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Momentum v. Monolith

January 31, 2009

My first incoming link!  Like a blushing schoolgirl who’s just gotten her first kiss, I’m ecstatic.  Peter Suber, a Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College in Indiana, runs a blog about open access issues.  His post on Computational Linguistics’ changeover to online/open access gives “thanks to the Alex Project” for the link – with a link to me.  Me!  (I had a spike in traffic around that date, way up to 17 visitors, which I’d thought was due to my self-referential Reddit comment about the blog that day, but this link makes me think it was otherwise perhaps – the mysteries of the Internet.)

I came into this project with several things I wanted to get out of it, and one of the biggies was to change the methodology of my writing.  I’d always labored under the Romantic notions about artistic production, i.e., The Great Man Toils Alone, Till Unto the World He Doth Give Greatness.  And that wasn’t working out for me any more.  Writing a novel is not collaborative when it comes to getting down to the sausage-making – it’s just you and the keyboard then – but what goes on around it can be.  I’ve come to the point in my life where I’m probably more jealous of writers who have pages of acknowledgements than I am of writers who have made tons of money – quite a sea change.  I just finished Josh Bazell’s fast, fun thriller Beat the Reaper, and was amazed how many people he had to thank.  I don’t even know as many people as he had helping, consulting, supporting, whatever. 

In the space of two weeks, I’ve already reached more people, and received more recognition, than I would have had I done the whole thing offline.  And I’m a needy guy – like many writers, I need both constructive feedback and unconditional love.  After all these years, I finally get it – I’ve been anti-social networking for so long, for reasons I imagine I’ll deduce/explain as I write Caroline’s own reasons for being such a mushroom.  But it’s like drugs, to be doing your usual one-way trafficking to site after site, maybe leaving a breadcrumb/cookie in the form of a vote or a comment, and suddenly, you hit a site and the Internet is talking back!  Reaching back to you, returning the favor.  Googling yourself is one thing, seeing your name in book reviews and on shopping sites, but it’s static, it’s not remotely the same feeling.  I’m sure this sounds quite ridiculous to people who’ve been involved in “the community” for years and years – people who probably go out by themselves to bars and parties and say, hey, hi, ha ha, and don’t vomit beforehand if they don’t take a Xanax.  It’s news to me.  I definitely have a lot of trust/exposure issues I’ll be unpacking as I draw out Caroline’s character – and Christopher’s as well, in different ways.

The blog has also been great in that it’s gotten me back in the habit of getting up early and writing, before work and “shit to do” and my biorhythms take me into low gear by the time I get home in the afternoon/evening, in no way feeling energetic or productive.  I wasn’t able to “just do it” and start writing the book straight out of the gate – I got the first chapter done because I had the deadline of gall bladder surgery to motivate me.  I’m a side door guy, I rarely “face things head on” without feeling like the word “collision” will automatically be appended to that statement.  I’ve gotten almost all my jobs through the side door of contract/temping; I got my first agent and publisher through a guy I met on a Prodigy bulletin board years ago, not from submitting stuff directly.  So here I am approaching The Monolith of writing a novel from the side door,and it’s working out for me. 

Months ago I saved a page from Outside magazine and put it on my fridge.  It was an article/fashion spread/interview thing, “The Athlete Next Door,” each page featuring some really hot dude, none of them professional athletes, dressed up and “in motion” as photographed by Jill Greenberg (famous for her monkeys, among other pix, and who recently got in trouble for portraying John McCain as the Great Satan).  The cover dude was Steve Yore, and while everyone had something generically inspirational to say, this guy said something that really struck me in a way that, well, motivational statements just don’t:

For me it’s about momentum. You’ve got to keep moving toward your goals. There are so many things that can get in the way, but they can be rolled over. I refuse to let work be the only reason to get up early or stay up late. When I wake up in the morning, I think of finishing that workout. To do that, I’ve got to get out of bed, get my shorts on, and get on the bike. You set those small goals to achieve the bigger goal. I’m not trying to impress anyone; I’m doing it for myself, so there are no external pressures. That helps. And I’m not special; I think everybody has the energy to do it. Momentum is energy. Once you get going, it’s like a rock rolling down a mountain: It’s not stopping. You don’t want to be in its way.

It was that last part (emphasis mine) that tickled my arm hairs.  I knew it to be true from experience; it wasn’t an abstract statement like “just do it” or whatnot – when I write, I print my pages, just to see the stack grow, taller and taller, so that I get the sense feedback of physical accomplishment, of having literally “built something.”  Part of The Monolith is the idea of starting something – once you start, and continue long enough, that Monolith is gone; working out or writing or whatever is part of your day, not something you have to think about as a “thing” outside your normal routine.

So I’m almost ready to get another chapter going – “almost” because I have to work today, tomorrow’s my day of rest (NY Times, CBS Sunday Morning, and Super Bowl party are non-negotiable items tomorrow).  Maybe Monday instead of a long blog post, I’ll actually plunge back into the story.  I also need to post an outline, sketchy as it is in my head so far, a Release 0.1 of the story structure I have in mind so far.  I’ll put a “spoiler alert” on the link, for people who aren’t reading the site to see how the sausage is made, since much of the plot (or what I have of it in my head so far) will be given away.  (Don’t you hate book reviews that give away the whole plot?  The reviewer either a) needs to make his/her word count without thinking too hard, or b) is one of those idiots who thinks books should be read “for the language” and following the plot will simply get in the way of your enjoyment of the “luminous prose.”) My first bit of feedback has me energized.

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