Sunday, November 28, 2010

Strangling the Muse

Not just a creative masturbatory euphemism anymore!

The following is just my personal opinion- my own little quirks and excentricities, and certainly nothing for folk to get offended about, because I don't intent to try to jackboot anybody into my way of thinking on this subject.

That said, I dislike when people talk about their "muse" as some sort of flighty, bitchy personification of creativity that comes and goes as she (almost always she) pleases with narry a care to the woeful writerly wreckage she trails in her wake like the train of a runaway bride.

I think it has to do, ultimately, with what you think art is and isn't. I know a lot of people think of creative pursuits as tapping into a force outside of and above themselves- in some cases people even talk about being empty lenses that bend and focus the divine, or vessels and messengers through which something larger speaks. Their story and their characters, they say, actually exist, and are possibly more real that we are, and they are not creators, only chroniclers.

None of that really jives with my experience. I'm on the opposite end. Oh sure, I have inspiration, but I try to live on the philosophy that that's just a bonus. Shaping and refining that daydream into a story is something that takes practice, and a cultivated skill and understanding of the tools of a narrative that comes from picking apart the best and the worst, and reconfiguring them- intellectual decoupage. Purposeful repurposeing.

It comes down to a trade off. If you want credit for what you produce (and I do!) then you also have to be willing to shoulder the blame when you produce nothing. If you want a dearth of production to be somebody else's fault (even if that somebody's less real than the tooth fairy in this case), then you have to humbly accept the whims of a personification with a track record for punctuality and planning worse than the crew of the Titanic.

In the end, I suspect it's mostly about world view, and one's general sense of agency in the universe. I guess it mainly bothers me because, as I see it, the power is in your hands if you have the will to grab it, and then you don't have to expose yourself to the inconsistencies of a harsh imaginary mistress. Unless you like having someone made up make you miserable.

Friday, November 26, 2010

More Helpful Links

Dr. Wicked's Write or Die bills itself as "putting the 'prod' in productivity". The program has three settings of punishment when you dilly dally instead of writing words. The first flashes the screen at you to remind you to keep writing. The second makes obnoxious noises and refuses to stop until you write. The third (the one I use) starts eating words if you sit still for too long.

You can use Write or Die online, but I downloaded the $10 desktop version. I use it when I have a high-volume deadline I need to work to or when I'm having trouble getting out anything at all. You don't always get Shakespeare, but you know what you do get? Done.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

An Old Favorite

Maybe I'm an incurable dork, but Etymology Online is one of my favorite websites in the world. In part I use it to help name things, but mostly I just spend hours lost in the mysterious journey of words throughout the ages into the random-seeming forms they take now.

Check it out, I'm sure you'll love it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Non-Exclusive Reprint Rights

So from my fabulous friend Barbara A. Barnett (plug!) I learned about a neat little project called "Anthology Builder". Folk with an interest in short fiction both contemporary and classic can take it upon themselves to select up to 350 pages of reprint and public domain fiction, nonfiction, essays, and illustrations and make it into a $15 (plus shipping) anthology of their own creation. I think it sounds like a great gift idea, and while the pay an author gets for submitting their story isn't exactly top notch, it's pretty comparable with a lot of the other small run anthology markets.

There are some great names in the stacks, with public domain stuff by Poe, Wilde, and Doyle, and some solid contenders like Eugie Foster and Cat Rambo in the more recent.

Anyway, check it out, it seems like a cool deal.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


I knocked out what I consider to be a pretty decent sonnet the other day. I have no idea where one sells a sonnet, if one is so inclined, or what sort of people broker poetry out to those who need a fix on it.

I enjoy poetry, and I will consistently give the advice to anyone who asks me that if they want to improve their prose, they should write a bit of poetry. It's prose concentrate, without the necessity of an immediately coherent narrative, and freed from the shackles of strict grammatical prescription.

I mean all poetry too. Sonnets, limericks, and haiku to get a sense of rhythm and economy in a confined space. Free verse stream of consciousness to work on punchy, concrete images, and the rubik's cube magic of juxtaposed reference. Lewis Carrol or Seussian nonsense poems just to play in the sound of the language Dense, singularly focussed works around one image or feeling, with every word serving toward that sole purpose.

When I find myself unsure or disappointed in my own prose, I always go back to poetry. I've found it's served me well.

Poetry Hunter is a decent reference, by the way. Here are a few of my favorites:

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelly
Pequeño Vals Vienés by Frederico Garcia Lorca (Little Viennese Waltz in English, but if you can read Spanish even a little it's worth it for the sound and rhythm of the original. )
Invictus by William Ernest Henley
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
And because a friend sent me a really delightful response poem, the original: To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell and To His Importunate Mistress by Peter DeVries

Sunday, November 14, 2010

National Novel Writing Month Part Two

I'm going to be perfectly honest, I have fallen behind in national novel writing month. I principally blame a lack of discipline on my part, but if I'm going to suffer to let myself make excuses, I've also been very busy with school.

Here nearing the halfway point, I've come to a couple of conclusions.

I managed novel writing much better when I had a detailed outline and a clear picture of the tone I wanted for the work. While I think some good things have come of my ineffectual puttering about, I've stalled myself out on questions like "what is the central conflict actually?" "Do I want this murder to be the central focus or more of a macguffin?" "Who are my characters and what motivates them?"

Even when I had an outline I'd tend to go off script when the inspiration struck, but I always knew where I was going, and I rarely just stared at the empty page and felt lost.

I've also been going to the live meets, and that's just amazing. I tend to be a bit on the shy side about my writing (which I know is a stretch from someone who blogs about writing, but I've written some genuinely terrible things, as I believe I mentioned, not in terms of quality, but in terms of blood, gore, and random horror). Even with good friends I often don't talk about it unless directly cornered. Because what would I say, really? "I wrote a space abortion story I'm really proud of, want to read it?" I'm getting better about this, and actively trying to let people know what I'm doing and what I think, but there's always that initial reluctance.

