Sunday, January 13, 2019

I Cannot Overstate the Preposterousness of This

A theme of this series—'this' 'series' being me, humble scribe (hello. it me.) writing about the process of channeling the work that you, Reader, know as Erra's Throne

a theme of this series is:

things that many people,
your humble scribe most absolutely included,
have had the good fortune to be taught
about writing
since they were in many cases rather young;
things like 'show, don't tell';
'don't overwrite; or, if you do, go back and edit'; or, conversely,
'your best arguments and material may be buried behind many words of much less good material; be disciplined: sit down and work your way through';
all these things that, honestly, your humble scribe
has been blessed with the extraordinary good fortune
of having been taught by teachers
and even guided on by peers
since a very young age...

a theme of this 'series', perhaps the theme of this series,
is what a hard f#*king time I still have with these things.

This is why, Reader-friend, your scribe (me) is 'humble'. I have many faults, as a writer and person, but I promise that—at least in this case—affectation's not one. The humility's true and extremely well-earned; I am a broken vessel, and the best I can hope for is to patch, somewhat, some of the cracks in my making.

Thank you for journeying with me as I do!

I'll return, further down, to one of these simple lessons and my (latest) failure to learn it. But first,

A Digression about Putting Words in the World
I've written eight (8) posts about the process of writing Erra's Throne, including one in November 2017 (fourteen months ago) in which I first articulated and embodied this persona in this space.

I have drafted 49 posts, some of them hundreds or even thousands of words long (I originally typo'ed that to "hundreds of thousands of words long" which...l0l. It's not that bad), as part of 'this' ostensible 'series' of observations about the process of &c.

And, in fact, in addition to those 49 unpublished drafts, there are...wait holdon lemme...twenty (20) drafts in a Scrivener folder dedicated to this ostensible u get it.

The backlog of posts is not quite so bad as summation implies; there is some overlap between these two collections, and therefore the total of unpublished work in this vein is not quite 49 + 20 = 69. But, it is close. Close enough that the point, as I'm making it, stands: there's a lot of writing sitting around in some digital shed gathering dust. And what is striking about this, to me, for today, is that it is this kind of writing we're talking about:

loose, experiential, first-person commentary; the kind of writing that is supposed to (and does, indeed) flow rather easily and—more to the point—not require fine-tuning, chiseling, improvement;

writing that is instrumental and communicative rather than experiential and/or immersive;

'just talking 2 u' writing, rather than the carefully wrought (for worse, and for better) prose that shows you, dear Reader, the story of Emmy, and Stang, and of Erra.

I'm not sure why this is: why even this casual side-commentary seems to be trapped in the bēt ṭuppi of rigor and effort that still houses the prose of the story itself. I'm not sure why I have held onto it in this way. It's understandable with the prose of the story; perhaps not right, even in that case—that's another topic; let's not get diverted—but absolutely understandable: I can give an account for why the text of the story (for worse, and for better) is precious and takes certain work, certain iterations (many) to be ready.

But this stuff? Right here? This is meant to be not precious; meaning, in this case, both the positive and negative senses of that word (hopefully, with respect to the prose of the story itself, the negative sense attains...minimally, if that. I'm trying. ). It's easy, not hard; this. And it is: easy.

Yet.

I've got dozens and dozens of these posts, unpublished. Long posts, complete thoughts. Because they...needed a little more work, or weren't formatted yet, or...whatever! wutever.

I'm not sure I can articulate—in a real, useful way—what the holdup is. With any of this; certainly, not with this part. I was and am eager to open the process, to open myself to you, Reader, in this way.

I don't have more to say on this. That's where this is. w8, no— one thing, one more thing. That's pretty important:

Amidst all the work and the months and the years, it has also...not 'always', but 'usually' felt, in such a way that yes I think the feeling-of-this is real:

It's usually felt like I am making progress at something. ('At what?' Separate question.) That I am doing something material and real and that, in fact, the day may arrive—unexpectedly, perhaps—when the dominoes all are aligned and...tip:

down they go.

Okay. Enough of that. Back to:

"What is the 'This' That's 'Preposterous', scribe?"
⇑ That is you, Reader,
asking me—scribe—a question.
Here goes:

So, yes, the title of this post could apply to the section above: to the strange mystery of these posts, themselves, still being stuck in a locker. But don't worry, it in fact has a more defined and specific contextual meaning that

oh gosh Todd Snider has a new song that's fantastic

applies to a particular 'this' that's et cetera.

Lemme just plug it out; it'll be rough but hey hey here we go at least we're 2gether.

"just get there, just do it
and then…write something else"


That's the note I wrote. What it means:

"just get there, just do it..."
This is me saying to myself "don't mess around, don't write in extra stuff or digressions along the way, just get to the main story event and tell that, quick as you can."

I have 'realized' this so many times. So, so many. Honestly, I 'realize' this with the force and weight of a great new insight...mmm, two or three times a week? Honestly. I'm not kidding. I'm emphasizing both the repetition and novelty of this because what is 'preposterous' is the force and durability of its contrary, of this other thing in me and my...creative reflexes, let's call them. What I mean by this latter, 'preposterous' thing is

"and then...write something else"
Meaning the fact that, no matter how well I know that it's a bad idea, this impulse I feel
to 'build up' the story for the reader;
thicken it with events, with world-stuff—
all of which is done in a spirit of creative reflex (ugh) and 'inspiration' (UGH)
this impulse is powerful and often commands me.

