If You Ain’t Cheatin’

It’s not early, but it *feels* early. It also feels late, which is apparently a function of parenting. Correction: it feels like I’m late. More or less perpetually. Also, I had an oops. I awoke early, this morning (for a given value: earlier than the rest of the house, but later than normal routine, which is acceptable, as we’re still traveling, though tomorrow) and I’m still feeling like I was supposed to be somewhere. This is the problem with getting so far outside my routines that they more or less don’t matter anymore. I look up at eleven-mumblety and say, “oh, right: despite that flying thing, tomorrow’s Tuesday, and I haven’t written, this week.”

And then I made coffee, because that’s what writers do. Except my LDS friends, who crack open some other form of energy drink, like Dr. Pepper. (I almost neglected the “other,” and that after educating my niece and nephew on the important distinctions of methylxanthines. This is what happens when a writer is undercaffeinated. Be warned. Also, over-traveled, I think, though I’ll be exploring that at another time.

As much as I’d like to pound out another chapter for you, that’s not going to happen this morning. Last minute visiting, packing up, cleaning, etc. Also, the Wee Horde are unavoidably present, and after that will be jobs to do for travel prep. Especially the Wee Horde. Instead, I’ll save the fiction for another day (later this week, I hope, though I ain’t promisin’ nothin’,) and I’m going to get a little, well, mystical.

I get into a state of mind when I’m walking a trusted associate through the good bits of something upon which I’m working. It kinda feels like someone (or Someone, *glares upward*) unzips my skull and pours in poprocks. But in a good way. The mind fizzes with “brilliant” ideas as I reveal how all the bits an pieces fit together. Even the parts I don’t know yet (pesky characters, pesky plot, none of whom tell me things ahead of time) can get explained — usually along the lines of, “I don’t know how that’s going to work, yet, but I’ve got an idea…” — and all the while…

Look, here’s where I start to get weird and metaphysical. I feel almost like I’m floating, looking down at a sprawling world, partly covered in fog. I see bits here and there, and can kinda see how they fit together, but often, large parts are obscured, and my ability to pick out details is … well, you know how you can see everything on the ground from 35k feet? It’s like that. I see it all, but the fine details are just too far away. And that’s fine. In fact, for my purposes, that’s just dandy. I’d get swamped in details, when what I really need is the overview.

Really, I need to get a rubber duck, or acceptable substitute. Basically, what I’m talking about is rubber duck debugging. I’ve brought this up before, but it’s been a while. I’m told (never having coded, myself) that programmers will often explain their code to a rubber duck. The act of explaining what’s going on to someone external — even if they’re tiny, and yellow, and not breathing — forces the programmer’s mind to process the code in a different way. Here’s the secret: it works for writers, too.

And while it can show you the places in your story where things are incomplete, I find it does a lot more to generate enthusiasm for the project. And to keep that enthusiasm high, which is what keeps me writing. Especially when my character is stuck in a pocket of dwindling air, deep underground, and while I have an idea how he’s going to get out, I have to do the heavy pick-and-spade work of walking him through painfully, awkwardly discovering how for himself. Y’know, to pick an example completely at random.

I actually prefer talking through things with Mrs. Dave, or Pop Dave, or one of a small group of select other individuals who may or may not be transient residents of Caer Dave. In a sense, they’re my alpha readers, except they often contribute to the development of my stories in a proactive sense, rather than providing feedback on finished products. Unfortunately, they don’t spend their downtime in stasis pods in my basement where I can thaw them out whenever I need them. Darn genuine people with their own lives and needs and desires and junk. So getting a rubber duck (or tiny Mando, or suchlike) seems like a decent option for when all my heads-in-jars are busy with their actual lives. The inconsiderate so-and-sos. This is why I need my own cloning facility. But every time I bring it up, Mrs. Dave gives me The Look. You know the one. *sigh*

You’re not always going to be able to keep the high of an exciting story going. Life happens, crap gets in the way, and sometimes you just get bored with it. At the same time, there are tricks for breaking those cycles and cheating your way out of the down times. And as the wise man says, if you ain’t cheating’, you ain’t tryin’…


  1. Sigh. I did have more to say before that inadvertently posted. For one thing, here’s the link to the great post: https://thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-i-went-from-writing-2000-words-day.html?fbclid=IwAR3dKegBd7frYcSfGhrUKiaJ8CcumlN8HjnC-3DqVmb7qFhEtRrX6nivOuc

    For me, the enthusiasm requires knowledge. I, too, know the big picture. I definitely don’t know all the details, but Rachel Aaron points out that you can work those out immediately before you write. Working out the details increases the enthusiasm because you know what you’re about to do. If it doesn’t, it tells you that you’re about to write something boring. Which suggests you should fix it. For me, that means ramping up the tension or personal conflict. Then, boom, the enthusiasm is back.

    1. That’s a tremendous post, as is yours. Maybe I’ll move my stuffed gargoyle (from when I spent stupid amounts of money on sunglasses) to my desk.

      I’ve found that when I think I need to research something and start formulating the email or forum post where I’m going to ask for help, things suddenly become much more clear, and I often end up not needing the research help I thought I needed.

      1. That happened to me just the other day! I had a question about how the ventilation ducts could be used for something. As soon as I wrote, “it’s not like there’s automation,” I thought to myself, thought I, “let’s have some automation.” I deleted the long explanation, the question, and the solution, and no one suffered.

    2. Bookmarked.

      Reminds me a little bit of Eviatar Zerubavel’s Clockwork Muse. Which I recently managed to read, after hearing a commentator talk about it here probably years ago. Clockwork Muse is oriented towards academic writing in the humanities, but has some similar qualities in terms of using record keeping to improve process. I’m disorganized, and bad at keeping good records. Approaches similar to statistical process control do seem to me like they would work, but I’ve generally been lousy at investing the time to implement anything.

      Of course, fiction authors have a wide variation in effective processes.

  2. I love it, when a story just *flies* and usually the words flow at the same time. The current PIP (Play in Progress, because this one isn’t work!) had me pacing the hall muttering “I am not going to nuke Paris, dammit, too many of my important characters live there!”

  3. While I’ve never resorted to the rubber duck (or rubber chicken, or teddy bear, or…) I have done programming and have told a co-worked, “We’re gonna play the Orvan-is-stupid game. I’m going to explain this to you until I understand it.”

  4. I like this. I always tell my students to explain their research projects to Aunt Martha at Thanksgiving. If she doesn’t understand what they’re doing, neither do they. I need to take my own advice more to heart. I have a multitude of rubber duckies. I believe I will be explaining things to Ziggy Starduck.

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