Watercolor.

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Doesn’t look like much yet, does it?

I told myself that after my novel, A Guide to a Happier Life, was published, I would never paint my own book cover again.

The unfortunate fact is that when you release two books that are related, like they have the same characters or whatever, you want the branding to feel consistent. And the cover is perhaps the most important part of your branding for a book. So since I painted the last cover, I’m going to have to paint this one too.

Since it’s a project that is going to require a total of nine covers, I have my work cut out for me.

The first cover was done in watercolor, and watercolor has a pretty specific look, so it’s watercolor again.

I’m not a big fan of watercolor.  Well, I’m not a big fan of using watercolor. It’s unpredictable, you see. It blobs out and runs and bleeds, and that’s actually part of its charm. It’s supposed to do that, to be out of control. And that’s part of what I like about looking at watercolor paintings, but it’s hard for me to not see those blobs and runs as horrible mistakes that I made when I’m painting in watercolor. And since watercolor is transparent, you can’t really cover them up. You just have to go with it, and as I’ve discussed previously, I’m not great at that.

You don’t really control watercolor. You nudge it. You guide it. You provide it with a path. But mostly you sit back and let the watercolor paint for you. You relinquish control, and just… participate. Play. See what happens.

Not my specialty.

And the thing is, not only are those inconsistencies, those idiosyncrasies, what makes watercolor beautiful,  it’s where I live in the painting. It’s the visual record of how my eyes, brain, and hand differ from everyone else’s in some number of tiny ways. And that has value, right? If we wanted everything to look perfect we’d just take photos and painting would have been abandoned by now.

Choosing something as rigid and architectural as a cityscape probably wasn’t the best idea either, but I think I’ll have a little wiggle room based on how this is all going to be used in the final product, that maybe I can curve those buildings around the vanishing point just a little, and maybe I can have the chance to play with some unusual textures here and there. It’s to my advantage that the image is intended to not be immediately recognizable. Maybe I can do something interesting in some of the sections where it’s mostly repetitive lines and rectangles.

I’m not feeling anywhere near as confident about this as I was about the last one. I do have more watercolor paper in case I change my mind, though.

So I’ll take that sketch with the big important lines and shapes, and I’ll probably do a couple more drawings; one with more detail, and one that kind of shows where the light and shadow is supposed to go. That’s going to be kinda fun, since that’s where I’m making the most dramatic changes to the source material.

Then I’ll start transferring the big shapes and some guides to the watercolor paper, and I’ll mark spots to leave white for highlights. Then I’ll lay down some big washes… pale yellow for the sky and brown for the buildings, lavender for the street.

And then come layers for shadow and detail.

Because more than anything else, painting in watercolor is the practice of painting light. I just have to remember that. This is a medium that works best for me when I think about it like that; about light and shadow covering everything like a thin veneer, rendering what’s beneath invisible.

Whatever. I need to stop worrying about it and just do it.

 

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I’m Doing a Photo a Day.

One of the things I decided to do at the start of the new year but didn’t really talk about was to post a photo a day. That’s it, just a photo a day. No theme, no challenges, no list of things I have to take photos of, just take a photo of something every day and post it.

I’m posting them to Instagram, and you can check that out here.

It’s nothing terribly exciting. I’m not a fantastic photographer or anything, and frankly my schedule is often too packed to be able to capture anything that isn’t already along my accustomed game trails. I’m not performing any editing on the photos other than the cropping and filters native to the Instagram platform.

So why do it?

I’m not a photographer, so it’s not a way to get my potentially lucrative work out, and I don’t usually tag them so mostly nobody notices that they’re there.

Well, I’m not doing it for other people, exactly, although the fact that I’m posting them on a social networking platform does help keep me accountable.

