Posts tagged ‘writing’

2013/09/23

Truths

(Found in a drawer I was cleaning out; from context, I’m guessing written in around 1985.)

1. In 1836, a book called Society Life was published in London.
2. Somewhere, the doctor is or is not examining a patient.
3. We live in very uncertain times.

I am at a cocktail party. The cocktails are quite good, if heavy on the lemon. The wives are clustered around the piano, singing tunes that they think they remember from younger days; perhaps some of them do. In the kitchen there is a woman without any clothes, being casually examined by most of the single men, and not a few of the husbands. She smiles engagingly.

I ask Camille, whose watch (an expensive foreign brand) is always accurate, what time it is.

“Ten forty-two,” she says.

1. Salt
2. The signs of the zodiac are twelve: The Dasher, the Dancer, the Prancer, the Fox, Kafka, the Swan, the Lion. But I am rambling.
3. In times of uncertainty, truth will be seen to come from far places, at great expense (at least one week’s pay for the average citizen).

My ship sails at midnight. I do not know the time; Camille is nowhere to be seen. I wander in the fog. There may be a dock nearby, because of the foghorns. I associate foghorns with illness, because of something I think happened to me as a youth. I fear I will miss my ship; if only I could remember the name, the dock, the time, Camille’s address.

I grope in the fog for truth, and grasp a scrap of newspaper blowing in the wind. I decide it will do.

(I suspect I’d been reading alot of Barthelme…)

2013/08/07

Mach’s Principle

I wrote my 750 words again! (Answers to even-numbered exercises are in the back of the book.)

The blinking light on the side of your laptop computer actually represents the average heartbeat of every human on Earth who is within one mile of a monitoring node.

Which is approximately 45% of the population of the planet.

Most of the time it is rock-steady, as any excitement in one heart, or in one group of hearts, is exactly balanced through the vast mushy laws of large numbers, by the ebbing of excitement in the same number of hearts elsewhere.

And vice-versa.

But on some days, if you are watching the blinking light as I often do, you will notice it slowly subtly down, or speeding suddenly up, as somewhere there is a large anomaly, a sudden gasping, a thrill, an excitement, in the entire population of a small city in Rawanda, or every Girl Scout in the USA; or somewhere else an entire continent goes to bed, and on the other side of the world, due to an international holiday, their usual counterbalancers are sleeping in.

Because, vast and sprawling and numerous though we are, humanity is still finite. There are only so many left-handed people, only so many people about to open a soda can, only so many Lutherans. The number of religious sects is large, but smaller than the number of grains of sand on the beach, which is smaller than the number of atoms in one grain of sand, which is smaller than the number of possible Sudoku grids, which is itself still finite, and so smaller than nearly all of the positive integers.

Looking down Platform 29, across all those people waiting patiently, or impatiently, for the 6:45 to arrive, and thinking that each of them has a history, and a set of beliefs, a complicated web of preferences and fears, we are already far beyond the vastness that any one of us can comprehend (one, two, three, seven, many), but if all of those people were to vanish suddenly, spirited off by aliens or vaporized by more mundane means, the size of the world as a whole would be reduced by only an imperceptible fraction.

So your laptop’s light blinks, almost always, at the same steady pace, as all of our hearts (or the hearts of all of us within one mile of a monitoring node), average out into a signal with just one bit of content (“still the same, still the same, still the same”); all the complexity nicely smoothing out, a hill here balanced by a valley there, a hundred orgasms in one set of college dorms nicely making up for a hundred hearts drifting off to sleep in another set one time zone away.

Take a breath. Feel yourself breathing, and what it feels like to breathe. Feel yourself thinking, and what it feels like to think. If you are worried, feel what it feels like to worry. Feel your own heartbeat slowing. Look at the reflection of the blinking light on the Ethernet connector, or the shiny tabletop, or your fingernail. As your heart slows down, imagine that you can see the light slowing down, by the smallest imaginable amount.

Imagine that you can feel, somewhere deep in your gut or your inner ear, the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around.

It the Earth turning, or the stars? We know, these days, that motion in a straight line is relative; that jogger is the one who is moving, and I on the park bench here with my peanuts am the one sitting still, only because the math is simpler that way; but either one might be true. It’s not so simple for rotation, though, for things spinning around. Ernst Mach thought, at least if we listen to Einstein (and we might as well, since we listened to him on that whole “motion in a straight line” thing), that the universe has a large-scale structure (large as large, larger than anything), that determines what counts as spinning and what doesn’t; but I hear down at the corner pub that this is not true in all solutions to the field equations.

Feel your breath, and what it is like to breathe. Feel your heart beating, and what it is like to have a heart, beating. Watch the blinking light, and feel your heart beating with all of the other hearts (the ones within a mile of a monitoring node). Feel the Earth turning under you, and the stars whirling around you (with or without closed timelike curves). Be still.

2013/08/05

It was a red beach ball

I wrote my 750 words again! Haven’t done that in months.

And they sort of hold together (I wanted to avoid the “write 750 more or less random words as wordily as possible” effect this time, but still without taking much time or with the internal editor very active).

For what it’s worth…

In London, it was a red beach-ball, thrown over the heads of the crowds of commuters coming out of the underground station early on a Monday morning, and kept bouncing up in the air for long minutes by a few hundred different hands. All brimming with warm and vulnerable cells.

In Lisbon, it was a broken crate of plastic-wrapped tee shirts for a popular Indy band, left by the side of a building.

In New York, it was the liquid dripping from a hole in a black plastic trashbag swaying in the grip of a shabby man walking from Harlem to downtown and back over the course of the day, stopping for sandwiches, occasionally muttering to himself.

In the high Arctic, it was an explosion, a large one, that flung a quantity of earth and snow and other things into the air, where it was picked up by currents and flowed down in a dissipating waves around the globe.

Any of these things, by itself, could have started an epidemic, sparked chaos, begun the end. None of them did. All of them, together, pushed something subtler over the edge, and a dozen people, initially scattered around the world, began to see differently.

They would talk about it, sometimes, later on, up in one of their satellites circling in the airless sky, or sitting a late watch with the humming patient machines in some sub-basement in a secret room under an obscure street.

“Was it just a coincidence?”

“Was it something that would have happened, had to happen, eventually, and that was just when the day that it did?”

“Did someone, or something, plan it, intend it, make it happen, in a way that, despite it all, we just can’t see? Even though as far as we know we can see everything.”

What do you see? Whether your eyes are open or closed, whether it is dark or light, chances are that you see just whatever photons happen to hit your retina, and then whatever labels the quite dark parts of your brain sticks on to them automatically, so you see a redness that is (probably) a box, and you see things that are (probably) your hands, and probably a bus, and most likely the street.

And, as far as anyone knows, as far as they know even, that is mostly all that any of them saw, either, before that day. Most of them (ten of the twelve, if you were to pin them down and dig into the question) had had times, more or less brief, flashes where they saw more in the world than that. Where things came together and impressed themselves on them in a different way.

But then so had thousands of others, even just that same year, and none of them went over the edge on that day, or on any day since.

No unusual contaminants leaked from that bag, or spun wetly from that bouncing ball, spread with those gradually and guiltily unwrapped shirts, or flew into the sky from the high Arctic. But they could have, and that potential spread, and those four webs of spreading potential somehow came together in a dozen points in the world, in a dozen people, and they changed.

Were there more points, more knots in that global web of spreading might-have-beens, where if there had been a person that person might also have been changed, Changed, and become one of the twelve. Probably there were. They would know, but they are not telling.

What is it like, to see the world directly as connected bundles of meaning? To see potentials and relations directly, rather than colors and shapes and probable labels? They have tried, some of them, to describe it and write it down. Four of them have even published books, but they are generally acknowledged to be opaque, more or less incomprehensible. Two of them are highly regarded as poetry, and one is still being analyzed as a possible cryptogram.

More of them have written, or crafted, or constructed, internal memos, stored in their own network of computers, available onto to each other. These may be more successful, although they are surely less necessary.

When you can see it directly, what need for words?

What would you have done, if you had been one of the twelve? It’s impossible to say, of course, without being one of them. Even knowing oneself deeply, as who of us really does, it’s impossible to say how you would have reacted, without knowing what you would have seen. And they are still not telling us, for whatever reason, just what it is that they have seen.

This was partly inspired, I think, by Embassytown, which I recently finished and keep meaning to do some sort of writeup of, and which is also the reason I posted that old micro of mine the other day.

Semantics everywhere! :)

2013/07/23

Verbum

Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if we hadn’t been each other’s First Contacts. Virgin civilizations, groping each other in the dark.

