A sometimes half-arsed record of the process of writing in its' variegated many forms.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When I'm having trouble writing

Lately, I've been expending generous helpings of time on long winded blog posts as a means towards one part of an effort to gather up some ideas on the idea of the mythic, among other things. Econ has gotten some time as well as behavioral econ, political economy, pol-econ history just now (Amity Schlaes' The forgotten Man, which is this seductive siren song of American prosperity. Yakuza!), and just in general books and ideas related to the questions of superstructural economic organization, which really can't be sensibly extricated from the superstructural problems of national political organization. I'm just saying. Can't be done. Not meaningfully. When the fields are split (and this applies more widely to all methodological narrowing known generally as disciplination and specialization), the assumptive choices that could've been answered through a wider scope of knowledge and methodology then become more problematic because, well, quite frankly, you could and probably will guess wrong.

Just quickly on economics cause it's in my head right at this moment. They do guess wrong. I've been looking at some basic economic formulas, and the pscyho-socio-political information that is ignored or assumed to be X is so far quite generally missing the mark. The formulas are not wrong, they are just at best one small equative estimation of human existence and interaction. I won't say more as I've only taken brief and small glimpses at the math in the field.

So, I've been doing a lot of studying and organizing ideas and some small, wandering blog writings. And I have done some editing of the novel(50 or so pages [of which probably 65% of the original drafts 50 pges were totally rewritten {i.e. cut and then started from scratch} and the other 35% has been partially rewritten and now feels like needs to be just cut and started from scratch]). And I have done substantial reconceptualization of the plot and characters of the first novel and some of the conceptual and structural work of the second novel. It's just that the structure of the second novel becomes exponentially more complicated than the first (and it's quite possible that if I do really get this stuff to at least fit, that this process will repeat again at the next iteration beginning the next novel and it will be that novel to the second power or the first novel to the third power or something).

So, I've been in a bit of a rut what with not being able to make real progress, because it's now time to, while continuing the structuro-conceptual work, it's time to sit down and write. And I just can't get it right right now. Everytime I sit down, and I have to write some of the material in notebooks and some on the computer so..., I just feel flat. I don't feel like I've got the mojo to start off a novel and get the motor running for a year of in-between all the other obstacles of my life I'm gonna write an, at least, acceptable first draft. A first draft that I can say: "well, this is dog shit, but I think we might be able to use it as fertilizer in the garden of the second draft."

That's what I want. That and a way we can organize society so that everyone can be satisfied with a good chunk of their lives. Really all of their lives. If everybody could be happy with every moment of their lives, that would be...a different world than where we come from.

Anyway, all this is just to say that I'm scattered right now, and I'm trying to organize the pieces in a way that makes sense both for the moment and for the future. And that's really hard to do sometimes. Really hard.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Trying to think things through on a Subway Platform Pt. II (for real)

Now that it's been almost two weeks since the subway platform incident, I'm going to try and generally recreate some sort of vague impression of the gist of what it was I was then thinking. Since that time, the work on the trilogic myth project (which I've just now decided maybe call it for the moment) has expanded exponentially. The world in which this story takes place is really starting to open up and build momentum in ways that it hadn't since the idea first started to take shape last summer. I think that's one of the difficulties in working in the longer form of a trilogy of novels vs. one novel or one screenplay, play, or short story. Even an individual novel is, as Murakami says, a marathon, but a trilogy all planned and executed together as one tightly interwoven structure is like an ultra-marathon (which is an actual thing and involves running 100 miles in one day [Murakami documents his own running of a UM in his semi-memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running]). And that day, going to see The Hurt Locker, was the day that the second phase or plateau of the project was reached, and this whole new vista opened up and allowed me to really begin the structural and conceptual plot and character work that was necessary to both really dig into a rewrite of the first novel and also lay the groundwork for beginning to write the first draft of the second novel, which will hopefully get underway this week. (There is a somewhat massive conceptuo-structural puzzle piece that has to be fully and deeply outlined before actual writing can begin on the second novel.)

