Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net

Archive for November, 2009

Comments Are Fixed!

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Phone call from my daughter: Mom, the comments on your blog are broken.


Fixed now!

The Butterfly Effect

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Nanowrimo is well underway. For those unfamiliar, this is a writing exercise, held in November, with the goal of producing a 50,000-word novel in a month. The idea, as I understand it, is to just write, without concern for the inner editor, letting the unconscious creative spark take over. You won’t have a publishable novel at the end of it, but you might have a good framework to build on, with some great scenes, and you will at least have something.

My daughter persuaded me to sign up for Nanowrimo last year. That lasted for about two hours and this year I refused to go near it. I’m not recommending against Nanowrimo. It’s just not the way I write.

There are writers who always write in the Nanowrimo style, pouring out chapter after chapter without pause or revision until they reach the end, and then going back to re-write it all later. And then there are writers like me who insist on a polished chapter 1 before going on to chapter 2, and if something in chapter 2 changes things, then of course one must go back to chapter 1 and revise accordingly. While I admit this is mostly personal style, for me there is also a logical reason for doing this—because naturally everything that happens in a given chapter is dependent on what happened, or what was introduced in prior chapters. So that when I do go back and change some plot thread at an earlier point in the story, the repercussions are always more than I initially hope. This is the writer’s version of the butterfly effect, and this re-write of The Wild is turning out to be a profound demonstration of it.

The idea behind this re-write was to change the opening to better set up the story, change some motivations to provide better conflict, and change some of the plot to do the same. But once those butterfly wings start stirring the air, the winds can get very erratic.

I had hoped to make big changes in certain sections while holding onto other parts—and significantly the last quarter of the book—pretty much “as is.” So of course I have wound up re-writing almost everything. Oh, I’ve preserved some scenes and lots of paragraphs, but I bet if I went through and highlighted new stuff versus old stuff (and no, I’m not obsessive enough to actually do this) it would probably be 70% new, even though it’s telling essentially the same story.

The really painful moments are when I am forced to dump favorite scenes because they no longer fit in.

But onward. I’ve figured out the major plot points and motivations for the next to last section and have even managed to recycle some of the more dramatic moments. Now to outline it, and then to write it. It’s still possible I could pull this off in a way that will require only minimal changes in the last section. That’s the goal, but I’m not making bets on it.

The Other Project

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I’ve spent the last few weeks deeply immersed in the website project mentioned in my October 10th post. This is a task that is better finished sooner rather than later, but there’s no deadline, no real pressure to get it done. Nevertheless I’ve been absorbed in it. Pleasantly absorbed.

I can’t point to any one thing that is inherently fascinating about programming a database-driven website. Step-by-step, maybe it’s kind of boring. And it isn’t exactly fun sitting in a chair all day staring at a screen, trying to figure out why stuff isn’t working, and trying to remember all the contingencies that have to be accounted for, and waiting for a page to load, (and listening to the dog sigh and grumble because I have become the most boring companion imaginable). Yet overall it is a deeply satisfying process.

Evidently I have a need to engage in long, complex projects. Whether it’s painting the house, landscaping the garden, programming a website or writing a novel . . . there’s a lot of satisfaction in the process, at least when progress is being made.

The promise of progress is one reason programming makes such a great escape from writing: everyday I know I’ve accomplished something. I may spend an hour trying to figure out why something isn’t working, but after a few hours I know I’m closer to the finished product.

Writing doesn’t share that same sense of momentum, of fair reward for time spent. Twenty hours spent trying to compose a chapter might just be twenty wasted hours. In the back of my mind I’m always aware of this, so it’s easy to get distracted.

But now I’ve reached a good pause-point on the website, so tomorrow the plan is to get back to The Wild. Wish me luck. I really need to get this (re)-rewrite done so I can try my hand at something new.