“Damn it, damn it, damn it,” the smaller of the two men moaned, his head down in his arms on the broken table, as the sounds coming in through the half-boarded-up window swelled louder.

“If they wanted to destroy us, why didn’t they just send a missle, an asteroid, a fucking army?”

The taller man took another drink from the bottle in his hand, staring without seeing at the window.

“We started it, you know.”

“Bastards, bastards.”

“We nearly destroyed them.”

“Should have.”

“It was the linguists,” his voice was rough and slow, detached, almost toneless, “that went out in the first starship. We taught the Tanatha suicide.”

“Bastards.” The sounds outside moved away a bit, grew softer.

“Their language was utterly alien. No reflexive forms, strange verb tenses. Eventually they learned enough of it to try to ask them questions, eventually they asked them what their word was for ‘suicide’. They didn’t have one.”

“Bullshit.”

“They didn’t. They had no reflexive forms, and ‘to be’ and ‘to kill’ were such utterly incompatible concepts that they had been literally unable to imagine killing the person that you are. Until we asked the question, and kept asking it until they understood.”

He took another long drink, a deep breath, and shuddered. The man at the table raised his head just long enough to wipe his eyes.

“It nearly destroyed their civilization. They didn’t have the millennia of evolved defense mechanisms that we did, the cultural institutions that discourage killing yourself, the structures to deal with it.

“They experimented.

“They died.

“Their cultures crumbled.”

“Not fucking far enough they didn’t,” the smaller man muttered, and lay his head down again with a thud.

“They fell so fast. Our linguists came back on the last starship they sent out, along with what was left of their Tanatha colleagues. Half the crew died on the way, but they got here.”

“Bastards.”

“And their linguists, the ones that stayed alive, learned our language in return, and one day they knew enough to ask, to ask what was our word for –”

“No, no, no, no, no,” the man slumped over the table moaned monotonously, as another explosion bloomed outside and a chorus of voices raised in an ululating scream, full of fear and an incomprehensible ecstacy.

(This is an old piece of microfiction (untitled at the time, and I’m not sure “Verbum” is the right title, really), that had the honor of being reposted on Language Log once, that I’m reposting because I may want to conveniently refer to it in a posting about a book I’m reading, once I’ve finished reading it. And also because it’d be fun to gather and post some of my old microfictions. And also I should write more of them!)

2013/07/20

Avid fans of mediocre fiction

There are all sorts of fascinating things going on.

One fascinating thing is the breathtakingly rapid evolution of media of all sorts; and one fascinating part of that thing is these here “e-books” which are available “on-line”, more or less directly from the authors.

The web-site Amazon Dot Com, to pick a very notable example, has a whole ecosystem, one might say polysyllabicly, built around these essentially self-published and to a great extent disintermediated artifacts, where one can buy (or acquire, for the significant numbers that are nominally free) copies of these books (and the associated licenses to read the copies, which are enforced by one’s own computers and reading software, in an odd and facially improbable bit of co-optation), and rate them with small integers, and leave comments on them, and rate and comment on other people’s comments, and see what other books people who have purchased this one have also purchased, and so on for quite some time.

(Here is a link to this stuff, or at least a link that, at the moment, when followed by me, leads to something like the “Books” subtree of the largish “Kindle” tree, which also includes the Amazon-branded reading devices (you can also read these e-books on various other devices), and non-book things (magazines, who knows what-all) that can also be read on them.)

Not all of the e-books are all disintermediated and self-published; some number of them are also acquired and edited and published by publishing houses large and small and new and old, brought out at the same time as, or before or after, old-fashioned non-e versions of the same book, actually printed on paper in ink. These I am not talking about so much here today; there are interesting things to say about them, but to the extent that they are selected and polished and marketed in roughly the same way books were a decade or three ago, they are not, comme on dit, in my fovea at this time.

(Haha, the WordPress spell checker does not know the word “fovea”. I suggests that perhaps I mean “forgave”. Also, it scolds me for writing “WordPress” with a small “p”, even though the publishing software, obnoxiously in my opinion, automatically capitalizes that “p” for me automatically at publishing time, heh.)

So anyway, he said loquaciously, about those e-books that are all disintermediated and self-published and all.

Many of them are really badly-writen.

(This may not come as a huge surprise.)

