Friday, August 27, 2010

I Should Be Born

Like I've said before, I really love the confluence of music and words. There's a song I recently discovered by a band called Jets Overhead that's just plain addictive, and I want to share the earworm joy. First, let me set the scene that I've been seeing in my head.

In a sprawling abandoned factory complex, a group of people have gathered in the one building with electricity. It's dusk. An orange glow lines the skyline to the west, over a broad brown river. The factory site goes right up to the water, where a concrete dock juts out into the slow current. Behind the occupied building, a single mercury vapor floodlight casts a cold light into the deepening darkness. A person leaves the building, looking for two others who hide in the darkness.

<a href="">I Should Be Born by Jets Overhead</a>

The last verse especially reminds me of Leah and what she faces in that scene, which is the climax of the story.

If you struggle in logic and feeling
Generational gaps are revealing
Don't lose sight of the ones who have loved you
You're only as strong as the love that built you

If you go here you can download the title track of Jets Overhead's last album for free.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

A Redefinition

I started this blog with the idea that I'd post pieces of writing that weren't good enough to leave in a finished, publishable work—the proverbial darlings that writers kill. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It doesn't anymore.

For one thing, I'm not sure I want y'all reading bad writing when I know its bad and have already surpassed and/or replaced it with something better. Kind of makes me look worse than I actually am. It's embarrassing.

For another thing, I'd rather just write about what's on my mind. That's what I've actually been doing lately. I want to write about cool things that I discover while researching and thinking about my current and future projects.

For example, I've been reading about witchcraft trials in the early 1300s and the great famine of 1315-16, and I'm wondering about how certain nobility who died in that year actually perished. I've been looking into epi-genetics, parasites, gene modification, and getting in way over my head. I just filmed a demo of a system that gives an immersive view of everything around an unmanned vehicle and includes 3D overlaid information about what the vehicle senses and where it plans to go. (I have a pretty cool day job.) I've been listening to a song by Jets Overhead over and over because it reminds me of The Sense and my own situation. I just got a chapter critique from five people who had five very different takes, and I don't know whose to listen to.

That's at least nine blog posts right there, and they're more interesting to me than writing I've tossed. Maybe I'm just less sentimental. Maybe I'm just more comfortable with throwing pieces away forever, confident that what's coming is only going to get better.

In the end, I hope what I post is also interesting to you. All ten of you. My focus will still be on writing. The topics may seem completely random, but they're all related. See if you can figure out how.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Throwing It All Away

I have a 98,000 word novel that took me a year to write: three months for the first draft plus nine months of revision. It's all about to become one of those proverbial darlings that I must kill. Only a handful of people have read it, and no one else ever will.

Say your goodbyes! I'm holding the delete key to its head right now! Here it goes—BANG! It's dead!

All that work, early mornings, late nights, hours pondering and agonizing and wracking my brains while staring at a blank screen—gone in the blink of an eye. Alas, poor book. I knew it well, Horatio. *sob*

Whoa, I'll stop there. Honestly, I'm just trying to make myself feel sorry for myself. Starting an entire book over from the beginning seems like it ought to be a difficult thing to do. It should feel arduous, sacrificial or something besides exciting.

But I'm just excited. I've got a book that still has a lot of things wrong with it, and I'm realizing new things all the time. This a chance to fix everything! Because this book deserves it. When I'm done with this draft (plus probably a couple more passes to fix new problems I may introduce) I'll have a shining gem worthy of the characters I've come to know so well. A couple months ago I wrote that I couldn't quite see my characters faces, and couldn't hold a conversation with them. Now I can do both.

And really, hardly a single hour of the time I've spent writing is wasted. I've been learning how to write, and I can say with sincere Edisonian optimism that I've found a dozen ways not to tell this story. I'm really pumped. This is the draft where the characters come alive on the page the way they have in my mind. This is the draft where the story makes perfect sense and flows inevitably to a better ending. This is the draft that I'll be able to hand to anyone in the world and say without reservation, "I wrote this."

Give me three months from tomorrow.

Oh, and brain-wracking has been minimal.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Radio Lab says I'm a genius.

So it must be true. If you want to hear it for yourself, listen to this. You may be a genius, too. If you don't have the time or inclination to listen to the show, or you've just listened to it and missed the part where they said, "This conclusively proves that Ben is a genius," I'll explain myself.

It's an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. His theory about genius is that it isn't so much a result of innate ability as a love of what one is doing.

Let's pause and let that sink in.

The more I've thought about that over the past week, the more I've come to believe that he's right. He cites a couple of examples for his theory, but most of my thinking about this has been more personal. I can relate to what he says about love. I love writing. I looove writing. When I'm not writing, I'm usually thinking about it. When I have setbacks, like my critique group says I've gotten something completely wrong in one chapter and I realize I've done the same thing through the entire book, it only gets me down for about five minutes. Literally. And then I'm fired up to fix it. I don't mind rewriting entire books, because I love the book, I love the characters, and I love writing.

I know that doesn't make me a genius. It merely opens up the possibility. What's that famous quote about genius? It's ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration? Could that literally be true?

I'm the first person to admit that hard work can't get you everything you want. I feel that there's more to genius than hard work, and love is as good a word as any other. Einstein spent years thinking about light before making the connection with time. Why? Because he loved thinking about it. He wanted to understand. He had that intense desire that can't be summoned up by will, or competition, or passing interest. He didn't come up with the answer after working on the problem for a day, or a few months. He spent years on it, during which he became the genius who knew enough about that specific problem to make the logical leap that gave us relativity. It's probably safe to say that no one had ever spent so much time and energy on the question of what happens when you travel the speed of light. It wasn't easy for him by any means.

When you really love doing something, you think about it, you practice it, it becomes part of your life, an integral part of who you are. Rather than setting aside discreet chunks of time to work on it, it finds its way into everything you do. You're always practicing. In that way, it's not just about hard work. No amount of hard work can get you what a genuine love of the task will get you. In fact, when you love doing something, it ceases to be work.

Writers like to complain about how hard writing is, how much work it takes to create a really good novel. In reality, they don't want anyone to find out they're being paid to do something they'd do for free. Am I right? Most wrote for many years before getting paid.

The moral of this story is that talent doesn't come from nowhere. It develops from love. If you weren't born writing perfect manuscripts, don't despair. All you need is love—and someday you'll be a genius, too.