Stop me… stop me before I small-press shoutout again!
I know, I know. I promised one last shoutout before the holidays. But then I ran across Overlook Press. They are bigger than some of our other shoutoutees, but I’m not holding that against them. They have that indie spirit – and if anything, their size is a testament to the success you can have if you publish good things and hang around for a while.
Founded by a publishing bigshot who wanted to give overlooked titles a chance (I guess the name really should have been “No Longer Overlooked Press,” which is obviously not as catchy), Overlook’s catalog of authors is self-described as eclectic. I would describe it as the deep-dive authors.
Yesterday we talked about George Carlin and training your brain to be your creative partner. Which got me to thinking about the new novella I’m working on, which starts out bleak and just gets darker and darker. It felt good to write it – not unlike the purgation of negativity I recently attempted on this blog – but it made me wonder: has there ever been a documented case of a writer being killed by the thing they’re writing?
I mean this: if you’re writing something so filled with hope, and your mind is getting more and more trained to find darkness and futility, and in a way it makes you feel good because it’s what you’re looking for…
I don’t mean driven to suicide (so many examples of that). And I don’t mean a Steven King scenario in which the evil character knocks on your door. I mean something else… what if your brain just gave out? Overloaded by the search for darkness?
Hmm. I’m now revising the new novella – again, it’s the bleakest thing I’ve written, by far. I almost can’t imagine reading it again, let alone going through the words, sentence by sentence. Maybe it will only work if I view this as a sort of scientific experiment. Will it be the same process as writing it the first time (which I survived, of course). Better? Worse? What approach will my brain take?
Larry Getlen at Splitsider just posted an excerpt of a never-before-released interview with the brilliant comedian George Carlin. Carlin describes something about the brain that I think most people have experienced and recognized in themselves. But his description of how it affects his creative process may be the best I’ve ever read:
[M]y mind has trained itself to have a very sensitive system of radar about certain words, expressions, topics, and areas of discussion that come up. There are things that interest me more than others, and then there are things that jump out. There’s one thing I learned about the mind as a young man, when I quit school. I read a book – half of it, anyway – called Psycho-Cybernetics. The author said that the brain is a goal-seeking and problem-solving machine, and if you put into it the parameters of what it is you need or want or expect, and you feed it, it will do a lot of work without you even noticing. Because the brain does that. It forms neural networks. There are areas in your brain that communicate with one another because of a need they perceive that they have – if you have trained yourself passively or actively, which I have – to look for certain kinds of things to say, and certain kinds of things to compare. Because a lot of comedy is comparing – the things that are cultural or social or language-oriented, or just plain silly. My brain got used to the fact that that made it feel good – that I liked finding those things. So the brain does networking on its own where those connections get made, and pretty soon there’s an automatic process going on all the time that leaves out a lot of unimportant or less interesting areas, and concentrates on areas it has trained itself to passively look for. Because it knows that when it finds one of them, you’re going to feel good! Oh, boy, I found another one! Let’s go back to work and find some more of these for him.
Fascinating! And not just for comedians looking for absurdities in life, but for writers too – whether it’s seeking metaphors to describe physical qualities of things, or bits of conversation that remind us of what we really talk about when we talk about x.
And for non-writers too. What do you need to spot? Business opportunities? Inefficiencies in the workplace? Ways to reduce clutter in your life? Places where you can compliment others and strengthen your relationships?
Don’t struggle in solitude. It may be too much to say that you should think of your brain as your friend, but it doesn’t have to be your enemy either. (Or, I guess, a stranger.)
Make it like Carlin’s description: a loyal servant, well-trained and eager to find things that make you feel good.
Le Guin mentions getting an early boost from Ace Doubles, a series by Ace Publishing that sought to put out two short novels combined in one book. I love this idea – and what great covers they had! Worth a roam through the Internet to read about this cool series from the ’50s.
I was also struck by the helping hand Le Guin got from her father:
When you began sending your work out into the world, did you have some idea of the writer you wanted to be?
I knew by then that my main shtick was fiction, but that I would always write poetry. My first publications were all poetry, and that’s partly because of my father. He realized that sending out poetry is quite a big job. It takes method and a certain amount of diligence and a good deal of time. And he said, I could help you do that, that would be fun! He got interested in the subculture of the little magazines and realized that it is a little world, with rules all its own.
So he studied it anthropologically?
He was curious about everything! And he actually did some of the mailing-out stuff.
Most writers I know are a little overwhelmed with all the stuff you have to do around your writing. And – let’s face it – even your most supportive loved ones might scratch their heads sometimes, trying to be helpful but not knowing where to begin. And that’s if they like your work! If they don’t… well, they still have love to give, and um, sweaters, I guess.
So if that’s you – if you have a writer in your life and are in the mood for showing a little support, why not offer to take something off their hands? Handle some of the mailing, or the tweeting, or the formatting for eBooks, or the cover design, or the interactions with the editors, or the research, or the web design… well, anything that you think might be useful. (And also give them something nice they can open, of course, so you don’t feel like a little kid trying to get away with giving “chores” as a present.)
Yesterday we started the new series Terrible Poem Breakdown, in which I criticized a Terrible Poem primarily for its negativity. I’ve had it pointed out to me that this may be somewhat hypocritical, coming from me. This blog has not exactly been moondreams and rainbows.
Readers, I’ve been trying to be encouraging! And yet I have conveyed some very bleak thoughts indeed, especially in the What They Knew series. But isn’t that just being real? There’s a fine line between a pessimist and a realist! Sometimes no line at all!
So in the holiday spirit, I’m going to run through the entire next batch of What They Knews. I will look at each of them, examine them for signs of negativity, and assess whether they should be released upon the world or whether they should be buried in my What They Knew Discard vault.
And along the way, I hope to get a better sense of myself. Me, Jacke Wilson, clear-eyed purveyor of uplifting sentiment… Continue reading →