Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Revising and the Ship of Theseus

The Ship of Theseus is a thought experiment from the world of philosophy. A ship, lying on the shore, needs repairs—new decking, fresh timbers, a new mast or two. How much of the original ship can be replaced before it's no longer the same ship? 

I ran into this idea in a recent TV episode, and now, of course, I SEE IT EVERYWHERE.

During my Admin Boot Camp (which I still haven’t written about, in part because it’s still NOT OVER, see ~ below), one of my tasks was to get that rattle in the Corolla fixed. 

Almost two days and $$$$ later, I’m now driving the Corolla of Theseus. Not really, but I pondered at what point I’d be driving a different car vs. the same car with all new parts.

AND the Ship of Theseus relates to revising. How much of a draft can you change before it becomes something new—not something that’s necessarily better or definitely worse than the original, but something decidedly different?

I’ve worked on pieces—usually essays, but short fiction, too—where I think I know what I want to write about but I’m mistaken. Really knowing what I want to say usually requires several drafts (sigh, see ** below).

Sometimes I even have to let go of my original idea. Turns out, that idea (an image, a character’s statement, my Grand Plan) was just a starting point—my open door. However, the door has become less important than what’s inside the room, and it’s the room (not the door) I want to show to the reader.

At that point, am I still writing the same thing? Maybe. Maybe not. I think the answer is different for everyone.

Say you set out to write a lyric essay about squirrels, and four months later, you have written a sonnet about the science of flying. Did you fulfill your purpose?

On the surface, the answer is NO. The form and content are both different. A lyric essay isn’t the same thing as a sonnet, and “squirrels” aren’t “the science of flying.”

But maybe the answer is YES. Maybe the process of revision during which Draft A of a lyric essay about squirrels became Finished Product B, a sonnet about the science of flying, was exactly what you wanted it to be. Nobody can tell you otherwise.

Whatever the answer, you get to decide. It’s your ship.

~ Admin Boot Camp is somehow related to Parkinson’s Law (work fills to take up the time available), but the exact parameters are still under investigation.

** I know in my head that multiple drafts aren’t “wasted work” or a “time sink” but I don't always know it in my heart.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


I'm in the middle of an Admin Boot Camp, more about which later, though I'm not sure what there is to say beyond "I'm spending at least one week, maybe two, doing administrative things I've put off too long, and I named it 'Boot Camp' to make it sound like more fun."

The point is that I'm doing spreadsheets and stacks of paper. I'm closing loops, meeting deadlines, filing, and deleting. And catching up on reading.

Over at Dead Darlings--which contains much useful information and inspiration--here's a great post, "Choose Your Super Power," by Julie Carrick Dalton. In it, she revisits those childhood fantasy debates about the merits of x-ray vision vs. invisibility vs. imperviousness to bullets vs. speed. Her final choice, after the events of last November is (drumroll) the power of story. A superpower after my own heart.

Go there and read it! All the way to the end!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Twitter Fasts

The TL;DR version: A Twitter Fast creates a space for me to get stuff done.

For the past two weekends, I've gone on a 60-hour Twitter Fast. From 9 PM Friday to 9 AM Monday, I stay off Twitter.

Why 60 hours? Because the first time I tried it, I recognized Sunday evening that waiting till 9 AM Monday would give me an extra 12 hours, and that 60 hours sounds a lot longer and far more impressive than 48.

Also, as the end of the 48 hours approached, I recognized that I didn't NEED to see tweets. In fact, NOT logging on would probably help me sleep better. That's turned out to be mostly true.

Overall, detaching was easier than I expected. The first weekend, I had client work to do. The second weekend I also focused on a long-term project, this time for me. Both projects had looming deadlines.

Besides big chunks of time, I found suddenly that I had smaller bits. I used them to do small things, like walk the long way around to pick up the newspaper, play the piano, and deal with a few of the stacks of paper that take over my office.

I don't know that I'll keep doing weekend fasts, but I might. I like the quiet space. I'm also wondering how a weekday Twitter Fast might work for me.

It's impossible to escape political nonsense--to say nothing of the consequences of political nonsense--but it is completely possible to escape the hysteria. And my commitment to listening doesn't mean I have to be available to hear everything.

A Twitter Fast gives me space and time to complete things that I KNOW IN MY HEAD are important to me and possibly the world, even when they don't FEEL important. The distinction helps, and the time helps, and doing the things helps. A win-win-win.
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Finding a Home

I got some good news recently: one of my short stories has found a home!

"Demeter's Easter," which features a wonderful woman named Sylvia, won second place in the annual Ten Stories High contest, sponsored by the Canadian Authors Association-Niagara Branch. It will be published in the 17th volume of their Ten Stories High anthology.

Sylvia will be in good company. I haven't read this particular story by John Pringle, but I know him and his work (yay Northwestern Ontario writers!), and several other people whose work was chosen have placed stories in the past.

Each time something (someone) I write finds a home, I'm thrilled, especially when it's fiction. (Also with nonfiction, except that the thrill is slightly different.) When I send out a short story, I'm vulnerable, which is fine. I'm an adult, I can take it.

But submitting also makes my characters vulnerable. They're out there being evaluated, except that they live only through the way I express them.

Although I know that stories get rejected for lots of reasons, I also know that sometimes those reasons come down to craft. Sometimes, I haven't quite found the best way to express that character in the world. So I see what I'm getting wrong, and try again.

Even when I dislike someone I've written, I feel responsible for their happiness. Maybe even more so--when I'm digging deep into a part of life that's hateful or unpleasant, I feel a greater responsibility to do justice to their perspective. No matter how ugly.

Maybe someday I'll be blasé when my work is published--maybe it won't feel so personal. In looking over the "I'm stunned" label, with which I mark posts that report external recognition, I'm not sure that's ever gonna happen. Which is also OK.

In any case--good news in trying times. Thanks to all those at the CAA-Niagara Branch for managing a contest. I know from experience how hard it is, and I appreciate your time and effort!