Archive for the ‘creativity’ category

Hardcore revisions: a method

August 29, 2011

You already know how fascinated I am by the creative process and how different artists get things done. Over on her blog, Leona Wisoker is in the process of detailing the method she’s using–and the actual practice–of digging back into a story she trunked a long time ago, with the intent of raising it to her current standard. The project has been under way for almost a week, and it’s fun to see what she’s doing with it: not least with the ways she keeps things both fresh and disciplined, remembering to feed the artist at work.

The writers among you will surely find ideas worth stealing. For everyone interested in such things, it’s a cool lens into an artist’s process.

Today’s Dirty Writer Secret

April 10, 2011

A couple days of forward motion at the keyboard does not constitute total immunity to creative malaise. That is a battle we have to fight more days than not. After just one day of derailment by the mundane (in this case, allergies) I am back down at the bottom of the mountain trying to push that damn rock again.

Heave. Ho.

Validation and the courage to keep going

April 27, 2010

Jazz musician Bill McGee posted this on Facebook recently. I picked it up from a friend’s feed. Feel free to skip ahead if you’ve seen this article already; discussion after the jump.

Bill McGee THE SITUATION – In Washington, DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one applauded. There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:
If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . .
How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?
(Thanks Gregory Branch for forwarding this to me – I understand THIS!)

(more…)

Addictions

December 9, 2009

I am becoming a knitting addict. I can tell, because when the person with whom I share knitting experience is around, I am unable to resist the urge to knit. When we’re not knitting, we’re talking about knitting. We shop for knitting paraphernalia together — and if you’re not already a knitting addict, then you are probably not ready to hear about going to the knitting store and petting all the yarns. Oooo, baby.

Further evidence: when I am knitting, I feel calm. In fact just being near my knitting basket, knowing that I could knit if I really wanted to, is calming. I spend too much time knitting, and sometimes neglect other things I should be doing.

But here is why knitting is good: knitting is like writing. When you knit, you learn writing lessons — and writing makes you a better knitter. Possibly my favorite thing about knitting is that, as with writing, you can make mistakes without completely hosing things. When you sew, if you make a mistake, you may be able to rip out the seam and try again — but the place where you ripped it out may be visible. And heaven help you if you’ve made a cutting error! But the worst-case scenario in knitting is ripping out what you’ve done…which just leaves you with all the yarn you started with and a bit more experience at the craft.

This is a miraculous secret, in my view. I knit with abandon; if I hose it, I rip it out and start over. This is just like a good day in the study: if I hose a scene, I try again. I can excise it from the file that holds my current draft, possibly storing it nearby if I think parts of it may prove useful later. Or I can simply dig back in and knit new sentences around the first attempt. A knitted item is really just one long complex knot you tie with needles. It is subject to change without notice, and you don’t have to beat yourself up for trying again. It will be better next time, because you learned from the last attempt.

Writing is like that, too, of course. I have tossed out literally hundreds of thousands of words in the course of my writing practice. But none of them are ruined. I can use them all again, as often as I like.

And I would like to tell you I could stop anytime I wanted to, but…well. Maybe I am a writing addict, too.

What are we to make of this?

January 19, 2009

It’s quite likely that there’s something wrong with me, some Creutzfeld-Jakob of the publishing brain. I turned down a publishable novel this weekend.

Really, there was nothing showstoppingly wrong with it. I yanked it out of the slushpile with lightning speed because the writing was top-notch. It was SF rather than F, which excited me because Mercury Retrograde is so heavily weighted in favor of fantasy. PoV slips were minor, and I felt certain I’d be able to coach the writer through where he was going wrong. And it started in media res, which almost never happens. I had every expectation of falling in love.

So why did I turn it down? Not because of any fault, but because of what it turned out to be: a sort of James-Bond-in-space with a female protag. Sounds like a great concept, right? This is the kind of thing that dominates the upper end of SFF novel sales, and a publisher with a better moneymaking brain would have jumped all over it. I’m sure it will sell quite soon–or within a timeframe that passes for “soon” in the publishing industry. In fact I’m certain the only reason it wound up on my desk is that the path to publication with a big house has grown so very, very long.

But for better or worse–or, more to the point, for richer or poorer–it was the things this very competent novelist didn’t dig into that made my decision for me: character and ideas. For me, it is not enough that a character is well-defined and heroic: I want to see him or her *develop*, deal with conflicts that are deep and defining and change as a result of confronting them. I don’t want the story to turn on an Achilles heel: I want to dig into why Achilles’ sexual orientation changed the course of the Trojan War. And great worldbuilding and gee-whiz-ness don’t do it for me unless they are there in service of ideas the author is exploring. I understand that most readers don’t share my needs: most read to be entertained, to zip through a story that gives them a good ride and maybe some good moments to roll around in their minds later. And that the smart money is in giving people entertaining diversions, not stories that will challenge them, ask them to become emotionally involved or even changed by what they read.

As a reader, though, it’s things in the latter category I want to read. As a writer, that’s what I want to write. As a publisher, I want to create a space where writers can do that sort of work without having to consider themselves failures if their work doesn’t get below the magic Thousand Mark on Amazon. But all I really knew when I decided to decline the offer of that very competent novel was that I didn’t love it. I had to wander around for several hours afteward, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.