Some of them are in fact very good. For instance I discovered by following some winding path through the Internets the Wool books by Hugh Howey (looks like the first one is available free, which is nice; I recommend it). They are books that might not have made it out of the slush pile at a publishing house (or they might have; who can tell), but eventually bubbled to my, and lots of other people’s, attention via the ecosystem of self-publishing, and are now apparently doing rather well. There are rough edges here and there (I recall something about what the protagonists’ wife was said to be doing at the start of the first book that by the end of the third it was unlikely anyone would have been allowed to do, and seemed to be from some earlier and now-abandoned version of the plotline, for instance), but no worse than in many normally-published books I’ve read.

But many of them, even most of them I would dare say, requiring for their publication only that (1) the author thinks it is good (or at least would like to publish it), and (2) the author pushes some buttons on their computer (significantly fewer buttons than it took to write it, in most cases), and therefore having successfully vaulted only a pair of very low bars, are not very good at all.

And yet some of these not-very-good-at-all books have, or appear to have, avid fans in the ecosystem, who rate them at the top of the set of possible integers, post glowing reviews comparing them favorably to all other books previously written in the genre, give “unhelpful” ratings to negative reviews posted by others, and so on.

It makes one wonder.

For instance, is the difference between Post-human, by David Simpson, rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, and Wool by Hugh Howey (linked above), also rated four-and-a-half stars out of five, just that I personally thought the latter was pretty good (my review gave it five of five stars) and the former pretty bad (my rather scathing review gave it just two)?

Once the magnetic field was in place, he was free to bolt upward, unhindered by friction, air pressure, temperature, or anything else. In seconds, he was above the stratosphere, using his mind’s eye to plot an automatic course for Venus.

I think Howey’s book is better than Simpson’s in ways that don’t come down to just my personal opinions. Simpson’s contains technology howlers about glowing green magnetic fields that allow humans to fly through space at interplanetary speeds without benefit of spaceship; Howey’s has just some rather powerful psychoactive drugs that unreliably suppress memory and alter behavior. Simpson’s has an evil antagonist with god-like powers who keeps the protagonist alive to allow him to do something he (the antagonist) would clearly have had no trouble doing all by himself. Howey’s bad guys are subtler and more realistic, and in that way more terrifyingly evil.

Simpson’s protagonist is the most intelligent person in the solar system (scientifically measured!), and everything goes right for him, pretty much all the time. Howey’s various protagonists are more ordinary people, more conflicted and confused, and when they have any triumphs at all they are partial and sometimes worrying ones.

(And nearly every time one of Simpson’s comic-book superheroes turns on the stupid all-powerful magnetic field, Simpson has to say that he “ignited” it. Drives me up the walls, I tell ya.)

I don’t want to pick on Simpson’s book in particular, really; I’m sure there are other four-and-a-half-star ebooks that are worse. But the case of Post-Human is notable for at least a couple of reasons (and here we will segue gracefully into the lazy weblogger’s device of unordered lists):

  • For awhile, Simpson was offering a free book to anyone who gave him a five-star review on Amazon (he has since apparently stopped, and I hope it was because it’s against the rules).
  • But there are still four and five star reviews being written, and many of the negative reviews also have an unusual number of “unhelpful” ratings, so that last point can’t explain the whole effect.

What now? Just a bunch of thoughts:

  • Maybe the many glowing reviews and downratings of negative ones for the Simpson book are just fake; results of bribery, or posted by Simpson himself, or by some entity hired by him (I would not be surprised if there were companies that will create shadow-puppets who will boost the Amazon rep of a book for money). It would be interesting to look at the other reviews posted by people who have given very glowing reviews of very average works.
  • Maybe only some of them are fake and/or a result of the above-mentioned bribery, and the rest are from people who wanted to get on the bandwagon, in some to-be-determined sense.
  • Maybe some of the people who accepted the Simpson bribe are experiencing that interesting psychological effect whose name I forget and have decided that (since they can’t be bribed that easily!) they really did love the book, and go around downrating negative comments just to prove it.
  • Maybe I am wrong, and the Howey book is not objectively any better than the Simpson one, and it’s just that the problems with the latter happen to bother me personally more than those with the former.
  • Maybe I am not wrong, and by my objective criteria the Simpson book really is worse, but there are a significant number of people who don’t care about those objective criteria to speak of at all, but enjoyed the book greatly for some other reasons that I don’t really understand. That is sort of an interesting thought.
  • I have a vague impression that there is sort of a whole subculture of people on the Internets who write and read and praise and advertise not-very-good books, either (see above) they have never really read a good book, or they actually prefer books that are objectively (in whatever sense) bad, or for some other reason. I recently came across a weblog reviewing some mediocre self-published Amazon ebook as “an Amazon Bestseller!”, where that phrase was apparently copied from the book’s own page on the author’s website; I was nasty and posted a polite comment pointing out that the only sense in which it was an Amazon Bestseller was that it has an Amazon Bestseller rank, which every book on Amazon appears to have, and that in this case the rank was somewhere over one million. So “best” only in the most technical of senses. Presumably, though, there is some in-crowd feeling to be had in posting a positive review of a Best Seller?