As someone who blogs sometimes (both here and at barelysalvageable.com), photos are surprisingly important. The space has gotten so crowded that common wisdom states that you need photos on your blog posts. And it’s true, posts with photos get a lot more love on Facebook, etc when they have photos attached. It’s difficult to find good, free to use photos out there, so I reckon that even if I manage to maintain both this blog and the business blog on a weekly basis, taking a photo every day will provide me with pictures to use in service of this finicky behavior. I mean, if I’m making sure to take a photo every single day (and so far, as of this writing, I have), then at least a few of those will be worthwhile. This takes care of most (or all) of my photo needs, and does it with fresh content that hasn’t already been used to make inspirational memes.

But there’s more to it than that. This is also personal development stuff. I hope that committing to taking a photo every day will help me to be more aware of my surroundings, to seek out the beautiful (or the at least visually interesting, I’m told I have an unusual conception of beauty) in the everyday. This is useful; I tend to spend a lot of time wrapped up in my own idiocy and not enough time externally focused.

Since I’m also an artist, taking photos (or engaging in any of the visual arts) is likely to improve composition skills regardless of intention. Looking at things in terms of composition every day is practice, and that’s a difficult skill to learn without just doing it. I mean there are basic fundamentals of composition that you can learn from a class or a book or a website or whatever, but you don’t really learn it until you put it into practice, and I’m so out of practice with anything connected to the visual arts that I might as well toss all of it in the bin.

It’s not that I don’t love creating art; it’s just that it has become clear to me that it’s never going to be a thing that puts bread on the table for me, so I’ve decided to focus instead on writing as a trade. The result of this is that my spare time (such as it is) is spent on writing and writing related pursuits. And taking a photo a day is a way to cram in a little bit of practice time on this neglected pursuit without having to reschedule my whole day to fit it in. I mean, it only takes a few seconds to take a photo.

It’s been interesting and fun so far, to wake up each day with a photo on my list of goals. We’ll see how long I manage to keep it up.

 

About That MFA Article.

So there’s this article that’s been making some ripples in corners of the internet lately. It’s titled, “Things I Can Say About MFA Writing Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One.”  I posted it to my writer’s group recently and it got a range of responses, from the ambivalent to the negative.

Noted writer and blogger Chuck Wendig ripped the article a new asshole over on Terrible Minds, and he had a very different take on the whole thing than I did.  Which is fine, I’m a great admirer of Mr. Wendig; in face he’s just “Chuck” in my writer’s group because we share so many of his posts around.  And the fact that he saw the whole thing very differently than I did doesn’t mean that I disagree with him; quite the opposite.  I think he made some great points, and some of the stuff he said I really agree with. I think it’s not just possible for two people to come away with different messages from one piece of writing, but indeed common, and beautiful.

In the first section of the MFA article, the writer asserts that you need talent to be a good writer.  I actually agree with this… I believe that some people, for whatever reason, have a greater capacity toward creation, storytelling, and verbal expression than other people.  All the evidence that I base that belief on is anecdotal, of course. My younger brother is a more than capable writer, he had to be to get through his degree and certification program. But he thinks that what I do when I write a book is some kind of incomprehensible magic. I don’t know what the difference is; I don’t know if it’s some part of the brain that just works better in me than it does in him. But there is a difference, and that difference is what we call “talent.”

Chuck addresses the talent portion here in greater depth, and I agree with a lot of what he says. I agree that in believing themselves somehow uniquely talented, writers can make themselves lazy and incompetent. Talent is only part of the equation; being good at writing requires work and practice, even when one has a natural inclination.  I also agree that the concept of talent has been used to exclude minority voices and support elitist structures in probably every facet of the arts world. The problem with talent is also the problem with how we view the arts; there’s this idea that some people can do it and other people can’t.  What other field do we see that in? Math and science, maybe? Nobody avoids going into accounting because they don’t have a talent for it, though. Nobody needs to exhibit a specific aptitude to learn any number of technical skills, and our failure to regard the arts (including writing) as a trade also leads to our demand that they be gods and martyrs.

