Thursday, August 25, 2011

Centripetal Notions

Every weekday morning I wake-up, shave, kiss and tickle my wife and kids, and ride my bike to work.
I work at a tech firm. You know the type, the huge multi-national conglomerate whose major stockholders and board of directors have become so focused on the distance between the first and last digits of their net-worth that they have forgotten the importance of the people and the technologies that allowed them the digits in the first place. The firm, whose board of directors spends their twenty working days a year nattering away in a price-per-share soap-opera determining the fate of thousands of people’s careers, while hiding behind terms like 'complimentary investments' and 'uncomplimentary divestitures'.... oops, sorry... I promised myself I wouldn’t go there, so I’m stopping this train. If you crave more anti-establishment rant, please head over to Tim Riley’s place and view Jon Stewart’s hilarious yet poignant take on the subject.

So, anyway, I work at a tech firm. I have technical chops. And, like the typical engineer, I am a nerd, a geek, a freak, and a really good dancer. One of the buzz-phrases we often use around the office is “Cycles of Learning” or “COLs”. COLs are the packets of time required to solve a problem. Most often a problem at work involves turning some idiot savant’s crazy idea into a useful device and the ensuing discussion focuses on shortening or reducing the number of COLs required to make the idea a reality. The number and length of COLs required for a problem depend, quite naturally, on the complexity of the problem and the number of resources assigned. Rather than bore you with the nuances of how the number of inventions required to solve a problem can be used to strike a healthy resource allocation, I’ll again stop the train and just say this: Writing a novel is a really, really hard problem and therefore (in my case) requires multiple, time consuming learning cycles.

So far, I believe every learning cycle (or Syntropy re-write) has been absolutely necessary, but I am nearing a dilemma—when do I stop? You see, science is easy, or at least the end point is. You either meet your constraints or you don’t. You rarely hear an electrical engineer asking her cube mate if he wouldn’t mind re-watching a light toggle on and off on a new circuit she designed. “Did you like it that time? How did it make you feel? What if I switched it on and off really fast? How about slow? Does it turn you on? Do you care about the light? Does it make you want to keep watching? What if I just hinted at turning it on?” No. Under normal circumstances in the tech world, on-is-on, off-is-off and that-is-that.
"It may be perpetual motion, but it will take forever to test it."
A confounding piece of the puzzle for me is that my re-writes come slowly. During my six-month re-write sojourns I know that I continue to grow as a writer and therefore once finished, I am compelled to start over.
And there you have it; my cycle of learning has become a perpetual motion machine.
What does your done-state look like?

Munk's opening line,
"Jim, your increasing tendencies toward centripetal acceleration have forced us to let you go."
Munk's "Opening Line" is yours to keep, use it. Munk
(A punchline without a toon is a sorrowful thing. Can someone please draw me a picture for this one?)

And finally, music this week: (after last week's comments I will spare you more Donner Party and stay on theme with the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and Perpetuum Mobile. Please listen, it just might make your day, and the next, and the next, and the next,...


24 comments:

Michael Offutt said...

You need to give your work to a solid beta-reader who could give you an honest appraisal of your work. I think you are too close to the situation to be able to see objectively what's going on. If you would like, I could take a look at your manuscript. Send it to my as a .pdf and I'll read through it and give you my honest opinion.

Suze said...

Done state? I'll let you know when I get there.

Btw, they're no Donner Party, but I have a few song links of my own up, at the moment. Scheck it out if you've the chance.

L.G.Smith said...

I decided I was done because I simply couldn't look at the manuscript anymore without my eyes rolling back in my head. Truth is, it will never be perfect. In her book, Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott compares finishing a novel to tucking octopus arms under a blanket. You just do the best you can and call it good.

Comes a point you just have to send it out and see what people have to say. Writer people and agent people. Do it.

Anonymous said...

Monk, the gravitational pull of your heavy ramblings is attacting much heavy light.
- Cranck

Munk said...

@MO-offer accepted! Thank you. More soon.
@S-Definitely on my way, kids to tickle, bikes to kiss...
@LG-for me it's not so much about tucking the arms in, it's about making them pretty.
@C-Cranck it up. You of all should love the opener, nerds unite!

Marsha Sigman said...

I have to go with LG. Our writing is never done or perfect to us. But you have to stop and put it out there. Then move on to the next story.

Laila Knight said...

I rewrote so many times I grew sick of my own story. We get to close to our writing and it never looks quite good. Really, find yourself a good beta reader and let them give it a go, then move on to the next part. :)

Suze said...

Munk, I wanted to comment something else, here.

I think the process of revision has a lot of elements that come into play. First, there is the question of which manuscript you are on. Is it your first? Often, the first manuscript is a learning experience and to get caught up in rewriting it could lead to more frustration than success.

