Unclog The Backlog Dept.

News on current and future books of mine.

Some major things will be happening at Chez Genji over the next couple of months.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned Genji Press projects real life Welcome to the Fold writing

Let's Do It Again Dept.

Rewrite, revise, revisit, rethink.

Steve calls it "timey-wimey creativity." I call it something else. The label doesn't really matter; the important thing is that it's the process of iterative discovery with a creative work. You write one draft, and even in the middle of that draft you discover goalposts drifting downfield, so you hurry after them. Sometimes you try to chase them down and drag them back into position, but most of the time you're better off just moving the game to where they are.

The one thing to not do is stay frozen, as it were — to assume the original idea was and has to be the best idea, to try and do justice to some Untainted Primal Vision that might not even have been all that good to begin with.

Most of the way I see this play out is when someone comes up with a great idea for a story — the Big Hook, I guess you could call it. Sometimes it's not even the idea that drives the story; sometimes it's just some Cool Thing in the story, whether or not it belongs there or even suits the story as a whole. (We talked about this problem before.) In short, it's not the idea that is the source of the problem, but the attachment to the idea, the unwillingness to see the story as the artifact of a process, with the emphasis being on the process and not the artifact.

I suspect many people do not initially recognize how their work is a moving target, and has to be one, because they also don't recognize that they themselves are moving targets. Guess what, dude   — YOU YES YOU are the artifact of a process, too! And every artifact you yourself leave behind is part of that general movement! Shocked yet?

But. I also think often of a friend of mine who over the course of something like ten years tried to begin — not even write, just begin — the same novel again and again. He never got it off the ground, let alone finished it, because every time he started to work on it he felt like his sensibilities had changed enough that everything he'd produced no longer fit the bill and had to be scrapped. Where someone else wouldn't even have noticed such a thing, he couldn't help but notice it to the almost total exclusion of everything else.

Obviously that's not healthy either.

Tags: creativity rewriting writing

Self Control Dept.

When you assume full and total responsibility for everything that happens to you, even the things you think you can't control, you have a change of perspective.

My Agile Life: Only Me - Steven Savage

When I began doing my Agile Life, I had a most interesting experience; I had only myself to blame for anything.  I was the only responsible one when most anything went wrong.

Something was late? My fault. Something not done well? My fault. Very, very few cases of things that wreren’t due to me. To blame anyone else would have required a Herculean effort of self-delusion that I just don’t have the energy or lack of morals for.

Reading those words reminded me of something Brad Warner said in one of his books: When you assume full and total responsibility for everything that happens to you, even the things you think you can't control, you have a change of perspective. You find that it becomes impossible to blame others for your problems, and so you become all the more focused on responding intelligently and wisely to your circumstances — the only real control any of us actually have — instead of trying to "control" them by way of abreaction. (For more on this, see the chapter "Bad Hair Day" in Warner's Sit Down And Shut Up, in particular pp. 218-219.)

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Tags: Agile Buddhism philosophy Zen

The Mess-Age Dept.

On the themes I keep coming back to in my work, and how I try to not let that trap me.

The night before, Steven Savage and I got to talking about themes in our respective works. He is preparing to work on a project called A Bridge To The Quiet Planet — it promises it to be quite a corker, from everything he's told me about it so far — and was quite conscious of the specific themes he wanted the material to address. Or, rather, the themes suggested by the material that he wanted to make sure the story addresses properly.

One thing we both noted is how discovery of theme is an iterative process. First you come up with a story that has some grab to it, something you're itching to write. First draft is just about getting it down. Second time around, you look at what you have and bring the story you're telling in line with the themes it seems to be suggesting. Third time, you paint it to match and polish it. The point being that there's as much discovery of theme as there is conscious and explicit conjuring of it.

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Tags: Buddhism philosophy themes writing Zen

Rocks In Your Head (And Out Of Them) Dept.

What to do when a story component is just an albatross. Or a boulder.

A Writer's View: Big Damn Rocks - Steven Savage

I found a huge, huge problem in working on my new novel is that I’d have these great ideas that I’d never get rid of or change as I’d become dedicated to them – meanwhile the story, characters, and setting had evolved beyond them.  I had all these Big Rocks I just wasn’t willing to get rid of, yet all my other great ideas kept running into them. The solution was to ditch them.  If you have an idea that squashes all your other ideas, this dense ball that distorts the story like a weight on a rubber sheet, that idea is the problem no matter how great it is.

The way I've put this to myself is, "Love your ideas but don't marry them." The way others have put this is, "Kill your darlings."

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Tags: creativity writers writing

Unscripted Dept.

How I decided to try taking the plunge back into screenwriting.

Prepare yourselves. With this post, I'm going to do one of two things:

1) Synthesize two previously incompatible strains of thought in my psychic economy of creativity, or

2) Make a fool of myself.