And my point here
is that this? This impulse?
It is bad. So bad that, @ this point, let's call it 'preposterous'. 

It's 'preposterous', yes, (a) cuz I already know it. And the...fortitude of my ability to make the same mistakes over and over is shocking.

But why is it 'bad'? What's the substantive reason? I'm not just saying so, or kicking myself for no thing. It's bad because it is hard enoughmore than hard enough—to just tell the absolute essential story. You may have to write a bunch to, y'know, find that story. But once you've found it, even then — it's still hard! You're not done! It is not like the hard part is like...even half done! There is still lots of challenging (for me, at least!) work to do.

(I feel I may have written this sentiment, or a very similar sentiment, before in this space. I probably will again. Which...that's the point, right? Preposterous.)

And since I know this by now
since I know that
just writing the story is hard
this impulse to stack things above and before it
becomes not just 'bad'
but 'bizarre', 'perverse',
'preposterous'
et cetera.

Putting in an extra little setup fight
before the main fight ("just so it's not y'know klunky, abrupt");

adding some detail
of lore or world-building ("just so y'know it's not just flop: 'heyhey, all dun'")'

all that,
is bad!
uses time!
lessens story!

And you have to go back, take it out — make things better.

Yet despite this awareness, I'm continually doing it.
Add a thing; throw a paragraph in that oh, okay; two paragraphs...three
because it's not as if these digressions and distractions need to be long to be damaging to the story and the flow and the reader's attention;
a switch on a train track is a tiny, small thing
when compared to the miles, miles of track all around it
but a mis-aligned switch...
well, you get it:

train. lost.

Putting things into stories or art makes them...different. It is not just additive; it never is, just. It changes and reconstitutes everything in them; things that go before, even, and absolutely things ager. You put in more stuff: the story itself changes — it becomes a new thing.

So you have to be diligent, 'bout what goes in.

Here's the specific occasion that set me off on this (this time).

We're in Column Two.

What's 'happening' is reasonably simple, or should be.

The action-y climax of this part of the story
is a long sequence in which

  • Emmy seeks Rich out at school, cuz she thinks she may need him to do [important thing]
  • She talks him into doing [important thing] with her 
  • They succeed! They do [important thing]
  • Which leads to [climactic battle]
  • Which leads to [Emmy's key realization in this column],
  • which leads to a [Big Choice which has Big Effects].

Now I started this riff by calling all that simple. And...it is. Those literal plot-beats above are plot beats; you could do that with lots of stories at this level of detail and you'd get this bump-bump-bump sense of this "this, then this, then this..." (It's actually worse in narratives that aren't 'plotty'; try doing a beat-by-beat breakdown of Hamlet).

But it's not that simple, either. Of course: I know that. Especially because all those [things in the brackets] are crucial story moments that really need to land with you, the Reader, for the story to land. And for that to happen, it will really help if you—the Reader—have been served by the prose thusly:
  1. equipped with the knowledge (even if you don't 'know' it) required to make [thing in bracket] make sense; and hopefully more than just 'make sense', but matter;
  2. guided into an affective or emotional state such that you're receptive to whatever kind of [thing in brackets] is happening (exciting! tender! et cetera); and
  3. not freaking distracted by a bunch of other stuff that might clog up both your intellectual and emotional relationship to what's going on!
And now, again, we get back to 'preposterous'. Because: this is what I mean. (1), (2), and (3) are all...fundamental. Right? A good sixth-grade teacher with solid classroom resources could get his kids to come up with this list in discussion.

And yet! And yet...astonishing, frustrating, "preposterous": I add superfluous stuff to the flow! To the bulleted [things in the story], above, I add [off-track other things]! Details! Freaking...extras. In this specific case, my main (and repeated. repeated.) mistake has been to be like, "Oh okay cool good. Emmy and Rich did the [important thing]. They're heading to [climactic battle]. Good, great. Hey: I better put some [extra battle] and [stuff] in there."

????

What the...how am I like this? Reader, honestly, how? What on earth the matter with...what you write the story about is what the story is about. So, um, don't write the story about things that are not the story? Maybe? Might help? Dunno.

And look, yes I know, there are things that I'm...papering. Exploration is important; so is making mistakes. Because they're not mistakes, lots of them; they are steps in a process. But. The reliability with which I do this, is past that. I think? Or is it, a form of...

honestly. i don't know.

Let me wrap this, here. But: there you go. This is one reason why, when people gently and carefully ask if the reason that Erra is taking so long is 'writer's block' or some metaphor for lack of flow, action, volume — when people (gently! carefully! understandably!) frame this, I tend to give something along the lines of a harsher-than-intentional blast of grim laugh. It has edge in it that I never intend at the person — though I know I still shouldn't do it, and am still sorry if I've ever done it to you. But...no. No. The issue is not, not blockage in that sense; there are plenty of words and actions and events; even plenty of character moments, choices. And plenty of 'world-building'. 'World-building' is junk.

No: the issues is burning off all of that excess. Getting down to the thing of, just...story. words. Reader. So it's all strong and legible. Affecting. And clear.

Okay! That is it! 4 real now: I am done. I've done my best to make this clear; I am sure that I've failed and that it's still riddled with errors and infelicities, as well as being sprawling, strange, discursive, and odd.

And so I thank you, always, for coming along. Even if you just skipped to those big words, below. You can have them. Even if you're not reading (though: not sure how that'd work).

Thank you.

Here's to talking more in this new year.

game, game on.

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