Looking at many of the glowing reviews of the Simpson book (and for that matter other books I find poorly-written), my impression is that many of the reviewers are somewhat less than literate themselves, and/or less than civil, that in particular people who leave negative comments on negative reviews and otherwise defend the books in the commentary part of the ecosystem, tend to sound like trolls (broadly construed). What sorts of things do these people have in common? What are their motivations?

And, sort of conversely, will we eventually have a system in which I can mark those people as having opinions generally Irrelevant To My Own (or even Contrary To My Own), so that the system could take this into account in its own recommendations? “This book has a 4.5 star rating, or 2.25 stars if we count only people whose opinions you are likely to care about.” Is anyone doing that yet?

And that is about the end of my thoughts on the subject for the time being. Reading over it I see that I come across as something of an elitist jerk, but when it comes to books I am rather content being an elitist jerk. :)

Good reading!

2013/04/01

NaPoWriMo!

It turns out that there is (and maybe I knew this) a National Poetry Writing Month, NaPoWriMo of course, and it’s now! April, that is!

I am currently (i.e. as I type this weblog entry) strongly considering Doing NoPoWriMo, despite my on-and-off relationship with poetry, or maybe because of it. Since (a) it might tend to make the relationship more “on” for a bit, and that’s nice, and (b) it would give me weblog material, and (c) writing bad poetry is surely (even) easier than writing bad prose!

Here are some ancient poems of mine interspersed with thoughts on them, on the ol’ firstname lastname dot com site, for background.

Lyrics written during a NaPoWriMo would be sort of the opposite of those (or even “the obvious of those”, as my fingers first typed; I like the phrase), in that they would be fresh and new, not distillations of things that have been rolling around in my head for decades. At least I expect that they would be.

But on to the first poem!

Opening

Opening the cupboard
The first time in a decade
The air tumbles out
Old and rich
Smelling of stillness

Dangling participle included at no extra cost! :)

2013/03/23

Saturday

I’ve gotten a few “wtf dude?” reactions to yesterday’s post, on Facebook and directly. Basically I noticed that most of Bloomberg’s defense of Stop and Frisk (“it makes the city safer”, “we do it according to how much crime there is, not the race of the residents”) didn’t refer to the actual civil rights violations at all, and could be used almost word-for-word to defend (say) Stop and Punch, or Stop and Kill.

So there we are.

(He does claim, not very convincingly, that it is only done when there is reasonable suspicion that there is some crime going on. Sadly that also doesn’t differentiate it from killing.)

Gah! But anyway, here are another 750 words.

A set of steps leads up from the water’s edge to the house. All around, the swamp is noisy and fragrant in the night. She turned the key. He ate the last of the peaches, sitting alone looking at nothing.

Sitting in the back of the flat-bottomed boat, watching her pole through the salt-grass and between the silty hummocks with practiced strokes, I saw the house for the first time just at sunset. It was, and is, a sprawling chaotic structure, growing over the years in a comfortable haphazard way, concerned mostly with not sinking into the saturated ground, but also with accommodating the varied and equally fragrant waves of inhabitants.

He is tall and bearded, she is small and compact, with large breasts and a round bottom. They both wear flannel shirts and blue jeans.

I took with me only a string-bag full of oranges.

She has used him, he realized; used him as a foil, a wedge, a handy tool to extract from the world around her one more victory, one more step up the ladder that she thought would lead her to wherever it was she was going.

I am a creature of narrative, Yolanda, just as you are a creature of vision and image. Where else but here could we possibly have met?

