<$BlogRSDURL$> Spontaneous Things: Karina Sumner-Smith's Blog
Friday, November 26, 2004
Cut It Out

So late last week I got a note: the anthology deadline has been extended! And so the bagpipe story, in all its irritating glory, did not need to be written quite yet. What a relief. I know that I could have gotten a story finished, and who knows, it might have even been readable, but it wouldn't be what it should have been.

It's actually been interesting to look back and examine my behaviour towards this story over the last little while. For a few weeks, other than work I effectively shut everything down to concentrate on getting this story done. I read very little (something bound to make me twitchy at the best of times), watched very little TV, didn't go out, just sat and tried to make the story work. And I did get a lot of good work done--not necessarily good words, but good work in terms of figuring out what had to happen and how and what it all should sound like.

The weird thing, though, is how conscious it all was; I spent so much time trying to logically plan things out--trying to plot--and that's just not really how I work. The majority of that stuff is usually subconscious--which is why so many of my stories are written from ideas that I had quite a while before. Days or weeks at rare lucky times, but usually months or years. The main Peak of the Ocean plot is something that I've held in the back of my head for over seven years at this point; and now that it's all coming to the fore, I'm working on the little details but my subconsious has already hammered out the rough shape.

Not so with the bagpipe story. I said on more than one occasion that if it wasn't for the anthology deadline I'd have just pushed the idea to the back of my brain for a year or so until it was ready to write. But, without that option, I attempted to make an unconscious process conscious ... with some success, but more failure. (It is also, I realize, the reason that I'd suddenly go watch episode after episode of Farscape--trying to occupy the conscious part of the brain while the subconscious chews on the story. Or is that just more justification for procrastination?) I know a lot more about what this story needs to be now than I did before, but did not at all enjoy the process of coming to those realizations.

And since I have historically had problems with working on multiple projects at once, I stayed focused on that one story, even when it wasn't working, and didn't let my brain write the thing that it wanted to write. Of course, I used to think that I had to write chronologically, too ... until one day I began writing a story in pieces, totally out of order.

So looking back on what I had been trying to do, I could only say to myself, "Well, that was dumb."

Which is when I caught myself doing the second dumb thing: becoming conscious and obsessive in exactly the same way about the work that I really did want to write.

It's funny how we train ourselves. After writhing around with the creative entanglements of a story that didn't want to be written yet, I was looking for yet more problems and difficulties and stumbling blocks with a project that didn't have any. Looking, without knowing it, for a reason to keep writhing. Realizing that--and paying attention to the realization by stopping and thinking of only that for a moment or two, rather than immediately distracting myself with email or peachy-o candies or the internet staring at me out through the screen--was really all it took. Wanting to writhe and feel distressed--yes, I'll say it: that's dumb, too.

And so I plunked my ass down in the chair and said, "Book time!" And yep, it was book time. No distress, no writhing, no woe-is-me nonsense; just a moment or two of pondering and re-reading lines written months before, and then writing. Just ... writing.

Sometimes I can see why people go for the whole distressed artist routine. (Despite what others tell you, it's not because black is such a slimming colour.) There's something addictive about examining the creative process curled in on itself, and one feels so much more important when fighting so hard to be creative.

To the part of my mind obsessed with such drama, and everyone else who is subconsciously playing the same game, I'll say it again: that's dumb. That's bullshit. Cut it out now.

Posted by Karina Sumner-Smith at 2:10 PM


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