My false starts last week left me with a bunch of words that probably belonged in the novel but not where I’d tried to put them. The past three days I’ve been working on integrating some of them into the next chapter and moving the rest out of the manuscript. The result is that I’ve made some forward progress, but without much in the way of net new words. So, with word counts of 200, 300, and 600, my moving average has slipped under 500. Still, I’m making forward progress. In fact, I hit 15,000 words, which is one-quarter of my estimated final length, and I hit it with a neat transition in the story–after having been on the move so far, the characters have finally reached a place they’re going to be for a while.
A damp, chill, late-autumn day. With a crane.
Crane in Kaufman Lake Park by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
I studied Aikido briefly when I was living in Salt Lake City. My teacher was a gruff Asian man whose English was just adequate and whose teaching style was not unlike what you see in martial arts movies—he would mock or berate students who got things wrong. I don’t know if he thought that was the best way to get people to learn, or if it was just how his teachers had taught him. Maybe he just didn’t want to waste his time teaching anyone who could be deterred by a little mocking or berating.
At one point, talking about his philosophy of teaching, he made fun of some locally available Taiji classes that focused on “perfecting” your Taiji forms. With his somewhat limited English he made it perfectly clear that he thought it was stupid not to learn your Taiji correctly in the first place.
It made sense to me at the time. I mean, if you’re going to practice something hundreds or thousands of times, surely it makes sense to learn how to do it correctly first, right? Who’d want to practice doing it badly over and over again?
My current teachers, though, have a completely different attitude. Unlike any martial arts class I’ve been in, they basically never correct anyone. This may be partially due to the makeup of the class—mostly old people who might have limited range of motion due to arthritis or some other medical problem. Also, I think it’s because they’re focusing on the deeper fundamentals—things like shifting your weight and turning your body. Exactly when you turn your hand is simply not as important.
Even more fundamentally, though, it’s because you have to do the practice to learn to feel the difference. I suppose if you had a private tutor telling you that you were turning your hand too early or were forgetting to straighten your foot, you might spend a little less time practicing the form incorrectly, which would mean that you’d start practicing the form correctly a little sooner. But I think you’d lose the chance to learn how to feel why one way is wrong and the other way is better.
I have no particular natural ability at things like this—things like martial arts or dance or tennis. I’ve seen dancers who can pick up choreography in a fraction of a second, copying the lead dancer’s moves so quickly that you can scarcely tell that they’re unrehearsed. I’m the opposite of that. It takes me tens or hundreds of tries to get even reasonably close. However, I’ve been surprised to find that I get a little closer each time, even without an instructor telling me what I’m doing wrong.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to learn that the way you learn how to do something is by practicing. I knew that already. But it’s been very interesting to see how effective this sort of minimalist instruction is. The teachers demonstrate the forms, and they answer questions. There’s no pushing people to do the forms more correctly, and there’s certainly no mocking or berating. And yet, I’m learning at least as fast as I’ve ever learned anything equivalent in the past.
So, I think my old Aikido teacher was wrong. It makes perfect sense to start learning Taiji at the most basic level (weight shifting, turning your body), and then to move on to foot work and arm movement, and only then to worry about things like how you move your hands. It makes perfect sense to have an instructor show you what to do, but then let you learn how to do it through practice. And, since you can do 90% of the practice entirely on your own, it makes perfect sense to have an advanced course in “perfecting” your Taiji forms, to get whichever small bits don’t come naturally out of your practice.
This is the view out the window in the study. The leaves on the tree are just about gone.
Late Fall Outside My Window by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
About a month ago I got a rewrite request from an editor. This is generally considered a good thing–it means the story is almost good enough to sell.
This is only the second such rewrite request I’ve gotten. The previous one was from a top market so of course I did the rewrite, but the editor still didn’t buy it. That experience stood me in good stead. I did this new rewrite with great hope, but was not nearly as surprised and disappointed this time when the story didn’t sell.