The next section of the MFA article states that if you weren’t serious about writing by the time you were a teenager, you’re probably not going to make it.  I feel like I understand what the author is trying to say here, but I don’t know what “taking writing seriously” means, especially to a teenager.  I started writing short fiction when I was around twelve, but I was such a fucked up teenager that the only thing that I can honestly say I took seriously was suicidal ideation.  I get it, though, because you see all these forty-year-old rich white ladies who think they’re going to write the next great american novel, or an award winning memoir, and yeah, those people probably don’t have what it takes to make a living out of writing, and that’s okay. That’s probably not what they’re looking for.

The next few sections cover concepts that anyone who’s at all familiar with the indie landscape should already know… you need to make time to write; you need to read; memoirs are mostly terrible.  I have some concern with the wording used in the third section, because wishing pain and abuse on the already abused was just not something that needed to be included to make the author’s point and was unnecessarily cruel.

The sixth point is that the author can’t help you get published, and that nobody knows what the hell is going on in the industry these days.  This seems pretty spot on to me… the industry is changing.  People are talking about content gluts and the ebook market stabilizing, but all that means is that the rate of change has slowed enough now that it’s no longer buffeting us.  Yes, you can still get traditionally published, and yes, there are still some advantages to that.  But you absolutely do not need an in with the industry to get published.  In the last portion of this paragraph, the author encourages people to “to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other’s work as much as possible,” and I think that’s a beautiful thing.

Seventh paragraph states that it’s not important that people think you’re smart, and that’s true.  This is not a thing you can do for ego gratification… you have to do it because you love it.  Nobody gives a shit about you unless you give them good stories to read. The ego serves the art; the art doesn’t serve the ego.

And the final paragraph, which I thought was pretty weak to end on, personally, was about the importance of woodshedding, which is to say practicing. Yes. This is true. Practicing is important. It is possible to succeed with your first novel. I didn’t, I needed two novels practice before I produced anything I thought would be worth polishing.

Now I want to say right now that I do feel that the rhetoric used in the MFA article is hyperbolic and shitty. I think I overlooked that because I’m used to seeking out the inspiration hidden in the manure pile. I think I overlooked it because I, too, am a bit of an asshole. I’ll openly admit that the writers I want to spend time around aren’t the sort who wish they spent less time writing; they’re all the kind who wish they spent more time writing. Lord knows if I had a choice I’d write full time and attend classes and go to work when I could fit it in.

What I took away from the article was that this work isn’t for people with the money and resources to pursue an MFA.  It is specifically for the people with the brains, the heart, and the sand to do the work. Not for people with fancy degrees. Not for people who insist that art serve their ego. And I found that to be an inspirational message.

A Love Letter to my Writers Group.

I always considered myself kind of a lone critter.  I’ve never enjoyed group work, and I find it difficult to work without privacy… either the privacy of an empty apartment, or the privacy sometimes afforded to us in public places.  It’s one of the primary reasons I now prefer to live alone, and possibly one of the reasons that I preferred for so long to live with roommates.

But if the only voice you listen to is your own, your work steadily becomes more and more self-referential, and eventually ceases to add to the cultural dialogue.  This makes us creatively obsolete.  What becomes obvious is that we cannot work in continuous solitude, a tortured soul hammering at a typewriter beneath the bare, swinging lightbulb of our own desperate inspiration.

Creativity exists not in the generation of ideas, but in the synthesis of disparate parts into new wholes.  One must gather the parts, and one does this through a deliberate choice to participate in society.  On the production end, it’s vital for us to understand that our ideas, narratives, and sentences do not spring fully formed and beautiful from our brains.  Rather they stagger forth from our skulls like chicks from the egg, sticky, weak, clumsy, and weirdly ugly, but showing a kind of promise.

They need help.  If you leave that little bird on its own, it will get cold and die.  If you nurture it, however, it will have a chance to grow wings.

So we must enlist help from the outside.

The first group I tried was not a good cultural fit.  Only two of the group of five got through the submission I provided.  Some claimed it was too long, but it was the same length as the other submissions, and followed submission guidelines for the group.  They weren’t interested in anything other than strict genre-based fiction.

The next group was a mistake altogether… they weren’t workshopping at all, just drinking wine and reading aloud what they’d written to a round of polite applause.

