indentured servitude

my daughter yesterday
I've been writing some and dealing with middle school issues. (If you wish harm on someone, wish them a child in middle school). (Don't wish harm on someone. That's mean.) We've been preparing Electric Spec's new issue, coming out Monday. I've been doing work for RMFW's site. (Locals, there's a cool workshop coming in May. I'll be there!) I've been puttering about online, reading about artists, their spaces, and their processes. But mostly I've been coughing coughing coughing hack hack hack.

AOE is a bear of a story I wrote when the little girl in the picture was a baby playing with pans under the kitchen table. 8 years later I'm writing it again from scratch. It's my favorite book I ever wrote. So working on it again is mostly a joy. And I'm refining the characters with more finesse than I had years ago. Some years back, when I had 4 largely unreadable drafts of the SENTINEL series, which contained the inklings of a good story and yet no discernible skill to tackle something that epic, I realized I had a lot to learn. I realized I needed a LOT more skill to bring a four book series into publishable fruition. So now I'm closer to that point and it's kind of odd, really, to be more craftsman than learner. It's odd to have a sense of surety about at least some of my story and characterization. I'm not sure I trust it yet, but there you go.

Not that I'm not always learning. Once critique the first book got was telling the difference between the twins' POVs. Now, the book was revised with that critique in mind, and the editor liked it so I'm assuming it's not much of a problem anymore. But it's still a massive concern. Every time I launch into one of their sections I have to refocus. Aidan has always come easily to me. Kaelin, not so much. I've studied a few characters lately and mostly settled on how to best write Kaelin, our soft-spoken, dangerous one. Honestly, I've been studying some writers I consider masters: Brandon Sanderson, Charlie Huston, Richard Kadrey, Carol Berg, and George RR Martin.

I think studying the masters of our craft is something writers tend to avoid because they're scared of plagiarism or stealing ideas. But reading similar characters to what I'm trying to create has been a great help to me. It's not a new idea. Students of painting have suffered through the assignments of copying master paintings. (For some reason, it's often one you don't like.)  Art students are forced to endure expressing themselves in foreign styles for years in art school. (I used to run home and paint or draw something just for me to purge the feeling. And get annoyed when the disliked style influenced my work.) And try being an artist on commission. I painted tiles for kitchens and bathrooms, often matching wall paper with murals. People pick themselves some ass-ugly wall paper.

But it's only by such indentured servitude that artists can take what works and discard what doesn't.

Ditto writing. I've heard of people typing existing short stories, even a number of them, to see what the cadence and word choice feels like. I've definitely done it mentally, even inserting treatments and words I think would have worked better for me. That's a step in art we all have to take.

People love to say writers need to read read read. True true true. But it does you no good without thinking alongside the reading. (And then of course, you can't turn it off once you start. The Curse of the Writer.) I think learning this way is a long, slow  process, best done next to writing your own pieces, and then starting to examine what is working in others' stories and what isn't - for you. Long, slow processes only benefit your art, by the way.

And the picture? I just think it's damned cute. Inspiring. She looks so little on the court, next to the hoop. Isn't that what writing is all about? At least it is for me. I think writing is staring at a basket way up there and hoping to get the ball through at least once.


Anonymous said...

Yeah . . . that's a pretty cute picture.

I'm not the kinda guy who normally goes on about how cute a picture is. But it instantly evoked (nay inspired) all the stuff you wrote about the picture, before I even knew what you were gonna write about.

I'm also not the kinda guy who's normally affected by pictures that much at all. For example, if I glance at a mag for a minute or two, I can tell you all the little tag lines along the cover's perimeter about what's included in the issue (and NOTHING about the cover art.) I remember how irritated I was back when I was proofing, at artists who would tell me: "Text is art".

Pictures like this remind me that, if I discount a picture of a person's face, I could very well discount the expression on the face of a RL person standing next to me. And that if I don't react to them being upset until they tell me --- and tell me diplomatically, at that --- that there's a certain hubris in my habitual prioritizing of the visceral, the unwritten, and the unspoken, forever beneath the use of language.

Biologically, language is still pretty high-tech stuff.

Anonymous said...

wow gotta love that

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Interesting thoughts there. I am probably more tuned into the visual than I am text and listening. I think that's why I like concerts so much. I tend to really focus on the performers and the music becomes real. I never feel like I know what a song is really about until I see it performed live. Kind of like watching Shakespeare vs reading it.

Cranberry said...

Great image, beautifully evoked. Damn, you really can write! :-P

sex scenes at starbucks, said...

Wow, thanks! That is The Best Compliment any writer can receive.