Tufted Mitosis (top photo)
Hello my friends – apologies for seeming absent of late – I am just in the process of writing a brand new and really fun book, and it’s coming out in such a dizzying rush, that it’s been robbing me of the mental energy for many other normal tasks. Taking the weekend off – then back to the sprint (I really want to know how it all comes out – and Catherine is even more eager!). ;o)
Since I’m in the middle of the all-important execution phase right now (which for me, is a completely different mind-set from the far more deliberate planning and editing phases, which come before and after), I thought it was worth mentioning a few principles that seem robust, but under discussed – and I’ve got a few nifty photographs, to go with.
Had another excellent adventure walk today with my friend Nada – not only great to stretch my legs and rest my fingers for a bit – but also let my subconscious replenish organically (seventeen GOOD pages Friday – drained me). We hit the AGO – and I was reminded that there are very few things better than a visit to the art gallery to charge up your creative batteries for another tilt at almost any sort of work.
Plus – we walked by one of the main locations in the book!
This lovely busy table was only one of many laid out for a March break kids festival in the main hall of the gallery – art activities of many kinds, resting areas for parents, and plenty of treats from all over (by the time you have a croquembouche…) they even had a gigantic chandelier made of construction paper!
This table reminded Catherine of the many traditions where a table is lavishly set in a way laden heavily with meaning and symbol.
But it reminded me of the incredibly frustrating early state of any major work, when you have all of the lovely individual elements at hand, and yet are still completely baffled as to how they fit together properly.
Contradictions apply to so much of art. I adore Harlan Ellison’s insistence that writing is “A piece of work” by which he meant genuine labour (rather than piece-work, or ‘work for hire’, entirely insidious modern variations).
But I also love that old (Gertrude Stein?) quote about how it’s very hard to be brilliant, “because you have to spend so much time doing nothing.”
I manage to work the contradictions continuously – that is, I am relentless in my work discipline, but I have so many projects underway, that I can continually berate myself for being a used-up unproductive failure on one vector, even when I’m writing a hundred a fifty pages a month on something else! (Got to drive that donkey somehow, right?) ;o)
The way stairs would grow themselves
The staff at AGO are excellent, and often friendly enough to enjoy a quip or two about the art or the crowd, but they disappointed me very slightly today, when they insisted that the exhibition we were there to see was on the fifth floor – and then pointed me directly to an elevator. I know I’m a grey-hair now – but I’ll still take the stairs, any time – especially when they are Frank Gehry stairs!
I had no idea that these exquisite twin columns of continuous-sinuous wooded curvature went all the way up (or, in honesty, that there even was another gallery on the fifth floor – there is, for any who shared my ignorance – and it is both voluminous and lovely. Some of the best space in the gallery.
Anyhow – you probably already know the principle that this makes me think of – the only way the story can go together, is the only way it can go together – which is not to say that many stable forms aren’t possible, from any given collection of narrative elements, but only that once assembled, the whole should feel like an inevitable and organic progress – no skipping a floor, and leaving your readers stranded before they get to the payoff!
There are two excellent and enduring pieces of writing advice which I find some of my friends misinterpreting, in ways which limit them needlessly.
The first one is “Write what you know.” Yes it is great advice – but the point is about sticking to that space in which you can be truthful, even in fiction. People don’t like being lied to, and if you write about something you know too little about, you won’t even know when you’re lying. Inventing from within your own emotional experience, and those you’ve witnessed vividly, is a good start. The limit should not be on our compassion for our cast of characters, but about our humility and respect for the deep knowledge and intellectual passions of our individual readers. Research helps a lot (and usually suggests way better usage ideas than one’s ignorant conceptions).
The other bit of advice I love, and yet often see used wrong, is “Murder your darlings” and this applies to absolutely all arts – but carefully, please!
Yes, there are all sorts of places in art where ruthlessness is useful – especially in facing yourself and effectively perceiving your subject. But this line is actually about not taking yourself too seriously. No violence!
The actual darlings of the story are the ways in which it involves the reader – which means that all of the things that we think are clever, but interfere with: pacing, plot, story, character, voice or clear style – however much we like them as demonstrations of our own cleverness – are pure junk!
Yes – we artists do love to say it can be heroic to make such a sacrifice (though you can usually take a ‘cutting’ and start another piece around it), but I think we all agree we like a successful piece of work, most of all.
So I say – yes, murder away – but remember it’s about your ego interfering with the reader’s pleasure in your work – not a torture-test for its own sake – to make you stronger through pain!
The very best thing about that weird phase when your brain has decided that it has finally figured the whole problem out (whether or not it has fully appraised you of all the working details) is that you really can get lost in your own little world, and start being chased around the place by your ever more insistent characters, and then it doesn’t feel so much like you’re doing it by work (sorry Harlan) so much as simply trying to keep up with all the crazy stuff that they are all doing, and jot it down in some reasonable way!
Sure, the world is still on a crash-course with yikes – but in this mode – just give me plenty of coffee and a quiet room and I’m good for the duration. See you at ‘the end’ (I mean the end of the story, just to be clear – not quite that morbid yet).