Someone opened the front door and came in. From the sound, whoever it was just stood there for a long time, after closing the door again, shifting from foot to foot, perhaps reading the limericks on the wall.

Of the ten doors opening from that hallway, only two were unlocked. Of the ones that were locked, there were keys to only three. Entering the others would require a fire-axe, or perhaps a ladder against the outside wall, up to a broken window.

Jacob is here. He has brought his new wife. In the evenings they sit with the rest of us after dinner for a few minutes, saying little. Then they exchange a look and go upstairs to their bedroom. Herman rolls his eyes.

The tempo of her life changed every eighteen months, when her son finished a tour of duty and came home to rest and recover. This had been going on, it seemed to her, since the beginning of time.

“What do you want?” she asked. But there was no answer.

By the end of the summer, my calves were strong and well-defined from going up those steps. I held the wooden stake in my hand like a club and looked out over the water, waiting for the ferry to appear around the headland. What mistakes we make, I thought, when we try to change things.

By the time I had the fire burning well, the yard was full of the sound of a hundred children singing the song about Anansi the Spider. Just as the sun set, they all tried to get through the doors at once, clattering and laughing and cuffing each other.

“There was a time,” the old woman said, “when no one here believed in the undead. But that was a long time ago.”

As I pushed the right earpiece of my glasses back onto its broken stud, hoping the red candle wax would hold a little longer this time, one of the nosepieces cracked and fell off into my lap. I really should have made that telephone call sooner.

Bert and the Doctor decided to hike up to the top of the mountain behind the apartment building, and do the mushrooms there. They would lie on their backs on the rocks, they decided on the way up, and get high under the open sky. Bert didn’t always like mushroom highs, but they were better than no high at all, and they could afford them. Also the Doctor was a big fan; he said the mushrooms put them in touch with deeper parts of reality.

There is a box half-buried in silt at the bottom of the lake. The wood, soft and rotten, let the water in long ago. The papers that were in the box have entirely dissolved and their fibers and molecules drifted out to be part of the lake water. The two gems, an amethyst and a star sapphire, are coated with fine mud, and thoroughly in darkness. The last person that had ever seen the box before it sank to the lake bottom died fifteen years ago. That is how time works; gradually everything sinks and is forgotten, to make room for more things to rise, and for awhile to be remembered.

2013/03/18

You’ve also got to get them in the right order…

750 wordsSo there’s this 750 words site, which is a very simple (simple enough to be confusing, really) site designed to help wannabe writers (raises hand) get into the supposedly healthy “writing three pages a day” habit that has, on dit, been recommended by Various Famous Writers. Friend Emily mentioned it on Facebook and I signed up on ummmm Saturday, I did 750+ words that day, forgot all about it yesterday despite the helpful reminder email, and then did 750+ again today.

It’s different from, say, NaNoWriMo, in that 750 words a day isn’t nearly 50,000 in a month (more like 22,500), and it’s open-ended. And on the other hand you can’t be lazy one day and then make up for it the next.

Here is what I wrote today; what I wrote on Sunday feels a bit too personal and/or embarassingly bad :) to post in public at the moment. It is, probably predictably, about the process itself.

I’m not sure that what Real Writers have suggested in the past really meant just writing three pages of absolutely whatever sprung to mind, including grocery lists, the word “cheese” repeated over and over (like, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese), or even pure internal monologue like this.

Is that really something that helps develop writing skills? Or develope them, for that matter? (stet)

I can see this sort of totally uncensored, totally unjudged activity being either helpful or unhelpful, really, and I which is more likely is probably an empirical question. Contingent. Possibly different for different people, even, although it’s all too easy to suggest that for any given thing that might otherwise have a Right Answer.

There’s that scene in the L-Word where whatsername Jenny is talking to the creative writing teacher who has basically trashed her stuff, and what the teacher says is that she is just writing things that actually happened to her, perhaps thinly disguised, and Jenny agrees and/or admits this. And the teacher says that she won’t be a writer until she stops doing that, because just writing what actually happens is something else, she uses a word like “chronicaler” or “diarist” that’s clearly intended to be derogatory, and also says something sort of twee-paradoxical about things that actually happened not being true, or not being reality or something.