So, once the film, The Hurt locker, wound up and the credits started rolling (leaving me a little shell shocked in intensity), I made my way out into the afternoon heat and high overhead sun. Going from the dark cold of a movie theater to the almost diametric opposite of a normal summer day is always a little jarring, but the nature of this film, this no bullshit verite of war, made the experience just that much more of a shock to the system. Apparently, that was just what I needed because although I went down the escalators and out and across to the common on autopilot, not really thinking about anything, within minutes of having started the walk to the Park St. T stop, I was instantly accosted by the inspiration of what was essentially a completely new ending for the work.

I've been struggling a little bit with how to approach the idea of talking about the work. I want to kind of stick to just a meta-discussion of the process, but it's also really tough, as talking about the process without talking about the content is like trying to wrestle a greased pig; Every time you get a grip on what you're trying to get across, the idea goes squirting out of your hands as you contort yrself around the actual specifics of the story. And, I think, the story works as a sort of mystery, and that it might ruin the effect just a bit to reveal all the details in advance.

Not that that's such a huge deal currently, as the possibility of even trying to get this thing published is light years away (at least probably two or three), and nobody reads this blog anyway. Still, I would hate to have to retrospectively have to scrub this site of spoilers for some future contract obligation or give away all the intrigue to some potential reader who happened to stumble over here by googling subway platform anxiety or something. Well, whatever. So, that kind of makes this conversation more stilted than I would like, but let's just say that there as I was walking through mid-afternoon crowds of tourists, students, business people, homeless people, all kinds of people this rush of inspiration came on that opened up the aforementioned new vistas, and I could see this whole amazing world and was then trying to maintain the level of concentration necessary to follow the thread of the story through this world as I made my way to the subway.

The first thought I had was that I can't get on the T right now. I need to just wander the city, preferably some part where the streets are deserted, but, of course, there's almost nowhere in the area around the Boston Common that would be quiet and empty of people on a Thursday afternoon; So I decided to just push on through and hope to at least hold onto the thread until I could get home and have the peace and quiet really necessary to the kinds of hyper-concentration that it takes for that kind of work, for me at least. Somehow I not only managed to keep the thread but really followed it to a somewhat satisfyingly robust conclusion, in terms of fully understanding the implications of this new shift which was itself a complete reimagining of how the trilogy would end. The old, vaguely outlined ending was essentially scrapped, and a whole new and way cooler ending were, for the most part, outlined right there on the T as it shimmied it's way down to Dorchester, and all I had to do when I got home was just write out in as detailed a manor as I could muster this newly outlined shift. Which was not just in plot but also in theme and sort of also in structure. And these shifts, as I said, have really reinvigorated the process and brought me back into that state of excited anxiousness to keep going that is a necessary component of staying with the grueling training and execution that is an ultra-marathon writing project.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

part II (sort of)

So, this isn't really part two, in that I am not going to being relating the thoughts and experience I had after seeing the Hurtlocker. But I did want to talk about some few ideas I had while I was riding the T over to Cambridge to meet my mum and see Aurelia's Oratorio (unfrickin' believable). My subway book is a slender volume by Roland Barthes called Mythologies. It's a collection of essays about aspects of what Barthes seems to feel are the modern day myths, which are the banalities of modern lifestyle lies (kind of a thing).

I had this idea that this is true. That mythology has been reduced to empty signifiers, and that the secularity of society has drained the mundane of the potential for the type of insight that can flash from the spiritual experience. And the repetitiveness and universalness of mythic structures (the origin of genre?) are this way to inspire a reminder in the imbiber of said myth that they are on the hero's journey already in their own life.

There's this connection between individuality, spirituality, and both the loss of individuality and the insistence on the primacy of the individual that comes out of techno-modernity. And I really had that hook while I was riding the train, but I didn't have anything to write with. Now I'm trying to recreate the sequence of thoughts, and I'm struggling a bit.

Yeah, I'm having trouble reconstructing. Let me just quote a passage of James Altas's Bellow, in which he pontificates on SB and then quotes him at length:

But there was nothing abstract about Bellow's theme: The cataclysmic events of the century- the two world wars, the Holocaust, the rise of mass society- had made art superfluous. The modern world had conspired to drown out the novelist's- his- distinctive voice: (now quoting from Bellow's letters)

The enormous increases in population seem to have dwarfed the individual. So have modern physics and astronomy. But we may be somewhere between a false greatness and a false insignificance. At least we can stop misrepresenting ourselves to ourselves and realize that the only thing we can be in this world is human. We are temporarily miracle-sodden and feeling faint.

