Ben Crowder

Blog: #writing

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We’re overdue for some kind of general life update, I think. Weeknotes-that-are-not-weeknotes:

  • The health issues I referred to in May are still largely unchanged, though I’ve come to terms with it enough that I should probably stop using it as an excuse for lower productivity. (I do need to rest more than I used to, but I also feel like I’m spending proportionally less time making things than is warranted. I’m now tracking my time using a completely rewritten version of Momentum, so I should hopefully have more actual data to work with soon.)
  • We’ve also had a month of worrisome family medical issues (including two late-night ER visits) that have been weighing me down.
  • On the plus side, I got some lab results that finally motivated me to start exercising more and make real changes to my diet. I’m three weeks in and the lifestyle adjustments seem to be sticking. Fingers crossed.
  • The rising case counts and Delta situation certainly is discouraging. My faith in humanity in the aggregate has eroded significantly over the past year and a half.
  • In spite of a spectacular lack of public results, I’m still writing, slowly. (Much more successful at avoiding it.) In the middle of figuring out a process that consistently gives me a) results that b) don’t make me cringe.
  • I’ve been trying to keep artmaking to the weekends so I have more of a chance at making progress with my writing, but it doesn’t seem to be working as well as I’d hoped.
  • Another thing I’ve been itching to do is get back into making web-based art tools like Cirque (which needs a lot of improvement). Several ideas here I’m excited to work on.

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Links #42

Katherine Rundell on giraffes. Unexpectedly fascinating.

Sokyokuban, a Sokoban game set on a hyperbolic plane. Mind-bending in a great way.

Shawn Wang on preemptive pluralization when developing software. This seems like a wise practice. (Not following it has bitten me more than once.)

Michael Mulet on how he made a video game in a font. Fascinating and horrifying.

Alan Jacobs on blog gardens. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of writing about the same topic in depth over longer periods of time as a way of organically writing what effectively amounts to a book.

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Links #27

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Links #20

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As a spur to get myself writing more, I’ve put up a new writing statistics page. There you can see in all its wilted glory how little I’ve written over the years.

Or how little I’ve finished, I should say — and that’s the main change here. By tracking actual published words, I’m hoping this sparks much more finishing and publishing. And by “publish” I still mean publishing here on this site. I imagine down the road I may submit pieces elsewhere, but for now I’m content with the small scale.

This brain hack is already working. Last week I hardly worked on the novel at all, but after putting this page up I’ve found myself fully back in the throes of editing, since finishing and publishing a 65,000-word novel — the first draft of which is already complete — seems the best way right now to push 2020’s zero up to a more impressive number. And now I have compelling motivation to make sure I get this thing edited before the end of the year.

Also, inspired by the colophon in Cory Doctorow’s Pluralist newsletter, I’ll probably add daily or weekly drafting word counts to the page soon, as further motivation to keep writing each day. Public shaming works wonders! (More seriously: while the idea of posting these kinds of metrics would have mortified me a year or two ago, I’m glad I’ve gotten round that obstacle. Working in public has been wonderfully freeing.)

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Links #7

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Links #6

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Achievement unlocked: today I finished the first draft of my (as yet untitled) novel, weighing in at just over 260 pages (65,000 words).

It’s a good feeling, but the work is far from done. As mentioned, I’ll let it sit for a month or so to distance myself from the text, then it’ll be time to dive into editing.

In the meantime I’m still planning to write several short stories and outline my next novel and try to figure out ways to speed up this novel-writing process without sacrificing quality. Fall semester starts soon and will inevitably slow all of this down, but hopefully not to a halt.

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A mere two thousand words remain left to scribble down on the first draft of this novel. It seems a thing almost miraculous when I look back over the trail of desiccated novels I’ve abandoned over the last couple decades. I wasn’t sure I would ever reach this point, but I’m glad I kept at it.

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In Robin Sloan’s week four POTO diary I came across three important-to-me ideas about writing.


First, he quotes M. John Harrison on worldbuilding:

Every moment of a science fiction story must represent the triumph of writing over worldbuilding.

Worldbuilding is dull. Worldbuilding literalises the urge to invent. Worldbuilding gives an unnecessary permission for acts of writing (indeed, for acts of reading). Worldbuilding numbs the reader’s ability to fulfill their part of the bargain, because it believes that it has to do everything around here if anything is going to get done.

Above all, worldbuilding is not technically necessary. It is the great clomping foot of nerdism. It is the attempt to exhaustively survey a place that isn’t there. A good writer would never try to do that, even with a place that is there. It isn’t possible, & if it was the results wouldn’t be readable: they would constitute not a book but the biggest library ever built, a hallowed place of dedication & lifelong study. This gives us a clue to the psychological type of the worldbuilder & the worldbuilder’s victim, & makes us very afraid.

John’s full post is good, if you’re of a similar mind (which I am). Back to Robin:

I find this formulation both cautionary and invigorating. The message, as I receive it, is that the words are all there is. You cannot substitute exhaustive backstory for language that crackles and conjures. That’s the cautionary part: don’t try to compensate for your cruddy sentences with an intricate magic system.

The invigorating part is: the words are all there is! And if that’s true, then words are all you need, and, my gosh, what LEVERAGE.

Invigorating indeed, and beautiful, too, for a minimalist like me. The words are all there is.

In my own experience, worldbuilding is fun and it does help generate ideas, but I’ve learned that I’d rather put most of that time into writing the actual story instead. Because then I have a finished story at the end of it.

How does this play in to my recently expressed plan to do more prep work and outlining on my next novel? No idea. Still figuring that out.

This, then that

Later in the post, Robin talks about getting bogged down in “this, then that.” Guilty as charged, here. Being conscious of it now, though, will help, as I strive to avoid thudding monotony locked into a single temporal resolution (as he calls it) and instead try to write more time-elastic prose.

Ladder of abstraction

A second but similar axis he mentions is Roy Peter Clark’s ladder of abstraction idea. From Roy’s book Writing Tools:

Good writers move up and down a ladder of language. At the bottom are bloody knives and rosary beads, wedding rings and baseball cards. At the top are words that reach for a higher meaning, words like freedom and literacy. Beware of the middle, the rungs of the ladder where bureaucracy and technocracy lurk. Halfway up, teachers are referred to as full-time equivalents and school lessons are called instructional units.

I’ve long been aware of the need to use concrete words (at the bottom of the ladder), but I hadn’t thought much about the bouncing back and forth between concrete and abstract words. An intriguing idea. As for the middle rungs, to be honest I’m not entirely sure yet how to tell the difference between them and the top of the ladder, other than that the middle seems to show itself as a vague, bland malaise that greys out the sentence. Something to watch out for.

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