Saturday, April 29, 2017

Hodgepodge 182/365 - Process

My normal work, of editing and proofreading, involves starting at page 1 and venturing forth, to deal with whatever I encounter as I meet it, head on sometimes, until we reach the final page. It's a straight line, no deviations (ignoring the head banging with particularly bad writing, and the occasional "wait, didn't we already hear about that in chapter 2?" jolt).

With my other normal work, writing, I have two trajectories.

When I'm working on short journalistic nonfiction, I research, research, research—until I have way too much material, but I've also got a good lead-in (or "lede," a term I hate). And then I start writing, and manage to go from A (the lead-in) to, usually, a circle-completing conclusion, via at least some of the fascinating facts or ideas I've unearthed along the way or quotes or stories gleaned from interviews. It's a bit of a jigsaw puzzle/A-to-Z hybrid, if that makes sense.

With fiction or personal essay, I start—and see what comes up. Sometimes something interesting or puzzling appears out of nowhere and I follow it, down the rabbit hole, through dark alleys, up blazing-flower mountainsides—which just makes the chase more compelling. I am not the sort of writer who creates deep bios for all the characters, researches twists and turns of history, concocts an elaborate plot, then outlines it and follows it. No. I am very much a patchwork sort of writer, when it comes to fiction especially. My characters and situations somehow tell me where they're going, and I follow along, making notes, stitching the pieces together as they seem to fit—and perhaps tearing them apart and starting over if a new character rises up and lets me know it's really her story I need to tell.

This weekend at my book arts workshop, we are creating complicated little objets d'art. And I find my start-at-point-A-and-just-go approach to creativity doesn't quite work. Nor does my patchwork approach. With handmade books, you need to think about consequences. You need to think about what you want to end up with. You need to think about intermediate states and steps. Especially when metal is involved. You do need to outline—or, as my teacher exhorts us, storyboard.

I am going to end up with a ridiculous (but beautiful) book at the end of this class because . . . well, partly because I don't have the experience to sit down and storyboard—to think about all the various bits and pieces, all the various processes and techniques, all the materials and how they behave. I don't already have that information. I need to learn it, by doing—and, to a certain extent, by listening to my teacher.

But another big part of my problem is, I'm not good at slowing down. Thinking things through. As opposed to just bullying my way forward. I can be a tad impatient.

I mentioned to my sister-in-law, a former psychotherapist, this morning my tendency to use brute force—or just go—and she said that's a known problem for so-called gifted children. "Stuff comes fast, and they like to go fast," she wrote. "Which means they don't learn the usefulness of going step-by-step, of slowing down to consider." That feels true: I was, I believe, "expected" to "get it" immediately, and so I haven't practiced the slowing down thing. I miss that, in the sense that it's a skill I lack and that I wish I had.

When I get home, I'd like to (I should say, I'm going to) devote some time—an afternoon, say—every week to book arts in that spirit: of slowing down, planning a project, focusing close in, being careful, considering all the bits and pieces as well as the finished product and how they all relate. It will be good practice, good discipline, for me. It may start to fill in that gap in my experience.

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