Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Domestic and brain-training.

markgritter got home last night, yay! Frontier lied to me about his plane, though, so I had an hour in the airport waiting. I was finishing the book I'd brought when he walked up. Timing, as they say.

And once again this year, Mark's timing was impeccable: he was gone the week the tomatoes started to go nuts. We only have three tomato plants, but they're producing like crazy. If anybody knows of a south Mpls or suburban shelter that takes fresh garden produce for the homeless and hungry, we may get to that point this year. Or we may just make a lot of soup and salsa and give tomatoes to everyone we see. Beware, bewaaaare!

I was wiggling my fingers in kind of a scary way there. Sorry you couldn't see it.

Anyway, clever, tasty tomato recipes are welcome here.

Quite awhile ago, when I had one of my posts where the book had eaten my head for a bit, rose_and_ivy said, "I've been there, but not with a story. How did you train your brain that way?" And I've been thinking about it, trying to get at the real answer, especially as I suspect that I am not very far from another, longer brain-eaten period, so I may not have my head up to think about this sort of thing for awhile now if I don't do it right away.

I think the brain-eating parts are in some ways the easy parts. They're the fun parts, the glamorous parts, the parts where being a writer is a similar kind of fun to being a reader. If you're writing a novel and you never, ever have a time when you're really excited about it, when you just can't stop working on it...then maybe it's time to think about writing a different novel. At least one person should be excited about every novel written for at least a little bit, and you don't have any guarantees about anybody else.

I think there are two harder things to train one's brain to do. Among relevant things, I mean; there are all sorts of hard things to train one's brain to do. One of them is to work on the current project when it isn't shiny and absorbing, and the other is the pattern-matching thing.

How I trained my brain to work on the current project when it isn't shiny and absorbing: well. See, I was a physics grad student, and when you are a physics grad student, being a physics grad student can very easily eat the entire rest of your life if you will let it. It's like any other creative pursuit in that it permits you to pour as much of your time and energy into it as you care to. So if I was to remain a physics grad student and SF writer, rather than becoming a physics grad student who used to dabble in writing a little SF, I was going to have to make absolutely sure I got writing done whether it was sparkly or not. The one field demanded discipline of me, and so the other had to have it if it was to compete. If I wanted both, the external pressures were all with physics: I had a grad department, classes, an advisor, administrators at LLNL in charge of handling my fellowship. With the way those things pushed, if I didn't push back, deliberately and hard, the writing was going to become a hobby, and then it was going to become something that used to be a hobby. When we were figuring out how our lives were going as adults, one of my old friends said, "I don't want us to become people who used to send each other Christmas cards." I agreed with him about him (and we've succeeded in that), but I also felt that way about writing. The other alternative in this case was clear and worse, and so I just got used to writing whether I felt like it or not. I stopped asking myself whether I particularly felt like writing and started just doing it. Sometimes it was no fun, sometimes it was no good, but nobody asked me if I particularly felt like going to physics classes on a given day, or whether I felt like doing my homework, or whether I felt like going into the lab. Because it wasn't about what I wanted in the moment, it was about what I wanted in my life. The things you're serious about are a sum of moments, and not all of the moments are shiny, but they all have to be there, or the whole thing falls apart.

I can now trust myself a bit more. This week, for example, has been fairly light on prose, and I didn't push it, and as a result I ended up with several things I needed to figure out presented to me, as though on a mental platter. Sometimes letting my brain be for a bit will give it room to figure stuff out. This is not the same as slacking off. Sometimes it's hard to get my bulldog brain to figure out the difference, though.

The other thing, training the pattern-matching brain -- well. You're looking to train it the way you would learn to spot anything else, really. Like people who do jigsaw puzzles get better at them with time, or like people who make jewelry learn to spot the exact bead they need in a bunch of beads that look similar to the rest of us. You read a lot, you write a lot, you poke at what you're reading (whether it's something of someone else's or something of yours) and see what makes it work or fail. I did a lot of freewriting in my paper journals. I still jot titles there, first sentences, notes for particular stories. Writing a lot of short stories has probably helped with some of this, because it means seeing story possibilities in all sorts of things. But writing novels also has its own pattern-matching thing, where everything falls together. Street signs and commercials for auto insurance and washing the dog's nose-prints off the windows all start to make your brain go sideways into book. I don't know how I trained my brain to do that, because it isn't automatic with writing a book. The texture, the bumps and bits that snag a reader's brain and keep it down in the book -- that doesn't come right away. But eventually books create a gravitational pull, and the trick becomes keeping the kitchen sink out of them instead of finding a place that will sell you a kitchen sink.

I fear it's one of those annoying things that you do by doing it, and thinking hard about doing it, and then doing it some more. Probably there are people who are more naturally brilliant at this than I am and got there just by thinking really hard first, rather than by writing things that weren't much good and then making them better, and by reading a lot. And by thinking about story stuff in other structures, sculptures and songs and making brownies with your grandmother and whatever else you've got. I don't know, though; if you read a lot and write a lot and try to improve what you've written, and the pattern-matching never clicks in and the automatic stubbornness never clicks in, well, hey, you've still gotten to read a lot and write a lot, and that's worth something even without this specific category of external results.
Tags: full of theories, mark, stupid brain tricks
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