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Tags: projects screenwriting writing

Lock, Stock, And Character Dept.

Stock "literary" characters can be just as one-dimensional as stock SF characters.

Literary fiction is borrowing the tools of the science fiction genre.

Supposedly, the advantage to having literary novelists take up stories once dismissed as the stuff of genre fiction is that readers can get exciting plots to go with the mainstays of literary work: nuanced characters and the kind of aestheticized writing conventionally referred to as beautiful. The latter is a dubious improvement. Beautifully written is a phrase often applied to any fiction that involves a lot of poetic landscape description. ...

... [T]he basic temperament of all the characters in Station Eleven [involves] a propensity toward melancholic, vaguely paralyzed reveries that invokes the type of personality you’d expect to find in someone who writes literary fiction. These people are, when you get right down to it, all pretty much the same person. So much for the promise that literary writers will bring something more than stock figures to their science-fiction scenarios; [Emily St. John] Mandel’s rueful musers are just a different kind of stock figure.

Science fiction writers and readers have long resented incursions like these into their territory, especially when they come, as such novels often do, with a disavowal of the genre itself. (Mandel insisted that she didn’t consider Station Eleven to be science fiction.)

Maybe that's the problem. The more you get hung up on what the thing is supposed to be called instead of what it is about and how it is about it, the easier it is to write SF-that-isn't-really-SF-for-people-who-wouldn't-be-caught-dead-reading-it.

The other point made, about the way many of the characters in this kind of work behave like navel-gazers imported from a kitchen-sink story, reminds me of another point made about much work that is self-consciously literary — that it's often about characters who are either themselves writers, or who see things in ways that only another writer would see.

It always seemed harder to me, and maybe more rewarding, to see things the way someone who is not a writer would see things, and find a way to make that vision rewarding and lovely and insightful. Swapping one kind of cliché for another isn't progress.

For something I hope is not too clichéd, check out my (new!) novel Welcome To The Fold, and showing your support for it by registering at Inkshares and adding the book to your "Follow" list! Failing that, you can always buy one of my existing books, available on Amazon Kindle and in dead-tree format.

Tags: literature science fiction writing

It Takes A Worried Man Dept.

On taming my inner fussbudget.

I'm still in that last stretch for Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunnedand at the rate I'm going, I will have wrapped up the first draft of that opus by the end of June. Those damn goalposts have grown legs and started skittering downfield. I hate it when that happens.

Some of this slowness have been the aforediscussed time dilation business, some of it has been — and I was loathe to admit this at first but here goes — simple exhaustion. The last few months have been really harrowing for me personally, for reasons I don't want to go on about in public, and there's some other low-level anxiety-grade stuff (again, not for public consumption) that could theoretically explode into something more full-blown at any point.

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Tags: Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned anxiety Buddhism creativity psychology writing Zen

Fail Better Dept.

The trick to learning from failure is to not make it into a morality play.

The trick to learning from failure, I think, is to not make it into a morality play. This is something my friend Steven Savage had to grapple with recently, when his attempts to apply Agile methodology to his new writing project hit a roadbump. When he tried to pull together a plotline for the project, he ended up with something that felt patchy, stale, not entirely there, not entirely alive.

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Tags: creativity creators fail writing

Drowning In The Popcult Goldmine Dept.

How to survive the modern digital cultural flood: have no sense of history.

It's a shame this blog this isn't being updated anymore, because you could easily lose a month of weekends reading the gems contained within. To wit:

Something Old, Nothing New: When Were Movies Invented? 1977? Or Later? (2010)

... I was discussing the fact that on most areas of the internet, movie history is basically about 25 years long. This also applies to a lot of movie magazines, critical videos, and so on: you'll get people discussing movies in historical context, or making lists of the greatest movies or movie moments, but only from 1985 onward (if that). If an earlier movie shows up, it's almost a freak occurrence. ...

... the only way to get into old movies [today] is if you actively decide to learn about them, and you can't blame anyone for not wanting to sit through movie after movie as a learning experience. 

... the feeling [I have] is not so much crankiness, let alone blame, as sadness at something inevitable and unavoidable: movie history, and perhaps all of pop-culture history, is going to contract. There has never been a greater amount popular culture history accessible, in the sense of being there for anyone who wants to see it. But it's been a long time since there has been less popular culture history accessible in the other sense, of being something that the average person can assimilate without a long, hard slog. I was going to say there has never been less interest in pop-culture history, but that's not true at all. Traditionally, people have been more interested in new books, plays, music. The idea of gathering to listen to a concert of old music, or building an entire repertoire of old plays, is fairly new. So maybe the current situation is simply the way it ought to be.

Emphasis mine.

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Tags: books culture fandom moviegoing movies popular culture publishing writing

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I'm an independent SF and fantasy author, technology journalist, and freelance contemplator for how SF can be made into something more than just a way to blow stuff up.

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