Thursday, February 8, 2007

by your own foolscap

For all our capriciousness, we prefer to do what we're told. We prefer to have some kind of formula, mantra, proven method by which to follow our dreams than the unscripted process of creativity. Love philtres, psychic hotline advice, patented weight loss systems, self-help hypnosis tapes (if I were wealthy, I would indulge and express my wealth by placing a neon sign above my bathroom mirror that glowed "learn to hypnotize yourself" ), and parliamentary politics (campaign contributions as investment funds), all of these allow us to follow some kind of plan. That they mostly don't work is someone else's fault, and who could ask for more from less?

It isn't so much that we are gullible, although we are, but that we'll do almost anything to avoid the trial-by-error randomicity of hacking things out as we go toward a specific end.

For example, in another reality I seriously try to write commercially viable fiction. I do this hamstrung by an above average amount of talent, exquisitely tuned aesthetic sensibilities, an inherent perversity that forces me (or so it feels) to almost always go my own way, and a lack of confidence that usually stops me from going far enough my own way to get to where my own way goes.

Years of noodling away have convinced me that I've got the stuff to become a successful novelist but that conviction alone doesn't supply its own motivation nor does it dispel a lifetime of doubts. I have to trick myself into getting on with the work. Almost every day. I must shame and cajole myself, march determinedly like a lemming under duress to the keypad and the appropriate text file.

Why is it so hard? After all, I love words. It is so hard because the nature of the process is a constant chaotic dance of doubts and ideas. Writing fiction is the concocting of convincing bullshit. It is the distillation of half-cocked ideas over the fire of hopeful doubt. Hopeful doubt. Let that soak into your socks awhile.

One conjures a premise. If one is fanciful and bright, like me, the idea is uncommon, perhaps even unique. But the more uncommon the premise, the more difficult the fulfillment. Junkyard ghosts require more work to attain fictional credibility than attorneys fighting longshot cases for the little guy. One can research real courtroom procedures and legal precedence; junkyard ghosts must be built from the ground up wth no more aid than half-remembered campfire tales and strings of Hollywood spirit cliches.

But one has this Great Idea... so you hack away at the thing, flail thin air until it attains at least a ghostly pallor if not meat and bones. At the end of a productive day, one feels smug, satisfied, cocky. One just created compelling circumstances, even poetic dilemma, and some aspect of a person experiencing the circumstantial dilemma, out of thin air.

But tomorrow you'll have to do it again, often with no more clue than yesterday.

There are days when it seems it would be so much easier to follow My 9 Steps to Financial Independence to, if not financial independence, at least a place where one can place the blame for one's failures on someone else's nine doorsteps. This provides reliable job insecurity, whereas Writing (or Painting, or Photographing, or Composing, or any of an enormous number of entrepreneurial attempts based on following your own ideas) has little to no reliable job insecurity. Some days one can be certain one is doomed except for the nascent novel before one, which is the only shot -- however long -- one has. This certainty of futility can inspire tremendously focused creative effort that leaves one soaring in oneself at day's end, certain that one has the stuff and will surely succeed. But the next morning, soaring or slinking to your desk, the work remains unchanged by one's optimism or pessimism. It still requires that one focus one's mind on what it is one wants but can't properly define any more than judges define pornography: don't know what it is but recognize when I see it. One must flounder with great determination and enough recognizable purpose to move one's dizzy spin in a direction more linear than not. The spiral of activity must not be vicious. The tornado must get from point a to point be without knowing what point B looks like and only half sure it believes it started at point A. (Tornadoes are not vicious spirals, they're merely ferocious.)

A whirling dervish at least has the certainty a) that the god with whom they seek communion is mysteriously beyond them and b) of getting dizzy and collapsing into a satisfied heap.

Writing is so daunting and deluding a process that there are authors who've penned their entire success not on writing books per se but by publishing books on how to to write and successfully publish books.

Sit and Spin Your Way to Success by Rumphole Spinscam. It is one thing to pull oneself up by one's bootstraps, another to pull oneself up by the skin of one's feet. Like a baby playing with its tootsies.It lifts them up a bit. Their little tushie rises off the floor. Elevation. Other days, one crawls. A majestic accomplishment if you're a baby.

Then one day you stand up and walk. Triumph. Maybe even a publisher's deal sufficient to pay one year's mortgage, trusting to providence to supply Ramen and electricity.

But, despite having been born with wings and having finally learned how to stand on one's feet, one isn't likely to become an adult angel any time soon. One remains a cherub, an angel grub.

It is not long after the check is cashed and a few public readings are endured, that one wakes up in the crib again with soggy diapers, not crying or hollering but kind of whimpering between coos, reaching for one's tootsies...
copyright Robin Morrison


Aaron Paquette said...

*You've* been editing!

(If you're using the 'new' blogger which requires a gmail sign in, you can use the template settings section to throw a 'copyright' down at the bottom of your site.)

Robin Bob Morrison said...

Not so's ye'd notice?