We Are Tools

When I was 13, I had a crush on a girl. I also played Dungeons & Dragons. These things are not completely oil and water, but in general there are not too many emulsifiers that work in this recipe. So when I say “crush,” do not suppose that it was anything except wild swings of imagination kept jealously to myself — until now. Allow me to elaborate.

I bought an Exacto knife so I could trim the D&D lead figurines of mystical elves and durable dwarves that I painted for more realistic role playing games. You needed those figures to map out the battles. You needed the figures to look right, so that people understood what was in your mind as you described it. You needed a sharp knife so you could clip that halberd into a spear, scrape away that pathetic bandolier of throwing daggers, or add the gash of a flowing wound so you can show just how badass your ranger was.

I stared at that knife. I had owned a pocket knife before, but this blade was different. Evocative. It was a wondrous tool, and it told stories. I held it in my hand and figured that, should civilization end due to the inevitiable accidental nuclear exchange, and should the roving bands of mutant Mad Maxians get a lucky shot off before my clever booby traps exploded their vehicles, and should that lucky shot lodge a single bullet into some quasi-expendable organ of the object of my affection, then never fear. Her family would be distraught; her father, reluctant to let me take charge. But I am convincing, of course. I have an Exacto knife. Therefore, I am a surgeon.

Naturally I remove the bullet without bloodying her up too much, she fully recovers and realizes how super I was — and always have been, she realizes next — and I go on to lead the now tight-knit band of survivors on a journey of about 300 feet over the next hill, which is gloriously free of mutant raiders and just exactly right for settling down to repopulate the planet. Oh, and due to a freak accident, the female-male ration was about 5 to 1.

True story. I fantasized imagined that scenario many times, often with critical variations such as the exact male-to-female ratio. I was the hero. I was a surgeon. I owned an Exacto knife.

I think it’s built into our DNA to instinctively react as if a tool imparts a skill. I think we’re just built that way, probably because for evolutionary millennia good tools were hard to come by. Now you can’t avoid them, with capitalism-driven marketing portraying a seductive life of accomplishment if only you buy this or that tool. Don’t you see this in your life?

Buy some enamel-coated cast iron pots. You’re a chef.

Buy running shoes. You’re fit.

Buy a filing cabinet. You’re organized.

Buy an easel and canvas. You’re a painter.

Buy an election. You’re a leader.

Buy Photoshop and a tablet. You’re a web comic publisher.

Buy a camera. You’re a photographer.

Buy some writing software. You’re a writer.

That’s how it works. Right?

This is what I did today, instead of writing. I bought the software made for writers, and for 90 minutes I configured the preferences, read the tutorials, added bits of “research” to my virtual binder. All the while, I felt productive. I was moving ahead, doing things. I felt like I was really setting the stage, really getting to a good starting point.

But I could have been starting. Actually starting.

Lesson learned. Again. I’ll do better tomorrow. And I’ll probably need to learn it again the day after. Starting is hard. Maybe I need better tools.

I have discovered that the 2000-word target is good, and reasonable, but much more difficult than expected for one reason: I had been thinking about disconnected short stories. If a short story veers off path, you let it veer. You let it careen off the road and into the brush and mud, and then you dust yourself off and say, “What an interesting experiment!” You walk away and start the next one already on the road. But in trying to write the second part of Souchart’s story, I realized a new block I hadn’t anticipated: when things stitch together, you need to spend time stitching instead of writing. If you left it while you were off the road, you start tomorrow off the road.

This is why I wanted to start my practice a month before NaNoWriMo. Because there are a lot of unknowns to discover, and a lot of demons to exorcise. I hope I’ve properly drawn this pentagram and lit the candles. Tomorrow’s demons won’t know what hit them.

Go go go!

Volume first.

“Perfect is the enemy of done.”

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

“Fail faster.”

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.”

“If there are nine rabbits on the ground and you need to catch a rabbit, you need to focus on just one.”

One week in, One week behind

Seems to be how it goes. “The faster I work, the behinder I get.”

Last week I wanted to explore whether I had the creativity, energy and brainpower to get writing done in the evening. Most of my writing days in the past were done that way — after school, after work, etc. But probably a good half of the words actually written issued forth on the weekends, though, and that should have been a forecast of what I found out.

Writing after work doesn’t work.

Last week was an odd one, too. I work under a monthly contract for a certain number of hours to certain clients, and so the “vacation” Francesca and I took last month was about two weeks long, one week at the end of August and one at the beginning of September. That way, I could cram 30% more work in the other three weeks of those months and still come out right.

So last week was crammed with work. AND it was Francesca’s birthday. AND we decided that we’re going to be moving to Portland, and we have no idea what that entails. Busy week.

Lesson learned: going to write in the morning. I should have known better.