I was about to give up, when an idea came to me.  I got in touch with a friend and colleague and asked:

Why don’t we start out own?

And we did.

And it’s perfect.

That’s one of the great things about writers groups, is they’re by nature small, because at some point the volume of work the group must get through in each session becomes impractical.  That means your town or city can support as many of these groups as it needs.

So here are some of the things my writers group does for me, and your writers group should do for you:

They will help you workshop your writing.  My group has literally had the punishing task of going through a novel of mine chapter by chapter, providing notes throughout each step.  They will help you to realize that that sentence that you loved just doesn’t work and was never as pretty as you thought it was.  They will tell you in glowing terms what part of what you’ve written really does work.

They will share in your frustrations and in your triumphs.  They have either been there, or are all too aware that they will have been there at some point in their lives.

They are uniquely capable of understanding the trials of being a writer.  When I was all fired up about a project, I tried talking to some of my civilian friends about it. I thought, these people are smart, they read, they’ll get it.

No.  Nobody who isn’t a fiction writer is interested in hearing anything about your book until it’s finished and available for purchase.  They don’t want to hear about character dynamics, or the structure of the narrative.  It’s not that they’re not smart, good people, it’s that this is a conversation that they cannot participate in with you as equals. They cannot perform literary analysis on a book that they haven’t read.  Moreover, they do not care, and honestly, they shouldn’t.

But your writers group will be interested.  Or they’ll at least pretend to be, because the next time they leap from bed scrambling for a pad of paper to write a new idea down on, they’re going to need someone to talk to about it.

They will help you refine ideas before the first draft is even started.  The writers group is a crack team of people who have experience creating stories, and if you go to them saying, “I want to do x, but I have a problem with y,” they will help you brainstorm a solution.

They are capable of the kind of brutal honesty that in strictly social circles would be considered rude.  They will tell you if what you’re working on is a dead end, and they will tell you if what you see as a particularly clever conceit is just a tired cliche.  They can see what you’ve produced without the rosy fog that sometimes clouds your own vision, and they will use that ability to help you.

Their most important role, however, is arguably that they will never tell you to stop.  No matter how much mediocrity you put in front of them, they will encourage you to try again and try again until things are working.

So to those in my writers group, who have taught me more then the entirety of my formal education, I say thank you.  And to anyone out there struggling in the directionless sea, I say, find yourself a good writers group.  Or hell, just make one yourself.

In Beta.

There’s a point that you reach in the process of writing a piece of fiction where you don’t know what to do anymore.  You don’t know what to add or to take away, or even if what you’re looking at specifically makes sense in the broader context of the piece.  It’s not a lack of ability or a lack of knowledge or understanding… it’s that you’ve spent months elbow deep in the thing, and all you can see is the gore, and you’ve lost the sense and structure of the thing.  I reached that point tonight.

It’s not that we don’t understand story structure, or can’t see instances of passive voice… it’s just that it is utterly impossible to read a piece as a reader would when you’ve just written it.  It just can’t be done.

It’s at that point, when you’ve become lost in that peculiar writer’s myopia, that you need to put the work away.  For a week or two.  Or a month.  Of course, this resting time could be considered idle time, and that’s not necessarily bad… when one is engaging in creative activity, even idle time contributes to the whole.  But why wouldn’t you use that week or two or four to have it read over by people who don’t suffer from that myopia?

Tonight, I handed my novel to a handful of intrepid readers who have agreed to read the damn thing for me.  The feeling of shuffling an almost-novel from my desktop to my pre-readers is not a feeling of happiness or even of satisfaction.  It is a feeling of deflation and relief.  This is the first time that I’ve given something to readers that I intended to publish at some point, and while it’s a relief to get the thing out of my hands for the time being, it’s also nerve-wracking.

These people, these kind volunteers, have the responsibility of telling me, honestly and truthfully, whether or not this thing has good bones, whether or not it’s worth pursuing.  I can’t tell… I read through it a couple of days ago and thought it might actually be good… and that was a moment that brought trumpeters down from heaven.  But I read it one and a half times today, and I’m suddenly feeling like it’s probably not so good.  Which feeling is right?  I can’t tell… can you?

