Thursday, October 17, 2013

Monkey Brain

Status Update: FINALLY got through the last bag of coffee, the one with the vanilla notes. It wasn't bad coffee, mind you, just not dark enough for my mood. The new bag has pictures of angry bees on the cover, which fits my mood more perfectly. If they were stinging someone, it would be even better. As for this week's story, I've got it outlined and I'm currently in the fermentation stage. Hopefully I will have time to write it, because I'm shooting for five to seven thousand words this time around. Which means it will either be flash or one of those fifteen thousand word monstrosities where I finish and am so brain-fried all I can do is stare at the wall.

I say "fermentation stage" because sometimes you can't just jump into something right away. When I'm banging away at a program at work, for example, I recognize the fact that there are usually five ways to do something right, but inefficiently. There are fifty ways to do it wrong in such a way it will half-ass work. And there are an infinity ways to fuck things up so badly that they don't work at all, just collapse into a sad puddle of broken parts on the floor until you sweep them into the bin and pretend it all didn't happen. And there's only one or two ways to do something right and efficiently.

A lot of times I find myself defining the problem, sketching it out on actual paper and then...I go and surf the internet for a few hours. I might go home at the end of the day only having done very little specific work on a project and it's not because I'm lazy (well, I am, actually, but that's besides the...SHUT UP). I'm actually letting ideas bounce around in my skull. When somebody wanders by and sees me staring at the ceiling with my fingers linked behind my head, I'm usually doing the hardest work: letting experience and instinct narrow down improper approaches, or coming up with lateral solutions. Or I'm taking a nap. Hard to tell sometimes.

The thing is, you can't hurry creativity. Well, you can. Sometimes a project comes on like a bad case of indigestion and things happen fast. Sometimes it all comes together at once and you feel like you're channeling the universe, some cosmic background radiation guiding your fingers and producing something that snaps together like it was from God's own blueprints.

Usually, though, I have to sit on it for a while. I'll go take a shower. Halfway through the shower, I get an idea that sounds good, so I run across my apartment, dripping water and scaring the cats (note: I don't actually have a cat), and jot it down. Then I come back to it and think it through more carefully, take what works and what doesn't and that's how babies are made.

Because your first instincts are usually wrong, that's why. Your gut instinct is the one you've been trained to give, the most obvious solution. Sometimes the counterpoint is too obvious, too. It's the third and the fourth thoughts, those are the ones you should listen to, the ones that unpack your assumptions. I have this crazy voice inside me sometimes that occasionally demands I burn shit and blow things up,  makes stupid suggestions like eating the ENTIRE bag of chips. That's the one I listen to the most because it defies common sense. Common sense murders creativity like nothing else.

I think it's a good idea to listen to this voice when you're writing, because your first ideas are the ones everybody has. The second ideas are the ones everybody has, too. Let's write a story about zombies! It's going to be about a guy who wakes up in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. It'll be great. Wait. That's a first idea. What if...he wakes up a zombie and everybody else is human? Better. Wait. What if everybody's a zombie, he used to be a zombie and he's human now and he can infect zombies with the human virus by biting them? Gross! He has to...that's actually workable. Why is everybody a zombie? Are they smart zombies? Does he still have zombie abilities? Where would he get food? Would he know how to human-eat?

And that's how sausage is made. You have to let things bang around in your subconscious for a while so you can come at them sideways. Your first reaction to any problem is always just that--a reaction. It's nothing but your monkey-brain, evolved to respond to lions on the African savanna, responding to emergencies. You want to avoid that, because it's usually an averaged response to whatever media you've been consuming for the last ten years. Anything you produce from that first reaction will be derivative by nature, unless you just had one of those lightning bolt from the sky moments.

Man, I need more coffee. Anyhow. I've been reading a lot of hard-boiled fiction again. This story I've got planned looks like it'll be a lot of fun. Hopefully I'll have enough time this weekend to write it.

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