Not to sound too dramatic, but some ideas, some plans, just don’t come out the way you want them to.
I’ve written a number of short stories. I like the format. My favorite author was a master of them1. But the long format still resists me.
I think I know what I have to do. I’ve said it a few times. I need to write the book even if I know is bad. Because it will be bad2.
So, ok. I have this book in my head. It’s a big mumbo-jumbo right now. I’ll try to explain it to you now.
The story is about a hero who is getting fired because in the future all jobs are slowly being taken by robots. But our hero doesn’t like to be replaced, he has big plans, he wants to be somebody. So he rebels, he gets in contact with an illegal/pseudo-religious organization that oppose the robots, and are building an army of supra intelligent humans.
But of course, the super-intelligence comes with a risk. The risk of an implant. A small computer implant that turns humans into super-humans.
The government opposes the super-humans. The super-humans oppose the robots. The robots… Well the robots have other plans altogether.
Ok… So you might be thinking, what is this story about. Really? Well, it is about human obsolescence. It’s about humans seeing the upcoming of robots, and fighting it with tooth and nail. Will they win?
I deleted twitter and apple news from my phone. Every now and then I read another article or another comment online in which people try to curb down their internet addictions.
People are deleting their facebooks, instagrams, twitters, etc, etc. We are a species looking out for peace? enlightenment? happiness? anyway we can.
We killed boredom. We hunted it and extinguished it out of existence.
It takes a clear mind and quiet heart to think we might have gotten too far.
For me, I realized, every time I looked back after checking my social addictions, that I had not learnt or grown in any substantial way.
And it might just work. Literally I was checking my phone, a minute ago, looking for the latest news when I remembered that I had deleted twitter and news. And thanks to that void, I am writing this now.
The formula should be:
Creating > Thinking > Learning > Consuming
Or to put it in more positive terms. Whichever path we take should always end in creation:
I have developed–over the years–an aversion to loud noises, loud people, loud music… All of it I physically detest. I feel a similar dislike to other kinds of noise. Visual noise being one. But there are others harder to put my finger on them.
I dislike busy user experiences. App UIs that are cluttered or ugly.
I dislike complicated processes. I always look for the elegant answer today problem.
I’m easily distracted. I can only focus on one thing at a time. Our lives are just polutted with too much stuff. Too many papers. Too many objects. Too many compromises. Too many responsibilities. Too many hours online.
Too many details.
Simplicity is peace.
There’s is just too much noise everywhere and I’d like to cut back. For me that starts with accepting that being busy, or occupied had no merit.
I need to do less, to focus more, and produce more.
Nick Cave On the Limitations of Mechanical Artists
When I came across this article by Nick Cave on whether AI will ever be able to write a great song, I was ready to refute anything he had to say. I have so frequently read about how machines will never measure to humans talent for the arts, and I imagined that he was going to explain why machines will never measure up to the human spirit.
But then I read this:
“I don’t feel that when we listen to Smells Like Teen Spirit it is only the song that we are listening to. It feels to me, that what we are actually listening to is a withdrawn and alienated young man’s journey out of the small American town of Aberdeen – a young man who by any measure was a walking bundle of dysfunction and human limitation – a young man who had the temerity to howl his particular pain into a microphone and in doing so, by way of the heavens, reach into the hearts of a generation.”
And that, for the first time, made me think. An AI will be able to copy and create a myriad of things. I see no limit as to what an AI could possibly do. But it is very unlikely that a robot will experience first hand the suffering that comes from experiences that are exclusively human. I am sure an AI can have tremendous empathy, but the art that comes from empathy is not the art that comes from experience.
That’s not to say that a robot won’t be able to experience deep emotions, but those will be of an entirely different nature.
So I agree with Nick that the motivation behind art can’t be copied. However, I’m also certain that there is just as much formula in songwriting today as there is true emotion, and robots will create, and have us believe their creations are real.
A Few Storytelling Tricks I Learnt From Netflix’s Bird Box
#1. Start with a bang
Look, we have no time to waste. They say millennials have no attention span, but I think that’s applicable to all of us. Bird Box doesn’t waste a minute to start the action. As the movie opens the apocalyptic disaster gets rolling.
