With my deepest and sincerest apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, God rest her soul.
Original poem obviously by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Global Assembly Cache, How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways
How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
I hate thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I hate thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I hate thee freely, as men strive for right;
I hate thee purely, as they turn from praise,
I hate thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I hate thee with a hate I seemed to lose
With my lost saints -I hate thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! -and, if God choose,
I shall but hate thee better after death.
“Whenever I begin a novel,” he said, “the beginning never stays at the beginning. It ends up in the middle, or near the end. It never stays put where I started.”
That is an interesting quote from Philip Graham’s latest post on writing a novel and how to approach it. It’s eye opening to me because I have always assumed novels sprang mostly fully formed into the minds of their authors. In thinking about that though, it seems silly in the same way that thinking fully formed software solutions spring into the minds of software architects. What instead most likely happens is that you begin writing a novel and realize along the way that this feature needed to be added before, or this character needed to be fleshed out or one of any number of other things. Or maybe you see the end of a piece of the plot so you write that and then return to the beginning.
This concept of creating pieces of a novel and then tying them all together is intriguing to me. I think it’s why my writing instructor used to say to not worry about the plot and instead develop characters. The plot may be drastically different from what you originally conceived but if you have strong characters, the reader will still be interested.
This also ties into my previous post on writing a lot, regardless of quality. The more I write, the more ideas I have for writing not only on blogs but in fiction as well. When you develop characters, you begin to see how they might fit into their world, what issues they might have, what stories they might have to tell. If you just wait for a plot or story to develop in your consciousness, I don’t think you’ll write very many stories.
The idea of pieces of the novel communicating with each other over time is fascinating, an almost iterative approach to writing a story. As characters develop, their stories will start to reveal themselves to the author which leads to the plot of the novel developing around the characters instead of the other way around. The stories I have always been most interested in are ones that have interesting characters. I become attached to the character and thus the story takes on meaning through their eyes. It only makes sense that a novel would be written around the characters, allowing the plot to develop naturally as the characters become deeper and more involved with each other.
Create interesting characters and you will create interesting stories.
I ran across this post today on Hacker News. The short synopsis of the post is Sebastian explaining how he writes so much but it’s definitely worth reading the whole thing. I wanted to consider a couple of thoughts he brings up. For the 4 or 5 people who still regularly check in here, it comes as no surprise that I haven’t been writing much lately. There are a variety of reasons for that but one of the key ones is the self-censoring critic that lives in my head and deems most things as unworthy of human consumption. I’ve been struggling with need to write good stuff all the time and what actually happens is nothing gets written. The problem is, as Sebastian explains, if you want to make excellent stuff, you have to make a lot of crap.
This is not to say that if you make lots of crap, you’ll eventually make something excellent. No matter how long a single monkey types, his chances of producing the entire works of Shakespeare are so minute as to be considered impossible. You still need to be trying and improving the crap that you produce. But without that output, the chance of actually producing anything worth consuming at all is very small.
I’ve fallen into the rut of expecting things to be very good. That perfectionism has caused my output to dwindle to next to nothing. That’s got to stop. This happens in my software life too, the need to do things that are good becomes overpowering and causes me to do nothing at all. That need to be my best will almost always lead me to do nothing. Perfect stands in the way of progress and all.
Of course, the problem with all this is that if you’re writing a blog and producing lots of content, people are going to see the good and the bad. Before the Internet, writers still produced a lot but only their best stuff got published. Now, with the click of a button, everything gets published. I’m not sure that’s a good or bad thing but of course, it contributes to the body of work that people have to sift through to find out if you constantly put out crap or actually have good stuff occasionally. I’m lucky, most of the people who read my stuff think I’m a good writer. I’m always humbled and flattered by that. I’m also lucky that writing comes easier to me than to most people. I think that’s because in general, we are social animals and people express themselves socially with others. I’m much more comfortable sitting down and hammering out my thoughts on paper (or in bits and bytes). I love long discussions via email or letter though those things never happen much in our busy world. So I guess I’m lucky.
This is a lot of self-indulgent navel gazing but it seems to me that it’s applicable to any realm of creativity. You can’t become an excellent software developer unless you produce massive bodies of software. You can’t become an excellent musician unless you practice fundamentals and basics for years. The creative endeavor is almost alway backed by thousands of hours of what is essentially crap. When you stop producing crap, you stop being excellent as well.