Now I do feel that Atlas is a little rough with his subject, but regardless, the idea here that our individuality is getting lost. Individuality that is quite possibly the experience of a fully conscious self (which I consider to be the spiritual experience, but we can quibble over terminology if it's totally necessary), and this experience is attenuated and frustrated by the modern secular economic society; a society that places its highest values on materiality, which the ethnographic record tells us is the antithesis of the valuations of the saints and mystics of the world.

William James is right when he says that the saintly disposition of early christian saints to remove themselves from the world is not bad but not particularly helpful either. The problem of staying a saint while surrounded by the sins of material secularity pose a greater challenge than the pure asceticality of a monastic cell. And those saints are needed to help steer this spaceship Earth away from the abyss of foolish, infantile destruction that we are currently flying right for, at no less than full throttle.

So, what we need are saints who can live in and effect change in the way we all live in this wild, wild life we call the global society of planet Earth. We need exemplars of the saintly life who can teach how to live within the insanity of modernity and maybe help deflect the collective consciousness in a direction that's a little more sane and really rational. And saints are inspired by the symbols that deeply unlock that spirit of self, the great myths, and when those myths (those symbols of authentic artistry) really tap the universal human archetypes, they can inspire the human creature to unseen heights of generosity, compassion, and love. A level of furor only otherwise met through greed, aggressiveness, and rational self-interest.

One of the things that might be useful, that might be valuable in this direction, would be to try to bring to the mundane this spiritual perspective, and by staying present in the banal moments of life, it might be possible to bring to life the majesty of the mundane in words or images or somehow. Okay, yeah, so that was basically the idea I had on the T today. That quote kind of knocked it loose. And trying to concentrate and follow those ideas on a train full of people was no small task, I can tell you.

Friday, July 17, 2009

trying to think things through on a subway platform (pt. 1)

So, I was sort of taking S. Bellow's advice last Thursday. In James Altas's biography he quotes a letter of Bellow's where Saul writes that in order to overcome writer's block he says he goes to the movies every day for a week. Which I really love. Course, I don't have the time or the inclination (in terms of available movies) to go to the movies every day for a week, but I figured it would be good to get out of the house and my own head and try and get over a sort of obstacle that I've found in the way.

That obstacle being, of course, trying to edit a piece of work that's overly sentimental, and, as it turns out, is substantially too 'small world', uninteresting in it's current form. I don't say that just to be self-deprecating. When I wrote the first draft, as a first full draft of a novel ever completed by me, I suffered from a usual symptom of first novelitis in that I kept the world of the novel too small. Now, the fact that there is too be a series of three novels (and potentially more, as there are concurrent storylines for both the male and female protagonist, but we stay with the male as narrator, etc.) makes the need for a larger world just that much exponentially bigger. It does seem that you need to expand exponentially in order to fulfill the requirements of a longer work.

So, I've been doing little bits of actual editing. Both going through the work on the computer and doing a full dress edit, as well as working through a printout copy and doing a sort of minor tweak edit. And, as well, I've been doing substantial conceptual, world creation, work in terms of making the characters more interesting, breathing more life and detail into their half-empty forms, and expanding and coloring in their world.

But I'd been sorta' stuck a little bit recently. I was having trouble fully gearing up and getting into the fight because I was realizing just how much was going to have to be rewritten (most of the material [very little of the original 1st draft is going to be alive past draft two or beyond). It's a daunting task, especially as I'm also trying to gear up to start the 1st draft of the second novel and can't wait much longer.

So, as I said, I decided to take Bellow's advice and go to the movies. The two choices that I somewhat fumbled between were Woody Allen's Whatever Works and Kathyrn Bigelow's The Hurtlocker. Ultimately, the fact that the hurtlocker was playing at the cinema right in the area where I've set some of the novel (the place where the protagonist works is a fictional bookstore close to the Loews Boston Common) decided for me. And what a decision.

Clearly, the intensity of this movie had something to do with the explosion of ideation that occured after. Although, as I was walking from the Park St. T I did have a few interesting ideas about personality and how the main character's personality is dis-integrating (as in breaking apart and not entirely of his own control) for various reasons and also the idea that it would be both fun and unusual to try to warp yr own personality to make yrself the antagonist. In something. It being that a little dash of anti-hero might be useful for the complexity of our protagonist, Thomas. And that that anti-hero element comes out as a result of this dis-integrating personality.

So, I was having a few thoughts as I went into the plush theaters three stories up at the Loews by the Boston Common. And then The Hurtlocker got underway. Holy effin' shiite. That movie is an intensity of tautness and tight wrapped, adrenaline filled life of a solder grit and realness that hasn't been seen very often committed to film. The movie doesn't preach or moralize about the characters or who's right or whether the war's right, it stays with the individuals and examines what it means for these three people (mostly) to be experiencing this war now.

And partly the experience is traumatic for the audience because the realness of the violence is so close and not outlandishly cartoonish. So, there's this distance that you might naturally feel to your own emotions as numbness is a common response to trauma, so there was this numbness for me, but a numbness that was hiding that deeper well of (potentially) hysterical emotions of trauma. Which started to come out as the movie went along, and I became more invested with the characters. By the end, I was feeling it all deeply, all scrunched around in my big, comfy movie sofa chair with my feet up on the back of the empty chair in front of me.

So, part two will be the ideas that organically sprang from the this experience as I made my way through the Boston streets and subways to my house. The power of the ideation that grew out of the experience was such that I was having trouble navigating public spaces but was afraid to let them fully out of my range of concentration lest I lose the jist. It was really tough.

And a side note: Is it true that no woman has ever won the best director Oscar? If so, I think we've got a viable candidate (as this is one of the best movies I've seen in years and certainly one of the best war movies ever committed to film). There's been a slight shift in the masculine nature of film direction, but let's push that even farther and break that barrior. Anyway...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Play it as it lies

Several years ago I read a book of William Goldman's recollections about his many years as a novelist and screenwriter. He said he always had to write his first draft in one great rush because if he read anything as he went he would have to give it all up and start over or words to that effect.

I'm beginning to understand a little about what he was getting at. Also there was a saying that he emphasized but that came from older writing lore; it was something like you have to be willing to kill your darlings to be a good writer. Again, I'm paraphrasing miserably here.

The real weight of what it is that I'm trying to do in writing this thing, this novel or collection of novels (whatever it is that it turns out to be), this weight begins to reveal itself. But it's the weight of life and truth. It's not some added weight or affectation. It's just the true dimensions of life. The really felt consequences.

Or at least that's the general idea. Who knows right? What is it that any of us do? What is the real, earnest meaning of our thoughts, our words, our actions? I don't suppose that I know.

Really, it's that kind of abstract, somewhat mindless sentimentality that I'm struggling to winnow and focus. Mostly I'm realizing just how much of what I've written has to be rewritten. Editing is a daunting task, and I really failed to budget sufficient time for the process. Time management becomes such a crucial task as the freneticism of multi-tasked realities burrows its way deep into the soul.

So, I'm rearranging the schedule. It's seems that I am perpetually rearranging the schedule. But I'll leave off on that. I am trying to get back going for the second round, but there is so much conceptual work that needs to be done. Why I didn't either realize how much time needs to be spent on that (on research and on plotting and on character building), I don't rightly know. My timetables tend to be wildly optimistic. They assume a level of discipline that I have yet to show myself capable of. I suppose I have more confidence in myself than the evidence would seem to warrant. And whatnot.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Making corrections in the editing room

So, now that I've nominally finished a first draft of the first act, I can for a brief minute see clearly how really bad the writing is. There are moments. Don't get me wrong. There are splashes of useful writing, but most of it has to be junked. Especially towards the end.
I was so caught up in trying to finish. In dashing for the finish line, I wasn't truly doing my best work or setting myself up to do my best work. It's frustrating how easy it is for the work to take over in importance from other things, and then when I'm not working, well, then all things go wrong.
But the first draft is done, and in my head now, based on the size and the projected edited size (which is 25-50 thousand words longer) of the first act, I'm thinking it'll have to be a trilogy. Three novels in three acts. 350-450 thousand words is waayy too long for one novel. They would have to be highly sequalated though. There's no way to make then totally resolved until after the third act. So the first two acts would be somewhat unresolved novels, which we know from experience is difficult for people looking for escapism.