I’m not unhappy about having done the rewrite. The editor had a useful insight into how I could fix one key problem with the story, and the rewritten version is much better. My previous rewritten story did eventually sell, and I have some hope that this one will sell as well.
I suppose I shouldn’t conclude too much from just two datapoints, but it’s hard not to see this as part of a pattern. Still, I expect I’ll do the same with future rewrite requests: If the editor’s suggestion improves the story, I’ll take it and do the rewrite.
I made very good progress on the novel today, writing almost 1200 words. Yesterday’s progress of not quite 400 words was kind of meager, but managed to get me on through the point where I’d gotten stuck. My moving average, which had been declining for most of the week is now turned back up. I’m very pleased with the new stuff–it nicely sets up the next thing I want to write, and I’m especially looking forward to writing the next bit. I don’t know how it goes, but I know it’s going to be wonderful, wonderful fun.
Night before last I woke up in the middle of the night feeling feverish and achy. But when I got up the next morning, I felt fine. Dare I hope that in my youth I was exposed to that previous H1N1 flu? Could it be that my immune system was already primed to knock it down, and managed it in just a few hours? Since I can’t get immunized anyway, I figure it’s harmless to be hopeful.
Just 500 words yesterday and not much over 200 words today. I eventually figured out it was hard to make headway because I wasn’t sure how the next bit went. I knew where I wanted the characters to end up, but I couldn’t see a way to get them there quickly–they wouldn’t choose to go there on purpose, and the natural path that would take them there wouldn’t be quick enough to make a good story.
There are a lot of solutions to that sort of problem. You can write the slow path and find a way to make it exciting. You can just skip the intervening time–this can be as easy as “They stayed in the luxury hotel for eleven days, but on the twelfth day….” I tried writing it both ways, but neither worked well in this case.
Then, earlier this evening, I figured out how to push the characters into leaving the cushy spot they’d managed to find for themselves in such a way that they have to move on to the rather less pleasant spot I’ve got in mind for them. It grows out of the existing characters and conflicts already in place. It’s a much better solution than writing a bunch of dull stuff and then trying to make it interesting.
Public sculpture of a bear in Urbana. To me that thing he’s holding looks like a giant pine cone, but that doesn’t seem very likely.
Bear with Giant Pine Cone by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
Went with Jackie to a meeting of the Spinners and Weavers Guild to hear a talk about raising silkworms. The thing that struck me was how vulnerable they are–the speaker had lost silkworms to any number of threats. Cats had eaten some. Possums had eaten some that were in the garage. For a while the legs of the table they were on had to be placed in dishes of water, because ants were carrying off young silkworms.
I wrote something over 600 words. Or, rather, I wrote about three times that many, but tossed most of them. And what I’ve got still isn’t right. The work hasn’t been wasted–I’m beginning to understand what I’m doing wrong. I’ve had the characters working together, when at this point what I need to do is sharpen their conflicts. I don’t know the details yet. Perhaps by morning it will be clear. If not, I can write and throw away another 1800 words. The word count tracking is in service of producing a good story, not an end in itself.
Written on the post of a railroad crossing signal where the tracks cross Country Fair Drive. I think I’d enjoy talking to the guy who wrote it, although I’m inclined to disagree.
Money Isn’t Real by Philip Brewer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
Over 700 words yesterday, but only 400 today. My seven-day trailing average barely budged–it’s been between 655 and 688 all week.
Productivity was lower today because Mondays we do Taiji and then have lunch out. All that, together with travel time, takes a couple hours out of the day–plus I usually end up wanting to take a nap.
Today we learned “push with both hands.” The instructor listed the 9 form sequence that we’re going to learn this session, and we were all relieved to see that we’ve already learned the basic moves for most of the remaining forms.
Last week we learned “lazy about tying coat.” Today I told the instructor I’d invented a new form and demonstrated it, simply moving directly from the start position to the end position. I told him it was called “lazy about lazy about tying coat.”