Sunday, April 4, 2010


From the advice of your late friend, Dennis Lynds, who wrote under almost as many pseudonyms as you, it became a given: No matter how broke you were, you don't take an advance from a publisher until you've completed the job. His logic was impeccable. If you take an advance on a proposal, they will come after you for pages. He was right.

On the one or two times you thought you saw the value of taking a substantial enough advance on a proposal to allow you to get the work done without having to get a job, the publishers' presence was there like a collection agency, wanting to know how you were, how it was going, where in the story you were, and when they might expect final pages. Forget that the contract gave a completion date. Forget that Donald MacCampbell, your then agent, warned you that these guys mean business and jealously enforce the due date. When you owe them pages, the calculus is disrupted to the point where what you love doing has become work. What you love doing has never been work; it has been a high order of something akin to play; it has become risk taking, experimentation, the powerful surge of being able to revise history to your own liking, perhaps even your own outcome.

No wonder you do it.

Blogspot comes after you for pages as well, reminding you each day that you have impressions to set down, possible themes for possible later investigation and variation, possibly even some expansion on a previous impression. The difference between the two sources of need are profound, the former being delivery on a promise that was made based on a concept you have formally agreed to complete. Not only that, you have formally agreed to complete it as you described it in an outline. The very word outline should have caused you concern. Even though you have walked into class rooms these past years bearing an outline of some form or other, you have no idea what you are going to say until you say it. What about the times when, having said something, you were impressed by it to the degree of stopping to write it down. The outline is a map, and as such is a friend. When you need to consult the outline to complete something you have not yet allowed to settle in, you have made of the outline a tyrant. Having to finish a novel from an outline keeps you in a place you might not wish to be; it makes you uncomfortable and you have to work to get yourself free of it.

There are those among your friends and students who swear by the outline. Your own feeling is that the outline has taken the spontenaiety from the outcome. If you already know what's going to happen, where is the fun and discovery?

Blogspot does not demand; it offers you a simple template in which to set things forth. It also has your process up and running so that when you come to a work of some meaning and interest to you, you are already buzzed not so much on your coffee as your enthusiasm for discovery.

Blogspot, the host for your notes, wants pages but is entirely non-judgmental about them, affording you a space beyond comfort and confidence, let's call it audacity, the willingness to tell an inappropriate joke in a solemn venue, the increasingly more likely chance that your ideas will collide, producing a connection between things you did not previously believe related.

Your first semester in undergraduate work at UCLA brought you to such a connection as you sat for the first of what you considered the big-time final exams. Looking at the sheet with the test questions, you had that squirt of fear associated with the student's nightmare--being halfway through the exam before realizing you are in the wrong exam venue. You reread the test questions, recognizing the instructor's name and the title of the class. You also read your feelings, which were the sinking ship feelings of being totally unprepared. You were metaphorically lolling on a deck chair of the Titanic. Someone had suggested to you that you always bring more than one blue book for an exam in case you made a false start and wished to recover on blank pages. You immediately began writing a short story, which about three paragraphs in was interrupted with the beginnings of the answer to the first question on the exam.

Ideas collide over the years, producing connections.

Blogspot is now your blue book.

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