It’s possible that I recognized with my artist-brain, long before my conscious mind caught up, that to start down the path of choosing novels for monetary rather than artistic reasons is to risk artistic ruin. But it’s also possible that I just have Mad Cow.

This might be a manifesto

October 1, 2008

Yeah, I might have to nail this one to the cathedral door when it’s done.

Today is the official release date of Shorn by Larissa N. Niec: the first book published by my brainchild, Mercury Retrograde Press. I’m immeasurably proud of the work we’ve done on this one–and it *has* been a “we”, because in addition to the writer, any book must also have an editor, a proofreader, a typesetter/book designer, a cover designer, one or more artists, and people whose task it is to get the word out so people can fall in love with the creation and make its story part of their personal myth set. Shorn has had–still has–a whole team behind it. Because we’re a new press, and we can’t afford to hire full-time employees yet, I’ve done the majority of the work on this project, and for the most part I find the work fulfilling; but in the race to do this book justice, I have mostly set aside my own writing life. This is a thing I’ve viewed as a temporary necessity; in my mind, once we crossed the finish line on Shorn, things would calm down and I could get back to the study with a clear conscience.

I now understand that was unrealistic. There is still work to be done for Shorn, and the work will continue for a couple months yet: getting the word out, setting up relationships with new sales channels (a task for which I’m hugely grateful, btw), propagating the ebook versions and beginning to figure out the logistics of audio book production. Meanwhile Anointed, the next book on Mercury Retrograde’s menu, is already waiting for me to start doing my share of what it needs; by the time that’s done, I’ll be behind on the next one. (And, oh, you’re going to LOVE the next one, but there are still nagging legal entanglements that must be resolved, so for now I must leave you to fantasize. Two words to start with: Urban Fantasy.)

The bottom line: I am never going to be *caught up* on Mercury Retrograde business, at least not until Mercury Retrograde can afford staff. That’s normal for a start-up business, and I’ve done the whole start-up thing before, so while I’m not uncomfortable with the headlong dash and all the other stuff that goes along with it, now that we’re in a Mercury Retrograde period, my muse is crying for time in the study…and suddenly I remember that I founded Mercury Retrograde because the house I wanted to publish my own fiction didn’t exist yet. It exists now, and I love it; but if I publish six, nine, or twelve books per year that win the hearts of critics and fans alike, earn out and go on to make money for their authors, and yet I am not writing fiction, I will not have done what I set out to do.

It is never going to be a convenient time for me to go back to writing; so long as I am writing, things will move more slowly in the office than they otherwise might. But it occurs to me that, while I refuse to hold other Mercury Retrograde authors to hard deadlines when meeting those deadlines would require them to compromise their art, I’m giving my own work no such respect. That has to stop.

So, while Mercury Retrograde Press authors and fans may wish I could move a little faster in the office, I trust they will understand that I must go back to carving out regular time in the study. No book will go unedited, un-typeset, or unpromoted; it’s just that schedules will be a bit more fluid than they’ve been. In the long run, I suspect, all of Mercury Retrograde’s books will benefit.

In the mean time, I have to go back to the study.

One of the nicest beatings ever

July 14, 2008

So, yeah, Wynette read my draft of the first two acts of Affairs. Her take:

“This would be a really good book from anybody but you. You can do better.”

Uh, thanks? Uh, uhm…really. How am I supposed to feel?

Let’s be clear: she’s right. The things she bitched about were things that have been troubling me as I’ve been writing: some serious flaws in Deaclan’s motivation which–were I to address them–would derail my trip towards that plot point this novel had to hit; the way plot had to keep giving way to the weight of backstory and worldbuilding this novel was trying to carry. There’s other stuff I would like to improve, too, but those are the things that can’t be addressed within the current framework. The bottom-line problem is that I am a character-driven writer and I’ve been trying to write to a plot point. Which is to say that I’ve been writing a plot-driven novel. Of course I can do better than that.

So, where do we go from here? The headline: this book won’t go to press this year. Oh, it *could*: I’m the publisher, after all. And it wouldn’t be an embarrassment in the scheme of things…but it wouldn’t be my best art. And that would be sorta pointless. Instead I will dig back in and attack this story (which, as those of you who’ve been playing along know, will have numerous volumes by the time it’s done, mostly because the idea is Too Freakin Big) from the other possible angle of entry. Which will obviate (no, who am I kidding? alleviate) the worldbuilding problem I’ve been fighting. I’d actually had a hard time deciding which of these two points of entry to use, and now I have sufficient data to be certain which is the way to go. It’s going to be easier, and probably better, this way.

Why, then, the perpiscacious reader asks, if trying it the other way will be easier and better, didn’t you just damn well do it that way in the first place?

That would be because I had made the mistake of attempting to think like a publisher.

Oh, sure, I’ve got to think like a publisher. But when thinking like a publisher gets in the way of thinking like an artist, I will succeed as neither. I’d chosen Affairs as the starting point for the series because it’s got a better hook. It will probably be easier to sell. All things being equal, that’s better, obviously. The problem is that all things aren’t equal. The other approach, beginning with The Shadow of the Sun, is more art and less hook. Hamlet meets the Tain Bo Cuilagne meets Paradise Lost. How the hell do you soundbyte that? Who besides Irish mythology geeks has even *heard* of the Tain Bo?

Don’t glaze over. It will be a good ride, nay a great one. It just doesn’t have that nice *hook*.

Back to the study for me, right after the launch.