I missed my Sept 30 story. That one is going to stay missing. (Feel free to pretend it was awesome.) I’ll hit both this week before Friday, and then just keep going according to plan.

About “The Cure For Everything”

The Cure For Everything is an idea I flirted with years ago. All I remembered was the first line, about a Tuesday in April. Sometimes, that’s all I need to go on. The novel I’m planning had its genesis in a single note that I scrawled while driving on I5: “Film noir detective in Antarctica.” How can you get more noir-ish than a night that lasts months?

This story clocks in at 2614 words, written in about 3.5 hours. So I overshot my target a bit, but I think the initial test came back positive: I can think up and physically type out the 2000 words I need, in one sitting, in a time period that could conceivably fit before work.

I welcome comments about the story on that story’s post. I don’t think it’s a particularly good story, but it served its purpose. I hope to do things more interestingly in the future. There may be some exploration of my Antarctic Noir, and maybe some stuff set in a friend’s RPG setting that I’m currently playing, and maybe some original mish-mash.


Go Go Go!

I used to write.

I still consider myself a writer, one of those writerly types, a storyteller, a guy who fibs for entertainment’s sake, or education’s sake, or just to win an argument in my own mind. (Trying to cut down on the latter.) But I haven’t actually strung very many fictive words together — much less sentences or paragraphs — in quite a while.

I used to be good.

Not published. None of my screenplays got filmed. I had some actors actually say lines I wrote while on stage nearly twenty years ago, but that was back in school and they needed to do it in order to get their passing grade and move on to things more interesting. Some marginal success in writing competitions — won some local-only awards and placed more than a couple of times in national Big Timecontests — but I haven’t won, and the producers who called to inquire never really called back. But I enjoyed writing, and I imagine that some few others enjoyed reading those strings of words I made.

I want to recapture that.

This blog is just so that I can exert myself in public. Or what I imagine might be public, despite my day job as an internet professional telling me that most blogs are abandoned in the first 30 days, and most that survive rarely achieve a readership beyond Mom, bless her heart. So, Mom, this blog is so that when I write, it is published in the etymological sense of the word — the Latin publicare, “to make public.”

I want to publicly challenge myself.

In November of every year there is a little-known event called “The National Novel Writing Month,” or NaNoWriMo. The idea is to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, from November 1 to the end of the month. That’s about 1700 words per day — eminently doable, but rarely done. I like round numbers and I tend to use two words when one will do, so I’m shooting for 2000 words per day, for 30 days. That should give me something like the first draft of a 200 page novel. I know I can do it. I have written an entire 92-page screenplay over one weekend. It’s a typical romantic comedy, but the plot hinges on the Y2K bug so it’ll never get made — and it has some of my best scenes and lines. I’ve never once rewritten any of that screenplay after that weekend.

I want to learn to rewrite.

For almost everything I do — programming, homemade ice cream, bad jokes — the first draft is the final draft. I suck at rewriting, because I like creating new things from nothing. I’m pitiful at motivating myself to perfect good things that already exist. I need to be better. Writing a novel in such a way that I’ll need to rewrite it for me to tolerate reading it… that might just be the recipe.

I’m rusty.

I figure I need to stretch these writing muscles. To rebuild what has atrophied, to reinvigorate what has stagnated, and to focus what has been redirected. I can’t run a marathon tomorrow, but I could certainly run a marathon at some point. It’s not beyond me. NaNoWriMo is going to take some practice. Here’s what I plan to publish here:

  1. By Sep 26, a 2000-word story. Just to see if I still can form a sentence or two.
  2. By Sep 30, another 2000-word story. Because the first story was probably something I had already thought out.
  3. Oct 1-7: two 2000-word stories. Good grief. I suppose I need to do more of this.
  4. Oct 10 & 14: each day, one 2000-word story. Cuz schedules are important.
  5. Oct 16, 18, & 21: each day, a 2000-word story. All of this writing will occur before I start work for the day, but I can take multiple days. Note to self: figure out how to not fall behind on work.
  6. Oct 23, 25, & 28: each day, a 2000-word story written that morning only. Still before I start work; still without falling behind on work. Can I do it? I need to answer that question.
  7. Oct 28-31: nuttin’. You ain’t gonna see nothing here. I’ll be holed up, plotting and characterizing and generally panicking.
  8. Nov 1-30: Novelizing, bee-yotch. I’ll post updates. Sample bits. Whimpering and cries for help. Desperate requests for caffeine. Etc.
  9. Dec 1: I will post Cake. Downloadable, delicious Cake. It is not a lie.

Deadlines. Love ’em.

I might find that I cannot do this. I might find that my clients and co-workers who depend on me are being short-changed, and I can’t allow that sort of selfishness so I must re-adjust my aspirations. It won’t be the first time reality won.

But it’s worth challenging. Reality, on occasion, does back down.

And now, I need to go.