Other Ten Percent 11/1/11

Nov 01 2011

So we’re maybe going back to daily because habits are more important than output. On a related note declarative statements are more important than research. Abrupt breaks are more important than transitions.

So let’s take a long look at this William Gibson interview that I believe I have read excerpts of before (and also possibly posted those excerpts here?). The whole thing is worth a read and it’s long so it’s going to be our only link for the day. (Except for a reminder that the New John Hodgman book will be out by the time you read this and its probably brilliant.) For those of you that don’t have a half hour to devote to reading about the life and process of a Science Fiction writer lets take a closer look at two particular passages that resonate with me because they are methods for doing a thing I suck at: revising.

The first is how William Gibson revises-


Do you revise?


Every day, when I sit down with the manuscript, I start at page one and go through the whole thing, revising freely.


You revise the whole manuscript every day?


I do, though that might consist of only a few small changes. I’ve done that since my earliest attempts at short stories. It would be really frustrating for me not to be able to do that. I would feel as though I were flying blind.

The beginnings of my books are rewritten many times. The endings are only a draft or three, and then they’re done. But I can scan the manuscript very quickly, much more quickly than I could ever read anyone else’s prose.

Is that crazy? That’s crazy right? I mean even people who don’t hate looking over their own work have to think that’s a crazy amount of revision. But I also think its probably the methodology of somebody who hates revising almost as much as I do. Because at that sort of a scale it starts being a mechanical task that you have to maximize the efficiency of. I imagine there’s got to be a kind of hump somewhere in the early going where this idea is a way to convince yourself writing is going to be too much work. If you have to revise the whole thing AND getting writing done you’ll just stop. But after about page 100 I’d think it becomes a race. “I’ve got to read over and revise the entire work before I can get to writing the scene I love where X thing happens.” No wonder Gibson says his schedule starts off as an easy five day a week 10-5 and becomes more like a 7 day a week 12 hour a day marathon by the end. I always assumed that was just him really rushing to meet deadlines because discipline tends to break down on some level writing a novel (I have heard, having never written a novel) but the dude is reading his WHOLE BOOK everyday before he writes the ending. Point is, I’mma start doing this.

Second Excerpt-


Coming up with a word like neuromancer is something that would earn you a really fine vacation if you worked in an ad agency. It was a kind of booby-trapped portmanteau that contained considerable potential for cognitive dissonance, that pleasurable buzz of feeling slightly unsettled.

I believed that this could be induced at a number of levels in a text—at the microlevel with neologisms and portmanteaus, or using a familiar word in completely unfamiliar ways. There are a number of well-known techniques for doing this—all of the classic surrealist techniques, for instance, especially the game called exquisite corpse, where you pass a folded piece of paper around the room and write a line of poetry or a single word and fold it again and then the next person blindly adds to it. Sometimes it produces total gibberish, but it can be spookily apt. A lot of what I had to learn to do was play a game of exquisite-corpse solitaire.

Okay so I kept the first paragraph in there for continuity and just because I really like it but lets discuss the second paragraph. Specifically, lets discuss the idea of deliberately playing exquisite-corpse solitaire. I’ve always been fascinated by techniques like the oblique strategies decks that let you come at your subconscious mind sideways for accidental revelation. These sorts of things combine my twin passions of metacognition and not having to work as hard to get something.

But this one strikes me as especially good for two reasons.

1) It is an exploration of the concept of constant, automatic revision which I have become fascinated with in the last 20 minutes.

2) It would be incredibly easy to automate and in face I’ve already done so. You just send yourself an e-mail to be delivered in a day using the Boomerang Chrome Add-on. Probably to guarantee you come at it with a fresh state of mind you want to vary the time of receipt slightly from day to day. You then add/subtract from it as in a normal game of Exquisite Corpse but pretend as if the previous sender was not, in fact, you. After a week/a month/significant semantic mutation you take the idea out of the queue use it in whatever other part of your life you need it and then start a new game. Have fun with that. I know I already am.

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