Lots of Work and Tempest's Questions

10 December 2002

Perhaps at some point in the past, I have mentioned how much I hate chapters. And don't know how to do them. And so on. Well, I finally broke down last night and put them in Reprogramming, because everybody, everybody, except for me and Timprov, wanted chapters in it. So I thought it was a good bet that perhaps the agent who will be reading it will want them, too, and I put them in. With many a sigh and some growling.

Do you know what this meant? It meant that I was actively working on five books this week. Five. You know, when I said I wanted to write books, I didn't really mean five in one week. Five in one week is kind of a lot. So now, when I manage to wrench my brain away from one book, there is always another book ready to jump in and demand attention. It's productive, but wearying, and I think it'll be nice to have it down to two or possibly three next week. Especially since it'll be different kind of work, with different expectations of myself.

I'm almost done with the Chinese book. 4000 words. I could do 1000 words a day for the rest of the week and still be done for the weekend. Or I could do 2000 words a day today and tomorrow. Or I could do as many as I can manage today and see what's left tomorrow, which is probably the route I'll really take. I know what sections remain for me to write, and how to write them. It should be a pretty good work day in that regard.

I'm almost done with my Christmas cards, too. I have three of them left, for which I have no stamps. Last night I thought, "I could have these done tonight!" And then I thought, "Daniel Pinkwater's books were starting to make sense to me today. Better just save them until tomorrow."

So yes, I did finish The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, children's surrealism, fun. It was one of the most thoroughly odd world-building exercises I've seen, because I believed in the internal logic of the world, even though it didn't work with our logic at all, and it seems that when you've gotten to the point of changing logics on people, that's some darn good world-building. Or else your reader's brain is fried. Either way.

I also skimmed through Donna Jo Napoli's The Magic Circle, which was a very short Hansel and Gretel story, and I didn't think much of it. It was competently done and all, not bad, but none of the characters grabbed me at all, and the evil was all externalized. And I hate that, when evil is all something that someone else is/does. Even the witch was just too darn good. It was like "For Better or For Worse" that way. Are any of you big Napoli fans? If so, am I missing her best book? I've read Spinners and Song of the Magdalene as well, and I'm about ready to decide that I know what she's about and be done with it. But if one of you has one that's a particular favorite, do let me know, and I'll try that one.

And I started Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief, but just barely, so I don't have anything to say about that yet.

It's raining! Yay!

Tempest has some questions that kind of touch on writing and spirituality. And I guess I have answers, of a sort. I don't feel that a force outside me uses me for a channel when I'm writing, but I do feel that the stories are coming from somewhere deep inside me. But once they've come from somewhere deep inside me, they exist on their own. They have their own solidity and their own truth, and I don't always know what I know about them. So people will ask me questions about my characters, and I'll just answer, and sound like I knew what I was talking about.

Is it sometimes a spiritual experience? Well...it's a peak experience, certainly. I'm a little wary of dubbing something spiritual. It's a word that makes me shy away, a bit, because I so often associate it with other women after some date, talking about, "y'know, we just, like, connected...on such a spiritual level...." The word has been ruined for me in many ways. But I do believe in vocations, and I believe that story-telling in various forms can be a vocation. And, in fact, is my vocation.

The essential difference between vocation and inspiration is that vocation is constant, and vocation is work. And work is very, very, very important.

I will say this about writing and religion: it is no coincidence that the religion I follow has for its central figure a story-teller and carpenter. Someone who understood the importance of both a good story and good craftsmanship, making things that had a lasting solidity. That resonates with me. I can go with that.

Can I tap into my source of story all the time? Well, that depends. On any given day, can I tap into it for a couple thousands words worth on some project? Yes. But if I've already written 4000 or 5000 words that day, the next 1000 may not be so easy to get at. I think part of that may be physical, though. I think I may just be ready to move elsewhere at that point, even if I've taken stretching breaks.

It wasn't always like this. I've trained myself to be able to do this, and the way I trained myself was just by doing it, over and over again. And by developing a reading habit, so that I'm always getting new input. I think that many of the same activities can be described in hard-headed practical terms or in high-flown spiritual/mystical terms. I favor the former, myself. I think "a willingness to keep learning" can go in either direction, though, as descriptions go. I used to be terrified that I would stop getting good ideas, because I didn't know that I was training myself to see them everywhere. I used to keep the novel list and the short story list because I was terrified of losing even one of them, for fear that I would need it later. Now, it's mostly an organizational thing.

I think stories come from inside each of us, but they also go on from there. I think it's a natural human urge. I think many of us fill in stories automatically, and we just vary in what kind of story. Some of us make grand extrapolations out on a limb over the smallest detail. Others think of someone who hasn't called them back and picture that person busy at their desk at work. Little stories. It's human. Which is, why, I think, in "Galaxy Quest," the opposite was portrayed as alien: because the people who wrote that movie saw story-telling as fundamentally ours. (Ah yes, there's nothing like a Tim Allen movie to elevate the level of an art and spirituality discussion.)

I think if I was claiming that a force outside me was moving through me directly to create a particular story, I would be giving that force responsibility for what I wrote. So if I wrote a piece that could be read in a way that I didn't intend -- in a morally bad way that I didn't intend -- then I'd be trying to give that force responsibility for my screw-up. It would sound remarkably similar to "Listen to this -- it's what God wants you to believe!" or "The devil made me do it!" to me, and I don't like either.

I also think that no matter how strongly I believe in something, if it doesn't belong in the story, it would be wrong to put it in that story. None of my books so far tell people to take care of their old people or that God is love. Because it didn't go in the story. It's like putting bunny-ears on your Laborator retriever: it's not going to make the dog into a bunny. It may hurt the dog and certainly will do him/her no good. It will look ridiculous, and if the dog could tell you openly to get rid of the stupid things, he/she would; as it is, the dog will try like mad to shake them off. Doesn't mean that bunnies are not a good thing to have. Just means that the Lab isn't one. (Of course, there are also unfortunate bunnies, and unfortunate ways of presenting bunnies...but that's another issue entirely.)

I think this has taken a huge tangent from what Tempest was going for, so I'm going to stop meandering around it now.

The Merc has a big ol' front page article about kids whose families take them abroad over Christmas break, and how they sometimes miss school. Oh, horrors. And they quoted a teacher named Candy Doss, who said, "Traveling can be a wonderful learning experience, but I don't think it's a substitute for the kind of learning you get in the classroom." I do believe that's one of the most backwards sentences I've ever heard in my life. Oh, that whole "seeing the rest of the world" thing, that "experiencing another culture" thing, that "learning to function in settings that aren't strictly age-segregated" thing...all of those things pale in comparison to worksheets where you fill vocabulary words into the blanks. Or make lists of state capitals. Truly valuable types of learning like that.

I'm biased against classroom learning, I know, because so little of it was new by the time I got there. But still, come on. Trip to Japan vs. being back in your first grade classroom exactly on time? That's just not a choice. Honestly.

Okay, well, other than that, I think it's just going to be a work day. A long, long work day. With much work in it. And also a trip to Office Despot and the grocery store. But mostly work. Good work, I hope. Have a good day.

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