But a competing desire is novelty. People want things that seem or are new as much as they want strong narratives, righteous heroes, or the escape. So, the slight alterations of the forms that I have in my head could be successful. Cross-platformality seems to be one of the paramount financial success factors, diversity in cultural dissemenation. A more democratic, more decentralized cultural creationary process is what I would like to see. Which we do see to a degree on the Net.

I won't get all up into all the crazy designs I have in my head about new ways to develop alternate perspectives on the same piece of art through alternate media, different forms. I'll just say that there are big ideas stewing. It's all just card castles and sand dreams, anyway. Big ideas blow around in the breeze. Sometimes they blow away.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The process

All writers have their own process. All writers must find out for themselves what works for them. And what doesn't. They must wander in the wilderness (or maybe that was just my requirement) for all of eternity trying to make sense out of senseless worlds in a work of fiction that both makes sense but also shows how that sense is in direct conflict with prevailing culture mores or how it gives us a deeper sense of what the unburied, unbridled, unconstructed, and dismanipulatedness of the clear-viewed pure culture has, is, and will always be, remaining untroubled by the human manifestations of the sharply narrow views of that all encompassing, all embracing cultura. Just a reworking and remolding of the nature of humanity through the conscious attempts towards exploitation, vapid escape, and a decidedly narrowing process of human awareness.

So, the truth is that culture, can be glimpsed by art, music, film, TV, but that glimpse is just the atomic smash of denting, destroying, Thatonotic, twisting. [to be con'td at: A Hyperanaphlaxis Univeral Mean]

My process is one of facetly layered levels of interconnectedness with the true autobiographical elements of my life, but filtered through a philosophic imagination. That's kind of how this whole novel project came about. I was finishing up a pretty quick, 40ies style inde flick, and the end of the screenplay there's a character trying to write a novel.
And so it occured to me as I was writing some of the last narrative overlay from the actual film, it occurred to me that I should write a novel about a character who wants to write screenplays.
Early on the idea that he would enter into the scenes he'd written, and that that would play havoc on his life, as he was becoming a character in a film, the script of which he was writing himself.

Well, that's quite a condensation of the first act, but true. let's just say this before I get my podcasts up. I promise some top shelf podcasts of the story, probably through podiobooks.com.
And maybe my insights, possibly vid/blog of my ideas. I actually have a half hour breakdown of an early screenplay I wrote. I need to review that shiite and get it going.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How strange is the creative process?

I remember reading an interview with Haruki Marukami somewhere, and the jist of it was that he didn't really consciously develop the symbolism that shows up in his novels. It just kind of happens. Actually, I'm probably totalling reimagining all that from my own jangled brain, but the point I'm trying to get at here is that for all the planning and coordinating and structuring you do, when you actually sit down at the writing table, things can take completely unexpected turns that seem to come from nowhere.
I'm at this juncture in the work where it's essentially a transition, and I was really trying to get from point Q where we were to point R, which should have been a fairly simple move. And yet suddenly our protagonist has lost the ability to use his legs for no apparent reason, and I couldn't for the life of me tell you why that happened or where that came from or what it might symbolize or any of that shiite. I really don't know. It's just that wierd magic that happens when the blank page is in front of you, and you try to cross the jungle. It's a mysterious thing this creative process. Very strange indeed.

