Brevity Being The Soul Of Wit And All That Dept.

It's far harder to write a good short book than a good long one.

Paradox time: It's far harder to write a good short book than a good long one.

For my rule of thumb about why, I defer to Martin Scorsese, who once said that cinema was a matter of what was in the frame and what was out of it. Selectivity is what makes art, not inclusiveness. Stories are defined as much by what they leave out, where they pick up and leave off, and what they elect not to elaborate on, as they are by what they do contain.

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Tags: editing writing

Empathy Machine II Dept.

More on the idea that entertainments can be engines of empathy.

Earlier I wrote about my skepticism in re how reading is purported to promote empathy. Not because I hate reading — I love it to wicked death — or because I think empathy is a bad idea, but because I dislike applying either romanticism or cynicism to discussions of human nature.

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Tags: creativity culture empathy entertainment

Engines Of Empathy Dept.

Does reading make us more empathic, or do more empathic people just make better readers?

No one is immune to mythologizing or self-mythologizing. The mythologies woven by artists about themselves and their trades are no more immune to being punctured or deflated than any other. Sometimes I think the only people who can let the (hot) air out of such things are other artists, because it's only from inside that a valid and accepted criticism of such things can be launched. Nobody would pay attention to a thing Stephen Hawking said about literature — or, at the very least, they wouldn't think he had as valid a point as, oh, Tibor Fischer.

This is my warmup to saying something that might well get me drummed out of the Creators' Union, but here goes.

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Tags: empathy fiction psychology sociology writers writing

Time Manglement Dept.

On carving up one's time efficiently for creative work.

My friend Steven Savage is the most ruthlessly efficient person I've ever met. This is no denigration; I wish more people had his kind of man-month-isms. He is experimenting with how to apply Agile methods to his own life, a way to figure out what kinds of tasks can be accomplished efficiently in a given timeframe. For those of you who don't follow the latest and greatest in time-management trends, there's a lot more to it, but that's the basics.

One thing Steven blogged about recently was what time frame is suited to chopping up one's life. His base timeframe for things is monthly, because a lot of things in his life tend to recur with that period — professional meetups, for instance — which he can subdivide a little further into two-week blocks. That got me thinking about the timeframes for most of what I do, and how to slice them up.

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Tags: lifestyle management

Character Building Exercises Dept.

Sometimes making things hard on yourself doesn't "build character"; it just makes things harder than they have to be.

That Nile Rodgers interview, man. So much to mine out.

In the old days, Rodgers said, "we have to overcome all of those [technical] problems that the equiment gave us, and the net benefit of overcoming all of those variables was an artistic statements in and of itself."

This is a slice of something from that interview I've chomped out before — the idea that, as Nile put it, "the old restrictions in technology forced us to do things right." There's a danger to romanticizing that idea — just because you've made things hard on yourself doesn't mean the experience automatically "builds character" or what have you — but there's a grain of truth there.

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Tags: software TiddlyWiki writers writing

The Sweet And Sour Crew Dept.

On creating an internally complementary cast of characters.

For some strange and wondrous reason, the Nile Rodgers interview in Behind the Glass has proven to be an endless source of wisdom for me. At one point he talks about complementary dynamics in a song, and how analogies can be drawn between those things and, say, food: "I think of weight and substance, and I understand flavors and ingredients and textures and how to work with sweet and sour, hot and cold, funky and smooth."

Notions like this tend to wash around in my head and attach themselves to all kinds of things. The other day, they attached themselves to the idea of the cast of characters present in a story. The implications should be obvious: you don't want everyone in the story to be the same way, because a) you can't tell anyone apart and b) that's boring. But c), the differences need to be more than cosmetic. Not just in the sense of physical makeup or even personality, but outlook, attitude to life, methodology of living.

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Tags: creativity psychology sociology writing

Outside Lookin' Inside Dept.

If past, present, and future are all unknowable, what's left? (And why frame things that way?)

One of the things that bugged me about Buddhism (Zen and otherwise) when I first ran into it was something that is typically encapsulated with the following formulation: The past, the present, and the future are all unknowable. You only know about the past through traces left behind, and those aren't really the past; they're traces left by the past. Likewise, you only know about the present by way of your tiny perceptions of your tiny slice of it. And the future — who knows about the future?

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Tags: Buddhism science

Gather Those Rosebuds Dept.

Tim Hall, one of the good guys, is leaving us.

Tim Hall, a/k/a Kalyr, sometime commentor on this blog, fan of prog rock, RPGs, and trains (not necessarily in that order), is in palliative care for an inoperable cancer.

Wish him and his well while it's still possible. Twitter seems the easiest way.

Tags: death real life

Favored Creation Status Dept.

" ... his goal was making someone’s favorite movie of the year." Whoever that someone might be.

Tramps Movie Review & Film Summary (2017) | Roger Ebert

“Tramps” director Adam Leon once said something in an interview that I will never forget. While talking about his gritty debut film “Gimme the Loot,” about two young graffiti writers wanting to tag a New York City landmark, Leon said that his goal was making someone’s favorite movie of the year. That’s quite a novel idea that only interesting filmmakers could accomplish — to make something that speaks to a viewer so directly, it essentially fulfills what they need, what they've been yearning to see.

I like the idea of making someone's favorite something, even if that someone is only yourself (or maybe one other person).

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Tags: creativity creators Kurt Vonnegut

Unblock Me Please Dept.

The real story about writers' block, or lack of same.

Is writer’s block a real thing, or just a figment of the imagination? | Life and style | The Guardian

The most important step in overcoming writer’s block, then, may be cutting it down to size: grasping that it’s just a situation, not an underlying condition, and that it’s solved, by definition, the moment you write anything. You could keep a dream journal, as Graham Greene did, or do “morning pages”: three pages of whatever comes to mind first thing. Give up writing in binges, and focus on doing a tiny amount, very regularly, including stopping when time’s up. Oh, and stop expecting writing itself to be pleasurable. (I’m deeply suspicious of anyone who claims it’s fun.)

Suspect me, then! I like writing; I think it's a blast. I also think it's hard freakin' work. The two are not mutually exclusive. Many people I know, myself included, are at their most engaged and "present" when they are working on an intractably difficult problem.

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Tags: creativity creators writers writing

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