In addition, they’re also responsible for telling me which of the curves need refining and which of the points need sharpening, a thing I might be capable of in the future, but which I’m not capable of right now, and I have to decide whether to take or leave each piece of feedback, without involving my pride. Do you see how complicated this gets?

But that feedback doesn’t even come right away!  It can take weeks for someone to make a reasonably attentive pass over a novel-length piece of writing, and I get to spend all of that time with this story and all of this anxiety peppering me in the back of the brain, like background radiation, even when I sleep.

And that’s not even getting to the worries of publishing, which I will need to do eventually if it turns out that the bones are good.  Publishing is still a subject that mystifies and terrifies me, but it’s one of those things that I’ll have to learn by doing.

It’s pretty amazing to think about how many people it really takes to write a book.  I guess that’s what dedications are for… because they can only fit one name on the cover.

In the meantime, now that I’m free of the damn thing for a while, it’s time to try to get caught up on my housework, and get my ducks in a row for Bhutan… which I can’t believe is happening in just six short weeks.

And you know, maybe write a short story.

If I find the time.

Capitalism and Divergent Thinking.

For the purposes of this post it is important to note that when I refer to “capitalism,” I am referring to Big C Capitalism.  Also, it is worth noting that I am an idiot, that I am not an expert in any field, least  any of the ones that might relate to the following piece, and that I failed Psych in college.

Capitalism loves homogeneity.  It’s no mystery why… packages that are all the same size and shape are easier to stack, store, and ship.  Financial predictions are easier to make based on things that are produced and sold all the same.  Shipping is cheaper.  Mechanized production is much easier, making the item in question even cheaper to manufacture.  One look at the dizzying variety in our grocery stores shows that despite all the different packages, we’re really looking at six different kinds of kidney beans, four different kinds of canned tuna, and a few dozen different kinds of bread that more or less taste the same.  Meanwhile the real variety is absent.  Each aisle contains countless versions of the same handful of products.  It turns out that it’s not all that difficult to acclimate consumers to this homogenized range of products, either… even our films have their formulas.  Screenplays must hit certain spots within specified time frames in order to be considered for production in Hollywood.  Almost any film is possible, as long as it follows the formula.

Capitalism values homogeneity in its people as well.  Oh, sure, job descriptions will tell you that managers are looking for creative thinkers, but the fact of the matter is that creativity involves risk by nature, and to capitalism, which pursues profit, this risk is not an opportunity but a cost.  When things are unpredictable, efficiency declines and costs go up.  In fact, every large, successful company really only needs in between one and ten “innovators” and then an army of robots to carry out the wishes of those innovators.  The fact is that for now, it’s easier and cheaper to employ humans to fill those roles.  Even so, a firm hand is kept to ensure that these people, these biorobots, remain within their designated parameters. Capitalism also offers a reward for this conformity.  We are told that if we follow the rules, and work hard, that we will be rewarded with prosperity.  Since most people in the post industrial landscape lack the means to scrape their own living from the earth, this is a pretty good deal for most citizens, and honestly it does a better job of making sure everyone is taken care of than homesteading would.

Even our own brains reward conformity.  Social conformity, in a primate with essentially no natural weapons, was a matter of survival for nascent man.  Social conformity made the group work, and the group was the weapon.  It is our social nature, after all, that turned us down the large-brain side of that particular fork in the evolutionary crossroads, and as far as I’m aware we’re the mammals with the most complex and highly developed social structure on earth.  This is what the big brain made possible, and a part of that is the ability and the desire to conform to social norms.  To feel as though one belongs to a group is a necessary feeling, rewarded with the impression of safety and warmth.  In fact, experiencing the fear of death can inspire greater urges to conform in us.