If it's not your first, then the issue of distance is one to discuss. How much distance have you achieved before going back to it, after you've revised it a half-dozen times in furious, determined succession. Ideally, the distance would be at least a year in order to really be productive.

Finally, what kind of motivation and inspiration do you feel toward the work? If you have waited a year, or more than a year, are you at a different place in your own development? So much so that it feels like the book is no longer an apt reflection of who you are, now.

If it's not your first manuscript and you've given yourself, at the very least, six months of distance, but you also feel like there is much that is redemptive about the effort, you just keep pushing through. A good book takes a lot of time.

A lot. Of time.

And only time will weed the grain from the chaff. As writers, we just have to decide what we're capable of and then put on the flint face. It's such a confusing, challenging, personal and exhausting road. But it's a worthwhile one.

All best,
-Suze

Suze said...

Also want to add that a good book might be what we write after we've written and rewritten lots of other books. Maybe.

Or it could be that you just stick with the one (or three-- if you've banged out a trilogy) until it is what you knew from the beginning it could be. Again, so personal.

Like today's toon, btw. And still not sure, off the top of my head, what the difference between centrifugal and centripetal is.

Munk said...

@MS-As a used-to-be song writer, I appreciate the sentiment. Finish and move on, each song is better or at least different than the last. As a novelist I see each re-write as a different book. Not different in plot, but different in telling. This I know--with each pass it gets better, less waste, more story. I feel like Paul Masson.
@Suze-Wow. Thanks for spending some quality moments here today. At times your commentary feathered so well with my thoughts I felt like I was riding on Farrah Fawcett's handle-comb.
Some data: This is my first MS. I am happy with the plot. My improvements over the years of writing have been mostly in the areas of technique. Learning how to say what I want my reader to hear and feel. For the most part, it is a labor of love. I am a firm believer in exercise.

Suze said...

Munk, your words 'labor of love' practically turned on the waterworks for me. All I can say is if it is a labor of love, it will be better than most commercial writing-- and the road to publication will be much, much emotionally tougher.

Sighing and shaking head. Keep that hair to the wind and stamp somewhere-- prominently-- 'All will be well, all will be well, all manner of thing will be well.'

Super happy deluxe luck and DON'T GIVE UP.

Munk said...

@Suze-I love your enthusiasm, but please don't go and get all weepy on my account. By "labor of love" I simply mean I love writing and I love my story. The goal, certainly, is to write as best I can, but perhaps with all this love the outcome will just end up maudlin. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Dawnelle said...

Offutts offer sounds great. I agree with Suze's comment "Don't give up". It is the only possible path forward!

Lola X said...

Absolutely fantastic blog!!! Glad I found it! Love it!!!

Lola x
http://lola-x.blogspot.com

Donna K. Weaver said...

Perpetual motion machine. That's the perfect description of what I'm going through. I learn so much and them I've got to edit to show that growth. Ugh.

Tim Riley said...

I listened to the song while I read the comments, and now I'm replaying it while I type this-love it.

If you want another set of eyes, I'd love to take a look at the book too.

Munk said...

@DK-Keep the wheels moving, but stop every once and awhile to look around.
@TR-on its way.

Rusty Webb said...

I'm done those endless rewrites myself, and am considering doing one more for my oft rejected novel before sending it out again for a new round of rejections. At some point though, I think I'll have to give up and just self-publish the thing - then I can call it done.

Michael Offutt said...

http://www.susankayequinn.com/

You should check her post out about invisibility cloaks munk. It's such a coincidence.

K.C. Woolf said...

Wow, Munk, you're like a real-life Dilbert!

I'm not sure about what my done state looks like. A bit like a half-tucked-in octopus, I suppose. ;-)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Ah, the essential question! When to stop. A hard one for anyone, but even harder for us logic types that want to quantify things.

The true answer is...when you publish. (Because then you can't change it anymore. Any time before that is fair game.)

But here is my best advice: lay it aside. Write a NEW story. Take all that fabulous learning and apply it in exponentially cooler ways, because you're starting from scratch. Learn all you can from baby#2, then go back and visit baby#1 and see if you still think it is done.

This is like taking your COLs on a love affair with a different project, then coming back to the first one, expecting it to help. Surprisingly, it does. :)

Lydia K said...

So far I only have one piece of work I've considered "finished" and that tooks months of planning, writing, and revising. My other two novels are either shelved or works-in-progress, depending on how optimistic I am feeling at the moment towards them.

Munk said...

@RW-good luck to you. I'll be trying out your novella soon.
@MO-excellent, thanks for the link.
@KCW-the Dilbert mention hits close to home.
@SKQ-Thanks.
@LK-And a new acronym is born: SWIPs

Amber said...

I have the opposite problem. I finish writing a first draft of story, think, "I'm through with this shiz, it's a masterpiece" and then go eat some french fries. I just don't have the patience.

I have total respect for anyone who is able to sit down and revise their work.