Sunday, April 15, 2007

Benchmarks v. Creativity | Art v. Science

Steven King once said anyone who takes more than two years to write a book is just dicking around. Dang. Apparently I'm dicking around, and I don't even have a dick.

I wave my freak flag of snivelling self-defence: I actually only took one year to write my book. Then I realised it was teh suxxors. And then, rather stuffing it under the bed, I fixed it. That has taken another year, and I also obtained gainful employ in that year, which cut down on my writing time woefully.

I actually agree with Mr. King's statement as far as genre fiction goes. I think a person who is focused on telling a story in an engaging fashion should be able to get it on the page in that time frame. It comes down to knowing what the hell you're doing with your story and having a work ethic that is going to serve you well if you're trying to make a living at writing.

However, for literary fiction, where the writer is trying to craft a work of art and is experimenting with form, I'll cut them more slack in terms of how long it takes. The author may not know what the hell they're doing, but they'll figure it out - like a scientist right on the edge of a new discovery. When you're riding seat-of-your-pants, a bit of flailing around is to be expected.

As for the work ethic argument, literary writers are paid in copies and teeny-tiny amounts of money. They're doing it for love, so no matter how fast or slow they produce pages, that's an awesome work ethic. I salute them whole-heartedly.

There's more than one valid way of writing. Mr. King is an expert at what he does, but that doesn't mean doing it differently is wrong.

I'm going to go off on a related rant here. Feel free to back away slowly; I promise to be too busy frothing to notice your careful departure. :-D

I'm an artsy-fartsy soul myself, interested in drawing since childhood and writing since my teens, but I got my education in hard-core science and loved it just as fiercely as art.

People would rather pretend they're aloof than admit they're ignorant of the other person's field. Artists will sneer at scientists for puttering over their little bits of equations and ugly equipment; scientists will sneer at artists for not understanding the simplest facts of their universe.

The thing is, art is just as hard as science and science is just as creative as art.

Scientists have to use their imaginations to discover new principles. Like an artist, a scientist takes what they have (a set of known principles, rather than the art of previous generations) and either uses it to springboard themselves to a new understanding, or deconstructs everything that has gone before in order to reimagine it from the ground up. Scientists are intensely creative and imaginative people. They think up new concepts, new (and often insane) theories, they build new apparatuses to measure new quantities. Their brains are always picking away at problems, trying to see what they haven't seen in it before. It pisses me off when someone claims that science is close-minded. Yo: They think this shit up! How else do you define "using your imagination"?

Artists are not featherweights who pull things out of the air. They work their mental and physical asses off. Painters do ray-tracing diagrams in their heads - far more sophisticated ones than scientists do. Sculptors have to understand materials often more subtly than someone building a piece of scientific apparatus. Writers need a clarity of thought and meaning just as acute as someone writing a clear scientific paper, but the writer has to use that clarity to communicate concepts far more complex and subtle. All artists forge into the unknown just as surely as a mathematician coming up with a way to solve a previously-unsolved equation. This is not easy stuff.

The fact is, everything human beings strive to do is amazing. Certain disciplines may not be your cup of tea - they may seem a stupid waste of time to your eyes - but remember that your aptitudes frame your opinions. If you're more into the arts than the sciences, you're going to find science painful and boring. If you're more into science, you'll find art incomprehensible and frivolous.

There's more than one way to do things and more than one sort of thing worth doing. Don't pretend to be cool when you're really incompetent; human beings are amazing and do all kinds of fantastic stuff. The fact of you not understanding it doesn't mean it isn't an incredible endeavour for someone to devote their life to.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Novel

My current life-project is that I'm writing a novel. I have other interests - like art, rock climbing and physics - but this is the one I'm ignoring social opportunities for at the moment.

I'm actually finished the beastie but am editing it. And the edit is more like a complete re-write, because after I 'finished' it the first time, I had the good fortune to notice (after a few blissful weeks of euphoric preening over the fact that *I!* *Wrote!* *A Book!*) that my book sucked like a starving lamprey on a rhino's butt.

Okay, it wasn't that bad, but it sure wasn't publishable yet. Riting iz teh hard.

I think it is publishable now - and after spending two years on it, I'm certainly ready to pat its silky head and send it toddling off into the world. Plus I've got some yummy new ideas buzzing around my brain.

I'm calling this book a fantasy, although a more accurate description is science fantasy. It's going to weigh in at about 80,000 words when I'm finished, or 320 pages. I've slung the opening scene around a few critique sites already, so I may post here as well, but I'll probably wait until I'm actually querying agents before I do that.

Since I have die-hard love of being opinionated, I'll list my top three bites of advice for would-be authors (those pathetic sniveling dreamers like, y'know, me):

(1) Get started, already, ya deadbeat. Wanting to write a book is a very common dream; something like 97% of the population says they'd like to write a book someday, and only about 3% actually manage it. You have to fight to not be in the larger statistic. Write a bit every day, even if it's only a hundred words, and if you can't actually write every day, then do something writing-related everyday. Write or plot or brainstorm ideas.

(2) You have a lot of work to do. There are no child prodigies when it comes to novel writing; everyone who succeeds at it had to spend a bunch of time learning how not to suck. You may be a born storyteller, but you too will have to learn to write well. Read novels and analyse why they work. Read books on how to write well. Join a few online critique groups (and be aware that some critique groups are fucking useless; this is why I say join a few - not just one). Commit to the idea that no matter how good you are, there is always room for improvement and you're not a professional unless you always strive to become better.

(3) And finally, the reality check: writing is exactly like every other form of the arts. The superstars make a lot of money and everyone else needs a day job (or a very supportive spouse) to get by. You will never get rich at this. (Okay, you might, but it's less likely than getting struck by lightning and you don't plan for that, do you? Just pretend it's not a possibility, so you can be pleasantly surprised by any success you do attain.)

Oh, yes; and the zeroth (0) bit of advice: Read Miss Snark. She's brilliant, funny and veryveryvery informative.

In which your fellow citizen of the world says hi.


My name is Jen - but that's only half the story behind the name of the blog.

When I was in grad school, my lab had various computers of various degrees of obsolescence that were all named either after (a) the compounds we studied, (b) the atoms in the compounds we studied, or (c) bits of apparatus that we used to study the compounds.

One of my labmates, Darren, was our designated alpha geek. If you had computer problems, Darren was your man. Darren also has a profoundly odd and pervasive sense of humour, however, so when you asked him for help, sometimes you got more than you expected.

One of the milder forms of this was inspired by the fact that our man Darren likes a good pun. One of our labmates was using a computer called "Resonator", and his middle name happened to be Reza. Darren quietly renamed the computer "Rezanator" and that name stuck long after the student himself had graduated and left the lab.

And my computer, originally named "Oxygen" quietly became "Oxyjen".

Now - I really loved this. The Greek word root "oxy-" means "sharp", and although my personality is quite mild when you meet me in person, in written form, I can come across as a bit sharp. I also like to think I've got a decent number of brain cells chattering to one another in my noggin (even if the wonderful term "OxyJen" was Darren's bit of inspiration), which is another meaning for the word "sharp".

In other words, "OxyJen" was just too good an idea to not shamelessly snarfle for my blog.

This blog is likely going to include everything from real life musings to outright silliness, furious rants to scatter-brained wibblings. I'll be chipper; I'll be whiny; I'll be me.

Hello, you! If you're interested in the self-involved chatter of some random citizen of the world (which is the whole point of blogging, as I understand it), then I welcome you!

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