This is seen not just on an individual basis, but also on a broader scale.  Societies tend to fluctuate on a cultural spectrum, from collectivist to individualist, based on the level of prosperity being experienced.  Individualism is preferred when times are good; with survival needs taken care of, attention can turn to individual choice and self expression.  When times are lean, societies tend to pull together to ensure that the needs of the society are met.

In contrast to this urge for conformity that is encoded into our societies and indeed, into our very brains, we also experience a strong need for self-expression.  This need is considered a part of the need for autonomy as enumerated in the three needs in Self-Determination Theory… autonomy incorporates both the need for agency in one’s life and outcomes as well as the need to act in accordance with one’s self.  The nature and origin of the self have been discussed and studied by people far, far brighter than I, and I won’t have time to go through that in any depth at all, so I’m inclined to skip that conversation entirely and just say that for the purposes of this discussion, the self is a thing that we all have, and it is made up of all of the traits that make us who we are.

So we have a natural, intrinsically motivated desire to act in accordance with the self.  This desire is so strong that it overwhelms the risks of such authentic actions, and at times the biological urge for conformity… all for an action with no tangible or external reward.  It is an action which is its own reward; in fact the existence of an external reward can undermine the value of the act of self expression by preventing it from satisfying our need for autonomy.

This is not just a desire that we have for ourselves; we also seem to seek out authenticity in other people.  We cast about in the world, desiring not just authentic action and authentic expression, but authentic experiences, authentic interaction, and the chance to witness authentic expressions of self from other people.  We are moved by these interactions and expressions because they touch something inside of us, something that is terrifying and wonderful.  Authenticity plucks a string inside of us, and we vibrate in sympathy.

The truth is, existence as a human being is often a horrible burden, and not just in terms of practical stressors, like money or food or emotional security, but due to the fact that we bear up under great personal responsibility, the kind of responsibility that only a thinking creature gifted with free will can know, and exist in a continual state of imperfect knowledge.  We are creatures who conceive of the world, but who are incapable of conceiving a world without us, and still are cursed with an understanding of our own mortality. Is it any wonder that so often we retreat from authentic expression of the self into the comfort of the group, the safety of the homogeneous?  We relinquish responsibility of doing and instead sit back and watch.  We lunge for the carrot and in doing so accept the yoke.  It’s so easy to do, especially in a world that wants, needs us to be consumers, and will offer us pretty much anything that we think might bring us even a moment’s comfort.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I do think that it leads to a deep and undefinable unhappiness… a sort of a sickness of the soul.  This is not to say that conformity is bad, or even that capitalism is bad.  These are just parts of being human.  But it does emphasize the importance of creative work; work often judged as not having a real place within a capitalist society.

The artist serves a purpose, in that through their actions they take on the risk and the burden of authentic self-expression and reproduce that for others to view and experience, so that everyone can feel that ahh feeling without taking on those risks themselves.  The artist reaches into what it is to be human, like a modern shaman reaching into a world of gods and devils (and indeed, I’m not convinced that art is possible without interaction with the Divine, but that’s for a different post) , and brings back meaning, and then reproduces it in a benign, non-threatening form for all to enjoy.  The artist helps to keep people spiritually whole in a terrible world.

So how does that work, arguably valuable work, fit in with a society in which all labor must be boiled down to dollars? Especially if we grant, as above, that the urge to express the self and to create are intrinsic, but can be undermined by the offer of an external reward? How is that compartmentalization accomplished?

Failing Up.

I’m going to let you in on one of the things I really love about writing.

It’s almost impossible to fail at it.

When you write, especially with modern tools, you’re just a backspace press (of varying lengths, of course) from being back on the right track.  It can hurt sometimes to set yourself back like that, but everything can be fixed.  It’s very very rare that something that I’ve started has gotten to the point at which it just had to be scrapped entirely, and in those cases, the failure happened very early in the process, during conception.