Monday, April 27, 2009


So, the truth is it's gonna be awhile before I get the vidblog stuff in full effect. The main problem is one of verbosity. I can't get 'em down below fifteen minutes, and that's working real hard at it. So, the vidblog stuff is still in development, but that don't mean I gotta maintain radio silence on the work.
I've been blocked, distracted, and generally incapable of sitting down to the writing table with even the most minute amount of confidence that I have any skill at writing whatsoever. So things have gone in fits and starts. I've been on the verge of finishing the first act for what seems like months now, and it's been killing me.
The problem really was that I got myself caught up in writing a film at the end of the first act. The idea was that our hero, Thomas, goes to a double feature, the first being Charles Vidor's Gilda. I had a great if very meticulously tedious time of retelling the film, for whatever reason.
Then came the second feature, which was entirely made up. From soup to nuts. I concieved a whole film noir set in Memphis in the 40ies, and practically wrote the whole dang thing. Of course, it wasn't formatted like a screenplay, it was all written like a story within the story of the film Thomas goes to see, and yet it was still more complicated than that. Thomas enters into the film. He becomes the camera. He becomes the liminal medium between the interior world of the film and the external world where an audience is watching this film.
At times Thomas was in both places, other times neither. All very wierd, but I made the push with a fourteen hour writing session, and I finished off the film in a very satisfying way. Now I'm down to the last chapter of the first act. Sort of.
There's actually a new aspect to the first act, which was there from the beginning (I just wanted to write that stuff after I'd finished the meat of the act), which requires me to go through the city of Boston and thru a kind of poetic, surrealistic, impressionistic writing follow Thomas as he goes from seeing Derrick Morgan at the Middle East Downstairs all the way into the first scene of the screenplay he's just written the first scene for.
Crazy, crazy. Should be fun.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

All access pass

So, I said in that last post (which at some point will appear behind the post of a vidblog because I'm gonna post that in a draft I've already started from a few weeks ago) that I wanted to really open up and document the process of writing this novel, Mythic Structures. And I'm within striking distance of the end of the first act, of which they'll be three. As you can see by the giant time jump between now and the last post (or the post before the last post depending on when yr reading this), I have been remiss in my intentions to document the creative process here on my blog or really anywhere else.
I have started twittering, god help me, and I can see how addictive it can be. I do want to do instant miniture flashes of the process as it's happening, which you really can't do here. Here you have to actively stop work on the novel and then write a blogpost about what you remember or recognize from what you've just done (write, concieve, edit, reconcieve, or my fav. storytelling [which is the absolute essence of art, even the plastic ones]). So they are two different processes, and it'll be interesting to watch and compare the process of documenting the process of writing through these various forms. So, just for the sake of shiites and giggles, here's my twitter link.
How did I get here? I keep asking myself that question, and my mind just goes blank, emptying out of anything resembling useful information in regards to this so basic of questions. I have no freaking clue.
Anyway, I've also started to explore other multi-media stuff. I got a vidcam for Christmas, and I've done several vidblogs and a reading of a chapter of the novel and general miscellaneous, nonsensical ramblings. I just gotta get my vimeo shasta in effect. I think I need to go ahead and pay the sixty bucks, because I gave up on the last video I tried to upload. It wasn't that big. Like two hundred megs, and I was getting nothing. Maybe I'm just way too impatient. That's probably it, but I'll join anyway cause I dig their scene. And I can see myself going way over the free upload limits. I've got a bunch of stuff to post there and here and over at AHUAM and even maybe some stuff for The Dancing Fool, which we'll have to see about.
Over there at The Fool I'm going to be documenting the process by which I lose the extra twenty or so pounds I've put on since last Oct, and get my dancing chops back into tight formation. So far it's a little sad and very embarrassing. I think I may have to post accompanying embedded audio commentaries where I shred on myself ruthlessly because that's the only way I'd feel good about putting that stuff out there. Now once I get back to my dancing weight, get my flexibility back, my stamina, and my cardiovascular strength...Yo, if I can get back into that effect, well, I think you'll be impressed. I do have the skills, even as they're as rusty as an old metal fencepost right now.
Okay, let's see, other stuff I wanted to say. Oh, I just got an upgrade for my digital voice recorder, and so once I rerecord my readings of the novel chapters, I'll post them. Basically have a podcast of the chapters of the first act of Mythic structures. I also want to start recording brainstorming and conceptual workouts for the novel (it is all and everything about the novel right now, as you'll see) and then posting that stuff.
Basically, my plan is to obsessively document as much of the process as possible from as many different media angles as I can, and then after it's all done, well, I can see just what a complete and utter waste of time the whole thing had been, and I can relive in the most minutest detail all of the blood, sweat, and toil that went into a novel that probably has very little chance of getting published because of the wierdness factor, the complicatedness factor, and the ultimately unresolvedness of a good bit of the stuff factor. Sorry to be vague there about stuff, but I'd hate to give away too much, too soon.
So, lots of multi-media stuff coming. And, well, I'll just call it for now.