Saturday, March 29, 2008

The To-Do List: Ave Atque Vale

In his comments about another writer's work in progress, read today in my Saturday workshop, one of my long-term regulars, a garrulous, balding ex-Marine owner of an insurance agency advised the author from whom we'd just heard to compile a list of generalized things always to keep in mind when setting forth to write fiction. By all accounts a caring man, the Marine Corps tattoos on his biceps notwithstanding, he has a heart of pure marshmallow; his concerns are rarely if ever bordering on meanspiritedness or self-importance. Some of the Things to Keep in Mind he uttered were similar to a Ten-Step Plan that I discovered earlier this morning on a newsletter from my department at the University.

Define your audience.

Create a persona/narrator

Cull the Facts

Stay on the Spine of the Story...

...and six other things that were well-intended, each containing a modicum of common sense.

So that by the time I heard my ex-Marine, long-term regular advising another to keep a list handy at each writing session, I bristled inwardly but was more impressed by the fact that I held my tongue.

One of the last things I want when I have time to devote to writing is a modicum of common sense or, in fact, even the merest hint of common sense. I do not want all my ducks in a row nor do I wish to mind my p's and q's. I am, on the other hand, quite willing to count my chickens before they are hatched; I frequently judge books by their covers, I judge other persons without having walked a mile in their shoes, I leap before I look, and I put all my eggs in one basket.

The point here is that I like being lead off on wild goose chases, snipe hunts, excursions down the garden path; I often read with the expressed hope of being drawn into a false conclusion and/or having one of my multifarious prejudices revealed to me by my willingness to believe something patently untrue, poorly reasoned, or rooted like a perennial in some bigotry-like soil.

I itched this morning to say that the time for staying on the spine of the story or culling excessive details or defining my audience is not in the instant draft but rather later on down the line, when I am involved in the process of revision. Things being what they are, I might even consider in revision running my longer sentences through the shredder, producing instead of the one, as many as three or four stories.

I want to be as unfettered by common sense as possible, as open to strange and wonderful connections and associations as I can achieve, the better to make something textured and tangible. I want to be dazzled, hit by falling stars, struck by lightning, awed by sunrises and sunsets, reduced to wordlessness by a smile, done in by a birthday cake, transported to other realms by a gaze, set into being a kaleidoscope of emotion by a few bars of music. None of this comes to me as a result of keeping a list or agenda.

The way to manage creativity is to leap off the side of an idea, flap your arms as though they might be wings, then note the results as you go spiraling downward in the manner of Wile E. Coyote. Mr. Coyote is irony in the flesh. His creators have conspired against him and let us in on the secret. We know he cannot succeed in his goal, which is making Roadrunner the breakfast of champions, but we are drawn into his orbit because we know his common sense will not prevail and because ours has prevailed perhaps a bit too long already


Unknown said...

Nothing but nods from me. Common sense has little to do with a good tale, nor do stringent to-do lists. Sometimes characters can not be confined to the maps and purposes we've drawn for them, but must indeed be allowed to chase that white rabbit into parts unknown. We as the authors are simply along for the ride, and by proxy take our readers on the journey with us.

x said...

God, it's such a relief to be told to write in an irrational, primary process way in a tone and in words that are also primary process. When a tight-ass teacher is telling you to do that in words that reek of meticulous spine-writing, it leaves the student with no clue as to direction. The medium is the message. The teacher needs to demonstrates writing crazy by talking crazy.