#2. Weave in a mystery
If you want an simple (not easy) way to carry your audience along, you can always thrown in a big mystery. This is the trick/formula of thrillers, horror, some adventure and definitely mystery movies and books. In Bird Box, everybody starts killing themselves and we have no idea why. Answering that question becomes the goal of the movie (and surviving it too, of course), and is the engine for our attention.
#3. Survival is a great motivation
In creative writing classes they tell you to give your main character a goal. What is it that they want? Make it clear and have the hero fight to get it. Well, let me tell you survival is the #1 motivator for anybody. If your hero is fighting for their life against an antagonist force (monsters, earthquakes, terrorists, etc), you have found the best . They say fear is a powerful motivator, and fear of death is probably the very best.
#4. Drop clues
This trick is specially useful if you don’t want (or can’t) resolve your mystery by the end of the story. I won’t spoil the movie, but the ending is not clear, and the cause of the disaster is never fully explained. In order to avoid disappointing their audiences because of an unresolved conflict, Bird Box drops some hints as to what is the answer. There are two characters who speculate and explain what is causing all the deaths. These explanations, although unconfirmed, are consistent with the story and provide a sense of closure. This is great for movies that don’t want to show the “monster” or stories that have such a convoluted mystery that there is no plausible explanation and therefore is better to leave unexplained.
I have known for a while that I have a unique ability to focus on my task at hand. Given one well defined goal, I am very capable of planning and working towards it, even if it requires hard work and a long timeline. I have always thought of me as somebody with an ability to focus/stamina and patience. Some might say I turn my interests into obsessions.
When I started getting into meditation, I read books, scientific articles and went on a 10-day meditation retreat. When I started getting into exercising, I got a gym membership, read books about nutrition, researched routines, hired a personal coach, and participated in a Spartan race. Same thing with my career, learning a second language, etc. I research, I read, I create a plan of action, and I carry it out.
What I have struggled with, however, is tackling more than one goal at a time. When I decide to get into something new, I have a hard time focusing on anything else. I have such a laser focus, that I put all my energies towards this one thing to the detriment of everything else (work, social life, eating, sleeping, etc).
I’ve noticed something similar at work. I can take on one great project and—for the most part—overdeliver, but I struggle when I have two or three different big things to work on. Interestingly enough, when my job gets really busy, things get easier, because in those circumstances, I have one goal: making sure that nothing is completely abandoned and everything gets done at the end.
Recently I had a new realization. Habits are an effective way to manage multiple things at once. Setting up a system of repeatable routines allows me to accomplish multiple things at once, by just focusing on one: following the plan.
I give 110% of myself to succeed, and I can only do it by means of becoming obsessed with whatever my goal is. Habits and repetition is how I transform my obsessions into action.
Somebody finally wrote about what repetition of words (rap, in this case) does to our brain. Via Jayson Greene at Pitchfork:
As humans, we are hardwired to crave this kind of repetition, especially when it varies slightly each time: Technically speaking, we seize upon similar clumps of raw sensory data in a process called feature extraction and then bundle them together in a process called perceptual binding. When we recognize a powerful phrase dancing from place to place in a rapper’s catalog—the same each time but in a different context—we are pleased on a subliminal level, in part because we are recognizing our own hard work. The pattern may have been there already, but we discovered it. When a rapper repeats a phrase for the thousandth time, it stirs all three zones of memory at once: echoic, which is parrot-level memory; short-term; and long-term. This is a profound sensation, and the artist who triggers it for us ends up looking pretty powerful by association.
Rap music does this to people. Constantly scribbling over itself, scuffing out the marks made before, it is an inherently repetitive art, and thus a Petri dish for cultivating obsession. Repetition and obsession are intricately linked, and when I try to prize them apart I start to feel dizzy.
I love the idea in this article of how many rappers not only use repetition within a single song, but across songs and albums.
Black Hippy—the crew, or movement, or something, that Kendrick Lamar heads along with Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock—have invested a lot of energy into this sort of pattern recognition, and it accounts for a lot of their mystique. You can trace this behavior back to their earliest records, before the world was paying attention. The way they passed resonant phrases from one member to the next suggested a shared philosophy, an alternate universe with its own logic and laws.