Except at these writer's meetings. I got into this room full of women who shared an enthusiasm for the same thing as me and suddenly, bam, just like that, no awkwardness, no fear, and we were talking just like old friends.

Even if the novel's a total wash (I don't think it is, in fact I'm sure I can catch back up), it would still be worth it if I can keep in touch with a few of these folk.

Siberian Silver Fox Study

A really neat and fascinating study conducted in Siberia to selectively breed foxes for domestication (as well as a batch for hyper-aggression). Within three generations, foxes born to the domestication group actively sought out human contact, even as babies. Within eight generations there were marked morphological differences, including different shape, coloration, and a general tendency to maintain juvenile traits longer, and in some cases indefinitely. Aggressive foxes raised by domesticated mothers showed no perceptible reduction in aggression from their natural parents, even when they were transplanted into the domesticated foxes as embryos.

I'm not a biological determinist in general, but this is a really neat, and seemingly solid study.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


While it's not related to writing specifically, Kickstarter is a pretty fabulous resource for creative endeavors and projects that require more investment up front. Say you want to make a film, put on a play, or begin publishing a magazine or anthology. You make an estimate of the upfront costs you will need for equipment, staff, distribution, what have you, and give a pledge that you will create this project if you can meet the backing goal by a given date. If the goal isn't met, none of the pledged money is collected. It allows a large number of interested parties to donate to making a project happen, with less risk that they'll give money to a project that never gets off the ground.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The 1% Project

Before I start, I want to say, this is less a political manifesto than a thought experiment.

The Credit Suisse estimates that across the 4.4 billion adults living on the planet, there is a collective net worth of 195 trillion US dollars in 2010. Of that 195, the study indicates that the top 1% own about 84 trillion. Given a World Bank estimate that the global population is about 6.7 billion (please excuse the quick, dirty math), the redistributed wealth of the top 1% would give every man, woman, and child on earth about 12,500 US dollars.

I have thought for some time that it would just be the most fascinating thing to do to get a bunch of authors to posit on that exactly happening, in a collection of short tightly focussed stories. Again, not out of a sense of populist rage, but just as a way to examine what that amount of money means around the world, and different people's take on what that loss or windfall would mean for the people who received it.

How many people quit the jobs where they were making dollars a day? How many people quit the jobs where they were making minimum wage? What does this mean to a man who worked his whole life to amass his fortune, and now finds himself with nothing, just on the whim of the universe? What about the man who has never worked at all? The addict? The wife who's trying to leave? The wife who's trying to make her husband stay? What does it mean to the fisherman on the Amazon who lives on less than ten dollars a day? What does it mean to a middle class American who is 70,000 dollars in debt? What does it mean to the American who was previously just middle class, but is now the new richest man in the world (the report indicates you're in the top 1% of the world if you have a net worth of over about 560,000 USD)? What does it mean to the village in a war torn or dictatorial country that can now pool their money to buy a used T-55 Russian tank?

What happens to that money in places where it's illegal for women or certain races or religions to own property? What happens to that money when it goes to a child, or a comatose adult? Do people pool their new money with their friends and family to take care of collective needs, or do they jealously guard it as something that's just their own? What does that money mean to someone three days walk from the nearest place with electricity? Do people use it to improve their means of earning a living, like with the micro-loan program (which gives out loans in averages of about 100 USD to help people own the tools of their trade, rather than spending all their income renting them)? Do they blow it on something silly? How many people, unused to having money, are immediately taken advantage of by someone just a bit more canny? How many are robbed, now that the people with guns know everyone has $12,500? What happens at the IRS offices? What happens to powerful political figures who were used to being able to hire guards? What happens to an illegal drug mogul?

How do people change their lives? How do they survive? How do they rebuild empires?

Obviously, in the end, it varies by person.

What I envision are small, character focussed stories from as many locales as possible, detailing the reactions of one character or one family to the changes around them. I think it's something that would be a lot of fun, especially if one was able to get the perspective of multiple people. This is the sort of thing it's very easy to get blinders on about, and someone's always thought of something you haven't.

I don't really have the infrastructure or time to make this happen right now, but I really do think it's a fun and fabulous idea. Sometime later.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

I'm participating again this year in National Novel Writing Month (I refuse to shorten it. This is my thing and I don't intend to force it on anyone else, but I don't like acronyms or neologisms.) I'm ahead of schedule at a little less than 5,000 words and working to build up a buffer.

There are people who are opposed to National Novel Writing Month on very reasonable grounds: that it encourages sloppy writing, that it facilitates people slacking on writing all year long and then trying to make up for it in one burst, that most of what comes out of it is utter drivel.

I think that's all more or less true, but my experience with it has been incredibly positive. I write faster with the deadlines, and before I began national novel writing month last year, I was paralyzingly afraid of diving into a long-form work. I'd written dozens of short stories- more than the word count necessary for a novel and a half- but I was completely unconvinced I could sustain characters or ideas over the time it took to tell a novel length story, not to mention working out the logistics of the more complicated plot and interaction a novel required.

Even though my first try had serious problems, I found myself really enjoying the kinds of subtle character growth you can't get outside of long form. The format of the challenge, fast, furious, and messy, encouraged me to get past my anxiety about not being good enough- one I had more or less gotten over in the format I was comfortable with.

I think if one wants to be good at any pursuit, it's important to push the limits of what you think you can do, to stretch outside the safe zones where you're comfortable. I think National Novel Writing Month, whether the novel results are ultimately worthwhile or not, pushes writers to grow, and as such, it's got my thumbs up.