Not all activities are like this.  Drawing and painting aren’t like this… once you lay down the wrong line in ink, it’s there for good.  Oh, sure… they sell correcting fluids and opaque white inks, and there are methods by which you can simply cut out the offending piece of paper and replace it.  These techniques only minimize the original mistake… the opaque ink isn’t entirely opaque, or you can see the cut lines in the paper, or the correction fluid is a very slightly different shade of white than the paper you’re using.  In painting, some media are more forgiving than others… watercolor scares the hell out of me.  Once that pigment is dry, you cannot pick it up, and attempts to cover it will always show a shadow of the original stroke.  With acrylic, you can generally paint over any mistakes pretty quickly, but if you’re a textural painter, the original brush strokes will never go away unless you sand them down.

Painting over a mistake is less practical with oil paints, since they can take months to dry fully, but that intractable wetness allows you the opportunity to simply scrape your mistake up with a palette knife, or to just repaint it.  Some of these mistakes, resolved through simply lightening or darkening the offending paint, or adding a different pigment, have given me some of the richest colors I’ve ever seen… paints featuring one pigment provide a bright but shallow color… a kind of monochromatic look that you don’t see in nature.  Color in nature, as with sounds and smells, is a thing of incredible variation, depending on the intensity and directionality of the light and in fact the composition of the surface itself, the roughness or smoothness of the surface, and depending on the sensitivity of the viewer’s eye.  This is why I love painting with oil paints… sometimes you just don’t know if a color is right until its on the canvas, and it may need to be adjusted.  Oil paints are so forgiving of this, and it lets you get the color, the shadow, and even the shape (yes, I have scraped entire lines and edges off of canvases) just right.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that oil painting thrives in the presence of human error.  Not error… let’s call it “human variability.”

We live in a world that demands compliance and consistency and homogeneity.  We perform jobs that expect the same performance again and again and again, regardless of whether you’re performing surgery or stuffing envelopes.  The unfortunate thing about this is that human beings are intensely variable little creatures.  It takes a lot of effort enforcing structure on us to get us to operate in this way, and that enforcement of structure, that training, starts in school.  This is why I tell my friends’ children that if they learn nothing else from finishing school, they’ll learn to work.

The effort that goes into writing, like oil painting, is much more forgiving of that human variability… in fact, as a writer, it pays to avoid doing your work the exact same way every time.  Our work benefits from innovation in ways that most work really doesn’t.  And thus, error in writing, even if it is deleted in the end (and believe me, a whole lot of it is) contributes to the finished product in ways that are incalculable.  In fact in most cases, the author probably doesn’t know what changes or decisions might be related in some way to a mistake made earlier in that piece, or even in a prior piece.  And I’m not just talking about learning from one’s mistakes, although that’s part of it, but a word that you consistently misspelled previously may influence word choice later on, or a word mistyped might alter the structure of an entire sentence.

This kind of variability, this brand of failure, can be practiced in everyday life, but it either has to be done on the back end, or has to be a part of a process that precipitates a policy change.  This is what makes working life so strange… employers will say that they value creativity, but they don’t… they want the benefit of creative employees, but reject the increase in variability that comes from divergent thinking.  Creativity inherently involves risk.  There is no way to get around that risk.  The ability to take risks and roll with the punches when the results come in is the very heart and soul of creative work.

And when you take a risk and fail in a creative setting, you have to start again from where the mistake was made.

This is costly for large companies or even government offices.  The efficiency that they treasure is a big part of meeting revenue goals.  If one person is less efficient, that’s not a huge effect, but if fifty thousand people are less efficient, that ends up being a much bigger deal.  So in our work, as people, we are not encouraged to engage in divergent thinking.

But when you’re writing, I would encourage everyone to embrace your mistakes and your failures.  They are going to make you a better writer.  It’s not a big deal to take a little longer than expected to pick up a new skill… in fact, I think that it may allow someone to gain a more complete understanding of the process.  In most cases, the risks are going to be low… nobody’s going to die, you’re not going to destabilize eastern europe, and you’re not going to cause a global recession.

In most cases, the cost is going to be just a little more time spent on whatever you’re working on, and your own pride.  This process is definitely worth the time, and we could all do with a little less pride.

And I think this carries over to other aspects of our lives as well.