Tricks like these pop up everywhere on Black Hippy projects. “What’s your life about/ Enlighten me/ Is you gonna live on your knees or die on your feet?” Ab-Soul demands on Section.80’s “Ab-Soul’s Outro” and then again on Control System’s “Track Two”. Schoolboy Q’s “bet I got some weed,” “you gon’ get some dick tonight,” and “Figg, get it, get it” chants pop up on both his Setbacksand Habits & Contradictions albums, little breadcrumbs linking one project to the next.
I’m convinced repetition is one of they keys of successful story writing, and definitely something I tried to use on almost every single short story I wrote for 101 Tales of Future.
Seeing how repetition in rap can cross albums, and even artists, it inspires me to build repetition across multiple works of fiction. Repeating names, sentences, places, slogans, turns of phrases, (or even just a scream), etc, can give the reader the satisfaction of discovery.
It may be revealed that you are called to be an artist. Then take this lot upon you, and bear it, its burden and its greatness, without asking for any external reward. For the creative artists must be a world for himself, and find everything within himself — and in nature, to which he is devoted.
Sartre, famous antagonist to Albert Camus, wrote a warm eulogy after a car accident took Camus life. I particularly like this line in which he acknowledges the impact that Camus had even from afar.
He and I had quarreled. A quarrel doesn’t matter – even if those who quarrel never see each other again – just another way of living together without losing sight of one another in the narrow little world that is allotted us. It didn’t. keep me from thinking of him, from feeling that his eyes were on the book or newspaper I was reading and wondering: “What does he think of it? What does he think of it at this moment?”
I’ve been following Daniel Eatock work since I can remember. I think I found his work as soon as I started surfing the web looking at what the early creators shared online. He had a tremendous influence in my education into conceptual work (be it in art, design, marketing, etc).
Considered Accidents is the one piece that always comes to my mind when I think of Eatock (he’s been finding and photographic this subject for 18 years). Here is Daniel’s description of the work:
Photographs of Fiat cars designed by Pininfarina. The undamaged Fiat has a graphic slash as part of the cars styling located above the wheel arch. Each photograph presents a car that has a second graphic mark as a compliment to the original by result of an accident.
I’ve been getting into the #everyday “movement” (if we should call it that). I’ve always been interested in the great things that can come or of small but repeated efforts.
Henry Darger is somebody who demonstrates the incredible output possible when one focuses on daily work practice (and without the distractions of external validation).
Henry wrote a 15,000+ words novel (maybe we need a better word for a work like that), drew feet and feet of illustrations, and kept the record of it all inside his apartment. The title of the novel is The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion.
When I say novel, I mean it in the old-fashioned sense — not graphic novel or illustrated novel or picture book. The mesmerizing paintings for which Darger’s become famous tell a similar, perhaps the same story (no one’s read the whole novel, so it’s not clear), but the book itself consists of page after page, volume after volume of tight, condensed, single-spaced blue type.
I can’t remember a single time in the past when completing less than 10% on any job would leave me with a true feeling of satisfaction. I think it is natural for most of us to focus on the 90% that is still undone, instead of then 10% completed. But ignoring whatever progress has been made can steal our motivation to continue work.
If properly done, tracking the progress of large tasks(those that take many days or weeks) can be very rewarding and can create a sense of accomplishment along the way.
The journey is the destination. I need to learn to focus on the process more than the outcome. Today, I started to keep track of a new project: compiling all the flash-fiction stories that I wrote daily last year for “101 Tales of Future.”
Somehow, making progress in this log feels like accomplishment already:
I set myself a goal to compile and review all stories in 12 weeks. Each line of the log is a week. After months of procrastination, I’ve started on this project and made as much progress in one day as I thought I would in a whole week.
In my view, stories and novels consist of three parts: narration, which moves the story from point A to point B and finally to point Z; description, which creates a sensory reality for the reader; and dialogue, which brings characters to life through their speech.
You may wonder where plot is in all this. The answer — my answer, anyway — is nowhere. I won’t try to convince you that I’ve never plotted any more than I’d try to convince you that I’ve never told a lie, but I do both as infrequently as possible. I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can — I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course).
–Stephen King, On Writing
I’ve been reading On Writing for the second time, and it’s been refreshing to hear a defense for unplanned, unplotted stories. King talks about writing stories as uncovering fosiles. The story is already there you just need to materialize it.
It made me think of the relationship between outlining and the conscious brain.
Conscious writing → non fiction
Writing from the subconscious → fiction
Seems like the advice from King is simply: Never plot.