Awhile back, quite very awhile back, I used to (for some probably-small period of time) pick a word at random from somewhere (given how long ago, probably from the hardcopy dictionary or something), and then write some amount about that word, whatever first sprang to mind. (I wrote it with an actual pencil, on actual atomic paper, in an actual physical D-ring binder notebook, as I recall; how archaic, eh?)

Once Anne, childhood Anne, read a bunch of my writing (brave of me in retrospect, and probably even at the time, to have given them to her to read), and she liked it overall, but thought that the “write some stuff about a random word” ones were sort of forced, or artificial, or missing something, or at any rate, I remember, not as good.

And that’s the worry here I suppose, or something like it. That just writing without worrying about what one is writing will lead to the habit of doing that, of equating writing with writing-whatever, wearing away at whatever habits or standards of quality that one might otherwise have, and which one might do better carefully cultivating then actively wearing-away at. (Hm, how would one avoid ending that sentence with a preposition? “and one might do better carefully cultivating them rather than actively wearing away at them” I guess, but is that really an improvement?)

Not to mention actively developing bad habits. I don’t know if it applied to the pen-and-paper version, probably it did really in some form, but the temptation in this medium, with the word-count actively (but slowly) going up in the bottom-right corner down there as I type, is to always choose the wordier way of saying any given thing, to say the same thing over and over in various different ways even, to use N words when K would have done, for N greater than K.

One can just type and type and type, that is to say, making totally (or reasonably) coherent sentences (even though that’s not strictly-speaking required), while still not saying much of anything, or saying the same thing over and over.

And is that a good habit to develop? That is probably not a good habit to develop.

We walk out into the fields to harvest the pages. They grow on tops of the page-stalks, and also on the second-highest cluster of leaves, or cluster of what would be leaves if they were not pages. Below that level, the leaves actually are leaves, green with veins in the typical way, if somewhat more squarish than the typical leaf on any other kind of plant.

(See, the “on any other kind of plant” didn’t really need to be in there; there are things besides plants that have leaves, but the reader would have gotten it without that hint even.)

When the pages are ripe, they snap off of the stalks easily, with a slight tug just off of straight. Not too much off, so as not to tear the paper. And not too much straight, because then it may resist and not come off, and you may have to try again, and that would be inefficient.

And no one wants to be inefficient…

It’s funny that I have (or at least pretended to have, for the purposes of word-count) these reservations about developing bad habits by doing the “three pages a day” thing, whereas I’ve never had that worry about NaNoWriMo, where the lack of internal censor just feels freeing. Maybe because NaNoWriMo is so much an all-out infrequent event, whereas the other is intended to be an everyday every-day habit. Or something…

(Astoundingly, even the combination of being linked to by Salon and writing this exquisite political satire has not yet led to international fame; but we soldier on…)

2011/11/02

Oh, and of course I should have posted THIS!

NaNoWriMo badge

2011/08/15

Come November

One interesting difference here (although it’s a difference of culture or tradition and affordance, not a strictly-speaking necessary difference) is that posts will tend to be smaller, and with titles, rather than, as in the old log where they were perhaps longer, and titled only by date, so that you got “here’s what I’ve thought that I feel is worth recording today” rather than “here’s what I’m thinking right now, about this subject, or at least with this subject sitting there on top”.

(Another difference might be that wordpress might start putting ads onto the pages; if that gets annoying I will consider giving them money to stop doing it. Or moving back to the old site.)

(Also I’m not sure if these pages will validate, HTML/CSS-wise. But somehow I am not as concerned about that as I now and then was, or pretended to be, in the Old Days.)

Anyway! Come November I may be writing another novel. The question will be, what sort of novel this time?

Awhile back, I posted a list of the existing novels, and what each one was sort of subjectively like.

I feel like fiddling with the medium again, at the moment at least, rather than just writing a straightforward story. Not sure just why that is. :)

And of course it may change by November.

But at the moment the playing-with-the-medium that I’m thinking of is using the rather obscure variant of first-person limited in which you get just the narrator’s experiences of the external world, without internal monologue (or dialogue), explanations, or exposition.

I sat up in the bed. A woman in a white uniform brought me food, which I ate.

Another woman came in, and stood at the foot of the bed. She said things. I continued eating, looking at her, but said nothing.

The woman at the foot of the bed said more things, in a louder voice.

Eventually, I said things back.

Could be interesting. Fifty thousand words of interesting? Maybe… :)