I got back a month ago, and have been meaning to write something about it. I think about it almost every day.

I went to Readercon last weekend, too, and intended to write something about it. Haven’t.

The short story workshop left me with three stories with varying amounts of polishing needed. None of them are on sub yet.

I have this idea for a project that I want to develop. I’ll need collaborators. I’ll need a co-writer, and people who know more about audio files than I do. But first I need to figure out more of it.

I miss playing with interactive fiction and Twine. It’s been a long time since I even opened Twine.

I want to play with writing poetry.

All of these things feel like they’re buried under a pile of junk. I don’t know what that junk is. Maybe it’s the god-awful heat of summer, as I am a creature made of dry dead leaves and impending snow. But I think it’s something else, what with the existence of air-conditioning and sun dresses.

It’s time for drastic measures, you see. In the past those drastic measures would be “BAN TUMBLR, BAN TWITTER.” But I’m not on Tumblr anymore, not really, and Twitter is important to me. Also, not that distracting most of the time.

So I’ve unplugged my external hard drives. No TV, no movies. I don’t have Netflix anymore. I’ll always have YouTube, but it’s not an automatic reflex/refuge.

I might take a break from most of my podcasts. They’ll be there when I come back, after all.

As a test, I’m even going to refrain from picking up another piece of fiction for a while. Just to see what happens in my brain. I read a lot. I can take a break for two weeks. And I’ve heard so many writers talk about how they can or can’t read other things when they’re in the midst of a project that I finally realized I’d never tried that. I’d always assumed I was fine. So I’m going to take a break on purpose.

No TV, no movies, no podcasts, no fiction. It’s kind of terrifying, actually. Distractions are very comforting.

Does anyone else ever do this? Do you institute a media blackout, or other sort of drastic measures? Or do you have other tactics to get things done?