Thursday, June 30, 2011

Revising from something rather than nothing

So I've been revising novel #2 for a week. Maybe two weeks. I've lost track. This thing is a mind-sucker. Keeping track of all the details of the murder mystery, like who knew what, and when, and who believed what, and why, and how the investigation got all screwed up but plausibly so...and I'm not even into the string theory section. Yes, really. I DON'T KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT.

Still, it's going well. And once again I must attribute it to my new practice of (relatively) rapid prototyping, i.e. getting *something* down and moving on and not worrying too much about anything until the whole draft is done. Because, here's what I keep discovering, to my eternal astonishment: You just need something to work with. That something need not be good; it need not even have that much to do with what you now understand your story to be.

Years ago, when I thought I was a visual artist, I used to go through the process of gessoing canvas. Gesso is that white stuff you put down first, to keep the paint from soaking into the canvas; I understood that the tedium of stretching the canvas and gessoing it was supposed to be meditative or something, but I was usually really impatient to just get started, and I turned to writing because I thought there would be less laborious prep and you could just, you know, do the thing. Joke's on me! Turns out the first draft is the gesso. You still have to do it, but the good news is that the second draft almost entirely covers it up. The first draft is really not much more than a layer to put the revisions on.

You just need something, rather than nothing. That's all.*

*Speaking of something rather than nothing, Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance posted a very interesting discussion of that question--Why is there something rather than nothing?--a few years ago. It's worth reading the whole post to follow the reasoning, but the overall point is that it's actually not a good question. Our "experience" tells us that the presence of "something" is somehow significant, and less "natural" or "simple" than the state of nothingness. In other words, we assume that the presence of "something" has to be explained (i.e. by the existence of a god or similar). But according to Carroll, there's no reason why nature itself should "prefer" nothingness. It's not necessarily a simpler state, so the presence of "something" does not necessarily demand a special explanation.

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