Saturday, January 07, 2006

A New Year

I started this blog almost a year ago, in somewhat the same way that I started writing novels - as something to do while I figured out what I should be doing. The novel-writing came about after I'd finished writing a bunch of teleplays for an original series, mostly for fun - because probably one of the least likely things that can happen to you in Hollywood is to sell an original series when you are pretty much an unknown writer. But I liked the idea; I had a blast writing it, and I could crank out an episode in a relatively short amount of time, without a lot of angst or fuss. I did do some "should" stuff as well, but I knew that if I were really serious about establishing myself as a writer, I needed to do the smart thing, and that was to write a stand-alone spec feature that wasn't too out there or strange.

The problem, of course, was thinking of something along those lines.

One thing I'd learned while cranking out all that TV was the value of writing regularly. I decided that I shouldn't just stop writing while I was thinking up that slam-dunk six figure spec feature. I had a first chapter of a novel I'd written nearly ten years earlier - why not write that in the meantime?

Of course in the process of writing a novel "in the meantime," I discovered that I liked writing novels much better than writing features, and quickly burned through two and a half (in a projected series of three). Of course these books did not fit neatly into a genre, and they were pretty much tree-killers, lengthwise, as well.

I didn't really care; I was having too much fun. It was only when I actually received some interest in the first one that the whole incredibly painful - and predictable - cycle of hope and rejection set in.

So I reached the end of 2004 in a funk, and at a crossroads. Novel #3 didn't seem like fun any more. I needed to get serious. I needed to figure out what I should be doing.

I didn't have a clue, so I started this blog. I figured, it would keep me writing, make me "publish" something on a regular basis. Perhaps it would eventually become a place where I'd put more of my stuff, a novel, some songs, who knows?

I still haven't precisely figured out how productive a project this has been for me, or whether it's just a semi-creative way to procrastinate, but it has been fun, and I've "met" some cool people as a consequence (particularly Richard and all the cool folks at the peking duck).

One thing I have been thinking about as a result of doing this is how I am not really a great analytical essayist or political commentator - I read folks like digby, the troika at firedoglake, my new favorite, Glenn Greenwald, and all the folks at booman, and I am constantly shown what great political blogging is all about. This made me think about how as we grow up and grow older, we tend to specialize, to figure out the things that really motivate us, and if we're smart, we do those things, reinforce those skills, prune away the less-used neural pathways in our tangled brains and develop the paths that take us where we really want to go.

So for me, that means here I am, starting another quarter of Chinese and slogging my way through another novel. And this one has been a real slog. I was lucky enough to have about seven years where I was able to write like I was turning on a faucet every night, and when the well went dry towards the end of last year, I had to look for water down an unfamiliar road. All I had guiding me was intuition and outrage.

The "intuition" part is all about how I like to write. I am fortunate to have an online discussion/critique group with a couple of great writers. A month or so back, we "talked" about how we wrote. None of us believe in outlining. For me, I just don't know what the story is about, for the most part, until I write it. Sure, I have a few plot points in mind - maybe - a character or two - but it's the process itself that generates the ideas. I posted that it felt a lot like writing songs to me. The musicality of the words is important, and the rhythm of it is what tells me when it's time to move on, from one idea to the next. Also, writing for me has always had an element of performance - how am I going to do, when I sit down at the keyboard this time? Am I gonna kick ass, or clam?

Writer #2 responded that for her, it was like sewing a dress. She had this pattern, these parts cut out, and it was all about fitting them together into a coherent garment.

For Writer #3, it was cooking, or baking. Sure, you have a basic recipe, but it's the improvisation of certain ingredients that really makes it interesting, and tasty.

If I were using the cooking metaphor, a lot of my ingredients would be politics, history and current events. The kind of stuff I post here, now and again, and the material the above-mentioned bloggers cover so well every day.

Only for me, what my brain wants to do, what it's been trained to do, is turn such things into fiction. Not, I sincerely hope, overly didactic fiction (yuck!). But this latest novel really has been fueled by outrage, and god knows, I've had plenty of gas in the tank to keep me going, even when the actual writing has been a bitch, when I've been clueless about the plot, when I can't figure out whether I'm at the verse, the bridge or the chorus. Anybody who's played in a band - you know when you have a trainwreck? Where you're in the middle of a tune and it's like, "oops. Where the fuck am I?"

It's going better now. I'm actually getting up to my old speed, intermittently anyway. I think I know where I'm going...well, up to a point. But that's good enough for now.

All of which is a very roundabout way of saying that the kinds of things I've been posting here over the last year, about China and about US politics, are still obsessing me - but they're getting thrown into Novel Stew instead of being posted here.

For your China and political fixes, check out the links I've posted above and on the right - these guys say it way better than I can. And I'll do my best to post more regularly here as well (if anyone has any preferences as to topics, let me know).

Hey, it's a new year. And while not everything is possible (I am reasonably certain that at this point in my life, I will not become a rock star. Or a ballerina. But I never wanted to be a ballerina, so no loss there), who knows?

I still might get better.

No comments: