Sunday, December 21, 2014


There are many arguments from writers and editors favoring the one project at a time approach.  You've read of these approaches in books and magazine articles, heard them described in lectures and classes.  Even when advanced by an author you cannot stand such as John Irving, these approaches make a practical, sensible working plan, much the same way fishermen and mariners used landmarks and star orientation before the more sophisticated navigational tools were developed.

The more you learned about the other aspects of story telling and nonfiction, the more practical the approach to writing sounded.  After all, with one project in mind, you pretty much live it all day, during the working hours.  

You day dream about it and, at night,more or less dream about it to the point where you became aware some twenty or so years ago where you were more or less line editing projects in the work while you tossed your way through your eight hours of nightly sleep, in some ways more tired than when you'd retired for the night.  But the day's work seemed to move effortlessly, the words and sentences and paragraphs moving as though in imitation of the synchronised swim routines in the old Metro Goldwyn Mayer movies featuring Esther Williams.

In particular because you had a strong tendency toward being scattered, you made serious efforts to focus on one project at a time, reminding yourself how you more or less did this for two of your six years in college, taking for your lead choice the one subject of most interest to you rather than trying to keep current with all your courses.  The question of attention span did not enter the picture, even though it might have, because you have been well able to focus, then stay focused for hours.

After a time, you began to suspect an equivalent of price fixing so far as the one-project-art-a-time theory was concerned.  You counted the number of articles and mentions of the technique, in magazine essays and interviews.  This is about the time you were spending time in bars and cocktail lounges where, not uncoincidentally, many writers hung out,and where you heard your first jokes about the perfidy of agents, editors, publishers, producers, and directors. Most of these writers were writing novels at night, while laboring on screen plays and TV dramas during the day.  

These worthies, too, had writing plans.  They also had jokes about writers who focused on one project at a time, and cynicism about writers who were not writing novels or short stories in spare moments.  One screen writer even told you of a friend who arrived at the studio every morning at eight, wrote furiously on his studio project until ten, which produced enough pages for the daily or weekly meeting with the producer, then spent the rest of the day working on a novel.

By this time, you already knew Ray Bradbury and had begun the effort to keep up with reading his entire output.  His composition method inspired you.  A long library table in the garage, at first with two used, upright manual typewriters, then, as some money began to come in with regularity, three, then four typewriters.  His approach was to have a different story going in each one.  His added approach was to allow thinking spells of half an hour, if he found himself stuck somewhere in a specific story.  If after half an hour, there was nothing new to go on, he moved his chair to the next typewriter, then went to work on it.

This process seemed you, particularly since you had a virtually unlimited access to used typewriters, thanks to your auctioneer uncle and your auctioneer's display and maintenance man, your father.  You stipulated Bradbury's vigor, productivity, and energy.  There was no least doubting of his ability, thus, when you say you were inspired by him, his enormous talent and originality a given, you were given over to his methodology.  You had two typewriters and a stack of lined notepads.  You had a different venture working in each of the two typewriters, a novel going in longhand on one notepad, and either a mystery or science fiction short story on the other.

You need to remind yourself how different your concept of story was then in comparison with what it is now.  In effect, you needed to be prolific because it took you--and is still taking you--a good deal of time to get the feel of what a story is.

At about this time, the second wave of friends descended upon you, urging you to investigate the need to be serious, and your then literary agent all but chimed in the same way when he told you there were always places where humorous stories could find a home, that is, most humorous stories could, but not yours because stories with your kind of humor were difficult to place.

Under the circumstances, you did what you've been more or less doing for much of your writing life.  You took a fierce pride in having a number of projects in progression, giving the option to become distracted by any already in the works .  The results were immediate; your completion rate went down.  You were spread across the continent in story venue, in time, by your setting some of these ventures far enough in the past so that you were in simultaneous composition with one of your favorite characters and his grandfather.

Now, you are, if anything, more scattered.  Your interests are reflected in books, notebooks, and magazines, spread about your current home like sandbags, stacked to protect against sudden bouts of flooding from the periodic drenching rains.

You are not alone in your scatteredness, nor do you feel it.  Many individuals are visual in their primary sensitivity, just as many individuals are what is known as right-handed.  Other individuals are aural.  Such as you, they make better use of things heard.  You do not neglect nor undervalue visual things, but when they seem to be spoken somewhere in your interior, then you know you stand a chance at memory and for creative, idiosyncratic, joyous communion.

One project at a time is wonderful.  If you could, on occasion, focus only on one project at a time, you would be only too happy to take the project on.  But you are scattered, you love the scattered life, even if it means you will trump such worthies as Franz Schubert, who was not able to finished a symphony in the works.  You are likely to leave quite a few.  But maybe, if you live long enough, not.  For that is the requirement--live long enough.

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